Friday, November 26, 2010

Fowl Feast

I love Thanksgiving. For us it is the low stress holiday. A four day weekend with no presents to buy, and nobody to please but ourselves. We're a first generation American family, so Thanksgiving is just for us.

Over the years it has been marked by feasts with friends, or vacation trips, including a memorable visit to Orlando. There, instead of testing out the well trodden attractions, we went instead to the "Crashorama", a demolition derby, the highlight of which was the 'figure eight school bus race'. You can use your imagination to envision how thrilling that was (no children were involved, I hasten to add). Once, back when I was a single hardworking postdoctoral researcher, I even spent the day in the lab and had lunch at a Chinese restaurant.

But now that we have our own little family we celebrate together, in our own idiosyncratic way. I don't eat meat, so we usually roast a fish. I don't like cinnamon, so we don't eat pumpkin pie. We invariably go up to the mountains and have a nice relaxing day topped with a slightly more special than usual meal.

This year though, we experienced cultural peer pressure for the very first time. Geekygirl is learning about Thanksgiving at preschool. The children are sharing with each other the way each of their families celebrates the holidays. Considering how many other first generation American families there are at preschool I was surprised at the universality of the "Turkey and pumpkin pie fest" that all the other children described. I bought the kids some pumpkin pie at the school bake sale and they absolutely loved its creamy cinnamony goodness. After years of skimming the surface of the holiday, I could feel its cultural gravity dragging us in.

"Why don't we eat turkey at Thanksgiving?" Geekygirl asked. She was unimpressed by my explanation, and by the promise of delicious roast halibut and said "How about we have chicken drumsticks for Thanksgiving?" On reflection this seemed like quite a good idea, and I'm all for encouraging Geekygirl to think for herself, so I promised that chicken drumsticks would be added to the menu.

The anticipation of the chicken drumsticks filled our conversations on the way home from school for subsequent days. "I'm going to hold the bone and gnaw the meat", Geekygirl told me. She has quite an obsession with carnivorous animals and this seems to have carried over into her cuisine choices. During one of these conversation I realized that Geekygirl had never actually eaten a chicken drumstick. Chicken nuggets, chicken sausages and chicken stew are part of my repertoire, but I could not recall ever before having given her a chicken's leg.

"What made you suggest that we made chicken drumsticks?" I asked her during one drive home. "The shopping game" she replied. And then the penny dropped. We love to play "Orchard Games" shopping cart game, and one item on the list is a roasted chicken. When we play we always mime eating or using the various items on the lists, and Geekydaddy would wrest an imaginary drumstick from the picture of the chicken and eat it lasciviously. Geekygirl loves to mimic him, and I guess he was so convincing in his acting that she wants to try one!

We braved the stores on Wednesday night before trekking up to the mountains, adopting the "divide and conquer" approach; geekydaddy did the bulk of the shopping at Trader Joe's, the kids and I picked up specialty items at Whole Foods. As well as a fine slab of halibut, we got a packet of chicken drumsticks. I also decided to bake not one, but two pies, my very first pumpkin pie and a cinnamon free apple.

We have an early winter here in Tahoe, feet of snow already, so after a pre dinner outing to the sledding hill we returned to a house warmed with the smell of baking bird, overlayed with pumpkin and, yes even my bete noir, cinnamon. It smelled wonderful.

Despite carefully marinating the drumsticks in an orange/olive oil glaze, and going online to remind myself how to cook chicken, I fully expected that when presented with an actual meat and bone drumstick Geekygirl would turn up her nose at it. Far from it. She dug into that bird with lipsmacking gusto, as did her brother. They made short work of both the pies too.

I'm finding that it is the children that ultimately drag you fully into your adopted country's culture. Today I'm thankful for our family, our lovely homes, and for the fantastic opportunities and friendships I have found in this great country. Happy Turkey (or Chicken Drumstick) day!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Snow White and Dog Black

A Gallery post, for theme "Black and white "

This isn't actualy  a black and white picture, but it felt like the perfect shot for this weeks theme.

The sheer quantity of snow that falls in a Sierra storm has to be seen to be believed. This one dumped a good six feet over a twenty four hour period. Winter is officially here, and Geekydog is in heaven.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Before and After

A belated post for the lovely Gallery

This is how the kids room looked before and after a trip to Ikea last Spring.

When we transitioned Geekygirl  into the side-less crib/toddler bed in the top picture, just before her brother arrived, we did it gently. She had a full month or so of choosing between her familiar crib and the new bed. We, or at least I, was very anxious that she not feel replaced by the new arrival.

She outgrew that little bed she was was four. Geekyboy was two by then, and he had been climbing the crib rails and rattling it from its screws, so we decided it was time to graduate both into proper beds. I love these pictures but they touch my heartstrings. It still seems like just yesterday that we assembled that crib, bought with money generously collected by my coworkers, in anticipation of Geekygirl's arrival. I remember so powerfully just how tiny she and her brother seemed when we first laid them in its soft expanse.

Poor second child that he is, Geekyboy did not get a gentle transition to the world of the big boy bed. His crib was dismantled and the new bed installed within hours of returning from the store. We did try to explain the coming change to him, but I think it came as quite a shock. I will forever remember the look of horror on his little face when he walked into his room as Geekydaddy was in the midst of disassembling , and cried out "My bed. Daddy broke my bed".

Being the stoic little person that he is, he slept soundly thereafter in his new bed, but I still wonder if he was somehow traumatized by the abrupt removal of the only sleeping space he had ever known. To this day he points to the dismantled crib, which since it underwent three or four recalls in the four years we owned it isn't suitable to be handed down to anyone, and is stored in the garage, and says "That's my old bed. Daddy broke it".

Sunday, November 14, 2010

two kids walking

I decided this weekend that I have been pushing the kids around in the double stroller for too long. The age gap between them, twenty four months, meant that I needed a double stroller when Geekyboy was little. Geekygirl's reluctance to walk anywhere, combined with my inclination to acquiesce to her requests, and the rather child unfriendly topography of our neighbourhood has ensured that I have continued to push them everywhere, even though they are now not little at all. I had reached the point of driving to places within walking distance, because I was physically incapable of pushing the 70 combined pounds of child for any length of time. Those hills might be tough on a littler person's legs but they are tougher on a mothers gluteus maximus.

So when we decided to take advantage of an unseasonably warm November day and head to the playground I put my foot down. No stroller. We chose the closest and least vertically challenging playground option and got there without complaint, Geekygirl a skipping, sprinting sprite, waiting impatiently at the intersections for her steadily tromping little brother.

Getting home again was more challenging. The kids have become accustomed to riding home after their playground exertions.  Relaxing in the McClaren chariot, eating crackers and drinking milk while their exhausted mother strains to push them home.

They set off in good spirits, climbing little walls and chattering away. We were almost home, and I could see poor Geekyboy was very tired, his eyes glazing over as he stolidly placed one little Croc'ed foot in front of the other. Geekygirl was still full of energy, and as we reached the final stretch, a steep downhill incline, she decided to run. She loves to run pell mell down the hills. I'm always in two minds as to whether to stop her, or let her enjoy it. It must feel a bit like flying to run into gravity like that. Back in my running days and before my knees hit middle age I used to quite enjoy it myself. I'm always in awe of her grace and bravery as she hurtles along, and I figure that the best way to learn one's limits is to push them.

Today she met them, she stumbled and fell. A split second later a howl bellowed out. When I ran to her picked her up, ensuring no serious damage, and intending to carry her the rest of the way, Geekyboy just sat down. I think seeing his sister being carried was just too much for him to bear after he had trudged for so long without complaint. It was one of those sudden moments in motherhood, when a lovely time turns in a split second into a stand off. A missed step over an uneven paving slab and suddenly the world goes wrong. I was left standing with two howling unmovable kids, within sight of our front door.

We got home, of course. Both children pulled themselves together remarkably well, and I remained calm too.  I still think "operation walk on your own two legs" can be called a success. Anyone want a rather heavily used third hand McClaren twin traveller? Fingers crossed our double stroller days are done.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

techorati test (ignore!)


Tales from the Academy

The Academy of Sciences, that is.

Usually on days when daycare closes for holidays or staff training Geekydaddy and I cobble together a day of piecemeal hours at the office balanced with hours at home with the children, who watch too much television while the parent at home attempts to call into meetings and fights with VPN internet access to the office servers. Today, Veterans day, I decided to claim real vacation, and planned a nice day out. A day devoted just to the children. I left the big camera at home, since I have a tendency to boink the kids on the head with it by accident, so please excuse the quality of the iphone snaps illustrating this post.

We got to the museum right as it opened. We dove straight downstairs to the aquarium, usually very crowded but almost people free so early on, and delighted in prime time viewing of the reef.

We came across exhibits I hadn't found before, of water insects.  The sight of the giant diving beetle sucking the liquefied innards out of paralyzed living goldfish, though quite fascinating, was unexpected, and did test my powers of description. I'm in the habit of slowly and loudly reading from the signs to explain things to the kids but my worlds trailed off as I realized that this was quite macabre for a toddlers ears!

We looked at the "living roof". I don't think I was the only person who kept expecting a Teletubby to appear.

This museum also has the classic "stuffed animal" exhibits, a legacy of any museum of Natural History of stature, but so at odds with the message of conservation and respect for nature we raise our children with today. The exhibit at the Academy, Africa themed, is very well done, the animals as sleek and glossy as the day they were shot died gracefully of old age, but it combines the preserved with the living, which makes for a rather odd feel to the room. There are some cases with live lizards and other reptiles, juxtaposed with stuffed lions and antelope. The crown of the exhibit is a colony of living South African penguins frolicking in a rocky pool contained behind floor to ceiling glass. Geekygirl ran from case to case shouting too loudly "Mummy, look, another dead animal! A dead Zebra! A dead Cheetah! Is this one dead, Mummy? This regarding the Jaguar posed in his tree overlooking the concourse, pictured below.

Keeping track of the kids in an increasingly busy museum started to get challenging so we listened to a children's author, Susan Stockdale, read from her books in a corner of the museum. Geekyboy's loud voice was the one raising eyebrows this time as he shouted out (accurately I must add) "Emperor Penguin", Coyote", recognizing the animals in her illustrations. I"d like to claim his exotic animal vocabulary comes from the kids National Geographic magazine we subscribe to, but I suspect it has more to with oversaturation with "Go Diego Go".

Reaching breakdown point we hit the cafeteria. The food offered is very nice, but poorly organized for a one adult, two barely obedient children kind of situation. If you want tacos, ribs and spring rolls you have to stand in three separate lines. At this point Geekyboy was lying on the floor under a whale skeleton, fighting off his sister's attempts to bring him back into the food line, and I wished I had packed sandwiches.  I grabbed a plate of ribs ("I want to eat ribs and pretend I'm a lion eating a dead antelope" Geekygirl had told me. Not destined to be a vegetarian like her mum, clearly"), some roast potatoes and a pizza. Well, I had thought I had a good grip on the pizza but it flew from its plate and hit me splat in the chest before slime-ing cheesily to the ground by my feet. I apologized as it was cleaned up, dragged the kids to a table and made do with potatoes and chocolate milk for my own lunch.

We overcame the obstacles of toilets with automatic flushes and loud hand driers. I had cleverly put Geekyboy in one of those super absorbent night time pull ups for the outing so avoided having to diaper change on the run. I didn't lose the parking ticket, and the children both chose the same cheap toy, a bag of plastic ocean creatures, in the gift store thus avoiding fights with me and with each other.

Safely home they are now sitting and classifying their plastic sea animals. "Does it have fins? yes? Does it have a blowhole? Then its a whale!"

All in all a very satisfying day. We teetered on that knife edge between fun and chaos most of the time, but I seem to have got much better at coping with small children in large places without my pulse racing. I'm proud that I barely even flinched when that pizza hit me in the chest.

I'm looking forward to a nice restful day at the office tomorrow though!

Monday, November 1, 2010

snapshots of Halloween

A little girl had an idea for a family costume theme

A busy mother stole time from work to trawl ebay and Amazon for costumes, and anxiously tracked their arrival, wondering if she should have paid for express delivery. Relief at their timely arrival  outweighed the sheepishness she felt having to explain to the office purchasing department why she was overtaxing their delivery person.

A tired mother awakened her long dormant seamstress skills to adjust costumes to the exacting specifications of a very particular four year old.

A forty year old scientist and mother ended up having to create one costume for her work's team theme, and another for her family's. She started to get quite stressed about Halloween, which felt rather ridiculous.

A little girl woke screaming on Friday with a sore, sore throat. A little Aladdin participated in the preschool Halloween parade without his Jasmine.

A dad was concerned that the blue "genie" face make up, express shipped from Amazon, would not wash off and that it might leave him eerily blue tinged for a critical meeting the following day. A wife painted herself as a test of its permanency to help him resolve the dilemma of being a good sport dad vs. being a responsible business owner. 

October 30th arrived, cold and wet. The little girl coughed and coughed. A mum faced the fact that all of the preparation for this years much anticipated family Halloween might be in vain. She pondered on exactly who was anticipating it so keenly, given how disappointed she felt.

October 31st dawns, clear and bright. The little girl is still coughing a little, but seems bright and healthy. She puts on her costume with blatant delight. Her mum is relieved that all the adjustments are deemed acceptable, and is resigned to the fact that her daughter insists on wearing a pink cheerleader shirt underneath it instead of a perfectly matching teal turtleneck. She's happy that her daughter at least accepts the suggestion that she wear tights under the flimsy harem pants. Mum puts on her second costume of the season (Raja, Jasmine's pet tiger), and then paints dad's face blue, confident now that the paint will wash off. The little boy protests donning his Aladdin outfit despite the bribe of a 'tootsie pop'. Mum feels like a selfish parent, should a two year old really be manhandled into his costume just so that the family looks good together?

Costumed children bounce.

Aladdin embraces his princely persona, reminding the Mum that a two year old's opinions are transient, despite their force. Neighbourhood parents delight in the intoxicating combination of good wine and bounce houses, and despite their best efforts not too, keep finding themselves in conversations about which Kindergartens to apply to next year. 

The Genie uses his phenomenal cosmic powers to hold a glass of wine while simultaneously replacing Aladdin's shoes

A little girl, after bouncing for hours, and after being very brave in the face of oddly dressed adults and children, gets frightened by the full face masks and creepy houses once it gets dark and wants to go home after just a few trick or treats.

The family climbs home, and the city glitters them a backdrop of Halloween colours, (which just happen to be the Giants colours too!)

Happy Halloween! And yay, Giants!