Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ah, December... the month of invasive procedures

Two years ago, I had hip surgery.

Last year, I had a breast biopsy that went bad. I didn't blog about it. There was no cancer, just a horrible morning at the hospital in which I bled out and ended up woozy for a couple of days and bruised up for months. And they only got one of the two "suspicious" sites. When they recommended a surgical biopsy for the second, I declined. Two subsequent mammograms have showed no changes, so there doesn't seem to be any need to go through that trauma again.

This year, it looks like it will be back surgery to remove a lesion that is pushing on my L5 nerve root and causing me stupid amounts of pain. It might be a synovial cyst. It might be a schwannoma (benign) tumor on the nerve sheath. A second MRI on Saturday should clear up which it is, but on some level it doesn't matter. The surgical treatment is essentially the same. Other options, namely physical therapy and steroid shots in my spine, make no sense to me. They will not impact the thing that is pushing my nerves and making me hurt. I suppose that if I couldn't face surgery, I might go these routes, but the disruptions to my life have become constant and so incredibly painful that I'm ready and it can't happen soon enough. I hope the call comes soon.

Monday, December 14, 2009

liminality and the royal we

Hunh. Today is my 13th wedding anniversary. I'm not really sure what to do with that since I am not really married anymore, except in the eyes of the state. I'm not uncomfortable where I am in this liminal state of commitment, but there is a certain awkwardness. I have trouble this time of year, when there are so many surface-y social chit chat sessions at holiday gatherings and such... how do I tell my stories? Is it "me" and "I" or if they are the older stories, are they "we" and "us" even though there is no current we. And then today. What do I do with myself today?

Leave it to my grandmother to point the way. She stayed over this weekend and at one point yesterday she casually said, "well, I'm not sending you an anniversary card this year." I told her that seemed quite appropriate, considering. Later, as I drove her home, she said, "I think it's good that you've found a way that works for you and you shouldn't have to bother with anyone fussing about how it is 'supposed' to be." Thanks, Grandma, that is a way better sentiment than I could get from any card.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pant Wars

And now for something completely different...

I'm having a small war with my pants. Or maybe it is with pants makers. It all started a few weeks ago when I braved the mall on a mission to find talls for a tall friend. While there, the attentive sales people in Eddie Bauer spotted my cord lust and convinced me to try the "curvy" cut. While they are soft and lovely, curvy cuts apparently end at the top of my hip bones -- about a mile from waist. They also, well, curve around where I curve, so I'm feeling sort of extra out there. Where I am really struggling is in the lowness of the cut in the back. They are still a bit too big in the "waist" (for lack of a better term, since this top part of the pant is really no where near my waist!) and they are low, so when I bend or sit, unless I am careful: coin slot. Noooooooo. How do people live like this? I think the pants are kind of cute when I'm feeling cute (I notice I like them best right after I've been to the gym) and when I'm standing or walking, but sitting is strange and I find my self hiking them up a lot even though they are in no way too big for me.

Okay, so this is totally inane, but its been a long week and the drugs in my system are leaving me a bit hazy and the papers are still not graded... and so I'm thinking about my pants.

radio silence

It has been a long time since I've had anything to say on here, it seems. I think that is mainly because all I have wanted to say to internet-land for the last couple of weeks is, "OUCH!" What began with a strange pain/weakness in my right hip the morning I hopped out of bed to fly to California in mid-October has become a constant, painful companion of late. I recognize the patterns from chronic pain of the past... I'm struggling to focus, to do what I need to do, to get out of the house. I'm terrified that if I stop moving now, I'll stop moving for good.

Some progress with the doctors reveals that it is some damage happening to my L5 nerve root happening in my lower back that is sending the shooting pain and painful numbness down my right leg. My lower leg burns. Even my toes tingle painfully with numbness. Not surprisingly, I've maxed out on ibuprofen so that I can function a bit but by the time evening rolls around, I'm more often than not crawling off to bed whimpering. But then at some ugly hour (usually beginning with a 4 - or 5 if I am really lucky) I'm up, howling in pain. Really, I've found myself howling. I was actually screaming in my car the other day while stuck at a light on a 5 minute drive: the pain had flared up, I had to get out of the car, but I was stuck.

I've got some better drugs, but I'm not taking them now (4:40am) because it is my morning to drive the carpool for middle school. And then there are meetings. And a sizable stack of term papers that must be graded. I will, however, take the prednisone I started yesterday. Yesterday was a better day than I've had in a while, so maybe there is some hope but then the system is doing a crappy job of finding me a specialist to see and a place for physical therapy. There is much more waiting ahead of me. I call the doctor and wait. The nurse calls me back, but only half my questions are answered. So she goes back to the doctor and I wait. Then the referral is not clear, so the clerk has to find the doctor and I will wait some more.

In the meantime, I'm feeling somewhat paralyzed by my partial diagnosis (we now the nerve group but won't know how it is being impinged until I get the MRI next week). In the meantime, should I go to the gym? It feels okay when I am there, crappy after, then (after a nap) I generally feel better for the rest of the day. I have felt myself getting weaker, especially in the last two weeks, sometimes I'm shuffling when walking.... This terrifies me. Maybe the gym makes me feel better because I let myself think I am fighting the decline and confirms that I can still move. But what if I'm making it worse?

Saturday, November 21, 2009


When my children are with me, I am half full. To be connected with them, I feel very disconnected from the world of grown ups. I have little individual existence/identity. I often find myself not doing things I want/need to do (such as reading) and instead waiting for the next thing I need to do for them. And engaging with them involves a fair amount of negotiation, persuasion, cajoling... even for things they want to do. But we do connect, especially when they are with me for longer stretches. We had an interesting discussion about puberty in the car yesterday. Today we put the yard to bed for the season. But then they drop into legoland, a book, or a friend and I'm just waiting for the next thing I need to do and I feel the gulf between their world as kids and my adult status. I'm the one in charge. The one who makes money, buys food, makes plans, arranges transportation. makes the big decisions...

And when my children are gone and the world is a bit more about me, I am more like half empty. In those times, I am independent and the enormity of that is almost overwhelming. I feel like I waste large chunks of it. I should be riding my bike, writing my book, getting drunk, and kissing people. But I never seem to get that much out of it.

I'm feeling the frustration of neither situation feeling right. Both leave me so very tired. And I'm feeling at a loss as to how to fix it and find some sort of middle ground where the pieces of me fit together.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Go Team

Teaching a seminar with six students who are doing group-based research projects for community partners is pretty damn fun. Okay, there was a heapin' helpin' of anxiety-inducing work to set it up, but now that it is underway, I'm just having a blast. I've decided that this is because my relationship to them is markedly different than in most classes. I'm not there to present material. I'm not making up the assignments (well, I sort of did, but that was based on the needs of the community partners), and it doesn't even really look like I'm responsible for the deadlines (though I mostly am).

Rather than the "teacher," I am a resource. I am a mentor. I should be that for all my classes, but I'm not. I think the difference is partly that there is someone bigger and scarier than me or their grades out there - the community partners. The goal is also bigger -- it is not just about them as individuals and their grade. It is about the projects, projects that have a purpose in the real world. Whatever its source, there is a real "team" feeling to our meetings. They ask my advice, they share their anxieties, they offer to help, they get excited... and they think I'm on their side. And I am.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Step one: kill the parents

I watched "Star Wars: A New Hope" with the kids last night. Like so many good adventures that kids are into, the first step is to off the parents or guardians (it is of course Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru who must fall prey to the storm troopers in order for late adolescent Luke to follow his destiny). Virtually every book E reads (she's big into fantasy-adventure books) and many of O's involve the tragic end of the 'rents. It makes me more than a little uncomfortable when we read or discuss these together. So asked E the other day what she thought of this, if she had noticed the trend... Yes, I was secretly hoping she would tell me that it was okay and I'm so cool and adventure-friendly that I absolutely must accompany her as she retrieves the lost amulet from some ancient land or whatever. But she didn't. She said, "of course they have to die, parents don't let you do cool stuff."

Not you again!

As I was headed from one side of campus to the other yesterday, I passed a student I'd had in class several years ago. My first thought was "jeez, is he STILL here?"

You see, he had not been a particularly pleasant student to have. He had something to say about everything -- and his not having done the reading, his comments not being connected to the time or topic we were talking about, did not slow him down in the least. My lecturing did not slow him down either. He would raise his hand over and over again, but if not recognized within ten seconds, he would jump in and just start talking. I fell into the habit of lecturing with my hand up (in a "talk to the hand" sort of way) in order to let him know that I saw him but that I was not giving up the floor.

As you can imagine, the other students came to despise him. They were wonderful about it though, they learned to call him out for not having read (I'm so proud!) asking where he saw that (silly)idea in the reading and showing him where in the reading there was evidence that totally contradicted the idiotic thing he had just said. Anyway, we all muddled through and I heard tales of him going on to torture my colleagues in a similar manner and then I went on sabbatical and stories about him faded... but there he was yesterday. And I successfully dodged him. Whew.

But later it occurred to me that it doesn't really matter. I can avoid him on campus and hope he doesn't show up in any more of my classes, but there will be others. He is a type... and just like I have the sardonic student, the charming smart student who doesn't do work up to their potential, the jesus-loving student who wants to convert me, the diligent but shy student almost every term, the student with no sense of humor, etc., etc., I will have this student -- the one who talks too much but has nothing to say and is completely socially clueless again. The super annoying student from my class last fall, the one who I thought for sure would have flunked out by now, even showed up in my on-line class this term and has already asked for an extension. When I saw him on the class list, I wished him gone, but it's same deal. If it not him, there would be someone else to fill this slot. There must be one student in every class who begs for extensions and never actually does the work. Sigh. Remind me again that I am supposed to see each of my students as a unique and beautiful snowflake...

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Just try it....

As I made egg salad tonight for the kids' Thursday lunches, I considered adding some green olives, maybe some shredded carrot, flat leaf parsley... but then, sigh, I realized that the chances of them eating it if I did anything new to it were slim to none. How did I end up here?

For dinner tonight I made polenta and veggie brats with some garden veggies on the side. O didn't even make it to the table before announcing that he would not eat the polenta. But see, he has always loved polenta. I remind him of this but he is adamant that no polenta will be consumed by him. I serve him other things. Then he scoops up polenta, puts it on his plate, eats it down and goes back for seconds. We run through a version of this scenario almost every night.

E is just now old enough to understand that what there is for food is what there is and she will generally eat it (unless it is mushrooms or onions) even if she does not love it. But even tonight, she couldn't resist a little jab that only the crispiest polenta was any good.

The fussiness of children (and mine are actually not that bad compared to some I'm met) when it comes to food is nothing new, but I realized tonight with the egg salad how much I've given in to it. There is a whole list of stuff I just do not cook because of the response it will get -- sometimes before it is even tasted. The eggplants I grew in the garden are still on the vine, because I can't see the point in cooking them only to have them rejected. But I love eggplant.

Besides narrowing my repertoire, I realize that I've taken to making food the same way over and over. The stir fry (a staple around here) usually has the same veggies and tofu (small people reject the tempeh I love) in it every time, for example. And it is the same deal with the egg salad. I've never put green olives in before, so I'm reasonably sure the kids would look with horror at their sandwiches tomorrow if I added some now.

Where all of this leaves me is with a new found appreciation of my grandmother who has never ever made any dish the same way twice. Marinara sauce is more a category of saucy foods than an actual recipe. Almost anything savory is likely to be put in a roux and served over toast at lunch at her place. While people in my family have used some of her more unusual combinations of ingredients as fodder for jokes, I've now decided she was on to something. She has managed everyone's expectations so that she can insert some measure of creativity and diversity in 'standard' dishes. She could put green olives in the egg salad and everyone would just chuckle and then EAT IT.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Cycling The Cotswolds

Hired a cycle at the Toy Shop in town. This is some of what I saw/did:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Morten-in-Marsh (and yes, they say the whole name every time!)

The Bell Inn, Morten-in-Marsh. I finally found a place to stay for the night and managed to not break the bank. And it is in a pub. With wireless. It was a long search up and down the high street with some kindly mis-guidance from very friendly locals but I now have a roof over my head, a slice of lasagna in my belly, and a pint in my hand. Now I can relax.

Here is the beer garden of my current abode, as viewed from the window of my room. Nice, eh?

Five Things

...I’ve decided I like about the English: The lilting, up-down-up way they roll out my first name; shops that sell seven different kinds of veggie sausages; colleges that have bars; duvets on every bed; grand halls.

My favorite gargoyle

At the Sheldonian.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Puzzling Bits

A few things that puzzle me about the English:
1. hot and cold taps are completely separate, making washing your hands in warm water nearly impossible.
2. their soft-spokenness that actually seems to increase with the size of the audience to whom they are speaking.
3. doors labeled clearly as “fire exits” that are the everyday and only exits from a building
4. their propensity to begin every conversation with a compliment – even if they are completely opposed to you, your argument, or the situation at hand
5. the lack of public toilets. Really, it’s not just that I look for such things in a professional capacity! I’ve been wandering around the city – a city that is full of tourists – and there is nowhere to pee! Much of the city center is taken up by these private colleges, so there is nothing to be found there (not even in the Bodleian library!) and the little pastry and sandwich shops that occupy every third or fourth storefront either don’t have these facilities, or they have them well hidden!

Friday, September 11, 2009

My First Day in Food

spinach pastry and a coffee on Broad St; mushroom and asparagus pie, with potatoes and peas; a red pepper and fennel risotto with goat cheese and an ale from the coast; my very own coffee shop.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I'm Here. Oxford.

I had a direct flight from that left in the evening. I had dinner on the plane while enjoying the recent Star Trek movie. I slept for as much as I could, awoke to the sun coming up and a beautiful view of the British Isles as we flew into London, and made my way through the customs queue in surprisingly good time.

Catching the bus to Oxford proved more challenging. Apparently, the “help” bus - the only one labeled as transport for the Central Bus Station - is for “special” people. I needed a regular city bus, which I hadn’t even looked at, since I had no money and was looking to stay on the airport grounds. I probably wasted nearly an hour getting on the right bus and riding to my location. The time didn’t actually bother me (I was in no rush), the careening of the bus around the airport left me feeling a bit green, however, a feeling that only increased when I had the “good fortune” to walk up to the Oxford bus just before it pulled out. I would have been better off waiting for the next one, but no, I hopped on, and then sat staring intently out the window hoping that I would just throw up so that I would feel better. Anyway, 45 minutes of hell later (and only a tiny bit of discreet puking) I dismounted in city center on a beautiful early fall day. And friendly folks at the tourist office pointed me in the direction of Keble (pictured) where I was to stay.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Reality Check on Gratiot Ave

I have lots to say about the impact of deindustrialization on rust belt cities when I'm teaching. If you are my student, I can assign you lots of readings, pose thoughtful questions, demonstrate a number of different approaches (highlighting why each failed, of course), but I have nothing smart, witty, or insightful to say about Detroit -- the shell of a city upon whose outer rim I live -- after my drive today.

Today I drove from the City Airport area to the edge of downtown (5 miles maybe?) and I found myself sinking into a sort of stupor at the sight of it all. A huge street, nearly deserted -- few cars, even fewer people (and no kids), no buses... There are pleanty of empty lots and buildings that have not had functioning businesses in them for decades, perhaps. Burned out buildings abound on the side streets. And not a single place, save a McDonalds and a Burger King, to buy a cup of coffee (which I desperately wanted). No diners, no Coney Islands. Certainly no coffee shops. Mostly concrete and weeds and peeling paint.

I know there are pokets of wonderfulness in Detroit (I brushed the corner of Eastern Market and I had a meeting with staff at Gleaners Community Food Bank) but I was overwhelmed to be in that urban landscape and realize (at least based on the streetscape) how little there was to glue this area together. There weren't even churches. At least from the outside, there seemed to be little to save and little reason to care. That downtown is clearly visible, that Ford Field is blocks away, seems to matter not from Vernor to 9 mile.

As someone who is usually quite tolerant of the 'cycle of life' in urban America (I do study porn shops and bars, after all), I will reluctantly admit I found myself thinking, "this is hopeless."

Care and Feeding of the Young

So... we have a childhood obesity problem in this country. Perhaps you've heard something about it? In my own town, the school district has decreed that there can be only one birthday party a month and that is the only day on which sugary treats may be had. I don't disagree with that policy (and considering the health statistics that are out there for kids in our area it would be hard to disagree) but I want more.

I'm working with a tiny number of staff and parents in my kids' schools to encourage biking and walking to school, but, beyond that, I would like to challenge restaurants to do better. Subway has apple slices and milk. Taco Bell has bean and cheese burritos. Okay, fine, but I realized the other night as I sat in an independent, non-fast food restaurant that "kids' menus" generally really suck. It feels like it doesn't matter where I go, there will be, for a couple of bucks, the following options for the precious small humans in my care: hot dog, hamburger, chicken fingers, grilled cheese, mac 'n cheese (Kraft-style), and spaghetti with meatballs/sauce. All served with a side of fries and a soda. Even my children, who love mac 'n cheese and grilled cheese, sigh at the lack of choices.

Since I have two kiddos, one might think they could split an "adult" menu item and that would be about right in portion and price. Yeah, it would, but we don't live in a world where siblings can agree on pizza toppings, let alone an entree. So here is what I want: I want the option to order kid-sized portions of the 'real' food that that a restaurant makes. If you are a Mexican joint that has awesome potato tacos (and locals know who I'm thinking of here!), let my kids order a plate and get one taco with beans and rice instead of three. You get the idea. C'mon, if they were going to eat PB & J, I could have stayed home!

This whole rant was actually inspired by a place that I went to today with the kids for lunch. I was happy to see (at first) that this chain restaurant had not-a-one of the typical items I listed above. But then I realized that what they do for kids is take "real" menu items and remove the vegetables and add chicken! When our food came (I had managed to get tofu subbed for the chicken), the kids' eyes drifted longingly from their plates of brown lo mein with brown tofu chunks to my plate with its vibrant and substantial ring of perfectly steamed broccoli. I shared, of course, and we were all happy enough (though we probably met our sodium intake for the month after just this one meal!) but I'm annoyed at the assumption that the way to appeal to kids is to feed them minimal variety devoid of the most nutritionally beneficial foods.

So, I guess I'm launching my own "double V" campaign. V for vegetables and V for variety for all of us. I'm going to start with my local joints, of course. Join me?

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Not eggs, but work. The last few days I've been on my game and made some real progress. I finished the anti-porn/Minneapolis article and sent it off, I nailed down the community partners and research projects for URS 450, I negotiated my way through a stack of readings on neighborhood activism -- putting some in the article and picking others to go on the 450 syllabus, I did a bunch of organizing for the WILL program, and now I'm working on the public toilets piece again.

It feels good. When school gets out in the Spring, I revel in the freedom to let my mind and work wander, range, and roam. Somewhere in the middle of the summer, that gets a little painful, though. It starts to feel useless rather than freeing. And that is is the headspace from which I have emerged this week... which means the 'gearing up for the start of term' activities and the need to produce finished research projects actually feels like a kind of a relief.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Time to buckle down

Hello August.

I'm going to do lots.

There's the house stuff. Lots of it. I tackled the bushes out front tonight with the kids playing in the clippings. What do you know? There is house behind there! There is the brick/gutter issue on the driveway side to be solved, some caulking, lots of painting, and, egads, won't someone please wash those windows? Ick.

There's work stuff, too. This week is the porn article (I love that I have a file called "porn to do list" on my computer) and URS 450 project. Next week is comfort stations/bathrooms/toilets and HIS 3695. The week after is HIS 370, more 3695, and more public toilets. Cottage week is writing, writing, writing.

But there will also be lots o' playing. July got away from me but I'm planning on skidding into September with sore bits from road miles and plenty of scrapes and bug bites from trail rides. I want one more camping trip. One more beer trip (combo Stony Creek and Dragonmead run anyone???). I'll be throwing in a couple more long silly evenings rolling around town and many more trips to the pool. It'll be a stretch to get O to pass the swim test this year, but he's getting the front crawl, now he just needs the distance. It could happen and he would be so happy to be free in the deep end.

And entertaining. I still need to have the already-promised dystopian book club meet on Lord of the Flies (get reading people... date tba soon). And euchre/hammock/badminton party. Won't someone come play euchre with me?

And cooking. Had the first eggplant out of the garden last night. The broccoli is close. E's cukes will soon drown us in yogurt and cucumber yumminess and O's melons look very promising. And the farmer's market is always there for serious hauls of tomatoes and corn and peaches. Mmmmm.... peach shortcake this weekend!!!! I'm going to teach those kiddos how to whip cream. Next year I'll teach them my secret shortcake recipe.

It'll be grand and all I have to say to those of you are making "fall is almost here" noises is pfft, don't bother me I'm still blissing out on summer and you can't stop me.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Do you measure up?

Lately I've been finding myself measuring things in odd ways.

How do I measure the technical difficulty of a single track? When mountain biking this season I've been counting the number of bike bits that have fallen off other people's bikes on the trail. Lots of debris, and I know its a hard trail. "Yeah, nice woods, but the 8 miler was a 6-reflector loop!" (I've also encountered a pedal, a fender, and several t-shirts on the trails)

How do I know that it has been an unusually cool summer? Well, one bag of ice from Friday night lasted in the cheap cooler for an entire weekend of camping.

How do I know we are in the depths of summer? I haven't worn my hair down for over a month.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hop Wobble

A high-point of summer in Ypsi is Beer Fest. Michigan has an abundance of amazing craft brewers and tasting a good number of their offerings in the park by the river on a summer evening is just lovely.

So here is the run down from this year...

The drinkers: me, Biscodo, brother, sister-in-law, Stacey, Brooke, Shawn, Julie, KK, the injector, and a few others who I ran into and clinked plastic cups with along the way.

The overall beer scene: seemed pretty balanced this year. The fruit beer and sour beer trends seemed to have been reined in this year (yay! that silliness was going too far). People brought summer wheats and ales, but folks also brought porters and stouts (good). Since we went on Friday night, only a few beers had run out, so most of what we wanted to try was there for us.

The beer: I'm grouping into three categories. Beers in the top category did exactly what they were supposed to do -- solid beers in all ways, no mistakes in nose, taste, texture. The middling sort includes both novelty beers (interesting but not something I would ever buy in a bottle or even drink a full glass of) and more traditional beers that did well, but didn't stand out from the crowd. The last category is for bad beers -- experiments that went wrong (or were never right to begin with) or beers that could not do half of what their name called for. My notes from the night are in quotation marks after the brewery.

Top Beers:

Crooked Tree IPA, Dark Horse ("hey, big boy..." "excellent")
Smells Like Weed IPA, Dark Horse
Hoprocket Imperial IPA, Arcadia
Hopmouth Double IPA, Arcadia ("lovely")
Golden Rule Organic IPA, Shorts ("crisp, good, dry English hopped)
Honey Ginger IPA, Original Gravity ("fun, sweet near the front")

The Middling Sort

Boffo Brown, Dark Horse ("fine")
Wheat and Rye ESB, Liberty St ("weird combo")
Kolsch, Round Barn
Full Garde, Copper Canyon
RyePA Double IPA, Copper Canyon ("good, sweet end")
Simcoe Silly, Kuhnhenn ("nice")
Confusion Double IPA, Kuhnhenn
Screw the Hop Crisis IPA, Rochester Mills ("sweet")
Hopopotomus, HopCat
Sage Against the Machine Pale Ale, Hopcat ("smell only")
Wood Butcher's Ale, Lily's Seafood ("nice")
Barnacle Bob's Boatyard Ale, Lily's Seafood ("fine")
Little Italy Honey Basil, Right Brain ("Pale, novelty, good smell")

The Bad

Michigan Malted Red Ale, Kuhnhenn ("blech")
Organic Wit, Rochester Mills ("not very witty")
Solar Eclipse Imperial Stout ("ridiculous")
Oops-a-Hefe Imperial Hefeweizen, Big Rock Chop ("strange")
World Wheat, Black Lotus ("cloudy, watery, forgettable")
Ancho Chile Dutch Double Chocolate Porter, Right Brain
Rye Hatter, New Holland, ("liquor smell and taste, bitter and then nothing')

A few other awards: best "what this beer is" conversation came with the brewer at Shorts in reference to the Soft Parade and the Golden Rule IPA. (He even talked me into trying a fruit beer -- but it was a fruit RYE beer...). Best 'novelty' beer (and there were plenty to choose from in this category) was OG's honey ginger IPA. Best unknown brewery in Michigan is Lily's, which offers pretty straight forward beer, well-crafted, no hype. The most over-hyped brewery title (a title Jolly Pumpkin has claimed ALL other years) goes to Right Brain -- all novelty without having gotten down the basics of basic beers.

And what you've all been waiting for... the worst beer of the evening? I'm going with Kuhnhenn's Malted Red -- part of that may be that the description was sooooo lovely and the beer just couldn't come close to the promises made.

So... that was a whole lot of beer I tasted, eh? Yes, yes it was. But, once I settled in, I enjoyed it enormously. Okay, I maybe could have done with one or two fewer beers, but a lazy Saturday turned out to be just fine.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Kid's-Eye View

O has been very into using the camera over the last few months. It has served as great tonic several times when restlessness seized him. Once the camera is in his hand he tends to focus on something fairly intently. I have a nice cloud series, lots close-up blades of grass, flower shots, etc. from our trip to Wheatland, for example. He also seems fond of doing face studies.

When we were at Blissfest, he hit on a new theme:

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Finding Bliss

Spent ALL of Thursday packing and headed out early on Friday morning with the kids, bound for Blissfest in Bliss, MI. Way, way up there in the finger tips of the lower peninsula. There are many people who love this festival. There are kids who have grown up on it. People who have gotten married there. Etc. Etc. But then there are also just the summer festival people -- the ones who hit all the traditional music festivals and the young adults who spend their summer going from one festival to another, volunteering to get a free ticket. I don't think that I fit in any of these categories.... I kept forgetting where I was and calling it Dunegrass. It is older than Dunegrasss and does a few things better, but I think I like Dunegrass' musical offerings better (at least what they've had in the last two years, not going this year).

The kids loved the Lake Michigan was near by and happily played away Friday's late afternoon into early evening at a rocky and sandy beach outside Cross Village after a fabulous lunch at Legs Inn. On Saturday, we let the shuttle bus drop us further up the shore along the dunes for more beach frolicking. We caught some music, but that was obviously secondary for the kids. E again spent lots of time reading and O played hard in the kid space. Both enjoyed the rockin' craft-making booth set up for the kids and the real juggle sticks I bought them at one of the booths. I got them to check out some music, but mostly I had to listen from the edges as I kept my eye on them. I wish that festivals would set the kid areas up near one stage. I realize that I might miss lots of music on the other stages, but at least I'd get to better engage with what happened on the one stage. As it was at Bliss, I could hear bits of all the stages, which means that I could hear none of them well.

Of the music, Kathy Mattea was quite good, even the kids got into a bit of her set. The winner was a Canadian band, however, The McDades. Three siblings up front with a guitarist and drummer thrown in for good measure. I'd call them sort of urban traditional with a touch of jazz. I caught all of both their sets, amazingly enough.

Of the festival, my favorite part was the members party that happened in a garden behind the stage. There were shaded and pleasant places to sit, lots of food and free beer from Founders and New Holland, and one could still hear the bands.

From Bliss we hit Legs Inn for another meal (kids like Polish food and the excellent garden!) and then drove down to North Higgins State Park to meet Stacey and the boys for more camping. The three smaller people delighted in seeing each other and had great adventures on the hiking trails, at the beach, on the volleyball court, etc. etc.

As we packed things up for the last time, the kids worked out their own 'secret' three-way handshake, captured in this final image. Shhhh. Don't tell anyone.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Stupid People

I had a wonderful day. Got things done around the house. Rode some great trails with Stacey. Rode up to catch last call at the Corner for a tasty beer and a bit of reading.

But on the ride home... oh, I love the bike and the zippy feeling I have after rolling around town.... But tonight. I would give tonight's ride back in moment, if I could. I was too close, yet too far away. I could see it happening. There was nothing I could do to stop it. It happened. I saw it. And there was still nothing I could do. So I sat at that stupid, stupid light at Grove and Spring that can't sense a bike and cursed at the stupid, stupid people who let their dog wander without a leash on a busy road and stupid, stupid cars driven by stupid, stupid people who don't slow down when they see stupid, stupid people wandering around in the road so that they are going too fast to see the dog who was faithfully following the stupid, stupid people out into the middle of the road. The tweener kid is crying, the man is yelling, the woman is hurrying back to the curb, the car does not stop, the dog is down and not moving. And I finally run the fucking light and ride home cursing at all of it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

End of an Era

I realized tonight as we finally settled in for some reading time, that the era of picture books has come to an end for us.

Emma moved on to her world of thick fantasy books long, long ago and a few months ago, I lured O into letting me read some chapter books to him. I liked the meatier stories and I liked not having to search through fifty books to choose two or three each evening. We read The Wizard of Oz, to much acclaim from both kids, and have been making our way through the Star Wars stories (I know, but they aren't terrible and they use some big words that -- when included in a section about a blaster fight -- prompt the boy to ask what they mean... he does listen intently!). These have been fun, but I realized tonight how much I will miss the art in and the art of a good picture book.

When we were at the library recently, I was enchanted by the art in the Russell the Sheep books and grabbed two. Since the chapter book we have been reading was not handy tonight, we read the Russell books. We enjoyed it, but it was more nostalgia enjoyment than anything. I think O felt it too... a kind of quaintness.

Before I lose the memories entirely, I thought I would note some of our favorites... books I have read aloud dozens and dozens of times... books whose art and stories are deeply set in our psyches...


While I've been looking forward to plenty of adventuring this summer, the postcards that have been arriving at my house make me realize what small potatoes we have planned. Don't get me wrong, Michigan is a most excellent place to adventure when one treasures woods and water and music as much as we do, but... cards from South Carolina, Alaska, Vancouver, and Norway have me hankering to travel more widely. The postcard from Greece that will surely come next should pretty much send me over the edge. Good thing I ordered my new passport last week!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Despite my declarations to the contrary, I did put in a small garden this year on the sunny side of the house. This bed was terribly overgrown and needed to be cleared (because it contained poison ivy) and that created an opportunity for food bearing plants to go in. So, in they went: two kinds of tomatoes, baby watermelon, cukes, eggplant and broccoli. Things have been going along swimmingly but then today when I went to take a peek at them, the tomato plants were covered in aphids.

I'm pretty sure they weren't there yesterday or at least the day before, so I have caught it early, but they were everywhere on one plant and present on the other. With instructions from the internet, I made up a soapy, oily goo to spray on them. I will admit, my first thought was "see, this is why I don't garden!" We shall see...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


After a couple of weeks of reading applications and conducting 27 interviews, I've made my picks for who will join the WILL (Women in Learning and Leadership) program in the fall. Sending out acceptance letters was easy -- congratulations, get registered, look for first meeting in Sept, contact me if you have questions, etc. etc.

The time-consuming and rather annoying task, however, has become writing the rejection letters for those who will not be joining us. I am only the incoming director, you see. I don't officially take over until Sept (or July... no one is quite sure) and I need to stay in the good graces of the outgoing director (who is stepping up to be Associate Dean of my college and someone I will need to work closely with on some things) so I have to follow her wishes on a few matters dealing with the administration of WILL at this moment. And she has made it very clear -- as has the director of the WGST program -- that I need to tailor rejection letters to the individual student. I'm supposed to be encouraging and positive.

But see, I'm not so good at that and I really don't see the point. The great bulk of people that I'm rejecting are people who don't make the GPA cut off. Honestly, they never should have applied and they should have known this since the 3.0 requirement is clearly stated on the application. "I'm sorry, we are unable to accept you because you do not meet the clearly stated and long established criteria of the program. If you are able to pull your grades up, we'll be happy to consider your application next year." Is that encouraging?

The other people are folks who had nothing to offer and little to say... people who could not say why they wanted to be in the program, what issues they are interested in, etc. etc. So how do I explain this while being encouraging? "I'm sorry we are unable to offer you a place in the program and we wish you the best of luck in finding something that excites you enough that you can say more than three words about it."

I'm trying very hard to not think that I am jumping through these hoops just because this is part of a Women and Gender Studies program. I reject tea party feminism where being nice to women takes precedence over doing good work and producing meaningful results. Rejection happens and we all need to learn to deal with it and not expect to be coddled through it. There is good reason why the program has a GPA requirement -- it can be intense and it is not for struggling students who need to put academics first. And if you are not invested in the program, the students who are will come to resent you for not doing your part and that will distract us all from doing what we need to do. So..."Thank you for applying, but we are unable to offer you a space in the program." Now, go study.

Monday, June 15, 2009

What to do with the camper...

Well, I won't have a van soon... maybe I'll need to go to something like this to meet my hauling needs :)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Traditional Arts Weekend

E blowing dandelions in the setting sun.

My sixth Memorial Day Weekend at Wheatland. It was just me and the kids this year -- doing some art, doing some dancing, watching others do these things, and enjoying music, music, music. As a dancer first, TAW is such an amazing treat for me as all classes have live musicians and those folks are very much a part of the class. I even did a couple of partner classes: swing with E, contra with E, and intermediate Cajun with someone I just met (I totally lucked out here... he actually knew how to partner dance already, so we breezed through the two-step waltz, and Cajun jive pretty easily!).

The kids played like crazy, as usual. O found a little gang and they built a wood fort and a stone fort along the paths at the edge of the woods. E was a loner this year...happily in her own head for most of the time. She is so different at 10: she went back to the camper to read and then tidied it all up and made the beds, she didn't want to come to clogging with me but then appeared at my side 20 minutes in and stayed the rest of the time, she ate food she did not particularly care for when it was served for her and didn't complain... Wow.

O was a different story. He was all about the peer group and it was interesting to see who he choose. He made plenty of mistakes, but he was so desperate to stay with his new buddies that it only took the tiniest look from me for him to rush to correct his error... except when it came to eating. He had a hard time disengaging from the play long enough to eat. A fitting end, perhaps, he finally wolfed down some food when he was past tired on Sunday and then woke up in the middle of the night barfing (on his sleeping bag, then on me as I tried to save my bed...)

Really, you haven't done extreme camping until you've handled a 6 year with a stomach issues. Go ahead, you try to explain through the closed door of a port-o-john -- in a bank of port-o-johns with other people waiting -- why viruses make his poop come out like pee.

Seriously, sorry to see the boy ill, he laid around in bed and then on a blanket while I packed up. He was all done with Kid Hill for this year.

Barfing aside, it was a lovely, relaxed weekend where the three of us all got along reasonably well and where we all got to indulge a bit in the things that engaged us as individuals. And yes, I will go back next year. And the year after. And you should come with me.

E runs the tires on Kid Hill.

Self portrait by O.

O's pic of our camp and his hippie momma.

E chilling in early morning.