Monday, December 22, 2008

Hanukkah calluses

We had a lovely Hanukkah celebration at my in-laws the first night of Hanukkah. One of the toys Carter received was a toy parking garage.

Much more realistic than the Fisher Price one I loved growing up, but same concept. The trick is, though, it needed to be assembled. A good thing that it was rainy today; it took me hours and hours, and caused minor wrist damage and sore fingers from all of the screwdriver maneuvering and cranking. The directions were also of the classic Ikea variety; enough to make you want to use your head as a hammer on the screws. Then I got to the point, two hours or so into the assembly, where I was supposed to add a floor and a knob that I SWEAR was supposed to be there based on the preceding directions that I had so carefully followed prohibited me from sliding the board down to its proper place. I called the 800-number. I had to leave a message, and I still haven't gotten a call back. I found a way around the problem, but the linguist in me was not pleased by the lack of explicitness in the directions.

One of the reasons I was so careful in following them was because of an Ikea experience I had in grad school putting together a desk. One piece seemed like it could go either way, so I just shrugged and screwed the thing in place. Only when the desk was upright and fully assembled did I realize that I had put the now inextricable piece on backwards... the non-white particle board piece of my otherwise white desk laughed at me every day until I gave the damned thing away. But at least I learned my lesson. The garage is perfect.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Learning rules and choosing battles

As a transplant from the comparatively laid-back Bay Area, I have had a lot to learn about the customs and values of Orange County. Early on, I "got" that shoes and bags were a way-bigger deal than I had appreciated at first. And in spite of not actively caring, I can now make much more fine-grained distinctions of bags or shoes that I see around town, just from being here long enough. I carried around an NPR tote bag instead of a purse (which is called a bag here), first just because it was a convenient size and I liked it, and then as an act of defiance well into the period after the distinctions started invading my brain space. But then my MIL gave me a designer bag for my birthday last year. I have mixed feelings. Its an easy ticket to avoid fighting that battle when I don't feel like it, but I do worry about it. I'm conflicted. I alternate the Prada with the tote.

And then there are cars. I already know that my hybrid is far from the vehicle of choice for this crowd. But there are more layers. Neighbors on BOTH sides of us have people who come to their houses to wash their cars, (using a portable, leaf blower-esque thing to dry), every week! Nuts, if you ask me. As a courtesy to my husband's family, I try to get my car washed once a month, so it doesn't get too bad, but that doesn't always happen. And the latest thing that I noticed: my car is the "wrong" color. Not only do all of my family members (husband's side) and all of my in-laws' friends drive the same make of car, but there is a tiny range of colors: white, black, and dark blue. That's it. My red car is just another thing about me, apparently, that screams: not from here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Close enough

When my friend J was here visiting, we went for a walk near the beach. When we came to the steep path that actually leads down to the sand, she expressed an interest in sticking her toe in the ocean. It was too steep for the stroller, so I waited on a bench while she continued down the path. While G and I were waiting, a group of young, foreign tourists walked by, with a "guide." He said, "Are any of you NBA fans? Does the name Kobe Bryant mean anything to you? His house is right up there!" he pointed vaguely up the hill. Fair enough; Kobe does have a house in Newport Coast, although not one you can see from that path, as he sort of suggested. "And do you know Stephen King? He lives here too!" This is when I smiled to myself, rolling my eyes. Last I heard, Stephen King lives in Maine... about as far away as you can get and still be in this country. The guy most likely meant Dean Koontz, who does live in the area. Ah, pesky details.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Orchestra peanut gallery

Thought I would share some lines from fellow orchestra members. I've missed orchestra humor in the years I've gone without being in an ensemble. It's good to be back!

- "Lord, have mercy on my solo."

- "We'll take it at K."
- "Oh, K?"

- "Last time, it was half as fast."
- "Half-assed?"

More to follow, I'm sure.

Monday, December 1, 2008

On Hammers, helmets, head shapes, and saving the world

"When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." I have the feeling, after being immersed in G's treatment, that helmet therapy is the hammer I'm carrying around. I see heads everywhere that could benefit from some time in a helmet. I talked to the dedicated, wonderful woman who is treating G about this strange new tunnel vision. She says it is really bad for her. When she gets upset about seeing babies who are crying in infant carriers, she says she wants to scream, "Just pick them up!" (Excessive time in carriers can lead to flathead). Her husband teases her that she is trying to save the world, one head at a time.

I thought that was cute. I am sure that the kids' Music Together teacher is trying to save the world, one musically-enriched child at a time (her enthusiasm is saintly). My parents are trying to save the world, in a "think globally, act locally" kind of way. I was going to try to save the world through linguistic enlightenment, but I am no longer sure that it is the answer. Still shopping for my true hammer, I suppose.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fear of flying...

With small children. Much anxiety. Beforehand, I was worried: Are they congested? Will they nap at all? Will C stay in his seat? Will the baby scream the whole way? Alas, the worries were justified. Although pumped up with anticipation to visit the grandparents, for C, the airplane itself lost its allure soon after the door was shut. He freaked out at the noise when I tried to turn on my air vent, and he threw a major, entire plane-alienating fit. G cried too, mostly because he was tired, but by the time the plane got in motion to take its place in line on the runway (delayed by an electrical glitch), both kids were asleep. Phew.

So now we can settle in and enjoy Northern California for a few days. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Self stim"

When I went to my very first mommy & me classes with C two years ago, the woman in charge (not the instructor, who seemed nice and perfectly able, but her supervisor, whose own kids were over 20 and apparently perfect, and who never let the instructor contribute anything) scolded me for not giving C the chance to learn "self stim." I had to suppress a giggle. I resented every piece of "advice" that woman spewed (including, when I catalogued the severity of his colic, "You should try singing to him." Duh!), and stopped going altogether after a few meetings. But, to be fair, C never did get the self stim thing down.

G, on the other hand, is remarkably capable of entertaining himself for long periods of time; 20-minute chunks sometimes. He is curious, good-natured, and observant. It is wonderful. He will press buttons on music boxes, bang on a xylophone, and push cars around, with a smile. What I don't know is whether this is because we ignore him a little more than we did C (inevitably, as we only have finite attention resources now shared between the two), or whether it is an inherent personality trait, to be a little more self-sufficient that way.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Car radio, part deux

I went to try to get the car cd player fixed today. The situation is a bit more involved than I would have liked. A new one is being ordered. If it were just the cd player, I could be patient, but when Hubby was using my car the other day, he returned to tell me that the radio now didn't work either. This, I cannot tolerate. I have a trip to LA in my future in a couple of days... I can't imagine doing it sans NPR. It's fund drive season and all, but still... unthinkable.

An expensive month. First, a button that cost a good half-month's mortgage, and then a few pennies that killed the car stereo. Time to buy a lottery ticket?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

New snuggle buddy

The two cats used to snuggle for long stretches of the day. I was worried about how poor Van would adjust to being alone. Now I have my answer.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Want to sit in Mommy's car

Carter usually becomes a little unruly in the later afternoon. I get desperate for ways to keep him busy. Besides "washing the dishes", one of his newer interests is sitting in my car in the garage. At first, he was happy just pretending to drive the steering wheel. Then I started finding things from the center storage space strewn across the car. Easy enough to clean up; worth the effort. But the other day, he really went to town: front and back windshield wipers on, door light off, rear view mirror and steering wheel tilt out of adjustment, and in case all that wasn't enough:
A zoom of the relevant detail:

My parents bought my husband and me a front-loading cd player for the house for our last anniversary, and warned us that the salesman had said that kids like to put coins in the slot. Still, I was surprised by the damage he was able to do. I'll let him explain to Miss J why our familiarity with the Music Together repertoire is lacking this time around. And maybe I'll cave and just learn to love Barney.

Monday, November 10, 2008

For Frank

I'll start off by saying that I feel like a bit of a hypocrite, writing what might turn out to be a long post about my dear, sweet cat Frank, who died today. I can't promise that I would have read anyone else's tribute to their dead cat, and even if I did, I probably would have thought at some point, It's just a cat. Or at least, I would have thought that before going through this awfully painful loss. As friends have generously pointed out today, Frank was more than just a cat. He was a real member of our family, a loyal friend. Frank was named after my paternal grandfather, and he was a gentle, special creature. In order to deal with my grief, I am posting this in honor of him.

Six years ago, I had gone to the pound thinking I would pick an orange kitty, in honor of my college roommate's adorable Marvin, whom I had coveted. There was a whole cage of little orange balls of fur. But grey and white Frank had more personality than all of the cats in the other cage. He was playful and spirited. The pound had a waiting period of 48 hours. When I got home, as an afterthought, I called to ask if the other cat in his cage was available because the two seemed to have bonded, and they could keep each other company. Thank goodness for that decision. Anyway, on the trip home two days later, they cried and cried. They never learned to like car rides. I tried singing to them, speaking French, explaining to them what was going on, that they would have a new home. It was such a relief to finally drive up and release them into the one room I had selected to expose them to first. Their eyes were less wide by the end of the day, and they soon claimed the house for their own.

They were so much fun as kittens. I loved watching them go down the stairs for the first time, like out-of-control snowboarders. Curious, willing to chase anything, and so snuggly. Once I freaked out badly when I couldn't find either of them. I was sure they had gotten out somehow. Finally, finally I found them snuggled together in the small space behind the washing machine.

When the boyfriend that I had been living with when I/we adopted the cats broke up, it was horrible. Any sadness I felt about the break-up seemed to be dwarfed by the agony I felt over deciding the future for the cats. We both loved them so much. We knew we couldn't split them up. I got them in the end, because I had taken the initiative in the beginning. I was sad to take them away from him, but I did not want to part with them, and I knew I would do my best to make them happy.

In Pasadena, the cats and I shared a one-bedroom apartment. My dad helped me shop for a cat tree in Marin when I was up there, since they wouldn't have stairs anymore to exercise on. He drove it all the way down to Pasadena. My parents also helped me outfit the patio with chicken wire and a net roof so that the cats could go outside. It took hours, but they knew how much the cats' comfort meant to me. Pasadena was often lonely, but those cats always kept me warm.

Once I started dating my future husband, I would pack them up for weekends in Orange County. They hated the car ride, but liked running down his hallway, sliding into the wall at the end, and exploring his place. We eventually concocted a special add-on to attach to the gate in front of the courtyard so the cats could enjoy the nice little landscaped space and lay in the sun. The HOA nearly put a lien on the house because some neighbor complained that our addition was against code, but it didn't come to anything, at least not before we moved.

The new house had stairs, which the cats loved. They would chase each other up and down, and pick a stair and relax there. The upstairs office is super-sunny, to their delight. Frank liked to walk along the banister, which had a long drop on the other side that always made me so nervous, but as far as I know, he never fell. He also loved hiding and playing in cardboard boxes and paper bags. The cats liked to team up against whoever was on the other side of the bathroom door. They would swipe their paws under the door, and jab them, curling up, toward the hand that taunted them from behind the door.

Carter had gotten old enough to torment them. He loved to chase them and pull their tails. Frank was always tolerant of Carter's pulling and yanking; it seemed like he knew that hurting the kid was out of the question. I trusted him, and he did not let me down.

Frank and Van fought; sometimes, the fur literally flew. But mostly, they loved each other. They often mirrored each other's position.

They snuggled into each other, falling asleep with blissful looks on their faces. They would clean the hard-to-reach spots for one another, like inside of their ears, and between their eyes. When they were hungry, sometimes they would get snippy, and even box each other, with one bopping the other on the nose with a left paw when they were both resting back on their hind legs. After dinner though, it would always be back to a yin-and-yang pose of cuddle and brotherly love.

Frank was only six. I was so looking forward to bringing him home today, especially to showing a sad Van that there was nothing to worry about, his brother was OK. But he developed pneumonia after the operation and was put to sleep this morning, as I pet him and tried my best to comfort him. I am so sad, for me, for Van, and for my whole family. We miss you, sweet Frank, and we will not forget you. May you rest in peace.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Kitty pica (or "The World's most expensive button")

Ever since Frank's collar disappeared several years ago and I found it a week later, in the middle of the living room, surrounded by kitty vomit, I knew Frank had a serious penchant for eating strange things. He especially likes plastic bags (apparently they contain animal bi-products, to which I say: 1) eew and 2) who knew?) and paper towels. So when he threw up his food twice in a row and then puddles of bile, I was very worried. The vet had all kinds of theories going, based on the x-rays. He also incidentally found that Frank has only one (well-functioning, thankfully) kidney. This morning, he had a barium test to see whether he was obstructed (x-ray was inconclusive), and bingo. Exploratory surgery yielded a (very expensive) button. Get well soon, Frank. We can't wait to have him back home Monday. (On the left, with brother Van).

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sick and tired

Poor Carter is under the weather. It might not have helped that at Uncle Keith's wedding this weekend, he partied until he dropped.

Coughing, runny nose, loss of appetite, majorly grumpy... He was in whiny, contrarian mode. "Want juice. Or milk. Or juice... I don't want to take a nap. Want to listen to cd..." All day long. But tomorrow is not just another day, it will be a historic day, and long-awaited. (I am daring to be optimistic here... I will exhale tomorrow.) Is the nightmare really, finally over?

Lights out

The other day, the utility company had a "scheduled outage." We didn't get the memo. 9AM-4PM, they told me, when I finally called at 11. Even though I am a former UCSC slug, and as such, am supposed to be (and feel like I am) in touch with nature and aware of creature comforts, I had an alarming amount of "duh" moments. I thought to myself, "I can't use the computer, so I'll just go listen to the radio..."; "Why is the light out in the refrigerator?" I came very close to trying to use the microwave. And I got lucky that Roque was able to help me get the car out of the garage, sans (and in spite of) the garage door opener, in time for Gavin's doctor's appointment.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Roadmap rising

The depth of Carter's orientation impresses me. He's not even 2.5, and he always announces when certain landmarks are around the bend: Fashion Island, the grocery store, his two favorite parks, his preschool. He also has the location of every fountain in the neighborhood down,
and he knows every elevator and escalator within a two-mile radius, thanks to Russ's indulging him in frequent joy rides, to his unquenchable bliss. If he indeed has a special talent for constructing an internal roadmap, I will be sure to exploit it in the near future, on family vacations to new cities, and perhaps even for locating my car in the parking lot every now and then...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Good gob

Carter's self-esteem is, in a word, sturdy. What can we say? We are fans, and encourage him all the time. But is it too much? Popular fiction author Jane Green claims that she would never have become a best-selling author if her British upbringing hadn't made her feel unimportant. The subsequent low self-esteem made her strive to achieve. Does this mean that Carter, whom I hear muttering to himself, "Good gob" when he accomplishes the smallest tasks: takes the milk carton out of the fridge, completes a Lego tower, picks the cats' food dish up from the floor and puts it by the sink... does it mean he won't strive? Or worse, that he will feel entitled? I prefer to think not. We'll have to wait and see. For now, I can't help but comment on the squiggles he makes when "signing" a birthday card for his dad, "Great job!"

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


There is little more heartwarming than seeing the door to the garage being flung open by Carter from the kitchen, and hearing him shriek, "Mommy's home! Mommy's hoooome!" All this fanfare, when all I did was go to the grocery store.

But what's really funny is his notion of "home." His home is "home" for anyone coming here. It reminds me of a video I saw on language acquisition that showed that first, young kids define things in relation to themselves in funny cases, such as calling the "front" of a television whatever side was facing them, even if it was the back of the TV. Or calling a cup "small" for a twelve-inch doll, just because it was small for them (even when the glass was huge as far as the doll was concerned). So when the babysitter arrives, "Alyssa's home!" Or when my parents visit, "Grandma Carol and Grandpa Frank are home!" So cute, and so heartbreaking in a way... sooner or later, the little guy will have to learn that the world doesn't revolve around him. But how wonderful for him to have this brief period where it does.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Putting on them

There is a funny syntactic quirk of English: you have to be a full noun phrase (i.e. not a pronoun) to follow certain particles. So:

You put on the shoes.
* You put on them. ("*" = "not grammatical" in standard English.)
You put them on.

You picked up the book.
*You picked up it.
You picked it up.

Carter hasn't gotten this one down yet; he says things like "You put on them" all the time. (Only, he means "I [Carter] put them on", technically, because he still has "I" and "you" switched too...) I can almost see those gears churning in his active little head; many linguistic puzzles still to solve. In the meantime, a conversation about who is going to put on the shoes gets confusing fast!

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Gavin's teeth are coming in so fast, I wanted to be sure to get a picture of the first to arrive, before he has his whole set.

He's already teething again, working on the next ones...


Our little negotiator-in-training has a funny way of letting us know what he would like. He speaks in yes/no questions. When we ask him a question, he often proposes something different. To: "Would you like some milk?" He replies: "Or would you like some juice?" These exchanges happen all day long, to our amusement. "Do you want to go to the park?" Carter: "Or do you want to go to South Coast Plaza and ride the escalators?" "Should we read Library Lion?" C: "Or should we read The Cat in the Hat?" We ask: A future diplomat? Or...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Back-to-school night

Last night, we went to the first of what will be numerous back-to-school nights. What fun! The teachers even made a cd of some photos they have taken of the kids so far this year. Parent conferences aren't until November, but we already suspect that Carter is one of their favorites.

Hard at play, just as it should be.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's funny, what sticks

Yesterday, when I was pushing Carter and Gavin down the sidewalk in Corona del Mar along PCH on the way to get a coffee, we passed two dogs and two women. Both dogs were on a leash. Carter saw them coming and said something about here come two doggies. Then, out of nowhere, I heard Carter screaming. I looked down, and the bulldog had Carter's sweatshirt clamped in his jaw. He let go, but Carter was frantic. I pulled up the sleeve, and there was a minor injury there, but not bad; thank goodness, the sweatshirt was thick. The lady was crushed and apologized, saying her dog just got diagnosed with cancer and was not himself. My main concern was that it would traumatize Carter and he would be afraid of dogs for the rest of his life. (He is a sensitive little guy.) But he hasn't brought it up since. Heard some dogs barking today -- "Doggies barking!" Just as excited about it as always. This, from a kid who took days and days to recover from a trip to the Hyatt in Huntington Beach six weeks ago, where the valet took our car. Days later, he was still comforting himself, "They brought mommy's car back," bringing it up over lunch, when he woke up from a nap, during a diaper change, you name it. But getting bitten by a random dog? No problem, apparently.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Washing dishes

Carter is going through a phase where he loves to "wash dishes." Russ and I have stopped fighting it, and let him pretend to wash dishes for a little bit. It keeps him busy and happy, and he doesn't get water on the floor nearly as much now as in the early days, and we figured, hey, as long as he hangs on to his interest in it, it is a skill that will come in handy soon enough! Let's just hope the interest stays, and grows...

Friday, October 10, 2008


Carter is going through an independence spurt. For the most part, I applaud it; it will be great when he can dress himself, read to himself, pour his own milk. But until then, it leads to some frustration on both parts, as his face turns red, his arms flap, and he sputters, "Want to do it self!" as his arms get lodged further up the wrong hole of a shirt, or milk goes running, splattering, and dripping across various kitchen surfaces.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A little bit more

This is Carter's favorite phrase. Whether it's riding escalators, looking at fountains, or climbing ladders at the park, whenever it's time to go, he requests, as he did this morning at South Coast Plaza, something along the lines of, "Or do you want to visit the fountain a little bit more?" At least he's pretty reasonable when the answer is no.

Artwork first

Carter came home from preschool with his first piece of artwork.

It brought back memories of my own fingers and hands in thick paint, the pleasure of spreading it over smooth butcher paper, and also the way the thickest paint streaks cracked when they dried. He was so proud. And I think it's pretty good! (For a first effort and all.) And as a bonus, when Alyssa asked him what it was a picture of, he replied without hesitation, "Mommy!"