Monday, March 31, 2008

And It Snowed

It really, really snowed. It was quite a surprise how quickly it came down and how much actually accumulated. I watched it snow all evening on Saturday, and I even went out into the backyard for a bit to enjoy scene. However, the next morning brought a sad surprise. The heavy, wet snow weighed down all the trees and bushes in the neighborhood. Some, like the cedars and firs, are "built" for snow and had no trouble shedding the accumulation.

The ethereal little flowering cherry trees all over our community were not so lucky. All those beautiful masses of pink blossoms served to hold on to the snow and overburden the branches. When I got up Sunday morning and looked out the window to admire the snow, I saw our tree all bent and broken. We were actually relatively lucky, some trees keeled over altogether, while others will probably have to be cut down due to damage.

Cutting out the cracked branches and disposing of them in the yard waste bin was no picnic, but the worst part was just how sad it all was. The driveway was covered in pink petals by the time we were finished, and I couldn't help thinking "If only I'd gone out, even once, to shake off the snow, it might have been okay." I know, I know, it's just a tree, but I hate to have my precious signs of spring damaged. Proof once again that our climate is doing something strange.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour

Years ago, when I was a nanny, I knew a little boy who thought that candles were romantic. Somewhere along the way, he'd come up with the notion that candlelight equaled romance. He wasn't sure exactly what romance was, but he was confident that it was a good thing. He was constantly asking to have "a romantic dinner" or "a romantic bath" or even "can we light the romantic candles while I play with my trucks?" Coming from a three year old, it was often hard not to laugh at these requests. However, I think he was perhaps a budding environmentalist.

Tonight, we are all supposed to turn out the lights (and light romantic candles?) from 8 to 9pm in support of Earth Hour. This is an international event created by the World Wildlife Fund to help remind people about the power (ha ha) of energy conservation. By turning off the lights (and maybe even appliances and electrical heating?) at 8pm in your time zone, this even creates a voluntary rolling blackout around the globe. If lots of people do it, it will save an impressive amount of energy (you can read about the specifics on their website) but more importantly it will raise awareness (sorry, but it is the best term here) about the impact made by individuals.

Of course many people will argue that there's no point to an event like this. "A single steel plant uses as much power as 27 million households! What's the point if we don't get the steel plants on board?!" (that's not a real quote and I'm making up the numbers) These are the same people who argue that there’s no point in fuel efficient cars because the space shuttle is so polluting. I refuse to give in to this type of logic. There is nothing I can do about steel plants or the space shuttle, but there is something I can do about my house tonight. Wouldn't it be a good thing if we all did this every week, or even, dare I say it, every night?

Therefore, I urge you to light a romantic candle, turn off the lights, and cuddle up to your sweetie/kitty/comfy chair tonight. You'll save a little energy, feel slightly better about yourself, and perhaps even sleep better than usual.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Spring Snow

The first day of spring was more than a week ago. The last day to legally have studs on your car is March 31st. The weather, however, has not yet gotten the news that winter is supposed to be over. The temperature right now is 33 degrees F. The snow is falling thick and fast, and the children are beyond excited. Since it's Friday, there's no snow day/snow delay to get them worked up. Nevertheless, they are thrilled by the novelty. I love the snow too, but I really hope M will not have trouble coming home from SF. I also hope it doesn't kill my poor daffodils who are just now attempting to bloom.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Baby Naming

A little while ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a baby naming ceremony for our youngest friend, C. Her parents are members of a synagogue in Seattle, and it is part of their tradition for new baby girls to be welcomed and have their names announced for the congregation (I'm sure that's not the right work, but...). Lucky for the rest of us, friends as well as family are welcome to attend the Sabbath service which includes the naming.

The invitation to this event included some general hints on attire, but I wanted to make certain that I didn't make a mistake. I checked with some Jewish friends from work about the dress code. The two of them were guessing about what type of synagogue it might be, but they both agreed that generally conservative clothing would be appropriate. One suggested that I should just "wear what you normally wear to church" which left me to explain that I was just as much a stranger to churches as synagogues. Finally, they told me to avoid anything sleeveless or above the knee, and to wear a hat if I wanted to be really safe. Hat in hand, I set off for the synagogue on a Saturday morning.

I was most impressed by the welcome we received at the door. Not only was there a greeter there, but he handed us off to two people who welcomed us again and patiently explained what would happen and which books we would need. I've been to other religious gatherings where the feeling of being the stranger is very pronounced. In some places you get questioning glances and even cold looks from people who recognize you as an outsider. Here, however, people went out of their way to be kind.

We (the friends) all sat together and tried to keep up with the service. It took me a moment to remember that the books are read in the reverse order from ours, so turning to the correct page took a little time. Luckily, there were people around us who let us know when to stand, when to sit, and when to read-this-section-until-you-finish-and-then-sit. Wanting to not mess up meant paying close attention to the proceedings, but not one time did I feel that people were craning around to get a look at the outsiders.

The part where P, A, and their kids went up on the Bema (Bima?) was my favorite. They all looked so happy and proud to be there (was that an act to cover the nerves? I would have been very nervous). Baby C was perfectly behaved, never cried even once, and looked absolutely adorable in her little pink outfit. After the service there was a lunch where more people came over to chat with us, welcome us, and generally be friendly. All in all, it was a great experience, and I was very happy to be a part of such an important day. I'm still not a religious person myself, but it is very heartening to know that there are places where religion creates real community and encourages people to be their best.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Water Safety

Water, water everywhere (in WA anyway), but is there a drop that's safe to drink? Everywhere you turn it seems like there is a news story about a new way that your water might try to kill you. Dioxins, Bisphenol A, and a wide array of pharmaceuticals have recently entered a field of possible dangers that already included such a wide variety of old standbys. It's enough to make a sane person want to run screaming from the tap/Britta pitcher/Nalgene/BPA-and-led-free hip-n-cool metal drinking canister.

A big part of this dilemma is that I'm just not sure who to believe. I do not have a reliable source for clear and trustworthy water safety information. In fact, when you go looking for this kind info on the internet, you end up buried under such a huge pile of often conflicting information that you feel worse off than before. Should we or should we not be drinking out of plastic bottles? If we do drink out of plastic, are the hard Nalgene-type plastics better or worse for us? Will we grow weird bacteria by re-using either of these types of bottles? Will we drink dangerous levels of pharmaceuticals if we drink tap water? Should we care at all about any of this, or is it all a bunch of hype?

Okay science people, this is your chance to be the expert. Should the average person:
A. Hide under the bed until death by thirst?
B. Drink only filtered or bottled water from glass or metal containers?
C. Trust that the tap water is safe and use it in our Nalgenes?
D. Ignore the whole business and do whatever seems easiest?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter 2008

Happy Easter! Let us all worship the Great Bunny who brings us chocolate and spring and happiness. This year I'm limiting the candy to only classic jelly beans and Cadbury chocolate eggs. Even though there aren't any kids around, I still couldn't resist coloring a few real eggs as well. M is making his famous carrot cake, and we will toast the Great Bunny as we try to avoid going into diabetic shock.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Airborne Equals Quackery?

There has been much debate over the years about the benefits of a product called Airborne. This "vitamin immune booster" is supposed to protect you from illness in situations like airline travel, and it also claims to ease the effects of colds and flues after you get them. All sorts of people have endorsed the product, and the creator was even invited to the Oprah Show to tout its amazing powers. Many who might otherwise be skeptical of these claims were mollified by the "rigorous double-blind" testing done by a "recognized and accredited" institution.

Now it turns out that the testing never took place, the "institution" is really a sham, and the supplement itself may contain dangerously high levels of vitamin A. Once again, fake "science" has been used to fool people into buying something they would not otherwise trust. Why, oh why, is the vitamin and supplement industry not regulated like food, drugs, and just about everything else we put into our bodies? One day we may regret this on a large scale.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Goodbye K

Today is the day when my friend K and her family are flying away to their new home on the East Coast. I know this is an exciting new opportunity for them, but I can't help being very, very sorry to see them go. As Stargirl would say, there are no pebbles in my happy wagon today. K and her family never seem to stay in one place for more than a few years, so I guess I should have known that this day would come. Our turn to have K around is over now, and somebody else is about to get a great good thing. I just hope they know how lucky they are.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Skillful Florist

Warning! Boring wedding planning entry ahead! Proceed with caution!

Wedding planning has been, among other things, an interesting look into a service industry. Some of these people just assume that you have no clue what you want, and they proceed to tell you exactly which one to pick, how many you will need, and what color is hot this season. The idea that you might not need or want their chosen item never seems to enter their heads.

On the opposite end of things are the people who don't want to be too pushy (or don't want to be blamed for bad choices) so they just refuse to offer any help/support/opinion at all. "Tell me exactly what you want and I will get it for you" is their motto, but sometimes it's not very helpful because you actually DO need a professional opinion. This is why meeting our chosen florist was such a treat.

Fena Florist was recommended by a co-worker at school whose daughter used them for her wedding. I made an appointment for a weekend morning, brought along my mom and Big Niece, and held my breath about what kind of service I might get. I had a pretty good idea in my head of what I wanted, but I had not been able to find many good pictures from magazines or the internet.

Our florist started out by looking at the pictures I did have and listening to my feeble descriptions. Then she had us look at books of flowers to find things that had the right colors or textures. Finally, she brought out a huge range of flowers in roughly the right colors, and we went through deciding which would be included. She had great advice about color, texture, and design. In the end, I felt like the choices were still mine, but I was much more confident that it would all turn out well. Best of all, the prices did not put me over budget.

All in all, I was very satisfied with this experience. If only the cake guy, the jewelry lady, and the dress ladies could have been so helpful yet not pushy. I can't wait to see how these flowers will turn out. One more thing checked off the list!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Observed in a Bridal Salon

I've been meaning to post this one for some time because it was such a striking experience. In case you didn't know already, I am a bad, unkind, judgmental person. I just can’t seem to help it.

When I went for my first bridal gown fitting, I shared the alterations dressing room with a tiny little girl in a long and flowing gown with a full train. She was there to have a dress cut down to fit her for her THIRD birthday party. Now lots of little girls are quite excited about trying on pretty dresses and being the center of attention. In fact, when we took little S to get her flower girl dress, she was ecstatic about the whole process. This little girl, however, was not having a fun time.

At not-quite-three she did not seem to understand what was happening, and she did NOT want to stand still while a strange lady pushed pins into her clothes. She just kept saying "I wanna put my paaaants on!" accompanied by much wailing. Mom explained that she was missing her nap, and perhaps that was all that was wrong. However, as we all stood there putting up with the pin ladies, Mom told the story of the planned birthday party, and my judgmental nature just popped out all over.

First, it's important to mention that Mom herself was very young (maybe 20?), had long talon-like nails, lots of makeup, and a tight and somewhat revealing sense of fashion. Does this make her a bad person? No of course not. What makes her a bad person was the plan for the actual party.

Mom explained that the poor little girl was going to have a "celebrity birthday party." The kids were all going to be dressed in "fashions" and there would be many parents to be the "photographers." Kids would get goody bags with "bling" and a stretch hummer would pick them up and take them out to Appleby's. A kind person could imagine the kid who would love this kind of thing, but this child wailed and cried at every mention of the party. I was so disgusted that I didn't trust myself to comment on the plan. The only safe thing was to tell the little girl how pretty she looked in her gown.

Whatever happened to birthday parties with cake and balloons? Pin The Tail on the Donkey was the big news at most toddler birthdays in my day. Maybe if the parents had gotten really over the top, there might be a piƱata. I understand that times have changed. Nevertheless, it's one thing to go over the top to make your kids happy. It's quite another thing to make your kid do something just so you can have some sort of weird vicarious moment. Maybe this mom should buy herself a gown, rent herself a limo, and take her own friends to Appleby's. That way the little girl could celebrate by staying home, eating some yummy cake, and putting her pants back on.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Big Kids Little Kids Everywhere Kids

The sunshine pouring in at the window is making me nostalgic for the mid-winter break we had last month. It was sunny that whole week, and I had the two nieces almost the entire time. We did all sorts of fun things, and one day we even asked two of my little friends to join us. That made FOUR kids all running around together.

Rather than being a difficult time, all the kids were on their best behavior. I was deeply impressed by the effect that the little kids (2 and 4) had on the big kids (7 and 9). As soon as the younger kids arrived, the nieces stopped any hint of arguing and went into role-model mode. They were polite, helpful, and quite touchingly concerned about the well-being and happiness of the smaller fry. When we went to the park, everyone had a buddy, and I kept having to remind Small Niece that she did not actually have to carry her buddy around. Later, when we enjoyed a little time with sidewalk chalk, both bigger girls went out of their way to share colors and keep an eye out for cars.

I don't know if this experience was just a fluke or not. If you have lots of kids do they just naturally shift into a more responsible mode? I do vaguely remember noticing this effect years ago when I was a nanny, so it isn't just this one group of kids. Perhaps we are hardwired to enjoy being in a group? Somewhere, deep down inside, maybe we know that if we don't get along we might end up getting left behind as lion fodder. What ever the reason, I love the effect it has on kid behavior.

Monday, March 03, 2008


I guess I've always had the vague notion that registering for wedding presents would be fun. However, it is quite a different experience from anything I had envisioned. Usually when you go shopping, you have only one or two objects in mind. You make comparisons, look at prices, and then choose the items that seem right for you.

When doing a registry, on the other hand, you have to make dozens of choices one right after the other. We did do some research before we set out, but it was still much more of a mental workout than I'd guessed. By the time we had about forty things on our list, we were both completely exhausted and just wanted to head home. Now I understand why wedding registries sometimes include items that do not seem to fit with the personality of the couple. After a few hours with that little scanner a marble cheese board with brass cat handles and a silver mouse slicer probably seems like a great idea.