Pits of Fire

Two nights ago I had a spiritually fraught dream– right on the heels of finding a snake in my driveway. Coincidence?

I dreamed I was in a mansion with endless rooms, but the dwelling had long been abandoned. There was hardly any furniture, most rooms lacked electricity, everything was dirty and dusty. There were people in the mansion but they didn’t live there. They seemed to just be hanging around. They looked sad, poor, worn out, standing or seated in groups. The many mansion bedrooms were empty. I wandered through the bedrooms and to my surprise found a woman in one of them. She looked at me sadly as I asked questions. I understood, as I spoke to her, that she was deceased and I was on “the other side.” She was evasive and wouldn’t answer specifics as to what this place was or why the bedrooms were empty, despite there being people in the house.

I kept wandering and found a group of sickly people in what looked like a hospital room (this room was one of the few rooms with electricity). I pleaded for them to move into the bedrooms, since it would be more comfortable. I asked for a show of hands of how many wanted a private bedroom, and a few raised their hands. I assured them I’d go through the mansion counting bedrooms, to see exactly how many would fit.

After counting bedrooms I was on the grounds and discovered smaller buildings filled with dilapidated antiques. A muslim family was squatting in one of these buildings. By this point I had a “guide,” a quiet, sad young woman but she too was evasive when I pressed for details. Finally she announced in a direct manner, “There’s no mass here.” (referring to Catholic mass) And she repeated it. “You know there’s no mass here?”

By this point in the dream it dawned on me concretely I was experiencing something foreboding and supernatural. I began to wonder if this was a vision of hell. As I spoke to my “guide” we neared a large crowd approaching a gate.

“What do you mean there’s no mass here? What about other religions?”

She looked nervous as though not knowing what to say.

I became frightened and began to pray the first prayer that came to mind– the first lines of the Amidah. When I uttered these words the entire crowd turned to stare, their faces contorting in a demonic way (like Jacob’s Ladder, but not quite as creepy), and I was propelled back by an invisible force. I was so frightened that I willed myself to wake up.

So what was all that about?? Did I indeed have a vision of hell? Note to self: if my soul is going to the effort of journeying to the netherworld, I would love to see my paternal grandmother whom I dearly miss after 18 years of worldly absence. But she was nowhere to be found in this dream. Of course, she probably made it to heaven, not hell. She was a beautiful and saintly human being.

I decided to consult the household spiritual guru, my 2nd grader who was recently saved.

“You saw… saw… saw hell,” she informed me with great authority in her voice. “But something doesn’t… doesn’t make sense? Hell has pits… pits… of fire. You didn’t see fire.”

Good point. There were no pits of fire in the mansion, nor on the grounds. Perhaps the pyres devouring sinful souls were on the other side of the gates.

After reflecting on the dream I began to wonder if I was approaching it erroneously from a christian angle. How, for instance, would a hindu view the dream? Perhaps those gates would not be gates to hell, but gates to reincarnation. And why were the muslims squatting outside the mansion? None of it made sense.

Didn’t The X-Files descibe dreams as answers to questions we haven’t yet asked? I guess this dream could fall into that category. And of course, I’m skeptic enough to just label it as a dream, misfirings of a tired brain.

Crock Pot Pizza

I know what you’re thinking– the words “pizza” and “crock pot” should not be uttered in the same breath. I had the same thought years ago when I encountered a recipe for crock pot pizza in a vegan cookbook. I didn’t dare attempt something so ghastly in my kitchen, but I did store the basic recipe in my head: cook the crust with sauce for 1 hour, 45 minutes on “high” with the lid wrapped in a bath towel to absorb moisture. Then add cheese (or “cheese” if you’re a vegan) and cook for an additional 30 minutes.

It was on a whim the other night that I decided to try this bizarre recipe. We had some extra pizza dough unused in the fridge, so I fired up the slow cooker and gave it a shot. The results were well nigh amazing, with a perfect deep dish style crust and no sogginess at all. My only complaint is that the pizza doesn’t look as pretty as pizza that has been roasted in a hot oven. But it didn’t look too bad, either. It’s also more difficult to cut than pizza on a regular pan, since you can’t exactly slide it out of the crock pot insert.

First, obtain a round of pizza dough. If you’ve used my recipe you should have pizza dough in the fridge marinating in olive oil. If you buy pizza dough at the store, coat it on all sides with olive oil, either by turning it in a bowl with some oil or using the plastic bag method described in my pizza dough post. If you make your own dough, be sure to let it rest overnight in the fridge. Purchased dough has already been resting, so don’t worry about it.

Spray your large slow cooker (I don’t think this would work in the smaller models) with a generous amount of cooking spray, and press the pizza dough into the bottom. Top with 1/2 – 3/4 cup tomato sauce (I added some chopped broccoli on top of the sauce), wrap the lid in a clean towel before covering the crock pot, and cook on HIGH for 1 hour and 45 minutes. I babysat the slow cooker and occasionally wiped away condensation that formed on the lid in between the towel layers, but you probably don’t have to do this.

towel crock pot

After 1 hour and 45 minutes have passed, add your cheese. I used about 1 1/2 cups- 2 cups shredded mozzarella and parmesan.  Re-wrap the lid, and cook for another 30 minutes. And that’s it. A crock pot miracle!

crock pot pizza

This recipe would be great for dorm dwellers, or anyone else who doesn’t have access to an oven.  Anyone without a fully equipped kitchen will probably have to buy pizza dough, but most grocery stores carry it in the freezer and dairy sections.

You could probably use any kind of pizza sauce (undiluted tomato soup makes excellent pizza sauce), but here is the recipe we use:

1 28 oz can tomato puree
1/2 cup white sugar
4 tbs (1/2 stick) butter
1 tsp salt
1 onion peeled and left whole

Combine all the ingredients in a crock pot and cook on HIGH for 2 hours. Discard the onion when done. We store this in the fridge in mason jars; it keeps 3-4 days.

Book Murderer

It’s such a painful thing to throw away books. It almost feels like throwing away a living being.

With all these kids, we get a lot of donations. People like to bequeath their old clothes, toys, and books to us. I’ve even had people buy up books at library sales and dump them on our doorstep. While I appreciate these gestures, if you factor in that my husband and I are both book hoarders, and that we already owned thousands of books between us when we got married (many of them obtained for free from library trash bins, or for pennies from library book sales) it becomes a problem.

We have a sun room and bedroom filled with nothing but boxes of books (that no one reads, because they’re totally unorganized). The garage is half filled with massive plastic containers of books. Most of those books are adult books (not that kind of adult) or textbooks. I’ve made every effort, over 17 years of parenthood, to liberate the children’s books into the wilds of the house. Every bedroom except that of my 5 and 2 year olds has bookshelves packed with books. And in the common spaces there are large moving boxes (years old, from when we first moved into the house) overflowing with children’s books.

So I finally took it upon myself today to sort through the cardboard boxes and throw away books. I’d already established rules. Keep in mind ALL these books are in poor condition (up to 7 kids and 17 years of abuse) and couldn’t be donated or sold.

1) Anything we got for free would be tossed, unless it was a truly outstanding book.

2) Any book where I didn’t like the art would be tossed (take that, lousy illustrators).

3) Anything my 2nd grader received through a “special” program would be tossed. It’s amazing how much money is poured into educating the lower achieving strata of students. She’s brought home countless learning kits, parent guides, and learning libraries from her various intervention programs. If only that kind of money were spent on high achieving students. We’d probably have Star Trek technology by now.

4) Any damaged books would be tossed– on an inverse scale of desirability. The beloved Calvin and Hobbes books were in shreds, so they were tossed. But less loved books only needed a missing cover to meet the scrapheap.

5) If I just didn’t like the book, or was sick of seeing it, I threw it out. I guess like living beings, some books just rub me the wrong way.

By the time I was done there were five bags of murdered books lined up by the back staircase waiting for sanitation. I neatly arranged the remaining books along the floor by the wall. That’s another thing– I’ve long held a deep-seated fear of bookcases and entertainment centers ever since becoming a mother. Every year hundreds of children are killed by falling furniture. We don’t have bureaus either– at least not in the rooms of the little kids. Even if a piece of furniture is anchored to the wall, the anchor can fail or lose efficacy over time. We did have one bureau fall over on the overachiever at the old house– it was my childhood bureau and thankfully very lightweight. She was only 5 years old but emerged unscathed. Many children are not so lucky.

So I stand before you a book murderer. Supposedly books are going the way of the dodo anyway, though I personally don’t believe that. Books sales are up in Europe and some distributors have made top profits in recent years. My husband works in publishing and remains optimistic. He foresees a hybrid system where electronic books simply augment paper purchases (sort of like DVDs to theater tickets). This is precisely what his company has seen over recent years, so physical book lovers, take heart.

Snake in the Driveway

There was great excitement this morning when we discovered a snake in the driveway. Initially I thought it was dead because it held so still, but sure enough it began to slither away from us. This was a huge snake by Staten Island standards– more than two feet long– and thick around the middle. My girls were enthralled as they crouched over to inspect.

snake in driveway

This comes on the heels of sighting a blue heron at a local park. We slammed on the brakes, did a u-turn just to take a picture. You often see white cranes in Willowbrook Park, but I’ve never seen a blue one up close.

blue crane

blue crane closeup

And… while they don’t count as wildlife, the cyclists were out in full force yesterday. There was some kind of cycling event going on. I’d read about it in the Advance but didn’t realize it would exactly coincide with time and space to my trip to Costco. They poured out of Snug Harbor like locusts just as I turned onto the road.

cyclists

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, one of my greatest fears is accidentally hitting a pedestrian, and those cyclists didn’t seem too concerned for their safety and in fact, as a pack, were quite rude and bullying on the road. I had visions of a redux of the Washington Heights biker attack: all those yuppies would drag me out of my car to lecture me on polluting the environment with my vehicle and sizable brood. But thankfully I made it to Costco without any casualties.

How to Die in Oregon

How to Die in Oregon is a documentary about Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act, which allows physicians to prescribe a lethal dose of barbiturates to the terminally ill. The docu paints a rosy portrait of the process, showing the procurement of the drugs (“hey, I didn’t know my insurance would cover it!”), the mixing of the drugs into water by volunteers, and joking, singing family members handing their loved ones off to the afterlife.

While I can see the use and good of this law in the hands of the educated, affluent, thoughtful circles shown in the film, I couldn’t help but consider how horrific this kind of national habit would be in the hands of the government, or even worse, insurance companies (the two will be the same thing eventually), or what might happen in a more hostile family situation where a sick person could be directly or indirectly coerced to end their life for convenience. Indeed, one of the few opposing views in the film came from a man terminally ill with prostate cancer. He shared the denial letter from his insurance company refusing to pay for chemotherapy– but it did offer to cover his suicide cocktail if he elected to die with dignity.

Having watched a beloved family member die slowly and horribly from multiple myeloma, I know she would have happily chugged down the barbiturate cocktail rather than endure an artificially extended life of agony. Under pressure from her children, though, she continued treatment while her “life” was dragged out months on end. I put “life” in quotes because she knew nothing but pain and despair over that period, and she made it clear to me she was ready, willing, and unafraid to die. But her children and the medical establishment won out: everything conceivable was administered and performed to eek out a few more moments of existence. But at what human cost?

This is the thing I don’t understand about Christians who insist on extending life as long as possible with every last medical measure at humanity’s disposal. Where in the Bible does it say you just keep doing stuff to sick people until their bodies simply won’t take it anymore? I’d estimate that my relative lived about eight months beyond what she naturally should have, already having received a heavy amount of treatment, but those eighth months were a second by second torture to her. Where does the Bible require that?

So I can see both sides of the equation, and while I appreciate the desire of the act’s advocates to provide people with a comfortable death within their control, I feel they’re a bit naive as to where this road might lead. Not everyone lives the comfortable lives of those featured in this film, with devoted, brainy relatives, excellent insurance coverage, and access to outstanding and caring doctors. Given that the act currently operates at a grassroots level via a network of volunteers, they probably don’t realize how toxic this could become in the hands of those with power.

In terms of documentary quality, the film was good but not great. It probably should have simply focused on people electing to end their lives via the act, but instead comes across as a propaganda piece, which is annoying no matter which side of the matter your opinion resides.

Classy Coffee

I was shocked the other day to see a child at the elementary school sipping a latte as he trudged through the parking lot. Since when do kids drink coffee? Since Starbucks, apparently. Coffee drinking is a common sight at my daughter’s high school, but at least those are teenagers. I see them congregating around the local Starbucks before waiting at the bus stop. That’s disconcerting enough, but little kids with coffee?

My husband says children drinking coffee was always a marker for him between the underbelly immigrant neighborhoods where he grew up, and the more rarefied world of his anglo friends. None of his white friends drank coffee, but his parents served it up from the time he was a toddler. So he too was shocked, at a recent visit to a Manhattan Starbucks, to see the pews filled with kids. Despite the sleek Starbucks atmosphere, he can’t help but view it as low class to feed kids coffee.

How much does a Starbucks latte cost? According to the Wall Street Journal, about $4. I’m glad my kids don’t like lattes– that would be a $30 a day habit.

In my childhood household, my father and paternal grandmother coveted the coffee maker and had serious discussions about which coffee beans to purchase where. My mother always looked down on their coffee enthusiasm for reasons I still don’t understand. I loved the smell of ground coffee beans– but can’t stand the taste of the beverage. I believe the Talmud has a section discussing foods that smell better than they taste– meat is on the list– but I’m not sure ancient Israel had coffee.

Season Finale and Chomping Block Predictions

[spoilers through season 4]

I’m late sharing my thoughts on the season finale of The Walking Dead. First, I should apologize for the inadvertent spoiler in my last post: my son hasn’t read the graphic novels nor does he read spoilers, he claims he just got a cannibal vibe from Terminus. I sort of did too– the meat on the grill looked way too substantial for a post-apocalyptic world where people fight to the death over scrawny rabbits. And in four seasons we haven’t seen a single survivalist camp as glowingly friendly and well advertised as Terminus (the Governor’s town was outwardly friendly, but they didn’t go out of their way to publicize). There had to be a catch– and apparently that catch is Rick’s group. I’m still not 100% convinced they’re cannibals– the room filled with candles suggests this might be some weird religious cult– maybe sacrificing people to zombie gods for divine protection?

As for the episode itself it was very good, probably the best of the mid-season, if excessively nihilistic; I could have done without the reference to child rape– threatening to rape Michonne was scary enough. I didn’t understand why Daryl acknowledged he knew Rick– I expected him to go into stealth mode, play along with the attack, only to ambush the bad guys last minute. It was very much un-Daryl to plea for unity and understanding. I was also puzzled why Rick and his friends surveyed Terminus for a only a few minutes before hopping the fence to say hi. After all they’ve been through, wouldn’t they give it a few days before taking such a leap of faith?

Once again the group has gotten too big, and someone has to go next season. My top prediction for zombie or barbecue death is Bob, as his character has been filler all along and serves no real purpose or point of interest to the plot. While it’s unlikely, I’d love to get rid of Glenn and Maggie because they are the most sexless, dull, chemistry-less couple in the history of television.

glennmaggie
snore…

Why can’t we have Shane and Lori back? At least their sex scenes were interesting.

shanelori
better

Unfortunately, though, we’ll probably lose Sgt. Ford (the burly guy protecting Eugene) because he has self-sacrifice written all over his character. We’ll probably lose Rosita too if Walking Dead follows the helpful hispanic archetype Hollywood so loves.

I believe season 5 premieres in October so that’s a long five months to endure. Isn’t there a prequel in production? And I’m still waiting for the Breaking Bad spin off. In the meantime I have nothing to watch. I even tried to get into Pokemon with my kids, who are devout watchers of the show on Netflix. No offense to the Japanese, but Pokemon is one freaky show. None of it makes any sense, and it’s so relentlessly psychedelic you have to wonder how such a reserved and conservative society cooked it up. Maybe something’s lost in translation? I once watched The Holy Grail dubbed in Japanese with literal English subtitles, and it was totally and utterly incoherent.

pokemon
magical mystery ride

The SHSAT

My 12 year old daughter, the overachiever, is knuckling down with the SHSAT study guide, a test she would take in approximately 1 1/2 years. I’m not crazy about the idea of her going to Tech (the specialized high school on SI– and I definitely don’t want her going into manhattan by herself every day to Stuy) because compared to Catholic high schools it’s a large school, and the commute would be miserable from our house, traversing some of the worst hills on Staten Island and with traffic could take an hour one way. And I’ve come to appreciate the nurturing, enclosed environment of the all girls school my oldest daughter attends, which is only 10 minutes away.

One of Mayor de Blasio’s campaign platforms was to reform the admission process to these specialized high schools, which as it stands is based solely on the the student’s performance on the SHSAT (Specialized High School Admission Test). The majority of students who achieve qualifying scores on the test are white and asian, and some specialized high schools (including SI Tech) have few blacks or hispanics. There may be no blacks at all in the incoming 2014 freshman class. The local paper ran an article on this topicMayor Bill De Blasio says specialized high school admissions – including Staten Island Tech – “don’t represent New York City–” and while I don’t like to comment on the Advance, I dipped my toes in and wrote the following comment– which was deleted. I’m reconstructing from memory but this was the gist of it.

The SHSAT is heavily g loaded and is basically an IQ test, particularly the scrambled paragraph section which is probably why these questions are worth double the points. So it would be difficult to alter the test without lessening the standards for admission. Also, a number of black and hispanic students gain admission to Catholic and private schools, and/ or receive scholarships to attend these schools, so the number of minority students at the specialized schools doesn’t necessarily represent only those capable of getting in.

Can you figure out why my comment was deleted? Because the main reason I refrain from comments on the Advance is due to how lowbrow and ad hominem the crowd can get. But this comment is neither lowbrow nor ad hominem. Is it because I mentioned the forbidden topic of IQ? Did they think I was making up the fact about high achieving blacks and hispanics opting for private school in lieu of the specialized public schools (this has been written about by the NY Times)? Who knows, but my comment is no longer there.

The problem with a “holistic” approach to admissions is that there is little standardization between schools concerning grades. A school with a low-achieving student body will make an average student look great. That average student will get As and glowing recommendations from his teachers. Meanwhile a school full of high-achieving students will make that same student look, well, average. So how is it fair to give the average student from a weak school an advantage over the better student from a competitive school? We experienced this grade scale ourselves in switching our girls from a struggling school to a school with much higher academic standards. Dea (5th grade) was stricken to receive a C in math. At the last school she was a straight A student with half the effort. I had to explain to her that the C was actually a higher achievement than the A at her last school. It was little comfort to her, but uneven grading is a reality in a city with a wide disparity of student ability.

That being said, I can think of ways to expand the range of students who might pass the test without lowering standards. My first suggestion would be to make the SHSAT version for the engineering schools math-only (or weight the math section heavily). This would give students less proficient in English, but very good at math, a leg up. My second suggestion would be to create more specialized schools for the humanities, and likewise weight the reading sections of the test, which would potentially attract more female students and any less math-inclined blacks and hispanics. My third suggestion would be to scrap the scrambled paragraph section altogether. The questions are very confusing and in truth have more than one way they can be ordered coherently. If they have to include a pure “g” section they should replace it either with something less ambiguous, or with pictorial/ visual puzzles similar to the gifted and talented test (but more difficult, since those are geared for 4 year olds).

Though the best approach, politically, would be to expand the specialized system entirely, creating new schools with lesser standards than the current specialized schools, but still higher than mainstream city high schools. The specialized schools already exist on a tiered cutoff system, with Stuy requiring the highest score and Brooklyn Latin the lowest. Just create more of the same, call them all “specialized,” and everyone’s happy.

Back when I was in 6th grade, the last thing on my mind was where I would go to high school. I don’t think I worried about this until halfway through eighth grade. I did end up taking an admission test for a private high school, but I didn’t prep for it– I’m not even sure there were study guides back then as exist today thanks to Kaplan et al. It’s a different world for our children, and I’m hard pressed to see this kind of academic pressure as a good thing. I just take it day by day with the overachiever. She’s maintained a straight A (and in some classes, 100) average despite finding herself in a more rigorous environment. So she has the intellectual strength to carry herself, but as she enters her teen years I’m more worried about her sanity and sense of self (for lack of a better term) than about where she’ll go to college, or what her SAT scores will be. Every year there are suicides at competitive colleges, including the ivies. At a certain point life needs to be held in perspective.

Not Wild About Frozen

When Frozen hit theaters it was with great excitement that my kids– even my son– begged to go. My husband obliged and brought the kids to the theater (I don’t even want to think about the ticket total… we could have bought a few dvds for that price). All the children came home with rave reviews. Fantastic! Incredible! Amazing!

In a rare spending splurge my husband even bought the dvd from the Disney Store while in the mall getting his computer repaired. The film finally within my reach, I sat down to watch with high expectations.

At risk of being like Elaine who lost social face by admitting she disliked The English Patient– I was flummoxed. This is what all the hype is about? The animation was plasticine, the plot made no sense (why does she have freezing powers? this is never addressed) Men are depicted as useless or evil, and girl power saves the day. I don’t expect Disney to cross the Red Sea for me, but still. It was silly, trite, and the music was repetitive and grinding.

I thought the snowman was cute, and I liked the troll song. Were they supposed to be African American? They sang gospel songs and spoke in double negatives. I imagine this all takes place in Norway– thanks to Lilyhammer, I now know the importance of trolls to their national mythos.

My girls are crazy about the music in this film. They huddle around the computer playing the various renditions in a loop on youtube. I wake up at night with the songs in my head.

Could the norse gods please have mercy on me, and make this film go away?

Beautiful Staten Island and International Night

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m no fan of international nights. Firstly, I doubt any of these countries are represented accurately. Secondly, I have no interest in cooking foods of my national origin which are all meat-heavy. My husband has joked I should just bring Dominican food– go in with no food at all, and steal everyone else’s food. I guess being Dominican gives him a right to Dominican jokes, like certain demographics have a right to the N word.

Anyway, I had no real interest in the International Night at my son’s school save for two reasons. 1) I would have opportunity to lay eyes on my son’s nerdy friends. Up to this point I’ve only encountered one who occasionally trudges past our home on the walk to school. My nerdar, like my gaydar, is highly accurate, and sure enough upon interrogation he not only knew my son but was friends with him (thank you to the patron saint of nerds). Of course, in true nerd fashion, they’re offering Japan for International Night; one of his friends is one-eighth Japanese.

Reason 2 is that I might catch a glimpse of my son’s astonishingly and freakishly handsome English teacher, who rivals the Vatican David for beauty and perfection.

Before heading off to the event, I snuck over to Snug Harbor to take some pictures of beautiful Staten Island. I’m reluctant to tell you how beautiful Staten Island is, because then people might actually want to live here, and what I love most about Staten Island is how sparsely populated it is. But contrary to popular conception, there are many lovely features to the island, including the largest greenbelt of all NYC, pristine golf courses, historical homes, and beaches that are never crowded. And of course, the handsomest man on the planet lives here, even more handsome than Omar Borkan Al Gala who was asked to leave Saudi Arabia because he was inciting lust in the local women.

omar
Gaydar going off… ding ding ding!

Snug Harbor was originally a sailor’s retirement home that has since been transformed into a botanical garden and cultural center. They host concerts, plays, art shows, horticultural events, and house a lovely children’s museum on their 80-acre wide property.

arbor

pagoda

goldfish

field

memorial

Needless to say, the gardens are even more beautiful in late spring and summer, when all the flowers emerge in glory. That last picture shows a statue outside the 9/11 memorial, which strangely enough contains a book my husband was integral to creating– the “Heroes” 9/11 tribute. We were both a bit shocked to discover it on display.

But on to international night. It is with great sadness that I report the English teacher was nowhere to be seen. The tastiest looking food was definitely from China, followed by the Philippines. I don’t know if men (my son’s school is all boys) just can’t conceptualize on what would be decent fare to feed a crowd, but most of the food looked disgusting, so I abstained. Italy and Ireland had the largest representation– Ireland even had a computer monitor with statistics on the country. My own heritage of Germany was pathetically represented with miserable looking hunks of meat skewered with toothpicks in a tin tray. Shudder! I wanted to take those kids to task, ask if they were really German, and if so why couldn’t they produce a sachertorte (chocolate cake) or stollen (fruit bread).

But my favorite country had to be America. Who can argue with chocolate chip cookies?

Ken Jennings Reigns Supreme

Ken Jennings returned to Jeopardy! tonight, and meeting expectations demolished the competition: a nerdy meteorologist and slick Indian female attorney (you don’t see a lot of champion women on Jeopardy!). I am draconian when it comes to television and school nights: my girls might as well be Amish in that respect. No TV, and no computers are allowed on school nights unless it’s directly and implicitly related to school.

While I might have stern standards I don’t necessarily have stern enforcement, but generally speaking my girls enjoy minimal mindless entertainment on school nights (my son does whatever he wants). But in recent months my 5th and 6th graders (the latter being the overachiever) coerced Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! out of me.

How is it that Vanna White doesn’t age? She still looks 35. Is it the distance of the camera? Layers of plastered makeup? Lovely ballgowns? The vigorous exercise of flipping letters?

The topic of Jeopardy! is not without angst for me, because Pi Guy’s lifelong ambition– other than finally getting married, and winning the world record for pi memorization– was to appear on Jeopardy!. So every time I hear that theme song, or happen to be in the presence of the show airing, I inwardly cringe and wallow in nostalgia. Our last point of contact was when he informed me he’d passed the Jeopardy! screening and had appeared on the show. And lost– to Ken Jennings. But he gave me no other details of his life, and I never replied to his communique.

Ken Jennings is the megalith of Jeopardy!, having won an astonishing 74 consecutive rounds. One has to wonder if he eventually just lost on purpose to get back to normal life. Had Ken Jennings not been in the competition, maybe Pi Guy would have won. But knowing him, he was probably nervous and slow on the buzzer.

I sometimes wonder what life would have been like had I remained with Pi Guy. I imagine a horde of nerdy sons all fighting over the farthest decimal point of pi, congregating around Jeopardy! each evening like boy scouts at campfire, shouting answers at the screen with passion and raised fists. And there I am in the background, pregnant & cooking lasagna or some other crowd-pleasing fare (pi guy was a conservative Catholic, so I would have ended up with even more children than I now have).

My cyber stalking skills are weak, but I know he still works and lives in the same area as last we met, but I don’t know if his subsequent engagement ever came through. Maybe she too got cold feet. He wasn’t exactly slick, or blessed with the gift for the gab.

Drinking Guidelines

As a newly minted drinker, my first question was: how much is ok to drink? I had no desire to binge drink or anything, but I had no idea what a safe limit was (one glass a day? 2 glasses? the occasional third glass?) from the perspective of physical and psychological well being. My only real experience with drinking was what I witnessed in college, which involved students getting plastered to the point of vomiting and passing out in the bathroom. I remember one girl from my dorm had to be carted off by EMS.

Turning to google I was surprised to find little consensus between countries and agencies on what constitutes safe alcohol consumption, or even on what constitutes alcoholism. Guidelines can vary some 300% between countries; for instance, the USDA recommends no more than one unit of alcohol per day for women, yet in Italy the limit is nearly three times that.

In recent years there’s even been controversy over whether pregnant women can safely drink. When I was first pregnant, women were instructed that even one drink over the entire pregnancy could harm the baby. Yet studies have shown women who drink lightly during pregnancy produced children with higher IQs than the non-drinking control group. In fact, in reading about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, I learned that a pregnant woman would have to consume the equivalent of 10 glasses of wine a day (~144 grams of pure alcohol)– over her entire pregnancy– for her child to have even a 30% chance of FAS. While I’m not going to advocate drinking during pregnancy, the apparent facts on the matter are a far cry from the “even one drink” philosophy that’s still the trend in american obstetrics.

As far as defining alcoholism, people are reluctant to measure alcoholism by amount of alcohol consumed (since in theory, an alcoholic could be many years sober), but in my experience this has been the hallmark dividing the drinking enthusiasts from those with a problem. To be sure, there are probably people treading water in a gray area, but the active alcoholics I’ve known consume massive amounts on a frequent basis, while the non-alcoholic drinking enthusiasts, though definitely exceeding the USDA limits, are nowhere near the quantities the alcoholics consume. If I could anonymously quote from a recovery message board where self-identified alcoholics discuss how much they’d drink on a given day:

*750 ml. of vodka and a few beers
*3/4 liter of vodka
*6 -8 beers, 3 or 4 shots of vodka or tequila, beer, more shots, 400ml of vodka.
*half gallon of vodka plus klonopin
*4 bottles of wine a night

To me these are mind-boggling amounts to consume on a daily basis, yet the DSM-IV does not address specific amounts of consumption in its diagnostic criteria (just that a person keeps drinking “more” and “can’t cut down”). Does this mean, then, that someone could be an alcoholic on two glasses of wine a day?

So if, like me, you’re still confused, my non-medical advice would be certainly not to exceed the highest international limits (Italy with 40 grams of pure alcohol a day for women– not quite three glasses of wine), and to be safe you could average the lowest and highest standards (14g vs 40g respectively) which is not quite 2 glasses of wine a day. And of course, don’t drink and drive– not even on a small amount of alcohol. So many factors impact perception behind the wheel, all the variables will be heightened with even slightly impaired perception. As you may know, it has been argued that the human brain should not be able to cognitively handle the process of driving, so why add alcohol to the equation?

In Hindsight

There’s an interesting if slightly vapid entry in the motherlode blog about SAHMing: In Hindsight, Is Stay-at-Home Parenting Something You’d Recommend? These days, being a SAHM-slash-housewife is a very different role from what you’d find in the 1950s. SAHMing usually means taking time off after a child is born, but not staying home permanently. As I’ve mentioned previously, I don’t think there are many “lifer” housewives out there except, perhaps, within ultra-religious communities like the FLDS. Additionally there are very few mothers who plan to have more than 2 or 3 kids. So my perspective, having been a SAHM to 7 kids over 17 years, may not fit the mold of the taking-time-off-from-work SAHM. But I’ll give what advice I can.

The crux of the motherlode entry is: was it worth it? Is it worth interrupting your career for a few years or more to be personal attendant to your not always appreciative or cooperative progeny?

There isn’t a cookie cutter answer to these questions, but there are cookie cutter factors to consider.

1) What is your husband like, do you trust him financially? Would he resent supporting you, would he take out life insurance and disability policies to protect you in case ill fate befalls him? Will he contribute to your retirement accounts while you’re not working? If no, no, yes, no to these questions, you may not want to be a SAHM.

2) Would you be miserable stuck at home all day tending to whiny children and cleaning up disgusting messes? Being a SAHM is a thankless and tedious job, and in our feminist culture is regarded with disdain (recall Hillary Clinton’s comment about baking cookies all day). I know my own mother would have been miserable staying at home with us (she actually did stay at home, sort of, our first three years, but attended school and worked part time over those years– and yes, even with that, you could tell she was depressed and forlorn stuck with us all day).

3) How important is your career to you? If you really love what you do and gain tremendous personal satisfaction from it, you may not want to SAH. Again, my mom gained her inner satisfaction and wherewithal from work. Some people just are what they are, and not every woman is cut out to be a doting, career-abandoning mother.

4) How many kids do you want? If you want more than 2 it may make financial sense for you to SAH, because the cost of childcare or afterschool would be crushing to anyone below upper middle class. In my case I always wanted a lot of kids, so I knew I’d probably end up a lifelong SAHM. But having a small army of children isn’t for everyone. A word to the wise, however: try to have all your kids before age 35. Fertility plummets even in healthy women after this point. I never had a miscarriage until age 37, and I’ve since had at least three miscarriages.

5) How deeply do you want to SAH? Truth be told, if your heart is telling you to stay home with your kids, you should do it (almost) no matter what, even if it means living below your desired standard of living. If you have food, shelter, clothing, and your children nearby, what’s to complain about? You have to view it as a risk vs. reward scenario. You may not implicitly trust your husband to the point of being financially dependent on him, but if you want to SAH badly enough, you can simply take the leap of faith. Sometimes life is about following your heart and abandoning logical concerns.

So there’s my advice for young mothers, which I daresay is better than what is offered in the motherlode entry. Remember that the mother-child bond is the most ancient of traditions; even if your decision to SAH is greeted with ridicule, remember that you have 200,000 years of precedent in your defense.

Dramatis Personae

For months my fifth grader warned me how lame the school play is. “I wish you didn’t have to witness it,” she often sad sadly, after theater practice. I’ll confess my main sentiment on the play was annoyance over having to pick them up late on rehearsal days. With so many kids, school pick up gets extremely complicated.

When I learned my 2nd grader was given a speaking role I was filled with dread because I wasn’t sure she could memorize lines, and even if she could, she would deliver them with a painful stutter. While I could have instituted tiger mom practice sessions at home, I tried to stay zen about it, and managed to furnish her with a decent costume the day before opening night.

evil fairy
Note cool skull on tutu.

So it was with low expectations that I settled into the audience last night, and lots of dread for my younger thespian. But I was pleasantly surprised: as far as elementary school productions go, this one was quite good. All of the children remembered their lines, the music was pleasant, and the singing approached decent. My 5th grader played a dwarf and she had a variety of cute lines and songs with her dwarf brethren.

Then, Act 2, Scene 3: my 2nd grader dashes center stage like a bullet, spotlight glaring. I held my breath and wanted to shield my eyes.

Totally unruffled she took command, delivered her lines like Laurence Olivier– no stuttering at all– and peeled off stage with an absolutely fantastic evil laugh (“mwahahaha!”– she was an evil fairy). I nearly fell out my chair– it was the commoner’s version of The King’s Speech.

When it was over I couldn’t stop gushing about how amazing she was, then guiltily realized I should lavish praise on my 5th grader (who has a memory like a steel trap) too, which I did. My husband spent the entire production flipping through files on his ipad and reading digital comic books. Halfway through the performance I noticed a teacher from the girls’ old school seated in the audience. My heart sank, because this was my favorite teacher from that school, and I’m still conflicted and bittersweet over our choice to vacate their domain. I was near tears when I approached her to say hello. She would have been the evil fairy’s teacher this year, had we remained. I’ll admit that I miss the school, how laid back it was. Despite my constant anxiety, I’m a laid back person myself. At least in some ways.

During intermission they sold hot pretzels. Being the bread addict I am, I headed to the pretzel line like a zombie with wallet in hand. But at the last second the hand of god pushed me away and said: “No more bread!.”

Too bad, because this afternoon I had a scrumptious bagel for lunch. I just cannot give up the bread habit. I think it would be easier to give up crack, than bread products.

Better to Raise Geese

It’s a Girl is another incredibly depressing documentary that, like Black Fish, took me by surprise. While I didn’t expect a cheerful 60 minutes, the film opens with an Indian woman casually describing how she killed eight of her newborn girls and buried them in a shallow grave decorated with weedy flowers. The documentary only goes downhill from there.

It’s a Girl is about female infantcide and feticide in India and China. Many millions of girls– some experts put the total at 200 million– have been aborted or killed at birth in both countries by families under heavy pressure to produce a boy. Worse yet, in India, mothers who aren’t producing boys are killed by husbands impatient for a son. These crimes are rarely if ever prosecuted by cultures tolerant of the lust for boys. As one Chinese proverb puts it: It is better to raise geese than to raise girls. The brutality touches all social strata; beauty queen Pooja Chopra was nearly killed at birth, and her family was educated and middle class. Indeed, It’s a Girl features an Indian doctor who was starved, poisoned, and assaulted by her husband and mother-in-law in an effort to coerce her into aborting twin girls. As she puts it, if this can happen to an educated woman like her, what is going on in the villages?

The segment on China was even more horrifying. At least in India the practice of forced abortion isn’t a national pasttime, complete with paid snitches and a police force to enforce the effort. The docu shows some of the most devastating photographs I’ve ever seen– weeping, heavily pregnant chinese women herded together in cramped quarters awaiting forced abortions, because they had exceeded the one to two child limit.

An ironically placed 1995 clip of Hillary Clinton decrying the practice of forced abortion brought the elephant in the living room to the fore: where is the western feminist outcry against the feticide and infanticide of millions of girls? If this is not a feminist cause, what is? But somehow the campus feminists aren’t particularly energized to address the brutal practices that not only snuff out young female lives, but terrorize and even kill mothers coerced and forced into abortions and infanticide. Maybe western feminists don’t care what happens to third world women. Maybe they’ve been so conditioned to view abortion as a good thing, that the disconnect is too much for them. Or maybe they’re environmentalists who see it as a boon to get rid of those pesky babies before they can pollute the earth. Not even Michelle Obama– a mother of two daughters– would address the issue of forced abortion on a recent trip to China.

Sadly these countries will probably get what they have coming to them soon enough. There is already a massive gender imbalance amongst sexually mature adults, with 40,000,000 “extra” Chinese males who will probably remain unmarriageable because there simply aren’t enough women to go around. Unmarried young men are, statistically, the greatest instigators of crime and social unrest, and this is already being witnessed in China with a rise in sex crimes and female trafficking. Ironically enough, families are kidnapping young girls, not to have a daughter but to ensure a daughter-in-law (a family whose young daughter was kidnapped is featured in the docu).

It was interesting to hear the “right to life” discussed outside the context of the American pro-life movement, which I think most people have simply grown numb to. One Indian advocate pointed out that the right to life is the most fundamental human right a civilization can institute. If we kill babies because they’re girls, why not kill babies for being ugly? Or for any other number of reasons? As I’ve related before, this issue hits home for me because my parents did not want a girl when I was born. Had I been born during the age of ultrasounds, and had I not been born right under the gun of Roe. vs. Wade, I’m sure they would have considered an abortion. It also hits home for me because, as the mother of six girls, I’m very grateful indeed to live in a culture that hasn’t institutionalized female feticide and infanticide.

Of course, Americans find plenty of other reasons to abort their children, to the tune of more than a million a year– 17 out of every 1000 women of child bearing age (the high was 1981 with a rate of 30:1000). Strangely enough this isn’t much lower than China’s abortion rate of 24 per 1000 women. Maybe China needn’t bother with the snitches and police: in NYC for example, more babies are aborted each year than are born, for certain demographics. And it’s all done voluntarily.

More on Race in Walking Dead

I was googling for articles about race and Walking Dead, but was surprised not to find much except for this one that complains the cast is too white, and a Salon article bemoaning the “white patriarchy” of the show. My interest in race and WD leans more towards whether the races we’re seeing are accurate demographic representations of Georgia and metro Atlanta (where the first season takes place). Though I’m going to have to disagree with “Chesya” about the dearth of black characters on WD; for an international franchise, WD has a surprisingly high number of black characters. My husband works in publishing and licensing, and he’s explained to me that despite its liberal bent, Europe (which Hollywood depends on for revenue) does not look favorably on entertainment with too many non-white characters. Over the years there have been a tiny handful of crossover actors like Will Smith (Men in Black did well in Europe) but generally speaking, anything that looks too ethnic will have poor numbers on the continent.

Census numbers put the racial breakdown of Georgia at roughly 55% white, 10% hispanic, and 30% black. However some areas of metro Atlanta are 90%+ black. So in the earlier episodes, particularly those that take place inside the city limits, we probably should have seen a lot more black zombies, if not exclusively black zombies. It’s unclear how far from the city proper Rick and his group are now– remember they encountered roadblocks of abandoned and crashed vehicles– but it is possible that, as of now, they’re in an area that was primarily white pre-zombie. The show seems careful to always maintain two or three black main characters– currently we have four (Tyreese, Michonne, Sasha, Bob), which, depending on the migrationary patterns of the survivors is neither high nor low. Both of the governor’s camps were just about exclusively white which did seem implausible to me, but if the worst onslaughts took place in Atlanta it might make sense that few from densely black neighborhoods managed to escape.

My mention of the dearth of hispanic characters in an earlier post was a reaction to the insertion of lesbians into the plot. Given that Georgia is 10% hispanic we’d expect to see a few more of them hanging around, but it’s probably trendier to weave gay characters into scripts than hispanics. So far we’ve had two recurring hispanic characters, though the first one was killed off quickly and the second one (Rosita) looks white.

By this point the race of the zombies as per Georgia demographics is probably irrelevant, as zombies seem to do nothing but wander around aimlessly and eat people, and don’t have any kind of sleep cycle. Even at their plodding pace they can probably cover a mile in four hours so that’s 6 miles a day over two years. Thus the zombies, by this point in the show, could have stumbled in from lily white flyover states or even Canada.

As far as the deeper issues delineated in the linked articles, it’s worth mentioning that all the evil characters in WD have been white, while blacks have been depicted in nothing but a positive and selfless light. The Governor and the various marauders encountered by Rick’s group have all been white, if memory serves. So I’m hard pressed to see how the show is racist or exclusionary to blacks. As far as patriarchy, truth be told, an actual survivalist situation would probably be far more patriarchal than what we’re currently witnessing. I really doubt that in the real world so many women would be gung ho about gun/ sword wielding and zombie slaughter. So on that point too I have trouble seeing women depicted in a weakened or helpless light on WD. Michonne is a feminist personified: she has excellent self defense skills and keeps her boyfriend on a chain– literally.

Mom Walking 2

My mother is visiting this week, and as I’ve mentioned before, every step she takes in my less than orderly household makes my heart skip a beat. Unlike my 90 year old ex-nazi neighbor, my parents haven’t aged well. He can scamper up and down ladders like a monkey and still does his own shoveling; my parents, though 20 years his junior, can barely climb the stairs. And my house has a lot of stairs.

stairs
That’s just one flight.

There’s a certain standard of cleanliness that you devolve to when you have seven children. It’s more a standard of sanitation than “clean.” Are there bodily fluids on the floor? Are the toilets flushable? Is there anything toxic, poisonous, or sharp lying around? If no, yes, then no, it’s all good. This morning as I was cleaning up the sun room where our kitchen table is, I noticed some dried up ice cream all over the wooden bench. No big deal, I thought. It’s not sticky anymore. Then I remembered my mom might sit there.

So I’ve been scurrying around all day trying to neaten things up. Two hours later things looked a little better.

livingroom
The cleanest it’s been in months.

When my husband complains about the house being messy I point out he didn’t marry me for my housekeeping skills. By cruel stroke of fortuna my vacuum cleaner died over the weekend, so my rugs are looking, to borrow a phrase from the 80s, grody. You can’t see the ground up cookies in the rug fibers in the above picture.

I made sure to fortify the barracks with ample supplies for her visit.

malbec
Highly recommended when dealing with mothers or mother-in-laws.

My mom doesn’t drink but apparently I do. I guess I’m like grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine who started doing heroin in his old age.

This afternoon my mother told me when she was a young girl and would vacation on Cape Cod with her family (this was before it was a tourist area) the cottage they stayed at had no electricity, so an ice vendor would make the rounds of the homes selling large blocks of ice slung over his back. This was put in an ice box that had a drainage mechanism for water runoff as the ice melted. She says the large blocks lasted forever and the food was kept perfectly chilled. Boy do I feel old having a mother who remembers ice boxes.

Walking Dead 415

[spoilers through 415]

The most recent episode of The Walking Dead was pretty good. At least, it wasn’t as lame as its immediate episode predecessors. The conveniently placed spooky train tunnel was a bit contrived, and the zombie-speckled pile of rubble was even more contrived, and the last minute rescue by Eugene et al (I thought he couldn’t fire a gun) was yet more contrived. By this point I’ve learned to stop asking too many questions during my Sunday night zombie fix.

I also realized, while watching 415, that the WD producers must read my blog because they actually added a hispanic character! She looks so white I didn’t realize she’s hispanic until everyone kept calling her “Rosita.” Sure enough, she spewed forth some Spanish words mid-episode (since there was no translation: she called Eugene a liar) just in case we didn’t realize she’s a token minority, and what a token– scantily clad, saucy mouthed, sultry and short tempered.

rosita
No zombie scratches on that bare midriff.

Maybe WD was going for a Seven of Nine hail mary pass to keep the geek boys watching (coincidentally, my son stopped watching as of last episode because he feels the series has gotten pathetic). But unlike Seven of Nine, Rosita is a dumb dumb who can’t fix the warp drive. On a related note I have to admit I was relieved the producers didn’t make Eugene an African American out of political correctness; I was genuinely surprised they let him be white–though I have a sinking feeling he isn’t all he’s chalked up to be and might in fact be avoiding D.C.. Come to think of it, the smartest human on Enterprise was black crew member Travis Mayweather; we learn this in the episode “Dead Stop” where the repair station’s AI abducts the ensign to leech his superior brainpower. In truth, though, the intellectual savior of humanity on WD should be Asian, since the’re kicking everyone’s butts on the SAT. But so far we only have Glenn, the former pizza deliveryman.

I was wrong about Terminus. It’s not abandoned, and in fact has lots of fake-looking raised gardens set up in the courtyard. My son popped his head in during that final scene to announce he thinks they’re cannibals. Indeed, the chubby lady who greets them is firing up the grill. Foreshadowing?

Did anyone else notice Daryl’s rabbit didn’t have any blood? Even chickens, slaughtered and drained in factories, get blood everywhere when you take them out of the plastic wrap. But the freshly killed rabbit, stashed in his sack, is magically bloodless. Maybe Daryl’s epic tracking skills come with bonus epic slaughtering skills. We now have yet another interesting twist, with Daryl becoming lukewarm friends with Rick’s would-be killers. Which side will he choose? Or will he run into Tyreese and Carol first? How will their band of armed marauders react to a baby? There’s only one episode left to find out, until the long and painful zombie drought of summer.

 

Junk Food

Three-quarters into the school year, it became suddenly and painfully clear that my lunch plan for the kids to tote homemade muffins, wholesome sandwiches, and water in reusable bottles to school was not flying. The muffins sat on the counter unloved and untouched. The sandwich bread sat equally lonely beside the toaster. Every morning, without fail, there were howls about “nothing to bring for lunch,” lost water bottles, lost lunchboxes, and last minute scrambles to concoct weird meals that often involved both cold and hot foods in the same container (an invitation for food poisoning).

New Costco membership in hand, I realized there was another way: junk food. I put most packaged foods in the category of “junk food–” you know, goldfish crackers, cheez-its, pretzels, potato chips. I never buy this stuff because it’s expensive compared to simply buying ingredients, and I consider it unhealthy. But I knew 1) my kids love junk food even though they rarely eat it and 2) it would package beautifully. Like astronaut food, junk food will keep, and keep, and keep indefinitely. I could actually pre-package these crackers and other junk in sandwich baggies (sorry dolphins) days ahead of time, stick it in a large box next to a crate of juice boxes, and prepping for lunch would be a no brainer.

So I’ve now joined the ranks of mothers who feed their kids junk. I’m a little ashamed, but I was sick and tired of hearing the kids whine about lunch. The only problems are 1) despite rock bottom Costco prices, I’m spending about $40-60 more per week on groceries (I’m also buying cases of yogurt for my husband’s lunches). So I can no longer brag  about feeding my family on almost nothing, though we’re still well below the USDA rates for a family of nine. And, 2) now that junk food is in the house, the kids are always begging for it. In theory it’s solely for lunches but there’s always some excuse: my throat hurts, my stomach hurts, pleeeeeease, I’m SO hungry. Once the two year old caught wind there was junk food in the downstairs kitchen (I mainly use the upstairs one, it’s a two family house, so the junk food is banished to the unused kitchen) she furiously signs “more” whenever we go through it.

more

… which is the only sign she knows. I tried teaching her “mama,” “dada,” “baby,” “love you,”and a few others, but nothing sunk in.

Ever since getting so sick after my fourth child was born, I have been something of a health nut with varying levels of success. I ate no sugar for nearly two years, but when I got pregnant with #5 I caved and started eating the occasional cookie or brownie. But seven months ago I finally decided to stop desserts once and for all, and I haven’t ingested a bite of anything dessert-related since (though I still make desserts for the kids– I’m not as bad as Gwyneth Paltrow who doesn’t let her kids eat chocolate chip cookies).

Next, I tried to get rid of bread from my diet, but it hasn’t been easy. I once watched a documentary on sex addiction, and a sex addict told the camera how he’d quit smoking, cocaine, alcohol and pot– but he still wasn’t able to give up sex. Well let me tell you, I think bread is even tougher than sex as far as bad habits go. I don’t know why, but if there are bagels or croissants in the house, they emit a siren’s call that is quelled only by landing in my stomach.

I’m not an anti-carb person, but if there are finite calories you should consume each day, it’s wiser to get the carbs from raw fruit, beans, or nuts than from bread, especially the refined bread I have a predilection for. There’s a bagel shop on Staten Island, which you can see here courtesy of google street view:

bagels

… that has the most incredible bagels I’ve ever tasted. Better than anything in Manhattan. It’s run by a portly middle eastern guy who rules over a small army of white guys who work the deli counter, and a smaller army of mexicans who work the kitchen. Their bagels are ridiculously cheap and he even throws in an extra four for every dozen you buy. Nirvana!

This morning something occurred to me. Out of my seven children, the first four have crooked teeth, three of those bad enough for braces. But my last three children– who were conceived once I became a health nut– all have perfectly straight teeth. I’d hate to think that my poor dietary habits while pregnant caused the first four their crooked teeth. Because I was always thin, I ate whatever I wanted and never worried about if it was healthy.

I guess it could be worse. There’s no soda in the house, no candy unless it’s a special occasion, and they still eat wholesome fare for breakfast and dinner. But it amazes me how addictive these packaged foods are for kids. I have renewed sympathy for those moms in A Place at the Table who only bought packaged foods for their overweight– but hungry– children. If you’re counting pennies at the grocery store, you’re under enormous pressure to buy stuff your kids will actually eat. Do you spend $10 on ingredients for a homemade meal your child may or may not eat, or spend the same amount on junk food you KNOW he’ll eat enthusiastically? These moms are in a real bind if their children have been raised on processed sweets and junk and don’t know the taste of homemade food.

I grew up with a mixture of real food and junk food. Both of my parents are enthusiastic cooks, but my mother loved to snack on boxed and bagged foodstuff; Doritos were a special favorite of hers. It wasn’t until I read Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman that my eyes were opened to the concept of eating for nutrients. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in nutrition, even if you don’t have weight to lose. I think he’s a little too extreme in his vegan stance but the foundation of his theories are exhaustively researched and sound. I can honestly say the book changed my life, but I don’t think he’d be very happy with my kids’ lunches. Sorry Dr. Fuhrman– you try feeding these kids!

Black Fish

Black Fish is a documentary about Tilikum the killer whale, a trained Seaworld whale that killed three people– including a highly experienced trainer. My daughter is an animal enthusiast and she recommended the documentary to me. However, I was not prepared for how sad and depressing it would be; I cried several times during it, and as I’ve mentioned before, I hardly ever cry. So watcher beware: this documentary is a downer, though gripping and informative.

The docu takes a “save the whales” stance, justifying Tilikum’s behavior by the fact that he’s held in captivity. An interesting fact I learned is that orca pods all have distinct languages and traits, and that intermixing whales from differing pods results in– for lack of a better term– racial tension. This “race warfare” makes for very tense and frustrated whales, and intermixing is put forth as a primary reason Tilikum acts out. I guess there’s only so much microaggression one orca can take.

I’m not crazy about the practice of removing these whales from the wild for our amusement, particularly given that they form strong tribal and filial bonds within their pods. On the other hand, both the whale savers and Seaworld need to take a step back and recognize that a whale that killed three people probably should have been put down after the first person died. But not only is Tilikum kept alive at Seaworld, he is used as a stud for the female whales, and nearly two dozen whale offspring now carry Tilikum’s aggressive genes.

The docu is especially heartbreaking because ample footage of the victims– in happier times– is shown. (On a side note, orca trainers sure are a happy and bubbly bunch). Thankfully the actual deaths are not shown, but we do see the fateful performances up until the point where they turn tragic. I don’t understand why Seaworld feels compelled to include killer whales in their entertainment offerings. Wouldn’t it be prudent simply to expand their dolphin or seal departments? Dolphins love playing with people, and unlike orcas, don’t have the physical capacity to kill a human (I guess they could pull people underwater, but I’ve never heard of a human drowning by dolphin).

dawn_Brancheau
Seaworld trainer Dawn Brancheau, Tilikum’s third victim.

For any labor law attorneys out there, the docu also goes into the OSHA case against Seaworld, which ends up being precedent setting for trainer safety.

Out of the Blue

Out of the Blue is a documentary by James C. Fox about UFO phenomena and the US government’s efforts to deny and obfuscate the subject. In terms of gathering information and presenting a coherent argument, the documentary is excellent. However, in terms of film making, it is a bit plodding, dry, the editing is choppy, and the graphics and music are terrible. The music is so bad and repetitive they might have been better served not to include it at all. Those small details aside, the film presents a sweeping argument for the existence of UFOs and the ardent desire of government agencies to deny their existence.

A striking feature of this docu is that most of the interviews are conducted with military personnel (many of them retired), all of them highly articulate and sober minded. They describe in detail their UFO sightings and encounters, and in more than one case continue to describe how they were instructed to deny everything they’d witnessed. In one case, video of a dummy warhead being launched reveals an unknown aircraft obliterating the warhead with beams of light. That section of the video was scrubbed and only the remaining footage archived.

While I’m as skeptical as anyone else, it does seem that UFO phenomena is very real indeed, in the sense that these aren’t hoaxes concocted by attention seekers. Many of the military men interviewed– even decades after the fact– look uncomfortable in the spotlight of the camera and seem reluctant, but determined, to share their stories. In cases such as the Phoenix Lights there were countless eye witnesses and excellent footage of the dark, hovering object in the sky “that blocked out the stars” it was so large. So obviously,”something” is going on.

If we take as a given for a moment that these objects are indeed of alien origin, a few questions are immediately raised.

1) Why do the aliens remain aloof, neither malevolent nor benevolent? Certainly with such sophisticated technology they could have obliterated us all by now, or, helped us tremendously in our fragile human state on earth. By all appearances they’re uninterested in either task.

2) Do they not communicate with us because they can’t? Perhaps they lack the ability to conceive of language or communication as we humans do. Perhaps there are other factors that prevent them from communicating with us. Maybe they’re “allergic” to something about us.

3) The docu states that statistically it is likely 10,000 planets in the Milky Way alone have life. So is there only one “they?” Are the UFOs people have witnessed throughout the centuries from just one variety of alien? Certainly out of that 10,000, at least one alien race would be hostile and warmongering. So why haven’t we been wiped us out?

Perhaps out of that 10,000 only a few are technologically sophisticated. Maybe some of the “alien life” out there is on the same level as algae or fish, intellectually.

4) Perhaps the UFOs/ aliens people witness are actually protecting us from something(s) else.

5) Why do they appear so infrequently? Are we seeing them by accident? Do they understand we’re seeing them?

6) Are the UFOs actually “here” or are we seeing them through a ripple or glitch in the space-time continuum? In that respect, perhaps we are being witnessed elsewhere in the universe in the same manner.

7) Could these aliens be us from the future? Since time travel is theoretically possible, we’ll probably figure it out in a zillion years, in which case we could come back to 2014 to visit ourselves.

I’ve always thought it very possible that what we are calling aliens and UFOs today, are what were historically viewed as angels, demons, and “chariots in the sky” (which even Jesus mentions). The New Testament describes warring principalities in heaven, but their purview was a religious and spiritual one, not the sci-fi one we have today. It’s possible that neither approach– the spiritual vs. the technological– is wholly accurate.

What is certain is that data concerning alien activity is on tight lockdown by government agencies. Even Bill Clinton was stonewalled when he attempted to find the truth about UFOs while in office. This surprised me, as my husband likes to joke that the first thing that happens to incoming presidents is that they’re told the truth about aliens and UFOs– and that’s why they all get gray hair so quickly.

Of course there’s another possibility– that aliens are already among us, interbreeding with us surreptitiously via genetic manipulation, or are somehow able to take over our bodies or consciousness (does anyone recall the cheesy TV series “V” from the 80s?). Forgive me if I sound defeatist, but given the current downward trajectory of humanity perhaps an injection of supergenius alien DNA might be to our benefit. At least then the educrats would stop whining about the achievement gap.

Crivelli, Carlo, The Annunciation with St. Emidius
The Annunciation by Carlo Crivelli, 1486. Note the spaceship beaming light into Mary’s brain.

Uh-Oh

Today was d-day for the two year old. After nearly a year of procrastination I finally brought her to the pediatrician for shots. I knew they would ask developmental questions, and since I kept expecting her to start talking (she did start, then stop, a few times, but never more than 10 words or so, only to go back to zero words) I kept putting it off. I knew that saying she was non-verbal would start a ball rolling that might be difficult to stop.

So I dragged the poor thing down to the office this morning. We were the first appointment, and because the nurse had not shown up yet, the receptionist put us through the developmental questionnaire.

Can she point to body parts?

Some.

Can she kick a ball?

Not really.

Does she take off her clothes?

Just her socks. Boy does she hate socks.

Does she use 5-6 word sentences?

Uh… no.

You mean she mumbles?

No, she doesn’t talk.

Doesn’t talk at all?

Nope.

long pause…. then she goes to a different section of the questionnaire:

Does she rock back and forth?

Sometimes.

Does she hand flap?

Sometimes… but not a lot.

Does she bang her head?

Only on soft stuff.

Now, I know what she’s thinking. These are all the hallmarks of autism. But if my daughter is autistic, she’s the sweetest, quietest autistic two year old on the planet. I guess she might be mildly autistic, but at this point if she were talking, she would probably be considered a quiet, serious, but normal little girl.

Later we were in the exam room with the real nurse. By this point my two year old was so freaked out, her hands were permanently glued over her eyes in a hiding stance.

“She says no words at all?” asked the nurse.

“Well… sometimes she says no and uh-oh. But not always in context.”

As if on cue, the nurse dropped her pen and my daughter said, very very quietly, “Uh-oh!

The doctor was a bit more laid back, but I couldn’t tell if it was the fake cheeriness of doctors when they see something bad, or if she’s just a laid back kind of lady. I sometimes see this woman as my doppelganger if I had actually chosen a career path instead of staying home and having a zillion kids. We’re about the same age and more or less the same intelligence level. In fact I could tell she was surprised the first time we met, that I could actually carry on a coherent conversation with her about my kids’ medical issues. When you have seven kids, people assume you’re either a religious wacko or that there’s something seriously wrong with you.

She pointed to my daughter’s head. “We need to WAKE UP something in there!” She smiled broadly, and started talking about evaluations and years of speech therapy. “Three times a week” was mentioned. Wait, wait… who says I consent to any of this? She handed me some numbers to call, asked a few more questions (does she pay attention to TV when something educational is on? Oh yes– she’s watched the same math cartoon 400 times) and sent us on our way.

I don’t want to malign speech therapists– in fact, I considered being one before I became a mom– but having gone down this route before, if a child can’t or won’t talk there is only so much these people can do. My now second grader– who had a lot more problems than my 2 year old– had around the clock speech therapy, physical therapy, educational therapy, and a bunch of other therapies for two years. But none of it got her talking, though she did get really good at the games they played with her over and over again (one therapist even had “Hungry Hippo”). We eventually declined all services after she spent a year in a special ed preschool filled with demented boys, and eight months later… with her just at home, no therapists to be seen… she finally started saying single words.

So I remained skeptical on rushing my two year old to the experts.

I don’t have any answers for where exactly these children– who are non-verbal, but not severely autistic– reside on the autistic spectrum, if they even dwell there at all. Asperger’s excludes late talking in its diagnostic criteria, so they don’t fit the profile for that syndrome. Recently there was a news story about a chemist who claimed to cure her daughter’s autism via a specialized diet. But having had 2 (and now apparently 3) children who were non-verbal and displayed autistic traits as very young children, only to see them grow out of it without much special treatment (my son received no services at all, and now is quite functional and smart) I wonder how much her “diet” had to do with it.

My second grader still has a speech impediment and is not exactly quick on the uptake in school, but she’s far from profoundly autistic. My son could probably manage to live independently right now, if he had to. If I had put them on some special diet I’d probably be crediting that too. But the truth is, they just grew out of it. Not completely, but the worst parts of it.

Given that she’s such a sweetie, maybe my two year old would enjoy hanging out with the therapists and playing hungry hippo and memory games. After all, as my overachiever pointed out, it’s free, so why not take advantage of it? I told her nothing is free, and that someone always pays.

I guess it bothers me that we live in a world where kids can’t just be kids. They’re supposed to follow a model of developmental normalcy, that if erred from, requires the attention of trained experts. I doubt Einstein ever received speech therapy–not that I expect my kids to be Einsteins or anything– but the truth is that in times past, a late talking but otherwise (more or less) normal child would simply be allowed to develop at their own pace. Now that even toddlers are being inserted into the rat race, this is no longer the case.

Anyway, because I’d put off going to the doctor for so long, she received all of three shots and promptly passed out asleep once we got home.

snoozing

I wonder if her dreams have speech in them, or if they’re non-verbal too?

Boondock Saints and Angels of Death

Over the years I’d had The Boondock Saints recommended to me, but since vigilante movies aren’t my cup of tea, I avoided it. Yet last night, wanting to kill some time, I decided to watch it because none other than Norman Reedus– who later would be anointed with Walking Dead fame as the much-loved Daryl Dixon– stars in it as vigilante Murphy McManus.

It didn’t take long before I realized Boondock Saints is much more than a vigilante film. It’s an “angel film” in the vein of The Bishop’s Wife or Wings of Desire. The dead giveaway is that– despite being uneducated and working in a meat packing plant– they are fluent in any language they hear. When wanting to converse in secret, they speak in Gaelic which is probably a subtle reference to the “angel language” mentioned in the Bible. The movie drops many other hints that the brothers are in fact otherworldly beings, but if you haven’t seen the film I’ll leave it up to you to pick them out.

The Bible, or Torah, actually describes “avenging angels, “destroying angels,” or “angels of death” in several passages, including the famous “destroyer” who kills the Egyptian firstborn on Passover night.

boondock

Of course, Boondock is a heavily Christian film, with the brothers depicted as strangely devout and single minded about good vs. evil, but the notion of “destroying angels” has been carried over into Christian tradition.

I typically enjoy Willem Defoe as an actor but his performance in Boondocks is horrible and nearly ruins the film. He looks absolutely ridiculous waltzing around crime scenes with eyes closed, and his over-the-top rendition of a gay, morally conflicted FBI agent was embarrassing to watch. I don’t know if he was directed to perform this way, or if, as the biggest star in the cast, he decided to be egregiously flamboyant.

The film raised a lot of questions for me: if the brothers are angels, what was the role of Rocco? Were the angels sent to protect him? Was Il Duce meant to be representative of Satan– who was a “fallen angel–” given how he is released from prison (as is described in Revelations)? Since we eventually end up with three vigilantes, are they meant to represent the trinity, or the three primary monotheistic religions? I’m sure the writer had some of these ideas in mind, but how precise they were meant to be, or exactly what type of film he wished to create (religious vs. action, etc.) is open for debate.

Walking Dead 414

[spoilers for Walking Dead season 4 up to 414]

I remain underwhelmed by recent episodes of The Walking Dead. It’s plodding along at a snail’s pace and I’m not enjoying the “vignette” style of focusing on a few characters, and snippets of plot, per episode. Is this due to contractual stipulations with the actors? Sunday night’s episode (“The Grove”) was incredibly depressing, which would be ok if it were entertaining, but it wasn’t particularly. I think these writers have hit a serious rut… I’m getting the “sinking ship” feeling I got the last two seasons of Enterprise where the convoluted Xindi plot dragged out mercilessly. Are the WD writers following the comic book? Or partially following it? Is that why things feel so weird, because they’re obligated to pay homage to the original version? I’m tempted to snag the graphic novels from my overachiever’s bookshelf for investigative purposes. I have no idea if Lizzie is in the novels, and if she is, if she’s a psycho child like the TV version.

tyreese
Tyreese and psycho girl take care of Judith.

I came away from this episode unsure what to think. My sense is that the writers wanted to include something “really shocking!!” in an attempt to remain edgy, but like the moonshine episode it fell flat. Chad Coleman (Tyreese) showed some decent acting chops, particularly in the post-execution scene where Carol confesses her past misdeeds. And we now have the gripping twist of his being complicit in a murder with the murderer of his girlfriend (even though, very implausibly, Tyreese and Karen never did more than kiss or hold hands).

My son kept joking that Judith is a magic baby because she kept disappearing then reappearing scene to scene. Couldn’t they have put an animatronic doll in the crib, or created a more realistic look for the bundle on Tyreese’s back? Having carried a lot of babies in my time, even the best carriers and slings tend to droop like dead weight when bundled either front or back. But being a magic baby, Judith is featherlight.

Poor Judith continues to have terrible babysitting arrangements. Why did Tyreese and Carol take a stroll, leaving psycho girl in charge of the younger children? Even if Lizzie didn’t pose a threat, they should have a policy where children are never left without an adult except in dire emergencies. Heck, even in the non-zombie-apocalypse world that’s the rule of thumb. But as always, the need for heart to heart chats and co-therapy overrides all else in Walking Dead.

So we have two more episodes left for the season. Will our motley crew ever reach Terminus? Will Terminus be a good place or a bad place? Will Rick be reunited with Judith? Will Daryl lose his feelings for Beth if and when he’s reunited with Carol? Will Beth manage to escape from the mystery kidnapper? Since I was correct in predicting Carol would play a vital role in rescuing Judith, I’m going to predict that Terminus will be found abandoned… Zombie watchers stay tuned.

St. Patrick’s Day Miracle

They say mothers always sense when something is awry with their children. This afternoon, when I saw my son’s shoes missing from the foyer when I got home (I was early, so this wasn’t necessarily unusual) I immediately knew something was wrong. When a strange woman showed up on my doorstep, and took 5 minutes to convey 20 seconds of information– that my son had been hit by a car, but appeared ok, but maybe not, his knee was injured, and maybe I should go down there (2 blocks away)– I knew she was going to tell me what happened. So it was with great sadness and trepidation that I donned my coat and headed down the block, no idea what to expect.

Two blocks later there stood my son towering over the EMS guys. It’s a great mystery to me how he got so tall: I’m 5’9″ and my husband is just over 5’9″. We often joke that .25-.5 of an inch saved him (I feel bad about it to this day, and am already telling my girls not to overlook shorter guys). Yet somehow my son sprung to 6’2″… or taller; every day I crane my neck up a bit further to see him eye to eye.

“Are you okay??” I asked, touching his arm. He rolled his eyes, looking absolutely annoyed.

“Yes!” he said, “I’m fine!!”

A stout african american woman, looking extremely nervous, approached me and told her version of events. There was a lot of traffic. She felt her car hit something so she pulled over, saw my son. Apparently he was ready to leave the scene to continue home, but she insisted he remain and that the police be called.

I asked the EMS guys if he was ok or if he needed to go to the hospital. They informed me they weren’t allowed to advise us not to go, but if I hadn’t arrived they would have been forced to take him, due to his age. My son looked even more annoyed at this. “I’m fine mumsie!!” (Yep, he called me mumsie in front of EMS and cops.) I asked if he wanted to see his pediatrician. “No!” he said, resolute. I made him roll up his pant leg to show me his bruised and scraped knee. But much to my amazement– dare I say miraculously– he was otherwise unscathed.

The next fifteen minutes were a blur of statements and collection of information. As the story unfolded further I learned my son hadn’t been on the crosswalk. Let me tell you, I was ready to kill him myself when I heard this. What do you mean you weren’t on the crosswalk??? Are you kidding me? This is New York City! Jaywalking is pretty much begging to be hit.

My son shrugged and explained that a large crowd congregates by the bus stop after school, blocking access to the crosswalk, so he took the efficient route of jaywalking. It’s worked for 7 months, but on St. Patrick’s Day his strategy failed.

I read him the riot act when we got home. Read it to him again over dinner. Said if I ever, ever learned of his crossing off the crosswalk then he was no longer walking to school. If it hasn’t been evident from all my other posts on this blog, I am obsessively safety oriented and couldn’t believe he wouldn’t follow this basic protocol. In fact, hitting a pedestrian is one of my biggest fears while driving, yet even with all my OCD caution I’ve had a few close calls.

All that being said, this lady definitely should have seen him. How could you miss my son? A towering string bean of a teenager with a florescent-streaked backpack. She was probably distracted by something and just hit the gas pedal when traffic moved.

So: there’s no greater perspective adjuster than having your child hit by a car only to be perfectly fine other than a scratch and a bruise. Do I have a lot to be thankful for! Have an extra drink for St. Patrick tonight.