Saturday, December 31, 2011

Black-eyed Peas and Stars

Tonight I'm going to see the old year out looking at the Milky Way from the Smoky Hills of Kansas*.
Tomorrow, I'll be introducing the in-laws to the all-important lucky legumes of the New Year: black-eyed peas.
Wishing you a 2012 filled with laughter, learning and good luck. Don't forget to eat the black-eyed peas, lentils, tamales, sauerkraut, apples and honey, dumplings. or whatever it is that brings you good fortune.
*Themed resolutions run through the Chinese New Year or Janet's birthday, so I technically have more time to observe the constellations, but I will have few chances as good as a winter night on the ranch.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What's in your stocking? and the dangers of tradition

It's Christmas Eve morning and I sit here drinking coffee with eggnog in a Christmas mug. I don't particularly like the flavor of coffee with eggnog. But coffee with eggnog is part of Christmastime for me and, it turns out, I miss it if I don't have it.
My parents and I are traditionalists. This is a somewhat of a problem because we are not particular about what traditions we follow. We pick them up as we go along and add them, at least temporarily, to what we do. It's not like we've been drinking coffee with eggnog for generations. While we've always had eggnog around, we probably didn't start drinking it in coffee until Starbucks started selling eggnog lattes. And the rest of my family has moved on. They are back to black coffee in the morning and spiked eggnog, with freshly grated nutmeg, late at night. But eggnog coffee is a Christmas tradition I'm not yet willing to part with.
This is a problem among tradition scavengers. While I was growing up, my nuclear family picked up St. Lucia Day, St. Nicholas Day, yule logs (both cake and in the fire), roasting chestnuts, dim sum, kumquats, pizelles, rosettes, fruitcake, pralines, stollen, panetonne, Christmas crackers on New Years, Mexican Christmas Eve salad, flaming German drinks and a plethora of good luck charms, just for starters. My brother recently called asking my mother for the family's traditional Christmas breakfast strata recipe while the Mister, who is on his ninth holiday season around my family, doesn't know what a strata is and wonders why we are not having the German lunch meats for breakfast he thinks are traditional in my family. How is my mother to know that Christmas will still be Christmas without kumquats, but not without fried oysters?
One year Santa inadvertently left toothbrushes in our stockings. My brother and I have anxiously awaited them ever since. Santa's helper has informed me that Santa knows of no such tradition and everyone knows that toothbrushes come in Easter baskets. But to me, the toothbrushes are part of the stocking formula (orange, nuts, chocolate, lottery ticket, socks, book, music, something goofy, toothbrush and maybe an apple) giving to all good boys and girls (and sometimes a cat) of any age.
There's more to write, but typing a blog post is definitely not a Christmas tradition. So I must be off.
What's in your stocking?
Merry Christmas to those of you celebrating.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Willa Cather can write!

Every once in a while I read a "classic" and surprisingly I'm surprised at how well written it is. I just read Willa Cather's My Antonia. It's great. Not a lot happens. There is a weird framing device that I want to discuss with Amateur Reader (the first person narrator of the introduction never explicitly appears again. Who is it?). There are long descriptions of prairie summers and winters (I've lived through prairie summers and winters. Cather knows what she is writing about.) Sixteen-year-old Mister hated it. I can see why. It's not a book for everyone.
But My Antonia is fabulously written.
And somehow I'm surprised.
What classics have wowed you?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I planted bulbs yesterday

These newly planted bulbs may raise questions for many of you.
The horticultural: "Really? In December? Will they develop roots?" [A: It depends on the weather.]
The practical: "Did you really have your grades in from your Tuesday night final?" [A. No. Who are you kidding?]
The personal wonder: "You planted bulbs on Wednesday? But you're not going to leave until Saturday, right? Isn't that two days too early?" [A: Why yes, come to think of it, it is.]
The follow up: "Does this mean that things have changed in your life?" [A: No, this means that I plan on composting tomorrow. I'm still cranky and stressed and have unattainable lists and unrealistic expectations. But I still love the holidays.]

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Juno's: Associations and Extensions

If your book club(s) have been anything like my past book club, most of the interesting conversation is only tangentially associated with the book. We found ourselves discussing travel, other books and memories the book triggered.
Here's the place to post thoughts triggered by Juno's Daughters but not actually about Juno's Daughters.
JD reminded my mother and me of A Valley in Italy because of similar parenting styles. However, A Valley in Italy was memoir (note to SalSis-- JD is not!) and the author had not suffered the consequences of her laissez faire parenting, or grown, as Jenny had (or at least she did not think that her daughter running off to Paris and getting married at 17 while she [the mother] was pregnant in her 3rd or 4th child-producing relationship was suffering a consequence of her parenting style).
One friend was reminded of a multi-day party we attend every summer with a band and a gathering of wanna-be-hippie types (note to Mom and Prairie Quilter-- we do not run around naked at such party, nor do we indulge in toothpicked brownies [but we are aging enough that the food is typically excellent]).
I was reminded of Prospero's Books (based on The Tempest), Feast of Love (based on A Midsummer's Night Dream, but I did not know MSND well enough to recognize it), 10 Things I Hate About You (the Heath Ledger movie, based on Taming of the Shrew), Snow Falling on Cedars (takes place in the same part of the world, but in a very very different time and under very very different circumstances) and various travels to islands (in Puget Sound and in Scotland).

Friday, December 2, 2011

And then the mice grow up and fly . . .

My good friend Debbie is back in Haiti running ecological workshops at the moment. Her blog, Zwazo Yo explains what she's been up to and just how badly help is needed (people are taught in schools that mice morph into bats the way that caterpillars become butterflies, which makes it more difficult to explain how bats are beneficial insectivores).
Talk to Debbie if you'd like to donate water-testing kits, binoculars, teaching materials or money to pay for lunch for the people benefiting from her efforts.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Juno's Questions for Other Readers

E-mail me the questions you'd like to ask the other readers of Juno's Daughters and I will add them here.
  1. Do you think your response to the book would be different if you had a different set of familial relationships? (e.g. I have no sisters, am the mother of 2 boys, and both my parents [married to each other] have been a stable and positive force in my life. Some aspects of the book just felt bizzaro to me, but might not have if I had a trying relationship with a sister or my mother was younger and struggling alone as I was growing up).

Juno's Questions FOR the Author

E-mail me your questions for Lise Saffran, author of Juno's Daughters, and I will post them here.
  1. What was your relationship with The Tempest before you started Juno's Daughters? Had you been wanting to work with Shakespeare or The Tempest in particular? [SpSq note: this is partially already answered in a comment on the "Overall Impressions" post].
  2. In novels about novelists there is always this moment when the characters take on lives of their own, outside of the writer's control. Is this a reality for you? As you were writing JD were there times when you felt you were just recording actions of characters rather than manipulating words?
  3. Did you consider making Lilly 18 so there would have been less of an "ick" factor?
  4. My cover blurb mentions that Juno's daughter is part "Led Zeppelin" anthem. I'm not a big Zeppelin fan, so I missed the references. Can you elucidate?
  5. How do you balance your other job, writing at the creation stage, writing at the editing, revising and promoting stage, being part of your family and being "yourself" (i.e. someone neither defined by her occupations or family roles).

Juno's "Final Reflection" Questions from the Author

Comment on the questions posed by author Lise Saffran's after completing Juno's Daughters:

1) What was your first impression of Jenny and Lilly's "competition" over Trinculo? Did your feelings about it change as the book progressed and the stakes became higher?

2) Do you think Jenny was right to go see Monroe without Lilly? Do you think she had closure after meeting with him? Do you think he'd changed from the monster he was when she left him? (What about their meeting hinted at his maturation, or his lack of maturation?)

3) Were you satisfied with the end of the novel? Discuss in particular the significance of Jenny and Frankie's conversation about Monroe, and Frankie's quotation of Love's Labour's Lost. How is the last paragraph especially relevant to the theme or themes of the book?

4) How did you feel about the elements of "artifice" in the novel (the middle-chapter-as-play, the previously-mentioned changing character names) by the time you got to the end? What effect did you think those elements had on your reading of the novel?

Juno's "While Reading" Questions From the Author

Comment with answers to Lise Saffran's questions to be considered while reading Juno's Daughters:
) How much do you believe that Jenny's own relationship with her sister and her mother play into her parenting? Similarly, what do you think of Jenny's approach to parenting and does your opinion change as you move through the book?

2) Think about the depiction of small-town, hippie life on San Juan Island—what about the dynamic of its residents do you find endearing? Do anything about their life seem claustrophobic or limiting? Would you wish to live in a place like this?

3) How do you find yourself reacting to the fact that the visiting actors are known (at least until the end) by the names of the roles they play in The Tempest? Do you find it distracting, or does it serve to underscore the insider/outsider dynamic of island life?

4) If you were unfamiliar with The Tempest, are you finding that the novel gives you enough of the play as you go along to understand the interplay between the two stories? If you were familiar with The Tempest, were you expecting Juno's Daughter's to more directly echo the plot of the play?

Juno's Overall Impressions

Comment on any general thoughts on Juno's Daughters here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


In keeping with the theme of the year-- which random thing can go wrong this week?-- I am thankful that Dianthus is over the cradle cap that led to long locks falling out with chunks of scalp, I am thankful, that, much to everyone's surprise, I don't have strep* and I'm thankful that the Mister doesn't need to program or grade so he can rest his aching wrist for a few days.
It makes me sad that gratitude can so quickly turn into boasting or maudlin sentimentality, but I'll risk it and point out that I am grateful for my family, my full life of plenty, and you, my friends.

*A lingering cold turned into a throat so-sore-I-can't-eat-soup, sinus-too-painful-to-think misery on Tuesday. I went to the famed Convenient Care Clinic. Upon looking at my throat, the nurse and the lab tech both thought it was strep, and even the doctor, with negative results in hand, was surprised at how red my throat was. I was given antibiotics for a sinus infection, and feel much better-- I'm back at lingering cold level, which is still annoying but a vast improvement.
All of these photos were taken in Oklahoma, by the way, which can have lovely autumn trees and weather.
And, no, I don't know why Dianthus started crawling into the cat carrier, but he has done it several times now.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Final STIR Books of the Year

Many of you are involved in the Juno's Daughter read-a-long. I'll be posting the questions from the author and you can respond in the comments. I'll also be compiling questions you have for either Lise Saffran or the other readers (there are now 16 of us, including what I think is a nice touch: my mother, my mother-in-law and my ex-boyfriend's mother).
Lindsey and I have not yet figured out how to discuss The Reluctant Fundamentalist but will soon. The short novel builds tension really well and it is a highly recommended, slightly disturbing, thought-provoking read.
The November selections is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot which is the best popular science made personal I've read in a long time (and I've actually read quite a bit of it recently). Highly recommended for my many biologist friends, but I'll also be recommending it for both of my parents.
For another group I'm involved with, I'm coordinating the discussion of Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, which I am also happy to recommend.

Monday, November 14, 2011

That Kind of Person

Two weeks ago, I was spending Friday evening sitting on the back porch with my parents, sipping red wine as Aster cooed in the bouncy seat and Dianthus dug in the sandbox. The sun had warmed the flagstones, the sky was brilliant blue and every time the Mister popped out to join the conversation, the tantalizing aroma of roasting chicken wafted out. I opened a second bottle of wine long before we finished the first. I had decided that the first wine would go perfectly with the roast chicken, so I wanted to save it for dinner, and I thought we might all like a second glass before dinner.

My mother was surprised by this gesture. We aren't the kind of people to open two bottles of wine, and certainly not the second before the first is gone.
I mentioned that, just for one evening, I wanted to pretend that I was the kind of person who spent Friday evenings sipping just the wine I wanted in the sunlight.
And, for a moment I was.
At that moment, I also thought that I should blog about the moment. How to be that kind of person: do that thing. While I might never fully pick up the associated stereotypes, by definition, I can be the kind of person that does X just by doing X, whether or not I think I'm that kind of person. In my mind, I'm not the kind of person that watches reality television or drives a mini-van. In truth, I am. Apparently, by the same logic, I am also the kind of person who attends crazy, expensive underground supper club foodie dinners*, bakes elaborate fig-frosting cakes, and, for at least a moment, I was the kind of person who opens the bottle of wine she wants while lounging in the autumn light.
Neither bottle was finished that night, by the way. Four adults who started sipping wine right at five drank a total of a little over a bottle's worth (about 2 glasses each). The toddler acted up at dinner. The three month old started crying. The young parents fell into a heap in bed as soon as they could (at 39, I still consider myself a young parent). It didn't last long because the baby, snotty-nosed with crud he'd picked up from his brother, started crying inconsolably every two hours.
Sometime around 4 am the Mister stumbled into our room, turned on the light and handed me a pair of pliers, saying he needed help extracting a toothpick from his foot. I was unfazed by his request. Partly because I was still partially asleep, partially because I couldn't open one of my eyes because it was gunked shut with pink-eye, and largely because I had stepped on the same pile of toothpicks in the middle of the afternoon. One had wedged itself a full inch into my shoe and it had taken me two pairs of pliers and taking apart the layers of my new shoes to remove it.
So I'm the kind of person who lets her toddler play with toothpicks and not pick them up. And the kind of person who impales herself on a toothpick and tells her family about it but doesn't pick up the rest of the pile. But I am not the kind of person that can pull out a wooden toothpick from her husband's foot in the middle of the night, although not for lack of trying. It turns out that pointed wooden cocktail toothpicks, (blue in this case), are very sharp, but they splinter easily. Any pressure with the pliers (or the needle-nose pliers, or the tweezers) further fractured the toothpick into little bits.

In the morning (real morning, not 4 am morning), we sent the Mister off to the Convenient Care Clinic. My parents were concerned about sending him there (I didn't have the best experience when they disregarded my black widow bite symptoms), but I convinced them that the doctor was unlikely to tell the Mister that he didn't have a toothpick in his foot.

Hours (literally) later the Mister returned home. Even with superior tweezers, the doctor also had splintering trouble, and eventually had to just cut out the three quarter inch piece of toothpick. She also gave the Mister a prescription for antibiotics.

Sunday night, after my parents were gone, the Mister was itchy and I told him he looked pink. He told me it was the lighting.

I was worried enough that the next day I e-mailed the lobster-red Mister that he should call his doctor and he was worried enough that he did. His doctor sent him back to the Convenient Care Clinic, but he wasn't there when Aster and I walked by to sit in the waiting room with him. So when daycare called telling me to come pick up feverish Dianthus, I sobbed that I would, just as soon as I found out what was wrong with my husband and where the car with the car seat was.

The Mister returned from the pharmacy with a different antibiotic, still red and itchy and woozy from the shot they had given him to counteract his allergic reaction to penicillin (amoxicillin in this case). I picked up Dianthus and his bag of Halloween treats.

We suffered through a long afternoon and yes, I am the kind of person who will let her sick two-year old dress up as a Hawaiian Firefighter to go trick-or-treating**. But I am also the kind of person that will take him to only one house.

Dianthus puked all over the Mister in the middle of the night. I effectively lost a week of work with him home all day. The Mister, Aster and I eventually became sick with this new crud. The Mister's toothpick hole is healing without infection.

And, two weeks later, I am the kind of person who thinks it is funny.

Surely, the kind of person who sips wine in the Friday evening sunlight and sends her son to daycare with homemade pumpkin cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting does not leave sharp toothpicks lying around her house or lack clean pants because the few things that fit her current post-pregnancy size were all peed upon during coughing fits. But maybe they are.

*Someday I am going to blog about the Test Kitchen Oklahoma, the “Underground Supper Club” to which I “belong” but probably not any time soon. You can check out the menu of the dinner I ate on Oct. 2 on their website (logging in just requires an e-mail, nothing more).

**Click for comparison of Dianthus as another young punk and a black cat. The Hawaiian Firefighter resulted from his pink Hawaiian shorts and Fireman's Hat being his two favorite pieces of apparel at the moment.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Aster's first earthquake

Aster (and Dianthus) slept through their first earthquake yesterday. Registering 5.6 on the Richter scale, the tremblor (really a word?) centered 120 miles away, was enough to rattle our house. At one end of the house, the doors and the washing machine started rattling and I could feel something amiss, for much longer than I would have expected. At the other end of the house, the Mister didn't directly feel it, but came down the hall to ask me why the mirror (hanging loosely over a door) would have been shaking so loudly.
Since we had been discussing a smaller quake that occurred in the same place earlier yesterday, I immediately realized what it was. If we hadn't have had that conversation, I probably would have guessed some weird sheer winds; Western Oklahoma is not a place one expects earthquakes (the only other earthquake I have consciously experienced was in Colorado, another place one does not expect earthquakes, on a Christmas Day. We heard what felt and sounded like a sonic boom. My brother, the PhD geophysicist, declared that it mus have been Santa returning to the North Pole.).
Strange days, and I still haven't written about the toothpicks.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Discuss Juno's Daughter with the author

Lise Saffran, (biography here), author of the September STIR selection, Juno's Daughters, stopped by this blog last week and wanted to join our discussion of her book. I'm contacting her to figure out how it can be done, but know of three readers for that book: Tracy is expecting twins soon and is officially resting in bed to prevent them from emerging sooner rather than later, Beth had a baby two weeks ago, and I'll post the story of my last week after I grade ("no blogging until grading is done") but you can look forward to fevers, jack-o-lanterns, red wine, feet impaled upon toothpicks and an allergy to penicillin, before we even mention work or parents.
Since published novelists* don't stop by Sparkling Squirrel Year every day, I'd like to encourage more of you to read Juno's Daughters and join the conversation.
Let me know if you're interested.

*And every so often I'm disturbed because I have no friends of some profession (usually chefs and novelists) but then I think of the oddball occupations that occupy my universe; a Mars geologist, a massage therapist specializing in repetitive stress injuries from playing stringed instruments, a PR person for insects, a studier of snail snot, and more plant ecologists than you could shake bigbluestem at; and all the wonderfully oddball people that occupy the more traditional occupations in my universe, and realize how lucky I am to have all of you. Thanks.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

And it scares away monsters, too

I designed* and pieced this quilt top in January 2008, several months before its recipient was born. Summer 2010 I gave up and asked my mother-in-law** to do the actual quilting. She came up with this fabulous star pattern just for me, brought the quilt to our new house and proceeded to show me how to finish it by binding it by hand (thanks so much prairie quilter!). Then the quilt sat in my house for a few months and sometime about a year ago, when its recipient was 2 1/2, I actually mailed it.
According to her mother, the recipient loves it and says it keeps away crocodiles or some other monsters.

I present it to you now because it is star year.

*In this case, I designed by combining several published ideas and selecting fabrics. No individual element is original from me.

**Prairie Quilter machine quilts professionally and obviously does a great job. Let me know if you need contact information.

In the sundae sun room

Why we need to have ice cream parties.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Special occasion junkie

A genuine question: how do those of you who never entertain motivate yourselves to clean your house?
I'm becoming more and more convinced that not only do I enjoy planning events, I need them for my sanity (and for the state of my house).
My mental health has been a bit tenuous as of late, which, while certainly unpleasant, is not unusual. [I write this to remind other recent mothers that there is a lot of room between debilitating postpartum depression and some sort of smooth even happiness. Most of us fall in the middle, even those of us lucky enough to have great husbands, healthy children and supportive families. We should banish the added layer of guilt that we feel for having it so relatively easy and yet still feeling the need to cry.] How do I keep it together enough to throw ice cream parties, bake Lady Baltimore cakes and get very excited about upcoming fall break travels to see turning leaves?
Well, by baking cakes, throwing parties and planning trips. That and reading novels.

One of the young women I hired to help clean before last Sunday's sundae party asked, "What, exactly, is this [the party] for?" I was a bit taken aback. If one has a sundae parlor attached to the back of one's house, should one need an additional reason to throw an ice cream party?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When botanists were rock stars

I've read a great deal about Luther Burbank while preparing for my Economically Important Plants Class*. Burbank (1849-1926), the "Wizard of Santa Rosa", was a plant breeder responsible for russet ("Burbank") potatoes, shasta daisies, white blackberries, stoneless plums and a thousand other specialty plants. Self-taught and some sort of crazy, Burbank was a popular sensation. The Carnegie foundation sent a post-doc (George Harrison Shull, one of the first breeders of hybrid corn and the founder of the journal Genetics) to observe him, both sides of the Scopes Monkey Trial asked him for expert testimony, he was given a professorship at Standford, Swami Paramahansa Yoganda dedicated Autobiography of a Yogi to him, and he went camping (or at least was invited to go camping) with his peers seen here, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, every year. Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera both painted him. People bought subscriptions in advance for multi-volume books of his life and works. In 1906 Burbank, a childless bachelor semi-reclusive yet self-promoting plant breeder wrote The Training of the Human Plant, a book about raising children. It was a best seller. It is still quoted today.
His letters allegedly help change federal policy posthumously, 'cause Fiorello LaGuardia wouldn't vote against the wishes of the man he considered, "the outstanding American of his time."
I don't quite get this sensation.
I pretty sure my congressman wouldn't read a book by a plant breeder on plant breeding, much less consider him an expert on other policies.
I doubt any congressman could name a current plant breeder.
Heck, I can't name a current plant breeder and I work in this field.
How times have changed.

In related news, I was a panelist at the Oklahoma Women in Science Conference yesterday (see pg. 21 for everyone's favorite fire-twirling plant ecologist and her sons). Four young women asked for my autograph. Seriously.
Botanists, rock stars, almost the same thing.

*Jane S. Smith's The Garden of Invention is a very readable biography that doesn't shy away from Burbank's oddities, poor financial decision making and the scientific and practical consequences of his work. Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Foods by Nina Fedoroff and Nancy Marie Brown is an excellent look at the science of transgenic organisms and points out just how "dangerous" and "unnatural" some of Burbank's "traditional plant breeding" was. The Training of the Human Plant is available through the Library of Congress (there is a special Burbank collection there) and is quacky but delightful. Who am I to argue against the idea that children need sunshine, both literally and of love?

Monday, October 3, 2011

STIR some more

If you read Juno's Daughters, let me know so that Tracy and I can include you in the discussion. If you haven't read Juno's Daughters, I think it is worth doing and I will tell you why later.
Lindsey and I just selected The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (amazon link here) for the October book. This short ( <200 pg.) award winning novel is, again, outside of what I "normally" read, but the reviews are excellent and I'm excited to gain another perspective. Lindsey has recently read her way around the world and is not an American, so although she and I have similar taste in books (we first bonded over Anne of Green Gables and children's fantasy), I'm sure she'll bring some different ideas to reading this one. Please join us.
And on some entirely other notes, The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde is lots of fun. Many of you would enjoy it. Some of you should definitely read The Zygote Chronicles by Suzanne Finnamore as Finnamore's phrases are fabulous in general and truly excellent at describing some of the craziness of pregnancy, I'm just not sure when one should read such a book. I read it quickly while breastfeeding and had to shake my head several times, "Lady, if you think pregnancy makes you crazy, wait until you have a baby. Or a baby and a toddler."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lady Baltimore and the Monarchs

Neither the Mister nor I recall exactly when or why he asked for a Lady Baltimore cake for his birthday. Almost certainly it had to do with birthdays and birthday cake being a big deal to me (and not to him*) and my pestering him for what sort of cake he'd like so I could do something special for him. He must have replied Lady Baltimore just to shut me up, because, since he didn't know what one is, he couldn't have longed for it.
Readers with long memories know I didn't bake him one last year. This year I had dried figs in reserve and my mother was here to help amuse Dianthus and Aster, so I went all out Lady Baltimore: separating a dozen eggs, pulling out the candy thermometer and toasting the pecans. The result, a nice textured almond-scented white cake with fig-pecan-raisin-cooked frosting-filling was much more tasty than it sounds. Still, it is never going to replace chocolate.
I teach on Tuesday nights so we had his birthday dinner on Sunday and I gave him most of his presents over caramelized peach french toast this morning. He thinks I'm crazy. Be that as it may, I like birthdays and I like him. He should know it.
Happy Birthday Mister!
In other news, monarchs are migrating through. Having done research on the gorgeous butterflies, they are the first thing I think of when I hear the word "monarch". I realize this is not universal, and I now love the thought that some of you envision kings and queens parading south when I mention the monarch migration. I saw 20 fly over the neighbors house in one breast-feeding session on Sunday. For the phenology record, the Mississippi Kites arrived the second weekend in May this year and left the week after Labor Day.

*I have been shown photos of the childhood birthday celebrations of the Mister and his brother by parents-in-law a bit defensive when I suggested earlier that birthdays were not a big deal in their family. I should clarify that there are big deals and big deals and adult birthdays in my family are big deals. Even if there is not a physical gift, there are wrapped presents and banging or pots and pans and off-key singing and cake and calls from the rest of the family and special breakfasts and special dinners and often a trip to the coast or the mountains. By mentioning these big deals I am in no way suggesting that families without such to-do do not sufficiently celebrate birthdays. I just happen to like the to-do (for adults. Perhaps surprisingly, I'll try to keep my sons' birthdays low-key for as long as possible).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Guest Stars In the Asteraceae

Guest Star Molly writes about a plant in the "Star Family"*:

Right now in San Diego County one of the most prominent shrubs is Broom Baccharis (Baccharis sarothroides), a native plant that makes me smile. I only became aware of it two weeks ago, at a gathering of beginning birders in a gorgeous local park called Mission Trails. Before then I had begun to take a gloomy view that invasives would completely take over all disturbed areas in this county. Now this plant has become the new vocabulary word that, once known, is suddenly everywhere: interspersed with rust-colored, fading blooms of buckwheat in the state parks; tucked in among the exotic landscaping in my neighbors' yards; clinging to the resurfaced roadside slopes of I-15. This tenacious plant is a member of the Asteraceae, although at a distance it looks like some sort of strange juniper. The leaves are reduced and close to the stem, while the swollen white buds casually resemble fleshy cones. Yet, once open, the flowers reveal their ancestry immediately. I seriously doubt this will mark me as a sophisticated plantswoman, but I do enjoy this plant tremendously. Hurray for Fall blooming asters!

Hurray for guest stars like Molly!

* The Asteraceae, while literally the star family, is better know as the Daisy, Aster, or Sunflower Family, or the composites.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Star Anise Guest Haiku

Before I present this Haiku from guest star SalSis, I'll note that I like star anise, in moderation (although I have ruined several stir fries by overwhelming them with Chinese Five Spice) and have poached pears in red wine and star anise recently to wild acclaim (by me). I'll also note that somehow I have three jars of star anise in my cupboard, so nobody need give me any in my stocking.
Salsis, however, has had more traumatic experiences with star anise, as she pointed out when the star theme was first revealed and now submits this poem:
The taste and odor of star anise forever changed by a bad batch of apples
Star anise you make me puke,
The smell of you and taste.
Batch of apple crisp gone wrong.
You're a star, SalSis. Thank you. And may all your apple crisps be star anise-free this season.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Less like a rock star

Dianthus had beautiful crazy curly locks this summer. Then we asked his grandma to cut them. It was time (long curls I adore: a two-year old with tangles I'd rather avoid). The transition did not phase Dianthus, but it nearly made me cry. As the Mister put it, "He looks good. He just doesn't look like Dianthus". I then realized that he looks exactly like My Brother at two, (except for the hair color*, the eye color and the skin tone)**, less like a rock star and more like a little boy.

Aster, meanwhile, maintains his rock star hair as he awaits the return of Celtic-Punk.
*The curly locks removed from Dianthus matched that of The Mister's stashed in his baby book, and more red bits have been revealed with the cut. The baby book photo of The Mister at two weeks bore striking resemblance to Aster, although the Mister's parents don't remember him looking like Aster.
**I was born the week before my brother turned two, so this is clearly a false or planted memory.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Juno's Daughters by Lise Saffran is the September STIR selection. Tracy has finished it and I'm just starting, but this 2011 literary novel looks good and is yet another STIR selection sure to be unlike the previous.
Janet and I finally discussed (briefly, it was right when Dianthus arrived home and Aster awakened) The Heart of the Matter and agreed, while there was much not to like about the characters in the book, there was much to like about the writing. We opine that more people should read Graham Greene and talk to us about his books. The Heart of the Matter has a lot of heft and a lot of plot. Neither Janet nor I exactly remembers Travels with My Aunt, but we both remember it being well-written and lots of fun.
Jennifer and I have yet to talk about The Secret Eleanor. I enjoyed reading it but find it hard to recommend as it seemed to be trying to do lots of things-- history, romance, literary historical romance, troubled relationships among siblings-- and I can think of books that do any one of them better.
What have you been reading?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

My Brother is a star . .

. . for many reasons. At the moment he's a star because even though he is a publishing maniac hot shot scientist, has two very busy daughters, is planning a trip to the US soon, and is on crutches in a multi-story house, he sent me this photo to guest star on my blog.
This close-up of an Ohio Star is for the quilt my mother made him. The quilt contains about 15 such stars and, in my memory, is more of a royal blue than this image shows. The quilt is bright and beautiful. It was hand-quilted over a period of time, mostly in 1978-79 when we lived in Fort Worth.
Thanks MB.
Other readers take note! You, too, can be a guest star.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Guest Stars: Your chance to shine!

I think Janet was joking when she suggested that I could save time by having someone ghost write my blog. None the less, she wins some Lucky magazines (if she wants them) because ghost writers are a great idea, except that I'm calling them guest stars and I'll try to keep blogging and they will sign their names (so they really won't be ghost writers at all).
I want all of you to be guest stars this fall.
All you need to do is write or photograph something star related and send it to my plant nerd e-mail.
two sentences to two paragraphs about your personal hero (a star)
a photograph of a star quilt you made or someone made for you
a description of how you entered space science (yes, Ad Astra, that's for you)
an image of a star plant (starflowers, asters, stellaria, shooting stars . . .)
a review of star media (Starman, Star Wars, Star Trek . . . )
thoughts on how well you fit your zodiac sign

Read Sparkling Squirrel this fall for great guest stars!

Oh, and check out Wuthering Expectations for Jane Austen music in response to Austen in August!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Where does one buy time?

Read on for your chance to win Lucky (old issues of the magazine, which are better than Star, the magazine).
This semester brings more work responsibilities, and more pay, than I had planned for (I had planned for few of the former and none of the latter, as was the case when Dianthus was Aster's age). Except for the one evening class I am teaching, most of the work can be done at home (except for the greenhouse management, herbarium management, advising, committee meetings and creation of a plant collection, all of which I tend to ignore when making plans), but home is where I need to be available to feed, change and walk cranky baby on a moment's notice, where I'd really like to take a nap, where I need to spend time with Dianthus in the evenings and where I have a regular home life (laundry, garden, house, bills and husband) to attend to.
So, like working mothers everywhere (and, quite frankly, most anyone else I know), I need more time. They say that time equals money. I have more income than I expected. I'm willing to use some to buy time; I just don't know how to shop for it.
Win old issues of Lucky, the Magazine of Shopping and Style, by recommending reasonable time savers for my life. Keep in mind that I live in a small town in Western Oklahoma; local services do not good options for take-out Thai food, babysitting pools or diaper services. The best suggestions will not be too costly on the environment or the pocket book.
Some ideas I've considered so far:
Hire someone to clean: Good idea, but the time gained is near zero-- it's not like I'm scrubbing the tub when I could be developing curricula.
Quit clipping coupons: time saved 5 min./week. Money spent- probably nothing. It's not like I use most of the coupons I clip.
Sub-contract my work: fortunately, my work responsibilities are not

Aaaah. I've been trying to post this for two weeks. I'm just going to give up adding anything and post it now. Easy dinner ideas count as good ideas.

Also, if you are underemployed or have vacation or a weekend and would like to spend some time in Western Oklahoma, are willing to spend some of that time walking a baby and/or playing with a toddler, talk to me to find out if I can buy you a plane ticket and get you here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wherein Star beats Lucky and Lucky beats Star

Star by Danielle Steel is better than Jackie Collin's Lucky.
Considering how little I appreciated Lucky, (which I reviewed almost three years ago to the day) that's not saying much. Star, my very first Danielle Steel and selected only because the title fits my theme, is full of one-dimensional characters, way, way way too much ethereal beauty, heavy-handed drama and repetitive descriptions. At page 300 I almost gave it up because we'd already had rape, murder, love at first sight, fleeting stardom, marriage to the wrong person and two wars and I really didn't care how much more these two characters were going to have to go through to get together (because of course they were). It turns out it required an Academy Award, an illegitimate child, false accusations of murder, and Kennedy's assassination, among other things. Star is probably exactly what I would have expected of Danielle Steel if I hadn't read the much-worse Lucky first. Having read Lucky, my expectations were so low that Star was surprisingly good; still for crazy romantic drama, (based on having read one book each) Barbara Delinsky is much better than Danielle Steel.
Lucky the magazine way out-classes Star the magazine. Neither are exactly my cup of tea. But my baby is awake, I'll have to tell you why later. . . .

Friday, August 12, 2011

Austen Light for August

It's hot. School is re-starting. Your to-be-read pile is huge and deep. What to do? Skip the pile and read Jane Austen in Boca or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies or watch Clueless or Bridgett Jones's Diary and join us for the Austen (Light) in August* discussion.
There is no formal STIR selection for August (which is probably good, as I am still trying to coordinate discussions of Secret Eleanor and The Heart of the Matter with Jennifer and Janet). I have found myself reading a great deal of "chick lit" of late (including Jane Austen in Boca, Jane Austen in Scarsdale [both by Paula Marantz Cohen], Cotillion [Georgette Heyer], Second Thyme Around [Katie Fforde] and Persuasion [Jane Austen]) and have loved it.
So, find yourself something that was inspired by Jane Austen and read it. Very highly recommended are the Paula Marantz Cohen's retellings of P+P and Persuasion (Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale, respectively). Both are hilarious in their own right (dealing with Jewish widows looking for husbands and the sad times of a high school guidance counselor) and as clever re-makes of Austen's plots (an accident in Lyme is replaced with Lyme disease, for instance). Amateur Reader, not normally big into chick lit, says good things about them here . Highly recommended are the regency romances of Georgette Heyer (not directly retellings of Austen, but some of the best representatives of a whole genre inspired by Austen, raych reviews one here), I Capture the Castle (by Dodie Smith, which directly references both Jane Austen and Jane Eyre), and Bridget Jones's Diary (movie and book version reference P+P quite differently). I haven't read P+P and Zombies or any of the Elizabeth and Darcy mysteries, but if they might be your thing, read away. Of course, if you're not up for reading a whole book (after all this is Austen Light) watch Clueless or the A+E version of Emma or the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma or Bridget Jones or any of the (some fantastic, some less so) movie versions of P+P (the six hour BBC version with Colin Firth is by far the best, and makes the casting of Bridget Jones make sense).
If, perchance, you are contemplating joining the Austen (Light) in August discussions but have not read Pride and Prejudice, by all means, read it. (Nobody is stopping you from reading Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park or Emma, either). Remember, as you do so, that Austen is not taking all her characters seriously, you do not need to either.

*Nothing intended about Faulkner's Light in August. If you read it, I'll find someone for you to discuss it with, but it won't be me.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dianthus and his unnamed brother

Dianthus a day before his life changed and when his mother left for the hospital:

Dianthus's life-changer who doesn't yet have a blog name pictured below. If he'd turned out female, I had picked out Stella in keeping with this year's theme, or Arachne. We have considered the alternative spellings of his name, AnDru Mykall, or just sticking with Rutherford, but neither feels quite right. Suggestions for the cute little guy's name?

Dianthus learns that good things happen, even after the baby has come home: grandparents and birthdays.

Oh, and here's the molting image that makes this earlier post make sense. It was really weird that four days before giving birth, the skin on both of my hands started peeling off.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Laboring On and On

I assumed that my failure to answer "How long were you in labor?" with Dianthus was because he was induced and I spent an extra day in the hospital with "unproductive" contractions. This time, I was sure, it would happen "naturally" and I would be able to answer the question definitively.
That's hardly the case.
It turns out that I'm really not sure what counts when people ask about labor. The process is much less well defined than I imagined.
I'm fairly certain I wouldn't count the contractions I had on Wednesday that made me tell everyone Thursday that the baby would arrive over the weekend. And I wouldn't say I was in labor 3 a.m. Thursday when contractions dragged me from bed and prevented me from falling back asleep**. 3 a.m. Friday morning I was awakened again by contractions and one could fairly say that I was in labor, because I didn't stop having contractions until RuthRob emerged. Of course, one could fairly say that I wasn't in labor because they weren't painful contractions coming at even intervals. Then again, if one goes with contractions at regular short intervals defining labor, I may never have been in it, or my mother or mother-in-law if I correctly understand their stories.
My water broke sometime Friday afternoon. I realized it about 7 p.m. (yes, it is possible for the amniotic membranes to rupture without one realizing it). I was in the hospital about 8, cervix dilated 3-4 cm, but so far back in my body that it took 3 nurses to find it. At that time, lying down and strapped to 7 cords (monitors for fetal heart rate, contractions, blood pressure and my heart rate, an IV and blow up cuffs on each leg to prevent blood clots), my contractions eased up considerably-- was I in labor? Or was it not until 1:30 a.m. when the contractions (strengthened by pitocin) made me gasp each time. Or 3:30, when I was measured at 6-7 cm? Or 4:15 or so when I told the Mister to get the nurses because I was about to push the baby out? Or 4:56 when the doctor told me I could go ahead and push so RuthRob could emerge at 4:57*?
So, depending how you count, I was in labor 48, 24, 12, 9, 5, 3, or 1 1/2 hours, or 1 push.
I'm genuinely curious-- those of you who ask or have been asked this question, what do you count?
In any case, one week ago and 2 years ago, I was in labor, of sorts. Happy one week to RuthRob and two years to sweet Dianthus.

*For a long time I thought that labor was the same as pushing, so was absolutely in awe of women who had 12 hour labors.

**Which is when I finished Heart of the Matter, by the way. If you read the June or July STIR books, please let me know.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Black Widow Bite Was Worse

Labor was not fun, and not pushing because I was suddenly ready and the doctor wasn't here when my body was ready for pushing was torturous, but altogether, bringing Dianthus's little brother out this morning was less painful than the black widow bite.
Anyway, our second son emerged right about 5 a.m. this morning. He weighs 7 lbs. 6.9 oz. and is sleeping soundly at the moment. The rest of us are all okay, too.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

And that was before I started molting

Contrary the impression one may have gleaned from earlier posts (like this about early physical symptoms and my recent self-description as weepy and irritable), I have been generally healthy throughout this pregnancy. Queasiness subsided at the end of the first trimester, my weight gain and blood pressure have been good, my ankles have not swollen, and RuthRob has always demonstrated good growth, kicks and heart rate, despite phantom heart holes and whatever caused her brain ventricles to swell. Still I remain surprised at how very different this pregnancy feels compared to my pregnancy with Dianthus and how many uncomfortable and irritating symptoms I've encountered that turn out to be "normal".
So, at the risk of making SalSis squirmy again, here's a further list of issues I've encountered with pregnancy, reported in order to help you grasp the huge range of what's normal and healthy:
Pain in the butt: Fortunately, it was only for a week, but there were a few evenings when every change in position led to acute pain in the rear end. Turns out RuthRob just hit my sciatic nerve for a while. Had to convince my doctor that I was being literal when I asked about it, but she eventually laughed and told me it's normal and should go away.
Red patch of not-zits: I'm not even totally sure if the red, sorta-flaky, sometimes rash-like patch of skin that's been on my face since March is actually pregnancy related, but red patches, zits, and dry patches are all listed as "common" in pregnancy so the combination very well could be.
Varicose veins where one doesn't want them: Okay, I'm not sure where one would want varicose veins, and I'm fortunate not to have hemorrhoids or visible varicose veins on the legs, but it was still startling to find little black bumps on sensitive skin I don't ordinarily see. V.v.s are considered common in pregnancy.
Fatigue to the point that I watch Wheel of Fortune every day.
Yeast infection: I've never been diagnosed with a yeast infection before this week. Oh my. Boy do those of you who frequently deal with such fire on the crotch have my sympathy. Yeast infections are "very common" any time in pregnancy.
Black widow bite: Unlike all of the above, not mentioned in the pregnancy books. But if there are, on average 2,500 reported black widow bites in the US each year, and about 4 million women are pregnant each year, and if having a black widow bite is independent of pregnancy (and I see no reason why it should not be), there are an average of 30 pregnant women with black widow bites in the US each year. I should be so lucky.
And then there's the molting. (image of the skin peeling off of my hand goes here).

Don't worry, this is the last pregnancy post. Unless I still happen to be pregnant next week.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bring on the grandparents

Every weekend recently is a long weekend, and generally not in a good way. Dianthus doesn't seem to get that we can't go play when it is over 100 out (and once a week we have an official high of 98 but otherwise it has been over 100 since we returned from May travels). We're in a small town with no mall, no ice rink, no children's museum, no indoor play area, and no shady mountain or lake escapes: once we go to Walmart (which we did on both Saturday and Sunday) we've pretty well exhausted the air conditioned public spaces.
I'm sweaty, irritable, nine-months pregnant and feeling it. The Mister is dealing with an irritable wife, a classically two-year old son and a scorched landscape. He's feeling it.
Fortunately for us, my mother arrives Wednesday, my father arrives the next week and the Mister's parents are hopefully visiting shortly therafter.
Still, I'll admit that as I look towards August with a newborn, a two-year-old and a continued "exceptional" drought, I'm scared.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why The Mister is Right For Me, Part X to X+2 of N

x. He follows international women's soccer.

x+1. He's the best at playing bucking bronco with Dianthus.

x+2. He mentioned, quite seriously (and accurately), "I think we're more like Harry and Ginny than Ron and Hermione."

Summer STIR updates and requests

Jennifer and I are starting to discuss The Secret Eleanor. If you read it, let me know so we can include you in the discussion.
Janet and I are both enjoying Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter. I'm still not sure where it is going, and if I really want to go there, but as Janet points out, the "writing is fabulous. I just love the way he puts things and the details he notes." THofM feels like a book of substance: extremely well written and addressing real issues (colonial politics in wartime, marriage past its prime, and I think we're about to get some spying), without being a chore to read. (I'm reading a large print edition, so the pages turn very quickly, but I imagine I'd be cruising through a normal font as well, and it's only 288 pages long in normal). Let me know if you'd like to join us on it.
I'm accepting recommendations for books to read in labor (as this baby is not going to be induced, I hope I do not have as much sitting around strapped to monitor time as I did with Dianthus, but it wouldn't hurt to have the right book at the ready) and books to read while nursing. The limiting factor of nursing books is that they need to be paperbacks that I can bend in weird ways and hold with one hand (yes, I suppose a Kindle would solve the problem but I have a hard time seeing me pulling out an electronic device at 3 in the morning) and preferably fun and fast-paced. In irritating induced labor with Dianthus, I wanted Endurance, an adventure of people far-worse off than me (and inspiringly hopeful), and during early breastfeeding Lloyd Alexander's Pyridian Chronicles were fabulous. I guess I'm looking for light but not trashy, engaging but can be absorbed in small doses, and generally up-beat.

Friday, July 8, 2011

How sweet that vacuum is!: the pragmatic romantics take on iron and candy

I'm a romantic. I surround myself with fresh flowers, will willingly pay for delicious food, and soak myself in long, scented baths. I cry at weddings, at happy endings, and sometimes Hallmark commercials. I love stories of Hope, Love, overcoming odds, and the glories of Nature. My parents are romantics, my brother is a romantic, and, cleverly disguised by his geeky exterior, the Mister is a romantic, too.
Yet, when, after we had been dating about a month, the Mister swooned, "You're so pragmatic," I took it as the compliment that had been intended.
I asked for, and received, a simple band for an engagement ring.
After our wedding, we worked and wrote thank-you notes for a week before we spent the first night of our honeymoon in Newark, NJ (and the rest, to the bafflement of local bartenders, in Newfoundland). We're practical as well as romantic.
Still, I am somewhat surprised at how very excited we both are about our anniversary present to each other: a new, super-suction, giant beast of a vacuum cleaner.
Happy six years Sweetie!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Black Widow Bites Lucky Pregnant Woman

There is just so much good blogging potential in being hospitalized for a black widow bite at 36 weeks pregnant (at the beginning of a holiday weekend, right after my husband and son had left town) that I hate to write about it when I'm not up to the witty post that will do it justice.
But I want your sympathy and I want you to know what's going on, so I'll stick to a basically factual post.
Thursday morning a black widow bit me in my right underarm. I did not notice at the time.
Thursday morning I also brushed a spider off of my stomach (while sitting at my kitchen table) it was black with red on its abdomen, but not what I think a black widow should look like (i.e. no distinct hourglass).
Thursday about noon the Mister and Dianthus headed north to the in-laws for the weekend and I was looking forward to getting some stuff done around the house.
Thursday morning (prior to the bite) I also had a hormonal crying jag and was sweaty because it was over 100 degrees here already. Rutherford Robinia has also been recently putting pressure on my pelvis and abdomen in weird (relative to Dianthus as a fetus) and very uncomfortable ways, although not so much on Thursday morning.
Those last two lines are added to explain why, when I started sweating profusely, having abdominal and back pain and wanting to cry, and saw that the sharp stabbing pain under my arm was a spider bite, I did not immediately seek medical attention-- who wants to be a hypochondriac when you're also pregnant weepy and suddenly alone for the weekend?
But my symptoms exactly matched those of a black widow bite and were not going away and it was lunchtime, so I drove myself to the "convenient care clinic" two blocks away. I described something incorrectly, spoke too coherently, and they must be more used to drug addicts or something, because they paid absolutely no attention to the fact that I was in such pain that I was unable to sit in the waiting room, was sweating everywhere, and probably short of breath-- told me is wasn't a venomous spider and sent me home with a prescription for antibiotics.
I went home, tried to nap, tried to take a shower, tried to cry, tried to use yoga breathing to breathe through the pain, tried to feel if RuthRob was moving and failed miserably on all counts. I thought at the time that whatever I was feeling, it was worse than labor, because at least during labor I knew why my body was in such an uncomfortable state and that the pain would not last forever.
Perhaps a bit foolishly, considering that the pain was in my legs by this time and I wasn't totally sure I could control the gas pedal, I drove myself to my OB's office about two miles away.
She had seen me in good health and good spirits at a check up that morning so everyone in her office immediately knew that something was wrong as I stumbled in in my sweaty state.
They checked RuthRob whose heart was beating just fine, checked with a family doc (my OB is, shockingly, not an expert on venomous spider bites) who agreed that it certainly could be a black widow and that RuthRob and I should be monitored, and had a nurse drive me to the hospital (a block away).
Soon all sorts of testing began (they took blood for cardiac enzymes and ran an EKG-- someone asked later if a heart attack is a common symptom of a black widow bite-- the answer is no, but a heart attack is a common cause of a person sweating uncontrollably with fluctuating pulse and blood pressure, shortness of breath, tight chest and intense pain in the arm) and another super-uncomfortable hour or two ensued as there was absolutely no position that was not painful-- but I kept squirming trying to find the elusive less-painful position, which is not not advised while hooked up to fetal monitors, an IV line and oxygen. The nurses did a fairly good job of trying to keep me talking about other stuff, but later revealed that I was in really bad shape.
Long story a bit shorter-- after fans, oxygen, fluids, time and care have kicked in and I can speak a sentence-- I realized that it's Thursday and not Friday and I do know somebody in town. The nurse called my fabulous secretary who came by, bringing good cheer and good sense and helped me contact my parents who helped me contact the Mister's parents so that the Mister could arrive at their house from a 5 1/2 hour drive with a 23 month old in 100 degree heat to learn that his wife was in the hospital.
The doctor told me that it was a black widow bite, that the toxin is very rarely fatal*, and that most of the things that could make me feel better (antivenom, narcotics, muscle relaxants) are unsafe during pregnancy. I'm told I will be observed overnight, at least, to find out how much my muscles deteriorate, and because most symptoms are likely to reoccur.
A miserable night (but much better than the afternoon) ensued (with the interesting added bonus that was pumped with so many fluids that there is a three hour stretch between 1 and 3 am during which I peed 700-900 mL an hour!). The baby remained great throughout, at least judging by heart rate and movement.
They discharged me in the morning. I returned home and a woozy swollen day ensues. The Mister and Dianthus returned home Friday afternoon.
I still feel suddenly tired, hot and then cold, and weak in spells today, but am much better.
I am to expect such symptoms to fade, but will not be surprised if they persist in spells.

So that's the story. Witty and weird take may come later. In the meantime, stay away from venomous spiders.
*This is supposed to be reassuring, but as I really didn't think that I was going to die once I made it to the hospital, it had somewhat the opposite effect.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Women's World Cup Makes Me Cry

The Mister and I couldn't conversationally speculate about whether my niece will play soccer for Germany or the US this morning because I was crying so hard. Why? Because we were watching Mexico play England in the Women's World Cup.
The match was tied nil-nil at that time, I have no personal interest in either team, I doubt I've watched a women's soccer match since the Olympics, I hadn't yet heard the story about Maribel Dominguez*, and it's not just because I'm hugely pregnant and weep at the slightest provocation. It's that women's sports make me happy and sad and hopeful and proud, as does truly international competition. Equatorial Guinea has a team playing in Germany right now. My nieces could watch women from Equatorial Guinea play women from Brazil a few miles from their house next week.
In twelve years, the little Lion could be making her first World Cup appearance in a packed stadium playing for either the US or Germany. She probably won't and I certainly wouldn't encourage her, but she could. And even if she doesn't, some other young woman will. This makes me cry,
Thanks to my mother and the thousands of women of her generation who played half-court basketball. Thanks to all the women and men who realized that half a court wasn't good enough. Thanks to those of you who passed Title IX so that I could play soccer and volleyball in high school. Thanks to everyone who doesn't blame women's soccer when men's wrestling is cut to comply with regulations. Thanks to my parents for letting me play organized soccer at age six. Thanks to Kristine Lilly and Mia Hamm and Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe and all the Tiffanys and Abbeys of the world. Thanks to Maribel and Marta and Christelle Jumaria and Sinforosa and all of the women who play sports for the fun of it, without ever having a chance at a "cap", much less being a one-name wonder.
May my niece and I never truly comprehend how much we have to be thankful for.
Go Equatorial Guinea!
*Star of the Mexico team. Known largely for scoring lots of goals for the national team, but also for her heart-string pulling childhood (one of 9 kids in a dirt-floored household, had to sneak out to play football as "Mario") and her enraging failure to play with a second-tier men's team (Mexican officials okayed it, but FIFA in Zurich determined that there must be clear separation between men's and women's football, even in countries where there are no chances for women to play at a high level.)
“The women’s team of Equatorial Guinea are like the Brazil men’s team. The players are idols and greeted like stars after each match. After their last win, it took two hours before we could leave the stadium. There can be nothing else like it in women’s football anywhere in the world.” Marcelo Frigerio, Equatorial Guinea coach
Photo of Christelle and quote from the official FIFA women's world cup pages.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Books neither Star nor STIR

I have read a few things this spring that are neither about stars nor part of project STIR. Here are a few thoughts (I might claim, as I did here, that I'll write more about those you want to know more about, but the first time that assertion led only to this one review, so I make no promises now).
The Day of the Triffids John Wyndam SalSis and I read this classic (1951) sci-fi novel (which includes horrible plants that take over the world and may or may not be from outer space) together as an antidote to Breath, Eyes, Memory. Triffids first came to my attention as the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question that the Mister and I mocked until we learned that the book is still very-well regarded. Triffids fits in well with "old" apocalyptic sci-fi, like War of the Worlds (discussed on Wuthering Expectations here and the rest of that week) as well a taking a very modern approach to as escalating biological arms race and the consequences for civilization.
Stumbling on Happiness Daniel Gilbert A psychologist presents the experimental research that supports the idea that humans are terrible and deciding what will make us happy in the future. A fun read despite that.
The Elements of Style Strunk and White Mister (harassing me for reading Elements of Style as bedtime pleasure): "I hear that has a gripping plot."
Me: "No, but it's really well written."
And it is!
The Poison Throne, The Crowded Shadows and The Rebel Prince by Celine Kiernan Prompted by raych's glowing reviews (9, 8.5 and 9 caterpillars), I bought the entire Moorehawk Trilogy for the Mister. The Mister was not a big fan (although he did read all 1200 pages in a short while). I liked them considerably more than he did, (although I agreed that Kiernan could have used a better editor), perhaps because adding a few magical elements to an alternative history of Europe doesn't bother me or perhaps because young strong heroines in fantasy novels impress me more than they do him.
Medium Raw Anthony Bourdain I'm actually a little embarrassed by my family fascination with food entertainment, but after the Mister read Medium Raw in a day, I read it, we discussed it, and I passed it on to my mother after I kept quoting Bourdain to her. What I should be embarrassed by is not that I like Anthony Bourdain, or that I watch Top Chef whenever I'm somewhere with cable (pretty much just the Mister's parents' house) or even that I know most of the people that Bourdain mocks, but that the Mister and I returned from vacation and followed Medium Raw up by watching Eric Rippert's PBS food series, Avec Eric, and then becoming consumed by America's Next Food Network Star on hulu. And I can't even mock Next Food Network Star because I've already figured out my "POV"* for my food network show.

"Charlotte Collins is knocked up!: Why I needed to read Pride and Prejudice for the tenth time" was going to be the title of a post I wrote in November, when I first noticed talk of Charlotte's "condition". I read Pride and Prejudice again a few weeks ago and did not have any great plot insights this time, but I still love it, eleven-or-so times later.
I've started (and liked, but somehow dropped) Sea of Poppies and Stolen Lives, but plan to return to both one of these times, after The Secret Eleanor and perhaps some trashy romance or children's lit.

*My point of view would be the plants behind the ingredients. I'm also working on my readings for my fall Economically Important Plants class and keep bringing up food plant tidbits ("modern bananas are all asexually propagated" "despite being an African plant; South America, SE Asia and Central America all grow far more coffee than Africa does") to my tolerant or curious husband. Anyway, if only I were a faster cook, had a less irritating voice on tape, and the camera took off 50 pounds; my show could have potential.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Secret Eleanor and Summer STIR

The Secret Eleanor by Cecelia Holland is Jennifer's pick for the June/July STIR. A historical novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Secret Eleanor looks to be somewhere between well-documented history and Phillipa Gregory-style romance. I've just started reading it and think it will be a fun read for those of us who enjoy both scandal and history (and whether or want them to be or not, such books are always strikingly educational because they lead me to look things up like "Where is Aquitaine? How about Anju? Which crusade are we talking about?").
The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene, a reputed-to-be-great novel from a reputed-to-be-great author from a time (mid-twentieth century) from which I have read very few "classics"* is Janet's July pick.
Juno's Daughters is on with Tracy for September.
August is still open for someone who wants to suggest a book easy to read while breastfeeding, or I might just suggest some YA Fantasy or a classic adventure story (Kidnapped comes to mind).

*At the moment, I can only think of Of Mice and Men. The Great Gatsby and As I Lay Dying are distinctly earlier and Vonnegut considerable later and many people would not consider Tolkein and Lewis among the "classics".

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Insight Insights (or lack thereof)

Partially because I was reading it just as I learned that Rutherford Robinia* had likely had a stroke in utero, my personal response to April STIR's My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor was muddled. Despite, or perhaps because of, this, the e-mail discussion of the book was some of the best we've had. Thanks to Jenny, Irene and Prairie Quilter for openly sharing thoughts.

A quick re-cap: Jill Bolte Taylor was a research neuroanatomist in her 30s when she has a massive stroke. After eight years she considered herself fully recovered and wrote My Stroke of Insight, a memoir of the experience, a call for compassionate assistance for stroke victims, a piece of inspirational self-help on using the right-side of the brain, a few chapters on brain anatomy and a testament to the wonder and the plasticity of the human brain. The book is short and covers a lot of ground in few pages.

I think the STIR readers unanimously thought the writing was uneven and fit some of the purposes better than others, but most of our comments were about wanting more: more about JBT's personal life, more about the intermediate steps in the recovery process, and more answers to things that Bolte Taylor couldn't possible answer ("if post-stroke enlightenment is comparable to meditative-religious enlightenment [and JBT is fairly convincing that it is], is it really possible to achieve just by desire, rather than major trauma or years of practice?" "would the brain of a stroke-sufferer in her 70s really be as plastic?") which suggests that JBT succeeded.

My Stroke of Insight is highly recommended for anyone who thinks they might become a caregiver for someone following a stroke (and, like many books about motherhood with newborns, I imagine that this book is better to have read before one needs it. If I were a frustrated care-giver, I could see MSoI being inspirational or exceedingly frustrating ['easy for her to say that the brain can completely recover. . .']) and fellow-biologists who know nothing about the human brain and generally recommended overall. If you do read it, I'd happily share more of the thoughts of the STIR readers with you.

In the meantime, take care of your brains.

*At the super-duper sonogram yesterday we learned that RuthRob has completely normal cranial anatomy and had the doctor been seeing me for the first time, would have sent me on my way with an ordinary "looks fine" report. RuthRob is also 5.5 pounds, so of nicely average size (57th percentile).

Stained glass brain by JBT, image found on her website,

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Challenge for my Father-in-Law

I should make this perfectly clear: I do not believe that men are the same as women, biologically or otherwise, nor should they be.
But a few men have ruffled my feathers recently by suggesting that certain traits are inherently "boy" traits. Perhaps it is because I possess these particular traits (and was not raised as a tomboy) that the issue rankles. I love playing with legos (yes, that is present tense), I have always wanted to spend time outside (except when I did it for a living and gained far greater appreciation of air conditioning, heating and showers), and when compared to the Mister, MB or MBiL, would be the most naturally inclined to work on a ranch.
I don't think I possess these traits because I'm female, nor do I think it is my femaleness that makes me taller than the Mister or worse at math than the Mister (but better than 90% of the graduate school-attending population) or better at baking cakes. They are just part of who I am.
Dianthus currently wants to be outside all the time, follows his grandfathers into the pasture or garden, and is obsessed with trucks and lawn mowers. He also is a big help unloading the dishwasher and is fascinated by kittens, bubbles and hair clips.
His sibling, female or male, will certainly be different at age almost two.
She or he may not like being outside looking at insects, may not want to dig and may not make loud grumbling noises when pushing objects across the floor.
My challenge to my Father-in-Law is to put a cap on her or him, give her or him a dump truck, and take her or him out digging potatoes and bashing musk thistle and give her or him every opportunity to find out.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Upcoming STIR

I mixed up the June and July book selectors, so it turns out that the official July book has been chosen and June book has not. I'll announce Janet's now and Jennifer's next week and we'll discuss as the books are read.
Janet's book is The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene. Janet and I were in the same book club in Denver over ten years ago. At that time, we read Travels with My Aunt and both very much enjoyed it. Somehow, however, neither of us has ever read any other Graham Greene (and despite him being one of the great and prolific authors of the twentieth century, neither of us could name another book by him). After much discussion of the many things we want to read (which was always the best part of our Denver book club), we settled on The Heart of the Matter because, among other things, it is listed as one of the TIME 100 best novels in English and we were much less likely to pick it up "on our own" than Treasure Island (which was our runner-up choice). Please join us for what we expect to be a great novel.

In other STIR news: soon, very soon, I will post the last of the Lark Rise to Candleford thoughts. Despite all of the issues with it, Marieke and I have found much to discuss in the March book.
The readers of My Stroke of Insight have been discussing it off-blog. I'll summarize once I've heard from everyone.
Many of us have finished Charles and Emma. If you've read it, let me know so that I can e-mail you the discussion questions.