msLaura: Modern Mama Laura Hamilton + Dan Baker = Julian Hamilton Baker & Adrian Hamilton Baker "When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her."
- Adrienne Rich



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the portable baby


recent posts
A well-stocked larder...

About that cabbage pounding...

Mommy kiss, Mommy sun, Mommy's son.

Happy Birthday Dolly

Three weeks to a new habit

Goodnight Sweet Prince

While we're talking poop...

Happier than a Pig in Poop

Beach Babies

The Evil Onion

A Good Friend

Toxic Teflon - Nonstick Will Make You Sick

Why I'm Happy I Evolved

El Mar

Happy New Year 2006!

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January 29, 2006

A well-stocked larder...

OK, so I've already laid up some sauerkraut (Latino-style, with oregano, grated carrots, and chile flakes) some gingered carrots and some pickled beets. I feel like Pioneer Woman, storing up vegetables in my root cellar for the long winter ahead. Except that it's California, it's late January, and...well, let's just not destroy my fantasy here, shall we?

I also made yogurt, from whole non-homogenized milk with some added cream that I had left over. It's decadent delicious rich stuff, like semi-melted ice cream. I'm going to make cream cheese out of it.

Julian is over his cold, the teeth have broken through (I think?) and he has been in a charming and happy mood all day, in spite of no nap. The weather was so pretty today, we all went out to the backyard to play and do little chores, thrilled to be out in the sunshine and balmy weather.

I tucked the drooping vines of our bocce ball court arbor back up into the overhanding trellis, where they belong. Dan mowed the lawn, and worked up enough heat to take his shirt off...yeah! Julian was trying to climb up the lower steps of my step ladder while I was standing on the top rung, a less than safe circumstance. Then I got out the nesting bamboo tables and put them up near a support beam for him to hang onto, and he was quite happy climbing up and down on those instead. He still wanted to climb on MY stepstool with me once the novelty wore off, but I was able to distract him and redirect back to his nesting tables.

Julian has started calling himself "Baby" lately.
"Baby jump!'
"Baby eat!"
"Baby an-a Daddy an-a Mommy an-a Puppy an-a WALK!"
It's very cute.

Our friends the Knapps were back in town for a visit (they moved to Chicago last July), so it was great to visit, and Julian loved hanging out with his little friend Langston. We went to Scott Creek Beach one afternoon and played. It was beautiful, as it always is, overcast but warm and calm. There is a rushing river that meets the ocean there, and carves a shallow canal in the sand on its way across the beach, that was gorgeous. Julian had fun throwing pebbles in the stream and watching birds and waves. We found some lovely striped and speckled rocks, all polished from being turned over in the sand a billion times by the waves.

I took photos and videos with our new digital camera, but haven't figured out yet how to format the DVD inside so that I can then open it on my laptop and view/upload the pics. Soon.

We went on a lovely hike in San Pedro Valley near Pacifica last Saturday. Gorgeous green cliffs with waterfalls cascading down, it looked exactly like Kauai. It rained while we were hiking, but we were well-prepared with rain jackets and umbrellas, and it wasn't too muddy. Julian and Langston got down from their Ergos on a non-muddy section of trail and did some hiking, which they both greatly enjoyed. Julian is getting really good at hiking, he can go quite a distance now, even over rocks and uphill. Such a big boy!

Well, time to get this boy down for his nap and then do some work. I have a bunch of wraps to make for customers, and I want to make that cream cheese today, plus some kefir. Kefir is nasty when plain, but if you add some sugar it suddenly becomes delicious. Amazing stuff, that sugar. Yep.

I'm going to try a new spicy beef stew recipe today too. The weather is perfect for it, overcast and chilly. But spring is coming soon...I saw leaves starting to bud on our hike Sunday. Hooray! My absolute favorite season of the year.

January 24, 2006

About that cabbage pounding...

So I'm making sauerkraut because well, I like it, especially the Latino kind you get at taquerias, with carrots and chile flakes in it. Yum.

But also because I've been insprired by my new cookbook, Nourishing Traditions. Very interesting reading, and full of great recipes. It has really changed the way I look at food, and encouraged me to stop being lazy and make more of my own food...and I mean really MAKE it, not just buy some delectable but processed Trader Joe's stuff and slap it together.

I'm taking it with a grain of salt (I certainly won't be getting rid of my microwave anytime soon) but plenty of what Sally Fallon says makes perfect sense. It boils down to this...stop eating processed crap made from artificial ingredients, sick factory-farmed animals and chemical-intensive agriculture.

Eat organic, unprocessed foods that reflect the heritage of our human evolution. Enjoy eggs, drink milk, eat meat from grass-fed free-range animals, soak your grains overnight before eating for better digestion, and eat some fermented foods every day to replenish your healthy bacteria levels. Butter is good. Transfats and highly processed vegetable oils are bad. Eat like humans have eaten for thousands of years, except with the benefit of refrigeration and Whole Foods Markets.

So tonight I started some sauerkraut, yogurt, and gingered carrots a-fermenting. I've already made a pot of chicken broth from a whole organic chicken. Easy as pie, and now I have the chicken meat to use in another recipe. Most of them are not weird at all, just chicken casseroles and rice dishes and some tasty-sounding vegetable recipes. Kind of standard stuff. But none of it starts with processed foods or unhealthy ingredients. No "add a can of cream-of-mushroom soup" type instructions.

I've already saved money on my groceries, in spite of buying organic, Whole Foods-level stuff. A head of organic cabbage and a whole free-range chicken and a gallon of organic milk still cost much less and do more than prepackaged entrees that serve two people. So far, I like it. But moderation in all things. This is the way I've wanted to eat for a long time, but I'll still indulge in some packaged goodies too.

Mommy kiss, Mommy sun, Mommy's son.

Tonight I was pounding cabbage to make sauerkraut (hold on, I'll explain in a minute) and Julian was over on the far side of the living room making all kinds of fantastic noises. The couch blocked my view, so I couldn't see what he was doing, but the sound effects were great.

There was lots of "Oh MAN!" and something that sounded like "Dude!", accompanied by stomping and karate-chopping sounds, and some blocks were thrown across the room from time to time. Busy pounding my cabbage, and knowing that everything over there is fairly well childproofed (or at least replaceable) I didn't investigate. Besides, I was also busy singing "He's the Greatest Dancer" by Sister Sledge. Gotta love the 70's Hits station on Sirius.

Suddenly, loud wailing..."Owwwwiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeee!!!!!"
I'm not sure what actually happened, but I suspect that it involved a bad ending to jumping on the couch, or perhaps jumping *off* the couch.

Julian appeared around the corner of the counter with mouth in an O.
"Owiee! Kiss! Kiss! Mommy KISS!" and produced his foot for me, lifting it in front of him. His little toe was slightly red. Mouth was still in an O, wailing.

"Ouch! You hurt your toe! Here, let's kiss it and make it better."
Several kisses to the affected toe...and before I could even finish the last one he happily chirped, "OK!" and sped back to the far end of the living room again, miraculously cured. Ah, the wondrous powers of a Mommy Kiss.

He's been pointing to illustrations of the sun lately, smiley pointy-ray ones and realistic ball-of-fire ones alike and saying very precisely, "Mommy SUN. Mommy. SUN." I'm not sure what he means by it, but there's some association in his mind between me and the sun.

I like to think he means I am the center of his universe, around which his daily life revolves, but I think instead he's heard me say that he's my SON on a few occasions, and that's what he's referring to.

Still, it's cute. I ask him, "Is Mommy the SUN?" and he says "Yeah."

His affirmative answers have recently changed from a hysterical Mr. Burns-like "Yeeesssss" (hard to reproduce here, but imagine Mr. Burns from the Simpsons saying in his reptilian way, "Yessss....*ex*cellent....mmmm.") to the current "Yeah", which is softly stage-whispered on most occasions.

Both are quite funny, and really, I could use the laughs because we've all had brutal colds around here, 2nd-year molars are coming in, naps have been few and far between, and hard-won when they do arrive, usually involving freeway driving, or walking around making as little noise as possible while wearing an exhausted-yet-wired toddler on my back.

While Dan was away last week, Julian and I were both sick and crabby and not sleeping, and the weather was cold and rainy and gloomy. I walked to the mall and back twice with Julian on my back and Bugs on his leash, killing the twin birds of napping and dog-walking with one stone. I did give about a hundred mad-dog looks to every loud car, shrieking teenage girl pack and one poor old friendly guy at Longs who asked me in a loud voice if that was a sleeping boy on my back (my response: "Yes. SHHHHHHH!!!!!!!")

Thank god for that freakin' Ergo, it saved my sanity over and over again last week, making about 17,366 times so far since I've had it. Worth its weight in GOLD.

Dan returned just in time for the low point, when Julian's nose suddenly started spouting watery snot like twin faucets, and ran SO much that he could not lie down to sleep without immediately starting to choke and drown in his own mucus, which of course was scary and made him burst out screaming and crying about every 25 minutes all night long. I ended up sleeping on the couch almost bolt-upright at 5:00am, clutching him in an upright position with my head propped up by pillows. No amount of wedge pillows in bed were doing the trick. I would have given my little finger for a Lazy Boy recliner at that point.

The next day you'd better believe I went to Long's and got about 4-5 different kinds of infant cold medicine, plus a humidifier. It did help, but was still rough going.

We're better now, cold-wise. Dan came to my rescue by calling our old housecleaner over to get things spic-and-span, and by reserving 3 restorative nights at the Carmel Valley Ranch for his poor bedraggled family, right before Julian's 2nd birthday.

Mmmmmm, delicious food... cooked by someone else. Lovely surroundings, cleaned and maintained and organized by someone else. A big fat hot tub to soak my tired bones in, looking over the Carmel Valley. Thirty-three acres of hiking trails. Playing tennis. Getting a massage. Walking on the beach. Lots of naps where I don't have to get the boy down so I can accomplish a zillion tardy tasks, but instead I can lay down WITH him and catch a few zzzzzs myself.. Best of all... no plane travel required, just a scenic and SHORT drive.

Thank you, loving husband! Mommy's sun is going to shine. And happy birthday get parents who aren't stressed and distracted by a million work and household tasks and can play with you and enjoy each other and rest. You already have a bike and a train. Relaxed and refreshed parents spending time with you...what more could a busy toddler ask for, really?

January 22, 2006

Happy Birthday Dolly

I love Dolly Parton. I'm no fan of country music in general, but she's such a real crossover talent and so salt-of-the-earth, you can't help but like her. Anyway, she just turned 60 last Thursday, and I liked Rebecca Traister's birthday tribute to her, it's a great list of all the reasons why I'm a Dolly fan too. Here it is:

Thank you for writing over 3,000 songs. Literally. Thank you for "Little Sparrow," an album that Broadsheeter Lynn Harris writes "got me through the worst. time. in. my. life." Thank you for creating an eagle preserve at Dollywood. Thank you for "Coat of Many Colors," which makes my friend Heather cry, even if she's in the middle of getting lunch at a salad bar or getting her nails done or shopping at Target. It's really one of the strongest Pavlovian reactions I've ever witnessed.

Thank you for your endless cheesy boob jokes. Thank you for "Steel Magnolias." Thank you for taking Jane Fonda on a bus trip through Appalachia and making her catch and eat a possum so she could write about it in her autobiography. Thank you for the Imagination Library, which gives kids new books every month until they are 5. Thank you for being a crypto-liberal. Thank you from Salon's Andrew Leonard for your cover of "Stairway to Heaven." Thank you for being a gay icon who has never felt the need to deny rumors of lesbianism.

Thank you for "Islands in the Stream." Thank you for being relentlessly honest about the amount of plastic surgery you've had. Thank you for writing one of the best feminist anthems of all time, "9 to 5." Thank you for marrying a man who never wanted to be any part of celebrity life, and then staying married to him for four decades and never once dragging him into the spotlight. Thank you for crediting Norah Jones with giving you the idea to start playing "The Grass Is Blue" on the piano. Thank you for writing a love song -- "I Will Always Love You" -- about your professional mentor, Porter Wagoner. Thank you, as Shakespeare's Sister points out, for having appeared on the cover of Out magazine and for supporting gay marriage.

Thank you for admitting that you modeled your personal style on the town prostitute you used to see as a child. Thank you for producing "Common Threads," the 1989 documentary about the AIDS quilt. Thank you for playing Dora Lee in "9 to 5." Thank you for keeping rhinestone manufacturers in business. Thank you for repeating the line "It costs money to look this cheap" at every possible opportunity. Thank you for being honest about your age.

Thank you for putting your nieces and nephews through college. Thank you for declining Jane magazine's invitation to participate in a feature on "Natural Beauties" by sending a letter explaining that you are "definitely not a natural beauty and would not want to be photographed as one." Thank you for laughing off the assumption that you are a dumb blond by telling people that you are neither dumb nor blond. Thank you for, as Salon's Katharine Mieszkowski's friend Noadiah says, showing "absolute admiration for Jolene, the woman who is stealing [your] man. [You] couldn't even say a discouraging word about her. [You're] very pro-woman." Thank you for sending flowers to the roller-coaster operator at Dollywood whose cousin was sick, and who told Noadiah about it when she went there. Thank you for collaborations with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris on the Trio albums. Thank you for continuing to tour.

Happy birthday, Dolly.

January 16, 2006

Three weeks to a new habit

I am doing online traffic school right now and just read this interesting tidbit:

Behavior experts say that it takes about three weeks of making conscious choices to develop a new habit.

So if you can force yourself to do some worthwhile action or activity for three weeks, chances are that it will be simple routine for you by the end of that time.

Likeiwse, if you continue doing something bad or unhealthy or unkind for more than three weeks, it could ALSO become habit.

Hmmm...useful knowledge, that. Makes me more aware of what I do on a daily basis.

Goodnight Sweet Prince

Dan is away on a business trip. We're sad. He has been the Primary Bedtime Parent for the past two weeks or so, since I have suddenly lost all skills in this department and can't get Julian to sleep for *anything* lately. He specifically asks for "Daddy rocking" now at bedtime, and discards me like a dirty shirt after I put his PJs on and kiss him goodnight.

Fine by me really, because now I get to do exciting things with my newfound free time in the shower and squeeze blackheads from my nose. Hooray!

Well, last night I was making Caribbean Rice and Bean Stew to tide us over for meals while Dan is gone, and then I had to clean up the kitchen afterwards, so we didn't go to bed until late. Yes, actually going to bed with Julian is my only (sometimes) working method of getting him to sleep right now. I lay down, he lays down. We're not nursing to sleep anymore, so I sing him a song and sometimes he just drifts off. Other times it's not so easy.

Last night I sang three rounds of all four rousing choruses of "She'll be coming 'round the mountain", except I sing it like a medieval chant, veeeeerrrry slow and plodding. Don't ask me why I sing THAT song, it just came to mind, and for some reason I knew the words.

My other nighttime hits include "Kumbaya", Brahms' Lullaby ( to which I have completely made up words, because I don't know anything but the melody and "Lullaby and good night.." but I don't even sing those words. That IS Brahms' Lullaby, right? Maybe I don't even know the title.

What else do I know? Um, I tried singing "Penny Lane" once, because I know the lyrics to a lot of Beatles' songs. Too peppy, even when slowed way down.

If any of you have other lullaby suggestions, tell me about it, because I'm fresh out of ideas when I'm laying there exhausted in the dark, and a little voice is piping up next to me, "Mommy, sing."

So last night I did all the choruses several times, and then I was just too tired to continue, so I told Juji, "Mommy is very VERY tired and can't sing anymore. Time for sleeping. I love you very much Sweetest Boy.", gave him a big kiss, and plopped back on my pillow.

He laid there for a minute, then I felt his presence and opened my eyes to find his little face hovering over mine in the dark.

"Bye-bye Mommy." He planted a wet kiss on me and laid back down on his pillow. Cute, right?

A minute later, same thing. Still cute.

Twenty times later, NOT CUTE ANYMORE. OK, still cute, but you know what I mean. Get some sleep already, for cryin' out loud!

So I completely ignored him. I tried to make it like kissing a dead piece of wood or something. Silent, unmoving. After a few minutes of Most Boring Mommy in the World, he finally went to sleep.

Or I did, I'm not sure.

January 15, 2006

While we're talking poop...

Dan left on a business trip this morning, early. I was sleeping with Julian in his bedroom and heard Dan bustling around in the kitchen, so I woke Julian up to say goodbye.

Julian opened his eyes, sat up, and gave me a big smile, which then turned into a frown.
"Poopoo ass!"

Huh, what? Did my baby just say 'poopoo ass'?

I raced through the logical possibilities of this. "Poopoo", old favorite. But "ass"? He wouldn't know that word.

Just then he rubbed his eyes and repeated, more clearly this time, "Poopoo EYES".

Aha! In the bath I have been getting Julian to let me clean his ears by asking him, "Is there any poopoo in there?" Since he has the World's Waxiest Ears, a washcloth swabbed around in his ear invariably produces a little to a lot of bright orange earwax (what's up with that color, anyways?), which I then show to him while yelling excitedly, "WOW! POOPOO IN YOUR EARS!" and we both scream with excited glee.

Yes, this routine is a little crazy, but we both enjoy it, and his ears no longer visibly leak orange goop.

Well, I guess he has decided that morning eye crust must be "poopoo" too. Talk about putting two and two together. The kid's obviously a genius. And I'm so relieved that I woke up to "poopoo eyes" and not "poopoo ass"!

Happier than a Pig in Poop

Notable Quote of the Day:
Niki Yan (aka Niki Cruise), crazy Chinese woman obsessed with Tom Cruise.

My grandma got a bunch pigs running around on her backyard. I totally remember that, cause I even rode a pig one time to practice my horse-riding. Pigs are really useful, they are my grandma’s best friends. We had no toilet paper, so we had to use the tree leaves or dye mud cube to wipe the ass. Sometime, when we’re really bored, I mean if no leaves, or mud, we just let the pig lick instead, that way, we saved the natural resource and did something good for the universe, also a good favor for the pigs. We got our ass wiped and they got what they want, mutual benefit indeed.

I was not so sure the situation here, so when I moved to the US, I brought two luggage of Toilet papers. Well, I was about to bring a pig with me, but he is afraid of height, so I had to leave him at home. I am sure you guys have pigs, but American pigs are probably more aggressive. So fuck it.

Unfortunately I never got a chance to use the cheap toilet papers I brought from China, instead, I fall in love with a Super Star.

Whoa Niki! Do we really need to know that you and your family lets PIGS lick the poop off you asses back home?

On second thought, it's no more embarrassing than admitting publicly that you love Tom Cruise and want to have ten babies with him. Yeccchhhh.

January 10, 2006

Beach Babies

Here's an interesting article combining a few of my interests: adventure travel, South Seas islands, parenting, and dealing with as few crappy diapers as possible.

It's written by a woman who raised two children on a black pearl farm on a tiny remote atoll in French Polynesia for five years. After attempting both disposable diapers and cloth diapers, and finding neither workable in a place with little fresh water and burning as the only method of trash removal, she turns guessed it: letting the kids run around bare-bottomed, just like the native babies do.

Hey Angela...does this story remind you of anything? ;-)
(For readers who *aren't* Angela, she lives on St. Martin in the Caribbean, and had a similar experience with her beach babes, who potty-trained very early. That's her in the pic, with a bare-bottomed baby!)

Lots of other good escapist travel reading on that site, perfect for short winter days stuck in the house...

January 09, 2006

The Evil Onion

So I've been doing the wheat-free thing for several days now.

I haven't really noticed any major changes in the wheat vs. non-wheat by *itself*, but I have lost some accumulated holiday poundage and tumnmy bloat from not automatically reaching for morning toast, midday crackers, evening cookies, etc.

The attention I've been paying to my diet has definitely paid off though. After a meal of pork with a sauce of figs and carmelized onions I had a sudden resurgence of Angry Bunghole aka "Burning Ring of Fire". My head itched like CRAZY too. I could not stop scratching it, it was like I had
poison oak all over my scalp. Intolerable. But thinking back, when I had chicken pox at age 30, that appeared on my scalp first too. So it's not too crazy an idea.

No more onions after that. My bum's been slowly recovering, and my head doesn't itch any more. Overall, rashiness is subsiding.

I think, rather than any wheat or dairy or whatever allergy, that I just have sensitive skin *all over* my body, inside and out, and anything that tends to generally be an irritant to my outside, sets my insides aflame too.

The list so far includes citrus and other acidic fruits, coffee, hot peppers, and now onions and garlic. It makes sense. I wouldn't rub any of those foods on my face without expecting stinging or watering eyes or rashiness, why should I expect to ingest them without effect?

I'm not certain about any of this yet, but that's my hunch so far. I'll test it out more thoroughly in the weeks to come. In the meantime, I gave away all my onions and garlic on Freecycle. Leeks, I forgot the leeks. Dang. I LOVE leeks.

The other big factor that makes me suspect onion-ish things is Massive Onion Odor. If a normal person eats some onions or garlic, they stink for a few hours. If I eat onions or garlic, every pore of my being and every drop of bodily fluid reeks *profusely* for at least 2-3 days afterwards. Dan teases me about it frequently. That just doesn't seem normal, at lest it clues me in that I might not be too far off-case in thinking that I have a sensitivity of some sort. Not that I WANT one, let's just get that clear right now.

A random link I followed online clued me in that extra-virgin olive oil might be a problem for me too. Someone was talking about how both onions and EV olive oil cause them to rash out. Well, I always get EV olive oil, the greener and more pungent the better, because of the supposed health benefits, right? Although sometimes it can be definitely "spicy".

An olive oil expert says:
Spiciness "...comes from the polyphenols in the oil, present at higher levels when the oil is fresh. They're the healthful antioxidants in olive oil, and they also keep the oil form oxidizing and becoming rancid.

In offical olive oil tasting parlance, this 'flavor' is called pungency. I say 'flavor' because it is actually a chemical irritant, similar to the capsascin burn of chiles. While pungency is desirable, it must be balanced with fruitiness and bitterness, the other two of the big three in olive oil

Since neither 'pungent' nor 'chemical irritant' resonate as marketing concepts, we often resort the euphemism 'peppery.'"
Interesting! So I think I've basically been irritating the hell out of my system for many years now, thinking that I'm eating healthy. I mean, it IS healthy food, just maybe too irritating for me.

Huh. More research is needed, as all good research articles say at the close.

I'm digging wheat-free primarily because it's totally gotten me out of my food rut and back into Cooking as Adventure again.

Quinoa Sour Cream Fudge project with Julian last night after he resolutely refused to sleep.

They taste a *leetle* bit weird, but still chocolatey and tasty.

And tomorrow I'm making Injera, those Ethiopian pancakes made of teff, the World's Smallest Grain. Pretty easy, you just toss it in a bowl with warm water and let it ferment for a day or two, then pour it on a griddle and cook it. Yum. I love injera. I hope it turns out.

A Good Friend

So Julian (or Juji, as he calls himself) is having another developmental burst. Just yesterday he said at least ten new words that he had never used before, started singing "E-I-E-I-O" full-bore with the verses in the right places, and even pointed out the number three to me.

Don't ask me what the new words were, because I've forgotten already. That's the whole *point* of this journal, because I most likely won't remember details of any of this stuff next month unless I write it down. I have a brain like a sieve, people. Sharp as a tack, but still a sieve.

I'm very proud of him, not just because he's smart, but because Juji is a very good friend. We were at the park last week with Finn (3 months older) and his mama Laura. Julian wanted a snack, so I brought out some sliced apples. Julian started to take one, then he thought about it and said to me "Finn apple". Finn was currently in a time-out for poking Juji pretty hard with his shovel, but I told Juji he could go offer Finn an apple slice, which he did. Every time after that when J took an apple slice for himself, he also offered one to Finn. I just about burst with pride.

Juji is also thoughtful towards Bugs. He was sitting in his highchair the other morning, eating some Trader Joe's Os. Suddenly he called to me, "Mommy! MOOOOOMMMMYYYYYY!"

"Yes, what is it?" said I, slightly rattled by the ear-piercing shriek.

"Puppy and-a DRINK!" with wild gesticulating to the dog water bowl on the floor near his high chair. And indeed, Bugs' water bowl was almost empty.
"Oh, Puppy needs a drink?"

Last night he informed me that Puppy wanted to go outside to pee.
"MOMMY! Door UP and-a doggie peepee!"
which translates as "Open the door, the dog wants to go outside and go pee".

Nailed it again. Bugs was waiting by the door to go out. Juji only asked me to help after he had been mightily struggling to open the door himself for a minute or two.

I opened the door for Bugs and told Julian, "Thank you for telling me about Puppy!" and he busted right back with "Welcome!"

There, see? I DID remember one of the new words from yesterday! Sigh...everything's still in my head, but retrieval on command can be a problem. It all comes out if triggered properly though. ;-)

I've started a new strategy, which is to put away any toy that Julian hasn't played with for a week or more. Then when I take it out a month or so later, it's as good as new and he's all over it. I'm trying to only have less than ten toys out at any given time, so right now he has his train set, several balls, a bat, a wooden puzzle, his tricycle, a wooden flute, a drum, and several trucks. That's pretty much it. Then there's a small woven basket in the corner where I keep the little tiny toys like plastic dinosaurs and pencils and magnets.

He gets overwhelmed when too many toys are out and just throws them around instead of playing with them. Plus it's a nightmare to try to keep picked up. So my new strategy works great on all counts. He gets "new" toys every week, and keeping the living room de-cluttered is a breeze.

So last week I was picking up Julian's toys and putting them away. He came out and saw me picking up his toys. I put the last ball back in the woven basket and said, "There, now your play corner is all clean!" He looked around carefully, then looked back at me, smiled, and flashed me the sign language for "Thank you!" That one was so sweet it brought tears to my eyes.

I'm not one of those moms who INSISTS on nonstop pleases and thanks yous. I remind him when I remember, but it's not 100%, and if he doesn't do it within a minute or so, I don't insist. I mostly try to just model polite behavior and treat *him* courteously, saying "please" and "thank you" when I interact with him.

Dan and I are working on saying "please" and thank you" to each other more consistently too, which is a good thing. We had fallen into the habit of saying, "Hey, turn that off" or "Give me that plate" to one another. No frills. But now we're more aware, and it does make a difference when you speak to one other courteously. Manners are the grease that makes the wheel of society turn smoothly.

With all this sweet behavior going on, I have stopped worrying that Julian can't read off his letters and numbers like Leta already. But then again, I guess she is still having walking issues and J's been not only running, but skipping and dancing and galloping for ages now, so all kids move at their own pace and have different abilities, and it's all OK.

I actually had two different moms at the park this morning comment on Julian's ability to string words together in proto-sentences already, when their same-age kids aren't saying much of anything at all. I usually respond to that stuff by saying that Einstein didn't speak until age three, and look how he turned out. But I just read that Einstein's supposed learning disability is just a fable, so I guess I won't be saying that anymore.

I suppose something like, "All kids move at their own pace and have different abilities" would be fine. That sounds better than "Yeah my boy totally ROCKS! He's a freakin GENIUS! And NICE too!"

Toxic Teflon - Nonstick Will Make You Sick

I've been following the story on DuPont and the findings that the chemical used to make Teflon (C8) is causing all sorts of health problems, is found in the bloodstream of pretty much everyone in the US, including in the umbilical cord blood of unborn babies, has been shown to be toxic in animal studies, and has a half-life of thousands of years. 3M phased out production of C8 in 2000. DuPont recently paid a record multi-million dollar settlement on this issue, but it's still not appearing in the media,and their Teflon-coated items are still in stores.

I've been following the story in bits and pieces as it's come out, and I've been exclusively using my cast iron and ceramic-coated pans ever since.

NPR had a big story on this yesterday, and so I've decided to get rid of ALL my Teflon non-stick cookware once and for all. I don't even want it in my house.

I don't eat microwave popcorn, or fast food (it's in lots of processed food packaging), I only own one pair of stain-resistant pants, and our house is fairly carpet-free (except for the master bedroom), so hopefully our exposure is minimal now. But I cooked daily on Teflon-coated pans for YEARS. I did definitely notice noxious odors coming off them when cooking at high temperatures.

Apparently thousands of pet birds have been killed by those same Teflon off-gases after being exposed to them through hot cooking pans, or carpet installation, or Scotchgarding (aka fabric "Teflon-izing") applications. They are more sensitive to the toxic by-products than we are, but it's a literal "canary in the coal mine" situation.

I was feeling conflicted about throwing so much cookware in the trash, so I sent out a Freecycle email stating the health risks and offering it to anyone who didn't care. I got tons of responses! Some were from people who just said, "I don't care, I need cookware." Which is frankly sad. Others said that they lived alone, and so at least they would be the only ones exposed...or that they were already smokers, so Teflon exposure couldn't be any worse than that. One guy wrote that he had no pans at home to cook with, so if he could cook his own food it would be healthier than eating fast-food all the time, and that had to be a health benefit that would offset Teflon exposure. Can't really argue with that, but about investing in some cheap second-hand NON-Teflon pans at the Goodwill or something?

A few people thanked me for the info and vowed to get rid of their Teflon-coated pans too. But overwhelmingly, people just wanted to take my toxic pans and use them. I don't know how I feel about that. Maybe they'd just be better off in a landfill. Gah.

I've been surprised by my cast-iron pans. I've had two of them for ages, a small frying pan and a large one. Now that I use them almost daily, they've become properly seasoned, and they are incredibly easy to clean. They are more non-stick than my Teflon pans ever were. I really love them. As long as I remember to spray a little oil on them after cleaning and wipe with a paper towel, they stay perfectly seasoned. They'll last forever too. Half my Teflon pans are scratched up (nice to know we've been EATING that scratched-off Teflon this whole time) and the handles are coming off most cases I've had those pans for only about five years) Cast iron, on the other hand, will last for a hundred years if properly cared for.

My mom bought me some nice stainless-steel Farberware pans a long time ago (thanks Mom!), and those are still in perfect condition as well. They aren't very non-stick, but they last and last and don't react with anything. My grandmother still has her All-Clad stainless-steel pans from a zillion years ago. Perfect condition. So again, the lesson something that will last, even if it's more expensive up front. You will always save money, time and resources in the long run. Buy one good cast-iron or enameled pan instead of five cheap aluminum pans.

I got a set of Le Creuset enameled cast-iron cookware off eBay a long time ago and it's still in perfect condition. It's normally PAINFULLY expensive, but there's a Canadian store named Caplan-Duval that sells Le Creuset online at bargain prices. That was where I got mine, through one of their eBay auctions. I got a 5-piece set (including two large kettles, two medium saucepans and a frying pan) for the same price as the regular cost of one large Dutch Oven.

Anyway, there are plenty of good alternatives. If you have non-stick cookware, get rid of it. If you eat processed food that is meant to be microwaved in the package, don't. If you have stain-resistant khakis, get rid of them. I can't tell you to lose your carpets, that's not so easy. But if you have the choice between carpet and wood or laminate floors, go for the bare floors and use throw rugs. Think before you apply ANY chemical to your environment that hasn't been around in constant use for hundreds of years. Salt is good. Baking soda is good. Vinegar works great. Perfluorinated compounds? Parabens? Think twice.

Oh sweet, I also just read that heated Teflon gas by-products may also be as destructive to the ozone layer as CFCs. Nice.

January 02, 2006

Why I'm Happy I Evolved

January 1, 2006
Op-Ed Contributor - New York Times
Why I'm Happy I Evolved


IF chimpanzees observed New Year's Day, they would have much to reflect on. In 2005, they joined humans, chickens and mosquitoes, as well as less famous occupants of the planet, on an exclusive but growing list: organisms whose complete genomes have been sequenced.

What would they make of this news, I wonder? Perhaps they would resent the genetic evidence that they are related to us. Or perhaps they would, as I do, revel in being part of the immensity of nature and a product of evolution, the same process that gave rise to dinosaurs, bread molds and myriad organisms too wacky to invent.

Organisms like the sea slug Elysia chlorotica. This animal not only looks like a leaf, but it also acts like one, making energy from the sun. Its secret? When it eats algae, it extracts the chloroplasts, the tiny entities that plants and algae use to manufacture energy from sunlight, and shunts them into special cells beneath its skin. The chloroplasts continue to function; the slug thus becomes able to live on a diet composed only of sunbeams.

Still more fabulous is the bacterium Brocadia anammoxidans. It blithely makes a substance that to most organisms is a lethal poison - namely, hydrazine. That's rocket fuel.

And then there's the wasp Coesia congregata. She injects her eggs into the bodies of caterpillars. As she does so, she also injects a virus that disables the caterpillar's immune system and prevents it from attacking the eggs. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the caterpillar alive.

It's hard not to have an insatiable interest in organisms like these, to be enthralled by the strangeness, the complexity, the breathtaking variety of nature.

Just think: the Indus River dolphin doesn't sleep as you or I do, or indeed as most mammals, for several hours at once. Instead, it takes microsleeps, naps that last for a few seconds, like a driver dozing at the wheel.

Or consider this: a few days after its conception, a pig embryo has become a filament that is about a yard long.

Or: the single-celled parasite that causes malaria is descended from algae. We know this because it carries within itself the remnants of a chloroplast.

It's not that I have a fetish for obscure facts. It's that small facts add up to big pictures. For although Mother Nature's infinite variety seems incomprehensible at first, it is not. The forces of nature are not random; often, they are strongly predictable.

For example, if you were to discover a new species and you told me that the male is much bigger than the female, I would tell you what the mating system is likely to be: males fight each other for access to females. Or if you discover that the male's testicles make up a large part of his weight, I can tell you that the females in his species consort with several males at a time.

Suppose you find that a particular bacterium lives exclusively in the gullets of leeches and helps them digest blood. Then I can tell you how that bacterium's genome is likely to differ from those of its free-living cousins; among other changes, the genome will be smaller, and it will have lost sets of genes that are helpful for living free but useless for living inside another being.

Because a cell is a kind of factory that produces proteins, and because proteins can have a variety of components, some of which are cheaper to synthesize than others, you might expect that proteins that are mass produced are made from cheaper components than proteins that are constructed only occasionally. And you'd be right.

The patterns are everywhere. Mammals that feed on ants and termites have typically evolved long, thin noses and long, sticky tongues. A virus that is generally passed from mother to child will tend to make its host less sick than one that readily jumps from one host to another via a cough or a sneeze.

When I was in school, I learned none of this. Biology was a subject that seemed as exciting as a clump of cotton wool. It was a dreary exercise in the memorization and regurgitation of apparently unconnected facts. Only later did I learn about evolution and how it transforms biology from that mass of cotton wool into a magnificent tapestry, a tapestry we can contemplate and begin to understand.

Some people want to think of humans as the product of a special creation, separate from other living things. I am not among them; I am glad it is not so. I am proud to be part of the riot of nature, to know that the same forces that produced me also produced bees, giant ferns and microbes that live at the bottom of the sea.

For me, the knowledge that we evolved is a source of solace and hope. I find it a relief that plagues and cancers and wasp larvae that eat caterpillars alive are the result of the impartial - and comprehensible - forces of evolution rather than the caprices of a deity.

More than that, I find that in viewing ourselves as one species out of hundreds of millions, we become more remarkable, not less so. No other animal that I have heard of can live so peaceably in such close quarters with so many individuals that are unrelated. No other animal routinely bothers to help the sick and the dying, or tries to save those hurt in an earthquake or flood.

Which is not to say that we are all we might wish to be. But in putting ourselves into our place in nature, in comparing ourselves with other species, we have a real hope of reaching a better understanding, and appreciation, of ourselves.

Olivia Judson is an evolutionary biologist at Imperial College in London.

El Mar

This is a poem that I wrote in my first semester of college. It's a bit dorky, but I kind of like it.


Last night
storm winds hurled
giant slippery waves
and black rain
at the sand.
The noise was tremendous

All night
I listened to them
leaping like tigers
onto the cocoa sand
snatching mouthfuls,
carving cliffs & caves
shattering tiny grains of glass.

This morning
I sit on a deep brown cliff
with kelp balloons
and watch the acrobats
translucent turquoise
coke-bottle green
somersaulting over each other
to reach the beach.

I count the seventh.
It swiftly climbs the cliff wall,
and bubbles crisply over the top
like iced champagne
on my feet.

January 01, 2006

Happy New Year 2006!

We're having a huge storm here this morning. The trees are groaning and shaking and the bamboo is blowing completely sideways. I planted two redwood trees out by the street a few days ago, I hope they are doing OK. It's a nice day to stay inside cozy by the fire and relax, maybe make some Black-eyed Pea Soup with Ham.

Last night we went to a party up in San Francisco thrown by my friend/bridesmaid Brad Noble. He lives in Manhattan now, but comes back to San Francisco for the holidays every year. He has a friend, Mark, who started a company and sold it right at the peak of the tech boom. He cashed out at EXACTLY the right time. More power to him. Anyway, he bought a lovely house on Twim Peaks with a beautiful view of the city. It's something straight out of Dwell Magazine. That's where the party was held.

It was nice to see Brad, and Baby Chic was there too, and a bunch of other people who I remembered from the old wild days in SF. Brad's ex-boyfriend John was there, mixing up Cosmopolitans, and we dished and had a cocktail and watched the fireworks over the Bay at midnight, which very much impressed Julian.

Julian was a big hit, by the way. Everyone was fawning over him, and he was so good and polite and sweet and friendly. He stayed on my back in his Ergo most of the time, with a few forays down onto the floor to pet the cute Jack Russell terrier who lived there (and who would NOT stop jumping up on my new snake tattoo tights)! He took a nap in the car on the way up, so he was pretty fresh when we got there, but he stayed sweet and social all the way up until 1:30am, when we finally left. The party was winding down, Brad was in the hot tub, the stragglers were getting sloppy-drunk, and I was pooped. Waaaaay past my bedtime. We all slept late this morning.

OK, time to go make my famous whole-wheat pancakes for breakfast, and get that bean and ham soup going too.

Wow, after the intense storm we just had, right now there is not even a breath of air stirring. It's like we're in the eye of a hurricane or something. Bizarre.

Here's to health and happiness in 2006!

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