Sunday, December 29, 2013

Parenting Book Review - Siblings Without Rivalry

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish ©2012

The subtitle to this book reads: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too

Sound nice, doesn't it?

Currently in our home...

I finished this book over a month ago and have had the worst time writing this review. Although I've had some success, which has improved my relationship with the girls, Berzo (2) and Boots (6) fight constantly, usually ending in hurt feelings. Actually, as I type, their relationship is in the worst shape it's ever been. In the shadow of this continual conflict, it's been a struggle to write a deserving review.

Berzo's feelings are easily hurt, and Boots is easily excitable—about everything—so they clash—a lot. Boots recovers quickly, and wants to try again, whereas Berzo takes her hurts to heart, and wants nothing to do with Boots afterward, even if Boots extends a peace offering. I use everything I've learned about conflict resolution from this and other books I've read over the years to help them work through conflicts in a positive way, and sometimes it even works, but in total things only continue to get worse. However, I remind myself that, at six and two, they have a lot of maturing to do, and we have a lot of time to work on these problems.

Deep Sea Diving?

I've come to realize that parenting is a lot like deep sea diving. In the murky depths there are wonders to behold, also trenches, hot vents and beautiful little floating luminescent orbs that lead you into a mouthful of teeth. When one attempts deep sea diving, it is good to have training, good gear and knowledge of what lies below.

Previously in our home...

The book's introduction begins:

“I secretly believed that sibling rivalry was something that happened to other people's children.”

“Somewhere in my brain lay the smug thought that I could outsmart the green-eyed monster by never doing any of the obvious things that all the other parents did to make their kids jealous of each other. I'd never compare, never take sides, never play favorites… ...what would they have to fight about?”

“Whatever it was they found it.”

Did the authors pluck these thoughts from your head too?

Feeling confident my girls would be best friends through the power of my caring parenting style, my metaphorical toes were on the edge of the boat ready to dive into the Pacific Ocean—in my street clothes. I was wearing boots too—the heavy kind.

What? Why’s everybody looking at me?

Splash. Ooh, the water is chilly.

The friction between them started when Berzo became mobile and began invading Boot's space and toys. It was too much to handle for a kid that is exceptionally easy to frustrate. Then, because Boots was the one melting down, she was the one we'd talk to, making it seem to her that she was in trouble. When we were really addressing the kid that was having trouble. I'd try to teach her how to navigate the situation, but what she really wanted is to unleash all that frustration on Berzo.

Soon we're all frustrated, and Boots would start hurling questions at us like, “Who do you love more?” and make accusations like, “That's not fair!”, “You love Berzo more!” then finally, “I hate Berzo! I wish she would go away!”

I had no idea how to handle these ferocious emotions. I often reacted with anger, thinking: I have put so much of my life into this spoiled kid, that having those statements hurled at me was too much. I didn't recognize it for the plea that it was.

Glug, glug - It’s so cold—I’m too heavy—back to the boat!

Luckily there's lots of on-the-job training, I'm a strong swimmer, and there are books like this one out there to offer guidance.

Hey, these are cool...  What did you call them again?  Flippers? They'll work better than my wellies, you say?

It really is that obvious—afterwards. No one is born with the skills for deep sea diving, nor are we born with the skills for parenting our children. Skills are learned, just like eating with a spoon, programming in c#, and deep sea diving. Implementing these skills and convincing your kids to go along… that's a neat trick...

How This Book Works

Siblings Without Rivalry follows a set of parents in group sessions with the instructor/authors. At first, I thought it was a lazy way to write a book; after a short introduction, the narrative reads like a dictation of parenting group sessions. It's not, of course, it's a thoughtful distillation of their experiences teaching sibling relationship sessions to many groups of parents. As I read, I found the parents' stories and conversations moving. The parents asked nearly every question that popped into my head, which was accompanied by a satisfying response. It was also comforting to read accounts of other parents making the same mistakes I have, and being just as clueless as I am about what to do.

The following is the outline and an example of the type of advice in that chapter.
  1. Brothers and Sisters Past and Present
    1. This chapter asks parents to record sibling conflicts, and sets expectations for what you can achieve as a parent.
    2. Example: In response to one woman's statement about wanting her kids to be friends, the author replies with her own story, “‘Instead of worrying about the boys becoming friends,’ I explained, ‘I began to think about how to equip them with the attitudes and skills they'd need for all their caring relationships.’” Brilliant. 

  2. Not Till the Bad Feelings Come Out
    1. Listening to your child complain about the troll that is their sibling, and acknowledging their feelings, is a very healing process.
    2. “Insisting on good feelings between siblings led to bad feelings. Acknowledging bad feeling between siblings led to good feelings.”
    3. Other emotional skills are important such as, naming feelings, and reflecting back to the child what they are feeling so they know you understand, for example, “You seem to be feeling angry that Berzo took your stick horse without asking.” 

  3. Perils of Comparisons
    1. Even if you don't actively compare your kids to one another, “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” The water is murky, for example praising one child within earshot of the other can feel like a put down to the other child.
    2. Another insightful example: when a mother praised one of her child's improvement in math, the other gloated about her even better grade. The mother could have responded by saying, “There's no report card contest going on here… …I want to sit down with each of you individually to…” Then follow through giving each child your full attention and focusing your discuss on that child’s individual progress.

  4. Equal is Less
    1. Personally, I have railed against trying to be fair, and right from the start didn't tolerate, “She has more!” and “I want one too!!” However, just because I didn't tolerate it, didn't stop either child from feeling slighted if I didn't provide duplicates of everything. Now I have some new tools for working with this.  I have added, “Everybody gets what she needs. I'm not worried about what anybody else has, if you need more, you can have more,” to my parenting mantras. Or I might say, “Eat what you have first, then if you need more there is plenty here for whomever needs it.” I still don't count and measure, and the girls are more relaxed knowing their needs will be met.
    2. This chapter was also important for answering the, “You love Berzo more!” accusation. Instead of angry rebuttals, I now reply by telling Boots all the things I love about her, and how much she means to me. I don't mention Berzo at all. She glows. She hasn't said that since I read this book.

  5. Siblings in Roles
    1. How often has, “This is Boots, my little artist, and this is my monkey climber girl, Berzo” rolled off my tongue? It's so easy to cast kids in roles. I always thought I was praising a strength, but in reality, I'm limiting my kids' potential. By labeling Boots “The Artist”, she thinks that art is the only thing she's good at and resists branching out. Also, it could also limit Berzo's interest in art. Or worse, what if by some freak of talent, Berzo becomes a better artist than Boots? Then Berzo will have taken Boots' identity as “The Artist”. I've re-trained myself to introduce them as my daughter, Boots, and my daughter, Berzo. That's it. They get to decide who, and what they are. I also have to guard against other people labeling them; I try to always say, “Yep, she likes to climb, but can do so many other amazing things too, like, color, make funny faces, tell a funny joke… She told me this one the other day… 

    2. Out of their earshot, I love to compare and contrast my kids' abilities and personalities. It helps me get a handle on them as individuals.

  6. When Kids Fight
    1. The first piece of advice is to do nothing. Weird, but what a relief!  If it escalates, in my house it usually does, then the best thing to do is describe what you see without passing any kind of judgement. Kids are notoriously self centered, making it difficult to understand a sibling's intentions or point of view. Add to that the heat of conflict… Kaboom! 
    2. A parent can come into a dispute, hear and reflect each side in a way that both kids can understand, and them let them work out a solution. 
    3. Example:
    4. Me: “Wow you guys sound upset.” 
    5. Boots: “Berzo has my favorite necklace, and she's going to break it!”
    6. Me: “You're worried that Berzo will break your necklace.  It is really pretty, Berzo must really like it.”
    7. Boots: *calmer* “Yeah, but it's mine. And she's going to break it.”
    8. Berzo: “No, it's actually MINE!” (It is not, of course, but Boots has programmed this one into her stock phrases cache.)
    9. Me: “Berzo, that necklace belongs to Boots. She's worried that it might get broken.”
    10. Berzo: “I want to wear it!” 
    11. Me: “Boots, what can we do here?”
    12. Boots: “That one is my favorite, but she can wear this other one.”
    13. Berzo: “Thank you, sis-ter.” 
    14. This actually happened. REALLY.
    15. When I come in and describe what I see, show respect for Boots' property rights, she might unlock her position and shift into finding a solution that Berzo will be happy with too. Berzo is a bit little to understand the nuances of what went on, but I also try to coach her by giving her things to say and ways of asking that doesn't trigger Boots' volatile temperament. It is no small feat, and takes a lot of self-control on my part, because something is usually cooking on the stove, or the phone is ringing, but as I'm teaching them, I'm also learning how to focus and respectfully interact with them. 

  7. Making Peace With the Past
    1. One woman spoke of how she was continually compared to her sister in an unfavorable light, and how it still affected her to this day. Through these sessions, she began to realize that these comparisons probably caused some suffering for her sister too, and she decided to call her.
    2. “Then she told me how sorry she was for the pain she must have caused me, and how much it meant to her that I had called, and that if I hadn't, we might have gone to our graves without ever knowing each other. Then I started to cry.”
I endeavor not only to avoid this sort of mistake in raising my girls, I also want them to know what potential they have in each other for a lifelong companion. No one will understand or know the essence of you like a sibling. No one else will witness the trials and triumphs of your formative years from a first hand perspective, one that can actually enhance your understanding of those times. Even your future spouse or children won't be able to know you in that level of unspoken understanding. It's why I psshaaw, whenever Charley tells me how lucky he got to have me… All the people I grew up with know that he is my good luck.

There's nothing I can do to make Berzo and Boots become friends, nor would I try, but I can avoid deepening the rift between them, and I can give them the building materials they need to bridge the gap between them when they are ready.

Although I fight with my wet suit to get it on, and get kinda weirded out breathing through hoses, I'm much better equipped than I was before reading this book and much more cognizant of the dangers.

Most importantly, I have hope.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Book Review - The River Why

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
David James Duncan ©1983

The story that was a river.

This story begins in the pool of stagnant water of Gus’s life as a boy growing up in Portland, Oregon. He is a prodigal fisher-kid, born to a pair as compatible as Lord Byron and Calamity Jane. The only points on which the three of them converge is the water and the fish that sway within, and their affection for Gus's little brother, Bill Bob.  Bill Bob wants nothing to do with water, but swims in metaphysical waters like one born with gills.

Gus's family is in a state of perpetual conflict, particularly with regards to the method by which fish should be taken from the water. The battle of worms vs. flies rages on a daily basis, revealing a deep disconnect between his parents.

After graduation without honors, Gus's river leaps the log jam, and glides post-haste to a cabin on Oregon's fictitious Tamawanis river. Isolated, he spends all his time following his Ideal Schedule: Sleeping, fishing, eating, drinking and sleeping again. Instead finding utter happiness, one such as myself would expect, he sinks and spins as though he's caught in the eddy of a waterfall. His philosophical minded friend, Titus, offers him hand and pulls him free.

Free flowing again the story meanders through remembrances of his childhood, through ancient forests that fell victim to refir madness, through Sherar’s falls fished by the Native American, Tomas Bigeater, who remembers his spirit, and by other Native Americans who cannot. A branch of the river flows through the city of Portland and dies, while the main story flows on. The river is rife with riffles of laughter, between pools of deep clarity, and eddies of beauty, and murky stretches of disorientation.

Sometimes the river passes through the physical into the metaphysical, to return luminous. It is alive with spirited trout, minnows of greatness and longing, ugly yet delectable nymphs, and worms wrapped in mud like Twinkies. This story-river makes fun of itself, gives and gets, despairs and hopes. It bubbles from it's spring wondering at its purpose, finds its spirit, all the while asking, “Why?”

David James Duncan has written a beautiful river that I will float, fish, skinny dip, and refresh my spirit in again, and again, and again.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Book Review - Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Douglas Adams ©1979

I read this book because it's one of those novels that is woven into our culture, and it bothers me when I catch myself nodding along with references, parallels, or jokes that I don't get. Or worse, when I have to ask for clarification and the words “Oh, you've never read it?” float over, complete with sympathetic head tilt.

Grrr, gimme that thing.

With my usual dubious feeling towards all things revered I cracked the cover. After reading the opening page, all my doubts vaporized, and soon afterwards so did our planet—in the story...

Arthur Dent is a normal English Joe, who fancies a cup of tea in the morning and a pint in the afternoon. He is dragged away from his house, which is about to be bulldozed to make room for a highway interchange, by his friend, Ford Prefect.

Ford is a galactic hitchhiking alien who's been stranded on Earth for the last fifteen years, while doing research for the title book, “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Ford could care less about Arthur's house, as he's just intercepted a signal from a Vogon Constructor Ship, which he knows are tasked with destroying planets to clear a routes for new hyper-spatial expressways. Progress, you know. He's brought Arthur to the pub in attempt to tank him up to ease the inherent discomfort of riding in a matter transference beam.

Ford and Arthur stowaway on the Vogon ship, and therein begins the adventure in which they learn the origins of our planet, for whom it was created, and why. Along the way we meet the two headed, AWOL, galactic president/hippie, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillium, who is the other remaining earthling, and a manically depressed robot named Marvin.

And then there's The Guide, with a cover stating, "DON'T PANIC", and subjects illuminating readers on nearly infinite topics, including the necessity for hitchhikers to possess a clean towel at all times.

The author, Douglas Adams, takes gorgeous colors from physics, math, social parallels, humor, and pure originality, and swirls them in a bucket of flippant genius; then he crunches up a spaceship and dips it in. Shaking it out, and hung on the line to dry is this book.

The product is slightly psychedelic, loaded with wildly imaginative ideas that swirled before my mind's eyes before shifting into something else fascinating and original.  For example, the guide informs us that the “..beautiful planet Bethselamin is now so worried about cumulative erosion by ten billion visiting tourists a year that any net imbalance between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete while on the planet is surgically removed from your body weight when you leave: so every time you go to the lavatory it is vitally important to get a receipt.” Or there's the improbable inventor of the golden Infinite Improbability generator, “which could generate the infinite improbability field needed to flip a spaceship across the mind-paralyzing distances between the farthest stars” without all that “tedious mucking about in hyperspace”, who was a student rather than a self-exalted physicist.  He ended up being lynched by an angry mob of physicists who just can't stand a smart ass.

With all these potential story threads flying around, there's me wondering what to make of it, and hoping he'll go in deep with one or two of my favorites. Then the book ends when the characters decide it's time for lunch.

Just like that.

Huh? Wha? You mean this isn't going to go on until every original idea is put in a mortar and ground into dust by a pestle wielding author? You want me to think about these things, and make what I will of them? How weird. How lovely. How trippy. Wheee!

I’m in! Just let me go pack my towel.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Virus Descends

(Originally written, September 25, 2013)

Like the turn of the seasons to an aged farmer, I can feel it in my bones when a sickness is about to descend upon our household. Generally the weather is still nice, but a mom sense tingle tells me something is coming. Then perhaps there’s a friend over who comments, “My throat feels a little scratchy,” or there’s that kid in the park with a runny nose. (I'm not judging, my kids have been that kid before.)  Unbidden, visions of sleepless nights, endless coughing, my house littered with wet tissues, confinement to our home, and money pouring through my fingers, flit through my mind, raising the hair on the back of my neck as my flight reflex urges me to scoop up my kids and head for the hold and batten down the hatch, while the waves of viruses wash over the deck of our family ship.

I hold onto something and breathe to deliver oxygen to the logic centers in my brain. The serenity prayer flows through my mind reminding me to accept the things I cannot change.  If there are children around with outward signs of infection, the virus is most likely already at work inside my little ones, insidiously hiding in their bodies, replicating themselves again and again, waiting for their numbers to grow substantial enough to launch an attack on my child's cells. Then their immune system responds in kind, and their eyes take on that lackluster look, the mucous appears, and the deep harrrooof, harrrooof sound comes from their tiny throats as they try in vain to expel the invader from their body.

Mama, I don't feel good.

I remind myself to take each day as it comes. We have survived these viruses countless times before, and we will persevere once again. I wonder how long this one will last. Maybe it will just be a three day cold. That has happened before—once. More likely it will start in her head, then settle in her chest for a one to two month stay. Coughing fits keeping her up late, and waking her—and everyone else—for hours. Then morning arrives and I rise to send my little red-nosed, dark eyed, zombie off to school. The littlest one tethers me to our house, and my eyes lose focus as I start pacing back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

And so it has been for the last six weeks in our home.

Two trips to the doctor later we find that Danielle's cold has become bronchitis. Not only does she have fluid in her lungs, but both ears are so stopped up that the doctor thinks she has a hearing loss of forty decibels. This is not news to us as “huh?” has been her response to anything we have said for weeks now. Including doctor visits, tissues, remedies and prescriptions, we easily have three hundred dollars invested in this cold. We have lost countless hours of sleep; one child wakes up to have a coughing fit, which wakes up the other child before falling back to sleep, who has a coughing fit and wakes up the other before falling back to sleep, who has a coughing fit who wakes up the other… And so we go bouncing from child to child, torn by our bodies’ need for sleep and our children's need for comfort.

For. Six. Weeks. And counting…

Before having children, I blissfully unaware of the toll it takes on you as a person—beyond seasonal illnesses—everything. But I'm always grateful this hardship is mine, and Charley's too, of course. I know the trials we endure parenting our girls are forging us into better people. Being in a forge is not particularly fun, it's pretty hot, and you get smacked around with big hammers a lot, but I think we'll come out as something new, still composed of the same basic elements, but perhaps wiser, stronger, and more useful. Besides, being quenched in buckets of “Mama, I love you”, hugs that dry tears, and saturated with the magic of childhood innocence feels pretty damn great. 

I wouldn't trade my spot in the forge for anything.

Gotta go, I need to run to the store for more orange juice and Kleenex.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Transcendent Leaves

“The trees have a lot of leaves this year, Mama. The leaf pile is going to be humongous!” Boots says. “When will they fall?”

It's August, and the leaves are still green, but Boots is filled with anticipation.

“Not until fall,” is my reply.

Boots says, “That’s why fall is called 'fall', cause the leaves fall off the trees!”

*Thinks for a moment.*

“How much longer until fall?”

It goes on like this for quite some time. Finally, the colors start to change, and Boots gets really excited. She starts peppering me with questions, inspiring this post: The Trees are All Naked Mama!  Although Berzo gets the credit for naming it... 

After the colors changed, Boots began checking the backyard daily. When the leaves finally started to drop, there's about twelve, she asked for a rake. She piled them all up, and she and Berzo did a test jump.

“We need more leaves,” she declared.

Fall, as Defined by Boots, is Here!
Finally the leaves start to fall in earnest. Boots and Berzo rake them up, (Boots rakes—Berzo holds a rake and moves it around a bit) and they spend the next hour, jumping, burying, throwing, re-raking, and moving the pile.

Thanks to the unseasonably dry, late October and November, we got quite a bit of mileage out of our leaf pile. It was the plaything of choice when Boots' friend, Madi, came over to play. They raked up all the new fallen leaves, all the while arguing about who got which rake, into an even bigger heap. Unsatisfied, they eyed the leaves still hanging on the branches. With upturned rakes, they attempt to add the leaves that hadn't seen fit to grace their leaf pile yet.  Still unsatisfied, Madi, climbed up the tree, stood on a branch and bounced her legs, causing the branch to wave, bringing more leaves down.

When the girls tired of piling, jumping, throwing and burying, they loaded the leaves up on a snow sled and dragged them over to the play structure. At the foot of the slide, they made a pile of leaves and pushed some part of the way up. Then they hauled the sled up into the play structure and tobogganed down the slide to land in a big poof of flying leaves. Once the plastic toboggan broke they took turns sliding normally, that was deemed too boring, so they got out our flexible disc sled and gave that a whirl—much to their satisfaction.  I wish I'd gotten a video, it was really something.

For a week or two this went on, Madi knocked on our front door, Boots dashed up to answer it, and instead of saying, hello, she shouted, “Let’s go in my backyard and play in the leaves!!”

Then they'd go running through the house to the backdoor, wrestle with the kinda-broken screen door, yell for my help, then they'd launch themselves into the backyard. Berzo would usually try to follow, but unfortunately, it was usually a no-little-sisters-allowed sort of event, so she and I'd find something else to occupy ourselves.

What is it—Really—About Leaf Piles?
Leaf pile diving is among those quintessential kid activities that transcends generations and culture differences; much like carpet lava with couch cushion stepping stones, and rolling down grassy hills.

It's in Our DNA
I'm fairly certain that prehistoric kids took up bare branches, and raked up piles of fallen leaves.  Then with joined hands, they sprinted and launched themselves into the pile. Laughing, they’d flop backwards, then one would get up and bury the other. The bury-er, likely a big brother, would run into the cave dragging Mom away from the fire pit, where she was frying up mammoth steaks on hot rocks, claiming that a cave lion dragged away his little sister. Mom would eye the rustling leaf pile, feign panic, then little sister would burst out of the pile, to everyone's delight. Then Mom would remember the steaks, and tell her cave kids to get this mess cleaned up before the hunters returned. They'd start raking again, only to feel the magnetic pull of the leaf pile…

A Hypothesis
Yes, the magnetic energy of the leaf pile is indefatigable.  The more massive the the leaf pile the greater the magnetic attraction, and the wider the field.  A large pile can hurl children towards itself from anywhere in our neighborhood; until the leaves are scattered substantially enough to dissipate the attractive force of the pile.

The selective nature of this attraction is interesting, in that it only works on young kids, as older adolescent kids seem to exhibit repellent forces.  ("Awww- do I have to rake the leaves???")  I posit that the chemical/hormone changes endured during puberty sufficiently alters a child's molecular structure, or perhaps redistributes magnetic elements, such that it effectively reverses the child's leaf magnetism polarity.   Further study in this area is necessary...

I must admit that I took a couple experimental dives myself, but since my polarity is that of an adult's, sadly, it had no pull.  Watching those girls play though, was even better than anything I remember from my leaf diving days—it was pure magic.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Of Warrior Dash & Crock Pots

(Originally written 9-12-2013)

I found out that I placed well in Warrior Dash this year. I was nineteenth in my age group, placing me at 343rd out of nearly eight thousand men and women. I’m feeling pretty good.

To be fair, I benefited from some help. My friend, Jason, gave me a hand out of a mud hole, and I glided past a line-up that would have cost me about five minutes. I simply dodged around them and slipped down the rappel line.

Help duly noted, but I earned it. I ran the flats, fast-walked the uphills and free-wheeled the downs. I glided up and over twenty-foot walls with mud-slick ropes and through a lateral wall of cargo nets, on which I kept stepping on the kid's shoes in front of me. He was a fit teenager, but had no technique. He’d swing his legs out, and then struggle to get his feet back on the ropes; whereas I pointed my toes in the direction I was moving, and ran through the netting. Once back on the ground, he took off like he was shot from a bow. I didn't catch him again until he was fumbling through the next set of obstacles.

On the ball field, I can turn a double play, and have made dive and slide catches while charging shallow pop flies in the outfield. In slow pitch, I’m usually good for a double, or a triple on a good day. I even get the occasional home-run-on-an-error. I can play baseball, basketball, volleyball (no polish here—but I can get the job done) and fly-fish, rock climb, run, canoe, mountain bike, swim, and so many other athletic endeavors that I enjoy immensely; as one could deduce by the alternating look of grim determination and the Labrador like look on my face that says, throw the ball, this is fun, throw the ball, oh please throw the ball...

My other strengths include a knack for the natural sciences, observation, and I have a vivid imagination.

I’m proud of all these abilities and get immense satisfaction from them. Which is great—for the ½ of 1 percent of my time that I spend pursuing them. I’m engaged. I’m fluid. I’m challenged—I’m happy.

The rest of the time, I’m a kangaroo in a house with a low ceiling. My skills make me kind of fun when we're playing outside; I can monkey with the best of them, and I can make up a pretty cool story on the fly.

However, my domestic skills are in serious want. One mother referred to the circumstance of when kids are at sports and the family arrives home late as a "crock-pot night."

“Ohhhh,” I said.

I’m thirty-six years old and the term “crock-pot night” is entirely new to me.

She explained, "You know, you start dinner in the crock-pot in the morning..."

"...then it's ready that evening!" I said, finishing her thought. Ah-ha!

How do these women know these things? Is it part of a domestic maven’s DNA? Or is does the domestic life engage them in a way that is lost on me?

We have two crock pots, I believe, that have been around since we got married—a decade and a half ago. I have never plugged it in and cooked something in it. Charley has, four or five times. I have not—ever. And I don’t really have any inclination to do so.

I have immense admiration for these women. Some are career moms, that go to their jobs all day and still—somehow—manage the family's affairs, meals, activities, clothes and chores. My sister-in-law, Lina, for example, has her doctorate, a flourishing career in veterinary medicine, is an amazing cook—last time we visited for a week, Charley and I gained five pounds!, she cared for four step-children, and she can also fish, bee-keep, garden, can food, run marathons, and on an on… Or there's my life-long friend Carmen, an ex-police officer, who can hunt and fish with the best of them, and put on an amazing Thanksgiving feast, complete with four different kinds of pie—while caring for her two kids! I’m home with my girls all day and I can’t seem to accomplish a fraction of these feats.

Phil Robertson, the infamous Duck Commander, advised all his sons and now his grandsons to marry a woman who knows how to cook. A woman that knows how to be a woman—in essence.

None of his kin would come near me. Sure, I can cook and care for a home, but without the art and good humor as a woman to whom this is her nature. I would much prefer to be out with the guys, fishing, hunting and cleaning the game, rather than roasting it up for the table and doing dishes afterwards.

Occasionally, I see a glint of envy in the eyes of other husbands, that Charley has a wife that likes to play baseball with him, and drags him out to go fishing. I see them thinking, man that would be so cool if my wife liked... But, they'd never trade it for that amazing crock-pot of pulled pork their wives put on this morning. Their wives may never take the same joy as I do in firing up a chainsaw, but their domestic qualities fill a void that is apparent in our home.

Since I don’t have the free time to dedicate to playing team sports, and I’m really only a scientist involved in the clean-up of sippy cup spills, and a writer of blog posts whose readers number in the single digits, that means I spend thirty-six minutes a year as a maven of the obstacle course, meanwhile these ladies own me the 525,564 other minutes of the year.

I'm not sure why I was made this way or how to leverage it for the greater good. But, since God doesn't make mistakes, I'll just have to accept myself as I am.  Like my freckles and reddish-hair, it's all here to stay.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Freedom of a Few Readers

Since I deleted my FaceBook account, my readership averages about four visits per post.  Instead of feeling disappointed, I feel liberated!  I do appreciate my four readers—very much—but I can now focus on my writing instead of wasting creative energy feeling self-conscious.  I'll still shape, edit and polish for the purpose of developing my writing abilities, but I'll not be so worried about how the content appeals to the masses.  (By masses I mean the 30-50 readers I had previously. MASSES!)

So I've decided to resurrect some posts I've withheld.

Thanks to you for being one of the four!

Lots of love,

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Trees are All Naked!

“The trees are all naked, Mama!” Berzo shouts with enthusiasm as we drive along.
Carteniods, tannins, anthocyanins,
color these maple, oak and blue berry leaves.

“Yes they are, Berzo. They put on their prettiest dress of the year, then the wind blows it away. Woosh!”

She cracks up at her joke and points out another naked tree.

Why do the colors change? Why do the trees get naked when everything else in nature is bundling up in layers of fur and fat? Why only broadleaf trees? What are leaves good for?

If you too have a curious six-year-old rapid firing these questions, and if you—like me—can't remember your fifth grade science, here are some interesting facts I've collected about autumn leaves.

Why do the colors change?
Cued by the longer hours of darkness and falling temperatures, the veins feeding the leaves withdraw nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and begin to clog the veins where the leaf meets the twig. Chlorophyll production decreases, then stops, causing the leaf to lose its green color. Once the green color has faded, the other colors, already present in the leaf, get their turn in the sunlight. For some oak trees, the tannins in the leaves leave them brown, (the same tannins that flavor wines and spirits store in oak barrels) in maples, it's the carotenoids turn to shine their yellow hues.

The exception is the brilliant reds and purples put on by white oaks, sugar maples and a few other varieties. Those colors are not present in the leaf until after the veins are clogged.  The abandoned chlorophyll continues to produce sugar which reacts with anthocyanidins, producing anthocyanins pigments; which happen to be brilliant pinks, reds and purples.  This is why leaves that get the most sun are often the most brilliant, whereas the more shaded leaves stay pale green longer.  Some leaves even create a sun tan line on another leaf with its shadow.

There are many environmental factors that influence the brilliance of fall leaves, including spring and summer rainfall, and fall temperatures and frost.  A page on Butler.Edu states: "A warm, wet spring, normal summer rainfall, and warm sunny fall days with cool nights produce the most brilliant summer colors."

Why do the trees get naked? 
As mentioned above, longer nights are cooler temperatures are the most influential factors causing the tree to start the abscission layer on each leaf petiole. (Petiole: base of the leaf stem where it is attached to the twig).  Reacting to both factors are essential for the survival of the tree. The leaves are tender and susceptible to freezing, which would endanger the health of the tree. Also by the end of the year the leaves sustain a fair amount of damage from insects, disease, wind, etc.  Once naked, the rest of the tree, heavily armored with bark, is ready for the winter.

Why only broadleaf trees?
Needle and scale leafed trees, i.e. softwoods, have rolled and sealed their leaves up in wax, and their sap acts like antifreeze. By retaining their leaves all year, (except the tamarack which sheds it's needles) they are able to grow even in the short days of winter, which allows them to eventually outpace their broadleaf counterparts.

You can tell when a forested area has recently been disturbed by fire or logging, if there is an abundance of broadleaf trees, (which germinate readily and grow fast, initially) with smaller softwoods like douglas fir and cedars. In another fifty years or so the broadleaf hardwoods will be crowded out by the lofty needled softwoods.

What are leaves good for?
An adult would ask, “What role do fallen leaves play in forest ecology?” But, Boots phrases all ecology questions in this way, "What are ants good for?", "What are slugs good for?"

Fallen leaves enrich the soil as they decompose, essentially providing a fresh layer of compost, small mammals use them in nest construction, like our resident squirrel who has constructed an impressive nest out of leaves, and many insects species eat them. Worms play a big part in composting leaves by dragging them into their burrows, eating them and casting off nutrient rich fertilizer.  Leaves also capture water that might otherwise runoff.  Fallen leaves play a significant role in maintaining that spongy layer of loam on the forest floor.

For Further Reading:

Leaf Color Change:

Wine Tannins

Hardwoods Vs. Softwoods

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Farmer's Market Autumnal Farewell

Today is the final Sunday for our little local Farmer’s Market. Like the leaves on the trees, the vendors have been dropping off one by one since October. Only a few hearty souls are left; all the more vibrant and appreciated for their tenacity.

Small though it is, I love our market. Farmer's Markets are everything that is missing from our modern daily lives: authenticity, craftsmanship, and connections. Connections with the craftsman that create; the faces and names of families that grow our produce. I've never had to coax a proprietor to talk. It flows easily from them, as they radiate pride in their wares. The fruits and vegetables are as good as they get, crunchy and full of flavor, not only because they came from a farm just a bit to the southwest of us, but because I put our money into the calloused hands of those that tended those crops.

The only similarity between the vendors is the rectangular footprint of their stall. Everything else is wonderfully distinct from neighbor to neighbor. One man sells wooden squirrel feeders and the next stall is selling distilled spirits—free samples. Which is next to an incredible bakery that makes spicy biscuits and gravy, and amazing breakfast sandwiches of shaved roast, egg, cheese with tangy sauce on a crusty roll. Another sells eggs, but they're all sold out. A forbidding old man has crates of sweet smelling apples. My favorite place to buy plants starts, Our Little Farm and Nursery, is now selling their produce. The OSU Extension Master Gardener patiently awaits the call for her expertise—don't worry, I'm coming. Another craftsman builds beautiful furniture from old oak fermentation barrels. The aroma from the Kettle Korn lures passer-bys in and the gyro guy fills them up. The wood fired pizza stall is a toasty place to warm up your hands while you wait for your three dollar slice of cheese and pepperoni—hunks, not rounds.

Toddlers squeal and escape from their parents, to be chased down and planted on Dad's shoulders. Dogs wind their leashes around their owner's legs as my girls attempt to pat their heads, while dodging licks and bouncing paws. Delicious smells float on the notes of the band, delighting my senses.

We sample some Ambach beer while chatting with the proprietor about his brewing techniques. My favorite is a variety that he infused with old, fermenting, cherries he found in a cask. The cherry flavor is a subtle afterthought of the rich beer. A flavor that would be impossible to reproduce because of it's whimsical nature.

Our tummies rumble. Today we dine on Gyros, Fetzer Sausages on a stick, and a warm buttered biscuit. Our girls dance in circles to the notes rising and falling from the banjo, loosed by the artist bent over it.

Until next year...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Parenting Book Review: The Explosive Child

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Ross Greene - ©2005

If you have one, you already know it. My daughter Boots, isn't quite as extreme a case as some of the kids described in this book, but she falls into the categories of inflexible with low frustration tolerance.

This book teaches parents how to work with these special case kids, for whom traditional punishments and rewards method of discipline simply doesn't work. Their kids want to do well, they know you disapprove of their actions, but they can't seem to control their emotional outbursts and behavior towards you, siblings and friends when they're frustrated; which for these kids is a lot.

Boots will have a meltdown when she puts her sock on upside down, or she can't find her shoe, or Berzo approaches her when she's playing, or if she isn't able to go to the store right-this-minute for whatever it is she needs. Her brain circuitry overloads and shuts down. When the smoke clears, Boots is red faced, embarrassed and sorry.

The author is compassionate, not only to the child's plight but the parents' as well. He describes three conflict resolution strategies, Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Plan A describes the approach in which parents impose their will backed by scary consequences. This is the way most of my generation was parented. Plan C's approach is to let the child have their way to avoid an upset. Which is the way many of us parent today. Then he unveils, Plan B. This step involves both the parent and child putting their concerns on the table, then finding a "mutually agreeable solution." Wherein parents act as a "surrogate frontal lobe", in effort to stimulate development in their child's.

There is much more that goes along with this. For example, parents need to allow the child to be the first to propose a solution, knowing it's not likely to be agreeable. The parent affirms their child's willingness to put forward a solution then calmly points out that not all concerns were addressed. The child tries again. Then the parent asks if they could make a proposal, and so on and so forth. It takes effort and self-discipline on part of the parent to not just default to Plan A and use authority to push it through, -Kaboom!- but to step back and teach your child to navigate these problems—a necessary skill which will be exercised every single day of his/her life.

The book also covers many common parent concerns, such as, what happens in the "real world" when others aren't going to be using Plan B? The author responds with, "I don't expect your fighting with her a lot will help her live in the real world. On the other hand, I do expect that helping her stay calm enough to think clearly in the midst of frustration will be very helpful to her in the real world. If you think about what the real world demands, it's a whole lot more about resolving disputes and disagreements than it is about blind adherence to authority." Indeed.

I'm a big fan of Conscience Discipline as described by Becky Bailey in her book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline.  Happily, this methodology fits right in with her plan. This is simply more focused on spirited kids with low frustration tolerance for the purpose of stabilizing their frequent blow-ups.

And—it works. When I have the self-discipline to use it, it really, really, really, works. Not only is my home more peaceful, I'm teaching my daughter how to be assertive, calm, how to consider everyone's agenda and to propose solutions that meets everyone's needs. As soon as she sees she's not going to be forced to eat Plan A, and Plan C is definitely not going to happen, she embraces Plan B and surprises me with her creative solutions.

After all, we all need to have some say in the course of events in our life.  Childhood is the only time we expect people to be happy prisoners of benevolent dictators. I hated it when I was growing up, but being naturally passive and easy going it was easy for me to internalize my feelings. Not so with Boots.

I'm glad she's challenged me to seek out these skills.  Learning to be calm, assertive, and to consider everyone's concerns equally (including my own) when seeking a solution to a dispute?  Yes, please!

I love you kiddo.