Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Organic cuticle treatment made with locally grown cherries

Step one in the Kingsolver plan and the reason why I discovered, while raising my hand in a university meeting yesterday, that my nails are still stained such a dark purple I may have to sit on them for the rest of the week...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

here and there and on a train and with a cake

Update: I’ve checked the “My pictures” folder several times a day for the last three days and it’s still empty. I keep hoping maybe all the files will suddenly appear again as mysteriously as they vanished. But nope. I did back up my laptop about a year ago. I also have many of the family pictures on another computer so all is not lost. Most of the art images that I use in my classes are also embedded in Powerpoints (and thankfully those were not abducted by aliens or I wouldn’t be typing this right now because I’d be humming show tunes softly to myself in a padded cell). Anyway, life goes on and other such plucky platitudes. I’m shopping for an external hard drive so I can do more regular backups. And maybe a new laptop. Any suggestions?

In more cheerful news, McKay celebrated his 10th birthday this weekend. He’s our resident train aficionado and future engineer, so we spent the day on Saturday riding Trax up to Salt Lake and then the Front Runner commuter rail from Salt Lake to Ogden. Three full hours on trains. We also went to the train museum in Ogden and spent another hour with the trains in their side yard. The boys were all in ecstasy. Nora, after the 30 seconds it took for the novelty of riding in a train to wear off, was bored and stir crazy. Enough of this train scene, already! By the end of the day (and it was a long, long, long day) Ken and I were tired of trying to keep Nora from climbing on everything and running near the doors every time they opened at a new stop and pestering every other passenger on board as if they were her newest and dearest friends. Ken saw a t-shirt on another 2-year old that I just have to get for Nora. It said “My parents are exhausted.”

Yesterday, we had Ken’s family over for cake and ice cream. McKay wanted a train cake (of course) and since he loves to cook, I came up with a plan for a cake that he could help me with. Tahdaah!

McKay really did most of the work. He glued all the cars together with royal icing and attached the wheels and designed the tanker cars. I love how the red and white theme works with the strawberries, which were also McKay’s touch. When it came time to cut the cake, nobody had the heart to demolish the train, so we carefully removed all the cars and just ate the cake. I may have the train on top of my fridge for the next 10 years of his life.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

why my laptop is in a time out

There’s very little in life more frustrating than having a laptop—a laptop that you depend upon for all of your writing projects and teaching materials and correspondence and various family projects and blog files—develop a habit of losing power and shutting down at random intervals at least 4 or 5 times a day. You’ll be typing away, or dealing with an email when suddenly, your laptop starts beeping at you, whining that it has reached critically low battery level (even though it is plugged in and the battery stopped working years ago). This means you have about 15 seconds to save whatever you’re doing and close everything down and shut your laptop and pray for it to decide that it has reason enough to keep living at least one more day. You’ll decide you feel like you have a two-year-old child in your arms and she doesn’t want to go wherever it is you need to take her and so she’s gone limp, like a 30-pound eel, and it’s all you can do to keep her from oozing out of your grasp and running away from you, and maybe she’s clothed only in a diaper because she refuses to let you put a shirt over her head, and maybe that diaper is even saggingly wet because you’re dreading the battle it will be to change her, and maybe she’s trying to run outside again because she wants to live there—just take her pillow and hot-pink crocs and never step foot inside the house again—but you need to get something done in the kitchen and you don't have the time right now to follow her around the block on her new Little Mermaid bike so when she manages to arch her way out of your clutches onto the floor, you have to race for the door and lock the deadbolt before she gets to it so she can throw her fit on the inside rather than on the outside where she’ll make you chase her into the driveway and maybe into the road where you pray there will be no traffic if you’re too slow. Or something like that.

The only thing I can think of more frustrating than this is moving your cursor across the screen to pull up a picture for a blog post one evening and clicking on the folder that says “My pictures”—the folder that has hundreds of family photos and every single work of art you’ve ever scanned in for your classes—and having your laptop lie to you and say “Folder is empty” when you know there is no possible way on earth that the entire folder and all its sub-folders and sub-sub folders with their massive lists of jpg’s could have been wiped clean with no warning. This must be a lie. A cruel joke that your computer is playing on you to punish you for your loss of faith in its ability to compute or even turn on when you ask nicely. Yeah. This is probably worse.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Spiral Jetty-ness

Last week we made a pilgrimage to the Spiral Jetty. I've been there before, but not for a few years and I wanted to see how it was doing. The jetty is the artist Robert Smithson's masterpiece. It's Utah's claim to fame in all the art books. It's the best-known example of a post-modern earthwork--a type of sculpture that defies museum culture and evokes the mounds and monuments of ancient civilizations. And really, it's just a darn cool piece of art, just about my favorite piece of art on the whole planet. It's a shame it takes 3 hours--the last of them on a road so bumpy you're swallowing your dental fillings by the end--to get there. But it's also a good thing it's in such a remote spot. How else could we experience a masterpiece and spend an hour looking at it, walking inside it, feeling its surface, smelling and tasting the salt of the air around it entirely by ourselves?

I'm writing an article about the trip that I hope to sell to a local journal. (Current rate of speed: one hour per paragraph. I hope this picks up.) In the meantime, I'll post some photos to give you a sense of how incredibly beautiful this place is. Ethan declared it an "ugly beauty" and I have to agree. It's a desolate, surreal, unsentimental kind of beauty.

Here's the Jetty from above, coiling out into the lake bed. As we were walking out of the spiral Ethan and I ran into a dude coming in (Ethan later nicknamed him Hippie Dave). Hippie Dave was shirtless, wore a braid of hemp around his neck, and had long straight black hair with the top tied up in a pony tail. He (seriously) bowed to us as we passed and then we struck up a conversation about the place and Smithson's philosophies. What a trip. If you look closely at this photo, at the very center of the spiral, you can see Hippie Dave as we left him, his arms raised up to heaven, communing with the forces of art and nature.

This is Ethan, walking the first coil of the spiral.

This is McKay, dancing in the shallow salt marsh around the jetty. Yes the water really is pink. Smithson described it as the color of pale blood and made references to primordial seas.

More water. I took about a million pictures. Be grateful I'm sparing you the whole slide show.

The basalt rocks on the jetty are covered in salt crystals. Smithson was obsessed with the idea of entropy, the dissolution of order in the natural universe. He died 4 years after completing the jetty. I think he would love to see the way his sculpture is gradually returning to the lake.

Me at the center of the spiral. I'm resisting the urge to crop the heck out of this photo (like maybe show it from the nose up). Trying to keep it real...

The only picture Ken would let me take of him. (You can play a little game of "Where's Waldo Ken" if you'd like).

Gabie eating a Ho Ho after we got back to the car. This is my contribution to the whole "pilgrimage to Spiral Jetty" culture. I take spiral snacks along: this time it was ho ho's and the makings for peanut butter wraps. Last time it was cinnamon rolls. Next time maybe I'll make a whole jelly roll cake.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Animal, vegetable, guilt trip

Does this ever happen to you? You read a book that makes you want to radically change your life? It happens to me all the time. Some fantastic author presents a convincing argument for a new way to raise kids, or persuades me that sugar is the worst thing I could put into my body, or tells me how I can become a thinner, happier, or more Zen me and I’m caught up in a wave of agreement. I can’t wait to get started on my new course. I’m going to change the world. Or at least my family. Or maybe just myself. But it’s going to be a change for the better. I’m sure of it.

Then the momentum wears off and reality sinks in and I usually fall back into old habits and not much changes. Except that I feel guilty on yet another level because I’m more aware of something else I should be doing differently.

I’m reading an amazing book right now: Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. There’s no doubt she’s a fantastic writer. But did you also know she and her family chose to live a year on a farm in the Appalachian mountains eating only food they could get from neighborhood farmers or grow themselves? I already lean towards the tree-hugger side of the environmental awareness scale, so I knew I’d love this book, but now I find myself wishing we could really do this—that we could give up our dependence on food that has crossed several state lines or maybe entire oceans to get to us (and used limited fuel resources and contributed to global warming on the way), that we could eat only food that is in season (not strawberries in January and synthetic tomatoes in March and imported bananas every single day of the year), that we could know where everything on our plate actually came from. Her arguments are very convincing because she’s right. I was converted by page 5. When she started talking about how food is a spiritually loaded commodity, that everything we eat (and how it gets to us) represents an ethical decision, she had me singing “Amen sister!”

The trouble is, I’m not sure I could really change my life so drastically (and the lives of my husband and children, let’s not forget them and their love of all things packaged processed and out of season). Am I prepared to deprive my family of bananas? Or artificially-large-breasted-but-darn-juicy chicken? Or canned everything? I have a hard enough time cooking meals when I can choose from every single item in the supermarket for ingredients. What makes me think I could be the home-canning queen? I looked into locally grown food this week and guess what? It’s more expensive than the stuff in the grocery store. We’re already feeling the pinch of higher food costs lately. How can we afford to spend more?

We have a healthy garden with 6 different kinds of peppers and tomatoes and squash and some zucchini plants that are already producing like there’s no tomorrow (anybody want some free zucchini? please? anyone?). But now Barbara has me thinking we should be planting heirloom seeds and starting a poultry farm. She has me feeling great pangs of guilt because my fridge and pantry cupboards are full of fossil fuel. She has simultaneously won me over and depressed the heck out of me. I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish the book. Do I really need to keep reading to find out how it ends? I assume they all survive the winter. She couldn’t have written the book if they starved to death, right?

I’m not sure what to do. Any suggestions? While I’m waiting for answers, I’m going to go numb my conscience with a really tasty—and unethical on many levels not the least of which is cinnamon that had to be flown several thousand miles to my house—batch of snickerdoodles.

Monday, July 07, 2008

life and death and mail-order caterpillars

A month ago, we sent away for caterpillars.
Three weeks ago, they arrived in the mail.
We watched them eat.
We watched them produce five times their weight in caterpillar dung.
We woke up one morning to five chrysalises.
We waited.
The butterflies emerged a few days later.
They dried their wings.
They fluttered around a bit in their net but did not fly.
They pressed their bodies together, mating in captivity.
Yesterday, we let them go.
They flew, awkwardly at first.
They stayed close, swooped around our flowers and circled back for several minutes.
Then they were gone and we took the empty net back inside.
Today, in two milk lids taped together, we buried the one who died midway to maturity.
My son is sad and I tell him that it's part of nature. We can't help it if sometimes nature is cruel, sometimes butterflies just don't make it. He seems to accept this explanation.
But I can't get over the image of the tiny interrupted thing, its sticky wings caught in the cracks of a chrysalis shell so thin it is already turning to dust.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Hey Kool-Aid!

There are two boys on my front porch asking if Gabie can play. They live at the other end of our neighborhood and are Gabie’s same age, but they aren’t kids he usually plays with. It has been a very hot day and we’ve spent it mostly inside, and Gabie is clearly restless and delighted that Joseph and Jason have come over. “I’ll meet you on the other side of the garage,” he tells them, “I have to grab my shoes.” I can hear him jabbering to them from the garage about his new bike (“which isn’t really new, but it’s new to me since I just got it from my brother McKay who got a new one for his birthday, and mine's the blue one and look how big the tires are. . .”).

Shoes on, Gabie opens the door into the kitchen to tell me they’re all going to ride their bikes over to Jason’s house because Jason is going to give him a popsicle. “Be home in one hour,” I tell him, “and call me if you’re going anywhere else.”

Less than fifteen minutes later, Gabie is back. He has a wounded look on his face. “What’s wrong?” I ask him.
“They wanted me to pay for the popsicle. And I didn’t have a dollar and 25 cents so they told me I couldn’t play and had to go home.”

Naturally, my first impulse is to run down to Jason’s house and give those boys (and their mothers) a piece of my mind. Those little punks. Instead, I see that Gabie still just needs somebody to talk to. I ask him, “How do you feel?”
“Exhausted.” he says. “Exhausted and disappointed.”

I get him a drink of water (wish I had popsicles!) and a few minutes later he seems back to his old spunky self. Now he’s babbling on about how he wants to give something away. “What can I give away?” he asks me. “I’m not going to make anybody pay for it. It will be free. This is going to make other people really happy. I’m sweet aren’t I.”

“Yes, you’re sweet” I say. I’m laughing out loud by now and grabbing my pen. He’s used to this and lets me take a moment to document his sweetness on paper. Then we have to figure out what it is he’s going to give away. He suggests cookies but I think it’s too hot and too close to dinner to make cookies. We settle on Kool-Aid which is a rare treat around our house (because I know most kids’ drinks are full of sugar but with Kool-Aid you actually witness the whole cup of sugar going in and I just can’t handle the honesty).

Soon Gabie has mixed a batch of grape Kool-Aid and grabbed a stack of plastic cups and a table and chairs and is parked out on the front sidewalk waiting for “customers” to walk by so he can surprise them with the news that it’s all free today. Unconditional sweetness. No charge. No strings attached.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

musings from Gabie the linguist

I love the phase Gabie’s in right now. He’s six and reading and keenly aware of language but still doesn’t appreciate how random it all really is. He thinks once you learn the basics of grammar, you can predict how it will always work. If only this were true. But being Gabie, he just charges ahead undaunted. If the English language doesn’t make sense, you just invent your own, more logical, more Gabified version.

A few recent examples...

Mom, why do they call it cider? Cause I think there’s nothing it goes on the side of.

Gabie: Is this paper terrible?
Mom: What?
Gabie: You know, is this terrible paper?
Mom: Honey, I still don’t understand what you’re talking about.
Gabie: Is this the kind of paper you can tear?
Mom: Oh! You mean is it tear-able?
Gabie: Isn’t that what I just said?

That was so funny. You laughed the heck out of me.

(After a trip to the dentist this week...) Mom, how much did it cost for him to look at my tooth? I don’t think we should pay the dentist, I think the dentist should pay us. Because he’s the one that makes the kids suffer hurtiness.

(This one’s my favorite, but it might take a minute—like it took me—to figure out Gabie’s thought process). Mom, my favorite pants are dirty. Can you please wash them? Don’t worry, it won’t waste much energy if you wash just one cloh.