Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Conversations without rings

When the weather turns cold, my rings start spinning on my fingers. They slide around between the base of my finger and my knuckles, and if I’m not careful, they slip all the way off. Two years ago, I lost the sapphire ring Blain designed for me. I cried when I realized it wasn’t on my hand, and I still haven’t found it. Last year I lost my platinum band in a bag of leaves; I was raking without gloves. Aidan and I emptied the whole bag again and started sifting. We found it after about half an hour, shining quietly among the red and yellow and brown bits of broken leaves.

I guess I’m not alone in this phenomenon of fingers shrinking at the cold, because when I stopped in our local jewelry store a couple of weeks ago, the woman told me there is a simple insert that fits inside the band and keeps it from sliding on the finger. She said that older women with skinny fingers but big knuckles find them useful. I looked down at my hands.

I haven’t been back to the jewelry store; I’ve been enjoying life ringless too much. See, this is what I’ve found: when I’m not wearing a wedding band, people talk to me. Both women and men. At the park, at the grocery store, in line at Papa Murphy’s Pizza. I wondered last week if the mom who struck up a conversation at the dance studio thought I was a single mother. Would such an assumption make me that much more approachable? I’m finding this to be a fascinating sociological experiment.

Yesterday, I went shopping at Safeway with Sophie and Aidan in a car cart, their favorite thing of all. By the time we reached the checkout counter, they were sitting on the door frames, beating the top of the car like a drum, singing, “Hey, ho, nobody home” in a round like you’ve never heard before. The young man in line in front of me turned around and smiled at the kids, smiled at me, and –I saw him take in my hands with his glance at me—started talking with me about the kids.

A wedding ring can act as a shield of sorts; it says, "I'm taken" and rebuffs unwanted advances. But I haven't run into any obnoxious folks yet while ringless. As a mostly lonely sahm, I'm just enjoying the conversations that start up more readily.

Reversal of Fortune

What a difference a month makes. Turns out I was flat-out, dead wrong. We have, apparently, five *hens* who are uncommonly fertile. At least two of them regularly lay two eggs a day, and hence, we now have a refrigerator overflowing with beautiful brown eggs. I think I'll make crepes this afternoon. I'll find a podcast or two to listen to while I stand there, using up my eggs.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


Well, those cute fluffy chicks grew up. And it looks like we’ve gotten 5 for 5. Roosters, that is. We’ve been checking and hoping and waiting for any signs of hennyness, but no. They’re old enough to lay eggs now, and we’ve had several visitors who’ve raised chickens say, Those sure look like roosters to me. I think they’re not full enough in the breast, and their combs are pretty big, and yeah, they are aggressive and loud.

So now I have to figure out what to do with five roosters. They don’t make good pets; when I go into their yard to feed them they act like starved maniac chickens and fly up and bite my arms and hands while I’m filling up their feeder.

Our other male pet, Basil the bunny, is a perfect angel. He’s working out great, and K--- has bonded with him in a huge way.

But this is a post about disappointment. This morning after I took the girls to school, I got out 12 quart jars and put them in the dishwasher to sterilize. Then I retrieved the steamer-juicer from downstairs and set it on the stove to start boiling. Out to the backyard to do the fun part: harvesting our beautiful merlot grapes.

I pushed through the tangle of raspberry canes, rogue tomato vines, and the wildly proliferate grape vines, ready to cut bunches of ripe grapes into my waiting colander…and all I found were a few stunted, measly, sad little excuses for grapes crouching under all that lush foliage.

Why? I wondered. Not enough watering? But I watered even more faithfully than last summer. Was it the way I pruned the vines last winter? But this spring I had seen the abundance of tiny green grape buds that seemed so promising.

After a half hour of dispirited hunting and pecking, I had filled the colander half full. So I put it on to steam all the same, and in an hour I just might have myself a whole pint of grape juice. Ah well. I’ll raise it to what might have been. To dozens of eggs and well-behaved hens, to quarts upon quarts of fragrant, sweet, organic juice. To next year, in hopes of a better harvest.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Parlez-vous français? Or anything?

My daughter, K---, has become a good reader. And she has discovered that you can change the settings on a DVD movie so that it becomes subtitled. Of course, she doesn't read any languages other than English, so she likes to put on English subtitles with some other spoken language.

She has been watching The Sound of Music lately, with the audio in French. I actually have never watched a dubbed version of this movie, and it's fascinating to hear how things are translated. And the songs are sometimes in French and sometimes in English. Anyway, she has been doing a running translation for her little sister, S----, reading the subtitles for her. I imagine that this makes a movie that she's already seen more interesting. What I like is that she's being exposed to the sounds and cadences of some language other than English.

It's a funny thing that Americans are so insular when it comes to language. I've never actually seen statistics on the number of Americans (not counting first-generation immigrants) who speak some other language with any degree of fluency. But, I bet that the numbers would be dismal when compared to other industrialized countries. I've met a lot of people from other countries, and most them speak English as a second language.

Why does this matter at all? I think that it puts Americans at a disadvantage with regard to interacting with the world outside of our borders. Furthermore, it allows Americans to ignore or disregard much of what is going on in the world. Ask a group of Americans what is happening in Sudan--the vast majority would not have the slightest idea, I wager.

I could go on and on about it. Many others have commented on it. I don't know what the solution might be. I wonder though, does the American indifference to world events come because of the lack of languages? Or, does the lack of languages spring from the indifference?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Bunnies and chickens

Our family's foray into the world of pets has been creeping and cautious. When our oldest daughter was four, I bought her two goldfish, which we kept in a small fishbowl and which she named Mary and Joseph . Two days later, Mary was belly up on the water; Joseph followed a day after that. We weren't sure why they died so soon, but our daughter didn't seem terribly upset, only dismayed and confused.

As for me, I was scared to try it again with a pet she might actually bond with.Thankfully, we didn't have to do any sneaky parenting maneuvers, al la Adam Gopnik's "Death of a Fish" in the New Yorker's July 4th 2005 issue--they didn't put it online, but there's a bit about his marvelous piece here .

Last spring, three years after the goldfish fiasco, we bought a Holland Lop, a one-year-old male, whom we named Basil and who has been delightful, tame, cute, fluffy, quiet, and all that. We built his hutch ourselves, a structure that gives me pleasure every time I walk past it. There is something mightily satisfying about a physical structure that exactly answers its ends, a structure whose utility is expressed in every line and joint. We drafted the plans based on these charming English hutches: www.mrbuns.co.uk/outside-rabbit-hutches-uk.htm

We even got him litter-box trained(!) and so he spent the winter as a house bunny. We loved having him inside with us, but now he's out in his hutch again for the pleasant months. Having successfully adopted a bunny into the family routine and affections, I think we're ready to branch out a bit more yet.

April 4th is Chick Day at our local Feed and Seed, and I've signed us up to get four Rhode Island Red pullets. We haven't built a hen house yet, but I've constructed some nesting boxes, and I feel hopeful that we can house them temporarily in the basement in a large box with a heating lamp. Yes? Blain is tagging along behind me in this venture, but the kids are all aboard. They've even named the chicks: Puck, Cluck, Chick-Bell, and One Chicken.
Wish us luck!

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Mental health and medicine

I was looking at a blog entry over on Bloggernacle Times about cognitive-enhancing drugs. You can read my comment about it.

It got me to thinking about a physician's role to discern disease state. Although less-progressive folks might still question whether things like depression or ADHD qualify as disease states, I think that most people would agree that they do. The question is whether or not an individual actually has the disease or not. And this is where a lot of criticism has been leveled at doctors who aren't careful in making that determination.

Critics point to the "bad doctor" who is prescribing Prozac and Ritalin to every other patient who comes through his office. "How can it be," they say, "that so many people are depressed?" This is why I try to always be careful when I hand out mental-health diagnoses of one sort or another. There are published guidelines regarding what symptoms a person must have in order to be given some diagnosis. (Whether or not those guidelines are valid is a question for another day.)

But even after a diagnosis is made, the question of treatment still remains. How does one treat depression? Why do anti-depressants work? Why is it insufficient to simply do psychotherapy of some sort? Does this patient even need treatment at all? I ask myself these questions. And there is no single answer to any of them. So I go carefully along, and try to avoid getting stuck in routines of treatment that ignore the variation in individual needs.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

An Evening in Paris

So we're long back from Paris, which was wonderful and stressful and expensive and stimulating--and I very much got out of the habit of writing, once home. I wrote a little bit while we were there, and this is one of those jotted-down entries in my much-loved Moleskine notebook:

Sept. 19, 2005
In a Chinese cafe tonight, a man sat alone, reading the paper and eating his dinner. He was seated a few tables away from us in the almost empty restaurant. He was perhaps 40, with thinning brown hair and a hunched kind of attitude, deeply absorbed in his article.

Having just passed so many merry parties gathered around sidewalk tables, or laughing over glasses of wine in restaurants, the solitude of this man caught my attention. I watched him for a few moments while Blain had a French conversation with the proprietor. In his quietness, I saw him as an outsider and I felt a kinship with him. And as I looked out the windows at the fascinating river of people walking past, I wondered: who are these people having their social, beautiful, enviable time? Are they typical Parisians? Are they tourists or visitors? Who was this lone man? Is Paris the same Paris if you don't have anyone to eat dinner with?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Women's Work

One of the things I find remarkable about this rural place is the number of people who can. It's not just an old-lady, depression-era generation thing; everyone cans. Part of it, I'm sure, is the sheer bounty of fruit in this fruit-growing region. (And vegetables, in the form of tomatoes and zucchini!) People have given us bags of zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes, boxes of plums and apricots, sacks of walnuts. And that's in addition to our own garden, grapes, raspberries, and peach tree.

If you don't know how to preserve this stuff, you either have to feel really guilty as the apricots grow ever softer and the fruit flies multiply, or find someone who actually wants the 2nd or 3rd hand gift.

So, I've become fairly adept at dehydrating, canning, freezing, and juicing. For some reason, up until this summer, I've held back from this kind of hot, menial, traditional women's work. I've taken a small pleasure in saying, "No, I don't can" when asked by neighbors or fellow Relief Society sisters.

But last week, I ordered a steamer-juicer and yesterday I juiced 2 batches of grapes. I really like this steamer-juicer because it's much less mess and work than, say, canning peaches (which I did last week--spiced peaches, a la Holes). Today, I juiced the box of plums that someone gave me, and the lovely glowing jewel-tone of this home-bottled juice gives me more satisfaction than almost anything I can think of. Instead of despising this traditional women's work, I feel a deep connection with women of the past who worked in tandem with the earth's fertility to feed their own.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

on sleep, or rather, the lack thereof...

I spend most of my time feeling pretty tired. Fatigue is my constant companion. Even at those times when I think that I'm not fatigued, I have only to close my eyes for a second and then I realize that I'm mistaken. It has become a way of seeing life, I think. There are just degrees of tiredness. One day I'm extremely tired; the next, not so much so; the next only slightly fatigued; and the next, exhausted. What's funny is that much of the time I'm unaware of this.

Certainly, my own choices have something to do with the problem. I don't go to bed early. Even when I have the chance. It's especially tough because once the kids are down (more or less) for the night, I feel like it is now my chance to be free, to read, to talk with Ash, anything. So perpetuates the endless fatigue. This, of course, is in addition to all of the times that I'm obligated to lose sleep for professional reasons.

I've read and heard things that seem to suggest that I'm merely part of our culture in this respect. Chronic sleep deficit is a pretty American problem to have, n'est-ce pas? I keep resolving to change things, but it doesn't come easy. Am I self-indulgent, or is it a mechanism for dealing with stress? Do I need the extra time to release the pent-up stress or frustrations of living in a world of bureaucracy, endless paperwork, malingerers, and the genuinely-needy? I really do feel that my psyche is strained at times.

On the other hand, am I just fooling myself? Would everything just be better/easier if I would simply go to bed? Well, I'm going to bed now.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Family Folklore

Tonight with our children we watched The Secret of Roan Inish, which is a hauntingly beautiful tale. The telling of family stories--their personal folklore--plays a central role in the film; the main character, Fiona, comes to know who she is through her family's stories.

Coincidentally, I read Holes this last week, a story with an entirely different tone and setting, and yet one that rests just as completely on family folklore. Again, the main character knows his family's stories, reaching back several generations, and these tales not only serve to inform his growing sense of identity; they ultimately save his life.

It makes me wonder: how much of my identity do I derive from a sense of family history/place? I simply don't know many family stories, but I would really like to. I doubt there are journals stashed away, and I imagine that most of the stories of my recent ancestors have passed away along with them.

Is a sense of one's history as mystical and larger-than-life extremely uncommon? Would it give someone a sense of destiny, of the past propelling the future? There's something weighty about decisions a great-grandmother made, as distant as they are, compared to the lifepath of one's parents, say. So how far back does one have to go before family stories take on the character and stature of mythology?