Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The view from my window

The gallery prompt, started by Tara at Sticky fingers came along just as I got a new camera, and I find myself drawn in almost every week by her themes.

This week's is "Outside my front door". For the very first gallery I posted a picture of the city skyline, taken just around the corner from my front door. For an extra mere few hundred thousand dollars we could have had that view from right outside our front door/living room window, but instead we live on the other side of the hill, and  have a quirkier take on San Francisco scenery. One of the lovely things about this city is that from every hill in every neighbourhood there is a different view, beautiful in its own way. The city never fails to surprise me. Visiting friends is an excuse to peer out of their windows and comment upon a never before observed vantage point of the fair city that all of us who live here love so passionately.

Here is what you can see from our place:

Looking northwest from the kids room, on a clear day and with the help here of my zoom lens we can actually glimpse the top of that icon of California, the Golden Gate Bridge. In my mind one of the most beautiful man made structures in the world.

And looking South West we can see the freeways and hills south of the city. The photo doesn't really show how steep the street is, but if you look at the way the houses fall away, each roof lower than the other, you can get a sense of the precipitousness.

Geekygirl loves to run pell mell down the street, it must feel like flying. Once she stumbled and raised the most enormous egg on her smooth perfect forhead, and I'm inclined to strap a crash helmet onto her every time we go out. She still runs like the wind whenever she gets the chance.

 You may notice the thick webs of wires clouding the views. All our power and phone is overground here for reasons I don't understand but probably have to do with the sorry under-investment in communal infrastructure here in "the land of everyone for him/herself".

I don't see the wires though. I just tune them out and I'm surprised when I look at the photographs, because the camera seems to emphasize what my brain ignores. It is a reminder that I can see past the irrelevent clutter in life, and focus on the beauty.

Monday, March 29, 2010

emergency 'surgery'.

Our dear sweet Geekyhound lives her life surrounded by temptation. Soft, furry, sometimes enticingly squeaky, our stuffed animal menagerie is usually scattered around the house. She has her own stuffed animals, but she seems to prefer the ones that belong to the children. She is a dog with retriever traits, who likes to greet you with a "gift" of something fuzzy. We spend half our lives calling out "Drop it" and wiping drool off polyester fur coats. Of late Geekyhound had lulled us into a false sense of security. She was picking toys with regularity, but had not harmed a hair on a glassy eyed head. Until today.

A raucous game of hide and seek, which always brings out her wild side, resulted in the snatching of a toy.  The temptation finally became too much and this is what Geekygirl and I found:

I was reminded of a news story from a few years ago. A doberman named Barney who was employed to guard a teddy bear museum exhibit, went rogue one day and destroyed the precious antiques. I suspect that the poor beast, suffering the gaze of the delicious furry treats for days, just couldn't control his desire for one moment more. I think Geekydog reached the same frustration level this afternoon.

The victim was a purple velvet pony, quite beloved as she was brought to Geekygirl by the 'pacifier fairy' a couple of months ago. Pony often shares her bed and was held in quite high esteem. When she saw the poor thing torn apart, her face broke into wails,  a scene so predictable and yet so very sad. I admit I shed a tear myself. It is silly, but it somehow represneted to me how powerless I am to prevent her from getting hurt and upset. I can't even keep her precious toys away from the dog.

Still, I may never have become 'vetmummy', but I"m pretty nifty with a needle, so a few long minutes later Pony was restored to quadraped status:

She has a few scars, but I was quite pleased with my emergency surgery.

Geekygirl was not so easily satisfied. She didn't like the way the scars felt on the toy's previously smooth legs. She threw the poor thing on the ground when I offered it back to her in her bed that night. I was a little sad to see her reject my careful repairs. I sat next to her and spoke to the stuffed pony, telling it that it was going to be OK, and that even though it wasn't perfect any more, Geekygirl would still love it and treat it kindly. She threw it back on the ground.

But when I peeked into her room later Pony was tucked up beside her on the pillow.

The next day she asked me to put the toy "in a very very high up place where Geekynhound can't get her", and asked me "Why did Geekyhound hurt my pony?", and told me she was afraid that it would happen again.

I realized that she has become wary of loving the toy. The trauma of seeing it torn apart caused her to detach from it a little.

Four is young to learn that maybe you shouldn't love something too much, in case it gets destroyed or taken away, but when you live with a dog in a house full of stuffed animals, I guess it is a lesson learned early. I only hope I can repair future hurts so easily.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A post for Ada Lovelace day

You might be wondering who Ada Lovelace is. I didn't know either, until I saw a facebook post about her day from my friend Bobbie, whose post for Ada Lovelace day is here.

You can read about Ada here, but in a nutshell she was a mathematician born in 1815, a woman who wrote the first programs for the much more famous Charles Babbage's proposed computer, and the first person to conceptualize computer software.

Ada Lovelace day was started last year by Suw Charman-Anderson, who blogs at Chocolate and Vodka. She proposed that 24th of March mark Ada Lovelace day, a day of remembrance to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science through blogging about a woman in science of technology.

As a woman, scientist and blogger I just had to contribute.

One of my great role models and heroines is the late Rosalind Franklin. In fact our daughter,  who I call Geekygirl here on the blog, is named for her. (And with her with her insatiable curiosity, unwavering need to do things her own way and her default response of skepticism to any attempt to tell her anything, she seems to be well suited for a career in science!)

Dr. Franklin is now quite well known for her work in elucidating the structure of DNA, and in so revealing the truly incredible. That this self replicating biological molecule holds the secret of life. The discovery of the role of DNA in the perpetuation of an organism had profound implications on biological science. It told us once and for all that without a doubt all life on earth is related, from bacteria to plants to man. It has allowed us to figure out in once unimaginable detail how the processes of life work. Like any great scientific discovery it opened doors which give a tiny glimpse of just how much more there is yet to understand.

I'm a molecular biologist (which means a biologist who works with DNA) by training, and everything I do every day, all the research I have ever done, is dependent upon that discovery, back in 1953, by Watson, Crick, Wilkins and Franklin. The landmark paper describing the discovery didn't credit Dr. Franklin though. Watson and Crick subsequently admitted that her data had been critical to the discovery. She didn't get the Nobel Prize, because she died before it was awarded, so it went only to Dr's Watson, Crick and Wilkins. The story has been beautifully told in the move "the double helix" with Juliet Stevenson playing Dr. Franklin to Jeff Goldblum's Dr. Watson, and controversy still smolders over who knew what and when. Anyone who works in a lab can appreciate the complexities of discovery and authorship, but it seems pretty clear that the institutional sexism of the time and the quest for personal glory by the other protagonists in the story dealt Dr. Franklin a poor deal.

It was thanks to women like Dr. Franklin, who succeeded against all odds to make a career in science, that the way forward has been a little easier for the rest of us. How hard must it have been for her? She was labeled as prickly and difficult.  I can't imagine how she could have possibly succeeded without being anything other than rather bolshy, given that it is highly probable she was surrounded by egotistical misogynists.

I feel angry for her but also grateful to her. There is a bitter irony in her early death from ovarian cancer at 37 (two years younger than I am now). It isn't known, but one could speculate that she may have carried a DNA mutation in one of the BRCA genes, known to cause breast and ovarian cancer.  Thanks to the discovery of DNA, and the subsequent the gene sequencing efforts by the next generations of scientists, women can now be screened for this DNA mutation and some can avoid this deadly disease.

I also wanted to use my post to call out Nancy Hopkins of MIT, a prolific developmental biologist, who found herself forced into an activist position when jostling for lab space with her male colleagues at MIT. She chaired a committee investigating unconscious gender bias which prompted a broader examination of gender equity in science, back in the late 1990's.

She came to speak at UCSF about her experiences fighting for gender equity when I was a postdoc there, and I remember her remarks to the audience. She said that her talk at UCSF was the first time she had drawn an audience composed equally of men and women, and it was the first time someone as senior as the (male) Vice Dean of the University had introduced her. UCSF was a wonderful place to be a woman in science, which may be why last year the institution was honored with a Nobel prize to Elizabeth Blackburn, another phenomenal woman scientist.

If it isn't too late, and you have a post you would like to share, please go and add it over at the site, or just pop over and learn something about some pretty cool women.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The dress that said "Me"

Tara's Gallery prompt this week was "me"

She asked "I want a picture which reflects who you are. It doesn't have to be a self-portrait if you don't want to. Just something which says: Me. It can be you as a child, you now, a body part (I can hear some of you chuckling from here), doing something you love, taken by someone you love etc etc."

This is me on our wedding day. I felt so pretty in my dress, but yet still felt like myself. I tried on so many, as one is want to do when selecting a wedding gown, but this dress, a little bit sexy and bold, but a little bit feminine and floaty too, said "me" the minute I tried it on.

The photo was taken by our brilliant wedding photographer Kirsten Hepburn. (We're on her website in the portraits section!) We found Kirsten though word of mouth, and she happened to be South African, like Geekydaddy's father. Geekydaddy has never lived in South Africa but he has cousins who do, and we had a good turnout at the wedding from the South African side of his family..

At the wedding, while Kirsten was snapping away. she overheard a familiar voice. It turns out she went to high school with Geekydaddy's cousins! How's that for a bizarre coincidence!

Monday, March 22, 2010

where were you when America came to its senses..

and Obama's health care reform passed?

I was in Chevy's (Mexican chain restaurant, one of my guilty pleasures) in Auburn (Historic gold mining town in the Sierra foothills, on the route from Tahoe to San Francisco).

Before I continue this post, since I'm sure you are on tenderhooks, the weekend with our new friends was lovely. I very much enjoyed their company, and I sincerely hope they felt the same way.

The only really embarrassing kid meltdown moment happened when they were not around to witness it. When we spend a day at the ski resort we don't respect the childrens' nap schedule. Geekygirl can do without a nap, at four she is outgrowing them, but Geekyboy does need a good two hours kip after lunch. However napping at 1pm doesn't really fit in with a day of skiing. So instead of a nap we give him some juice, and some M&M's, and he breaks on through without his sleep until we leave the resort, usually at around two thirty. He is a trooper, our Geekyboy. I think our new friends were rather taken aback by our laissaiz faire attitude to the daily rituals of the toddler, and I know I would have been too. When Geekygirl was our only child, her naps were sacrosanct.

It was such a beautiful day on Saturday that we we really pushed the envelope. Geekydaddy and our guest daddy had pulled the last ski shift of the day. The other little boy and his mum had sensibly gone home for his nap, and I was left managing my sleep deprived, sugar filled kids. I had taken them outside and they were running around the outdoor bar/restaurant at the lodge. It all started to go haywire as they both ran in opposite directions, into the racks of skis, down toward the parking lot, oblivious to my instructions and pleadings. I ended up putting an angry, defiant Geekygirl into time out, and afterwards she was so enraged by my discipline and so determined to gain control over the situation that she said "I'm going to show everyone my bottom". And she did. She pulled down her leggings and mooned all the folks enjoying a nice apres ski beer.

It was actually quite an effective tactic on her part, as I ended up laughing too hard to parent properly. Disaster was averted as the band started playing and I danced around to the bluegrass music with the children. I'm sure we made quite a sight, clopping about in ski boots, but all my self conciousness was completely obliterated by the bare bum incident. It made for an entertaining dinner story for our guests, after we returned everyone home safely to the cabin!

But back to Chevy's and healthcare.

As we waited for our table, both Geekygirl and Geekyboy stared wide eyed at a fellow patron. This man had a hook instead of a hand. It wasn't quite a 'captain hook' style limb, it had a simple pincer like function, but it was no modern prosthetic. I didn't stare so obviously at the poor guy, but his condition prompted me to wonder why he had a plain old hook fixture instead of a true artificial hand.  A man I knew back home in the UK had lost his forearm and hand in an accident, and he had sported, over the years I knew him, a progressively more sophisticated series of "Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi" black gloved artifical hands. I wonder if a lack of decent health insurance had left this man with a hook instead of a discreet atrificial limb that would have made him less of a spectacle. I don't recall seeing anyone in the UK with a metal hook for an arm in recent years, and I know that the one armed person I knew wasn't at all wealthy so I"m assuming that the NHS covers prosthetic limbs.

After we were seated and eating I noticed the kids again staring, fixated, at a fellow customer. This time it was a woman in the booth opposite. I found myself staring too this time, at a woman who was clearly trying to turn herself into Malibu Barbie. Skinny, toffee coloured and with unfeasibly large, extremely eye catching, perfectly round breasts. She was wearing hot pants and a teeny tiny shirt which was straining heroically to keep her covered; clothing scanty even for California in March. I  don't think I've ever seen a woman quite this distorted by surgery in the UK, either. but I have heard rumor that quite frivolous body enhancing surgeries can be obtained on the NHS.

It did amuse me that the children responded with the same rapt gaze of horror and wonder to the woman with  blimp-like breasts as they did to the man with the hook-like arm.

After I returned to the car and flipped my phone to facebook, I heard the news that Obama and Pelosi had gotten the votes to get the health reform bill passed. The contrast between the two very differently enhanced people we had seen in the restaurant started a debate in my head about healthcare; about the needs of individuals versus the cost to the taxpayer. Should everyone be entitled to the best in artificial limbs? Should health insurance cover cosmetic "enhancements"? What about IVF?

This new legislation is, in my opinion, a huge step in the right direction despite its flaws, finally dragging the USA up into the club of truly civilized nations that meet the medical needs of all their citizens.

As medicine and its technology advances though, these questions of cost, benefit and moral obligation are only going to get thornier, both here in the US and around the world. It is going to be an interesting few years.

Friday, March 19, 2010


We have been fortunate enough to make some new friends recently. They are fellow parents at daycare of a boy in Geekyboy's class. We've socialized a few times with the kids, and had a very nice time, but this weekend we're taking our relationship one step further. They are coming to stay with us for the weekend at our place in Tahoe.

I'm nervous. It is a big commitment spending the whole weekend with people, especially people you don't know all that well. There is a lot of conversation to be had. Lots of potential for awkwardness. Lots of dishes to wash.

I spent money we can't really afford on a new coverlet and matching throw pillow for the guest bed. I've been to their house you see, and it is rather well appointed, whereas our Tahoe place, though it has many charms,  is furnished mainly with tatty things the previous owners left behind.

I packed nice clothes for myself, though usually I spend the weekend in my sweatpants or my ski undies. Quite often we don't even find time to shower, so I'd better squeeze one of those in this weekend if I can.

I recycled the 50 old copies of Star and Us magazine I have laying about and replaced them with "the Economist" and "Scientific American" (we do actually subscribe to those magazines, I didn't buy them specially!)

And I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that the children behave well all weekend. I know that these friends are not coming to judge my parenting, but who doesn't feel a little under the microscope, dealing with the usual day to day drama that is to be expected with a four and two year old.

So, parenting gods, please smile on me this weekend.  I"m hoping that my kids don't fight with their little boy (an only child, unused to having to negotiate for playthings). Please don't let them bash him over the head with trains, toy saucepans or electronic games. I'm crossing my fingers that Geekygirl doesn't do one of her middle of the night fits of the screaming ab dabs about pyjamas or pull ups and wake the entire house. I'm really counting on neither of the children biting me in front of our friends. And please, please, please, even if all of this does come to pass, please don't let Geekygirl call their little boy, who is in that rapid "hear it once and repeat it forever" phase of language learning right now, a "penis head".

It will be fun, right?!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Driving Miss Geeky

We have fallen into a little ritual after we get home from work and preschool. I pull into the garage, and as I unload the car of lunchboxes, groceries, laptop, artwork etc, I also unbuckle the kids, giving them the freedom to scramble into the front of the car to play "lets pretend to drive somewhere".

I recall that Geekygirl first developed this passion at around two years of age. It had waned over the past year or so, but Geekyboy, now at exactly that same age, has suddenly become obsessed with the car. I let them play, with the engine turned off all they can really do is flip the wiper switches, mess with the radio and turn on the hazard lights. Only once, back when Geekygirl first became switch flipping crazy, did I commit that dreadful parental crime of letting her lock herself (and the keys) inside the car. Geekyboy was just a few weeks old at the time, and I can still recall the panic that began to rise in me as I tried to talk a two year old through the mechanics of unlocking the doors of the car while a fractious baby's wails began to reach crisis level.

I did eventually coach her through opening the door, remaining calm throughout, and I still believe it is one of my finest moments. I'll probably be tempted to bring it up in future job interviews, so proud I was of getting though this crisis, but perhaps potential employers might not appreciate the finesse involved. Those in the know can appreciate that it was the human relations equivalent of performing a bomb disposal.

These days I'm careful to keep the keys on my person, so all I have to watch out for is being deafened by Spanish radio when I turn on the engine the next day, or of accidentally driving half way to work with my hazard lights flashing.

This evening though, the game caused me to pause for another reason.

Geekygirl jumped into the front passenger seat and said to her brother "You be daddy and drive, I'll sit in Mummy's seat".

Now I drive the kids around a lot, but what she had picked up on was that when we all go out as a family, Geekydaddy almost always takes the drivers seat, and I ride shotgun.

 I was remined of an article I read not so long ago mentioning that in the majority of families Dad always drives the car on family outings. This arrangement sends a subtle message to our kids. The person driving the car is the person in control, and by always having Dad drive maybe we are saying that Dad has more power.

Now we consider ourselves feminists, Geekydaddy and I, but we fall neatly into this stereotype. I started to think about why this was. We got into the habit when we first got together for two very good reasons. Geekydaddy was the only one who had a car, and I didn't even have a drivers license! I didn't actually learn to drive until I was thirty years old, but now I love to handle a car, and I'm pretty good at it too. Still, I do prefer to be a passenger, especially on the long, often wet and snowy drives to Tahoe.

Now that I can see that the kids have internalized a message from our driving habits, a message I don't particularly want us to be sending, I think we should change our habits a little bit.

How does it work in your family?

Monday, March 15, 2010

A bluebird day

This is a post for the weekly photo prompt gallery started by Tara at Sticky Fingers;
This weeks theme is 'colour'.

I don't know where the phrase orginated, but here in California when an enormous storm has whirled a couple of feet of fresh snow onto the Sierra Nevada mountains, and then you wake up to that pristine whiteness and blue, blue sky, it is called a "bluebird day".

We woke on Saturday to this vision of blue and white. I took this picture from a cross country ski trail, looking down over the frozen vista of the lodge beside lake Serenity. I like the contrast in scale, the mountains, the cabins, the snow covered pines, and the tiny dots of a family and their dog dragging their sleds across the frozen lake, and a child about to sled down the roof of the little cabin in the foreground

A picture can't really capture the blue of a California mountain sky though. I had never seen a sky like it before I moved here. The word "blue" seems too mundane for something so intense.  I tried "azure, cerulean, and cornflower instead, but even these very lovely words don't quite express what I see. When I look into it I feel that I can see through time out to the boundaries of existance. If I stare hard enough I believe I could absorb some profound information about the physical nature of the universe simply from the colour of the sky.

Before you think I live some kind of idyllic existence with the liberty to ponder at leisure about life, the universe and everything, I should point out that the storm that brought this loveliness played havoc with the driving conditions, and when we arrived our driveway had not been plowed (yes that is how we spell plow in America!), so we had to carry the disoriented kids through three feet of snow into the house, then try to find a spot to park the car where it was at minimal risk of being blindsided by a snowplow. We finally got to bed at 2.30am.

I probably don't need to elaborate upon the effort it took to get two very tired adults, two children and all our gear out of the house the next day to drag our exhaused arses out skiing. You can imagine without me going into detail the tantrums we dealt with as one tired little boy didn't want to sit in his pulk, and an equally exhausted little girl got frustrated with trying to ski but didn't want anyone to help her or even offer sympathy. The beautiful thing about cross country skiing on a bluebird day though is that once you get going you never once think "oh, this was a terrible idea". Sitting in the cabin watching "go diego go" looking longingly out at that blue sky, that would have been a terrible idea.

I took that picture while we ate our sandwiches, and both children slept in their pulks. For those few moments it was just Geekydaddy and I and the marvel of the snowy universe.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A different life

There are many cool things to do in the blogosphere, but one of the funnest, and most challenging of them is the writing workshop posted each week by Josie, who is herself an incredible writer and who blogs at “sleep is for the weak”.

I've not attempted it before, but she had a prompt this week that had me drifting into a reverie of 'what might have been'  so I decided to write it down; for myself really. Apologies for the self indulgence!.

She asked “imagine a parallel universe where a version of you that made a different decision exists”.

This is my “sliding doors” moment. You see, though Geekymummy did quite well at school, and went to Imperial College in London to study Biochemistry, she didn't get the A levels results she needed to go to Veterinary school. Her alter ego Vetmummy was so set on a career as a vet that she decided to repeat the exams the following year, studied harder and got the A levels she needed to get into the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. She is a 39 year old vet living on the outskirts of Cambridge with her engineer husband, her two kids, three cats, four dogs and three horses.

I woke up this morning to the sound of hooves on cobble and the satisfied snort of a horse going out for his morning constitutional. I twitched the curtains (floral horrors I keep meaning to replace) and waved down at Cecila, the sixteen year old who I regretfully employed to tend to our horses in the mornings after the kids came along, and I realized I didn't have time to do everything. I don't regret it now though. Cecila reminds me of myself at her age. Horse mad, but not lucky enough to have a pony of her own, she would do almost anything for a free ride. I do pay her for the work she does for us, I hasten to add, but I know that for her the money is secondary to the joy she gets from riding our horses. I love to see the pleasure she gets from interacting with them. The poor beasts (Conker, a ridiculously shiny bay Welsh Cob, Princess II, a dotty chestnut Arab, and Bunce the ungrateful rescued Shetland pony) were released from their pedestals in our lives after the kids came along, so they thrive on the adoration Cecilia gives them. Still, I'm looking forward to going for a ride this weekend, maybe my parents will care for the kids for a couple of hours so Vetdad and I can have a quick gallop though the fens.

The next sound is of my mum shouting "get out", and I cringe as I remember that the door to the guest room is broken again, so she probably woke up with at least one of our three bed hogging cats on top of her. She is allergic to cats, and can't stand having them on the bed. I mentally compose an apology and hope she remembered her inhaler. I sincerely hope that Jasper the German Shepherd mix with the delicate bowels hasn't exploded all over the the hallway again, that would really be a bad start to the day. (he came into our possession after I  removed a foot of intestine from him. A meal of his owners brand new car upholstery caused an obstruction, and after he recovered from surgery his owners decided they didn't want the destructive beast anymore)

Fridays are a work day for me. I do four full days a week at the clinic I co own. Fridays are also the day my mum comes to look after the kids. This week she and my dad arrived THursday night, and are staying until Saturday, for a Mothers day gathering with my sister and brother in law and their three girls, and my brother and his wife and baby.  With Mum and Dad both here this morning Vetdad and I have plenty of assistance getting the kids ready for preschool and getting ourselves ready for our bike commutes, mine a short ride to the surgery and Vetdaddy's a more ambitious cycle to the gleaming office park outside Cambridge where his high tech start up company is located.

Today I'm performing a couple of TPLO surgeries, a challenging procedure to rebuild a dog's knee after a ligament injury. I've specialized in orthopedics since I spent a sabbatical in California 12 years ago. Whenever I perform the surgery I'm reminded of the night I met my husband.  A ski trip from the vet school ended in "the nawty dawg' a dog themed Tahoe City bar (where else would a bunch of vet students go?!) where the drinks were served in dog bowls. I glimpsed a raucous, handsome, sandy haired man, his shaggy hair and wide laugh made him seem part bloke, part golden retriever, and our eyes  locked as we slurped Margaritas through straws in a paw printed plastic bowl. The rest, as they say, is history.

I'm finding myself drawn more and more to the calm, emotion free environment of the operating theater these days. The emotional aspect of Veterinary medicine, the hard decisions and the impact they have on the humans involved are almost too draining for me now. My family takes almost all of the emotional energy I have, and I worry that I am not giving as much to my clients as I should.

But today I have mum and dad here to help carry some of the parenting demands. I call on the way home, Grandma has everything  under control, and my dad has slipped out to the Bell and Bear, he is almost like a local here, showing up every other Friday or so, and has a coterie of geezer friends who he likes to catch up with when he is in town. The bar is on my way home, so I lock my bike on a lamppost outside and pop in, to find he and Vetdad both propping up the bar. When I decided to go to vet college my dad was a little disappointed that I didn't chose something more cerebral, but he has long since realized that this work is my passion and I think I he quite enjoys the constant stream of animals that pass through the house. He has one of the menagerie with him at the bar, Muffin, our three legged border collie, who whirls to greet me with muddy paws and delighted dog kisses.

A swift half later, we barrel through the door, to find the kids bantering with their Grandma and eating their favourite dinner, Grandma's chicken stew. My mum looks tired, I'm so grateful that she is prepared to take on the task of a full days care of these demanding little people, and the relationship they have with their beloved Grandma makes it worth all her efforts. She shows me a story she, Vetgirl and Vetboy wrote and illustrated today, and we all swell with pride over the children. 

Our idyllic family teatime is interrupted by a splutter from Vetgirl "Mama I have hairdog" she says, pulling something long and fluffy from her mouthful of stew. I catch the look of disguised horror on my Mum's face. I'm not sure whether it is the malapropism (encouraged by me from an early age since I find it amusing), or the fact that there is animal hair in the food yet again; dog, horse, cat, other exotic beasts from the surgery, the house rolls with hairy tumbleweeds even just after a good cleaning.  I barely notice it any more.  This warm and cluttered family home with its human equine, canine and feline members is what I always dreamed of. It is worth putting up with a little hair in the food.

Disclaimer: This post is completely fictional, apart from the description of the 'nawty dawg' bar in Tahoe city. That is a real place, sadly no longer open for business.

What would your alternate life be?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


They seem to be coming at me too fast. Geekyboy only just moved to the toddler classroom, gave up his pacifier, and turned two. This weekend he moved from a crib to a big boy bed.

Our kids share a bedroom, Geekygirl sleeps in a converted crib toddler bed that we were given by a neighbour and Geekyboy in a crib, bought with money generously collected by my coworkers  and lovingly assembled in anticipation of Geekygirl's arrival all those years ago. I remember so well standing in that room, transformed from office/dumping ground into office/nursery with the crib, rocking chair and hand made dog print curtains, trying and failing to imagine how it would feel to have our baby. How can that be four years ago?

The room has undergone several smaller transformations, once Geekygirl began to crawl we banished the office furniture to a corner of the basement and created a true kids room. Before Geekyboy arrived we moved Geekygirl to her now too small "big girl bed". On Sunday Geekydaddy took the crib and the toddler bed apart, and the room has entered a new stage.

The change was prompted by Geekyboys hair raising crib escape attempts. It was completely spoiling my rare weekend lie ins (until oh, at least 7.30, before you think I have it easy!). We would lie in bed listening to the kids play in the unbalanced manner you can imagine when one is free and one caged like a wild beast. I would jump up for every thump I heard, in fear of finding Geekyboy crumpled on the floor beside the crib, unable to tolerate his sister's freedom any longer. We also needed to replace an ancient armoire that we use for the kids clothes whose door keeps coming off. Several times I have called impatiently to Geekygirl, wondering why she hasn't appeared for breakfast, only to find her holding up the dangling closet door, afraid to move in case it collapsed on top of her. So this weekend we braved IKEA.

Geekydaddy, being Danish, grew up with their sleek, simple Scandanavian-ness, so it is our default for cheap furniture. The Bay Area was blessed with its first IKEA about five years ago. It is conveniently located in Emeryville, a hair raising five lane merge off the first exit after the Bay Bridge. We were so afraid of the crowds that we arrived half an hour before the place opened, so ended up having both breakfast and lunch in the restaurant, probably the prettiest Swedish fast food joint in the world with its view of the bay and both bridges. It was while taking a photo of this view with my phone  that I noticed Geekyboy was choking on a meatball. He has a very sweet habit pf patting himself on the back if he starts to choke. Cute at home, but in public I felt like a neglectful, ditsy poorly prioritzed mum, though I did reach him before a concerned fellow parent did.

Still, we managed to come home with two fancy new kids beds, and a new shelf unit to replace the booby trapped armoire. I consider getting in and out of that store and coming home with exactly what we needed, no missing parts or screws, no children crushed in the warehouse and no accidentally broken merchandise to pay for an incredible feat, harder to pull off than almost anything we do at work. OK, so we got lost in the nest of concrete freeways feeding the Bay Bridge on the way home, drifting though a supremely sketchy part of West Oakland down by the docks looking up at the overpasses and thinking "how do we get back up there?", but we finally found our way back to San Francisco. We are a force to be reckoned with!

Taking down the crib was bittersweet. It seems such a short time ago that building the crib beckoned in a new stage in our lives, and now it is gone for good. "Daddy broke my bed" Geekyboy keeps on saying, a little disoriented by the change,

But both kids love the new beds, Geekyboy is especially excited by the independence of getting up in the morning by himself, and Geekygirl is delighted that the bigger bed allows the cats to sleep with her.  I don't know what they impregnate those mattresses with, but both kids have slept right through the night every since we put the beds up.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Reason to stay in San Francisco; no. 22

Why would anyone want to leave? You may ask after looking at the photo in my last post.

Well, it is a dense urban area with all the problems that brings. Crime ( a robbery at gunpoint at a local eatery last week), shoddy, or at least inconsistent schools with a mind numbing admissions process, a fairly inept local government and a dismal public transport system. It is also a long commute for both Geekydaddy and I to our jobs in Silicon Valley and the East Bay, and many days this twice daily carbon belch feels like a time sink that steals from our family life. San Francisco is also a long long way from our familes and friends in the UK, so we periodically toy with the idea of moving. Either to the suburbs of the peninsula, or longer term back to England.

But something keeps us. Here on the blog I thought I would start recording, in no particular order, reasons to stay or go.

A conversation with Geekygirl this week reminded me of an important one.

Now Geekygirl has an imaginary friend, Leah. She tells me a lot about Leah, what she likes to eat, where she travels to, and this week I learned about Leahs family.

"mummy, did you know that Leah doesn't have a mummy and a daddy like me. She has two mummies, but one of her mummies has really short hair so she is of sort of like her daddy"

I smiled, and we continued to chat about the different family structures she has encountered in her friends, imaginary and real.

I had to chuckle at her four year old's keenly observed description of the archetypal lesbian couple. When I grew up I thought homosexuality was invented in the early 1980's by the Village People. Geekygirl is growing up in a world where being gay is unremarkable.

San Francisco may have it's problems but the people here are so different and remarkable, creating a microcosm of tolerance. Racism, homophobia and misogeny, sadly too common in most of the world, are rarely observed or heard here. I think that raising our kids in this environment is giving them a unique gift.

To me our little society on the edge of the western world is a template for the future, and I hope to see our values become the norm in the communities in which our kids will live out their adult lives. Though maybe without our terrible municipal transit system!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Tara at sticky fingers has started a weekly prompt for budding photographers, enthusiastic amateurs and anyone who likes to take pictures.

This weeks theme is "beauty".

I was carrying my camera as I walked the dog round the neighbourhood recently and I snapped this picture while standing in the middle of an intersection, playing tourist in my own town.

I love this shot because the pristine pinnacles of the city are rising from the more ordinary industrial landscape that separates my neighbourhood from downtown. I like the way the power lines that criss cross the street ground the picture in reality, rather than postcard land. I love how the Coca Cola sign seems oddly out of scale. It is actually as big as it appears, an enormous neon flashing thing that could have been pulled from the set of a Baz Luhrmann movie.

San Francisco is synonymous with beauty for me.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Shiny happy things

The always thought provoking and entertaining Noble Savage tagged me for for this one, the shiny happy things meme.

 I am meant to tell you about at least one thing that never fails to put a smile on my face.

While wondering what to write, I thought about the many things that make me happy, from the mundane (shopping at Target, Battlestar Galactica, a good curry) to the more profound (my dear friends, family, and of course my lovely kids). Then I arrived home, and was greeted as I am every single day with a big wet lick and a frantic wagging tail, and I realized there is just one thing in my life that absolutely always makes me smile. The dog.

I'm dedicating this post to Geekyhound, the often ignored inspiration for my blog's name. The hairdog herself, who is actually called Yuba, named for a river in Northern California, or more accurately for the exit off I80 called "Yuba Gap", since every time we drove past it we would say "That would be a great name for a dog!)

It is hard to describe the human relationship with a dog without falling into cliche, or turning into a chapter of "Marley and me". For me, having a dog in our life connects us on a deeper level to the world. By sharing our lives with another species, we can get a glimpse of how the world might appear through different eyes, and recognize that being human isn't the only way to be.

Yuba  is a fluffy black six year old dog of indeterminate breeding, though we guess maybe a chow-chow and a retriever were involved in her parentage. We got her from the Oakland SPCA back in 2004, shortly after we got married. Our intention had been to get an older dog, suitable for us dog novices, but I fell in love with this spirited ball of fur, and pursuaded Geekydaddy that we had to take her home. She was a nine month old 40lb doggie teenager, untrained, wild, with a ridiculous amount of energy and a penchant for chasing our indignant cats.  She was also very smart, with a strong desire to please,  and especially to please someone with a pocket full of freeze dried liver. We signed up for dog obedience and I threw myself into the world of positive reinforcement training, which is actually quite good practice for childrearing, though the freeze dried liver doesn't work quite so well as a reward with the human kids. I even trained Yuba to do "agility", the showjumping like sport for dogs, and if we hadn't been blessed with the kids I would probably have become a crazy dog lady, with a house full of rescued mangy beasts and a wall of rosettes.

She is part of our family and I dread the day, hopefully long in the future when we no longer have her around. She was our first dependent, but is even happier now the pack has expanded. When we brought newborn Geekygirl home from the hospital she wanted to be with her all the time, and embraced her new responsibility as "dog big sister" with great seriousness. We had got her some special treats, to associate the new baby with good things for dogs, but instead of eating them, she offered them to tiny Geekygirl, placing them gently on the bouncy chair, then lying down next to her. I'm not one to anthropomorphize, but I was touched by this display of love and loyalty.

Since then she has been a steady back for wobbly little toddlers to lean on, a patient furry princess to be adorned with tiaras, and of course a vigilant cleaner of peanut butter smeared fingers and faces (and worse!)

One summer night back in 2004 someone abandoned a puppy. Maybe she grew bigger than expected, maybe she chewed up something precious, or maybe her owners lost their home. Rather than seeking training help, or finding her a better home, these owners gave up on her. I'm glad they did, because she is the best dog anyone could ever have, she puts smiles on the faces of everyone in our family every day, and all she asks in return is a scratch behind the ears.

Here she is getting that scratch, our sweet Yuba, or as we often call her "The dog of love"

If you're reading, I would love to hear your happy things. Apologies if you already did it!
I tag Followthatdog, craftytales, WAHM-BAM, and Wendywife

Photo by my pal Steve Reel.