Monday, December 6, 2010

De-Lurk Day!

Did you enjoy NaBloPoMo? I did. Writing 30 posts in 30 days wreaked havoc on my precarious balance between business workload vs. available time to be productive, but I enjoyed it all the same.  And I want to continue writing on my blog.  There is certainly an element of personal satisfaction inherent in blogging, but to be frank, I am self-satisfied in other areas of my life, so that reward alone is not enough to keep the wheels of Beyond Mommy turning.  The implicit reality is that engaged and participatory readers are the lifeblood of a good blog. Without feedback wherein the writer learns who her readers are and what they enjoy reading, a blog can easily wither and die (I submit as evidence for your consideration: May through October on this blog).

Therefore, I am officially declaring today "De-Lurk Day" on Beyond Mommy.

Do you read this blog on a regular basis, or are you just stopping in? How did you find this blog? Did a less-than-hilarious Google search land you here? Did you click through from a mutual friend or a facebook post? Are you an ex-boyfriend's brother or my former boss or someone I've never met? Or do I see you every day and not even know that you are reading this?? Now is your chance to come clean. Let the world (and more importantly, me!) know that you're reading this blog.

Just write a quick note to tell us a little about yourself, how you know me or found this blog, and/or why you read it, if you want. 

I happen to know that Bridget (from whom I received permission to steal this whole De-Lurk Day idea*) would love some company on my very quiet comment platforms. I find it plausible that some people fear commenting precisely because it is so quiet--it's like giving a speech in your underwear. But consider this blog as a social platform. If I wanted to have a conversation with myself, I wouldn't need a computer. And that is no fun anyway.  If you have taken the time to read one of my posts, can you take another moment to continue the discussion a little further? Do you like it or hate it? Agree or disagree? Did it make you laugh or roll your eyes?  Surely you have something to say. Everyone does. My posts merely provide an opening monologue for what could be an engaging conversation. 

So go yourself! And then please don't be a stranger...

*I know I 'll never get 55 comments on this post, but come on Beyond Mommy fans, let's have a decent showing here! I know you are out there lurking!  :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Preschool macabre

Breakfast table conversation with a not-yet-four-year-old:

Without segue: "Mommy, I had the dream* when I pushed my friend Fanky** and she died. She died when I pushed her."

Grappling for the correct response: "That sounds like a scary dream, honey!"

Incredulous: "NO it's not!"

Tentatively: "I think that your friend dying is a little bit scary."

Confused: "No...dying is fun."

Still unsure of how to proceed: "Have you ever died before, Madelyn?"

As if it is so obvious: "Yes."

Curious: "Oh? How did you die?"

Matter-of-factly: "When a T-Rex ate me."

Thoroughly amused: "Really. When did this happen?"

Growing tired of this line of questioning: "In one hundred days."

These kinds of hilarious discussions are becoming more frequent as Madelyn's imagination and aperture of life experience are simultaneously expanded faster than her comprehension of reality can keep up.***

*This is the first time Madelyn has ever spoken about a dream or even indicated that she might understand that they occur.

**We hear references to a friend named "Fanky" who does not seem to actually exist.

***Bet you thought now that NaBloPoMo is over you wouldn't see a post from me for six months or so.  Ha HA! I proved you wrong.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Curly hair FAIL

The other day I got me some of them foam rollers that you wear overnight. My vision: after an evening shower, throw the curlers on wet hair, wake up with gorgeous wavy locks.  Quick, easy beauty. And hey, I bet Madelyn would think this pretty fun, with bonus bonding time for us. 

Last night I skipped one of my workouts because I had not been feeling well all day. Madelyn and I had a hot tub party instead, followed by a shower. I felt so much better afterward. It was a perfect time to try out our curlers, since we both had wet hair and I didn't have any commitments early this morning that would require a decent appearance. You know, in case they didn't work out so well. Ahem.

How to Curl your Hair
in Eight Easy Steps:

Step 1: Install foam curlers

Madelyn was very patient with the process, which surprised me a bit because she doesn't even like to have her hair braided or put in a ponytail. 

The package suggested twisting the hair for a "spiral" curl. That sounded fun. 

Step 2: Pose in anticipation

All done! (Madelyn didn't wear that handkerchief very long, but she wanted to try it out.)

Step 3: Endure very uncomfortable night with plastic lumps all over your head

Step 4: Wake up and remove curlers

Step 5: Marvel at the utter FAIL before your eyes

Have you ever wondered what I would look like with an afro? I actually haven't, but behold the answer.

Seriously. all I need is my pick. Curly hair: FAIL. Afro: WIN. 

Step 6: Go for a run in the rain
A ponytail can hardly contain this hot mess!

Step 7: Wash away all traces of this mistake
Showered and back to my normal self.  Sigh of relief.

Step 8: Return curlers to whence they came
Prepare to meet your maker, foam rollers. Assuming Goody has a satisfaction guarantee, that is.  That 'fro was NOT worth such a horrible, poky, lumpy night's sleep. 

Madelyn's hair, on the other hand, turned out pretty darn cute, even fashionably completing the look with her new 80's rocker outfit. But she says she doesn't want to sleep in curlers again, so they're still going back to the store. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

Snowy sunset

EDIT: My husband just informed me that these pictures are of our sunRISE not sunset. Me: "Are you sure?" Him: Yeah, the sun doesn't set in the east. Me: Whatever, jerk. Just kidding. But he is totally right, I took these pictures around 7am. I am an idiot. The pictures are still nice though.

I forgot I had these neat pictures on my camera to share with you.  The first snow of winter dusted our neighborhood last Tuesday, and I captured this beautiful pink, orange, and purple sunset behind the white rooftops.

It would look much prettier without that giant lamppost mucking it up right in the middle. 

So here is a close-up. You can click on the photos to enlarge them and see how bright the colors are. 

Hm. Sorry for the lame excuse of a post today. I need to buckle down and get to work though, so this is what you get on Day 29. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Grilled cheesy adventure

Laaaast Christmas I bought one of those "half price deals" from a radio station website and put it in my husband's stocking. The gift certificate was for a restaurant called The Grilled Cheese Grill, which I had never heard of. But it sounded right up our alley because a) we love grilled cheese sandwiches and the ad implied that this place expands the culinary delight to new heights, b) they are open very late, and the idea of a midnight run for grilled cheese is the kind of thing that we would have totally done back before we had a child sleeping, and c) the restaurant is in a bus. Yeah.

The problem is, The Grilled Cheese Grill is located far on the other side of town where we rarely have business, too far to reasonably drive just to get a grilled cheese sandwich, even if it is served in a school bus.

Fast forward to thiiiiiis year, when I was contemplating how to celebrate Gary's birthday. We tend to honor birthdays by doing something more often than giving something.  My friend Sarah gave me the idea to check out Ape Cave, and while researching, I figured out that The Grilled Cheese Grill is only a few blocks off the path to get there. It was the perfect excuse to use the gift certificate and try a fun, new place for a special birthday lunch. And the best part is, I discovered that the certificate I had purchased was going to expire at the end of the month, so the timing could not have been better!

As we walked along the sidewalk in Northeast Portland toward our surprise destination, we encountered this:

In case it isn't clear, that is a wooden utility pole covered with a four-inch layer of damp flyers.  They had been partially torn off to provide this stunning cross-section of so many lost kitties, grunge band performances, and bikes for sale. I love this picture. 

The Grilled Cheese Grill was everything I had hoped for and then some. The concept of a mostly-outdoor restaurant doesn't usually swoon me in early November, but at least it wasn't raining. 

In addition to the outdoor picnic tables, this old school bus had been converted into a dining area as well.  The entire ceiling is painted with a semi-frightening mural the title of which might be "Otto's acid trip."  We found ourselves fielding questions like, "Mommy, why doesn't that cat have a head?" and "Ha ha! That skeleton is wearing pants!"

While we waited for our sandwiches to be grilled, Madelyn played bus driver. She is wearing those hideous silver sparkly shoes. We hate them, she loves them. What are you gonna do?

And then. And THEN. Our glorious grilled cheese sandwiches were served. Mine was called the BABS: bacon, apples, bleu cheese, and swiss on rye.  This taste sensation might be enough to make me say OMG, if only I were not fundamentally opposed to uttering that abomination. I will say that it was so yummy that tomato soup dipping was unnecessary. Gary got The Pops with ham, tomato, havarti, and honey mustard on Dave's Killer Cracked Wheat. We wanted to get the requisite tomato soup of course, plus a kids' grilled cheese for Madelyn. A la carte, this would have cost $21.75 (actually not a bad deal for a 3-person lunch). But they have this cleverly titled special called  Fromage a Trois where you get three sandwiches ("one for me, one for you, one to split") plus two soups or two chips for $17.50. So instead of the kids' sandwich, we got The Gabby, which features four cheeses, to share with Madelyn. Our gift certificate was a $20 value, and of course they don't give change, so the $1.75 charge to add ham to Gary's choice brought us up to $19.25--perfect!

The food was delicious and the concept so unique and fun that we'd consider driving all the way over there. Just for a Grilled Cheese Grill grilled cheese sandwich. Because I still really want to try The Jalapeño Popper and The Hot Brie. Plus--and this is a BIG plus--they also have sweet grilled cheese sandwiches.  Various combinations of brie, Nutella, marscarpone, bananas,and peanut butter grilled between cinnamon swirl or white bread. You can even add bacon to create The Fat Elvis. Yes, we will definitely need to venture out to The Grilled Cheese Grill again. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

How to find this blog

I don't look at the statistics very often, but I do have a couple of tracking widgets installed on Beyond Mommy. They give me basic information about how many visitors my site receives each day, where they are located, how they landed on my page, etc. Pretty boring stuff, really. But it can be kind of fun to see that in the last 48 hours I have entertained guests from Birmingham, Alabama; Civitanova Marche, Italy; Macon, Georgia; and South Lanarkshire, UK. I do not know anyone who lives in these places.

That always makes me wonder how strangers find my blog.  Enter Google Analytics, which tracks the various search terms entered which result in a "hit" for Beyond Mommy. The most common search leading to my website is questions related to the NikePlus iPod Sensor, which I reviewed in depth last year. I sincerely hope that it has helped answer these queries, ranging from [sic] "what does nike+ do?" to "nike i pod odometer" to "Nike sensor Sinagpore price."  That last one I know didn't find the answer on my blog. I also get other bland requests such as "bringing kids to las vegas" and "how to diy streak hair."

Beyond the mundane searches with an obvious motive, it is much more fun to see what other odd phrases cause Google to bring up my site and lead a person to click on it. For your entertainment, here are a few of my favorites:

bikini babes in the snow probably led some disappointed pervert here or possibly to any one of my American Idol posts referring to "Bikini Girl."

"husband's last name" (in quotations, meaning searching for this exact phrase) innocuously led someone to my post about combining last names when we got married, but I like to imagine somebody forgot her husband's last name and was trying to find it.

oh crap probably linked to this post, but could just as easily have led someone here. I admit to having multiple entries featuring this phrase.

Chicago skyline scene shower curtain. Yes, I have written several posts about Chicago recently, but I'm not sure how the shower curtain comes into play.

diznee collection obviously found this lovely experience, but it makes me wonder whether or not the searcher intended the misspelling, as I did.

dressing up as a fear factor contestant and fear is not a factor logo must lead to one of my favorite flashbacks, and I hope that first person was pleased with my example.

I did discuss puffy paint popularity here, and showed off some unhalloween costumes here but I find these search phrases amusing in general. Don't you think it's fun to wonder why a person would enter any of these various combinations of words? What are they looking for?

And now for the grand finale, the best phrase leading to Beyond Mommy in recent weeks, exactly as entered in the search engine:

live forfoming and boob show

I can't begin to comprehend what this even means, much less what it has to do with my blog. I am going to assume that the individual searching did not find what he (or she?) was looking for with this particular click. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Flashback Friday: Madelyn's Birth Day

My daughter entered this world in our home on December 14, 2006, 46 minutes before her official "due date."  In the days that followed, I recorded a journal of her birth based on my personal recollection combined with notes my mother made. These notes were important for piecing together the timing and sequence of events, as a woman's mind lost in natural labor doesn't pay attention to such details.

I want to share this story as part of my series of "family history" flashbacks. It is very personal and real. If you're squeamish about childbirth or pain, you may wish to skip this one.  Until today, I'm fairly certain I had not read these words since shortly after they were written. The emotions they stirred in me are powerful and beautiful. I am not only grateful for this most incredible experience in my life, but for the fact that I had the sense to record it in such detail so that I may never forget.  And thus, it serves as the perfect Thanksgiving-weekend tribute.


On Thursday, December 14, 2006 I woke up at 6:40am feeling what I thought might be a contraction.  It was fairly uncomfortable, but I wondered if I just needed to go to the bathroom.  Having never experienced labor contractions, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  The same pain returned every 20 minutes, so I was pretty sure they were contractions.  After two hours I got out of bed, and the contractions did not return.  I was a little disappointed because it meant I was not in labor after all.

I did a few things on the computer, read a few chapters in “On Becoming Babywise,” and then played some “Dance Dance Revolution” on Playstation, hoping to stimulate labor to begin.  I talked to my mom on the phone, and she informed me that there was a pretty major storm coming in tonight, so she was going to be staying with Diana and Randy next door since Dad was out of town and she didn’t want to be home alone if the power went out.  She planned to work out at Curves and then watch Diana’s boys so she could also work out.  I called Diana and offered to watch her kids so she and Mom could work out together, but she said Randy would actually be home.  But she asked if I would come over and play with Kaden while she ran to the post office.  So I went over there around 4:00pm, and just before Diana got back from her errand, those pains returned.  While talking to Diana before I walked home, I tried to brush them off, thinking it probably wasn’t the real thing. 

Back at home, I had two or three contractions in a row, several minutes apart, but for some reason I still wasn’t sure they were really contractions.  It sort of felt like a gas bubble passing through.  Gary thought I should call the midwives, just to let them know something was happening, especially since there was a storm on the way.  I thought it was too early to call them, but I did it anyway.  After my first call, the contractions kept coming regularly.  They were already getting quite painful.  After a few calls back and forth with Wendy and Linda, they decided it was time to come out.  Linda was quite concerned about the storm, fearing a downed tree would block our route to the hospital.  To reassure her, Gary drove from our house all the way out to the freeway, reporting plenty of traffic, all the power on, and not so much as twigs on the roads.  He wasn’t worried anyway because we know so many ways to get where we’d need to go.  But I’m glad he made the effort to put Linda’s mind at ease.  Our midwives Wendy and Bonnie headed out from East Portland into rush hour, stormy weather traffic toward our home.

I called my mom to tell her that I was in labor, and things were getting difficult, so I hoped she would come right over instead of going to Curves first.  She was only a few minutes away from home, where the power had just gone out.  She told me she was so glad that she was already planning on staying at the Fairhursts’ tonight, because she had spent the morning getting ready to go and packing, which would have been far more difficult to do now that there was no power.

Gary and I changed the sheets on the bed, put away the comforter and laid out my handmade birth blanket.  We had all our birth supplies set up on tables in our room, ready to go.  I felt as prepared as I could have been for this moment.  And I was so excited thinking that it would not be very long before we’d finally meet our beautiful baby!  We joked a little bit that Madelyn is already showing she’s a drama queen, choosing to be born on the night of the big winter storm. J  In early labor I mostly laid on my bed or leaned over it, just trying to get through the contractions.  I was concerned because if it was already this painful, I wasn’t sure how I’d make it through the really difficult parts! 

It took a while for my mom to get here because a road was closed due to flooding.  I was glad when she arrived, because Gary had left to check the roads to the freeway.  I was so pleased that my mother could be with me for this, even though the idea of giving birth at home was a little scary and strange for her.  Her support by my side meant a lot to me.  I asked her to take pictures, and shared that I would like candid, story-telling shots, not smile-for-the-camera shots.  My mother did an excellent job and we have some beautiful photographs to remember this special night.

I had started recording the times of my contractions early on so that I would have a record to show the midwives when they arrived.  After a while, it was pretty obvious this was true labor, but my mom helped me continue to record the times anyway.  My contractions remained about 5 minutes apart for most of labor.  Other than that, I had no sense of time.  Labor is a powerful drug that takes you to the place you need to be to get through it.  And that place is in the body, not the mind.  Our power went out a little while after my mom got here.  We got out all the flashlights and battery-lanterns.  It was actually kind of neat to labor quietly in the dark, hearing the winds whistling through the trees outside. 

Diana and Randy stopped in to see how I was doing, which was really nice of them.  I was glad they came over, but because my contractions were pretty painful, it was difficult to enjoy their company.  I was glad to be able to talk to my dad on the phone a few times.  He was a little disappointed that Madelyn didn’t wait for him to come home from his Utah trip to be born, but he was so sweet and supportive on the phone.  It would have been nice if my dad could have been here for her birth, but I have to admit I did not want to wait!

Loki and Kezia were so relaxed; they actually slept through most of labor.  Their presence was very calming and comforting to me.  I don’t know if they had any idea what was happening, but it brought me peace to have them nearby and be able to snuggle with them when I wanted to.

Eventually Wendy and Bonnie, our midwives, made it here through the terrible traffic.  Gary gave them the cozy socks with rubber traction that I had gotten for them for our slick, cold hardwood floors.  After checking on me and giving some sweet words of encouragement, they went to work setting up supplies and organizing.  They listened to Madelyn’s heartbeat during a few contractions, checked my blood pressure and that sort of thing, but were very quiet and slow, mostly observing.

I thought it would feel nice to get in the hot tub, but Gary was pretty worried about debris in the storm hitting me outside.  At one point the winds calmed down and so he helped me get in and stood outside in the cold with me.  After only a few contractions in the hot tub, the winds picked back up, and Gary thought we would be safer inside.  Coming in from the hot tub I was very chilled, but I got dry and wrapped in a cozy robe. 

I would get very hot during contractions, and then in between them I would shiver at the cold.  I kept taking the robe or blankets on and off because my temperature was fluctuating so much.  I remember having no thoughts whatsoever about modesty, my mind and body were just completely focused on the work of labor.  I felt very primal, and tried my best to listen to my body and work with the labor, not against it.  I didn’t have any specific pain-coping techniques that I felt worked well.  I just tried to remind myself during each contraction that it would end soon.  I also focused on my breathing, and tried to relax.  That was the hardest part; I noticed myself tensing my body during contractions.  Another thing that worked for me was allowing my body to make the noises that felt natural.  I needed to moan through the pain.  My mom, Wendy and Bonnie all helped soothe me and tried to help me relax.  Gary was a great labor partner.  He remained quiet and calm, brought me water and juice, did anything I asked of him, and told me I was doing great.  One of the most helpful things was when he put pressure on my lower back during contractions.  That felt really good.
Everyone was quiet and calm, and the darkness was almost romantic.  Gary asked if I’d like to take a walk around the house, so we did.  It was a tender moment for just the two of us to be together.  I went into Madelyn’s nursery and sat in the rocking chair.  That actually seemed to help during contractions, so I stayed.  Then three contractions happened right in a row, without the usual break between.  We went back to our bedroom, but Gary brought the rocking chair in there because I liked sitting in it. 

I told everyone about the three strong contractions in a row, and my mom wondered why the midwives hadn’t checked yet to see how far I was dilated.  Bonnie said that they will check me whenever I want them to.  I was nervous to have them check, because after all the pain and hard work I’d been through, I didn’t want to be disappointed at a lack of progress and get my mind thinking in terms of “labor math.”  But then while I was standing over the bed, I had a really intense contraction.  It made me want to cry it hurt so bad, and Bonnie held me and let me cry on her shoulder.  I believe it was at that time or maybe the next one that my water broke, and the pain was so intense that I could hardly speak, so I remember trying to mutter, ‘It broke. My water just broke,” since I’m not sure anyone could see that in the dark.  Someone quickly cleaned up the puddle on the floor.  I also had a little urge to bear down!  That’s when I decided I wanted to see how far I was dilated, because I was confident that I had to be getting close.  I was so surprised to be feeling the urge to push.  I actually had no idea how much time had passed, but it felt so soon to be getting near the end! 

I laid down on the bed while Bonnie checked my dilation, and she said I was at about 8 centimeters!  I was so glad, but that meant that I needed to hold off on pushing until I was a little further dilated.  So I laid down on my side to counteract gravity’s effect on my urge to push.  I breathed quick, shallow breaths to keep from pushing, which was difficult.  The lights came on during this time.  Gary placed a cool washcloth on my head, which felt wonderful.  Soon Bonnie checked me again and said that my cervix was ready and it was okay to push now!  It felt natural to just roll up onto my hands and knees for pushing.  Then in between I could rest my head down. 

Pushing felt so wonderful.  I mean it really hurt, but there was something so relieving about it.  I could actually feel her little head moving through the birth canal, and I don’t recall that part hurting very much.  I was able to control my breathing and push slowly and deliberately.  Gary got to see her first wisps of dark hair inside me and watch the birth.  Wendy stayed by my head to give me support, and once again the power went out.
When Madelyn’s head was crowning it was very exciting, I couldn’t believe I was nearly done and she was almost in my arms!  I kept thinking of that reward and so was able to stay focused on getting through this last, difficult part.  The stretching of the vaginal opening burned quite a bit.  Bonnie applied counter pressure to the perineum, and I tried not to push too fast so I wouldn’t tear as much.  Gary told me when her head was coming out, and he sounded so excited. 

After a little rest, I pushed the rest of our baby out with the next contraction.  Bonnie handed her between my legs into my arms, and I was able to sit back and hold the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.  I am crying now as I write this, because the memory is so vivid and wonderful.  I clutched my baby girl to my chest and looked at every little part of her.  I couldn’t believe this perfect little being came out of me.  At the time, I didn’t cry because I think I was still under the power of Laborland.  I was so elated to have my daughter in my arms, and so relieved that labor was over and I did it!

Someone pointed out that the lights were back on, and we realized that the power must have returned near the exact moment that Madelyn’s head emerged.  I attribute that to the arrival of her electrifying spirit.  J 

We toweled Madelyn clean, and after the cord stopped pulsing, Daddy Gary got to cut it.  Then I got to nurse our baby for the first time, with Gary by my side.  That stimulated contractions to push the placenta out.  Wendy showed us how it worked inside me to nourish our precious baby.  The next day Gary planted it under Madelyn’s own Golden Delicious Apple tree in our backyard, so it will continue to nourish the tree and us by its fruit.

Wendy and Bonnie helped get everything cleaned up, and finished the necessary procedures to take care of the new baby and new mommy.  When they were sure everyone was healthy and happy, they left.  At 4:00am, Gary and I, exhausted and blissful new parents, went to sleep in our own bed, with baby Madelyn Bryce Winter finally in our arms.
(Click to enlarge)
Editorial: It's hard to say when labor officially began, but if we assume it was around 4:30 or 5pm when I returned from Diana's house, and Madelyn was born at 11:14pm, then my labor was only 6-7 hours. I recall that I was pushing for only about 20 minutes. There are SO many factors at play in every birth scenario, but I feel strongly that my mental preparation and choice of surroundings was an integral piece in the puzzle of my successful birth experience. Thank you Vivante Midwifery for facilitating this joyous occasion for our family. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010


In honor of this day of giving thanks, I want to say:

Thank you for reading my words. I hope that they have occasionally made you smile, or laugh, or think about something a little bit differently. I appreciate you for taking time to let me into your world, just a little bit. 

Now let's all go stuff ourselves to the brim in celebration of a bountiful harvest (made possible by privatized farming).  I feel totally justified since I ran 6+ miles in freezing conditions this morning. Also, I have made my best squash soup EVER, and I love this version I've perfected so much that I'm putting my name on the recipe. Let me know if you want to try Kristen's Ginger-Curry Squash Apple Soup (only 70 calories in a cup, but oh-so-delicious!).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Better movies than books?

Marvelous works of literary fiction are frequently adapted for the Big Screen. Especially in the recent decade or so, it seems that books-turned-movies are all the rage--Hollywood has opened the floodgates to endless new stories and to a certain extent, a new audience by latching onto the bestsellers, even multiplying their fortune by the number of volumes in a popular series. 

If you view one of these movies without having read the book by the same title, there is little room for disappointment. For example, my gleeful enjoyment of the first Twilight movie (which I saw in the theatre for free) inspired me to finally read the series. Also, I've never cracked a Harry Potter book, and thus harbor no disenchantment with the filmmaker's choices. But when you have read the book upon which a movie is based, and especially if you loved said book, it is common to feel, as the credits roll, some combination of dissatisfaction, aggravation, and grief at the disturbance to the movie your imagination alone created while reading.

How often, then, do you finish a book and think it would work better as a movie? I would say it is a rare notion in the afterglow of a fine story.  The last book I finished left me feeling this way, however, and as I wondered if that was a strange estimation, two other books came to mind that had given me a similar impression. So either I just like movies better than books, or perhaps the sentiment isn't so strange after all.
There are a few reasons that I think The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield would work better as a movie. First of all, for all the author's adjective-laden paragraphs describing her settings, I still had a hard time envisioning the scenes and spatial relations as the characters interacted. Sometimes that isn't a big deal, but this story was somewhat dependent on each character's point of view within the setting. And I do think that the images and tone Ms. Setterfield worked so laboriously to describe could be captured instantaneously with the camera. Also, flashback narratives tend to annoy me because there is no way a person could remember all that quoted dialogue to flesh out the story.  But I believe those flashback scenes could be handled very effectively with creative cinematography, and then when the twist all comes to light at the end, a series of clips of the same scenes from a different perspective would make the emergence of understanding so satisfying. As it is written, I really had to search back for how the revelation of truth could have possibly worked in the story.  It would take a second read to identify with any certainty where I believe there may be holes in the possibility, beyond my general disbelief that (spoiler alert, highlight to read) half-sisters could look enough alike to be mistaken for the same person. Maybe a movie could make some sense of that. 

There was SOOOOO much hype about this book, and if you've read it, then you might be wondering why I would possibly want to see some of the grotesque imagery it contains portrayed on film. I realize that this title has already been released in theatres, and I have not decided whether or not I will watch it. But bear with me while I explain why I prefer the idea of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson as a movie.  My overall impression of this novel is that all of the action was condensed into the third quarter. Sometimes it takes a chapter or two to get into a story, but I was nearly halfway through this book before I began to feel engaged. And the denouement also fell flat after the exciting climax was wrapped up with nearly 100 pages yet to go. So much boring political background and family tree illuminating could be handled far more efficiently on film, and the ending could be condensed, leaving the satisfying thrill nearer the actual end of the story. Plus, I wouldn't have to stumble over pronunciation of a litany of Swedish names with all their excessive consonants. 
I picked up this hardback at a garage sale last summer because the jacket description sounded so intriguing (excerpt): The story of Susie Salmon, who is adjusting to her new home in heaven, a place that is not at all what she expected, even as she is watching life on earth continue without her. There is a great deal I expected from such a unique concept that unfortunately I didn't get from The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. It's been over a year since I read it, but I do clearly remember having the distinct thought that this book would have made a better movie. And at the time I had no idea that one was about to be released! It hasn't been on my mind until musing about this post in recent days, so I moved it near the top of my Netflix queue so I can finally see whether or not I am right.  While I don't relish viewing the events which lead to the vile end of Susie Salmon's life on earth, I hope they will be handled with taste enough to capture the wretched tragedy without being vulgar.  Because the book was really a character drama, delving into the fundamental changes in people after losing a daughter, sister, friend (and also those who are not changed by it), I hope to experience in the movie a more seamless flow of the story as a whole.  I'll let you know how it goes. 

If you have read any of these books and/or seen their Hollywood adaptations, please share your thoughts! Feel free to disagree...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My mom is cool like that

I know I am pretty lucky that I have such a great relationship with my mother. And this is not only because I am aware that many people cannot claim this reality or would never want it, but also because my life has taken me down paths that are far from the future my parents imagined for me. 

Rather than beat around the bush, I'll just be clear: I am no longer an active member of the church to which the rest of my family is devotedly faithful.  To most of the world, this isn't such a shocking experience. Commonplace, in fact, for many families. Except that the religion which formed the foundation of the first 19 years of my life is Mormonism. And if you're not a Mormon, then you probably won't understand the difference.  But if you are, then you will understand why this was a very significant alteration of my life and why I profess gratitude for the closeness my mother and I share. 

In truth, the early years of this new direction were difficult for my family. But I guess that is a whole other story, and likely one that I won't share publicly. But suffice it to say, the fact that my mother and I came out on the other side with a genuine friendship, in addition to mutual respect, is one of life's little miracles. I've always believed that miracle was indisputably aided by the opportunity we forged to work together closely as co-owners of our Curves clubs. However, I suppose family relationships just as easily have been destroyed in joint business ventures. 

What I do know is that my mother is a loving, kind person, and she soon deemed her relationship with me, her daughter, to be more important than reiterating pious disapproval.  Another important piece of our happy little puzzle is that my choices were not born of a desire to rebel. I was not trying to upset my parents, rather I wanted them to understand and love me in spite of our differences. I would venture a guess that I am not your typical "ex-Mormon" because I still appreciate the culture, value the traditions, and even respectfully attend my niece and nephews' baptisms and the occasional Relief Society activity (the fun ones, tee hee). Even though I don't go to church and say my prayers and read scriptures, I am still a good person and live my life with values remarkably similar to those I learned in my parents' home. Which probably makes it easier for my mother to accept. 

This whole introduction grew more sentimental than intended--I was planning on just telling you an amusing anecdote from Chicago illustrating my mom's "cool" factor.  But I like what I've written, so it stays. And here is the story:

We spent a few days touring Chicago with my cousin and her mom (my mom's sister). Rachel is only 20 days older than me, and we were very close as children. I think she grew out of our relationship before I did, and these days we only communicate a few times a year, but when we do we still laugh about our old inside jokes and childhood memories. 
It's not my place to describe the private details of my cousin's life, but maybe you can draw your own conclusions from these facts: 1. She is single and does not plan to have children. 2. She lives in West Hollywood, CA. 3. She also no longer attends church.  From what I understand, the tension with her own mother resulting from her personal choices has never quite lifted, and sadly, arguments about it often ensue.

In Chicago, Rachel made plans one night to meet up with a girlfriend who lives in the area. She invited me to go, but I was hesitant to accept because a) I was exhausted and would have been just as happy to read my novel in the comfy hotel bed, and b) I did not want to risk accepting a "courtesy invite" and be an unwanted third wheel.  While the plans were being laid for where/when to meet, Rachel checked to make sure that her mom wouldn't be upset by her going out--a thoughtful gesture I thought, since this was kind of a mother-daughter trip.  The moms were getting ready for bed anyway, so she gave her consent. 

The next thing I know, I am hearing the louder half of an argument going on in the bathroom, and it seems that maybe my aunt is not as comfortable with the idea as she first let on. This is about the time that I decided to go, because I thought it might help if Rachel wasn't going out into Chicago at night all alone. My mom was a bit surprised when she noticed I was dressed and grabbing my purse, but not alarmed or upset.  I said jokingly, "Yeah, someone's got to keep Rachel out of trouble!"

During our exhilarating run along the Chicago River the next morning, Rachel explained that her mother was upset upon learning that she was going to a bar. We both laughed at the thought: "where else would you go to meet friends at 11:00pm?"  Apparently her mother wasn't able to sleep until we returned. I can't say I disagree with Rachel's frustration over her mother's protectiveness when they are together (Rachel has taken to getting a hotel room when she visits home for this reason), since I'm sure my aunt doesn't suffer from insomnia every other night of the week. You know, when Rachel is at home in L.A. with her friends...  I assure you, a few cocktails at a bar is quite a tame evening. 

We also mused at the possibility that Rachel's mom was being extra critical because my mom (her big sis) was there. No one wants to look like a bad parent in front of her own sister, and my aunt might operate under the mistaken assumption that I am some sort of righteous individual who would never stay out late drinking with guys I don't know and didn't want my mom to view Rachel as a bad influence on me. It was only natural for Mama Bear to emerge and present the audience with a convincing case of her disapproval.

After enjoying our free breakfast at the concierge lounge (I never want to stay in a hotel without access to this glorious feature again!), my mom quietly asked me how our evening went and if we had, in fact, gone to a bar.  I responded this way: "Well, yeah, that's kind of the only place that would be open that time of night." My mother responded this way: "That's what I was thinking!" She proceeded to say that she knows we are both grown women who can take care of ourselves, and she's not sure what Auntie was so worked up about (that is my pithy summary, not her words). 

My heart swelled with pride, knowing that my mom is cool like that. 

My cool mom and me
Chicago ~ October 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mini-Movie Reviews: Three sci-fi/thrillers

I think we can all agree that M. Night Shyamalan hasn't been able to top The Sixth Sense. My next favorite would have to be The Village, since it actually had a real twist and I didn't see it coming. His other movies lack that touch because the mysterious occurrences were in reality exactly as presented. Case in point: Signs? Oh, it really was aliens, just like everyone thought. Anyway, The Happening was just alright. Overly dramatic as one would expect from the genre, and admittedly gory too, since the premise involves people being exposed to something which makes them commit suicide by whatever means are immediately available. But I found the explanation for such macabre events nothing but laughable (spoiler alert--highlight to read): The PLANTS got angry at humans for mistreating them and released chemicals to defend themselves. Seriously. A lame statement against our horrendous contamination of the planet. 

Nicolas Cage's character dubiously deciphers a number code found inside a time capsule unearthed at his son's school which contains accurate predictions of tragedies which have already occurred, and oh my goodness, one that is on the horizon! I have a hard time losing myself in films like this where the connections between point A and point B don't flow naturally. For example, the cup ring left on the paper prompts Cage to solve a complex code through a subqequent series of guesses, some of which are just too far-fetched. And the ending was just too strange for me (highlight for the spoiler): He sends his "chosen" son off on a spaceship to live with aliens while he stays behind to die, their parting comments beaming with religious undertones. There was a lot going on in Knowing, and too many contrivances to make it really work. 

I have to admit I got a little bored during Push. And there is always that matter of the paradox of time, impossible to be consistent with the effects of a person being able to see the future and how they change that future. But it was still worth a viewing, just for the fun of it. It was the best out of these three selections at very least, and I do know a lot of people who liked this movie a lot. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Frozen legs

It was 32 degrees outside this morning. So I ran eight miles.

Of course, "so" is not the proper coordinating conjunction here; perhaps "yet" would be more appropriate. Sunday morning is about the only time I can semi-conveniently fit in a run longer than 3-4 miles, so I guard the opportunity vigilantly, even when my well-meaning husband tries to encourage me to stay in bed.

Running outside when the temperature is near freezing (or at, in this case) is a very peculiar sensation, at least to me. My skin is tingly-numb from the biting cold, even under my layers and highly functional but not glamorous free running gloves. But my muscles, primarily quads and hamstrings--not the entire body, are saturated with internal warmth from the exertion and resulting circulation being directed there away from my extremities.

It reminds me of a reverse incarnation of Lisa Simpson's fish sticks: "They're burned on the outside but they're frozen on the inside, so it balances out!"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Birth blanket

This is kind of a continuing of yesterday's Flashback Friday. I had read about the idea of a birthing blanket in a book, and decided to make one. The blanket is designed to be waterproof messproof in order to protect the bed or floor, while providing a soft place to labor. I also tend to agree with the sentiment that a "birth project" of any kind can aid a mother-to-be's preparation for the big day.

Common sense indicated that I would be throwing this blanket away after its purpose had been fulfilled.  So I knew it didn't need to be pretty. I found two flat sheets at Goodwill, but bought a new shower curtain because really--is there a used shower curtain in existence that isn't covered in mildew and soap scum? I'm no seamstress, but I've done a number of sewing projects, including a pieced quilt duvet cover and my "senior quilt" made as part of my church young women's program. A birth blanket is uncomplicated, like a senior quilt: the shower curtain is layered with the batting between the two sheets to create a watertight barrier. 

So I set about making the blanket in much the same way I remember making my senior quilt. For added liquid-catching ability, I rolled up the sides before clumsily stitching them shut. This blanket was for function, not beauty, remember? Then in order to secure the batting in place, I proceeded to tie the quilt with yarn, as I recalled having done so many times in young women. The needle goes through the blanket, tie a knot, then repeat over and over again all over the quilt, and cut the yarn between the knots to make the little ties that add flair to your finished blanket. Ta-da! 

With my blanket complete and a table in my bedroom covered with supplies like sterile gloves, disposable blue underpads, garbage bags, and flashlights, I was ready to have this baby. 

And I did. Which you'll be able to read about next Friday. 

But you may have already figured out the inherent flaw in my birthing blanket's design. Because YOU are clearly a much more intelligent human being than I, whose mind the error never crossed until it was too late. All those HOLES I poked in the blanket with a quilting needle resulted in a failure of its waterproofing capabilities. So directly under the place where Madelyn was born, we have a lovely dark red stain on our memory foam mattress' pillowtop. I'm sure my brother who owns a carpet/upholstery cleaning business loved trying to clean that up. Ha ha, Bryan. That's what you get for putting nooses on my stuffed animals and flying them around on the ceiling fan.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Flashback Friday: From OB to Midwife

Now that you know how I feel about planned home birth, let me tell you a little bit about our decision process and some of the steps we took to prepare for the adventure.

Gary and I shared an intuitive leaning toward natural birth practices before we conceived a child and started researching. When I found out I was pregnant, I automatically called my uncle, who is also my OB/GYN.  At our first visit, I broached the subject of home birth. At that time I was completely unaware of the divisive crevasse between hospital vs. home birth mentalities; obstetrics vs. midwifery. I naively thought that all birth professionals worked together toward the end of happy mothers with healthy babies exercising their right to experience birth in the way that is most comfortable to them. I've since discovered a great deal about the intriguing history and modern implementation of birth practices around the world.

My Uncle promptly discouraged me from the idea, with tact and professionalism. The gist of his main line of reasoning was that as a first-time mother, I would have no idea what to expect and should experience childbirth the "usual" way before trying something outside the box. Also (this will reveal the extent of my naïveté) I learned that he could not attend to a birth at home. Being the obvious rookie in the room, I accepted his advice and made my next appointment.
A couple of months later I was reading Birthing from Within by Pam England on an airplane headed for Waco, Texas.  Above the clouds, I read the chapter the author almost chose not to include about home birth (because she did not want her book to be viewed as advocating for home birth specifically).  The words and the ideas resonated in my so deeply that I knew. While waiting for my baggage to cycle past, I called Gary and told him that I had decided that I wanted to give birth at home after all. He wanted to know why I had decided and if I was really sure, then we agreed that we would talk about it more when I returned home.

The two big steps which came next were finding a midwife and notifying my doctor.

1) Finding a midwife. This wasn't too difficult, because Google and a few other resources only produced a small handful of midwifery practices that attend home births. Of these, only two of them had Certified Nurse Midwives in the group, and our research lead us to feel most confident having a CNM because of their higher education and more extensive experience. We interviewed these two sets of midwives, and immediately felt a more pleasant connection with Wendy from Vivante. Our conviction compelled us to choose her even over the group that offered in-home prenatal care! (Of course, I've always wondered if perhaps they weren't as welcoming to us because they weren't keen on the idea of driving 45 minutes from their office for my check-ups.)

2) Notifying my doctor. This one was more difficult because I love and respect my uncle so much. The more I expanded my knowledge of the birth culture divide, the more I realized how difficult the announcement would be. I decided that the best way to speak to my uncle was in his own language. So I gathered links to several recent studies regarding the safety and outcomes of planned home births published in esteemed medical journals.  I believe that I confirmed my decision to Uncle over the phone, then emailed him links to the studies, additional resources, and my own testimony of my own reasoning.  I was surprised and elated when he phoned me (this man is very busy and we don't really have a talk-on-the-phone kind of relationship) to thank me for sharing the information. He said that it opened his mind to understand the practice of home birth and made him more accepting of my decision. I know he does not now regard home birth as a better or even equal alternative, but at least he gave me his blessing and assured me that he would be praying for a successful outcome.

With those barriers out of the way, we spent the next several months having the (mostly) usual prenatal care, acquiring the usual newborn supplies, and gathering some not-so-usual provisions in preparation for D-day (Delivery, not Doom).  The midwives provided an entire folder of resource materials, inside of which is the official "Homebirth Handbook." It contains a list of supplies to have assembled in advance, many of which we were able to order online in a kit. We took a childbirth preparation class modeled after the Birthing from Within book that was integral in my decision to choose to give birth at home. And I created a birth project during the final month or so of my pregnancy, the defects of which left us with some unusual consequences.

To be continued tomorrow...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

At last!

I have my husband to thank for providing the material for today's post.  Gary came home last night very excited to show me the "blog-worthy" picture he took at the grocery store.  How thoughtful, and on Day 18 of Nablopomo, his assistance is most welcome. 

Reeeally, Campbell's? 'Spose I should throw out the 3 cans of Spaghetti-O's that are hanging out in my pantry now, since they are clearly UNhealthy. I just love marketing campaigns and food labeling that unmistakably emphasize a product's former inferiority. Just yesterday afternoon, several hours before Gary brought me this beauty, I reached for a box of tea packets at my friend's house which boasted "Improved Taste!" I chuckled under my breath, but never mentioned it to Gary, so you can see how we truly have a profound mystical understanding. Thanks, Gary. It's nice that my blog can be a team effort. 

I know you've seen them too. Won't you please share some of the marketing delights you've noticed which tend to have the opposite of the desired effect on your interest in the product?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Your park information specialist

Here is another tale of excitement and intrigue from Chicago, although rather than fascinating or thrilling, this one is downright funny. Or at least it is to me. 

The piece of conceptual art pictured above is official called Cloud Gate, but we referred affectionately to it as "The Bean" and I'm certain we're not the only ones.  As we approached the giant sculpture in Millennium Park a woman appeared next to us, seemingly from thin air. I believe she may have been crouching in the bushes. Anyway, as she bent down to extinguish her cigarette on the sidewalk beside her, the woman introduced herself:  "Hello ladies, I'm LaFawnduh*, your park information specialist." She explained how she could answer any questions we had about the park or Cloud Gate, and offered to take our pictures together.  Rachel and I knew precisely where this was going, but my darling, innocent mother jumped on the opportunity to have a photographer without hesitation. 

LaFawnduh confidently led us over to the far side of The Bean, where she all but pushed a group of girls taking their own pictures there out of the way by explaining that she was the park information specialist and would be happy to take their pictures after she was finished with ours. The whole time, I felt uneasy about the situation, and you can see it on Rachel's and my expressions in all our photos. 

And the instinct was not unfounded. After returning the cameras, LaFawnduh launched monotonously into her memorized spiel about representing Rainbow House, a shelter for abused women and children or something and asked for a donation.  Her speech sounded fake; it reminded me of a teenager forced to sell wreaths door-to-door, where their eyes wander about the ceiling instead of looking at fact, she did a perfect impression of this guy from Office Space (one of the best movies EVER). I noticed that the lanyard around her neck held a name badge on which she'd written her own name in Sharpie, and I could just make out the schedule of events printed on the back, with dates listed in April 2010. A lot of Conventions are held in Chicago; it would be pretty easy to come across a discarded lanyard like this and turn it into an official "park information specialist" accessory. I rolled my eyes when she couldn't see. 

My mom gave LaFawnduh five dollars, which we all agreed was fair, since in spite of the odd situation, she cleared the area and took some great pictures that we would not have been able to capture without her.  It only took her 5-10 minutes, so that's a pretty fair wage, too. But rather than thank us graciously, LaFawnduh took the bill, then looked expectantly between the other three of us and asked in an incredulous tone, "And...this will be from all of you?" When we confirmed and thanked her again, she put the money in the pocket of her hoodie, slung her backpack over one shoulder and walked away saying "Have a nice day" over her shoulder. I laughed. 
Here is LaFawnduh "helping" another group of unsuspecting tourists. 

My problem now is that I looked it up. Rainbow House is a real non-profit agency in Chicago dedicated to supporting victims of domestic violence. Was LaFawnduh truly raising funds to support their efforts, or just using the name of a real organization to cultivate genuine sympathy for her endeavor? I will never know. It still seems sneaky to claim to be a park information specialist on one hand, and ask for donations afterward on the other hand. I would prefer a more direct approach: tell us up front that you volunteer in the park on behalf of Rainbow House, and would gladly take our pictures if we would consider a small donation to support the cause. And then have some official paperwork, a nametag, etc. to help us believe that your operation is legitimate. And whether or not you are honestly fundraising or just trying to make some cash for yourself, be grateful for every dollar you get. 

A great picture of my mom and Cloud Gate reflecting Chicago's skyline.

*I don't actually remember our "park information specialist's" name, so I borrowed this one from  Kip's girlfriend.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Montessori Morning

While many preschools and elementary schools require a minimum number of parent volunteer hours, Madelyn's Montessori school is quite the opposite. Parents are not even allowed to volunteer in the classroom; maintaining the learning environment cultivated by Dr. Maria Montessori being the ultimate goal. We are, however, encouraged to sign up for classroom observation appointments beginning the fourth week of the school year. I have one good friend whose decision to send her daughter to a different preschool was influenced in part by the idea that she would not be able to visit the classroom to see how her child was managing in those early weeks. I can certainly relate to that uneasiness, but I also believe that protecting the students' environment while it is still being created is a worthwhile endeavor.

It brings me great joy to observe Madelyn in her world at school. Parents are offered a clipboard to jot notes/questions and asked to sit in any of three different chairs around the rooms. The students understand that visitors are only watching, and remarkably, they ignore the intrusion to a degree that allows a parent to get a true sense of how the classroom functions in her absence.  What follows is a summary of my 30 minutes in Mr. Tarnowski's Primary classroom this morning.

After placing her own coat on a hanger, Madelyn breezes past me with a hint of a smile, acknowledging that school is to continue as usual. She walks around the circle of students already seated and extends her hand to Mr. Tarnowski, patiently waiting for him to break momentarily from the story he is sharing. He looks her in the eye, shakes her hand, and greets her.

Madelyn sits on a section of the blue line away from other students. I wonder to myself whether she has particular friends by whom she likes to sit. At the end of Mr. Tarnowski's story, music begins, and without a word of instruction, the children stand and begin to sing along and act out the motions of the song. A new song follows, and with one short stanza of introduction, the students begin to sing. Very enthusiastically, I notice, and even Madelyn is singing the words, and following the blue line around in a circle as they mimic riding a pony that is walking, trotting, and then galloping.  Even though the twenty-plus students here today are between 2.5 and 6 years old, and they each choose a different pace for their "pony's" gait, there is no pushing or impatience in the circle.

When the music stops, every child sits down quietly. Still the teacher has issued no commands, but quietly watches or sings and gallops along.  He joins them on the blue line and booms a friendly "Good morning!" to which he receives a boisterous echo from the class. After a reminder about how to breathe as if the lungs are divided into three parts, the children take several long, deep breaths along Mr. Tarnowski--filling the upper, middle, then lower lungs and exhaling in the same fashion. One little girl rises to squirt some hand sanitizer, then returns to her seat. A very young student is kindly guided back to his space by Mrs. Tarnowski. The atmosphere is serene and peaceful. These students behave maturely as a result understanding and respect, not fear.

Yesterday's unfinished work is handed out to a few students. Mr. Tarnowski advises a couple of older girls (probably age 5) to go select an age-appropriate job in either language or math.  He then calls names one by one to join Mrs. Parker in Practical Life for a new lesson. I notice the students filing out are some of the youngest.  He asks Madelyn to bring him the farm animals job, and the remaining students gather around him for a lesson which involves reading the names of the animals. First they same the name of the toy plastic animal as he sets each one on the carpet. Next he shows them a small card with an animal's name written on the front, and they work together to sound out the letters and read the word. Everyone participates, and Mr. Tarnowski corrects by using phrases such as "It's important to look at the first letter in a word. What does "pig" begin with?" And when the children respond with "puh," they look again at the word he is holding and say, "dog!"  He also reviews new sounds like "sh" and "ee" in sheep.

When she is excused to return the farm animal basket to its shelf and find her own work, Madelyn heads straight for the painting easel. She clips a paper to it, puts on her apron, then asks Mrs. Parker to write her name on the paper. "Madelyn" is written in small dashed letters, which Madelyn traces herself with a pencil before creating a bright orange masterpiece. While she paints, I notice Madelyn's cousin Jack working on a job with dried beans and two wooden bowls. Another child is using an eye dropper and blue liquid in a cup. Two students are enjoying a snack: juice they poured and crackers they counted out themselves.  Mrs. Parker returns to help Madelyn hang her painting to dry, then Madelyn washes the easel with a sponge, folds the apron and returns it to a shelf before finding her next job.

I follow Madelyn back into the other room. An older student has asked Mr. Tarnowski to check her work, and Madelyn watches him play a little game asking her to read the words on some cards. As she sees the letters and hears the words, I know reading skills are developing. When that game is finished, Madelyn chooses a job from the shelf and asks her teacher for a lesson. She unrolls a small rug on the floor to designate her work space and they sit together. Another boy has finished his previous task and joins them because he is interested. Mr. Tarnowski and Madelyn begin to lay out the series of small paper clocks for a lesson about time.

There is laughter and chatting, these are normal children. But the environment is orderly and peaceful. Two students work together on a puzzle.  An older child compliments a younger one on his letter-tracing. Mrs. Tarnowski notices that the paper with pre-printed dashed letters is upside down, so she gently turns it and suggests in a friendly tone, "sometimes it works better this direction." The culture cultivates respect. When one student inadvertently walked across another's rug (her designated workspace), Mr. Tarnowski reminded her, "I don't believe it's polite to walk on someone else's rug, but I do believe it's polite to walk around it," and the child returned and walked around the appropriate way.

As much as I value the time I have to work uninterrupted while Madelyn is at school, the few times that I have scheduled an observation I have felt a desire to just stay and watch the rest of the morning. I find the interactions between children and with teachers very intriguing, and it is a rare pleasure to watch Madelyn conduct herself freely in a realm that belongs to her, not to me.
Madelyn and Mike Tarnowski ~ Spring 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Skydeck Ledge

Up on the 103rd story of the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) in Chicago, there is an attraction called the Skydeck Ledge. Instead of merely taking in the vista through large windowpanes, a visitors can walk out into a glass cubicle and be surrounded by the view in all directions--including straight down. 
There is an admission fee to ride the elevator up to the observation floor, and once there, we were free to roam, go in and out of the boxes freely, and take as many photographs as we wished! I liked this format much better than waiting in line for a single opportunity to stand in The Ledge. 
Here is a glimpse of the glass box from the side--a photo of my cousin Rachel taken from inside the other box. 

My mother displayed a sampling of our Chicago pictures at Curves (because we attended Curves Convention there after this girls' trip), and so many women have remarked to me that they would never walk onto that glass. You couldn't pay them enough to do it, and other such dramatic refusals. 
Looking down (my aunt's shoes here) did offer a bit of a thrill. My stomach did a few little excited flips, and even looking at the pictures makes my feet tingle (does this happen to anyone else?)  But I wouldn't say it was terrifying, or even scary. There is a difference between a fear of heights and a fear of falling, in case you don't know. It does not bother me to be high above ground, but I am terrified of falling. Amusement park rides involving sudden or steep drops, bungee jumping, skydiving, these activities which involve or mimic freefalling are of absolutely no interest to me, even if they are only a few stories above ground. 

Shortly before we left for Chicago, my parents happened to catch a "How it's Made" program on TV describing the engineering behind the Skydeck. I'm sure that was fascinating, and possibly helped my mom take the plunge and walk out into the sky. 
This is my absolute favorite picture from this part of our trip. My mom was obviously nervous about stepping out there--I think she had planned to be the contented photographer from inside on solid ground.  But her expression here perfectly captures the childlike joy resulting from such a venture out of the Comfort Zone.  She might be gripping my wrist, but her laugh is so genuine. This picture is precious to me because of that. 

We had a lot of fun experimenting with different ways to photograph the scene to maximize the effect of the context.  It was fairly crowded up there, and I thought it was neat how polite everybody was about taking turns in the box and offering to photograph one another. 
We arrived at dusk, and stayed up there goofing around and taking pictures until after the sun had set. It was a perfect time to go, since we got photos of daylight as well as the beautiful city lights. Both of these pictures are a view to the northeast toward the John Hancock Tower (the black on with angled sides near the back) and Lake Michigan. 

Allow me a moment of self-indulgence to include this picture, just because it's pretty and I look good.  
Rachel and me posing enthusiastically with an external image of the Willis Tower. The Ledge was one of the most interesting and exciting parts of our trip; I'm really glad that we did it. 


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