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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recent posts
Engineering Hens and the Big Dig

Bush is not incompetent

99 inside

Desecrations of the 70s

103 degrees

Crab Station revisited

Chicken milk

Where's my $134,121 paycheck?

Tortilla Espanola & Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus

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July 29, 2006

Engineering Hens and the Big Dig

Happy Hens, originally uploaded by mslaura.

Whoever said that chickens are stupid has obviously not lived with *our* chickens.

We have had quite the saga recently with the girls. First they were totally free-range in the backyard, but over time they discovered their "chicken-hood" and were less and less the fearful, beaten-down factory farm critters that arrived in a box by mail a few months ago.

Being a real chicken means that you run around and scratch in the dirt. You look for bugs and worms and tasty sprouts and you eat them. It's fun to be a chicken, apparently. Our hens were having an absolutely blast.

We'd walk outside and they would run over at lightning speed for a pet and a scratch and a kiss, all fluffy, with dirt-covered beaks and claws from all the digging they were doing.

The digging, however, did not go over well with those of us who were trying to keep the backyard in some sort of presentable state. So we built a big run on the lawn, to fence them in and keep them away from the patches of dirt and mulch that they were scratching in and tossing all over.

But the wily chicks discovered that under grass there is....DIRT! So if you scratch at the grass enough, you will eventually get a nice patch of dirt that is cool and fun to dig in.

Oh, the poor lawn. Dan was so not happy. He is, well, obsessed with lawn perfection these days, so the hens' work was pissing him off mightily. He told me they had to go, and I said no, I would find a solution. What solution, I don't know, but I'll find one.

After an hour or so in the hammock, waiting for inspiration, I hit upon the perfect solution. The hens loved to scratch in a moist, bushy area under a huge sycamore tree in our backyard. It's a square area, with fence behind it on two sides. There are only a few tropical bushes, one lone black bamboo, and then the sycamore tree, surrounded by river rocks.

We don't really care about this area, it just kind of takes care of itself. It's not like we sit there, or walk there, it's just a corner of the yard. But it's pretty centrally located, right next to the BBQ and our patio table.

No grass to mess up, no flowers to destroy. Nice and cool and shady. Lots of dirt to scratch in. Spiders and bugs galore.

Perfect! So I rigged up a temporary pen for them, put their Eglu inside, and so far it has worked out great. Dan is happy, the hens are happy, I'm happy.

Except that...the wily hens can get out if they really, really want to. Twice they have tunneled out under the chicken wire fence. Tunneled out! I solved that problem by placing big river rocks all around the perimeter of the bottom of the chicken wire, and they can't dig underneath river rocks, so that seems to be working.

But the chicken wire is too low. They are somehow fluttering over the top of it. I'm not sure how, they only do it when we're not looking, and only in the morning. Their wings are clipped, so they must be jumping, or climbing...I can't figure it out.

I need to go get some 2x4s and actually build a pen that is high enough to keep them in. Right now I just have chicken wire stapled to the fence, and at the open corner it's wired to a post to hold it upright. Pretty flimsy, and obviously not secure.

Sigh, and I need to do this construction project before we leave on vacation Monday, because I don't want our neighbor boys to have to corral escaped chickens when they come over to collect eggs and check their food and water.

It's easy enough, but it takes me a while to do these little projects, and I have a million other things to do before we leave. It's hard being Mom AND Handywoman around here.

July 26, 2006

Bush is not incompetent

I was listening to "Forum" on NPR this morning, and George Lakoff was on. He's the author of "Don't Think of an Elephant," which I have been meaning to read, but haven't gotten around to yet.

He was brilliant and his ideas were fascinating. His focus is the "framing" of topics, and how linguistically the neocons have been able to come so far so fast, whereas the Democrats have just been floundering around incompetently. Why has this happened? How has this happened? What can be done?

Here is one article that struck me immediately. It's so dead on. Hits the nail right on the head. It's a bit lengthy, but interesting reading, and very worthwhile. Sheds a whole new light on political discussion!
Bush Is Not Incompetent

by George Lakoff, Sam Ferguson, Marc Ettlinger
(c)The Rockridge Institute, 2006 (We invite the free distribution of this piece)

Progressives have fallen into a trap. Emboldened by President Bush’s plummeting approval ratings, progressives increasingly point to Bush’s “failures” and label him and his administration as incompetent. Self-satisfying as this criticism may be, it misses the bigger point. Bush’s disasters — Katrina, the Iraq War, the budget deficit — are not so much a testament to his incompetence or a failure of execution. Rather, they are the natural, even inevitable result of his conservative governing philosophy. It is conservatism itself, carried out according to plan, that is at fault.

Progressives have fallen into a trap. Emboldened by President Bush’s plummeting approval ratings, progressives increasingly point to Bush's "failures" and label him and his administration as incompetent. For example, Nancy Pelosi said “The situation in Iraq and the reckless economic policies in the United States speak to one issue for me, and that is the competence of our leader." Self-satisfying as this criticism may be, it misses the bigger point. Bush’s disasters — Katrina, the Iraq War, the budget deficit — are not so much a testament to his incompetence or a failure of execution. Rather, they are the natural, even inevitable result of his conservative governing philosophy. It is conservatism itself, carried out according to plan, that is at fault. Bush will not be running again, but other conservatives will. His governing philosophy is theirs as well. We should be putting the onus where it belongs, on all conservative office holders and candidates who would lead us off the same cliff.

To Bush’s base, his bumbling folksiness is part of his charm — it fosters conservative populism. Bush plays up this image by proudly stating his lack of interest in reading and current events, his fondness for naps and vacations and his self-deprecating jokes. This image causes the opposition to underestimate his capacities — disregarding him as a complete idiot — and deflects criticism of his conservative allies. If incompetence is the problem, it’s all about Bush. But, if conservatism is the problem, it is about a set of ideas, a movement and its many adherents.

The idea that Bush is incompetent is a curious one. Consider the following (incomplete) list of major initiatives the Bush administration, with a loyal conservative Congress, has accomplished:

* Centralizing power within the executive branch to an unprecedented degree
* Starting two major wars, one started with questionable intelligence and in a manner with which the military disagreed
* Placing on the Supreme Court two far-right justices, and stacking the lower federal courts with many more
* Cutting taxes during wartime, an unprecedented event
* Passing a number of controversial bills such as the PATRIOT Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, the Medicare Drug bill, the Bankruptcy bill and a number of massive tax cuts
* Rolling back and refusing to enforce a host of basic regulatory protections
* Appointing industry officials to oversee regulatory agencies
* Establishing a greater role for religion through faith-based initiatives
* Passing Orwellian-titled legislation assaulting the environment — “The Healthy Forests Act” and the “Clear Skies Initiative” — to deforest public lands, and put more pollution in our skies
* Winning re-election and solidifying his party’s grip on Congress

These aren’t signs of incompetence. As should be painfully clear, the Bush administration has been overwhelmingly competent in advancing its conservative vision. It has been all too effective in achieving its goals by determinedly pursuing a conservative philosophy.

It’s not Bush the man who has been so harmful, it’s the conservative agenda.

The Conservative Agenda

Conservative philosophy has three fundamental tenets: individual initiative, that is, government’s positive role in people’s lives outside of the military and police should be minimized; the President is the moral authority; and free markets are enough to foster freedom and opportunity.

The conservative vision for government is to shrink it – to “starve the beast” in Conservative Grover Norquist’s words. The conservative tagline for this rationale is that “you can spend your money better than the government can.” Social programs are considered unnecessary or “discretionary” since the primary role of government is to defend the country’s border and police its interior. Stewardship of the commons, such as allocation of healthcare or energy policy, is left to people’s own initiative within the free market. Where profits cannot be made — conservation, healthcare for the poor — charity is meant to replace justice and the government should not be involved.

Given this philosophy, then, is it any wonder that the government wasn’t there for the residents of Louisiana and Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina? Conservative philosophy places emphasis on the individual acting alone, independent of anything the government could provide. Some conservative Sunday morning talk show guests suggested that those who chose to live in New Orleans accepted the risk of a devastating hurricane, the implication being that they thus forfeited any entitlement to government assistance. If the people of New Orleans suffered, it was because of their own actions, their own choices and their own lack of preparedness. Bush couldn’t have failed if he bore no responsibility.

The response to Hurricane Katrina — rather, the lack of response — was what one should expect from a philosophy that espouses that the government can have no positive role in its citizen’s lives. This response was not about Bush’s incompetence, it was a conservative, shrink-government response to a natural disaster.

Another failure of this administration during the Katrina fiasco was its wholesale disregard of the numerous and serious hurricane warnings. But this failure was a natural outgrowth of the conservative insistence on denying the validity of global warming, not ineptitude. Conservatives continue to deny the validity of global warming, because it runs contrary to their moral system. Recognizing global warming would call for environmental regulation and governmental efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Regulation is a perceived interference with the free-market, Conservatives’ golden calf. So, the predictions of imminent hurricanes — based on recognizing global warming — were not heeded. Conservative free market convictions trumped the hurricane warnings.

Our budget deficit is not the result of incompetent fiscal management. It too is an outgrowth of conservative philosophy. What better way than massive deficits to rid social programs of their funding?

In Iraq, we also see the impact of philosophy as much as a failure of execution.

The idea for the war itself was born out of deep conservative convictions about the nature and capacity of US military force. Among the Project for a New American Century’s statement of principles (signed in 1997 by a who’s who of the architects of the Iraq war — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis Libby among others) are four critical points:

* we need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future
* we need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values
* we need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad
* we need to accept responsibility for America's unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.

Implicit in these ideas is that the United States military can spread democracy through the barrel of a gun. Our military might and power can be a force for good.

It also indicates that the real motive behind the Iraq war wasn’t to stop Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, but was a test of neoconservative theory that the US military could reshape Middle East geo-politics. The manipulation and disregard of intelligence to sell the war was not incompetence, it was the product of a conservative agenda.

Unfortunately, this theory exalts a hubristic vision over the lessons of history. It neglects the realization that there is a limit to a foreign army’s ability to shape foreign politics for the good. Our military involvement in Vietnam, Lebanon, the Philippines, Cuba (prior to Castro) and Panama, or European imperialist endeavors around the globe should have taught us this lesson. Democracy needs to be an organic, homegrown movement, as it was in this country. If we believe so deeply in our ideals, they will speak for themselves and inspire others.

During the debate over Iraq, the conservative belief in the unquestioned authority and moral leadership of the President helped shape public support. We see this deference to the President constantly: when Conservatives call those questioning the President’s military decisions “unpatriotic”; when Conservatives defend the executive branch’s use of domestic spying in the war on terror; when Bush simply refers to himself as the “decider.” “I support our President” was a common justification of assent to the Iraq policy.

Additionally, as the implementer of the neoconservative vision and an unquestioned moral authority, our President felt he had no burden to forge international consensus or listen to the critiques of our allies. “You’re with us, or you’re against us,” he proclaimed after 9/11.

Much criticism continues to be launched against this administration for ineptitude in its reconstruction efforts. Tragically, it is here too that the administration’s actions have been shaped less by ineptitude than by deeply held conservative convictions about the role of government.

As noted above, Conservatives believe that government’s role is limited to security and maintaining a free market. Given this conviction, it’s no accident that administration policies have focused almost exclusively on the training of Iraqi police, and US access to the newly free Iraqi market — the invisible hand of the market will take care of the rest. Indeed, George Packer has recently reported that the reconstruction effort in Iraq is nearing its end (“The Lessons of Tal Affar,” The New Yorker, April 10th, 2006). Iraqis must find ways to rebuild themselves, and the free market we have constructed for them is supposed to do this. This is not ineptitude. This is the result of deep convictions over the nature of freedom and the responsibilities of governments to their people.

Finally, many of the miscalculations are the result of a conservative analytic focus on narrow causes and effects, rather than mere incompetence. Evidence for this focus can be seen in conservative domestic policies: Crime policy is based on punishing the criminals, independent of any effort to remedy the larger social issues that cause crime; immigration policy focuses on border issues and the immigrants, and ignores the effects of international and domestic economic policy on population migration; environmental policy is based on what profits there are to be gained or lost today, without attention paid to what the immeasurable long-term costs will be to the shared resource of our environment; education policy, in the form of vouchers, ignores the devastating effects that dismantling the public school system will have on our whole society.

Is it any surprise that the systemic impacts of the Iraq invasion were not part of the conservative moral or strategic calculus used in pursuing the war?

The conservative war rhetoric focused narrowly on ousting Saddam — he was an evil dictator, and evil cannot be tolerated, period. The moral implications of unleashing social chaos and collateral damage in addition to the lessons of history were not relevant concerns.

As a consequence, we expected to be greeted as liberators. The conservative plan failed to appreciate the complexities of the situation that would have called for broader contingency planning. It lacked an analysis of what else would happen in Iraq and the Middle East as a result of ousting the Hussein Government, such as an Iranian push to obtain nuclear weapons.

Joe Biden recently said, “if I had known the president was going to be this incompetent in his administration, I would not have given him the authority [to go to war].” Had Bush actually been incompetent, he would have never been able to lead us to war in Iraq. Had Bush been incompetent, he would not have been able to ram through hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts. Had Bush been incompetent, he would have been blocked from stacking the courts with right-wing judges. Incompetence, on reflection, might have actually been better for the country.

Hidden Successes

Perhaps the biggest irony of the Bush-is-incompetent frame is that these “failures” — Iraq, Katrina and the budget deficit — have been successes in terms of advancing the conservative agenda.

One of the goals of Conservatives is to keep people from relying on the federal government. Under Bush, FEMA was reorganized to no longer be a first responder in major natural disasters, but to provide support for local agencies. This led to the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina. Now citizens, as well as local and state governments, have become distrustful of the federal government’s capacity to help ordinary citizens. Though Bush’s popularity may have suffered, enhancing the perception of federal government as inept turned out to be a conservative victory.

Conservatives also strive to get rid of protective agencies and social programs. The deficit Bush created through irresponsible tax cuts and a costly war in Iraq will require drastic budget cuts to remedy. Those cuts, conservatives know, won’t come from military spending, particularly when they raise the constant specter of war. Instead, the cuts will be from what Conservatives have begun to call “non-military, discretionary spending;” that is, the programs that contribute to the common good like the FDA, EPA, FCC, FEMA, OSHA and the NLRB. Yet another success for the conservative agenda.

Both Iraq and Katrina have enriched the coffers of the conservative corporate elite, thus further advancing the conservative agenda. Halliburton, Lockhead Martin and US oil companies have enjoyed huge profit margins in the last six years. Taking Iraq’s oil production off-line in the face of rising international demand meant prices would rise, making the oil inventories of Exxon and other firms that much more valuable, leading to record profits. The destruction wrought by Katrina and Iraq meant billions in reconstruction contracts. The war in Iraq (and the war in Afghanistan) meant billions in military equipment contracts. Was there any doubt where those contracts would go? Chalk up another success for Bush’s conservative agenda.

Bush also used Katrina as an opportunity to suspend the environmental and labor protection laws that Conservatives despise so much. In the wake of Katrina, environmental standards for oil refineries were temporarily suspended to increase production. Labor laws are being thwarted to drive down the cost of reconstruction efforts. So, amidst these “disasters,” Conservatives win again.

Where most Americans see failure in Iraq – George Miller recently called Iraq a “blunder of historic proportions” – conservative militarists are seeing many successes. Conservatives stress the importance of our military — our national pride and worth is expressed through its power and influence. Permanent bases are being constructed as planned in Iraq, and America has shown the rest of the world that we can and will preemptively strike with little provocation. They succeeded in a mobilization of our military forces based on ideological pretenses to impact foreign policy. The war has struck fear in other nations with a hostile show of American power. The conservatives have succeeded in strengthening what they perceive to be the locus of the national interest —military power.

It’s NOT Incompetence

When Progressives shout “Incompetence!” it obscures the many conservative successes. The incompetence frame drastically misses the point, that the conservative vision is doing great harm to this country and the world. An understanding of this and an articulate progressive response is needed. Progressives know that government can and should have a positive role in our lives beyond simple, physical security. It had a positive impact during the progressive era, busting trusts, and establishing basic labor standards. It had a positive impact during the new deal, softening the blow of the depression by creating jobs and stimulating the economy. It had a positive role in advancing the civil rights movement, extending rights to previously disenfranchised groups. And the United States can have a positive role in world affairs without the use of its military and expressions of raw power. Progressives acknowledge that we are all in this together, with “we” meaning all people, across all spectrums of race, class, religion, sex, sexual preference and age. “We” also means across party lines, state lines and international borders.

The mantra of incompetence has been an unfortunate one. The incompetence frame assumes that there was a sound plan, and that the trouble has been in the execution. It turns public debate into a referendum on Bush’s management capabilities, and deflects a critique of the impact of his guiding philosophy. It also leaves open the possibility that voters will opt for another radically conservative president in 2008, so long as he or she can manage better. Bush will not be running again, so thinking, talking and joking about him being incompetent offers no lessons to draw from his presidency.

Incompetence obscures the real issue. Bush’s conservative philosophy is what has damaged this country and it is his philosophy of conservatism that must be rejected, whoever endorses it.

Conservatism itself is the villain that is harming our people, destroying our environment, and weakening our nation. Conservatives are undermining American values through legislation almost every day. This message applies to every conservative bill proposed to Congress. The issue that arises every day is which philosophy of governing should shape our country. It is the issue of our times. Unless conservative philosophy itself is discredited, Conservatives will continue their domination of public discourse, and with it, will continue their domination of politics.

July 24, 2006

99 inside

Heat wave, originally uploaded by mslaura.

All winter long I thought I was living in Seattle. Forty-five days of rain straight without stopping? Where am I?

Now I believe I've been transported to Baja. Today was supposed to be cooler than the past two days, and I think it is, but right now *in my house* it is 99 degrees F. Julian is napping in a pool of his own sweat. I can barely move. OK, 99 degrees is cooler than 103, but it still sucks.

Yes, we really should turn on the airconditioner, this is insane. But we've had it on for the past two days, and today was supposed to be the beginning of a cooling trend, so figured we should just open every window and door and turn on all the fans and deal.

Until I saw that it's 99 degrees in here. Yeah, I think I'll go turn on the AC now. Or maybe I should just go wake up J and go to the pool.

The poor chickens haven't laid eggs in two days now. I go mist them down and feed them frozen peas every few hours. I fill up their water bowl with ice cubes and by the time I'm done misting down the area, the cubes have all melted.

I picked all the plums off our tree, and I really need to get started making jam with them, but the idea of boiling a large pot of water on the stove for 35 minutes, NEXT to another large pot of bubbling jam for 25 minutes, and having to stand near those two large hot boiling pots on a hot stove billowing steam...not very appealing. I even turned off the stereo today because the receiver almost burned my hand when I touched it.

Thank goodness we have a barbecue with a standalone burner. I've been making all our meals outside lately because it's unbearable to turn on the stove or oven. But even then, it's right next to the chickens' new home under the big sycamore tree, and I don't want them to have to endure any extra heat, poor things.

I can't even imagine what other people are enduring right now. Our house is shaded by big trees and bamboo and very open and well-ventilated. If it's 99 degrees in our house, it must be *well* over 100 in other homes, and I shudder to think about people living in upstairs apartments. The upstairs in our townhouse was an absolute INFERNO on even mildly hot days when we lived there, and our AC in that place was worse than useless. It just blew hot air around. Yikes.

OK, what's the craziest thing ever? I keep seeing joggers go by. Geez, it's over 100 degrees out and blazing sun, I think I'll go for a nice jog right now. Why bother waiting until later when it cools down a bit? Nuts!

Tomorrow we're headed to the beach, where I'm sure it will be lovely. Those refreshing icy Pacific waters are going to feel GREAT.

July 23, 2006

Desecrations of the 70s

I just found this website:

Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible '70s by James Lilek, a brutal examination of the unlovely, unattractive, unlivable and unforgivable homes of the 1970s. All eras have some bad taste, of course – but it took the 70s to make bad taste triumphant and universal. It took the 70s to convince everyone to stick foil wallpaper on the wall, paint the bathtub purple, smother the floors in shag so deep it tickled the tops of your ankles, and hang art that managed to clash with everything, including itself.

Total crackup. I bought the book and can't wait to get it. I definitely remember some silver foil wallpaper in a bathroom growing up. It was silver foil with...was it an intertwined light pink velvet pattern? I thought it was pretty interesting at the time. Wish I had a photo of that now.

Hey Mom, remember that time I came home from boarding school and you had painted every single item in my room hot rosy pink? Hot pink with light pink accents. That was pretty crazy. I had a mostly white room before that, with a few yellow accents and natural wood, but after that it was ALL pink, all the time! Quite shocking. Literally *everything* in my room was painted. Too funny. With a muti-shaded pink braided rug too. Ha!

Too bad this James Lilek guy's apparently a venemous right-wing neocon nutcase in real life. But this stuff is funny, so oh well.

He also has a book on "Regrettable Food", but you know, I think nothing can possibly beat the Weight Watchers Recipe Cards from 1974, most entertainingly annotated by Wendy McClure.

Snappy Mackerel Casserole, yum yum. And Jellied Tomato Refresher, served in a brandy snifter! Or the goodie at left, which was described as a "prolapsed anus" by one reader, and described using the term "bukkake" by another. Priceless!

Laughs, just laughs. And don't forget to read the page titles for each recipe, at the top of your browser.

July 22, 2006

103 degrees

We are having a massive heat wave, very unusual for coastal Northern California. It has been unbearably hot for the past two weeks, which is abnormally long for a heat wave. And I'm someone who *likes* heat, too, but this is too hot even for me.

Today it hit 103 degrees. At 11:00am it was 92 degrees inside our house, which is well-shaded by trees, open to the breezes, etc. Not that there have been any breezes lately, which is very unusual as well, since normally it's quite windy in the afternoons here all year round.

Our air conditioner is running full blast right now. It's a good central air conditioner, but it can't get the temperature down under 84 degrees inside. Just too friggin' hot.

This is only the second time we've ever used the air conditioner since we've lived here. It just never got hot enough for me to think about turning it on. As I said, I like it hot. But lately I've felt like my brains were going to melt out my ears. Like I'm going to go crazy if I don't get some cool air moving across my body PRONTO. So on it went. And thank goodness we have it too, because even a few minutes outside right now is too much. I feel like I'm living in Florida again, it's that hot. Humid. Still. Tropical. Airless.

What's even stranger is that after today it's supposed to slowly cool down to a normal 80 degree range, and then possibly even RAIN next week. OK, this is California, people. It does not rain in the summertime here, especially not in August. Believe me, I'll be thrilled to see it, but what the hell?

July 21, 2006

Crab Station revisited

I'm at my Crab Station lately.

(Note of explanation: This is a local restaurant. We've never been there, but Dan and I thought the name was so funny that we appropriated it to mean "in a bad mood". So there ya go.)

I don't know what's wrong exactly. Probably a good dose of pregnancy hormones. This pregnancy is certainly not as thrilling and exciting as the first one was. That pregnancy was full of "wow, isn't this interesting!" moments. This one is just boring, which, hey, don't get me wrong..."boring" is better than oh, say, "dangerous", or "risky". I'll take boring any day as long as things are going well.

I don't remember being soooooooooo tired the first time around. I am freakin' exhausted pretty much all day long. I nap when I can, at least every other day for an hour or so. I go to bed early most of the time. I just feel wiped out. Sometimes I can't even stand up. I sit down on the kitchen floor or wherever I *was* standing, and just hang out until I feel like standing up again, or until I have to drag myself back up to go do something, whichever comes first.

At least I'm not sick anymore. The first trimester is officially over, and that's a good thing. But this tired thing is getting me down.

Conversely, as I get more and more tired, Julian seems to be losing the ability to sleep. I have never had such a hard time getting him to sleep before. I have to lay with him for an hour or so at naptime, and usually I pass out before he does. At night it takes *forever* for him to go to sleep, even when he's seemingly exhausted.

Yesterday he only had a short nap of less than an hour, and we were on the go all day long. He went to preschool in the morning for 3 hours, came home, took his mini-nap, then we went to the pool in the afternoon and he played hard there. He had a spasm of exhaustion around 7:00pm while we were still at the pool (too hot to go home yet, we're in the middle of a major heat wave), so we hurried home and then he launched into a big second wind.

At 8:30pm I went to go put him down, laid in bed with him, and he *still* wasn't sleeping at 10:00pm. I passed out briefly after trying every trick in the book to get him to sleep (nursing, reading, singing, holding, cuddling), woke up, looked at the clock, and then looked over to see two shining little eyes looking at me. Good grief! And I thought that I might get some child-free alone time with Dan that evening...apparently not.

I went back to sleep I guess, for lack of any other solution, and woke up around 10:50pm to find him finally asleep. But now I had spent my entire evening laying in bed with a non-sleeping child. Woohoo. At least I got to sleep a bit, but you know, I sort of wanted to take in a movie or have adult time/conversation or, you know, something besides just continue to vegetate/incubate. Instead I just switched over from his bed to my bed and that was about it.

Grrrr. And then I started thinking how THIS sucks right now, and what will we do with two kids to try to get to sleep? And then I started feeling sorry for myself, and depressed, and gloomy. Which is ridiculous, because we've had long stretches where Julian is really easy to get to sleep, and this is just a phase, and by the time the next baby comes along everything will be completely different yet again, so why even worry and try to predict?

I'm just bummed lately. This whole tiredness thing is getting me down. I can't seem to get much done. I keep spacing out on things with my business. I go to bed early and don't get to hang out with Dan very much at all. It's hot, which saps my energy even more. I have no patience and find myself snapping at Julian when he acts up. I worry about being able to handle two kids. I worry about getting my body back. But mostly, I just feel blah.

Everything is going well, really. At my last doctor visit, he said that things are pretty much "as perfect as perfect can be". So nothing to worry about there.

I think I just have trouble being less than 100%, it always makes me cranky. I like to be active and I like to get things done, and lately I just feel like a shapeless lump of meat with an ever-growing to-do list. I've been swimming, which is great, so at least I'm getting some exercise. So far that seems to be the only activity that I can do without keeling over. But then I have to put on a bathing suit, and whereas the last time around I felt like a ripe fertility goddess, this time around I just feel like a saggy blob with a big beer belly. Sigh.

Some tone has returned to my arms and legs from swimming, that's a good thing. I have triceps again. I hope that my energy comes back in this second trimester and I can exercise more and regain some muscle tone. I think that will help my mood as well.

I suspect that I'm just riding some kind of hormonal wave, but I hope it breaks soon.

July 13, 2006

Chicken milk

Julian likes to drink Chocolate Almond Milk that comes in those Tetra Brik containers. Actually, he likes it best when it's mixed with Vanilla Almond Milk, but you know...not all things are possible all the time.

Today he opened the cupboards looking for snacks to take on our hike and saw some Tetra Brik containers of Organic Chicken Broth.

"Chicken milk! That's CHICKEN MILK Mommy! I want some chicken milk please!"

Apparently anything that comes in a Tetra Brik package is milk. Who knew?

July 04, 2006

Where's my $134,121 paycheck?

By Abigail Van Buren
Sun Jul 2, 8:07 PM ET

I need your help with something. My 16-year-old grandson seems to think that all his mother does is stay at home. He conveniently "forgets" that she is a housekeeper, gardener, cook, teacher, nurse, driver and mediator. Could you please print a breakdown of what a stay-at-home wife should be paid? I would love to have a list so I can pass the "bill" on to him. -- VIVIAN IN COLONIAL BEACH, VA.

According to the Census Bureau figures for 2004 -- which are the most recent -- there are 36.7 million mothers of minor children in the United States. About one-third of them, 10.8 million, are stay-at-home moms.

According to an article penned by Al Neuharth, the founder of USA Today, in its May 11, 2006, edition, " compensation experts estimate that stay-at-home moms work an average of 91.6 hours a week." That's more than double the number of hours the average office worker puts in. He went on to say, "That should be worth $134,121 annually."

He quoted the compensation analysts as figuring the lowest-paying parts of a mother's job are "housekeeper, laundry machine operator and janitor. Higher-paying categories include computer operator, facilities manager, psychologist and CEO." With a 91.6-hour work week, 52 weeks a year, it works out to be $28.16 an hour.

It should go without saying that a mother's love is priceless, so tell that grandson of yours that $28.16 an hour is a real bargain.

Um, the one point missing from this analysis is that no one's actually *paying* stay-at-home moms $28.16 an hour. That may be what the labor is worth, but where's the paycheck?

As for the 91.6 hour work week, I'd say that's a conservative estimate!

And what about those of us who work from home? Dang, I'm putting in work hours on *top* of a 91.6 workweek. No wonder I feel so tired.

July 01, 2006

Tortilla Espanola & Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus

I've been in a complete cooking rut lately, utterly uninspired and unable to think of a single thing that sounds good to eat. Then I got the latest issue of Sunset Magazine (always a fantastic recipe resource) made several of the recipes, and suddenly I'm back in action. These two in particular have been huge hits:

The Tortilla Espanola is my very favorite Spanish bar food, so I was thrilled to see a recipe for it. This recipe is easier than most, since it doesn't require you to try to flip a large half-cooked omelette full of potatoes halfway through, which has always been a disaster in the past.

Contrary to how it sounds, there aren't any tortillas involved. In Spain, a tortilla is a type of omelette. This is the classic Spanish tapas recipe. It keeps very well, and is delicious hot or cold.

Prep and cook time: About 35 minutes
Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Notes: You can make this omelette up to 6 hours ahead; cover and store at room temperature up to 2 hours or chill up to 6 hours (let come to room temperature before serving)

* 3 russet potatoes (1.5 pounds total...check your weight, you may need many more than 3 potatoes if they are smallish)
* 1 medium onion
* 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 6 large eggs
* 1 tsp coarse salt

1) Peel potatoes and onion. Quarter each lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/4 inch thick slices.

2) Heat a 10-inch ovenproof nonstick frying pan (cast-iron is great) over high heat and add all but 1 tsp olive oil. When oil just starts to smoke, add potatoes and onion. Stir, turning vegetables to coat with oil. Reduce heat to medium-low and gently turn vegetables often until potatoes are tender when pierced, 15 to 20 minutes.

3) Preheat broiler. In a large bowl, beat eggs with salt and stir in potato mixture.

4) Drizzle remaining 1 tsp (I use at least several tablespoons to avoid sticking) of olive oil over bottom of frying pan (no need to wash) and return to medium-low heat. When pan is hot, add potato-egg mixture, spreading evenly. Cook until bottom is set and golden brown,
4-6 minutes.

5) Set pan under broiler about 4 inches from heat and broil, rotating pan as needed to cook evenly, until egg sets and lightly browns, about 3 minutes. Cover pan with large plate, holding the two tightly together, invert. Lift pan off. Serve omelette warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges.

This can be made fancier with scallion ties and strips of lemon zest tucked underneath, but I like the plain version just fine. A very quick and easy recipe that is lip-smackingly delicious. The citrus dip is fantastic and can be used on its own as salad dressing or a dip for pretty much any vegetable.

Prep and cook time: 30 minutes
Makes: 18 hors d'oeuvres

* 18 asparagus spears
* 3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto (you can get nitrate-free brands if you look, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have them), cut crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips. Or just take a regular sized piece and tear it in half.
* 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
* 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
* 3/4 teaspoon grated orange zest (I just took a veggie peeler and peeled off a few thin layers of zest)
* 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (same thing)
* Salt and freshly ground pepper

1) Rinse asparagus and cut off tough stem ends. Bring a 4-6 quart pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add asparagus and cook until crisp-tender, 3-4 minutes; rinse under cool water afterwards.

2) Wrap a strip of prosciutto around each spear 3-4 inches from the top. Arrange spears on a platter.

3) In a bowl or in a blender/food processor, mix together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, grated zests. BLEND this mixture in a blender, food processor, or with a hand blender until it no longer separates into oil and vinegar and becomes a nice thickened emulsion.
Don't skip this step, it makes the dip! Add salt and pepper to taste and blend again.

4) Dip asparagus spears into the sauce and eat with fingers. Yummy!


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