Recently in family Category

cleaning up our collective act chez lawley

Today on Facebook I posted this image, a screen shot from my iPhone showing my weight loss since August 4 (as tracked by my fantabulous Withings wifi scale):

Weight Loss, August 4-September 25

A friend commented and asked if I'd share my "secrets", and I decided that was a good lead-in to one of the blog posts I'd promised to start writing.

This didn't exactly start out as a weight loss program. Instead, it started out with me and Gerald looking at our finances at the beginning of August, and realizing that we've been living just slightly above our means for too long...which means that we've been very gradually accumulating debt. Not something we were happy about--particularly since we're on the verge of having two kids in college! So, we spent some time thinking about how to reduce our expenses and get our debt paid down.

One obvious place to cut costs was to reduce the amount of fast food and soda we were consuming as a family. Over the summer, with me not teaching and Gerald not chauffeuring kids to and from school and activities, we've actually got enough time to shop and cook. So we started doing exactly that. And when you're cooking your own food, rather than buying it in bags from the closest drive-thru, you have more control over what's going into your body.

I started going back to the Rochester Public Market on Saturday mornings, which cut our costs and improved the quality of our food. Amazingly, it didn't take long before even the thought of fast food lost all of its appeal, and I found myself craving bizarre things like hummus and roasted zucchini (and if you know me, you know just how bizarre that last part really is).

Eating healthier saved us money, but it also made us feel better. So we decided we might as well get a clean start all around, and we started exercising--Gerald by walking, and me by either walking or using the elliptical at the RIT gym. The exercise and the healthier food made us feel more energetic, and we both saw initial weight loss that helped a lot in keeping us motivated. And the fact that my 30th high school reunion is the weekend of October 8-10 gave me a short term goal point--I decided that if I possibly could, I wanted to drop 15 pounds by then. I started at a record-high 144 pounds, which meant my goal was to drop below 130 by the reunion (as you can see, I'm almost there!).

Over the past several months, Gerald has gone from a 3mph pace on a 2-mile loop in the neighborhood to a 3.5mph pace walking 5-6 miles a day (on the treadmill, in the neighborhood, at the mall, or recently on the RIT campus). And inspired by him, I've gone from barely being able to do 30 minutes on the elliptical at a low resistance level to doing 30-40 minutes at a high intensity, usually followed by the stationary bike or walking on a treadmill. I also discovered Jillian Michaels' 30-Day Shred DVD, which allowed me to squeeze in a high-intensity 25 minute workout before I leave in the morning--helpful on days where I know I'm probably not going to be able to make it to the RIT gym. Again--easy, cheap, and sustainable.

The key for us was that these were sustainable changes. Once we'd identified foods that we all liked but that were still healthy, it became easy to just keep those regularly stocked in the house. I may actually do a separate posts on the foods that have become critical staples for us to keep around. And even on a busy day, it's hard to argue that there's not time for 30 minute walk (or jog, or DVD workout).

Because I'm a techno-junkie, I found a lot of tools that have been helping me along the way. Gerald had bought me the Withings scale in April, so I started doing a daily weigh-in. The visualizations the app and website provide are really helpful, because they show a trendline--that means even when my weight would vary up and down from day to day, I didn't get discouraged because I could see the steady downward trend.

I joined the website--mostly out of professional curiosity, since they're a remarkable example of how game mechanics can be applied to real-world activities in an effective way. But my professional curiosity turned into personal satisfaction, since their tools for nutrition and activity tracking (both on the web and on my iPhone) are really excellent. I find that my biggest problem with food is that I eat without thinking...polishing off leftovers from other people's plates, grabbing a high-calorie snack out of the vending machine, having one more martini. Once I found a tool that made it easy for me to record both input and output, and that clearly indicated where I stood on each in terms of my goals, staying on track became easier.

And I continue to adore RunKeeper, which tracks the distances that Gerald and I walk when we're outside, but also records my indoor gym activities--and lets me brag about them online, another good motivator for me.

Oh...and one other iPhone tool that's been very helpful, in a tangential way, is Grocery IQ. It allows us to all access a shared grocery list, making it easier to keep healthy foods that we like "in stock".

So the (very long) answer is...I didn't do anything particularly novel or creative. I would say probably the single biggest factor is that Gerald and I both committed to making these changes at the same time...that means nobody's sabotaging the process, intentionally or not. Getting the junk food out of the house was the first and most important step for us...and the rest has followed.

liz & alex's road trip adventure, day 1

We started our trip yesterday morning, and most of the day was spent driving. But we did make two enjoyable stops, including the Ingersoll Cheese & Agricultural Museum, and the town of Hell, Michigan.

I'm mostly using my iPhone and the Hipstamatic app to take photos along the way, both because it's a lot easier to carry it around than my 30D, and because of the fun and unexpected views of the world the Hipstamatic creates.

Here's the creepy b+w version of the cheese museum, which was really quite benign in real life:

Ingersoll Cheese Museum

And here's the post office in Hell, located inside of the "Hell in a Handbasket" general store:

Post Office from Hell

We arrived at my cousin's house in Ann Arbor around 7pm, much less exhausted than I'd feared. They treated us to a lovely dinner of Thai food, and a very relaxing evening hanging out and chatting, followed by a great night's sleep in comfortable guest beds. So, we're off to an awesome start on this trip!

This morning we set out on our longest driving day (7-8 hours, depending on which mapping software you ask), with limited touristy stuff along the way. We'll spend the night tonight with our friends Bo & Joel in Cedar Rapids, and then the following morning hit the Field of Dreams in Dyersville before continuing on to Mitchell, SD for a visit to the Corn Palace. If you follow me on Facebook, you'll see our Foursquare checkins along the way as well.

photo scanning

Earlier this week I borrowed my father's Epson 4490 Photo Scanner , and I've been trying to work my way through the piles of snapshots that have been sitting in my basement.

I've worked my way through my childhood and high school and college photos, and my first and second weddings, which adds up to 565 photos. (If you want to see the photos, you should be folllowing me on either Facebook or Flickr.)

The scanner definitely speeds things allows me to scan 4-5 photos at a time, does decent color and lighting correction, and separates each photo into a separate image.

This would all be easier if I'd been smart enough to put the date on the back of my photos. Life is easier when digitial cameras handle the date information for you!

faye cohen rosenblum faber, 1912-2010

Me & Grandma at Jenny's Wedding

My grandmother passed away this morning. I was holding her hand when she took her last breath, and I had the chance on Friday afternoon to see her while she was still able to recognize and talk with me, and for both of those things I'm grateful.

Faye was an amazing, extraordinary woman. It's hard for me to put into words how much her influence and generosity enabled the success of the women (and men) in our family. I'll compile stories, and photos, to post over the next few weeks. But for now, I'll share this short biography that my mother wrote last fall for a well-reviewed exhibit of Faye's artwork that was held at the Jewish Home earlier this year:

Faye Faber was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, on October 20, 1912. The 7th of ten children born to Julia and Samuel Cohen, she was blessed with her father's good looks and her mother's sharp mind. There was little money--her father worked as a silk cutter in a garment factory--so everyone helped out by working at something, and the family was very close. Education was a high priority for the girls as well as the boys: Faye was sent to cheder where she learned to read the prayers and write Hebrew characters, which also came in handy for writing Yiddish, which the family spoke at home. When the Cohen children wanted to pass notes in school, Yiddish was the language of choice, because it could not be deciphered by the teacher.

Faye excelled in school, skipping grades so frequently that she graduated from Classical High School in Worcester at age 14. Latin and Literature were her favorite subjects, and she remembers doing her Latin homework right before class with Charles Olson, who later became a well-known poet. On days that admission to the Worcester Museum of Art was free, she and her sisters would spend hours there, enjoying the elegant atmosphere and wonderful paintings. This was the basis of her art education.

Faye received a full scholarship to Radcliffe, which she couldn't accept for lack of money for train transportation and textbooks. Instead, she worked, mainly as a clerk in a shoe store, thus contributing to the family income, and attended State Teacher's College in Worcester, from which she graduated with teaching certification. She went on to Clark University, from which she received an MA in History when she was 18. By the time she was 20 she was teaching at her alma mater.

In 1939, Faye married Harry Rosenblum, a young doctor from New York who had recently set up practice in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. They started a family: the children are Linda, Mark, and Deborah, all married now with children of their own, so that Faye is grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of five. Faye ran the household and the medical office, sat on the library board, and devoted herself to her children, sharing with them her love for literature and art. In 1956, Faye and Harry moved to Los Angeles, and for the first time Faye was able to take some art classes at night in the public high school. She painted, sculpted, and made jewelry. In 1979 they moved to a retirement village in Camarillo, California, where Faye continued her artistic hobbies when she could.

Harry Rosenblum died in 1985, and three years later, Faye married James Faber, a kind and brilliant self-educated man who had worked as a labor leader and businessman. When he became blind, she spent many hours reading to him - everything from Proust and poetry to newspapers and the New York Review of Books. After Jim died, Faye moved to Wolk Manor in Rochester, close to family, and then to the Jewish Home.

17 years and counting

I was struck by this line in a USA Today article about Al & Tipper's divorce: "Tuesday's announcement that the Gores are separating is the latest reminder that public marriages are complicated and rarely what they seem on the surface."

Seems to me it's not just public marriages that fit that description!

Gerald and I celebrate 17 years of marriage tomorrow, and I'm pretty sure nobody who knew us ten years ago would have said we'd be this happily married today. But I'm happy to report that under the surface, we may be complicated, but even better that you might imagine from the surface.

things i did today

slept late.

feasted on gerald's pancakes and thick slab bacon.

read a trashy novel while i did my grandmother's laundry.

picked up my sister, took her (and the laundry) to my grandmother's nursing home. watched my grandmother and her aide play bingo (and win 70 cents! go grandma!). fed my grandmother hamantaschen and and juice, and tucked her in for a nap. took my sister home.

returned library books; traded in trashy novels i'd read for trashy novels i hadn't. shopped for groceries, none of which would meet with michael pollan's disapproval.

watched the usa/canada gold medal game, while eating delicious oven-fried chicken tenders.

thought a lot about the idea of a game that teaches healthy shopping/cooking/eating philosophies.

read another trashy novel while drinking a martini and listening to the brandenburg concertos.

i really love vacations.

disney bound!

Tomorrow afternoon we (me, Gerald, and the boys) board a flight for Orlando. Seven days of sunshine, warmth, and disney fun (well, disney for me and the boys...Gerald's going to pass on that).

The last time the boys were at WDW they were 3 and 5 years old...I suspect that ten years later the experience for all of us will be very different.

We've purchased 6-day passes with the option to go to DisneyQuest (uber-arcade w/lots of VR tech) and the water parks each day as well.

If you've been to WDW recently, I'd love to know what you think are the can't-miss attractions for adults and teens. We bought the "unofficial guide" as well as access to the plans on, so we have a good head start. But suggestions are more than welcome!

my family needs your help

My husband received this email from his sister last night, and I'm sharing it in hopes that those of you who read my blog will consider supporting the DREAM legislation described below. Without it, our nephew's wife, who is pregnant with his child, will be deported to a country she hasn't even seen since she was an infant.

Many of you are already aware of the problems facing our family right now with the deportation proceedings that are being brought against our beloved daughter-in-law. For those of you who aren't, here's a brief recap:

Our daughter-in-law (we'll call her "Z" so as to protect her identity) and her mother came to the United States from the Ukraine in 1999 on a marriage visa. Because of personal problems, her mother did not marry the person named on the visa. Therefore she was required by law to leave the country, which she did not do. As a minor at the age of 13, Z had no choice but to stay also. Z's mother later married a U.S. citizen, but because she overstayed her visa, she is still subject to deportation. Because it would cause a hardship on her husband if she were deported, she has been allowed to stay. While she was a minor, Z was also allowed to stay. Now that she has reached legal age, the government has decided that she should be deported. It makes no difference that she has married a U.S. citizen and is pregnant with his child. It makes no difference that as a minor she had no control over the circumstances that put her in this situation - she will still be banned from re-entering the U.S. for ten years. It makes no difference that her deportation will cause a hardship on her U.S. citizen husband.

No country will give her a passport right now. She will be sent back to live in a strange country she does not know. Of course her husband, my son Brian, could not send his pregnant wife there alone. He will be forced to quit his job and go with her to a country where he will not be able to find work and cannot speak the language. He will lose his medical coverage, which he needs not only for the safe delivery of the baby, but he needs surgery also. After battling Crohn's for the past eight years, his doctor has said that his colon is going to have to be removed. He is on massive amounts of medication right now, trying to get the inflammation down enough so that the surgery can be performed. If he doesn't have the surgery, he could find himself in a life-threatening situation. I worry what effect all this stress will have on his health and know it can't be good for my unborn grandchild either.

When I first heard several months ago that the government had started deportation proceedings against Z, I thought that there was nothing to worry about. I didn't believe that anyone could so cold-hearted as to send this beautiful, intelligent, hard working, young woman, who has done nothing wrong, to a country she doesn't even know anymore. As I found out that all legal options were being exhausted and the immigration courts are indeed "cold hearted", I began doing online research and found that she is not an isolated case by far. Thousands of young people who came here as minors are now being deported. For many, this is the only home they can remember. They are often taken out of classes in handcuffs and sent to lands they don't know, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. I cannot imagine the terror they must be feeling. These children are being cruelly punished for something their parents did many years ago that was beyond their control.

There was a bill introduced into the Senate and House on March 26 known as the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act. If passed, this bill would enable some of these young people, like Z, to no longer be punished for their parents' actions and to have a way to acquire legal residence and work in the only country they know. It's not a hand-out. They would have to work for what we take for granted. There are age, residency, education and moral character requirements. But for hard working young people, who stay out of trouble, it is a way to be allowed to live in the only country that they have ever known, with their loved ones. It is our only hope that our family will not be torn apart and that our grandchild can grow up in the country we call home.

Please go to the following website and sign their petition asking your Congressmen to support this bill. Phone calls, letters, and faxes to your Senators and Representatives would also be helpful. Please forward this email to everyone you know and ask for their support. If you have an account on Facebook, My Space, or any other social networking site, please post this email there. If you have any suggestions that you think might help us, please let me know.

Petition to Congress to Support the DREAM Act

Contact information for Senators and Representatives

Basic Information on the Dream Act (PDF)

a lawley thanksgiving

Perfect weather, wonderful company, delicious food. A lovely day all around.




And yes, we love it.

pimpin' our ride

The 3-year lease on our Subaru B9 Tribeca is up this month. Actually, it was up last month, and we had planned to extend it for another 6-12 months, but Subaru wouldn't let us extend it for more than one month. Seems's not like used SUVs are flying off the lots these days, so it would have made more sense for them to let us hold onto it for a while.

So a few weeks ago we started the process of researching new cars. We had a couple of requirements--it had to be comfortable for both me (4'11") and Gerald (5'11") to drive, it had to have a good-sized back seat for the boys (Lane's already 5'7"), it had to have room in the back for the dog (that ruled out sedans, despite one of the boys suggesting that she could ride in the trunk), it had to get better gas mileage than the Tribeca (not a very high bar), and it had to be affordable for us to buy rather than lease.

We test drove two cars--the Scion Xb, and the Pontiac Vibe--and liked them both. They're both made by Toyota, and use identical 2.4 liter Camry engines, so it's not a huge surprise that they were comparable to drive. After giving it some thinking time, we decided that since we liked them both, there was no reason not to go with the Scion, which cost $3000 less, and to add some bells and whistles to it since it would still be affordable.

On Monday we drove down to the Scion dealership and put a deposit down on the first new car we've purchased as a couple (we've leased some new cars, but not bought one). What we ordered was an Xb in the quite elegant "Blackberry Crush" color, with an automatic transmission, built-in touchscreen navigation system, XM satellite radio, and remote engine start (we do live in the great white north, where remote start is particularly wonderful).

The car we put the deposit on is about a week away, which gives us time to get financing through the RIT credit union (much better rate than we can get through Scion).

Here's what the car will look like, courtesy of the Scion site:

Scion xB in Blackberry Crush

The Xb has always proudly proclaimed its boxiness and iconocastic "ugliness." They had an ad running in the dealership listing pros and cons of the car--cons were "Boxy. Ugly. People will stare." Pros were "Boxy. Ugly. People will stare." :) But the earlier models of the Scion were a lot boxier and a lot uglier than the 2008 and 2009 models. They've softened the edges, particularly in the back, so it doesn't look so much like a cheap delivery van. I actually rather like the new design, and I like the interior even more (especially the dedicated iPod connector that allows you to control your iPod using the touchscreen stereo).

Owner reviews of the 2009 (and 2008) model on are uniformly positive, and people are consistently getting combined city/highway mileage of 26-28mpg, which is substantially higher than the Tribeca gets. (And the Tribeca requires premium fuel, which increases the operating cost even more.)

We're excited! More on this when the car arrives in our driveway...

coming up for air

Last week, my 95-year-old grandmother suffered a series of small strokes. This week has been a bit of blur what with hospital visits, social worker conversations, research on everything from stroke rehabilitation to long-term care insurance (for me, not her...nothing like this sort of event to remind you of your own looming future) to risks of theft in nursing homes, covering classes for my mother, and trying to manage my own full-time job and family responsibilities.

Today they moved grandma to the rehab floor of the nursing home associated with her assisted living facility. They're not terribly optimistic about her being able to go back to the assisted living facility, but we're going to hold onto her room there for another month just in case she proves them wrong (it wouldn't be the first time she's surprised us). The nursing home (sorry, "skilled nursing facility") is considered one of the best in the area, but it still depresses me terribly every time I walk through the door.

Tomorrow, at least, I have no classes to teach, and few meetings to attend. There will be time to sleep a little later, take the dog for the long walks she's been missing this week, and maybe even eat some healthy food. I feel better just thinking about it.

(And mom, if you're reading this, you're an angel. What I've done this week is nothing compared to what you've been doing. Grandma's so lucky to have you.)

morgan settles in

Morgan 4

After a few days of mild chaos, Morgan is definitely settling into the household. We had a couple of scares with her slipping her collars...the first time she got loose in the neighborhood, and it took 15 minutes to chase her down and lure her back to the car with treats. The third collar we tried was a Gentle Leader head collar, and that seems to be the winner. She hasn't figured out a way to get it off, but it works wonderfully at controlling pulling, lunging, and jumping.

She's sleeping beautifully through the night in the crate in our room, has had no problems with accidents in the house, and does really well when we let her just run in our fenced backyard. She's still got some separation anxiety...she really really doesn't like being left alone, even for a few minutes. But I no longer need to have her on a leash in the house, since she stays close to where we are.

We've arranged for the trainer I found online to come to the house tomorrow for one training session, and we'll see how that goes. It's starting to look as though she's not so much aggressive with other dogs as she is excited about them, and it's possible we may be able to try a group class.

All in all, it feels like she was really a good choice, and I'm already growing quite fond of her.


update, 2/3: A number of people have expressed concern about us "muzzling" her, or "strapping her mouth shut," so I thought I'd clarify. The nose strap on the Gentle Leader does not keep her muzzle closed. She can eat, bark, yawn, and fetch a ball with it on. It acts a bit like a halter on a horse, not like a muzzle. The gentle pressure it exerts on her muzzle when she lunges or jumps, however, is a lot like the pressure that a dog pack leader would use when grasping her muzzle in his in order to exert authority.

Also, we don't leave the nose strap on her all day. We put it on when she's going for a walk, when someone new is coming over to the house, and when we need to work with her on training. The rest of the time we take the strap off.

update on dog/family integration

So far, so good. I completely misspoke when I said that Gerald wouldn't want the dog in our bedroom, and he set me straight after he saw my post :) So last night we had her sleep in the crate in our room, and it was a big improvement. She settled right down and slept all night, and didn't make any noises at all. We let her out when we got up a little before 7, and I took her outside so she could do "her business". Taking her out was a lot less fun today, with the 24 degree temperatures and 40mph winds, so she won't get the same long walks today that she got yesterday.

We also took her last night to get groomed at PetSmart, where they did a great job and she came out looking sleek and beautiful. She had no problem with the people there, but she barked like crazy at all of the other dogs she saw (which she also did when I took her on a long walk around our neighborhood). I know that aggression towards other dogs is a breed characteristic of chows, but I'm hoping with some obedience training we can reduce the extent to which she acts on it.

On the obedience front, I'm leaning towards having someone come to our house, even though it will be much more expensive than going to a class. Local group classes run about $100 for 8 weeks, the shelter we got her from gives us a discounted rate of $60 for 6 weeks but is a 30 min drive away, and the best deal I've seen for private training is a $199 for 4 sessions package. There are several big advantages to the private training, though. First, it means she won't be surrounded by other dogs when we start was really stressful for me dealing with her barking and lunging yesterday. Second, it allows everyone in the family to participate, so we're all on the same page when it comes to interacting with her. And third, we can work around our upcoming travel schedule...none of the group classes start for at least two weeks, and I'll be out of town for GDC in late February, and then our Bahamas cruise the first week of March.

Unfortunately, we didn't plan on that additional expense, particularly right before we take an expensive family vacation, so we may have to wait to do the whole obedience training process until we get back in March. We'll see.

Meanwhile, she's definitely bonding with the family, and is affectionate, playful, and intelligent. I'm quite sure we got a dog that's a good match for the family, but it will take a little time and patience for her to learn all the house rules.

Many thanks to those of you who've weighed in with public and private comments. It helps a lot to have advice from people who've been there and done that!

decisions, decisions

We've decided, after much family discussion, to adopt a dog, which is a pretty big deal!

Today Erin and Alex and I went to two animal shelters. Our original plan was to look at a pug that was at the downtown shelter, but it had just been adopted. So we headed out to the much larger suburban shelter, Lollypop Farm, to see what was there.

We looked at all the dogs, and picked three to visit with while we were there. Of those three, we narrowed it down to two. And that's where we're stuck--we liked them both, a lot, and couldn't decide. The "adoption counselor" at the shelter suggested that we sleep on it and come back tomorrow, so that's what we decided to do.

Missey.jpgMissey is a chow/akita mix, who's about 3 years old. She's really sweet-tempered and mellow, and has the softest coat I've ever felt on a dog. The only problem with her is that she has a fractured rear leg that didn't heal perfectly, and until we talk to the vet at the shelter tomorrow we don't know how much long-term trouble that could potentially cause for her. It doesn't seem to bother her at all...she trotted around the big visiting room with no limp or sign of discomfort, but the shelter would require us to consult with the vet first.

Morgan.jpgMorgan is a chow/shepherd mix who's about 2 years old. She's a little more energetic and playful than Missey, but not excessively so. She liked playing fetch with a tennis ball, and understood the sit command (which was very encouraging).

So, we'll go back tomorrow, with Lane (and possibly Gerald) along to make the final decision. I'm excited. :)

our beautiful new living and dining rooms

We've lived in our current house for a little over ten years, and during that time we did basically nothing to the living and/or dining rooms. Until last month they still had the same icky beige carpet and white walls that they had when we arrived.

But at the beginning of November, we started a grand project to transform the space. We took out the old carpet (by "we" I mean "Gerald and Erin," actually), had new bamboo floors installed, painted the walls a rich dark red color, had some of my photographs printed on canvas to hang on the wall, bought new lamps, purchased the Sony Bravia XBR4 46" LCD HDTV from Amazon, and rearranged the furniture layout.

The results? Spectacular.

Remodeled Living Room (from dining room)

It's been lovely to be home on break and able to hang out in the new space and really enjoy it!

(For those who care, there are more photos on Flickr.)

conquering clutter

Is 45 too old to change a lifelong bad habit? I'm going to try to find that out this year, because I'm really, really tired of being surrounded by clutter. It's what happens when two people who are packrats ("we might need this someday!") live together for more than a decade.

As I sit here this morning, enjoying a rare moment of complete peace and quiet in the house (everyone else is sleeping late), I'm realizing that I'm not able to really enjoy this little oasis of calm because of the stuff all around me...colored pencils on the floor from Alex's homework, two days of newspaper on the coffee table, covering up remote controls and ipods and flyers from the middle school, a backpack spilling its contents out onto an ottoman, cables CDs and yarn jostling for space on the end table. There's nothing even resembling a clean surface anywhere around.
I picked up a book yesterday called It's All Too Much, and I really like it. It starts with a discussion of why you've got the clutter, and about the relationships we have to our "stuff" and how that negatively impacts our quality of life. Then it outlines what looks like a manageable approach to paring down the amount of stuff you're holding onto.

In June, when I was living by myself in a furnished apartment with only the suitcase of clothes that I'd brought, it was easy to keep things clear, and I really enjoyed it. When I walked in the door after work, the space felt welcoming and relaxing rather than overwhelming. I want to get that feeling back, and I know it's going to take a huge amount of work and mental retraining (for all of us) to accomplish that.

things we're grateful for this week

  • It was only his wrists, not his head or his spine
  • We have great health insurance
  • Gerald had the foresight to buy trip insurance for the cruise
  • Microsoft is generously covering the change fees for us to fly home Sunday
  • We have amazing friends and neighbors
  • Erin is the best sister/daughter ever, with the patience of a saint

coping mechanisms for two broken wrists?

So, it's starting to sink in for Lane just how helpless the two casts are going to make him, and that's really tough for him. Any practical suggestions from my readership as to how to help him be as self-sufficient as possible, even with one incapacitated arm and one that has a cast from below the elbow beyond the wrist?

entrepreneurial ideas for teens?

Lane has decided that he wants to spend the summer earning money, but he's unenthusiastic about lawn mowing and babysitting as income generating activities. Instead, he'd like to find a way to leverage his not inconsiderable computing skills into moneymaking.

I'd love suggestions from readers about options he could explore. His skills include 3D modeling, Second Life construction and programming (in the teen grid, but it uses the same language and modeling tools as the main grid), digital music conversion, blogging, podcasting, and video editing. (I'm sure I'm missing things, but perhaps he'll read this and tell me what to add. :)

summer plans

Because I'm tired of explaining this to people. Now I can just point them here. :)

This summer, our family's travel schedule is pretty complex. Here's what we're going to do.

June 2, I fly to Seattle, and Gerald will come with me for just the weekend. He'll head back home to be with the boys on the 5th, and will stay in Rochester with both of them until school ends on June 22nd.

When school is out, Gerald and Lane will fly to Seattle to join me, and Alex will stay in Rochester, splitting his time between my mom and Erin (who'll stay in the house all summer).

In late July, Gerald will fly home with Lane, pick up Alex, and fly back to Seattle. Alex will stay with us there 'til I finish up at Microsoft Research on August 17th.

Then we're planning to head out on an Alaska cruise for a week before returning home.

That means the boys each get four weeks with me and Gerald in Seattle, and four weeks in Rochester without us (but with Grandma and Erin). They'll each get a chance to be an only child for a while, and everyone gets spared the sibling rivalry for eight weeks.

The down side is that I won't see Alex for nearly two months--so I may have to take a quick trip back to Rochester somewhere in there to get my fix. :)

time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping...

Holy moly, how did it get to be mid-May already??

My older son turned thirteen yesterday, which means I'm now the parent of a teenager. Wow.

Only 2.5 weeks 'til I head back to Seattle for the summer.

The day after I arrive in Seattle, Gerald and I celebrate our fourteenth anniversary. We rock!

But between now and then there's grading, grading, and more grading. And packing. And time with the kids, who'll be in Rochester for most of June to finish school. (Then they'll each split the summer between Rochester and Seattle--first Lane for four weeks in Seattle, then Alex.)

I'm feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment. But in a mostly good way.

we both love ice cream

In June, Gerald and I will celebrate our fourteenth anniversary, and I'm as much in love with him today as I was when we married--if not more so.

Yesterday I started watching the movie Little Miss Sunshine, which Gerald (and Erin) both loved, and said I absolutely had to watch. And you know what? I hated it. I chuckled maybe once, and spent a lot of time shaking my head in disbelief. When I quit watching at the halfway point (when they're stealing the grandfather's body out of the hospital), Gerald scoffed at me, saying I'd given up just before everything turned around. So I watched the rest of it tonight. And disliked it just as much.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. He loves Scrubs, too, which I hate. And Arrested Development, which I hate even more. He hates musicals, which I adore (I grew up watching them with my dad). He hates fantasy books and movies, which are my favorites. He has zero interest in any kind of computer game.

And yet.

We love each other. We enjoy each other's company. We laugh at each other's jokes. We complement each other's strengths, and accept each other's weaknesses. And we both love ice cream.

I'm a lucky woman.

help erin find a job!

I know there are a good number of folks in the Rochester area who read my blog, not all of whom I know well. So this is for all of you...

My stepdaughter is looking for a job here in the area. She's been working for a local restaurant since she arrived in town, but it's a less than ideal work environment, and I'd really like to help her find someplace better.

She has significant experience in food service, having left an excellent job as head bartender at a large country club in the Birmingham area. But she also has strong retail background (she managed a music store in Alabama), and she worked for me for several years as office manager for my internet training and consulting firm.

She's also incredibly smart, enthusiastic, and personable. She'd be an asset to any organization that was lucky enough to hire her.

Leave a comment here, or send me email at mamamusings { at } gmail { dot } com if you'd like a copy of her resume.


have yourself a merry little christmas!

IMAGE_077Being back in Rochester for Christmas this year is a Good Thing. We have a real tree again, instead of the artificial one we settled for in Seattle. We visited Weez's house tonight for a Christmas eve open house that featured wonderful food prepared by her mom, and we'll see her and her family again tomorrow when they stop by our Christmas Day open house. This year our holidays are all the brighter because Erin's living with us, and it means there's that many more presents under the tree. Tomorrow I'll post pictures of the aftermath :)

Right now I'm in the midst of a baking extravaganza. Cookies and brownies and biscotti, oh my! It smells wonderful. I've got Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's "Rockabilly Christmas" playing, which always makes me happy. (One of the things I didn't put in the "five things you probably didn't know about me"--because so many people know it already--is that I love Christmas music.)

May your holidays be happy and warm and filled with friends and family and food and love!

beautiful new appliances!

Last week, my husband went down to visit his mother in Alabama. While he was there, he admired her beautiful new stove and washer/dryer. The result? She bought a set for us.

Yes, that's right. A new washer, a new dryer, a new stove.

And not cheap ones, either. Really, really beautiful items.

The washer and dryer are the Whirlpool Duet HT set, which are high-efficiency units that use significantly less water, power, and detergent than usual units. They're also huge, which makes it easier to laundry for a family of five.

stove.gif The stove, which I picked out tonight at Sears, has me so excited about baking again. It's a Kenmore electric range with a true convection oven (and automatic conversion of time/temp from standard ovens to convection), a glass cooktop with five burners (one high-power unit that boils things super-fast, a warming spot, two regular size burners, and an expandable burner that can adjust to the pot size), and a warming tray, ideal for when one food item is done before others, or one family member gets home later than the rest.

The convection oven made it more expensive, but I did a good bit of research last night, and it really seems as though it's worth it. This article in particularly was pretty convincing, as was the significantly higher baking rating that Consumer Reports gave the "true" convection ovens it reviewed. And I bought a unit that (a) was on sale at Sears, and (b) I managed to get an extra $100 discount on.

So I'm feeling pretty grateful tonight for my mother-in-law's extraordinary generosity. These are gifts that will get years and years and years of use, that will cut our energy bills, and will result in better food on our tables. That's quite a gift!

giving thanks

One of the greatest gifts of recovery is learning to see the world through new eyes, with a focus on the things to be grateful for rather than the things to resent. So these days my gratitude list is far too long to fit into a blog entry.

There are high points from this year, however. On the big picture level, I'm so grateful to be back in Rochester, surrounded by family and close friends. I'm grateful that our house is full of people and love and laughter every day. I'm grateful for my family's good health.

On the micro level this morning, I'm grateful that we have enough food to keep Lane sated (he's growing at the rate of an inch a month right now, and his appetite has grown along with that). I'm grateful that I got to sleep late this morning, that Alex seems to be getting over his cold, and that Zicam seems to be keeping me healthy. I'm grateful that I remembered to buy eggs yesterday. And I'm grateful that my mom's making a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner for all of us.

Last, but not least, I'm grateful for you, all of you who read and comment on this blog. Thanks for keeping me connected to the web in a way that matters. Best wishes to you all for a happy, joyous, and free Thanksgiving.

getting our money's worth out of our insurance

I spent the first three hours of my morning yesterday in the pediatric emergency room with my almost-ten-year-old, who was making a barking noise that scared the crap out of me. Turns out he had croup, nothing life-threatening, and was back in school today.

Tonight, just as I was settling in to do some grading, Gerald called me upstairs in a tone of voice that made me stop what I was doing and hustle. He was having a severe nosebleed, which wasn't stopping when he applied pressure to his nose. He's a former paramedic, so when he said I should call 911 I did, and the ambulance just took him off to the same hospital we were at yesterday. The paramedics didn't seem overly concerned (they asked him if he wanted to be transported to the hospital, rather than immediately bundling him off), but I figure we're better safe than sorry.

Add to that the fact that on Friday my doctor sent me off for a CT scan to try rule out any particularly scary potential causes of a severe sudden-onset headache I'd gotten earlier in the week, and I'm extremely grateful that one of the benefits of my job is excellent health insurance. (And that we're back in a town where we love our doctors and have great medical facilities.)

[Oh, the CT scan was completely normal. Nothing to worry about.]

All in all, however, I'd prefer not to be getting quite so much of my money's worth out of my coverage.


It's too bad that the term "fairy" has taken on such a negative meaning in our language, far from the benevolent context of Cinderella's "fairy godmother." If it hadn't, I would have titled this post "fairy stepdaughter," as an homage to the remarkable changes in our household that my fabulous stepdaughter Erin has wrought since she moved in with us a few weeks ago.

I don't know what it is about Erin, but she manages to bring out the best in all of us. Having her in the house on a day to day basis has been such a positive thing. We're all happier. The house is cleaner--not just because she cleans up (which she does, and that's wonderful), but also because she sets an example that the rest of us can cheerfully follow. We're eating family dinners every night, and taking the time to enjoy each other's company.

Actually, as I think about Disney characters, she's really more of a Mary Poppins--but younger, blonder, and with a decidedly more delightful southern accent. And we're lucky to have her.

middle school supply hell

I spent three hours last night sorting, labeling, and organizing school supplies for my older son's first day in middle school. I had a two page list of supplies, organized by subject...English, Math, Social Studies, Science, Home & Careers, Health, Spanish.

Conspicuously absent from his schedule were Art, Music, and Technology. Apparently they get only a half year of each of "exploratory areas," so in January Home & Careers and Health will be replaced by Art and Music. I really don't like that this means he has no classes focused on non-text creativity for the next 4-5 months. Even worse, however, was the discovery that seventh graders at his school have no instruction in technology or computers. They use computers in some classes, apparently, via "mobile labs" of laptop carts that teachers can requisition. But that's not the same as learning about technology. For my kids, that's not a big deal, since they get so much informal instruction at home. But I know that's not true of all their friends, and I'm less than enthusiastic about the curriculum that it looks like he's locked into.

Why aren't we homeschooling again this year? (Regular readers know that we homeschooled both the kids last year in Seattle.) One reason: they don't want to. They missed their friends terribly, and for them school is all about the social networks. The "learning" is a necessary evil they have to suffer through in order to bond with their peers.

At any rate, the supplies. As my gamer friends might say, OMFG! Three 2" binders, four 1" binders, 2 notebooks, 3 folders, black pens, red pens, markers, colored pencils, highlighters, white board markers (wtf?? the kids have to supply these??), erasers, two rulers, a scientific calculator, book covers, post-it notes, graph paper, lined paper...and I'm sure I'm leaving stuff off. Gerald bought the supplies last week, and I sat down last night to label and stuff binders (Science? That one needs highlighters and markers and a notebook with a 2" binder. Math? One of each size binder, a calculator, the graph paper, a ruler, pencils.) Even after the bags of stuff he'd bought, we turned out to be missing key items ("The colored pencils! Where are the colored pencils?!?"), so he headed out to Target at 9pm. I kept working on prepping items, calling him every ten minutes or so with another missing item. ("Oh, crap, there's no cartridge for the label printer!" "Hmmm, maybe we need some of those pencil/pen bags that snap right into the binders.")

Did I mention that this took three hours?

At any rate, when we were done we'd filled his backpack with the 1" binders, single subject notebooks, and loose items (pens, pencils, kleenex, etc), and filled a second canvas totebag with the 3" binders and his summer homework. (If I get permission from him, I'll post it here--it's fabulous.)

How all that will fit in his locker is beyond me. Gerald bought a locker shelf unit that Lane put into his locker this summer on "visitation day" at the school, and I'm hoping it's sturdy enough to hold up under all that crap.

My stepdaughter, who's now living with us (yay!) watched in disbelief as all this went on (and helpfully offered me a drink midway through :), asked "What do the poor kids do?" Good question. We didn't shop the sales this year (usually I'm obsessive about sale flyers and comparison shopping), so we spent close to $200 on supplies for the two kids. That's insane. But even with the best shopping habits, I don't see how you could fill all the requirements on that list for under $100. Ridiculous.

Okay, rant done. Hopefully they'll both have wonderful first days back in school. I teach 'til 6, so I won't be there when they get off their buses, but I'm looking forward to hearing about it over dinner.

kudos to the rochester apple store

This summer, we promised to buy Lane a new computer. He's been doing a lot of cool stuff with borrowed time on the family computer, and a barely-hanging-on, nearly six-year-old Powerbook, so we wanted him to have a decent machine he could call his own.

Last night we headed out to the Apple Store at Eastview Mall, and headed home with a shiny new MacBook (and iPod Nano, and printer, both of which were free after rebate). We turned it on, and started in on the process of transferring files from the old computer to the new. We watched impatiently as the time remaining dropped from 45 minutes to 30 minutes to 7 minutes...and then stopped. Full stop. No animation on the progress bar, no sign of life whatsoever. We waited. And waited. Finally I tried rebooting...only to be greeted with a flat, grey screen. I tried again. Same thing. I tried putting in the system software DVD and rebooting from that drive, which seemed to work (after a lengthy delay). But two steps into the welcome sequence it froze, and generated a kernel panic screen. I followed the instructions on the Apple web site for what to do if your MacBook won't start. No luck.

Needless to say, I was not a happy camper. I was quite sure that I'd have to (a) wait forever for a genius bar appointment the next day, and (b) end up having to send the machine back to Apple and wait an indeterminate amount of time for them to return it.

This morning we got to the store right after it opened, and I walked up to the cash register with the machine. I explained briefly what had happened, and the young man at the register quickly called over the manager. The manager listened to my (highly detailed) tale of woe and said "Sounds like you did everything you were supposed to. Let's get you a new machine." <blink> So not what I expected to hear.

"But what about the receipt," I asked. After all, I'd been told quite clearly the night before that all the serial numbers had to match up on the receipt for the Nano and printer rebates to be honored. "Not a problem," he replied. "We'll generate brand-new receipts with the new computer's number on them."

Ten minutes later, we walked out of the store with a(nother) brand-new MacBook, which started up perfectly and has been making Lane happy all day.

It's quite amazing how much good customer service can do to turn a bad out-of-box experience into a great one. You can bet I'll be buying all my equpment there from now on. (They even gave me my faculty discount based on my RIT ID!)

imperfect exchanges

Things we found in our house when we returned that hadn't been here when we left:

  • Table runners. Five or six of them, mostly unopened in their packages. Apparently these were very important to them. I've never actually used on any of my tables, so I'm unclear as to the appeal.
  • Dozens and dozens of empty bags--from Old Navy, Gap, Talbots, Target, Nordstrom's, and other stores. Some carefully folded and stacked, others stuffed inside of each other. These people shopped a lot. Why they preserved the bags so carefully and then left them behind is a mystery.
  • A drawer of men's bathing suits. Whoops. Somebody packed in a hurry, I guess.
  • A 3"×5" hole in my son's bedroom carpeting. Not on the edge of the room, mind you, or under a piece of furniture, but right smack dab in the middle of the room. Mysterious and annoying. The pad is still there, but that section of the carpet was neatly excised. Other stained patches were left behind, so there must have been something really heinous on that spot for them to have gone to the trouble of cutting it out.
  • Two DishTV receivers and a DSL modem, all neatly boxed, but with no return information.
  • Lego bricks stashed in various places, carefully hidden to cause maxium foot injury upon discovery.
  • A small, pink satin pillow with "Very Important Princess" stitched onto it.
  • A tiny pink and blue satin-edged "blankie" that I suspect one of their kids misses now.
  • A quart of long-since-expired buttermilk in the fridge. Ew.
  • Two oddly-shaped brown things in the freezer that we still can't identify. Any ideas?

Things we expected to find upon our return, but didn't:

  • Our towels
  • Our sheets
  • Our pillows
  • 8 bowls that matched our plates
  • Our coffeemaker (happily, we had an extra in the basement)
  • Their forwarding address

The lack of sheets and towels is a major annoyance--I've had to buy emergency supplies for all the beds and bathrooms, but am holding off on stocking up too much until we see if we can track them down. (Our neighbors have an email address for them, apparently.)

The family was really nice--she took early retirement from an executive job with a major corporation to raise the kids, and he was in Rochester to do a one-year surgical residency. She and her mother and the kids headed south to their new 6,000-square-foot home in Tennessee a month before he did, and I suspect that he simply didn't realize that the sheets and towels (at least some of them) were ours. So I don't see this as malicious theft, merely an inconvenient (for us) error.

We tried to give the left-behind Dish receivers to the Dish installer who came to set up our system on Saturday, but his supervisor said he couldn't take them since they were technically not our property. And Frontier Telephone says that if we drop off the DSL modem it will prevent a $100 charge (to them, not us). We probably will do that, since it's not too far away.

It is irritating that they didn't provide any contact information--which means not only can we not send them any of the things they left here, we also can't send them what remains of the security deposit (after deducting the cleaning and carpet replacement and new towels and sheets...). But it could have been far, far worse--for the most part, the house and its contents are in decent shape, and we're really happy to be home again.

home sweet home

Wow, it feels good to be home. Warmly welcomed by neighbors, kids having a great time with friends, takeout food from our favorite Indian restaurant en route to our table.

The house feels small and a bit shabby compared to where we've been living, but it won't be hard to spruce it up, and I'd rather have it than all the mini-mansions in Seattle. Walking down the warm sidewalk to visit with neighbors, watching the evening thunderstorm approach, listening to Lane laughing and hanging out with his's all good.

update on gerald

Gerald took himself to the hospital this morning, where they said he had bacterial gastroenteritis, and weren't sure if it was from the tap water on the boat or the raw oysters...both of which we'll be avoiding for the rest of the trip. They rehydrated him, gave him something for the cramps, and sent him back with an Rx for an antibiotic to kill off what's left of the bacteria. He's napping on the boat now, and we're hoping to have him back to full strength soon.

Tomorrow we'll send two of the four boys back to Bellevue for a few days. Hopefully Lili won't notice that we've swapped one of her children for one of ours...or, if she does, that she won't mind. :) Over the weekend we'll set things back to normal configurations.

And tonight we'll grill steaks and bake potatoes, and watch the fireworks over Pleasant Harbor from the top deck of the boat.

magical morning

Gerald got in late last night, and took the boys from tears to laughter in minutes. I fell asleep listening to them horsing around up above me in the hot tub.

View from the bowAnd I was right...everything was better this morning. I woke around 6am to the sound of wind chimes, the feel of a cool breeze through the window, and a view of green pine trees against a clear blue sky.

Today we'll figure out what we need to feel comfortable here (more food, for sure; more lights, definitely), and tomorrow when we're back in Seattle for a party I'll stock up at Target.

I realized this morning that staying here is much less like the hotels that we're used to staying in, and much more like the cabin in northern Ontario that I used to vacation at with friends, back in high school and college. Not much to do there but eat, sleep, fish, swim, read, and listen to music. Here we add a bit of high-speed computing, some TVs that we can hook up a DVR to (and play back the many episodes of Family Guy that my kids recorded before we left), and easy access to several nearby parks. It's all about perspective--which we always seem to have more of when Gerald's here :)

I've been trying to remember when the last time I took a real vacation was--a vacation of more than a day or two, with nothing to do but relax. I honestly can't remember, and that's not a good thing. So I'll use this month to make up for it.

endings are hard

It was a hard day for our family today. Moving is always stressful, and saying goodbye to a house that you've come to think of as home is particularly hard for kids. Add to that the fact that we took our hedgehog, Cecil, back to the pet store today, and that I can't get the internet connection sharing to work properly yet (the pc sees the network and can join it, but doesn't get an IP), and that the lighting on the boat is really poor, and that the boys didn't get nearly enough sleep last night. So tonight has been rough.

The boat is lovely during the day...lots of deck space to hang out on, and room to wander outside. But as it grew darker tonight, it became clear that the lighting on the boat leaves much to be desired. We can't find any light at all in the bathrooms, and the few lights we have found are dim and depressing. It's rather like camping out...which is not so good for me or Lane, since both of us dislike camping :)

Tomorrow, when the sun's out again, we'll see what we can do about improving the internal lighting. We need to locate the few outlets, perhaps procure some extension cords, and head into Port Townsend or Port Angeles to see if we can find an inexpensive lamp or two to brighten up our evenings a bit. We'll pick up some DVDs for the boys to watch on their computers, too. As I told Lane, everything will seem easier and less depressing in the morning. I hope I was right...

july plans

It's hard to believe it's been nearly a year, but June 30 is my last day at Microsoft. At work I'm wrapping up some projects, and working on ways to continue others from 2800 miles away. At home, I'm pricing shipping options for household goods, weeding out the kids' clothes, and trying not to panic about the packing to be done. (No last-minute second thoughts, at least not yet. It feels good to be going back.)

The wrinkle in our relocation plans is that while our lease here ends on June 30, our tenants in Rochester will be in our house until July 31. So for the month of July, we're technically homeless. And because I'm scheduled to speak at MSR's faculty summit in mid-July, we need to stay in the NW area until then.

So here's our plan:

  • June 30-July 13 we'll be aboard Sabbatical, with a few trips into the Seattle area for parties
  • July 13-July 16 is still undetermined. We might stay with friends in the Seattle area, we might spend a few nights at the condos on Crystal Mountain that the boys liked, we might head to Ocean Shores for a few days. Still working that out.
  • July 16-18 we'll be at the Bellevue Hyatt for the faculty summit
  • July 18-31 will be a slooooow trip down I-90, stopping at national parks and roadside attractions along the way. Definitely a few days in Montana--Scoble's photos made me think that we really need to soak up some of that scenery. Yellowstone, Badlands, Mount Rushmore. Possibly a few days in Ann Arbor, staying with my cousin and her family and showing the kids the places I lived when I was a student (if they haven't been condemned and torn down...) What else? Are there must-see spots along 90 that you think we should visit?

Not a bad way to spend a month, I think.

The boys (and I) were a little worried about Internet access during our month of transience, but they don't need to worry any longer--I just received my new Verizon EVDO card, which gives me high-speed internet almost anywhere! (In fact, I'm posting this entry from the bus on my way to cool is that?) I figured I'd take advantage of my 20% MSFT employee discount while I could, and order it this month. I did the one year contract (can't do it for one month, alas), but given that I'll probably be traveling a bit next year, it will be nice to have broadband access without paying airport and Starbucks surcharges. I won't be able to use it with the MacBook Pro, alas, since it's a PC Card and the MBP uses a different card format. I could buy another card in the right format, I suppose. But I have another plan.

I'm also ordering a new Vaio SZ240 laptop--which weights in at under 4 pounds!--as our primary traveling machine, since we won't be able to set up Gerald's desktop in most of the places we're headed. I'll still be getting a 17" MacBook Pro, but I cancelled the order that they kept delaying, and my department will order me one for my return in August. I love my 17" powerbook, but it's a bear to carry around, and I'm looking forward to having a lightweight, fully-featured laptop that I can use when traveling.

So that's how plans are shaping up.

how to ruin a perfectly good saturday afternoon

I'm sitting in the living room this afternoon, contemplating the boxes that need to be filled with stuff to be shipped back home, when the phone rings. It's my aunt, up in Marysville. I ask how she is, and she hesitates. "Oh, Liz....oh, dear...can I talk to Gerald?" That's very odd. They like my husband, sure, but why would they ask to talk to him first? I ask what's wrong, and she says again "Is Gerald there? Let me talk to him." Now I'm worried.

[And if you are, too, let me break out of the narrative for a second to tell you that everything ends up fine.]

I bring the phone up to Gerald, who speaks briefly to her, says "Let me find out what's going on," and hangs up. He says to me "Before I say anything, you need to keep in mind the source of this information." I'm getting increasingly worried now. "Your grandmother called them to say that your mom and Don [my stepfather] were killed in a car crash."

I sit on the edge of the bed, trying to process this information.

My grandmother is in her 90s, and in an assisted living facility. When I saw her a few weeks ago, she was having a lot of trouble confusing past and present, dates and times. Gerald's right to be cautious. But...I'm still starting to freak out.

"How does she know this?" I ask. He doesn't know. He points out that nobody has confirmed this information from another source, and that it's coming through extremely unreliable channels.

I try calling my mom's house. No answer. I call her cell phone. No answer. Now I'm starting to worry. She often doesn't answer her cell phone, so it doesn't necessarily mean anything. But still...

I can't find Don's cell phone number, so next I try to figure out if there has indeed been a fatal car crash in the area. I call the Monroe County sheriff's department, and they are remarkably unhelpful. If I don't know where the supposed crash took place, they can't find anything out. "How many fatal car crashes are there in the county each day?" I ask. Doesn't matter. They're useless. I hang up.

Next I call the assisted living facility where my grandmother lives, and explain (while trying not to fall apart) the situation. Can they have a nurse or aide talk to my grandmother and find out how she got this information, I ask. I don't want to call her directly, because I assume she's overwrought. They'll do that, they say, but it may take a little while because they're changing nursing shifts. I leave them my phone number.

I check Google News for anything about a fatal crash in Rochester. Nothing.

I finally break down and call my grandmother directly. An aide answers the phone, and confirms that my grandmother is indeed very distraught. "How did she get this news?" I ask. The response is that my grandmother hasn't heard from them in 36 hours, when she believes they were leaving for Boston, and thus has determined that the only possible explanation for the lack of contact is that they were dead. I start to remember how bad my grandmother is at dates and times of travel. I had to tell her at least five times at dinner last month that I was leaving for Seattle the next day, and she still didn't seem to have remembered it properly when I left.

I'm starting to calm down a little now.

While I'm on the phone with my grandmother, Gerald locates Don's cell phone number and calls it. He gets Don on the phone, which I can hear while I'm talking to the aide. Don is apparently fine, as is my mother. I relay this information to the aide, and promise that I will have them call my grandmother right away to reassure her.

I call my aunt, and tell her we've spoken to Don, and that everyone is fine. She is (appropriately) apologetic for scaring the CRAP out of me.

Gerald's cell phone rings. It's my cousin in Ann Arbor, who's close to my mom, checking to see how I'm doing. Gerald, and then I, tell her the good news. We commiserate.

I pour a glass of wine. A big glass of wine. It's not very good wine, and has been in the fridge for several days, but I really don't care. I'm drinking it for its medicinal properties. It would be nice if my hands would stop shaking.

My mother calls, trying to figure out what all the fuss is about. I explain. She apologizes. Three times. It's not her fault, obviously. Going 36 hours without calling her mom is not in any way irresponsible. But I don't think I've ever been as relieved to hear her voice.

I hang up, and get hugs from my son (who's been listening to all of this) and Gerald. I drink some more wine.

And now I'm blogging it. Because only by writing this down, I think, will I see any humor in it. Or be able to let it go.

flickr/family serendipity

The Löbmann FamilyIn the fall of 2004, I posted on Flickr a series of century-old photos of my father's side of the family that he had scanned into digital form. One of them was a beautiful formal family portrait of my grandfather, his parents, and his four siblings--that photo actually won an informal award from the "old photos" group on Flickr.

In the caption of the photo, I noted that my grandfather's younger brother had emigrated to Brazil, and that the last my father had heard of his three aunts was that they'd gone to Australia. I had pretty much resigned myself to not ever knowing what became of that whole side of my family, because I really had no starting point for doing that research.

Yesterday afternoon, I received a new comment on the photo--from a Daniel Loebmann in Brazil. I suspect that he searched Flickr for the term Loebmann...and up popped three of my old photos. I followed up with a message to him asking what the family connection was, and he turns out to be the grandson of my grandfather's younger brother Salo--which makes him (according to Gerald, my most reliable family tree decipherer) my second cousin.

Even more exciting, he had information about all of Salo's descendants, and even about the three mysterious aunts--whose names, it seems, were Vali, Erna and Ruth, and who also eventually relocated to Brazil.

My dad and I are totally astounded and delighted by this Flickr-fuelled family reunion, and I'm thinking about trying to find a time to take a trip down to Brazil to meet some of my long-lost cousins.

So, how cool is that?

cello construction

My stepfather, Don Reinfeld, is a cellist for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. He's currently having a new cello built for him by violinmaker David Wiebe, who recently sent him a series of photos of the cello in progress. Don has just posted them on Flickr--it's really fascinating to see the instrument taking shape!

There's an essay documenting the entire process of creating another cello on Wiebe's site--it just cries out to be put into blog form, don't you think?

christmas latkes

Latkes!Like me, my kids are growing up in a mixed religion household. So our Christmas dinner tonight consisted of way too many latkes (potato pancakes), made with my father's traditional recipe.

The kids opened their presents this morning--Santa (and their grandparents) were very, very good to them. They've spent the day playing with their new Nintendo DS's and games, as well as their Fly Pens (which I think will be extremely useful in making homeschooling a little more fun).

I got a combo charger/FM transmitter for the video iPod that Gerald got me a few weeks ago, some Happy Bunny slippers, a nifty wind-up flashlight to keep in my car, and something that I scoffed at when I first saw advertised, but which we've used three times today and promises to be a very useful addition to our appliances--a combination egg-and-muffin cooker. It's easy and safe enough for the kids to operate, which makes it better than many alternatives, and it's super easy to clean (just one tiny non-stick pan that has to be washed, and it can be done in about 20 seconds). As ridiculous at it seems, I rather like it. I also got a new cast iron skillet (pre-seasoned!) to use for cooking latkes, since we left my much loved and well-seasoned pan at home in Rochester.

Since tonight's also the first night of hanukkah, the latkes seemed appropriate for dinner (when the holidays don't overlap, we often get chinese takeout for Christmas dinner, another modern Jewish tradition). Cooking the latkes takes several hours (if you factor in peeling and grating potatos and onions, and getting the batter and oil temperature exactly right...) So now I've collapsed onto the couch, stomach full-to-bursting with those oh-so-unhealthy treats, and I'm off to Azeroth to try to level my character up a bit tonight.

Merry/happy hanukkah/christmas to you all!

(Oh...and many, many thanks to all the people who helped us out on yesterdays wifi question--you all rock!)

holidays far from home

It's been odd preparing for the holidays this year. We have a lot of traditions associated with the season back in Rochester--chief among them the ritual trek to Stokoe Farms to stalk and kill a wild tree.

This year all of our decorations and holiday accessories are stored in the basement of our house in Rochester, so we've had to start from a blank slate. I caved this year, and we bought an artificial tree--I just didn't have the time or energy to figure out where to go for a comparable tree-cutting experience here, nor did I want to deal with the traffic. And we haven't got any ornaments on it yet (though it did come pre-lit; very convenient, I must admit). I bought a couple of make-your-own-ornament kirom Michael's yesterday, and the boys and I will spend some time today making those.

The tree is up in our family room, where there's also a fireplace--just like back home. The difference here is that this is a gas fireplace, which starts up from a light switch on the wall. Poof--instant flames. Again, convenient--but not quite as satisfying as building a wood fire yourself.

And did I mention the traffice? OMG--the traffic. What a nightmare. That alone is reason enough to return to Rochester at the end of the year. A simple trip to Target, which in Rochester takes us less than an hour round trip (including shopping time) takes 3-4x as long here, and the stress level is exponentially increased with each additional 30 minutes in traffic.

While we don't really miss the sub-zero temperatures and blowing and drifting snow of home, we were feeling a little homesick for Christmas-y look of snow. So we took a trip up into the Cascades on Saturday to visit a little Bavarian-themed town called Leavenworth. We went with my friend Lili and her 3 kids, and we all had a great time. The town's a little (well, more than a little) hokey, but the setting is gorgeous, we got our snow fix, and the kids had a blast wandering in the little christmas shops. We also acquired some ridiculous and very fun hats while were there.

All in all, we've little to complain about this holiday season. We're happy and healthy, warm and safe, in a beautiful place with friends and family nearby. It may not be the same as it's ever been, but it's still a lot to be grateful for.

So, that's the holiday report from the diaspora. May your season be full of warmth and love and laughter.

reflections on home

The boys and I got back from Rochester late (very late) last night. Part of me feels like I'm home today; another part feels as though I just left home behind. It's an odd feeling--to be not-quite-at-home in either city.

This ended up being a stressful visit--trying to squeeze months' worth of visits and dinners and meetings and conversations into a handful of too-short days. My apologies to all the people I didn't have time to really spend time with on this visit--especially Steve (who helped save the day in my mom's class!) and Eric (who's going to be stuck packing up a box of things I left in my office, without even having gotten to see me while I was there).

I had some amazing home-cooked food while I was there--Weez's eggs benedict and home fries, Tona's delicious enchiladas, Jenny's always-wonderful potato kugel, and my Mom's signature homemade crepes for breakfast. As rushed as I was, I felt loved and welcomed by friends and family, and it was a good reminder of why we've grown so fond of Rochester. It's the people, stupid! (It was also nice to spend some time in my RIT office, with its enormous window. One of the few things I don't like about my working environment at Microsoft is how little natural light I seem to encounter on most days.) Rochester is definitely where I'm most connected to friends, family, and community, and it was wonderful to see the people I care about while I was there. But being back in Seattle really makes me happy, too--the mountains are a big part of that, but so is the fact that I'm taking a lot of an enjoyment in the work that I'm doing and the people I'm working with.

Many thanks to the people who sent get-well wishes for my grandmother. I'm delighted to report that she seems to be doing much better--they've stopped the internal bleeding, and rehydrated her, and it appears that her kidney function is returning. When I spoke to her on the phone before we left (Alex had a cold, so visiting seemed unwise) she sounded cheerful and alert--a big change from how she'd been when I saw her a few days ago. I'm hopeful that she'll be back in the nursing home within a few days, and from there back to the assisted living facility where she feels so much more at home.

best laid plans

World of Warcraft is taking a back seat today, because my 93-year-old grandmother's health has taken a turn for the worse, and she had to be moved to the hospital last night (she lives in an assisted living facility here in Rochester, but had taken a fall two weeks ago and was in the rehab unit at the affiliated nursing home).

As a result, I'm actually teaching a class today to cover for my mom, who's over at the hospital--it's an experimental writing class, so I'll be talking about online narrative forms. God bless you, Jill, for putting so much great stuff online!


My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the everchanging view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.

--Carole King

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays--I associate it with family and warmth and food and laughter. Amazingly, I've never had to make my own Thanksgiving dinner. Most years I've eaten at my mother's house (where I wish I could be this year, as well), and there have been a few wonderful and memorable Thanskgivings with Gerald's family in Alabama. (The contrast between the two is fodder for another post at some point...)

This year we're far away from both of those gatherings, but we'll still be celebrating with family. We had planned to go up to Marysville to spend the day with my uncle and aunt in their house on the sound. Plans changed, however, when my 93-year-old grandmother took a bad fall in Rochester and had to be hospitalized for fractures of her pelvis. My uncle headed to Rochester, and my aunt changed her plans to have dinner with her stepsister in Olympia--so we're tagging along for that dinner.

I toyed with just staying here and cooking our own Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, but events conspired against me. On Monday morning we woke up to find that the compressor had gone out on our refrigerator (well, our landlords' fridge), and Sears won't be able to get a repair person out until next week. No fridge makes any kind of serious cooking a whole lot harder, since you can't do any prep in advance.

So no maple pecan pumpkin pie this year. No sweet potato and turnip gratin (the yummiest dish I've ever made for a Thanksgiving dinner). No sweet potato casserole. We'll be toting a couple of store-bought pies instead...

We'll have to make up for this over the winter holidays--we'll have a big latke dinner, of course. But maybe we'll also have a Thanksgiving-style dinner that we make ourselves, complete with all of those favorite recipes, and some friends over to share in the bounty.

In the meantime, we're off to Olympia for the day. May your day be a rich tapestry full of warmth and love and gratitude.

introducing cecil

Meet the newest addition to the Lawley household:

Photo of Cecil, our new pet hedgehog

This is Cecil, an African pygmy hedgehog. The photo of him is from the website of the store where we purchased him, but once he gets more settled in at our house, we'll be putting lots of photos of him up on my Flickr account.

He's adorable. And no, he's not uncomfortable to hold. He's quite friendly and inquisitive once you scoop him up.

For more information on hedgehogs as pets, take a look at the excellent Hedgehog Central site. And if you're looking to buy a pet hedgehog in the Seattle area, Animal Talk seems a good place to do so.

the serious packing begins

For weeks now, people have been asking me how the packing was going. The truth of the matter is, it wasn't. It didn't make sense to me to drag the packing out over a several-month period. But now that I'm down to 2.5 weeks before my departure (3.5 weeks for Gerald), it's time to get serious.

I'm trying to actually sort through our belongings and do a lot of purging in the process--we didn't do that when we moved up here from Alabama, and as a result our basement was full of boxes of junk for years. So this time I'm filling trash bags with things that really aren't usable anymore, and stuffing boxes with garage-salable items. (Garage sale planned for the 16th-18th of June; in Rochester, it's typical for sales to go Thursday through Saturday rather than Friday through Sunday...)

Friday I spent a lot of time sorting out things from the kids' rooms that could be tossed or sold. Yesterday was music sorting day. I cleared out space on my hard drive, and have been ripping all our CDs so that we can store them rather than shipping them. Turns out we have more than I realized, and I'd digitized fewer than I thought already, so it's taking a while. I'm almost done, though. This afternoon I'll return to the kids' rooms to figure out what needs to be boxed up for storage or shipping. (Winter clothes to ship, books to store, etc.)

We've made yet another change in our travel plans. Alex and I are still going to fly out on the 23rd, and Gerald will still be driving out at the end of the month. But Lane will stay another week here with my mom, because he'd like to celebrate the 4th of July here with his friends, and will then do a solo flight to Seattle.

The fact that our tenants want the house furnished does help enormously. We've got plenty of box storage space in the basement now, and lots of moving boxes from the last time around (plus an offer of more from a friend who recently moved). So I'm really not all that stressed about the process. If I run out of time to sort and cull, we'll toss what's left in boxes and stick them in the basement. If the garage sale turns out to be unsuccessful, we'll call Volunteers of America and have them cart the excess away.

And in a month it will be over, and we'll be settling into Seattle.

my husband rocks (12th anniversary edition)

Back in February, I posted about my amazing husband, who had bought me a PS2 for an early Valentine's Day present.

Well, he's at it again.

Friday is our 12th anniversary, but I have a conflicting obligation that night. We were trying to figure out what to do about it, when he reminded me that while our actual anniversary is June 3rd, our wedding announcements say June 2nd. (It's a long story.) So we've decided to celebrate our anniversary tomorrow.

The plan is to head out to Seneca Lake after the boys leave for school, rent a pontoon boat, and spend the day lounging in the sun on the lake. The only problem? How to listen to music. We no longer have a working boombox, most of our music is digitized, and headphones are so not romantic for a day on the lake.

Tonight he came back from running errands with an early anniversary gift--Altec Lansing InMotion speakers for me to use with my iPod. Such a lovely thought...but, unfortunately, my 1st generation (5GB) iPod won't work with them, since it doesn't have a dock connector. After I explained that, he looked disappointed, and said he'd take the speakers back tomorrow. But a few minutes later he walked back into the room holding another box...a pink iPod mini!!! Can I just say that it is, without a doubt, the absolute cutest electronic device I've ever owned? So as I type this entry, I'm copying music onto my new toy.

Yes, he rocks. Hard. Twelve years, two kids, lots of downs to go with the ups...but we're still here, still in love, and our marriage is stronger than it's ever been.

I was trying to explain to someone recently the difference between the intoxication of infatuation, and the happiness of a long-time love. It's hard to explain, really. Infatuation has energy and excitement. It's a high. It's like the first drop on the roller coaster--exhilarating and terrifying all at once. Long-term love is sweet and slow and solid and secure. It's knowing that someone knows you--knows all about you, knows what you like, knows how you think. Infatuation takes your breath away; love takes your fears away.

I'm a lucky woman--not because my husband buys me PS2s and iPods, but because he knows me well enough to know those are exactly the right gifts. Because after twelve years of marriage I still laugh at his jokes, respond to his touch, and look forward to a day with him on a lake.

it's the people, stupid

A lot of people have been asking me if I think I'll come back from Seattle after my sabbatical is over. I'd be lying if I said I didn't find the prospect of working on interesting projects, for more money than I currently make, in a beautiful city, attractive.

But as we make our preparations to leave, I keep running into the one thing that will make us likely to return to Rochester next summer...the people in our lives.

We've been here for nearly nine years, and we've built a life. We have wonderful friends, supportive family, great health care providers. Relationships and connections like the ones we have here don't happen overnight--they take time and nurturing. And while I have no doubt we could eventually build up a life in Seattle that was rich and rewarding, I don't want to walk away from the life we already have built here.

Today we had a few close friends over for an informal cookout (well, as informal as my southern-born-and-bred husband can manage), and I was reminded of how much a part of my life they'd become, and how much I didn't want to lose that part--even if I could splice in "replacements" somewhere else.

So, what does my "why I'll be back" list look like?

  • My mother, stepfather, sister, and father...all close enough to have dinner together any night of the week.
  • My dear friends, many of whom are also my colleagues
  • My wonderful doctors, who know me and my health and my family, and whom I trust completely
  • My neighbors, who we're finally seeing again now that the grass is green and the temperatures have warmed
  • Our newly spruced-up house. On an afternoon like this one, with sunshine casting long shadows on the lawn, a light breeze rustling the leaves outside all the windows, and the sounds of kids, birds, and dogs outside, it's hard to imagine wanting to be anywhere else
  • Summer vacation--one of the best perks of academia
  • The low cost of living, which makes my relative-to-Microsoft small academic salary go a long, long way
  • My new lab at RIT

That's a lot of powerful reasons to come back home.

turning it over

The third step in 12-step recovery programs is "Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him." I'm not a religious person, and the wording of this step has always been a little difficult for me. Similarly, the Al-Anon slogan "Let go and let God" has been tough for me as well.

Today, however, has been a good day for remembering that even if I don't know exactly what I'm turning things over to, the idea of taking something difficult to manage and "turning it over" is worth trying.

This morning, we got a call from the person to whom we thought we'd be renting our house while we were on sabbatical. She had decided to rent a place downtown, instead--which plunged me into a moment (well, more than a moment) of panic. I spent most of the morning feeling overwhelmed by everything that had to be done in the next three weeks: sort all of our belongings into store/ship/sell/toss categories, box up the first two categories, dispose of the second two categories, move all of our furniture into storage (either off-site or in the basement), sell my car and buy a new one for the week-long drive to Seattle, get to all of the various doctor and dentist appointments we're cramming in before we leave, etc, etc etc.

Gerald finally said to me around lunchtime, as I was sorting through car specifications, posting our house to every online listing site I could find, and hovering dangerously close to my emotional redline zone, "just turn it over."

My first thought was "Don't be ridiculous. If I let go of all this, it won't get done, and we'll be even worse off." But then I realized he was right. I needed to let go of trying to control everything, and trust that if I did the next right thing, the rest would follow.

The first thing I did was think through worst case scenarios. What if we didn't rent the house? Well, we'd be okay. We'd probably have enough money between RIT and Microsoft to cover the expense. And we could always ask a realtor to find a tenant for us--we'd get less money, probably, but it would be something. So I posted the house online, and let it go...either it would rent or it wouldn't, and freaking out about it wasn't going to change the outcome.

Then I thought some more about the car issue. The motivation for getting the new car right away was to avoid driving across the country in an old car that might break down. But...what if I sold the car before I left town, and then flew to Seattle with Alex instead? I looked again at the benefits Microsoft had offered, and realized that one of them was a month-long car rental. So, we could fly to Seattle, pick up a rental car at the airport, drive to the corporate housing, and have a month to squirrel away cash for a bigger down payment on a car. I emailed the relocation support person to let her know our plans had changed, and another big task dropped off my "must do this week" list.

After dinner, I went to my Monday night Al-Anon meeting, and talked about how good it had felt to "turn it over" today. Walking out, I felt really good about where I was. When I walked back into the house at 10pm, Gerald was on the phone with someone, laughing and talking. I figured it was a friend or family member, until he said "Well, my wife just walked in--why don't you talk to her and she can tell you more about the house."

It was a woman from LA who'd seen my post on the U of R off campus housing site. Her husband is doing a one-year residency at Strong Hospital starting in August, and they don't want to move all their furniture across the country. They were hoping to find a furnished house that could accommodate them, their two small kids, and her mother--and that had a good school district for her older child, who's about to start kindergarten. It's a perfect match--for them and for us.

So tonight, my IM status message is "an attitude of gratitude." Which is, I know, a platitude. And I'm okay with that.

life used to be so hard... everything is easy 'cause of you

Lane is at the neighborhood pond with his friends, building a fort and eating a picnic lunch.

Alex is at a friend's house 'til dinner.

Gerald's running errands.

So here I am, sitting on my couch, enjoying the fresh air coming through the windows and the sounds of birds, kids, and lawnmowers in the neighborhood around me. I have a spring cold--unpleasant, but not debilitating--which gives me license to lounge, rather than cleaning up and packing boxes. And this rare oasis of stillness and solitude gives me time to reflect and be grateful.

We're happy. Our life here is good. There is nothing that we need that we want for--from food and shelter to friends and family.

I'm blessed.

birthday baseball

Just booked my older son's birthday party for next weekend, and I'm already looking forward to it. We're doing it at a Rochester Red Wings baseball game, and the party package is both fun and affordable.

Hot dogs, soda, ice cream cake, balloons, logo baseballs, and bleacher seats for everyone. Woohoo! What better way to spend an evening in May?

parental controls in os x tiger

I just updated my kids' laptops (yes, I know how insanely privileged we are...) to Tiger. In the process, I discovered that my younger son has been doing some Google searches with his friends for items that I would not consider to be entirely appropriate for unsupervised 8-year-old consumption. <sigh>

We went through this a couple of years ago with my older son, so I wasn't exactly shocked. Gerald and I talked about what to do, and I was leaning towards taking the computer out of his room and limiting his use to public areas of the house. Then I remembered that I'd seen some information in the Tiger feature list about parental controls, so I took a closer look. Eureka!

So, for the time being, I've enabled controls on his computer for Safari, Mail, and iChat. It's a whitelist approach--Gerald or I have to approve any new contacts for email or iChat, and add new domains to his approved list in Safari. I prefer whitelists to blacklists in this context, since it's so hard to anticipate the many ways that kids (and spammers) can get around filters.

This won't be a permanent state--I trust my 10-year-old to administer his own computer, despite a rough patch when he was around 8. But as a short-term response to the situation I think this will work. Yet another reason to be glad of the upgrade to Tiger.

through a tourist's eyes

Last week, Gerald and I went to see a wonderful concert by the Blind Boys of Alabama. The concert was at a venue we hadn't been to before, a place called German House, which is in a city neighborhood called Corn Hill South Wedge (thanks, Alan). Neither of us had been in Corn Hill South Wedge before, and it was somewhat disorienting to get out of the car in a completely unfamiliar landscape--as if we'd travelled to another city. It got me thinking about how many parts of Rochester I just don't know as well as I'd like, and how many interesting and beautiful things I've missed because I don't take the time to really explore the place I live.

Today on my way back from a downtown meeting I skipped the interstate and took local roads back to campus, driving along the Genesee river, past the Mt. Hope Cemetery where Susan B. Anthony and Frederic Douglass are buried, and through some beautiful riverside parks. Then I called Gerald and said "I know what I want to do for my birthday on Saturday!"

I want to be a tourist, right here in town. I want to start the day with breakfast at the public market. I want to walk around downtown and take pictures of the beautiful architecture. I want to walk through Mt. Hope Cemetery. I want to go to Eastman House and admire the photographs, and the Susan B. Anthony House to remember that I live in a city that's always been home to great women. Maybe visit the zoo and the adjoining Frederic Law Olmsted park.

So that's my birthday plan. Friday night dinner and drinks with friends; Saturday wandering the city with my family and my camera. Then Sunday morning I'm outta here, headed for back-to-back meetings in Seattle.

magical moments

This morning you and I were playing on the floor in your bedroom -- I was hiding the phone and you were crawling all over my torso and legs to find it -- and you suddenly stopped, your face very close to mine, and you leaned in and pressed your nose to my cheek. We stayed in that position for several spectacular seconds, a hesitation that altered history, a moment so intimate it felt like it could end wars. I could feel you grinning on my skin and even though I wanted to scoop you up and cover you in kisses I let you hold your face there for as long as you would. I know there are only a handful of moments like that in life. Thank you for that one.

No, thank you, Heather. Your monthly "newsletters" -- love letters, really -- are always moving. But this one, in particular, gave me a shiver of happy recognition.

Even now, with my boys well out of toddlerhood and into their "tweens" (aged 8 and almost-11), there are still remarkable moments like that in my life. Moments when they throw their arms around me with abandon, and I bury my head in their hair and soak up the smell and feel of them. Moments when I wake in the early morning and find that one of them has snuck into our bed and snuggled up against me while we slept. Moments where I can step outside of myself for a moment and see how gloriously blessed I am to have these two children in my life.

Thanks for the reminder.

my husband rocks

I told him at dinnertime that I'd put some software up for auction on ebay so that I could buy a PS2 and a copy of Katamari Damacy. He seemed somewhat skeptical, but I figured it was my software, so I could go ahead and do what I wanted with it.

He went out after dinner to buy groceries. After the kids were in bed, he asked me for some help in the living room. When I walked in, this is what I saw.


How cool is that? (No need to answer. I already know it's pretty damn cool.)

He says it's an early Valentine's Day present. So much better than roses.

to sleep, perchance to dream

For quite a few years now, I've been an early-to-bed, early-to-rise person. That was very much a result of being a parent--sleeping in is a luxury that parents of small children seldom get to indulge in.

Over the past few weeks, however, I've found myself fighting off sleepiness and trying to stay up late. I'm not completely sure why that is. Part of it, I think, is that after the kids go to sleep it's blissfully quiet in the house, and I enjoy savoring that time. It's easier to read, to write, to think, to relax, when you're not being barraged with requests for parental attention.

But there's something else going on, too, that I can't quite put my finger on. A restlessness. A resistance. To what? I don't know. But it's there.

So here I am, watching my fire slowly burn down, feeling it warm my feet while I type. Soon I'll be too tired to string words together, or even to focus on the screen. Then I'll turn off the lights and head up to bed, where I'll be asleep within minutes.

Tomorrow we actually will get to sleep in. No cello competitions or swimming lessons, no school buses or committee meetings, no place we have to go and no one we have to see. We'll wake to drifts of snow piled across the driveway and the yard, to sausage and eggs cooking in the kitchen (if Gerald gets up first), to a weather-enforced day of rest.

Here's what we have to look forward to...

Winter Weather

So now it's (finally) off to bed with me. Time to close the glass doors on the fireplace, turn off the lights in the kitchen, and climb the stairs to the flannel sheets and warm spouse that await me in bed.

busy but happy

Leaving the office now after teaching, advising, and mentoring. Going home to help the boys construct a brownie pizza (watch Flickr for photos of the process later today) and eat dinner. Then back to RIT for the social computing club meeting (6pm @ Java Wally's), then off to an Al-Anon meeting (my first in two weeks, and boy have I been missing it), then home again.

All good things.

I'm busy but happy. And my sink is still shining.

and that was the week that was

Well, I've proven to myself that I can do the single parenting thing if I have to--and do it competently. I've also never been happier about going to the airport than I am today--Gerald's flight gets in a little after 10. We'll all be very glad to have him home.

All in all, it's been a very good week, though busy. I've managed to keep the house clean (including laundry and bathrooms, no small accomplishment around here), feed myself and the kids healthy foods, polish off a lot of languishing "to-do" items, and pull off a very successful seminar for the lab this afternoon. (I'll be posting the presentation and related links on the LSC site this weekend.)

What I haven't done is sleep. Not enough, at least. I've been getting to bed after midnight each night, and waking up at 6:30am so that I can get the kids up by 7 and off to school by 7:30. And I haven't had much of a chance to exercise, either. Or get to Al-Anon meetings. Or do much blogging. So while we all survived--and even thrived--this week, clearly this is not a sustainable model.

happy new year!

The boys and I put Gerald on a plane to Alabama early Friday morning, so that he could spend a week with his daughters in Birmingham. Despite my solo status, however, I managed to clean the house and host a potluck brunch for friends and family yesterday. (It wasn't going to be potluck until Gerald made his travel plans--I depend on him for much of our hospitality infrastructure, so switching to potluck was the only realistic way to pull it off.)

We had a lovely time, marred only by the fact that I'm developing a delayed allergic reaction to a sulfa drug that I was talking earlier in the week--so about an hour before my guests left, my ankles and chest developed maddeningly itchy hives. I tried taking Benadryl, which makes me incredibly sleepy, so the rest of the day was pretty much lost. The Benadryl was nearly useless, however, and by lunchtime today I was covered with the itchy red blotches (lovely image, no?). I ended up calling the doctor for a prednisone Rx, which I started today. (Will have to hit the gym tomorrow morning and take advantage of my short-term steroid boost!)

My mom took the boys this afternoon, so I did the back-to-school lunch shopping, and more household cleaning--trying to get organized enough to make it through a week of single-parenthood. I even signed up (again) for FlyLady, in hopes that I can defeat the C.H.A.O.S. around here ("can't have anyone over syndrome"). It's not a new year's resolution, exactly--it's more a realization that I'm happier in a house that's not a mess. We'll see if it's possible to change my years of bad habits--and to get the boys to adopt some new ones, as well.

christmas ups and downs

weezxmas.jpgWe had a lovely time last night at Weez's house--watching the Grinch, eating lots of Weez's wonderful food, admiring her brother's dreads (I tried to get him to do Lane's hair like that, but Lane wasn't going for it), and telling raunchy jokes in an attempt to get Katie to give out one of her trademark screeches.

When we got home the kids crashed, and Gerald and I wrapped the gifts--we got Lane an M-Audio Keystation 49/e keyboard so that he can make full use of GarageBand...he seems pretty pleased with it. For Alex, we got a Donkey Konga game, complete with extra bongos so that we could play with him.

Look out!Before we crashed, we also set up a model train to run around the tree. We've had the train for nearly ten years, but the kids weren't really old enough to appreciate it before. This year we decided it would be just right as an addition to the christmas mood, so we set it up (not an easy task) and got it running before going to be around midnight.

Now, I know I'm not the only parent who was awakened at 5am this morning. But I'm probably one of the few who was awakened by a child saying "Mommmmmmmmm....I just threw up!" <sigh> Poor Alex. Not his best Christmas morning, that's for sure. Only now, six hours later, is he keeping food down and showing some signs of interest in his presents.

Gerald got me two presents--the first one was in an Airport Express box, so I got really excited--but inside it turned out to be a "tan 'til Easter" package at a local tanning salon (an attempt to get me to go to the gym more often by making me feel less like a bleached and beached whale...). "Do you know how hard it is to find an empty Airport Express box?" he asked. Then I opened my second present, which was wrapped in a box from a local store. Inside was the actual Airport Express--yay! I've been wishing for one since they came out. We've already got it set up in the family room, connected to the Bose CD player. Now I can sit on the couch in front of the fireplace, and stream any of my music to the Bose. And we can move the family inkjet printer down there, too, since it can be connected directly to the AirportExpress rather than a computer. Nice.

(What did I get him, you ask? Well, I foolishly bought into the "let's not get each other Christmas gifts this year" ruse. Again. Will have to come up with some way to express my appreciation...)

vacation, all i ever needed

There are precious few times when I'm able to sit alone, quietly, in my own house. But this week is different. I'm out of school for the break, and the kids are in school through tomorrow. Every day I've watched them leave for school at 7:30am, followed soon after by Gerald leaving for the gym and the day's errands. And then I've settled myself into my corner of the couch, diet vanilla coke at hand and powerbook on lap. I've had time to read, to think, to write (three posts in a row from me at Many-to-Many, no less--I've never managed that before ), to play.

I'm more relaxed right now than I've been in a long time. No big trips planned for a month or two, no major holiday shopping to do (we're trying very hard to simplify the holidays). Some baking that I need to do in the morning and deliver to the women who work in our department office, a few gifts for the boys that need to be wrapped.

Amazingly, I'm almost caught up on blog reading, having plowed through hundreds of accumulated blog posts, not to mention Flickr photos from my friends. And I've even had time to follow interesting links! Tonight Ross posted a Flickr image of a new toy from Ambient Devices, makers of interesting objects that monitor information and present it to you in an environmental form--globes that glow different colors based on the stock market, cubes that reflect outside temperatures based on their hue. This new one, though, is the first one that I've found myself really lusting after. It's called the Executive Dashboard, and it uses a retro analog needle approach to show you any three of a number of possible information flows in real-time--from number of email messages in your inbox to traffic congestion in your area to whether or not a "special someone" on your buddy list. Too cool.

Some of my technolust of the season has already been satisfied, however. Gerald (who's constitutionally incapable of buying a gift and not giving it to the recipient immediately, and thus usually shops on Christmas eve) got me the Bluetooth headset I've been wanting. And it rocks! Works like a charm, and might even help protect me from all that nasty DNA damage I've been reading about...

And now I suppose I should actually go to sleep, since the boys will be waking me up tomorrow at 7:15 to say goodbye. Of course, I can just go back to sleep after more day of true vacation bliss. Yum.

family latke recipe

I've had a few requests for our family latke recipe (we pronounce it as "laht-kuh," Jack, but I've definitely heard "lot-key" used as well). This recipe comes from my father's side of the family--his mother made them for him when he was a child in Germany, and he in turn made them for me and my sister every winter when we were growing up. When I left home, he gave me the recipe, and I'm now the official latke-cooker in my house.

Here's it is, as I learned it. This is not a Joy of Cooking recipe with exact'll have to use the rule of thumb guidelines provided.


  • lots of large potatoes ("about the size of a man's fist," dad says; I generally use Idaho baking potatoes)
  • 1 egg per potato
  • 1 "baseball-sized" white or yellow onion per ~4 potatoes (to taste, really)
  • 1 tbsp salt per 6 potatoes (again, this is to taste)


Peel and grate the potatoes (to a "mush" consistency, using the fine tooth side of the grater; not the side that makes shreds). Grate the onions the same way, and mix into the potato mixture. Use a ladle or large spoon to remove excess moisture...we put a heavy metal ladle onto the mixture, and the liquid drains into the ladle over the edges. Keep this up for as long as you have the patience for it; removing the water helps the pancakes stay together better when cooking.

After removing the water, add in the eggs and salt.

Heat ~1" of oil (preferably peanut oil, but vegetable or canola oil will work) in a large skillet (preferably cast iron) until water "pops" when dropped into oil. Pour some of the mixture in with a ladle. If it falls apart, it means that either the oil is too hot, or the mixture is too watery and needs more egg. Experiment with temperature first, because it's easier to undo than adding eggs.

Latkes should float above the bottom of the pan, not stick to the bottom. Use a slotted metal spatula (not plastic!) to dislodge them if they stick. When edges start to brown, flip them over (gently, so as not to spatter yourself with hot oil).

When latkes are crispy around edges and golden brown on both sides, remove from oil and place on paper towels. We rip up a full roll of paper towels, and just layer the latkes and paper towels; 2 paper towels, 3-4 latkes, then 2 more paper towels over that, more latkes, etc. Keep the plate with latkes and paper towels in a slightly warm oven while you're making more, so that you can bring out a lot at a time, reducing family warfare over who gets them. :-)

stupid mommy tricks

For those of you who are always so impressed by how well I manage all my various roles, here's some evidence that I don't always manage them all that well.

On Friday, Lane was diagnosed with a case of walking pneumonia, and the doctor prescribed a five-day course of antibiotics for him. He started them Friday, and today after brunch he needed to take his third dose. Gerald was out, the boys were fighting, and I'd just sent Lane upstairs after scolding him for whacking Alex with a plastic sword. I decided to take the pill upstairs rather than calling him back down, so I popped it out of the pack, grabbed a drink, and started to go up. But then Alex distracted me because he wanted ice for his foot, and somehow in the confusion I took the damn pill rather than carrying it upstairs. I realized mid-swallow what I was doing, but it was too late.

So now we're one pill short, and I'm going to have an upset stomach all afternoon (my digestive system doesn't take well to Zithromycin). And tomorrow I'm going to have to call the doctor's office, admit to my stupidity, and see if it's possible to get a prescription for just one pill (I have no idea if they even sell them singly, since this was a packaged set.)

I hope that makes those of you who envy my multitasking abilities feel a little better. :)


Update, Monday morning: I stopped by the pediatrician's office on the way into work and told them my tale of woe. After they stopped giggling, they gave me this. Problem solved.

holiday traditions

When I was a child, our family celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas--and with both, it was the cultural rather than the religious aspects that we focused on. Now that I'm the grownup, I've instituted the same tradition in our home, and each year we have a christmas tree and a menorah, latkes and sugar cookies, holiday lights and holographic hanukkah glasses to view them.

We don't do it for the presents--each year we've given fewer and fewer. We do it for the sense of tradition, the warmth it brings to the house during a cold season, and the many enjoyable trappings that accompany both holidays.

I'm particularly fond of holiday music, and every December I dig out my extensive collection (it used to involved finding the CDs and/or it's just reloading the archived mp3s), and start playing it at home and in the office. I've got a pretty eclectic selection of tunes, and I'm particularly fond of the Starbucks holiday mixes. My absolute favorite is a 1998 mix called "Hi-Fidelity Holiday," which starts with a fabulous, barely-recognizable version of Jingle Bells by Esquivel. I've now hooked Weez on it, as well. Feliz Navidad, baby!)

Last night when I got home from a lovely dinner at Weez's house, Gerald was watching a PBS special featuring a holiday concert by the Blind Boys of Alabama. They were doing a rendition of Little Drummer Boy with one of their guests, Michael Franti. I can't remember the last time I was so moved by song, and I immediately purchased it on iTunes, and may also buy their fabulous rendition of Go Tell It On the Mountain featuring Tom Waits, and O Come All Ye Faithful with Me'Shell Ndegéocello. If you get a chance to see the special, I highly recommend it. Far better with the visuals.

This afternoon, we'll head out to Stokoe Farms, which is where we've been getting our trees since we moved to Rochester in 1997. There's a ritual associated with that, too, of course. We have to wander through the rows and rows of trees (usually the Fraser firs, but this year I'm thinking about maybe a Concolor) until one speaks to me. (You can roll your eyes at that...the kids certainly do!) Then Gerald cuts it down, the workers haul it back to the main barn and run it through the needle shaker and baling machines. While Gerald ties it onto the van, the boys and I enjoy the free hot chocolate and cookies, and they climb around in the straw-bale fort. Then it's back home to set up and decorate the tree, enjoy some hot chocolate and a fire at home, and maybe do a little early baking. (My favorite holiday recipe, from Gourmet Magazine, is for these absolutely amazing double chocolate walnut biscotti. They make wonderful gifts--if you can keep yourself from eating them before they're wrapped and given away!)

There's a lot to be said for holiday traditions, and even more to be said for focusing on holiday activities you do together as a family rather than the frantic gift acquisition and exchange process.

Happy holidays!

getting ready for greece

Haven't been writing much this week because I've been swamped with end-of-quarter grading--alas, I'll have to find an Internet cafe (or test out the international capability of our departmental AT&T dial-up accounts) in Athens this weekend to finish projects submitted on Thursday, but if I've got to grade, doing it in Athens beats doing it in Rochester!

We leave tomorrow afternoon, and will arrive in Athens at midday on Friday (Rochester to Dulles, Dulles to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Athens), and will stay in Athens through Sunday night. Monday morning we'll be picked up early by George the famous taxi driver, who'll be our guide for two days in Delphi and Meteora.

While I'm looking forward to Athens, I'm particularly excited about seeing Meteora and its famous monasteries. I've been collecting links with photos and descriptions over on, and I can't shake the feeling that this is someplace that I'm somehow meant to see. Here's a photo from one of the tourism sites:

Meteora Monastery

I'm trying to convince my 8-year-old to blog the trip (the way Lane did when we went to Japan), but he's reluctant. So I've set up a trip blog for all three of us (Alex, my mom, and myself) and we'll be posting photos and narrative there. (The photos will be posted first on Flickr, of course, so you can keep an eye on that as well.)

family history

My father is a prolific photographer...always has been. As a child, I remember the closet shelves in his study that were filled with shoeboxes of photos and slides. Many of his best photos graced the walls of our house (and some hang on my walls now).

After his retirement, he decided to tackle the herculean task of digitizing the literally thousands of images that were filling boxes, drawers, and shelves. And as he's worked through those images, he's assembled some of the best into a series of photo books. He prints the pages of the books on a color printer, spiral binds them, and sends copies to me and my sister.

One of the books is called "Sisters," and has photos of me and my sister from infancy through today. Another, "Pals," has pictures of all of us with friends throughout the years. Some are less personal--"Animals," "Signs," "Travel," etc.

My favorite, though, is the first one he compiled. "The Early Years" is an autobiographical photo essay that begins with some extraordinary images of my grandparents and great-grandparents in Germany in the early 1900s, follows my father's childhood growing up in Germany in the 1930s and 40s, explores his experiences as a "half-Jew" in Germany during WWII, and ends with his emigration to and first years in California with his parents before he met my mother.

I want to share these photos and the story they tell, and he's given me permission to do so. The question is how. The way he presented them, with groups of related images on each page, works well from a narrative standpoint--which makes Flickr a little less ideal. I wish there were a way to take a group of photos in Flickr and create a single blog entry from them--that would probably be the ideal approach. The blog entry could aggregate the related photos and allow for some narrative framing. The photos could then link back to Flickr for people who wanted to see the larger versions, annotate them, add individual comments to the images, etc.

I'll probably use MT to implement the site that shares these--I'd rather have a dedicated site rather than including the content here. I don't know yet if it will be a traditional dated blog entry format, or simply MT as CMS in some other form.

my life as a suburban mom

Yesterday I wore a lot of hats--grateful Al-Anon member at a morning meeting, best friend and workout partner at the gym, politicking faculty member in a chance encounter with an administrator, appreciative daughter sipping her mom's chicken soup, chauffeur to kids for swimming, Japanese, and cello lessons. I would have been happy to collapse into bed quietly last night, but that wasn't an option, because last night was also Alex's birthday party.

We started out at a local arcade establishment, where the kids got tokens to spend on machines, as well as pizza and cake. Because Gerald is friends with the owner, the kids also got to ride for free on the go-karts there--and I went as well. What fun! I had never tried that as a kid, but enjoyed the pedal-to-the-metal hairpin turns enormously this time. We then brought home with us not only our two kids, but five more boys ages 8-10, who spent the night camped out in our living room.

This morning we did tag-team parenting--Gerald got up early to cook pancakes, while I slept in until 9 (around here, that's very late indeed). Then he went off to run errands and hit the gym while I supervised the seven boisterous boys. Between 9:30 and 11:30 all but one were picked up by parents. And a few minutes ago, my two left with the final guest--they're off to his nearby house to play video games.

So here I am, in the eye of the parenting storm. It's still and quiet now, and I can hear myself think for a few minutes. But tonight is Halloween, and the energy level will be building again between now and then.

For over seven years now, I've lived in a neighborhood that is much like the one I grew up in back in Buffalo. The kids are close-knit, the parents are friendly. We know each other, we have a sense of community. Halloween is a practiced ritual--our kids will don costumes (my boys are ninjas this year) and band together around 6 (aided by the earlier darkness that arrived with last night's time change), with a number of parental delegates tagging along behind. They'll careen from house to house, squealing with delight over the rare house that gives out full-size candy bars, and grousing about those who toss them a scant handful of boring hard candies. Meanwhile, we parents will lurk on the sidewalks, occasionally shouting a reminder to say thank you, or not to trample flower beds.

By 8 or so they'll be worn out from running, and tired of carrying their bags. They'll make one last stop at the neighbors who are famous for giving out self-contained drinks rather than candy (heavy, but welcome after a long night of walking), and will retreat to their houses to dump their bags of treats on the floor and sort them out. There's the "eat it now" pile, of course. Along with the "save for later" and "maybe I can trade it" piles. There's the "who on earth would eat this?" pile, and--if I'm lucky--a "give it to mom" collection. (They know my favorites, and they also know there are long-term benefits to keeping mom happy.)

After we've looked over the piles and given our blessing (we've never had safety problems with candy around here, but we still always check), they'll devour as much as they can, inevitably getting to the point where they feel ill. And then, as the sugar wears off, they'll crash--hard--and hopefully sleep late tomorrow.

I've not been online much this weekend, because being a mom on a weekend like this is more than a full-time job. But it's worth the time and energy it takes. I'm very, very grateful for the sense of community we have here, the fact that I know my kids' friends, and their parents...that I know my neighbors, and the school principal, and the owner of the local arcade. It's a good life that we have here.

irresponsible parenting has its rewards

We took the kids and a friend to Letchworth State Park (south of Rochester) yesterday, and I took a lot of photos. It's hard to resist, especially at this time of year.

At the south end of the park, above the Upper Falls, there's a railroad bridge called the Portage Bridge. It's a working bridge, and as such is of course off-limits. It's up pretty high, too, as you can see.

Portage Bridge

When the boys questioned me about the "No Trespassing" sign, I assured them that it referred only to cars, and we made our way up onto the trestle. There were plenty of other people up there, as well...we weren't the only trespassers, by a long shot. And before you get too worried, there's plenty of space on either side of the tracks--if a train had happened to come by, it would have been very scary but not deadly.

Boys on Bridge

The reason the boys look so excited and happy is because of the view that we had from the bridge (not to mention the pockets full of pebbles they tossed down into the river gorge).

View of River

So yes, I broke the law. But it was worth it. And the whole day was a great reminder of how beautiful an area we live in.

(If you want to see all the photos from the day, I've put them in a Flickr Photoset.)


Ever since my brother-in-law's death last December it feels like I've been on a constant rollercoaster (one designed by Escher, apparently, that goes mostly downhill). Every time it felt like things were looking up again, there was an unexpected plunge. Serious illnesses, too many deaths, more loss than I was really able to deal with effectively. One friend told me it felt as though when Howard died last year I'd gone away, and that I'd never really made it all the way back. And she was right. The most recent bad news--of Dave's death last month--felt like the last straw, and it knocked me completely off the tracks.

So it's with some relief that I'm able to report today that not only have we been tragedy-free for several weeks now, but that I've actually started getting things done again! A lot of people had started to worry about me, because I'm normally a pretty responsible person--I finish projects, I meet deadlines, I stay in touch. Recently I hadn't been doing any of that.

Since Sunday I've managed to grade 35 papers and 24 web sites, finish a grant project summary for NSF, do some serious planning for a workshop I'm helping to coordinate next month at USC, coordinate travel plans for my trip to Seattle next week, have fun teaching my freshmen unix commands (really!), and spend some quality time with my family at the RIT pool. As Lane would say, "Boo yah!"

One of the best parts of getting caught up is knowing that I don't have to dread opening my email inbox, because I'm no longer trying to avoid people who need things from me.

The timing of this stabilization is particularly good, because my fall travel season is about to start...Seattle (Microsoft), then LA (Annenberg), then Chicago (ACM CSCW). And then a still-secret trip to a very cool place over Thanksgiving, which I can't blog about until after my younger son's birthday. :)


I've spent most of last night and today tracking down old friends from my years with Dave in DC, and letting them know about his passing. It's odd how the names keep popping up in my memory, a few at a time. I've sent about a dozen emails to people whose contact information I could find. With luck, they'll find their way to the entry and post their own "nenirues."

Along the way, I discovered that has a small cache of pages related to TMMABBS the bbs on which Dave and I met, and where our friends from those years congregated. And on the "ramblings" page of that archived site (yes, Dave and I were the two denizens referred to in the first paragraph) I found some of Dave's writing, which I'm glad has been preserved.

For example, here's a classic Dave post on lacing shoes:

Actually, Laila explained the proper use of the Last Hole of the Reeboks when Rox was getting a few tips on Fool's Errand at Frank's MacPlus from Frank. She'd be the best source of information, but I might be able to explain it by consulting the very pair of Reeboks laced in fact by her - the last hole at least. Ever since then I have just loosened them. I did buy a fresh pair just yesterday, and laced them the same, but the original "class notes" are always best... one moment... OK, then:

For the purpose of this instruction, the Reebok will be said to have holes numbered 1 to N, with the last two holes, being designated N, and N-1. Each "hole" is duplicated along either side of the "lacing discontinuity" Lacing is symmetrical with respect to the discontinuity. Holes 1 to N-2 are laced using conventional or unconventional technique, as desired. Use of the retaining slot in the tongue is optional. Hole N-2 is laced to the underside of the opposing hole N-1. Hole N-1 is then laced to the top side of adjacent hole N. From the underside of hole N, the lace is run across the discontinuity and through the small loop formed by the lace between the opposite hole N and hole N-1. Final "snugging" of the shoe is accomplished by pulling at the laces so as to close the (N,N-1) loops against the shoe. The finishing knot is required, but the type of knot is up to the wearer. There. That should do it.

remembering dave

daveWhen I saw the email in my inbox from my ex-husband's sister, I knew in my heart that it couldn't be good news. I hadn't heard from Dave in nearly three years, despite an attempt to contact him two years ago when we were at the beach near his home in Pensacola. This year I hadn't bothered to try, assuming that he didn't want to see us.

What I didn't know was that on August 28th, while we were just a few miles away, Davison Lewis Tudder passed away in a Pensacola hospital. His sister said he'd been sick for several years, but mental health issues that had plagued him since his father's death in '96 had caused him to become reclusive and unwilling to see a doctor. By the time his mother's housekeeper forced him to go to the hospital in May, he was in the advanced stages of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).

We were married for three years, and I know that most of that was a happy time for him. I hoped that after we split up, he'd find someone else and go on to have a happy and full life. It broke my heart to find out that instead he had spent the last eight years fighting both mental and physical illnesses.

There's not much I can do at this point, except grieve his death--and remember his life. And share it with you, so that you'll know that he made a difference in the world.

He was smart and funny, generous and caring.

When we divorced, he insisted on paying half of my car payments so that I wouldn't have to sell my very safe Honda Prelude and buy another car. That Prelude eventually saved my life, and my children's lives, when we were hit by a truck in 1999.

Everyone who knew him had at some point received a complex diagram drawn on a napkin...he was so full of ideas and information that it spilled out of him, and he loved explaining technical concepts. A quick search of Usenet finds a slew of articles in which he patiently and clearly explained to people on audio and computer newsgroups how to perform specific tasks.

He quit college before he finished, but his knowledge and intelligence earned him a place as an engineer at a number of major telecom companies. He worked on MCI's first implementation of SS7, which I didn't appreciate at all until I had to teach about it during my first years at RIT. I called him then, and ruefully admitted my regret at not having paid more attention to those napkin diagrams.

He was extraordinarily patient, and was one of those people who knew that everyone has a story worth hearing if you're willing to stop for long enough to listen carefully.

He died nearly alone, estranged from his friends and most of his family. But even if he'd drifted away from the people who'd been touched by him, I suspect that most of us hadn't forgotten him. I wish I could have told him that before he died. I hope that some of his old friends will tell us that here in the comments.

Tonight I grieve the loss of a good man, a man I once loved, a man who deserved a longer and richer life.

last day on the road: west virginia to home

No photos this time...we didn't stop for sightseeing on this last leg. We just wanted to get home. And we're awfully glad to be here. It was lovely to sleep in our own beds last night, and shower in our own bathrooms this morning. It will be wonderful to keep clothes in closets rather than suitcases.

The best part of vacationing at the end of August is that down south the kids are already back in school, so parks and tourist attractions are blessedly uncrowded. The worst part is that when you get home, you have little or no re-entry time before the start of school. We've got clothes to buy--for Lane, who's outgrown nearly everything, and me, who needs a little wardrobe pick-me-up for first week confidence boosting. We've got school supplies to acquire, for both the kids. And we've got schedules to juggle so that we can figure out who's driving who to music lessons, swimming lessons, Japanese lessons, etc. (Our kids aren't over-scheduled, really. Lane takes cello and Japanese on Saturdays, and will have ten weeks of swimming this fall. Alex may take viola this year, and will swim as well. We're big fans of unscheduled play time, and don't expect to turn regimented anytime soon.)

Most importantly, I've got to switch my brain out of vacation speed and back into professional gears. Dinner and course prep tonight with Weez is a good way to ease into it. Tomorrow I'll have to hit the office, even though I'm not teaching 'til Tuesday, just so I can clean up, get organized, and start the necessary headshift.

And now we're off to Sunday brunch at mom's. She's been missing the grandkids while we've been gone. And we'll be seeing Masako, as well, our gracious and generous hostess from Tokyo, who's here for her annual 6 month stay in the states.

on the road again: tennessee to west virginia

A long day of driving today. We left Gatlinburg after an awful breakfast at our hotel, the Park Vista. The views from (and of) the hotel were lovely, but that's about all I can say for it. It's somewhat run-down, and the breakfast buffet was truly terrible.

We made two sightseeing stops along the way. First at the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area in Virginia. We had hoped for another stamp for Alex's passport, but it turned out they weren't NPS-run--they're Forest Service, instead. So we got a hat pin for him, instead, and got back on the road.

The next stop was at the New River Gorge National River, where the views were breathtaking. (And we did acquire a stamp for the passport there, as well as a regional sticker and another hat pin.)

The bridge, built in 1977, was the longest arch bridge in the world until last year, when Shanghai built one that surpasses it. But it's still quite beautiful to behold.


Now we're safely ensconced in the Holiday in in Bridgeport/Clarksburg, WV. The rooms are small and overpriced (it's Labor Day weekend, and the fall festivals are in full swing), but there's free wifi in the rooms and the restaurant food was passable.

Tomorrow's the last leg of our journey, and barring any travel disasters I should be posting from (and sleeping at) home tomorrow night. w00t!

on the road again: alabama to tennessee

Tonight we're in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, home of some of the world's cheesiest tourist attractions, as well as some of the most beautiful mountains.

We took an aerial tram up one of the mountains, and admired the view down into town for a while. I posted a couple of cameraphone photos on Flickr, and will upload digital camera shots when we get home. After that, we hit the Ripley's 4D Moving Theatre (The movie you ride! 2 Thrilling shows!), much to the kids' delight.

Now we're back in our hotel, which has lovely views of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, where Alex got his National Park Passport stamped this afternoon. The stamp is the third one he's received--the first was at Mammoth Cave, and the second at Gulf Islands National Seashore. He's also collecting commemorative pins at each of our stops on this trip, and has quite a collection on his favorite baseball cap--which itself was a souvenir from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on his last trip with Grandma.

Tomorrow we'll work our way up to West Virginia, stopping briefly along the way at the New River Gorge National River for another passport stamp, and a look at some of the spectacular views.

Saturday will be the last leg of this very long trip. I adore my family, and am so glad to have had this time to spend with them. But 24×7 can be hard on everyone, as can long hours of highway driving, and I'll think we'll all be very glad to be back in our own home again.

on the road again: alabama to florida

(This was written yesterday morning...)

One night in Birmingham at my stepdaughter's house, four in Randolph at the Lawley Farm. Now we're back on the road, headed to a week of relaxation on the beach in Navarre, Florida. The boys are in the back seat, playing Super Smash Brothers Melee (ah, the luxury of a built in video system with hookups for a game console), I'm in the front seat with several fully-charged batteries.

We didn't have much Internet connectivity on this trip. I was able to check email occasionally on my mother-in-law's dial-up connection, and last night Gerald and I went to dinner in Montevallo and made a brief stop in the parking lot of a cafe with free wifi. The cafe was closed, but their network was running, so I took advantage of it to grab the developer's beta version of MT3.1 so I could work on the courseware this week.

While it was nice to see family in Alabama, it was also difficult in some ways. There's something about being in a parent's house that brings out the ten-year-old in all of us, and that's often not a good thing. Being in recovery helped us deal with those stresses much better than we have in the past, however, and unlike our trip two years ago, we're headed down to the Gulf already in pretty good spirits.

Much as I'd like to spend this next week doing nothing but soaking up sun and salt spray, September's rapid approach has me thinking about work. I actually had my first teaching nightmare in a long time last night. In it, I watched from my office as my colleague Weez led a masterful class, which ended with the students singing and swaying with her gospel-style. That would have been fine, except the students that went into the classroom after her class sat there for 90 minutes before I realized that I was supposed to be teaching them--I'd somehow confused the times on my schedule, and thought I was teaching at 6 rather than at 4. I rushed into the classroom as they were beginning to leave, most of them angry and demanding refunds of their tuition. Ugh. (Weez thought this was pretty funny when I recounted it to her...I haven't yet gotten to to that point.)

So there's a balance to be struck this week. Some rest and relaxation, certainly. But also a gradual ramping up of intellectual activity--work on the grant research, and course prep (not to mention memorization of my teaching schedule!) so that the re-entry shock next week isn't too great.

travelogue: rochester to alabama

Well, we're finally in Alabama, where we've got cable modem connectivity. We've had a lovely three days of camping and exploring (and driving, which was less fun), with no access save an occasional cell phone signal. (And not even that while in caves, of course.)

If you're interested in a short photo essay of our trip thus far, read on. I'll upload more photos (I took a lot on this trip) to Flickr later this week.

still here

Yes, I'm still here. I haven't been blogging, but I have been posting occasional cameraphone photos over on Flickr, including this one of the boys that turned out quite well. (I love the fact that I can instantly send photos from my cameraphone to Flickr using MMS!)


This was taken at a beach on Lake Ontario, right by the Irondequoit Bay Bridge. We stopped there on our way home from Seabreeze, a local amusement park. I didn't take photos there because I spent most of my time on the rollercoasters,, including four trips on the Whirlwind with Alex. (Lane preferred the Jackrabbit, an old-fashioned wooden coaster, which is also a lot of fun.)

I suspect blogging will pick up when we pile into the new van and head south. Gerald likes to do most of the driving, so I'll have plenty of time to write while the kids watch DVDs. Travel blogging is always fun. With luck, I'll have lots of pictures like the ones we took the last time we stayed down on the Gulf. Here's one of my favorites from that trip, two years ago:


This one is nice, too. It was taken at the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. The memorial is quite beautiful...waters is actually pouring over the wall behind the boys (they soaked their backs, but it felt pretty good in the Alabama summer heat), and over the table to their left.


For those of you more interested in courseware updates than family vacation photos, I expect to be releasing the courseware as close to when MT 3.1 comes out (August 31st) as possible.

absent-minded without leave

Haven't been blogging much lately. I'd like to say it's because I'm getting so much done on my research and course prep, but it's not. Or because I'm energetically cleaning the house and the basement and the garage, but it's not.

My brain is on vacation, it seems. I can't afford a brain vacation right now, but my brain didn't really ask my opinion. It didn't check my calendar, or my to-do list. It just cut and's probably on a sunny beach somewhere in the Caribbean, or climbing a mountain in Switzerland. And it cleverly chose not to take my body along with it, so my physical self is stuck here in cold, damp, un-summery Rochester.

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised that it decided to take off for a while. The rest of me would go, too, if it could. It's been a pretty awful year. Two deaths in the family since December, then the loss of the teenager we knew last week. Two close friends diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. One family member shot in March and still in the ICU four months later. One family member coming to terms with alcoholism. One bruising and highly politicized battle over my promotion. Far too many hours spent airborne. Disappointing news about our sabbatical planning--for reasons I can't go into, an overseas sabbatical will not be feasible. Can it just stop now, please? Can we have a week...or even, God forbid, a month...without trauma?

The new van (it's beautiful!) is a bit of a bright spot. It's been a long time since I've driven a new car. Not since 1987, when I bought my beloved Prelude (which gave its life to protect me and the boys back in 1999). We're traveling down to Alabama to visit family next month, and the trip will be a lot more enjoyable in a van that's safe and comfortable...even luxurious. (I did find some damage to the front bumper when I took possession of it tonight, so they'll be replacing it next week. Glad I checked carefully...)

And perhaps acknowledging my cognitively-disabled state will encourage my AWOL brain to return home, refreshed and ready to pound out insightful analysis and efficient survey instruments.

holy crap, we bought a new van!

One minute we're talking about how we really ought to think about replacing rather than repairing our aging, ailing 1991 Mazda MPV.

The next we're signing on a 2-year lease (at a surprisingly low cost) for a 2004 Honda Odyssey EX complete with built-in DVD system.


No buyer's remorse, but some buyer's incredulity!

It's a gorgeous van, though. Silver with gray interior, lots of nifty bells-and-whistles. And significantly safer than the ancient van we've been using, which makes me feel oh-so-much better about our upcoming trip to Alabama.

Will post photos after I pick it up tonight...

stop-motion cleanup

cleanup-smallAlex came to the office with me this morning, and graciously agreed to help me clean up. He spent a lot of time on the desk drawer, as you'll see from the stop-motion speedup of our work. (Click on the thumbnail to play the QuickTime video; one and a half minutes long, 3.4MB.)

peace must be our goal

Lane and friends playing recorders in their spring concertLast night I attended the fourth-grade spring concert at my sons' elementary school. It was the first such event that I've been to since we got a digital camcorder as a gift (thanks, Dad!), so I've been playing with iMovie this morning.

For family members and other folks affiliated with the school, I've made a "web-friendly" (meaning tiny and highly compressed) full-length QuickTime version of the movie . Click here to see it streamed (could be slow, depending on server load), or right-click and choose "save target to disk" here to download it directly to disk and play it locally--it's a 42MB file. (If you want the higher-quality, uncompressed version on DVD, let me know).

For those with less patience for home movies of kids, especially those you don't know, here's a small QuickTime clip of the kids playing their recorders and then singing a verse from a song called "Peace Must Be Our Goal."

Given the state of the world today, this song--sung by such innocents--touched me deeply. These kids are too young to be drafted, but they're more than halfway to that age. Will their world be more peaceful than ours? As a parent who doesn't ever want to send her sons off to war, I can only hope so.

please pray for marshall

On the bus to the symposium on Tuesday morning, my phone rang. It was my husband calling to tell me about this.

Marshall is the "baby brother" of my stepdaughters (he's their mother's son from a subsequent marriage).

Our most recent information is that he's hanging on, and that he appears to be aware that his family (including Gerald's daughters) is there and with him.

If you're one who believes in the power of positive energy, or prayer (or even if you're not...), I'd be very grateful if you'd direct some towards Marshall right now.

books and bully pulpits

Lane's had his blog for a few months now, but he didn't use it for much until we came on this trip to Asia. It's become a powerful tool for him to communicate with his class back in the US; he writes about his experiences on the trip, they read about it in school, and then the teacher has them do research so that they can ask him questions about his experiences. (Major props to his teacher, who's enthusiastically embraced this process and incorporated it into the classroom.) Lane has found he enjoys writing for an audience (who among us doesn't?), and it's wonderful to be able to see the dialog unfolding.

It appears, however, that now that he's started, Lane has really begun to grasp the power of personal online publishing. He's been pondering some political issues lately--specifically, the motivation behind book banning and censorship. He's got at least one friend whose parents have forbidden Harry Potter books, and this frustrates him.

A few days ago, he asked: "How much does it cost to write a letter to the newspaper and have them publish it?"

"You can't buy that," I replied. "They have to like what you wrote enough to publish it."

He thought for a bit. "But I could publish it for free on my blog, right?" I stifled a grin. "Why, yes. You could. But be careful how you write it, since I know that the people you're talking about are probably reading your blog. Before you post it, let me look it over."

So he wrote. And I read. And I didn't change a thing, aside from a few typos. I'm awfully proud of him, for both his ideas and his writing.

parenthood and vulnerability

A close friend and his wife had a baby two weeks ago, after trying for quite some time. But what should have been a joyous occasion turned into a terrifying week of medical tests, uncertain diagnoses, tests, and surgery.

The good news is, the surgery was successful, the baby is recovering faster than anyone could have hoped, and it appears as though the problems were completely resolved.

Spending time with the parents (and grandparents) that week in the NICU, however, brought back for me a tsunami of memories from when my older son, Lane, was born. His situation was far less grave--the doctors suspected a problem that he turned out not to have, but it it took ten days for them to rule it out. During that ten days he had blood tests and spinal taps and a bed in the NICU--where he was tethered by wires and tubes to a distressing array of monitors and machines that beeped and whirred and watched our every move.

snow days, past and present

Last night when I got in my car at 6pm and started to leave campus, the inside of my windows frosted over. That doesn't happen very often, even up here in Rochester. The subzero temperatures (no, I'm not exaggerating) had chilled my car to the point that the moisture from my breath was instantly freezing on the inside of the windows, making it impossible for me to see. I cranked up the defrost (not very helpful when the engine's still frigid), and when that proved useless after nearly ten minutes, I used a credit card to scrape the frost off before proceeding out onto the roads.

Apparently the local school district officials noted the effect of the plunging temperatures, too, because most school districts in the county are closed today.

I think my body knew I should have had a snow day today. At 6:45am I started trying to wake up, but sleep kept reaching up and pulling me back under. At 7:10 I finally got myself into the shower, and as I emerged from the steamy bathroom, I heard the phone ring. My 9-year-old shouted "I got it!", and a few moments later I heard a shriek of delight. "Snow day! It's a snow day! Jackson says it's a snow day!!!"

This was followed immediately by my 7-year-old saying "Well, Lane, we really shouuld check the web site and see if that's true."

My, how things have changed.

Back in my day, growing up in Buffalo, I can remember clearly how we hoped for snow days in the winter. I had a clock radio by my bed (one of the early ones, with the numbers on little rolodex-like pages that actually flipped every minute), and before I'd climb out from under the warm covers, I'd turn on WKBW radio (1520AM) and listen to Danny Neaverth read the school closings. There were usually a lot--this was Buffalo after all--and my school district came late in the list. I'd listen to him drone through the list..."Akron Central...Albion Central...etc...Starpoint Central..." And that's when I'd perk up. Starpoint was almost always closed, since it tended to get a lot of lake effect snow. But if my school was closed, it would follow right after Starpoint. "...Sweet Home Central..." Woohoo! Sweet freedom! Off went the radio, and after shouting "Mom! It's a snow day!" I could burrow right back under the covers and go back to sleep.

No such luxury for me today. I kissed the kids goodbye at 7:40, and headed out into the frigid weather for my 8am web design class. And now I'm safe and warm in my office, coffee mug nearby, looking out at the gray skies and drifting snow. There are worse places to be on a cold day than in a warm office. But all things considered, I'd rather be home, like Weez, drinking hot chocolate with my boys and sitting by a warm fireplace. That much hasn't changed much since I was their age.

real blessings

My father has spent over a year organizing and digitizing thousands of snapshots he's taken over the past 50+ years--from his childhood in Germany before and during WWII, through his time in LA in the 50s, and his marriage to my mother and the passages of our family from the 60s through today. It's an amazing collection of images, and he's assembled a series of albums on various themes as he's worked.

A few weeks ago, I asked him if he'd stumbled across a photo of my mother that I remembered showed her in the backyard of the house we rented each summer in Cape Cod, joyfully tearing into a freshly-cooked lobster. (It was at Shore Gardens in Eastham, right on Town Cove, for those of you who know the area.)

Today, he found and sent me a digitized version of the image (a series of three images, actually, one of which was the picture I remembered), which was taken in 1975.

Thanks, Dad, for the picture. Thanks, Mom, for the joy and laughter you've always brought into our lives. And thank you Mom and Dad for being such wonderful parents, and for giving me such a wealth of happy memories that pictures like this one (and these, which I posted back in November of 2002) bring back for me. I love you both.

Mom eating lobster, 1975

moving forward

Many thanks to all of you who sent words of comfort--via comments posted here, email, postal mail, phone and even in-person visits. It was, and continues to be, a great source of comfort to me and to my family.

The shiva period ended yesterday morning, and now it's time to start moving forward. There are legal issues, financial issues, emotional issues, and more. Life is complicated, and dealing with a sudden death doesn't make it less so.

But in addition to helping my sister put her life back together, I need to remember to keep my life on track. As many people have reminded me, my kids and husband need me, too, and I can't put work on hold forever (tempting though that might seem). So today I'm taking a day off from comforting others, and taking care of myself--spending time with my family, catching up on work, remembering to appreciate the most important things in my life. And yes, that includes blogging.

death be not proud

Six months ago, I attended my sister's wedding. It was a joyful occasion. My sister's life hasn't been an easy one, and I know she'd often thought she'd never find romantic love.

Today, I will attend her husband's funeral.

He was killed in a terrible car crash yesterday morning, as he drove to the college where he's been taking classes in social work. We were told by the social worker at the hospital that the 22-year-old woman who hit him (who was not injured seriously) had been fixing a bagel in her car, and had crossed over onto the wrong side of the road and hit him head-on. He sustained massive head injuries, and passed away yesterday afternoon.

If you're the kind of person who prays, please pray for my sister, to help her through this incomprehensible loss.

vacation, all i ever wanted

It's been quite a week.

Gerald's back went out Sunday, leaving him in bed, immobile, hours before my grandmother was due to arrive for a dinner that's been postponed twice already. Have I ever mentioned that I'm not much of a cook? Gerald's the master chef around here, but he was in no position (literally) to be preparing anything. So rather than cancel dinner yet again, I grabbed the kids and headed out to the Pittsford Wegman's super-duper-supermarket, where I picked up salmon fillets in dill and lemon sauce, linguined (did you know that was an adjective? I didn't...) vegetables, and roasted potatoes, all cooked and ready to pop into the oven for warming, along with some shrimp for an appetizer, and a fresh baguette. Then back home to transfer the foods to my own dishes and hide the plastic containers, and out again to pick up my grandmother.

Dinner was a success, despite it being punctuated by phone calls from the doctor's office. The only pharmacy open on Sunday night is conveniently located close to my grandmother's assisted living facility, so I dropped her off, then cooled my heels in the drugstore waiting for the much-anticipated valium (no, not for me, alas). Once Gerald was medicated and the kids were in bed, I cleaned the kitchen and threw laundry in the machines, then crashed...thinking that at least I'd have a couple of days with the kids in school to get my own stuff done, and take some time for myself. (She said, in a tone heavy with foreshadowing.)

The next morning I got up early, packed lunches and backpacks, and waved to the kids as they pulled away. Gerald's the room parent for Alex's 2nd grade class, and he'd promised to provide drinks and snacks for the Thanksgiving party. After showering and dressing and taking care of Gerald, I was getting ready to head out and buy the supplies...when the phone rang. School nurse. Lane threw up in gym. <sigh> Rushed to the grocery store, grabbed drink pouches and pre-packaged snacks. (Once again sacrificing thriftiness for convenience, something I hate to do.) Dropped the grocery bags in the school office with a plea to the office staff (who adore Gerald) to make my apologies to Alex's class. Picked up Lane, who admitted on the way home that he'd chugged an entire bottle of pink lemonade and eaten a bunch of cookies for his snack, and moments later gone off to gym to jog and skip. No big surprise that he left the cookies and lemonade on the gymnasium floor.

Cooked (if you could call it that) dinner for them and Gerald, fed and medicated everyone as needed, and crashed again, relieved that Lane was fully recovered and at least I'd have one day of peace and quiet coming up.

Or not.

After spending the morning worrying about Gerald, doing more laundry, and trying to get the syllabus up for my grad web design class, I got another call from the school nurse. Alex this time. He's recovering from a bout with pneumonia, and the symptoms sounded suspiciously like when he was diagnosed, so I picked him up and headed over to the pediatrician's office, leaving word with Lane that he'd need to let himself into the house since his dad couldn't get up. The pediatrician couldn't tell for sure if the lungs were clear, so we went off for x-rays. Except now Alex was hungry, and feeling terrible, and really wishing for some homestyle chicken soup. (I did mention that I can't cook, right?) So we made a detour to Fox's Deli for world-class matzo ball soup to go, then off to the radiology clinic for chest x-rays, which were clear.

Back home, again, to deal with sibling squabbles, Lane's "worst day ever" at school (fourth grade is full of social trials and tribulations, it seems), and Gerald's continuing excruciating pain. Got Alex to sleep, and was chatting with Lane when our neighbors called around 10pm to tell me that Lane and their son had apparently attempted to access a porn site on their computer. So we had a chat about that. (It's hard to be a librarian who hates filtering software and knows how flawed it is when you're also a parent of two intelligent, adventurous, curious boys. Cognitive dissonance to the extreme.)

This morning I had planned to meet a grad student for coffee at 9 to help him prep for his first-ever "I'm the professor" teaching experience. I was going to bring Lane and his friend (who we were watching for the morning), and Gerald would have been fine with Alex for the hour or so I'd be gone. But the chiropractor called at 8am to say she could fit him in for an emergency appointment at 10. No phone number for the student, so I emailed him to cancel, hoping he'd get the mail. But what to do with the 3 kids? An hour with them in the chiropractor's office seemed like a very bad idea. So I called my mom, who's trying to get ready for the big (12 person) Thanksgiving feast she's hosting tomorrow. She graciously came over and watched the boys while I took Gerald in. (And he's walking now! Yay!)

Back home, picked up all three boys, whom I'd promised to take out to lunch. Back to Fox's, with a short stop along the way to break up sibling squabbles in the back seat. Plenty of soup, latkes, sandwiches, strudel, cookies, laughter and full stomachs later, we headed back to the house.

Gerald was feeling much better, and showed me two cards that had arrived in the mail from the kids' school office--a "get well" card for him, and a "sympathy" card for me. Gotta love those women! Then he kicked me out of the house, telling me to find someplace to sit and relax so that I could decompress. But as soon as I left, I realized that my mom was probably even more stressed than me, so I headed to her house to see how I could help, and ended up volunteering to pick up my aunt, uncle, and cousins from the airport, and drop them at the hotel (two of them) and my mother's house (the other two). During rush hour traffic. The day before Thanksgiving.

That accomplished, I headed back home. Where I am now. Sitting on the couch, listening to Sarah McLachlan, and feeling...


Thankful that I have such a wonderful husband--who takes care of me in so many ways, and who I could take care of this week because I'm actually on vacation, with pay. Thankful that my kids have illnesses no worse than an upset stomach, and misbehavior no worse than visiting an off-color web site. Thankful that we have good health insurance that keeps me from worrying about doctor's visits and precautionary x-rays. Thankful that my mom is making her trademark wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, and that my grandmother lives here in Rochester now where we can see her not just for holidays, but regularly. Thankful that my house is warm and lively and a place that makes me happy to come home to. Thankful for the many blessings and riches in my life, which have been highlighted rather than hidden by the stresses of the past few days.

Happy Thanksiving to you all.

pleasant surprises

Who would have ever thought I'd hear my 9-year-old son say to me "Mom, we need to buy more octopus!"?

Lane and I had dinner tonight with my mother and stepfather at a new Japanese restaurant here in Rochester, called Edoya, and it was a lovely meal.

We feasted on sushi and sashimi--maguro (tuna), tai (snapper), ebi (shrimp), ikura (salmon roe), masago (smelt roe)--along with tako yaki (fried octopus balls), kaki fry (fried oysters), chicken teriyaki, miso soup, tamago (omelette), and edamame. (Oh...and a custard dish that had various kinds of seafood in it. I can't remember what it was called, but it was very good. My mom had to call ahead to have them make it especially for us, as it's not a standard item on the menu.) Lane ate some of everything, and pronounced it all delicious. (I ate most of it, and agreed.)

At the end of the meal, the chef (who owns and runs the restaurant with his wife and daughter) brought over a small plate of food, and set it in front of my stepfather with a great flourish and obvious pride. "Fish liver," he said solemnly. "Anko." We weren't sure what he meant, but Don took a bite and was clearly delighted. "Like foie gras, but fish," said the chef. Don cut off a small piece and put it on Lane's plate, and Lane popped it into his mouth. "That's good!" he said.

The chef went back behind the counter, got a piece of paper, and started writing. A few moments later he returned with the paper, which bore a sketch of fish with an antenna-like projection that had a light at its end. "An-gler" he said, carefully. Lane looked delighted--"Just like in Finding Nemo!" I looked back at him. "Be careful," I said, "or you might have to join the shark's club." He thought for a minute, then burst out laughing. "Fish are friends, not food," he intoned solemnly. But he didn't look at all convinced.

wishing on a star(fish)

Starfish in Monterey BayI woke at 5am today, trying to prevent my body from becoming accustomed to pacific time. It would be easy to become accustomed to pacific beauty, however. I had planned to walk down to the wharf and watch the sun rise, but there are thick, dark rain clouds surrounding the bay, so instead I'm using the time to write out the thoughts in my head.

When I travel to beautiful places like Camden and Monterey, I find myself questioning my life choices pretty closely. Why, exactly, is it that I choose not to live in a beautiful coastal town, when I love them so much?

There are good reasons, of course, family being largest amongst those. Living in Rochester means my parents have easy access to their only grandchildren. It means a cost of living that allows us to live on one salary, which in turn means my husband can be a full-time stay-at-home dad. It means public schools that we like and trust, and a neighborhoods where we feel at home. It means permanent job security for me, and coworkers whose company I enjoy.

Those are some powerful advantages.


I still find myself looking out at the waters of Monterey Bay, trying to figure out how we could relocate to a coastal town, somewhere, and still retain the quality of life that we have now.

In Sadie Plant's "cyberfeminist rant" Zeroes and Ones, I found this passage about Anna Freud that helped to inspire my talks for tomorrow:

Her lectures were composed in the same way. First, she lectured in her imagination, enjoying the thunderous applause, and then she made an outline of what she had said, adjusting it if she needed to for greater simplicity and coherence. Later, with her outline in hand, she would give the lecture extempore. [...]
This is hysteresis, the lagging of effects behind their causes. Reverse engineering: the way hackers hack and pirates conspire to lure the future to their side. Starting at the end, then engaging in a process which simultaneously assembles and dismantles the route back to the start, the end, the future, the past: who's counting now?

This concept of starting with a clear image of desired results isn't new, of course. It's part of nearly every "New Age" book I've ever read, part of many psychotherapeutic approaches, part of the worst motivational talks I've ever heard. But despite all that, I think there's something to it. So perhaps what I need to do is simply imagine the end point, and focus my energies on working backwards from there.

bad blog juju

I was going to write about our unexpected watery adventure from last night, but Halley beat me to it.

She got all the details right. What she didn't get was the incredibly chagrined look on Gerald's face when, after we cleaned up the worst of it, I asked him what happened. It was like asking one of my kids how the lemonade ended up all over the floor. He knew he had to tell me, but he didn't want to.

She also left out the part where I called her back to tell her what had happened, and Gerald was shouting towards the phone "D*mn that Halley Suitt!" (he was kidding, folks, please don't chastise him in the comments!)

So there it is...a cautionary tale. Blogs can be bad for your (or your home's) health. All things in moderation, especially Halley's Comment!

summer into fall

It's a lazy Friday evening here in the Lawley household. The first full week of school is over, and we're slowly adjusting to our new schedules--alarm clocks going off at 6:30am, bus pulling up at 7:30, me getting to the gym (ideally) at 8:00, and everyone winding up back at the house by dinnertime.

I know the calendar says it's still summer, but it sure feels like fall to me. And I'm glad, because I love fall. The weather here in Rochester has been nothing short of glorious. Crisp, cool nights, perfect for snuggling under blankets. Warm, sunny days, nice enough for shorts and sandals. The maple trees are just starting to turn orange at the edges. We've got sweet/tart, juicy grapes (Cayuga, I think) ripening on the vine in our backyard--Lane brought me some tonight, and we relished them together.

Tonight we had an amazing sunset, the kind that looks like molten gold flowing across the sky. I didn't take pictures, because Alex and I were too busy standing on the driveway watching it.

These are golden days. And I'm savoring them...because I know that nothing gold can stay.

and so it begins again

The kids trudged reluctantly up the steps of their school bus this morning. I trudged just as reluctantly into the basement and onto the treadmill, which ended up being a lot more fun than the rest of my day. Presidential address to the university community (two hours long, made slightly less painful by my discovery that my new 17" powerbook was capable of picking up a wifi signal even out in the giant tent in U Lot), college faculty meeting (don't even get me started on the pointlessness of that gathering), student convocation (which I skipped in order to rush home and meet my kids as they got back off the bus), and finally a master's student project defense.

On the one hand, I'm happy to get back into some semblance of a routine. I eat better (fewer temptations) and exercise more (because it's part of my daily schedule) during the school year. But on the other hand, it only took a few hours for me to remember how much I hate the part of my job that's not teaching or research--the endless hours of faculty and committee meetings that balkanize my days and cause constant frustration in all the participants.

Skipping convocation was my little declaration of independence, in a way. It's not that I don't like convocation...there's a part of me that really loves the pomp and circumstance surrounding convocation in the fall, and commencement in the spring. The formal welcoming and leave-taking, focused on the students. But going to convocation today meant missing my kids' arrival at home on their first day of school, and I wanted to make statement--to myself and to my family--about where my priorities would be this year. Now that I'm tenured (as of September 1st), I don't have to worry that missing a "required event" will cost me my job. So I went home, and was sitting on the front porch when the bus pulled up in front of the house.

The freshman students won't remember that I wasn't at convocation today. But my kids would remember if I wasn't here when they got home. It was the right thing to do.

Tomorrow I'll try to clear my mind of the meeting-induced negativity I accumulated today, and will start to focus on the grant work (we give our first presentation to the new students tomorrow, asking them to support our work by agreeing to participate) and class preparation. I've got a full section of freshmen in my Intro to Multimedia class, and I'm really looking forward to that. It's a great chance to connect with students when they first arrive, and to shape their perceptions of the department and the university.

our kids have other plans

We were invited to dinner tonight at a good friend's house, along with the kids. "Sorry," we said. "We can definitely be there, but our kids have other plans." She was amused, since they're 6 and 9 years old, respectively. But it's true. The older one is with his grandmother for the day and overnight, and the younger one is at an all-day birthday party and sleepover. So it's just us old folks, with 24 hours of freedom stretching out in front of us. Wow.

It's an absoutely beautiful day--sunny, temperatures in the 70s, so we're off to Seneca Lake to hit some of our favorite wineries...probably Fox Run, Anthony Road, and Torrey Ridge, today, since they're all on the near side of the lake. (Torrey Ridge is home to our favorite wines for summer grilling, a Baco Noir and a Pinot/Baco blend they call Summit, both aged in toasted oak for a nice smoky flavor that goes wonderfully with barbecue.) Alas, our favorite Asian bistro, Kyo, isn't open for lunch on Saturday. We'll have to go with Plan B, where we eat at the caf� at Fox Run. Sad, isn't it?

Then home again, to shower, change, and head out to the dinner party. Our job is to bring margarita fixings for the eight adults--a perfect assignment for Gerald, who's been perfecting his cocktail-mixing skills this summer and mixes one mean margarita now. (Cointreau rather than Triple Sec, fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juice, and good margarita salt for the glasses. Mmmmm-mmmm.)

photos from white lake

tinyfriday.jpgI tried to post my vacation photos in a TypePad photoblog, but got frustrated. I can't figure out how TypePad orders the photos, and I can't find a way to reorder them. So I gave up, and uploaded the files to an Ofoto album instead. The photo to the left is a preview version--it's the view of the lake off the back deck of the house, taken early Friday morning.

I set the album up so it doesn't require you to log in. I don't get charged for bandwidth. And family members can order prints (though I've found they tend to print a little dark, unfortunately...).

The new computer is up and running, and I like it. A lot. More on that tomorrow, when it's hooked up to the 23" cinema display again!

outta here

We're leaving this afternoon for a week at White Lake in the Adirondacks. Big house with a private beach and dock. I may do some occasional dial-up, but I doubt it. Blogging can wait 'til I return.

The vacation is well-timed...I'm in a bit of a funk, and could use some time away with my family, away from computers and offices and stresses of all kinds.

See you all next week.

highs and lows

A day of contrasts.

I had a nice workout with my girlfriends, followed by a wonderful lunch with my grandmother at Fox's Deli (matzo ball soup and latkes and pastrami sandwiches...yum!). She recently moved here to Rochester, where she's in a wonderful assisted living facility called Wolk Manor. I feel so lucky to stil have her in my life, and even luckier that my kids are now getting the chance to get to know her. Very few people are able to talk with and learn from their great-grandparents. It's truly a gift for her to get to know them, and even more of a gift for them to get to know her.

I left lunch and went to the elementary school to pick up my kids (they're in a town-sponsored day camp held at their school). Walking in, I noticed one of Alex's friends standing by himself near the door, looking distraught. I asked him if he was okay, and while his words said "yes," his quivering lip and glistening eyes said "no." I happen to know his parents are going through an unpleasant divorce, so I asked him who was picking him up from camp, and he told me his grandma and grandpa were coming. Concerned, I talked to the head counselor, and when I left I saw him sitting with her on the grass with the other kids who hadn't been picked up.

Two hours later, my maternal spidey-sense was proven right. I got a call from the head counselor, asking if I had working phone numbers for either of the parents. (I didn't...the mom's number is disconnected, and the father's number is blocked on our caller ID.) Apparently nobody had shown up for him, and they'd taken him to the after-camp care program at the town park (he's not enrolled in it), and were trying to track a parent down. I offered to come wait with him (taking him home with me would have made it impossible for them to find him if/when they showed up), bring him dinner, etc. They promised to call me if the mom didn't show up. Since they didn't call back, I assume she did. But I'm haunted by the sight of his face, full of doubt and fear and loneliness. What does it do to a 7-year-old to not know if anyone's there for him? To wonder if he's been forgotten by the adults who are supposed to be his support? Yes, I know, there are far worse tragedies in the world. But that doesn't mean this one didn't touch me, and make me hug my children a little closer tonight.

I ended the day on a cheerier note. My mother needed network connectivity for her G3 Powerbook in her brand-new attic study, and my stepfather's been fighting with the wiring process. I took matters into my own hands, and stopped by CompUSA, where they had a great deal on a NetGear wireless router--$29.99 (after $30 in rebates). I grabbed the old WaveLAN card I'd used before I got my TiBook, and headed over to her house. Twenty minutes after I arrived, the router was up and running, and I was online with my TiBook. An hour after that, I finally solved the OS9/airport/wavelan/tcp/ip configuration problems, and she was online as well. The minor hassles and expense were more than offset by the look on her face when I carried her untethered computer out to the front porch and told her to check her email.

Came home, put the kids to bed, and found that all the URL-changing surrounding the blog had managed to land me on Blogdex and Popdex. So welcome to all of you who landed here because you were surfing "the popular sites." Guess this is my 10 minutes of fame.

home alone

That was the idea, anyhow. Gerald's in Alabama for two weeks, visiting his family. The boys are in camp during the day. (A town-sponsored program at their elementary school. Six weeks, six hours a day. Total cost for the program? $23/kid. Yes, that's correct. Less than $1 a day. Have I mentioned how much I like living in Rochester?) So I was going to have plenty of uninterrupted work time while Gerald was gone--during the day, and after the kids went to bed.

Ha. Ha ha. Or, as a mailing list friend used to say, bwahahaha. (I am reminded of the old line "Man makes plans, and God laughs.")

The six-year-old has a stomach bug, so I'm home with him rather than at the office getting grant work done. I suppose I could work here, but it's hard to concentrate with the constant refrains of "Mom, can I have some more Gatorade," "Mom, where's the remote," and "Mom, I think I'd like some toast after all."

And the nine-year-old is suffering from insomnia, so he wasn't asleep until nearly midnight last night.

So much for all the quality private time I was about to get. :)

Gerald...I miss you already!

happy fa(lls)ther's day

fallthersday.jpgWe've lived in Rochester for six years now. But until today, we hadn't made the 90-minute trip to Niagara Falls so that Gerald (and the boys) could see our local "wonder of the world."

So today we packed everyone up in the car, and headed east west. It was a glorious day--70s and sunny. Traffic wasn't bad at all, parking was easy to find near the park (the oldest state park in the US...betcha didn't know that!), and we had a wonderful afternoon.

I grew up in Buffalo, so I've been to the falls on many occasions. But as with anything you grow up with, I took it for granted. I hadn't actually been there in at least 15 years, so it was a wonderful trip for me, as well.

So, happy father's day to all the dads out there reading this. Hope you had a great day, as well!

friday's feat-ure

Last night one of our all-time favorite bands, Little Feat, was in town. My husband developed a friendship with their road manager a while back, and then with the band--helping them set up their grassroots support mailing list back before email was king.

Because my sister is getting married this weekend, we've got a flood of friends and family arriving, as well. My stepdaughter got here Thursday--she's part of a younger generation of Feat fans, and because it was her 26th birthday Friday, going to a Feat show was a perfect way to celebrate. I brought the camera, so I've got some photos to share.

bahama bound, baby!

June 3rd will be Gerald's and my tenth anniversary. Wow.

We were married barefoot on the beach in Jamaica, and I've been thinking about how best to celebrate this anniversary. So when I got email from USAirways yesterday telling me about their special fares to the Bahamas, it seemed like a sign.

Twenty-four hours later our flights are confirmed, and we're booked for three nights in an ocean view room at the Westin at Our Lucaya in Port Lucaya. Three weeks from today we'll be looking at the Caribbean from our balcony. As my students would say...w00t!

scenes from my life

Here's how my evening went:

My department chair stops by my office, and hands me my contract letter for next year. She's smiling--a good sign. I open the letter. I discover why she's smiling. I pick up a bottle of good champagne (Mo�t & Chandon) to accompany the takeout Indian food on my way home.

Gerald and the boys arrive home from the movie Holes, in excellent spirits. I show Gerald the letter. Much rejoicing and champagne consumption.

Gerald recounts the following conversation with Lane, our eight-year-old:
Gerald: What are you working on in your room?
Lane: I can't tell you.
Gerald: Well, if it's a nuclear weapon, I need to know right now.
Lane: No, it's not. It's not a weapon of mass destruction of any kind.

Gerald discovers the vibrating foot bath in the back of a closet, and sets it up for me. After he returns from the kitchen, we have this conversation:
Gerald: Don't most people's kids get thirsty?
Me (puzzled): Yes. Why?
Gerald: Apparently our kids just get "parched."

We surf the digital cable music channels. End up on the "today's country" station. (So sue me. I spent five years living in Alabama, and there are lasting effects.) Travis Tritt is singing "It's a Great Day to Be Alive." I agree.

So yes, I'm a lucky woman. And feeling extremely grateful tonight for a lot of things. My husband and kids, obviously. My job, where they pay me to do what I love. My grandfather, who lived to be 3 weeks shy of 95, who shared with me and my children his wealth of knowledge and humor, and who died at home in the arms of a woman who loved him dearly. My friends, near and far, old and new, virtual and real-life.

stories i won't tell

There are not many times when the fact that this is a very public journal leads me to censor myself--generally, I don't have a lot to hide.

But last night as my mother and I were flying back from LA, she said "you'll probably have a lot of stories to tell on your blog about this trip." And I suddenly realized that while I had in fact been instinctively blogging in my head all week, that I didn't want to share those stories in a public forum.

I think it's because the stories aren't really about me. They're about my family, and those stories are not mine to share.

So yes, I have lots of stories. Stories about why it's so important to hold your family close while you can. Stories about why it's a bad thing when your family is spread out across thousands of miles. Stories about the way people can surprise you with their warmth and generosity--or with their incredible lack of sensitivity to others. But I'm not going to share them. Sorry.

light blogging ahead

Faye and Jim Faber
I found out this morning that my maternal grandfather passed away last night. I suppose when someone is in their mid-90s you can't ever say their death is "unexpected"--but it still feels that way. (He was actually my step-grandfather, but he and my grandmother have been together so long that he's been easily as much a part of my life as my mother's father was.)

Jim was a wonderful man. Smart, funny, and a walking history of the socialist and labor movements in this country. I took my kids to see him and my grandmother this past summer, and when I spoke to my grandmother today she told me that of all of the family, it was my boys that Jim missed the most on a day-to-day basis. I'm glad Jim got to know them...and even more glad that they got to know him.

I'll be flying out to Camarillo tomorrow with my mom, to be with my grandmother, so blogging will be light for a few days. If you're so inclined, remember Jim--and my grandmother--in your prayers this week. Thanks.

you can go home again

Well, I can, anyhow. So today I did. To Buffalo, for an hour, to see my father. He's spent the past few months digitizing the thousands of photos, slides, and negatives cataloging our family's life that have been piled in a cupboard for years. Over 3000 images captured so far.

Family in front of fireplaceIt's amazing the way a randomly chosen image can open a window into your own past. This time the fates were kind to me, and the image was one that brought back the best rather than the worst of times.

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