Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wonderdog's Origin Story

My neighbor just adopted a puppy and it got me thinking of Wonderdog and his origin story.

Our previous dog died on a Wednesday in July. By Friday, I couldn't take the quiet in the house, and I had done the math and realized that we either had to get a dog right away or wait until September or so.  And I found myself on constantly.

It was Saturday morning that I found the litter: 8 puppies in Westchester, with various degrees of wirehair. I applied to meet the puppies and continued my search.

Over the next few days, I found (and met) several eligible dogs and puppies. We went to an ill-fated rescue fair where none of the dogs seemed to be really available. My mom and I met some adorable Cockapoos who were in an odd rescue situation where a woman seemed to be enabling a puppy mill. And I had long talks with volunteers from various rescue groups.

Then we got the call: there were still 3 puppies available from the wirehair litter, and we had been approved. I called the woman who was fostering the pups, and she said that Pretzel was the one for us: he was friendly, adaptable, and smart, and the kind of dog that just loved attention and didn't care what you did to him.

Like a fool, I decided that the three of us should go look at the puppies. When we got there, the woman I had spoken to was out and her husband seemed to know very little about the dogs in his care. But he let us play with them. Pretzel was adorable, but a bit assertive for my taste, and way too energetic. Hopper saw no problem. Boo saw only puppies. Pretzel became Wonderdog.

He's a great dog, and I love him to death and have bonded with him thoroughly. But he has way too much energy and is too assertive. (He also will do anything for attention and will let you do anything to him.) Because he was so smart, it became clear that he would need a job or he would find his own occupation and it would be destroying our house. I signed him up for a class at a dog club that offered training for therapy dogs--I thought it would be good to combine occupying the dog with a little volunteer work for me.

We never got to therapy. Honestly, Wonderdog is still too bouncy to be trusted around people in nursing homes. Maybe someday. In the meantime, we found Obedience and Wonderdog has earned two titles. Although we're still working on the bouncing, he is the best-trained dog I've ever had.

But my next dog is going to be super mellow. The kind of dog that never moves off the couch.

Yeah--that'll happen.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Only want to knit

I don't want to write, I only want to knit. My current project is a potato chip scarf made from this really beautiful wool-blend yarn I got at Michael's. I can't even describe how beautiful it is--it's thin but fuzzy and it changes colors. So far it's been purple and green and brown and orange, and the colors blend together in a really lovely way. I guess because it's real wool, and the different colors have been spun together so there are very few parts of the yarn that are only one color, and when they transition you end up with two or three colors blended in one part of the yarn.

It's not the easiest yarn to knit with, because it tends to catch on itself, but it's so beautiful and it keeps changing, so I'm constantly excited to keep knitting so that I can see what beautiful color combination will come out of the yarn ball next.

This is going to be a really beautiful scarf. My mom is going to try and steal it.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

People are still recovering from Hurricane Sandy

Last week it was really cold in the greater New York area. Really, really cold. Which is fine, because it's winter, but it can be unpleasant.

On Thursday there was no heat on the bus I took to work. I was cold waiting for the bus, cold on the bus, and then I got painfully cold walking the ten blocks to my office. My feet hurt, my thighs were numb, and my face felt like a mask. I started feeling sorry for myself as my back cramped up and I began to get a headache.

And then I remembered the folks at the Jersey Shore, in Brooklyn, on Long Island and in other parts of New York and New Jersey whose houses were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, or who have houses but still don't have heat because their electrical and/or heating systems were ruined by the hurricane and haven't been repaired yet. And I made a decision.

When I got to work, I hopped onto the internet and checked out Occupy Sandy's website. Occupy Sandy has used the wedding registry function on Amazon to make lists of what they need. Because I was so cold, I chose to send a case of oatmeal and a blanket to folks on the Jersey Shore.

Please remember the people who are still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. They are not all rich people whose second homes were damaged. Many of the communities that were hit by Sandy are working class communities where people have lived for generations. These are the people that run the boardwalk establishments, the people who build the second homes for the rich people, the police and firefighters that patrol the streets. They need our help.

If you don't want to donate through Occupy Sandy, that's cool--many organizations are helping and you can donate to the one you trust the most. I like Occupy Sandy because I figure if I send oatmeal and a blanket, it will probably get to someone who needs it. I know what I'm buying and I know where it's going. If I want, I can go volunteer at the distribution center and see for myself what's going on there.

But please, give and keep giving until everyone is back safely in a home with heat and electricity and plumbing. Because they need our help.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Sexism in the Twenty-Fourth Century

Hopper and I are still working our way through Star Trek: The Next Generation and we're now on Season 4. I'm bothered by a pattern that may be emerging.

I realize that these episodes were written and filmed over 20 years ago, but there's a kind of sexism in them that makes me particularly uncomfortable in some of Commander Riker's story lines.

Riker is, of course, known as a bit of a man-about-galaxy, but in two season four episodes he is taken advantage of in disturbing ways. First, in "First Contact," he is taken prisoner on a planet that is just developing interstellar space capability. He needs to escape from the hospital where he is being held prisoner while he recovers from some injuries. A hospital employee (I can't remember her function, if it was explained on the show) played by Bebe Neuwirth says that she will help him escape, but only if he has sex with her, because she's always fantasized about making love with an alien. Riker demurs, makes excuses, and finally succumbs.

This is rape. If you're unsure of my assertion, imagine the scenario with the roles reversed: an attractive woman is held prisoner, and one of her captors offers to help her escape provided she has sex with him first. Riker was raped.

Later, in an episode called "The Host," Dr. Crusher falls in love with an ambassador who is traveling on the Enterprise. The ambassador is seriously wounded while attempting to settle a local dispute, and when Dr. Crusher tries to save him, he informs her that the body she is trying to heal is only his host. He is in fact a parasitic being that lives inside the hose. He instructs Dr. Crusher to save the parasite and request a new host from his planet. She does this, but the parasitic being cannot survive on its own long enough for the host to arrive, so Riker volunteers to be a temporary host.

Once the parasite is implanted, the ambassador appears to take complete control of Riker's body and mind. Dr. Crusher is understandably confused by all this, but eventually realizes that this is, in fact, the man she loves and she goes to see him and spends the night with him.

This is a teeny bit less clear from an ethical perspective, because it's unclear to what extent Riker is aware of what's going on while his body is occupied by another sentient being. What is clear, however, is that he did not consent to sex with Dr. Crusher.

Raped again? Well, he certainly was beyond consent when his mind was co-opted by another being, whether or not he remembers it. What's unclear to me is whether Beverly raped him or the ambassador did. Or maybe they both did.

Again, reverse the roles: imagine Beverly's mind is taken over by another being and that being uses her body, without her consent, to have sex with Riker.

Makes you uncomfortable, doesn't it?

I'm not sure these episodes could or would be made today, but why did we ever think this was okay to do to a man? Is it because it's Riker, and we know he's kind of a slut? I think it might be. It's a combination of the idea that men always want sex and the idea that a slut can't be raped. And these ideas are completely validated by the show--Riker shows no difficulty with either scenario (although it's unclear whether he's even aware of the second one.) Even I said to Hopper, when Riker volunteered to be the host to the ambassador, "Does this mean Riker gets to do it with Beverly?" And I'm sure that was the thought process of many.

After all, Riker does it with everyone.

I hope we've come beyond this as a society. I hope we understand now that no matter what someone's sex life is like, or what gender they are, a person shouldn't be forced into sex against his will. Ever.

I wonder how Jonathan Frakes feels about it.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

My first wedding

I don't remember how old I was, but I was young enough that it was exciting to answer the phone. My uncle was at the other end, and he told me he was getting married.

"Can I be a flower girl?"

My mother was outside taking out the trash. I ran down the steps to the back door and announced, "Uncle's getting married, and I get to be a flower girl!"

It didn't occur to me that I hadn't met the woman he was going to marry. I didn't wonder who she was or where she had come from. But these questions were rather a priority for the older generations of my family.

Soon we got to meet her, though. She also said that I could be a flower girl, so I was sold. She was also Jewish, about my uncle's age, and gainfully employed, which went a long way to soothing the feelings of the older generations. And we liked her, too, which helped even more.

I loved every step of that wedding. I loved attending my first party with a response card. I loved teaching my new aunt's father how to eat a lemon. I loved meeting my aunt's family, who lived in Philadelphia, and traveling to Rochester for the wedding with my uncle's best friend.

And I loved my little basket of rose petals and my dress and getting to hang out with the bride, who gave me the wreath of flowers she wore in her hair.

Thirty years later, I'm just glad they got married.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Fish Tacos

I just saw a tweet recommending a recipe for healthy fish tacos, so here comes another story Hopper won't like.

Nine years ago, the coolest part of my family had a reunion out in California over Christmas. Some of the relatives were getting on in years, and it seemed like there was a good chance this was the last time we would all be able to get together, so we pulled out all the stops. My dad, the most dedicated teacher I have ever known, took two personal days, Hopper and I scheduled our house closing and adoption homestudy meetings around the dates, and we all flew out to Laguna Beach.

It was an amazing week, and there are many stories to tell, but this one is about the night we went to the fish taco joint. It was one of those places where you order at the counter and pay, and then your food is brought to the table, so it was perfect for a big group like ours--each family ordered separately and then we all sat at a huge table together. I have a great picture of my cousin's baby sleeping on another cousin's lap as they sat on the windowsill, just hanging out. We sat there for hours. It was a perfect family evening.

The next day we drove up to the Aquarium with my parents. While we were there, Hopper got grouchy, then peaky. By the time we left, he was green. That night, he could barely sleep because he was so sick, and by the next morning he couldn't get out of bed to go to the breakfast room. We talked to the family, and found out that one of the teenage cousins, but not the other, had fallen ill, even though they had shared a bedroom all week. One of the grandmothers was sick. And one of the cousins my age. Nobody who shared a bedroom or bathroom with the sick family members had caught the illness.

My parents and I headed out to dinner with some of the Laguna cousins. We chose a deli so that I could get some chicken soup to bring back
for Hopper. We were starting to be concerned that we wouldn't be able to fly home the next day, but he was finally able to keep down some soup, and thought he'd make it.

Eventually we figured out that one person from each family group was sick. Apparently, one cook at the restaurant didn't have clean hands, and whoever ate the food he prepared came down with food poisoning.

Hopper made it home and recovered after a couple of days. But it's nine years later and there's no way I'm making fish tacos for dinner.

Revenge is salty and delicious

Yesterday was a busy day. A really busy day. So busy that the only way I could have written a post is if I had turned down Boo's request to play Settlers of Catan.

There was a period of time where I had to drive from a Parent Breakfast a few towns north of us to our house to pick up Wonderdog, then to our dog school which is about 20 minutes away, then back to our house to drop Wonderdog off, then up to Boo's school, where I was meeting Hopper at a nearby diner for lunch before we both went to the school to work on a fundraising project. I was about half way from our house to the diner when I got a text from Hopper.

Where are you?

I was annoyed. I already walked out on my class at exactly 12:00, even though it was running over. I rushed home, got Wonderdog settled, grabbed my stuff and hopped back in the car. In my haste, I forgot to bring a snack that Boo would need at her after school activity and would have to buy one. I wasn't late, so why was he texting me? But I was at a red light (I only read texts when the car is stopped) so I texted back.


A minute later, the phone beeps again, but now I was driving, so I just kept driving while I seethed. I tried to rationalize away my anger, thinking that Hopper probably just has a table saved, or wanted to know my ETA, or thought I got there first and he couldn't find me. He DOES have a habit, I reminded myself, of replying to every text, even when it isn't necessary. Probably that text just said, "OK."

When I arrived at the diner, I looked at my phone.

Aren't we meeting for lunch?

Well, that was odd. I had to drive through Ridgewood to get from our house to the diner, so "Ridgewood" seemed to me a reasonable, if terse, answer. But, I had arrived, so we'd soon set it straight.

I walked into the diner, and told the person who greeted me that I was meeting my husband. "He's not here yet," came the reply. "Would you like to sit at a booth while you wait?"

Not here yet? How was that possible? He had been pissing me off complaining about my non-lateness for the past five to eight minutes.

"But he's been texting me," I said.

The kind man agreed that that was strange, then helped me search the restaurant, where there were exactly zero men sitting alone. I decided the time for texting had passed, and placed an actual call.

"Hopper? Where are you?"

"I'm at the diner near work."

I humbly accepted the booth the man had offered and sat down to order for both of us, since it would take Hopper at least 20 minutes to get from his work to Boo's school.

When the food arrived, I texted Hopper to let him know it was getting cold.

Then I ate half his fries.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What's romantic about cut flowers?

Once you cut flowers, they're going to die. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon.

What's romantic about that?

I don't mind when people who don't know me well buy me flowers. If someone comes over for dinner and wants to bring flowers, I appreciate the gesture.

But as a romantic gesture, I just don't see it. I don't enjoy watching things die.

Give me chocolate, any day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Liebster Award

Andy at Today's the Day! has given me the Liebster Award. I've known Andy since we began our adoption journey, but I've never met her in person. She's a pretty cool person, though, so I'm going to do this thing even though I'm not generally a fan of doing things like this. And you should check out her blog.

The Liebster Award is granted to up and coming bloggers with fewer than 200 followers who deserve some recognition and support to keep on blogging
The Rules:

1) You must thank the person who gave you this award. 
2) You must display the Liebster heart on your blog. PROUDLY.
 3) You should nominate 3 to 5 up-and-coming blogs with fewer than 200 subscribers. 
4) Each person must post 11 things about themselves.
5) Answer the questions given to you by the blogger who nominated you. 
6) Create 11 questions for those you nominate to answer. 
7) Notify your nominees and provide a link back to your post (no tag backs because the point is to try and highlight new bloggers and spread the support). 

Questions from Andy:

1. Book or movie?

Definitely book. Except for The Princess Bride, in which case, both.

2. What was your favorite childhood toy?

That's a hard one. My grandfather was a toy manufacturer, so toys are really important to us. If you mean the thing I couldn't be parted from, then my blankie. To play with? I'm going to go with a jump rope. 

3. Your life is going to become a script for a movie. Who would you want to play you?

I would let Hopper decide, since I never remember the names of actors anyway. 

4. Have you ever baked bread from scratch? Why or why not?

Um...breads like banana bread, sure. They're easy and delicious. Real bread? No. It seems like a lot of work and easy to mess up.

5. What is the funniest thing you have ever done?

I played a Druid in my brother's Spinal Tap cover band. Really.

6. If price were no object, what would you want for your birthday?

A trip to Paris.

7. What's your favorite plant?

I've been transforming my garden into all edibles, so something edible. I really like the fact that we have a raspberry bramble, so I'll go with that.

8. What countries have you visited?

Canada, England, France, Spain Italy and Russia (also the airport in Helsinki, Finland)

9. Zombiiiieeesss are coming! They want your brains! What is your weapon of choice?

Um...firebomb. Duh.

10. What languages do you speak? If you could learn any, which would it be?

Can you tell Andy isn't American? I am American. I speak English. I know the Hebrew alphabet so I can decode but not read. I took Latin in high school and French in college. And I can speak one sentence of Catalan.

11. Favorite quote?

This week? "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." --Groucho Marx

Eleven Things About Me

1. I recently learned to knit
2. I just became an interviewer for The Fresh Air Fund's Friendly Town Program. 
3. I really enjoy sleeping, and have vividly detailed dreams.
4. I became a vegetarian a year and a half ago. I'm still not sure why.
5. We have three pets. We would have more if Hopper didn't stop me.
6. I'm happiest when I'm creating something. I just figured this out.
7. Hopper and I have vowed to only have black cats from now on because we found out they are the hardest to place.
8. Wonderdog and I do competitive Obedience at AKC shows. 
9. I'm a big fan of the NJ Jackals baseball team.
10. I tap danced as a child.
11. I don't like cut flowers.

As for nominating some other blogs, I can't think of any to nominate, so I guess I'm the end of the chain. But I think I'm going to blog soon about why I don't like cut flowers!

Conversations with Cat and Wonderdog

Cat: Hi!

Me: I was writing in that.

Cat: Can I help?

Me: I can't actually see the checkbook when you sit on it.

Cat: I'm helping!

Me: But...



Me: What's wrong with my yarn? It's stuck. Almost like someone's pulling on it.

Cat: I'm helping!

Me: Wonderdog, why are you biting Cat's head...while you're both on top of me...while I'm trying to knit?

Wonderdog: I'm helping too!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I got a flu shot today, but not for my benefit

I don't usually get flu shots. I'm pro-vaccine, and Boo has all of hers, and will be getting her HPV when the time comes. I get my Tetanus shot regularly, and even got an extra one before traveling to Russia, just in case. I've got vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B. But since the flu shot is typically 60% effective and I'm at low risk for death from it, and so is everyone in my household, I usually don't feel like it's worth getting stuck in the arm.

The last time I got one was during the SARS epidemic in 2003. I was working in Public Health at the time, and although I worked in an office building not a hospital building, the University asked everyone in the Medical Center to get a flu shot because we have many people who travel internationally (which increased the risk of SARS appearing on campus) and they wanted to reduce the number of flu cases so that SARS could be diagnosed more quickly.

That made sense to me as a reason to get a flu shot. The question was not just "will I get flu?" but also, "Will my flu make someone else's SARS worse?" So I got the shot.

Today was actually my first real opportunity to get a flu shot since the University started offering them this flu season, as I have had a cold pretty much non-stop all winter. But I realized that in a few weeks I'll be working in an HIV clinic. I may be at low risk for death from flu, but people with HIV are at high risk. The flu shot is also less effective on people with compromised immune systems, and the Departments of Health where I work have not had very many high-dose flu shots to go around (which is the preferred vaccine for people with HIV/AIDS.)

So for some of the people I'll be interacting with, their best shot at not getting flu is for me not to expose them to it. They may not be able to get the flu shot at all, and even if they get it, it may not work for them. And if they do get the flu, people with HIV can die from it.

That's worth getting stuck in the arm.

So I'm sore this evening, and my feel a bit flu-ish tomorrow. But I can pay that price, because I couldn't live with myself if I exposed a bunch of immunosuppressed people to the flu.

This is why I believe in vaccines. We do it for ourselves, I suppose, and for our children's health. But my child and I have healthy immune systems. Chances are, we could fend off whatever we got. After all, everyone I knew growing up had Chicken Pox and I don't remember anyone dying from it. And my  mom had the Mumps when she was a kid. Most of us can survive these childhood diseases. So we don't really immunize for ourselves.

We do it for the children who can't immunize or babies who are too young to get the immunizations. For the elderly, for the immunosuppressed, and for that one vulnerable person who for whatever reason can't defend against that particular disease. We do it because surviving Polio doesn't mean surviving intact, because Chicken Pox can become Shingles, and Mumps can leave you sterile.

If you don't immunize your children, you're saying you don't care about those people. You don't care if someone else's child dies because of your decision. You don't care if your child becomes a vector who spreads disease to others. You will take the risk of your child (or someone else's) becoming a cripple, or suffering in old age, or not being able to have children of her own. You care more about depriving Big Pharma of your money than you do about being part of a community.

So I got a flu shot today, but it wasn't for me. Did you get yours?

Monday, January 21, 2013


Since becoming a parent, I find I have two different headspaces.

When I'm in adultspace, I think about things like keeping up my marriage, politics, and the plot twists of Downton Abbey.  Today, since Hopper was at work and I was alone with Boo, I spent much of the day in kidspace.

Kidspace is a mindset that I developed when I was a stay-at-home mom, before Boo started school. Kidspace is all about Boo's needs--eating, getting places, and playing imagination games. Developing kidspace really helped me when I was alone with Boo all day, especially before she was verbal. Being in kidspace allows me to anticipate Boo's needs, but it also makes it more fun to play with her, because I'm tuned into her wavelength and ready to participate in whatever she's doing.

I think a lot of the conflict I have with Boo happens when she interrupts adultspace. Ideally, my mind would switch to kidspace whenever she walked into the room. When that happens, I tune in to what she's saying and I'm really present with her, and I'm the best mom I can be. But when I'm in the middle of something that requires the focus of my adultspace mind, whether it's something important like taking a call about a family crisis or getting my work done, or something frivolous like arguing with Hopper about Star Trek, it can be difficult to switch. Adultspace just lives in a different plane.

Since I was in kidspace today, I was thinking about things that are important to Boo, and to kidspace me--things like getting Boo to her friend's birthday party and then going shopping together for Hopper's birthday present and a special treat we picked up along the way. So it was a bit of a shock when I went off to run an errand during the birthday party, tuned in to NPR and found out that the Inauguration was going on.

Now, adultspace me was well aware that today was Inauguration Day. Adultspace me has been reading articles about Obama's second term, following all the new appointments, and wondering why the first woman to make the Invocation at an Inauguration isn't a minister of any kind. But in kidspace, that doesn't matter much. So hearing the Inauguration on the radio was kind of like coming out of warp speed. I had to reorient myself for a minute before I could catch up with what's been going on.

Honestly, I think that having kidspace is one of my mom superpowers. I'm not sure Hopper has a kidspace, and maybe most adults don't. I'd be curious to see how may people can relate to this post. But sometimes, it can throw me for a bit of a loop!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Russia vs. USA

I was just reading this article (Here a Gun, There a Gun, Everywhere a Gun by Paul Waldman) which is very interesting and worth your time, and it got me thinking.

But not about gun control.

It got me thinking about the differences between the US and Russia, and the comment made by Miss Muffett on my blog yesterday. Miss Muffett proposes a number of alternate explanations for the Russian Adoption Ban in her post--explanations which come from the Russian media, yes, but which are in direct contrast to what the Russian government has been saying since the ban passed. (The Russian government has consistently said that the Adoption Ban is a response to the Magnitsky act.)

I responded to Miss Muffett's arguments in a comment last night, which you can read by following the link above, but what I want to talk about today is the American idea of freedom--an idea that makes little sense to Russians.

When I see someone asking the questions Miss Muffett asks--why doesn't the US track Russian adoptees better? Why doesn't the US give Russian officials access to adoptive families accused of abuse? Why doesn't the US close boarding schools that are really dumping grounds for adoptees that nobody wants? (This last is an allegation for which I have found no evidence, but for the sake of argument, let's suppose it's true)--I realize that the person asking doesn't really understand the US and how we work.

We can't track Russian adoptees better because we don't track our citizens. This is less true in the age of the Patriot Act, but it's still essentially true, especially of children. Yes, the FBI now has my fingerprints on file (this is part of the international adoption process) but unless I commit a crime, or apply for a job in a school or with the police, my fingerprints aren't checked, so those fingerprints do not allow the FBI to track me.

As for the case in Florida that Miss Muffett references, in which a couple was arrested for alleged abuse, and then the charges were dismissed in court, because the charges were dropped, the US Government does not have the right to enter that person's house. They gave the family's phone number to the Russian officials, but unless the parents consent, nobody can go into that house.

Finally, there is a boarding school in Montana that advertises itself as a place that treats children with post-adoptive stress disorders. It is a Christian boarding school that has no therapy license. Miss Muffett contends that people dump their adopted children there when they can't handle them, and while I can't find any evidence to support that theory, it may well be true. I am no friend of mysterious Christian schools that seem to be indoctrinating children. However, it is a parent's right to send their children to boarding school, and the US Government can't do anything about it unless there are allegations of abuse at the school.

All of these things are protected rights in the US, and while I am ashamed to hear that some people do not complete their post-adoption reports to Russia, horrified to think that people could abuse their children and retain custody, and shocked at the notion that anyone would send an elementary school-aged child to boarding school, the alternative is a country that doesn't protect individual rights, and I value the rights of individuals, so I accept the trade-off.

A big part of the miscommunication that goes on between Russia and the US has to do with the differences in our cultures. We start from different assumptions about how the world works, and that can make negotiation difficult. Russia has one set of assumptions about how a government takes care of its children--when we adopted Boo, we had to notify the local police that she was no longer residing at the baby home and get a paper that said we had permission to relocate her, because the police are responsible for keeping track of who lives in their district, even babies. After centuries of totalitarian rule, Russians are used to the idea that government officials can enter their houses at any time. And a school that the government of Russia doesn't like is closed. But that is not our way.

Until both sides understand each other a little better, these misunderstandings will continue.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Egg Cream

I never liked seltzer. It's odd for a Jew from the New York area to avoid seltzer. My family were all seltzer drinkers, and I would try it from time to time, wanting to like it, but I always found it tasted of carbonation. Even when my family traveled to Europe and ordered mineral water at restaurants, I would only drink the "sine gas" water, never "con gas." It annoyed the heck out of my family, who wanted to share a big bottle of gassy water.

When I moved out on my own, I never had seltzer in the house, because I didn't drink it. Then Hopper and I got married, and he bought some. For some reason I tried a glass, and I loved it.

Now I drink seltzer several times a day. We even got a SodaStream to make our own seltzer because we felt like we were using too many plastic bottles when we were drinking about a case and a half of seltzer per week.

Today I had my first egg cream. We were at a diner in Manhattan and I decided to order one. When I told Hopper it was the first one I'd ever had, he was surprised until I reminded him that I never liked seltzer before we were married. Boo was shocked at the thought of me not drinking seltzer.

I guess I have a few surprises up my sleeve.

*UPDATE* For those not from the New York area: An egg cream is a delicious concoction made from milk, seltzer and U-Bet chocolate syrup. I'm not thoroughly happy with this recipe, but it gives you the idea, the history and a picture.

Friday, January 18, 2013

How to be a Humanist

This morning, Boo woke up early. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, she's highly efficient and usually in a good mood. Today was like that, and when I came downstairs, she was making herself mac and cheese for breakfast. When she was done, she put the pot in the sink and went to the dining room to eat.

"Boo," I said, "next time, please put some water in the pot if you don't have time to wash it. Otherwise the cheese gets crusty and it's hard to wash off."

"Oh," she replied, "I'm sorry. I thought that was only for cream of wheat."

"It's okay. I took care of it this time. I just wanted you to know for next time, since you have a long life of cooking ahead of you."

And then the Jewish alarm bells went off in my head. I had committed a kaynahora--I had brought the attention of the Evil Eye by mentioning my daughter's potential long life. In my head, I kept saying, "God willing" and I wanted to spit preemptively to remove the jinx. And then I was arguing with myself.

I've always thought these superstitions a bit silly, but saw no harm in observing them. But since becoming a Humanist about a year ago, I find them even sillier and would like to stop. And sort of feels like playing with my daughter's life. If jinxes aren't real, there's no harm in saying "God willing" or "God forbid." If they are, then it's pretty risky to go around tempting the Evil Eye, isn't it?

Of course, there is absolutely no evidence to support the existence of an Evil Eye OR God. And so the notion that God could protect me from the Evil Eye is utterly ridiculous.

And yet...

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Let's do the math on Russian adoption

I haven't posted about Russian adoption in a while but I've been thinking about it daily, and following all the news. A couple of things have me wondering, so I'm going to do the math.

Let me say up front that most of the numbers I'll be using are widely documented and easy to check on Google, so I'm not going to cite them unless I think I'm using something hard to document or controversial.

We keep hearing that nineteen Russian children have died after being adopted and taken home to America. I wondered how that stacked up to the general population. Fortunately, published this article, which explains that those 19 deaths add up to about 1.5 deaths per hundred thousand children per year, whereas the national average is 2.2 deaths per hundred thousand children per year. So the death rate for children adopted from Russia is lower than the expected rate.

Also, I've been hearing Pavel Astakhov, the Children's Ombudsman, quote a variety of numbers. First he said there were 46 adoptions in process in Russia, then 52, and now 150.

I should say that I feel progress has been made. Today, Astakhov said that families who have been through court already will be allowed to take their children home when their 30-day waiting periods end. And he's talking about families in all stages of adoption, and says he's getting reports from around the country to find out how many children there are in process. This makes much more sense than his original number of 46. After all, there are 87 regions in Russia. It's a big country. And most of the adoption records are kept by hand, so it would take a while to get the numbers. It's plausible.

But I'm wondering if 150 is close to the right number. So here comes the math:

There were 906 children adopted from Russia to the US last year. Assuming that number is fairly consistent, then that means


So about 75 children per month were adopted from Russia last year. (I'm choosing to round down so as to give Astakhov the benefit of the doubt wherever possible.)

It takes at a minimum, 2 months from the time of referral to the time a child comes home. The referral happens on the first trip, then it's about a month until court and then the 30 day waiting period. So

75 children per month x 2 months = 150

It sounds like Pavel's math is checking out. He also mentioned another dozen or so families who had submitted applications but not yet received referrals.

I like the sound of this. It seems like Russia is actually thinking this process through, instead of slamming the door like they were in December. So hopefully my friend and the rest of the people waiting for children to come home will be able to bring their children home soon.

Now, there are in reality probably more than 150 people waiting, because some regions of Russia can take much longer than two months to complete an adoption, but I would estimate (with my limited knowledge) that the actual number is somewhere between 150 and 200. But I'm glad that Russia's estimates are now in the right ballpark.

Of course, the next step is to repeal this law so that international adoptions of Russian children can continue until they are no longer needed. But at least this first step seems to be in the right direction.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On making beautiful things

I don't come from an artistic family. Nobody in my family is very good at painting or drawing or making things from wood. Our creative talents are more in the realm of performance--I act, my mother does puppetry, my father sings, my brother makes people laugh and we all write.

Hopper's family, on the other hand, is visual. His father and grandfather were painters, and they all draw and paint in his family. Over the past few years, I've been experimenting some with collage, and I think I have a pretty good eye, but I really don't have a history of making beautiful things.

In the past, I have used my talents to move people. I have made them laugh and cry, and through children's theater I have helped children learn a great deal about emotions, and responsibility, and how to perform. I'm proud of that. But performance is ephemeral, especially on stage. A video doesn't fully capture the moment we created.

But now I'm knitting, and it's really easy, if you buy beautiful yarn, to make a beautiful scarf. I've made a few using the knit stitch and experimenting with different needles. I like the open weave of really big needles. But yesterday I started one using two different sized needles and some really beautiful yarn, and I'm amazed at the fact that I can now make beautiful things. At the end of the day, there is an object that I can hold and wear or give to a friend, and it's a beautiful object that I made with my own hands.

This is a new experience for me.

I also find it interesting that the older I get, the more I find I have in common with my grandmother, whom I called Nana. My Nana was brilliant with handwork--she mostly crocheted--and I still have some afghans she made for me. So maybe I have the ability to be really good at this. Who knows?

This evening, I started a basket weave scarf. It's my first work with a pattern and it's tricky, but so far it's working. Okay, it took me three tries to figure out how to purl correctly, but now I've got it, so it's working.

Anyway, the journey is fun.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Cat is on my right, curled into a ball with her head upside down and tucked on top of her feet and tail. I can just see her tongue peeking out between her teeth. Then she squeezes more tightly, shudders and pulls a paw over her face to shut out the light.

Wonderdog is on my left, four paws stretched out in a bunch like a Wookiee being carried by Ewoks, yet totally relaxed, his chest moving up and down with each breath, his ear flopped over his eye, and his nose dropping down into the blanket he's lying on.

Hopper, on the other hand, is scrunched up in his recliner with his laptop perched on his lap, his hands curled up to work the keyboard, his shoulders hunched: the picture of tension.

Animals win.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Creative Child

Having a creative kid is hard. And before you tell me that all kids are creative (they are), here's a list of what Boo is currently working on, so you can understand what I'm talking about:

  • writing a novel
  • knitting a scarf for a friend
  • editing at least one (and possibly up to three) newspapers at recess
  • learning to draw bunnies (that look like bunnies)
  • planning and organizing to move rooms and redecorate
And that's just the stuff she's working on in her own time. I'm not counting school assignments, art class, Junior Choir or anything else she's been told to do by adults. Boo is not creative like other kids are creative. She's creative like people who need to create things because that's who they are. Because that's who she is.

Boo fits all the stereotypes of the Creative. She gets an idea and takes off, obsessively, oblivious to everything else in the world. Her project becomes the most important thing in her eyes, and she honestly doesn't understand why we interrupt her work for insignificant things like eating or school. Right now, she's sitting near me, working on her novel.

So when Boo talks back to me, as all 9-year-olds talk back to their mothers, I picture her becoming Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock or Catherine Zeta-Jones in America's Sweetheart.  I see the stress in her when she needs help because her idea isn't coming out of her head the way it is supposed to (usually because of a tool failure and not, as it is with me, because she actually can't do what she thinks she can do.) On the one hand, I want to help--seeing your child in a desperate state is painful. But there's a fine line between nurturing the genius and spoiling the child.

So I'm trying to figure out how to help her strike that balance--to nurture her ideas and make time to express them while still making sure she takes care of her body and her other responsibilities. It's one reason I dislike homework. For a kid who's spending all her free time working on projects, homework just gets in her way. And she doesn't need it--she's constantly working on her spelling as she reads and writes. She works on organization and responsibility as she plans her projects. She's developing her leadership skills on the newspaper, and learning about seeing things through with all the projects, because they won't get completed if she gives up.

I feel like this is all really important to her development.

But she still can't talk to me in that tone of voice.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cats belong inside

This is yet another post inspired by the Wheaton family, but it's not about games or Star Trek or nerdiness.

It's about cats.

I feel really strongly that cats should be kept indoors. So does the Humane Society. For evidence, let's just look at what I've read on Twitter of the Wheaton Family experience over the past little while. You can follow them, too: Wil is @wilw, Anne is @annewheaton, and two of their pets have Twitter accounts. Watson is @wilwheatons_cat and Marlowe is @marlowewheaton.

A couple of months ago, their beloved cat Luna was lost for two days. She was finally found in a neighbor's shed where she had been accidentally locked in for possibly the entire time she was gone.

Yesterday, Anne tweeted

Took dogs on a walk, came home to find a single feather on Luna's head. Found 50 more and a finch body behind my bedroom door. So. Yucky.

Yucky is the least of your problems if you happen to be the finch.

And today, this:

  1. I'd like to say that my dogs like the dog treats I made for them, but they eat cat shit daily, so maybe I shouldn't be too proud of myself.
  2.  Dunno where your cat box is, but baby gates work wonders for ending "What did the cat leave me this time" behavior by the dogs.
  They like to go in the dirt outside so it's like a treasure hunt for Marlowe.

That's three problems (for the Wheatons--a lot more problems for the birds) that could be solved by keeping the cats indoors. And that's just what has happened to them lately. That they've tweeted.

And that leaves out cats being killed by cars, cat abusers or other animals, or just getting sick and hiding where you can't find them. It also leaves out your cats pooping in other people's sandboxes, caterwauling outside someone else's window at 4AM, or dying on someone else's property and leaving them with a cat carcass to deal with.

Be a good neighbor.
Be good to the environment.
Be good to your cats.

Keep them inside.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Homework sucks

I'm helping Boo with her homework. I know. But she needs the help. She has to type a book report by Monday. She doesn't know how to type, and she doesn't really have writing skills, because she's 9. So the only way this will happen is if I help her.

There's a problem with homework right there: if she can't do it herself, then isn't it MY homework? What is the point, exactly?

She said she didn't want to do it, and I said, "Okay, but then you have to accept the consequences."

"What are the consequences?" She asked (wisely.)

I said, "That's up to your teachers, but the worst consequence I can think of is that they wouldn't let you be in the presentation with the other third graders.

"I guess I should do it then," she replied. "But I'll need some help."

Which brings us to typing a report at 7:20 on a Saturday night.

*Here I must interject that Hopper is knitting right now, which is awesome.*

So it's possible that Boo is learning some responsibility from this, and I have to work harder to stay out of things and let her step up. But I feel like the job of teaching responsibility is put on me by the homework assignment, and while I'm all for teaching my child responsibility, can't I do that on my own without an outside assignment? I give her chores, she takes care of the gerbil, she's required to have manners and to come home from her friends' houses when she says she will. I'm teaching her responsibility. But right now, I want to be doing something other than this.

Why do I have to spend time working on this report when I could be reading with my child, or playing a game, or cleaning the house (or knitting?) It pisses me off that this unpleasant task is foisted on my family. We have enough unpleasant tasks. Just this morning, I had to wake up.

If there must be homework, it should be in the form of giving credit for things the child does at home. At the beginning of the year, the teachers could give the family a list:

  • Tell us one creative thing your child does this year.
  • Tell us how your child gets exercise outside of school.
  • Tell us one generous thing your child does.
  • Tell us how you celebrate your culture.
  • Tell us what your family does for fun.
  • Tell us how your child practices responsibility.
  • What are you reading as a family? What is your child reading?
And then, over the course of the year, the child could write little reports, or the family could blog, or the child could teach a lesson in class and the teachers would be able to assess whether these things are being done, and the parents would be gaining skills as parents, and the kids would be practicing the skills that the school thinks are important.

Wouldn't that be better?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Dog School

Dog school re-opened yesterday after being closed by damage from Hurricane Sandy. Wonderdog and I do AKC Obedience together. At present, we're training in Rally, which is a separate discipline, but related to Obedience. You can read about it here.

From the time I took out the treat bag to fill it, Wonderdog knew where we were going. He perked up and followed my every motion to make sure he didn't miss anything. I put on his harness, strapped him into his seatbelt, and we were on our way.

When we got there, he wanted to sniff every inch of the property (it's a small property--the work is done indoors) and when we got inside he was literally vibrating with excitement. Being a terrier, he squealed and wimpered, too. It reached the point that I had to hold him on my lap to keep him quiet and calm. At 23 pounds, Wonderdog does fit on my lap, but he looks pretty funny when he's there.

Our Obedience classes usually began with group heeling, so all the dogs were on the floor together and walking, so they had a chance to calm down a bit, but Rally doesn't work that way. Rally basically consists of a dog and handler team heeling through an obstacle course of sorts. It's not like Agility, which you've probably seen on TV. Agility is the one where the dogs go up a ramp, through a tunnel and over a teeter-totter. The Rally course is all on the floor, but the dog needs to heel (walk beside the handler) while the handler walks around in circles, in figure 8's, and stops and starts. It's all about whether the dog can pay attention to the handler and stick with her no matter what she does.

Wonderdog wanted to smell the floor.

We were the second class of the day, and people had dropped treats. Of course, no dog would leave a whole treat on the floor, but sometimes they forget a crumb or two. And Wonderdog's nose can find every crumb in the place. All I had to do was get his attention.

So goes the challenge of dog school. I work hard through the whole class to keep Wonderdog's attention. Wonderdog works hard through the whole class to contain his excitement. After all, in addition to the occasional treat crumb, there are five other dogs in the room, and two in the office waiting for the teachers.

Boy are we glad to be back!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A coughing symphony

There was a coughing symphony today at work. We all have the same cold, which mostly manifests itself in a single cough once in a while, so you'd hear it up and down the hall from different directions. At times, there was an interesting back and forth dynamic









I found it amusing, if tiring. Somehow, not being able to see all the participants made it funnier. When I was teaching on Tuesday, it was just gross to watch all the children coughing. But being part of a coughing symphony in the office today was a bonding experience. Like we were communicating our discomfort to one another across the hallway, and commiserating as our bodies, together, wrote a symphony of sickness.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Coming out of the closet

It's time for me to come out.

I live in New Jersey. I always have, really. I mean, there was that time in college when I lived in New York, and a couple of summers in Massachusetts, but at heart, I've always been a Jersey girl.

Which is why I'm so angry at Chris Christie for trying to destroy our state. Okay, he's been really good about Hurricane Sandy. In a crisis like that, you need a guy who will make a decision and then yell at everyone until they do what he told them to do. And now he's standing up to the Republicans in Congress who haven't given us any funding yet and that's really good too.

But let's face it: we'd be better able to rebound from this catastrophe if Christie hadn't been our governor. We need to raise taxes on the highest income earners in the state. We need the ability to raise property taxes, which Christie has taken away. And public sector workers have taken huge pay cuts, in the form of having to pay into their benefits due to a non-negotiated regulation that Christie imposed on all contracts in the state. That's another big hit to our local economies because Teachers, Firefighters and Police Officers are middle-class people who have lost discretionary funds. That was money that would have been spent on pizza for the family, a movie, an extra treat for the kids--all the things that keep small businesses going.

Christie said we couldn't raise taxes on the wealthy because then the wealthy would leave our state. Well, guess what? People are leaving our state now because they can't find jobs or because they can't afford to live here on the salaries they are making. Our public schools, which have always been among the best in the nation, are being compromised by Christie's insistence on union busting and railroading the middle class employees of the state into pay cuts while he keeps his full salary and flies to ball games in state-owned helicopters.

There are times when you need a blowhard to yell at everyone in the state and get them going in the same direction. But that isn't most of the time.

Let's get rid of Christie next year.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Lady Parts (contains technical terms that some people find uncomfortable)

Dear Moms of Girls,

Please teach your daughter the right words for her anatomy. Nothing drives me more crazy than women who confuse vulvas with vaginas. The vagina is inside your body. The part you can see is your vulva: simple as that. You don't call your lips your throat, do you?

This is important, and not just because it drives nerds like me nuts. There are reasons to know the parts of your anatomy. For example, we all know it's not good to put soap or harsh chemicals in our vaginas. (Douching messes up your vaginal flora, ladies: don't do it!) If you think that your vulva is actually your vagina, you might conclude that you shouldn't wash your vulva. Yuck! And also, dangerous! You could get an infection if you don't properly clean your vulva. But first you'll be smelly because you're dirty, and nobody wants to have smelly lady parts.

So moms, let's all agree now to teach our daughters the right words for their body parts. That way, they can grow up believing that their lady parts are just as important as the rest of their bodies.

Thank you,

The Jewmanista

Monday, January 7, 2013

Ode to maps

I heard this interview with Simon Garfield on NPR this morning and it got me thinking about maps. Sure, I use Google Maps for directions most of the time, and have borrowed a GPS from time to time, but I actually prefer maps. When I use Google Maps for directions, I almost always study the map before I print the directions.

But I don't like maps primarily for any of the reasons Garfield mentioned. It's not because they're beautiful, although many are, and it's not because it connects me to the past or romance or anything like that. I just like to understand where I am in space, and maps help me to do that.

The few times I've used a GPS, I didn't like it much because although I got where I needed to be, I had no idea how I got there. I just did whatever the voice on the machine told me to. I found that really unsettling and almost unsafe. I like to be able to navigate so much that I actually appreciate when I get lost because then I'll find a new way to get around. I have spent time riding around my neighborhood on my bike, and that came in handy after Hurricane Sandy when roads were closed due to fallen trees and power lines, and I had to find detours to get home.

I just find maps useful. And I worry, a little, that the skill of reading maps is going to fall by the wayside. On the one hand, plotting a route on a map takes time, and it makes sense to use computers to take care of that task. Computers can also be updated regularly with traffic information, road closures, and other factors that determine which is the best route: information that you can't get from a print map. But I always worry just a little when a paper-based skill gets lost, because then we become reliant on computers, which is fine, until the power goes down.

There is real value in maps, and I was a little bit shocked to hear someone who wrote a book about the beauty of maps saying that what will be lost in our computer age is the beauty and romance of maps. Because I'm all for beauty and romance, but sometimes I just need to figure out whether it makes sense to get off the subway one stop early and walk.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Homework vs. Play

This article really got me going. (For those not clicking the link, it's about the ineffectiveness of homework. Homework, according to this article, affects neither test scores nor grades.) But I'll take that as a given. For the most part, homework is a waste of time, and I'm sure I'll rant about that another day.

For today, I want to focus on what homework takes away from a child's life. Because whatever time a child is spending on homework is time that she could be using to do something else. And as long as you leave the TV off, or use it only for video games, whatever your child is doing is probably better for her than doing homework.

The importance of play in child development has been well-established in articles like this and this and this. Personally, I feel there should be more time for play in school. But if school is to be reserved for academics, so be it. There is some sense in that. After school, however, should be reserved for pursuing a child's interests (where applicable) and for play.

We try to limit Boo's screen time for several reasons. The most compelling reason is that when we turn off the TV, we have to come up with something else to do. That used to be my responsibility, when Boo was little and I was a stay-at-home-mom. Now, as often as not, Boo will come up with activities of her own. But the only reason she can do that is that she's been practicing for all of her nine years. When she was little, there were days when it was hard to keep the TV off. I had to make up artificial rules ("The TV doesn't work in the summer except when it rains.") to keep up the effort. But every day I kept the TV off was worth it, because I had to come up with something else to do. We built things, we took walks, we played games together--all because the TV was off.

Homework can be the same kind of excuse for lazy parenting. We send our kids off to do their homework and then we can spend a little while reading the paper or playing on Facebook or (if we're feeling industrious) cleaning the house. Without homework, we are forced to parent: to come up with something for the kids to do, even if it's helping us clean the house. Over the past two weeks while Boo has been on break, our family has played dozens of board games (well, about four board games, but dozens of times.) That was important family time that couldn't have happened if Boo had been spending hours doing homework. Boo also spent time with friends, playing outside or playing together inside, and with family. We've also been working on cleaning and sorting all of Boo's stuff: first cleaning her playroom and then her bedroom. She wants to move to another room in our house so everything has to be sorted and packed, which is a big job, but Boo is organizing the job, and Hopper and I, and even my parents, are helping. All of these things are important parts of childhood that I do not want Boo to miss. Especially not so that she can fill in another worksheet.

When Boo goes outside and climbs trees, or rides her bike, she's exercising, she's usually socializing, and she's learning a great deal about physics through experimentation. These are things that can't be learned in school or through homework. When she organizes a project like moving rooms, she's learning valuable skills about work, persistence and organization. Could she learn that from homework? Maybe. But the lesson is much more valuable when tied to something meaningful in her life. She wants to switch rooms. She's motivated. And she's working, day by day, toward that goal. That's something she'll remember her whole life. When she is finally settled in that new room, she'll feel really satisfied with the work that she's done, and really pleased that the adults in her life have helped her achieved that goal. That's a meaningful achievement that's its own reward, and that whole experience: setting a goal, enlisting people to help her, and then working over the course of a week or two until the goal is achieved, is a really important learning experience that can't easily be duplicated by any school project.

If you haven't already seen it, watch Race to Nowhere. Get on their website, join their movement, and lobby at your child's school for the homework load to be reduced. And then go do something--anything--with your kids.

Eleven years married

"True love isn't something you find. It's something you are capable of." --Dan Savage

Savage also frequently says that there is no "one," only a .8 that you round up to one. His point is that we shouldn't wait around for Mr. Right, and we shouldn't hang on to a relationship that isn't working for us because this might be "the one" and if we screw it up, we'll never find true love.

He's right, but there is an element of "finding" that is important too. I don't believe that Hopper is "the one" in the sense that there is only one man in the world I could have made my life with.  I'm sure if I hadn't married him, I would have married someone else. But there are a LOT of people I couldn't make a successful marriage with (I dated several of them) and finding one of the few people who sits in the Venn diagram overlap between "people I can live with" and "people who can live with me" was challenging, to say the least.

Once you meet one of those few people, that's when you decide if you will round him up to "the one." You have to choose carefully, because the wrong person can really screw up your life. But Savage is right that it's a choice, and then you have to put in the effort to make it happen. There isn't some magical person out there, the finding of whom will make you happy for all eternity. Hopper is a good man. He's Jewish and comes from the same town I grew up in, so we have a lot of the same expectations about life. And (oh, yeah) I love him. I married Hopper because my left brain saw the sense in marrying him and my right brain wanted to do it. Today is our eleventh anniversary, and I can say in retrospect that it was a good decision.

There are other myths about marriage. People think it will make you happy. It won't.

Don't get me wrong--I love being married, and Hopper and I have what most people would describe as a happy marriage. But it's just a lifestyle. Marriage is a choice to make a new family. That's all. You're still you and still in charge of your own happiness. Sure, the wrong marriage can make you miserable, and it's a good idea to try to bring cheer to your spouse when you can--the occasional, unexpected chocolate purchase can go a long way. It's also important to monitor your spouse and help out when grief or depression takes over, as they can, or when something like the wrong job is dragging them down and making them less than they can be. In those ways, marriage can make your life better.

For me, marriage makes me happy because I like having someone to share things with. Well, not things--I'm really bad at sharing things--but experiences. And chores. I LOVE having someone to share the chores. (And by share, I mean do almost all of them so I can sit around and blog.) I like living in a family situation. I like co-parenting (most of the time) and eating family dinners and being able to break out a game for three people and having two other people in the house to play with me.

But nothing about me really changed when I got married. Hopper and I didn't live together before we were married, so that was new, but he moved into my apartment, so aside from having to share my stuff, it wasn't much of a change. I still woke up in the same bed and went to work at the same job. Of course, Hopper has a huge influence on who I am and what I do, because I chose him to be the most important person in my life (and then demoted him when we adopted Boo.)

It's my job to make me happy, not Hopper's, and not our marriage's.