Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

In memory

Monday, February 6th, 2012


It’s been a long time since I’ve posted, but I needed to acknowledge the passing of Susan Niebur, otherwise known as WhyMommy.  She fought breast cancer and its metastases, hard, for nearly five years, while parenting and blogging and doing science and friending with more passion and love and fierceness than many fit into much longer lives.  I’ve written about her before, here and here, but I don’t think I had realized just how many lives she had touched until I read the love fest that her friends made for her on Facebook.  I’ve been reading people’s comments on her page and her blog and her twitter feed, and the only consolation is that she knew how beloved on the earth she was.

If you want to support breast cancer research and you’re still pissed at Komen (and I am), you might consider giving to one of these organizations:

  • Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation (IBC is what Susan had.  Short version — not all breast cancer produces lumps.  If you have a change in the skin texture, or a bruise that doesn’t go away, get it checked out.)
  • Lucy Fund for Metastatic Breast Cancer Research.  The majority of people who die of breast cancer in the US die of metastatic breast cancer.  And yet, as Susan pointed out repeatedly, only 3 percent of breast cancer research funding goes to research on metastatic cancer.  It’s worth hassling the big funders (e.g. Komen) about this, but also giving to dedicated research funds.

And go look at the moon tonight.  It’s beautiful.


stumbling on

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

This crazy awful week brought Phantom back to her blog, and I guess it’s brought me back, too, although this is going to be a bit of a rambling post.  I heard about the earthquake first reading friends’ Facebook posts last Friday morning, and I feel like I’ve spent much of the past week obsessively hitting the refresh button on my browser, trying to find new news.

I can’t seen to find answers to the questions that I’m most interested in.  The nuclear worries seem to have pushed out the stories about the people in the shelters, and now Libya seems to be pushing the coverage of the reactor off.  But I can’t stop thinking of all those people in shelters — I don’t have a good sense of how many people are still in them, and if they’re getting regular food and water now.  It seems like some of those towns are going to take years to rebuild, if ever.  I didn’t think I’d ever say something good about the response to Katrina, but putting people on buses to Houston did make a lot more sense than putting them up in tent cities in Louisiana.  Is anything like that happening?

Living Social is doing a 1:1 match of $5 donations to the red cross, so I did that, but I haven’t donated otherwise yet.  It’s not clear to me that money is what’s preventing aid groups from doing what’s necessary.  If you can’t get into the devastated areas, what can you do with money?  Haiti may still be the higher need.  I just don’t know.

I’m fascinated by the “there’s no looting in Japan” meme.  Well, for one thing, there’s not much left to loot in the worst hit towns.  But I thought this take on it from Slate was interesting.    At least some of the  versions of the meme have clear racial overtones.  Does anyone remember seeing stories one way or the other about whether there was looting in China after their big earthquake?  I don’t.      (As contrasted with Japan, China is NOT a country that prizes waiting on lines — or at least that ‘s what I gather from reading American Family’s very funny take on Hong Kong Disneyland — does that translate into looting during a crisis?  beats me.)

As it happens, we have tickets to go to China and Japan this summer.  We also have trip insurance.  We’re obviously waiting to see what develops, but at this point unless the radiation and the power shortages get a lot worse, I assume we’ll go ahead.  We weren’t planning on going anywhere north of Tokyo.    Yes, there’s a detectable level of radiation, but my house also has a fan venting the radon out of our basement.  People don’t freak out about having CT scans, which are higher levels of radiation.  (Actually, maybe they should freak out a bit more, especially about the “whole body” scans sold to perfectly healthy people as a precautionary measure.)

So, it’s been a hard news cycle week. And then we all took turns with the stomach flu.  But we’re all better now, and it was a gorgeous sunny warm day today, and we worked on the tree platform in our yard (the lumber for which has been in our garage since October) and N rode his bike without training wheels for the first time.  So, I guess I’m cultivating my garden.  (And Candide was written in response to the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755, which just goes to show that people have been struggling with the question of how do you keep going in the face of horror for an awful long time, and will presumably be doing so in the future unless we actually succeed in blowing ourselves up.)

kids book suggestions

Monday, September 20th, 2010

So, my mom is asking for suggestions for books for hanukah presents for the grandchildren — my sons, who will be 7 and 9 (with the 9 year old a very strong reader and the 7 year old just really starting to read on his own), and my nephews, ages 2 and 4.

I futzed around online and came up with the following recommendations, but I thought I’d see what my readers had to add:

For the 2 year old:

The Quiet Book, Deborah Underwood
Can’t Sleep without Sheep by Susanna Leonard Hill

(I don’t know anything about these other than what I found online, but they look pretty good.)

4 year old: City Dog, Country Frog, Mo Willems
Knuffle Bunny Free, Mo Willems

(I love Mo Willems)

7 year old:  The Dinosaur Museum: An Unforgettable, Interactive Virtual Tour Through Dinosaur History, National Geographic Society
Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinosaurs: The Definitive Pop-Up, Robert Sabuda
Knuffle Bunny Free, Mo Willems
Rocks and Minerals (Eye Wonder)., DK books

(He’s at an awkward stage, not really into reading himself, but getting old for picture books, although I’ll make an exception for Mo Willems.  We’ve been reading the Narnia books and Paddington out loud.  He says he wants to be an archeologist, and loves rocks.)

9 year old: City of Ice, Laurence Yep  (not yet released)
Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume, Jeff Smith
Warriors: Power of Three Box Set: Volumes 1 to 6 Erin Hunter OR
Warriors Box Set: Volumes 1 to 6 Erin Hunte

(He loved City of Fire, and City of Ice is due out soon.  I have no idea which of the Warriors books he’s read, but he doesn’t mind re-reading, so I think the box sets are a safe pick.  And he liked the volume of Bone that I got out from the library for him.  I’d put the new book by Richard Riordan set in the world of the Percy Jackson books on the list, except that I assume he’ll want to buy it as soon as it comes out.)

So, what should we add to the list?

168 hours

Monday, September 13th, 2010

I recently read 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam and was thinking about blogging about it.    Then I saw that she’s running a challenge this week to actually do a time use diary for a week and to share the results.  So I decided to bite the bullet and do it.

Vanderkam says that there’s no point in waiting for a “typical week” because there are no typical weeks.  But here are some of the reasons that this week is not typical:

  • Big event tomorrow night for work.  I almost never have to attend evening events for work.
  • No day this week when it makes sense to work from home, which I try to do once a week.
  • I’m taking Friday off, and we’re heading up to NYC for Yom Kippur.

But, here goes anyway.

So, today’s report:

  • 6:45 hours of sleep (since midnight)
  • 15 minutes of yoga
  • 1:30 hour of personal email and messages, online shopping, social games
  • 1 hour shower/dress/breakfast/pack lunch/try to convince boys not to kill each other while I eat breakfast, or at least to go downstairs if they have to
  • 2 hours of commuting (sigh; but that probably includes at least 30 minutes of walking on a nice day, and listening to a good chunk of NPR and some of this week’s This American Life Podcast)
  • 1 hour of meetings
  • 3:30 hours of responding to work emails and calls, reviewing documents, negotiating times for later meetings, etc.
  • 2 hours of preparing for a couple of a webinars I’m doing — which I always underestimate how long it will take to prep
  • 1 hour of working on a report that is hanging over my head — it really needs more focused attention, and I don’t know when I’m going to find it.
  • 30 minutes of talking to coworkers
  • 15 minutes of eating lunch
  • 15 minutes of walking around the block for some fresh air
  • 1 hour of setting up my new iPod and clearing my settings from my old one so D could buy it from me
  • 20 minutes of walking/running after the boys while they rode their bikes
  • 20 minutes of eating dinner (leftovers, so pretty much zero cook time)
  • 20 minutes of reading to N (The Silver Chair; D is officially not listening, but somewhat managed to drift in while I was reading…)
  • 15 minutes of blogging.

Note that I left work probably 30 minutes earlier than usual, trying to follow Vanderkam’s notion of preserving evening hours for family time even if you have to get back to work after the kids are in bed.  And I did spend 15 minutes or so responding to messages tonight. But I’m too braindead at this point to work on the report, which is what I was hoping to do.  That said, I was pretty fried at 5.15 too, so I wouldn’t have been terribly productive even if I had stayed in the office.

I have to confess that when I picked up 168 Hours, I thought it was by the same person who had written this Washington Post magazine article about time use and how working mothers have more leisure than they admit. A lot boils down to your definition of leisure — I think I officially had almost 4 hours of leisure today.  But it’s broken down into tiny bits, and it doesn’t necessarily feel like leisure.


Thursday, May 6th, 2010

I just idly googled the name of one of my first bosses and learned that she died more than a year ago.  I’m so pissed at myself for not having stayed in better touch with her.

I worked for Shelley when I was an intern with the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union one summer in college.  (The “look for the union label” folks.  They merged with the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union a few years later to form UNITE, which then merged with the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union.) I didn’t know much about unions, but they were offering a stipend for the summer, and I wanted a job that was interesting, but didn’t want to work for free.)

Shelley was with the legislative department (and yes, I did get to meet Evy Dubrow), but there wasn’t that much going on that summer , so she marched me all over the office introducing me to people and asking what they needed done.   I did all sorts of things that summer —  sorted postcards opposing NAFTA and supporting single payer health care by Congressional district, wrote a memo on union policies regarding sexual harassment, cataloged their lending library of VHS tapes, dug through the archives for old photos and made up a display on the history of the union.   Shelley called me “Little Girl” but treated me like a grown-up,  talked me through it when I got caught in some stupid office politics, and convinced me to take David Montgomery’s classes.  The next year she moved to Washington State, but we stayed in touch.  I visited her once — couldn’t believe that she trusted me to borrow her car to go off on my own — and met the dog that I had heard so much about.   Somewhere in there she had a kidney transplant, but she always talked about how well “Nancy Kidney” was doing.

Over the year we lost touch, although we wrote or emailed a few times.  A while back she moved to the Norfolk area, and I meant to go down and visit her some time but I never did.  And now she’s dead, and the obituary says it’s from complications of diabetes.  I guess Nancy wasn’t working any more. Damn.

The obituary says that she was 58 when she died last year.    So she would have more or less my age now when I worked for her.  I can’t decide if that seems older or younger than I’d have guessed.


Monday, March 15th, 2010

So, it’s terribly self-indulgent to be writing about lice when the health care vote is hanging in the balance, but I’ve already contacted my members and signed the MoveOn pledge to support primary challenges to any Dems who vote against health care reform (and that includes you Mr. Kucinich).  So I’m going to be self-indulgent and write about lice.

The good news is that only N appears to have them so far.

The bad news is that I’ve been itching like crazy since I saw the first one.

The good news is that T tells me I don’t have any.

The bad news is that I’m not sure I believe him.  We may have finally found the limit of my faith in my husband’s parenting ability — he can change diapers with the best of them, walk a colicky baby, bake cookies, find a pediatric dentist open for an emergency on a Saturday morning, name at least 50 different Pokemon, make lunches, chaperon a school trip, coach a soccer team, and more, but I’m not sure I believe him when he says I don’t have lice.  I can spot check my kids, but I haven’t figured out how to spot-check myself.

The good news is that none of us have long hair.

The bad news is we now have a garage freezer full of stuffed animals.

The good news is the boys are being brave and going to bed without their doggies without much complaint.

The bad news is that I’ve read Marion Winik’s lice essay, and so have absolutely no faith that we’ve resolved this.  (Actually, I’ve heard her read it, which is even more funny.)

The good news is that our school does not have a “no nit” policy and so N was able to go to school after we reported that we had treated him.

The bad news is that it does seem to have a “chemicals required” policy — T had to bring the box of the shampoo that we used.   The over the counter lice medicines aren’t too terribly toxic (versus the prescription ones, which are seriously vile), but there’s also increasing evidence that the lice are resistant to them.  My guess is that parents who find lice on their own kids and don’t want to use chemical treatments just won’t tell the school, which is somewhat counterproductive.

D watched us freaking out over the lice this morning, and finally asked “so, what do lice do to you if you don’t get rid of them?”  I told him that, mostly, they just itch, and they spread really easily.  He didn’t get why we had to use a toxic chemical (that includes a warning that people with asthma should avoid it) to get rid of something that just makes you itch.  I had to agree that he had a point.  Someday someone is going to file a HIPAA suit over lice policies and win.

Snowed in

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

My office follows the feds, so we’re officially open tomorrow, although with a two hour delay.  I’m going to work from home, though, as I think the commute will be a nightmare, and I still have work I can do.

Total inches of snow: somewhere around 34.

Inches of packed snow remaining on the road post-plowing: about 3

Height of piled snow surrounding our driveway: 5 feet, plus or minus.

Days snowed in: 8 (as of tomorrow)

Soups made: 4 (chicken chili, red lentil and chickpea, black bean, and curried cauliflower)

Breads made: 3 (challah, multigrain, and Portuguese sweet bread)

Batches of cookies made: 3 (two chocolate chip and one peanut butter)

Pounds gained: haven’t dared to set foot on the scale

Games played: Dominion, Ticket to Ride, Sorry, Monopoly, Go Fish, Don’t Get Caught, Munchkin Fu, Qwirkle

Hours of TV watched: too many

The NY Times has a terrific graphic about snowfall in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, showing what each city has received this year, last year, and the average level.   It dramatically shows that Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia have all gotten way more snow than average, coming after a less-snowy-than-usual year last year (in fact, in DC, the past 3 years have all hardly had any snow), while NY is having an average year after another average year, and Boston is having an underperforming snow year after a snowy year.   But the most surprising part of the graphic is how little difference there is in the average snowfall levels for DC vs. New York.  I grew up in NYC and have lived in the DC area for the past decade and a half, and I would have told you that NY gets much more snow on average.  I’m not sure how much my impression is biased by the low snow levels of the past few years, and how much it’s that DC snow usually melts on its own in a day or two, while NY snow sticks around in ugly gray piles for weeks.

And sometimes they do grow out of it

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Over at 11d, Laura wrote today about What To Do When Your Kid Doesn’t Talk. She begins:  “Five years ago, we noticed that Ian was not meeting his speech milestones, and we started down the disability path. Here’s what I’ve learned in the past five years:

  • If your child isn’t talking by two, is super picky about food, doesn’t like long sleeve shirts, can’t sit still in nursery school, doesn’t like bright lights or loud sounds, doesn’t respond when a stranger says hi, doesn’t like being touched except by you, walks in circles, spends a lot time doing one thing, doesn’t like getting his hair cut, doesn’t like taking a shower, suddenly starts crying a lot at age two, hums, or can’t run, then go get him/her checked out. If he/she is doing just one of those things, then get him/her checked out.”

D met at least 4 of these criteria as a toddler, and we did get it checked out.  We went through the local Child Find (early intervention) program, which was less of a pain in the neck than it was for Laura, but definitely a hassle.  And they agreed that he was indeed speech delayed, and qualified for services.  (At 2 years 8 months, he had less than 100 words, most of which were monosyllables that only T and I could understand.)  So once a week we took him to meet with the speech therapist at the elementary school down the block, and she played some games with him, and taught him to blow bubbles, and when they retested him at the end of the year, he no longer qualified for services.  We still don’t know if the therapy did any good, or if he just was on his own timetable, but he never looked back.

The sensory issues took longer to resolve.  I’ve installed a WordPress plug-in that identifies related posts from the archives, and when I wrote about snow days last week, it came up with a post from 4 years ago, called simply snow.  In it, I wrote:

“Playing with the boys was especially sweet because I wasn’t sure I was ever going to get to do it, at least with D.  He has mild sensory issues, and this is the first time that he’s been willing to play in the snow.  In the past, he’s totally refused to walk in the snow, even in boots.  He liked the idea of snowball fights — but only the throwing part, not the getting hit part.  He’s outgrown a lot of his issues — he used to be unwilling to walk on grass — and so I was hopeful that he’d eventually be willing to play in the snow, but I wasn’t sure it would happen.  But today, he had a great time, and was even willing to lay down and make snow angels.”

Four years later, those fears seem like a distant memory.  He’s been out in the snow this week, climbing in and out of the fort, and eagerly participating in snowball fights.  He still hates wearing shirts with collars, and prefers sleeping in his robe to pyjamas, but we can live with that.  He’s still a ridiculously picky eater, but doesn’t seem to be wasting away from malnutrition, so we’ve mostly stopped arguing with him about it.

So, what’s the take-away from this?  I don’t know.   Laura says to go to a pediatric neurologist, but others have commented that the specialists missed their kids’ issues.   My kid mostly outgrew his issues; Laura’s kid, who seems to have presented with pretty similar traits, hasn’t (although he’s made a lot of progress).  I think this is where I’m supposed to say “trust your gut” but I know that when I was dealing with all of this, I had no idea what my gut was saying.  The best I can say is that if you as a parent don’t know what’s right, the “experts” who see your kid for a couple of hours are highly unlikely to know any more.

(Side note: At some point while my blog was down, I read Schuyler’s Monster, which is Rob Rummel-Hudson’s account of his family’s struggles to find out why his daughter couldn’t speak, and then to get her the education and technology (she uses a computer that speaks her words) needed to communicate.  It’s a lovely book, scary and sad and loving and hopeful and honest.  He also gives some advice similar to Laura’s, especially about networking, the need to fight for services (particularly when they are expensive), and moving to more affluent school districts.)

snow and the working parent

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

The current prediction in the DC area is now for 16-26 inches of snow.  Given that this is a place that freaks out over snow  in general — the schools here in Fairfax shut down for about 4 inches on Wednesday — you can imagine the level of hysteria.  And it’s not all that misplaced — after the December storm, it was a good 3 days before there was any hope of getting a car safely in or out of our hilly street.

The federal government went ahead and declared an “unscheduled leave” policy, which means that employees can stay home if they want, but it uses up a day of their annual leave.  My office follows the feds, but we also have a pretty flexible policy about telecommuting, so I’ll be able to work from home.  Fairfax went ahead and announced this afternoon that they’re closing the schools tomorrow.  (We’ve already burned through all the slack in the school schedule, so this is going to eat into spring break or extend the year.) Based on my facebook feed, I’d say most of the stay-at-home and work-at-home parents are pissed that they’re losing their last chance to get anything done without the kids underfoot.  The work-in-an-office parents seem to be more sympathetic, probably because the early dismissal scenario is such a nightmare if getting home midday would take you an hour or more.  Of course, if you’re a work-in-a-store or other such inflexible job, you’re probably screwed in any case.

I’m tossing the comments here open for reports of the snow, the response, how you entertain the kids and try to get work done from home,  soup recipes, whatever else is on y0ur mind.

knock wood

Monday, November 16th, 2009

I don't want to jinx us, and I certainly don't want to make light of the H1N1 flu, which has knocked several people of my acquaintance on their backsides, but so far this fall my family has been far less sick than in the average year.  And it's not just me — Fairfax county schools are reporting a 3.6 percent absenteeism rate, down from an average of 4.03 percent.  My theory is that everyone is being so good about washing hands, and not coming to work/school when they're sick, that they're passing around a lot fewer colds than usual.

[For the record, we did get both boys vaccinated last weekend.  The Fairfax health department mass clinic was amazingly efficient.   Vaccines have not yet been available for non-priority populations in this area, so neither T. nor I have been vaccinated.]