Thursday, December 16, 2010

Yes!

I just looked at my last couple of postings and I thought, "Yikes. People are gonna be worried about me. Time to brighten things up a little."

Things have much improved since mid-November. I'm sleeping better now, I've relaxed my expectations for homeschooling a bit, and I've been happily singing all over the Bay Area -- five concerts in less than two weeks! No more stressing about my identity beyond motherhood. I'm a singer...there's no question about it. I had a cold -- I sang through it. I slept badly -- I sang through it. My voice really surprised me with its resiliency. Ten years ago, when I was studying voice, my teacher complained of my voice's inconsistency. Who knew what my voice was going to sound like each day. With the increased frequency of singing these days, my voice has found its home and usually finds where it belongs with some warm-up.

There's still plenty of room for improvement regarding my voice, so I will keep working at it. Lessons, workshops...whatever it takes to reach my fullest potential.

I'm walking on air these days. The singing, and the company of other friendly musicians, have brought me much joy. And John's been very supportive of my musical endeavors -- getting home in time for me to catch my carpool rides, working at home when I need to do a daytime performance...John knows that a happy home depends on a happy mommy, and I'm here to prove that that is certainly the case.

Now I wonder if I'll suffer some withdrawal symptoms in the next few non-singing weeks. Yikes!

Here's an update on my health situation. All's good, but I may need a lump removed. I'll be consulting with a surgeon next week. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Exhausted? Depressed?

Eh, feeling a little out of sorts today. I felt a little dizzy this afternoon, opted not to take Maylin to karate, and instead, took a long nap with Stefan. I woke up feeling...exhausted. I don't know if I'll ever get caught up with sleep. I feel like I've gone for weeks with 3-5 hours of sleep a night, which means I'm missing out on my REM sleep, the most valuable sleep-time you can get. I've been missing out on my exercise classes as well. My body's starting to really crave that regular physical activity. My hip hop and jazz dance classes can probably help with my sleep problems. Maybe Thursday evening, if I'm not totally wiped out, I can head out to a class.

My body wasn't too happy today, and neither was my mind. My mind should be at ease. After all, we met with our homeschooling charter school's education coordinator and she helped me understand the state standards for third grade, which didn't look as daunting as I had previously thought. Yes, there's some multi-digit multiplication and long division on the spring state test, but it's not heavily emphasized, and who knows? We might be able to make it there by that time. Maylin's picking up new math skills quite easily. It's the memorization part that is hard to make her do. She can do it, but she doesn't like doing it -- I can tell. It's tedious, it's boring -- it's just not creative at all. Not a fitting activity for a super-creative eight year-old who would rather write penpal letters, e-mails, newsletters, how-to manuals, and novels (she's written nearly 5000 words now!).

Ah, while writing the last paragraph, I felt a dark cloud being lifted away from my head and my eyes. I feel loads better mentally! I had a feeling that the writing might make things better for me. This is my therapy.

I was going through quite a bit of anxiety in the last couple weeks. I had had a mammogram and an ultrasound, showing two lumps that were questionable. I was very upset and shocked. I had expected to walk out of the hospital with an a-ok. Instead, I came out with an appointment for a biopsy the following week, a ball of pain down in my throat, and tears that I wouldn't let come out. The worst part of the ultrasound-guided biopsy was my reaction to the local anesthetic (lightheadedness, nausea, imagined sweating), and the agonizing wait for my delayed results. Fortunately, everything came out just fine. The lumps were benign and no follow-up would be necessary. What a relief!

I'm wiped out. Having the kids 24-7 is starting to wear on me. I haven't given myself enough alone time because I've needed to be at home to rest. Tomorrow, I'm going to take a nice, long walk on my own. Maybe take along my laptop and sit at a cafe. Or go to the music library on campus and find some scores I want to study for an upcoming audition tape I need to make.

I've got some research to do. More later!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Failure at novel writing

Maylin's doing great at her novel -- writes regularly and is fast-approaching her 5,000 word goal. In my case, I wrote 2,000 words, gave up on it because I couldn't resolve several mini-plots, and then I started another book -- more like a childhood memoir, but I don't see myself realistically making the 50,000 word goal by November 30. I'll keep writing at my own pace. Why add stress to my life? I want writing to be enjoyable for me, not painful.

I haven't been able to focus on the writing at all, really, as I had intended in the late summer. I am back in love with my first love, music. Didn't expect it to happen, but it did. The right mix of music and people, and bam! I got the music bug again when I thought I had convinced myself that music really wasn't all that important to me. Now it's almost the most important thing to me after my family. How's that for a turn-around?

I haven't been able to make it regularly to my dance classes either. Health issues, sleep issues, I've had lots of excuses. I'm shooting for December to get back into physical fitness.

Speaking of health and fitness, I had a mammogram and ultrasound a week and a half ago, confirming one lump and discovering a second. Monday, I had an ultrasound-guided biopsy to check them out. Tomorrow, I should be getting the results. My guess is that it won't be cancer, but that one lump may have to be removed. That will still be scary to me. Yuck. Don't want to think about it now. We'll just cross that bridge when we get to it.

The big news doesn't end there. Maylin and I are considering completely homeschooling without strings attached. This means that we are thinking about leaving the charter school that has supported us with guidance from a teacher, books, classes, and money for extracurricular activities. We think it may be worth it to remove ourselves from the pressures of state standards, state tests, and continue at our own pace, which for math, may seem slow, but is very thorough and fun. Language arts -- Maylin's breezing through that. No problem. I don't want us to get stressed out about mastering stuff like long division by April, when I don't see the value in stressing out a third grader unnecessarily. If she learns it next year instead (so she can spend this year fully understanding the math concepts), I don't see any harm in that. Even if she learned it in fifth grade, it wouldn't matter much either. I will further discuss this with our Education Coordinator and other homeschoolers, but I think this may be the right choice for us. The main reason for us to homeschool to begin with, was to avoid bureacracy and protect the child's natural enjoyment of learning. I feel our charter school (probably any similar organization would do the same) is beginning to encroach on our freedoms. I think we're outgrowing it. To be continued...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Off-blog in November


Just a notice that I may take a break from my blog for the entire month of November. I will be trying to write 2000 words a day for my novel, hoping to reach 50,000 words by November 30! Maylin's goal is 5000, and she's nearly there already from sheer inspiration. Amazing.

So don't worry about me if it seems like I've disappeared off the face of the planet. I'm just holed up somewhere with my laptop, fingers flying.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hey, everything's okay now!

Yes, life for me was out of whack, but that's always a temporary situation. Sure, the house is a wreck right now, but at least I feel more in balance now. My choir concerts went wonderfully, my handling of book orders has become second nature, and my t-shirt design is done, but just needs to be formatted correctly for printing. Homeschooling Maylin should resume normal pace shortly (we slowed down quite a bit for most subjects except math and writing), and Stefan will be read to more regularly now. By the way, John says that Stefan can read some words! I'm terribly excited, but Stefan denies knowing how to read. I can give you more of a confirmation later.

Maylin's already written about 2600 words for her novel which will be finished on November 30th. I haven't started mine yet -- the rule is to start on November 1st, according to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) organizers, but I cannot stop Maylin's inspirational flow! No way.

She absolutely loves writing. It helps a lot that she knows how to type. Otherwise, her output would be a lot less. Recently, she's typed up 4-5 one-page "newsletters" (they're really great -- with exciting articles, fictional, of course) on the computer, and a page of secret information, which she won't let me read, on Grandma's electric typewriter.

So here's a revelation. Music is still a big part of my life. I absolutely cannot live without it -- the process of making it and sharing it with others. From 1998-2000, it was the most important thing in my life (aside from John and my family). My dream was to become an early music singer. So I went back to school and got my bachelor's equivalency (almost like the degree, but the university wouldn't waive the general education requirements even though I already had a degree from Cal). I was intending on applying to masters programs in early music, but realized that I had to make a choice between that and my husband-to-be (who would had have a much tougher time finding satisfying work if we ended up in the boonies). At the time, my self-confidence was at an all-time low, and I was mildly depressed. I enrolled in a local masters program in music education, did enjoy it, and applied what I learned to my music teaching jobs, but it wasn't as satisfying as performing as a singer regularly, which I did in the bachelor's program.

After I gave birth to Maylin, I stopped studying and working (four part-time jobs, at the minimum) and devoted myself whole-heartedly to motherhood. Some time after our move to Paris, I was itching to sing again. I thought I would audition for a Baroque choir directed by the famous Jean Sourrisse, but I chickened out. Instead, I somehow landed myself in a small opera ensemble and sang the role of Papagena and the First Lady (one of three ladies, NOT the wife of a president) in Mozart's The Magic Flute. Through the group, I found a wonderful voice teacher and some wonderful friends who, eventually dissatisfied as I was with the direction of the group, started our own opera ensemble. The four of us, plus a soprano who auditioned for us, formed a fun, dedicated group that rehearsed opera duets and trios once a week, with me functioning as accompanist, director, and singer. Sadly, the group was unable to continue after I withdrew due to a pregnancy complication.

Four years later, in Berkeley, one of my friendly neighbors invited me to join her a cappella group, which sang an eclectic mix of pop, jazz, Renaissance, and world music. It was a wonderful group of dedicated moms, which welcomed me with open arms. They re-instilled my confidence as a singer. I even got to arrange a folk song for them, which was a great experience.

Then, I had my breakdown this past summer. I convinced myself that I didn't need music. I told myself I'd be perfectly happy just enrolling in a one-week early music program each summer to satisfy my urge to sing (solos, in particular). I was going to dedicate myself to writing and jazz dance, which, at the time, was pulling me out of my misery. I sadly resigned from the a cappella group to make the time for my new activities (I did it in a poor way, but that's another blog entry).

Unfortunately, I've found that the dancing options for me are pretty slim. I found the most amazing jazz dance teacher, but she teaches only one class a week that's available to the general public (her other classes are for serious college dancers and professionals). Hip hop classes have been more difficult for me to get to. I was taking them mostly for the cardio exercise (and they're really fun, too). I might be able to work it back in by December. The writing I can still do. I'm happy I'm getting back into it now. It should be regular now. I need to be disciplined about it.

But my creative focus is now back in music. I've joined a wonderful choir which focuses on Baroque music in particular, and I've found it to be an experience that's transcended all my expectations -- due to a fantastic director, the most beautiful repertoire, a friendly group of people, and a very special friend-singer (she's like a long-lost sister). Hey, this is a life-changing experience for me. It's like I've finally come home. I'm singing again -- singing music I love, singing with people I love. What more could I ask for? (Leaving the a cappella group was really tough because I loved the people, but I didn't totally love the music).

So my musical adventure is beginning again. I hope to take voice lessons again to get my voice back on track. There are so many things to work on. My breathing technique is not as good as it was in Paris, I think. My upper range has shrunk. My placement comes and goes. What would be fun is to get into a master's vocal program, but that's a pretty silly idea considering my family responsibilities. And, I don't think I could bear spending less and less time with my dear ones. Right now, the time away from them is just about right. I guess, when the kids get older, I'll be able to carve more time for myself. As they become more independent, I'll become more independent. I like how that works out.

It seems that this blog, at least for now, has turned into a "who am I?" exploration. I admire those who seem to have found their calling and are working hard to reach their fullest potential. I am way at the bottom of the totem pole, still just trying to figure out where to focus my energy. Am I just one of those people who will never focus? John calls me the greatest generalist. I may have reached a certain proficiency at several things, but will I ever be a master of something? Is that something to strive for? Or should I be content with being a dilettante?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Out of balance again

My life is out of whack again, unfortunately. How do I know? Well, my feeling of being overwhelmed was growing, and growing, and growing until my body physically couldn't take all the activity anymore. Then I got sick (last week). I wouldn't be able to diagnose it as a full-on cold or flu, but I had hardly any energy, I wasn't jumping out of bed in the morning like I usually do (I'm a morning person, what can I say?), and had off-and-on chills and low-grade fevers. I was pretty useless as a homeschooling teacher (did Maylin learn anything last week? not much from Mom, that's for sure), and have left the house in an abhorrent situation. Hey, at least the kitchen's semi-clean (sink is full of dirty pans, but other than that, kitchen is spic and span!) and I did pick up all the gnarly remnants of toys destroyed by our dog (goodbye, Mr. Plastic Whale, empty yogurt container, and Thomas the Train track piece).

I'm only feeling a little bit better. It doesn't help when I'm plagued with sleep deprivation caused by events like what happened last night, which was basically my playing a game of family musical beds (but pretty much by myself). I started off in my bed with Maylin (John and Stefan on Stefan's full-size bed). Then, when Stefan cried in the middle of the night for Mommy, John and I swapped spots, putting me in Stefan's bed. I couldn't go back to sleep, as usual. I tried to make it back to my own bed, but realized that it was occupied by two bodies already. I attempted to sleep in Maylin's bunk without hitting my head on the ceiling. As I was finally drifting off with a pile of chapter books as my bed buddy, I was awakened again by Stefan's crying. I made it safely down the bunk back into Stefan's bed -- and did I go back to sleep? Fortunately, I did. But I couldn't make myself get to my beloved jazz dance class in the morning. Mama was running on very low, economy power. I knew I needed to rest. I knew I had few chances to lay in bed and rest my heavy head, so I took it -- gladly.

So, sleep deprivation and overextending myself. I'm paying for it. I volunteered to do a couple things for two different organizations, but they're taking more time than I anticipated. It's all still fun, though. It's stuff I like to do, and one of the jobs I actually suggested myself. So I'm handling the Scholastic book orders for our homeschooling charter school (I love books and working with people), and designing a t-shirt for the choir I'm singing in now. Fortunately, I've given myself a deadline for the t-shirt design, so that's pretty short-term. The book job is fun and only takes a lot of time because I end up being addicted to shopping for books myself. I did something smart and deleted most of the orders I had saved the night before. Hours of my time wasted, but lots of money saved!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Information overload

My feeling of calm and peace after organizing all of our homeschooling stuff lasted only a moment. I made the mistake of signing up for a homeschooling yahoo group whose activity takes up half of my e-mail inbox. Though the conversations have been interesting (one of them relevant to me -- how to teach math to a creative, right-brained child), the rest seem to come from frantic parents desperate to resolve whatever problems their child has. I'm glad there is a forum for that, but all that online frenzy doesn't seem to help my already manic mental state.

Manic mental state. Partly due to sleep deprivation, partly due to information overload. So, I've removed myself from that frenetic yahoo group, and I'm also going to stop my subscription to the Sunday New York Times. I enjoy the NY Times a lot, esp. the arts and leisure section, but most of the newspaper I end up ignoring -- seems to be a waste of money to me. Plus, whenever I get the paper, I feel more pressure than pleasure. Pressure to read it all by the time the next issue comes out...and frankly, I don't have time to read! I have very few moments of complete quiet and calm to just TAKE MY TIME reading. When I have ten minutes to read, I am skimming, skipping...it really takes the joy out of reading. It seems I'm going to actually have to schedule private reading time into my schedule as well.

I'm going to also have to stop putting books on hold at the library (or at least limit myself to one request at a time). First, I thought it was the greatest blessing in the world to be able to request any book I desired and have it ready and waiting for me on a designated shelf at the library (such a gift when most of the time I spend in the library involves chasing my son through the stacks). And it's just fine when I can pick up one book at a time, but when three or more are available simultaneously, I freak out from the pressure to get all that reading done by the due date (even with renewals).

The jazz dance class I'll take in forty-five minutes takes me away completely from my crazy monkey mind. An hour and a half of complete focus in the moment.

I also started rehearsals with a Baroque choir that are utter bliss for me for three hours. This choir is a bit of an experiment for me (month-long, for now) after telling myself I was going to focus on mainly my writing and dancing. I thought I could live without music-making on a regular basis, but I think I'm addicted to singing Baroque music. I'm kind of returning to my roots in early music. Early music (medieval to Renaissance to Baroque mainly) was why I went back to school after getting an economics degree at Cal. I was suffering at a nightmare job and asked myself, "What would make me really happy?" My answer was, "To be an early music singer." My plans were to get a bachelor's degree in voice locally and then get a master's degree in voice (with an early music emphasis) at Indiana University. I changed my plans when I met my husband. That's the way life often goes, right? I have no regrets. John is great, and I wouldn't trade my job as mom to my wonderful kids with anyone.

Now, I do feel a little tug to return to my old dream of becoming an early music performer. That would be fun and a lot of work and stress (I don't think I can handle that kind of work stress anymore), but it seems totally unrealistic since my goals for the kind of family life that I want is not conducive to a performer's lifestyle. I think some things may always remain fantasy, and it's nice to settle into fantasy for moments at a time as long as I don't have to live it. It's a bit ironic, since now I am the closest I've ever been technically (with my voice) to make a singing career happen.

[I am sitting in my regular Sunday morning cafe and am totally distracted my someone's cell phone conversation. Something about wanting to chop off part of her toe, which is longer than her big toe. Typically, I'm not ready to hear about self-mutilation before Sunday noon.]

Okay, it's time to go. Time to torture my hamstrings. Have a wonderful day!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I found my place!



Woohoo! I knew I'd find it. I needed to find a place to write that has wi-fi and is open late. And here it is (ugh, this photo taken at home is misleading). In my hood. No more getting kicked out of cafes at 9 pm. A cafe with wi-fi, late hours, relaxing classical music in the background, iced tea after a Thursday night hip hop workout...near perfection. It's a little loud. Not everyone is working quietly, but hey, I'll just have to adjust. Rifling through my bag now...voila! I found some little earbuds in my bag. Now I'm pumping Purcell choral music into my ears. Hmmm...not quite perfect -- can still hear a microbiology discussion bleeding through, but good enough. I admire hard-working students. I will feed off of their energy of self-discipline and dedication to their studies. I just hope I don't try to understand what they're talking about because it's way beyond me.

I like it that I'm not doing any serious writing right now. I tell people I'm working on becoming a writer, but I'm not pressured to show them anything, right? I immediately say, "I'm just starting out," or, "I'm way at the bottom of the game," and I can still go on feeling good about what I'm doing. No guilt, no pressure. Awesome.

I can only stay here until my laptop runs out of juice. I'm a little too far from the nearest outlet. I could look harder for another outlet, but I don't want to bother anyone right now. I'll come again during the day to really scope out this whole place.

It's pretty fun to be surrounded by all these laptops. Who knows what everyone's working on. Some people are probably just surfing the net. Other people might be writing the next best American novel. Berkeley is a hotbed of talent, and I consider myself to be so lucky to be living here, surrounded by all this creative energy and openness to everything.

Most people immediately show excitement and support when I share with them that I'm writing, but others are like, "Geez, is there anything you can't do?" which always surprises me. I mean, the things I do are not extraordinary...at least, not to me.

Cooking and baking well -- that's not something I was born with. It's still something I'm working on -- there's lots of things I haven't tried making and would probably fail at first, but if I was dedicated to it, I would turn it into a quest to perfect it. My cooking was so bland before. I used jarred sauces. I couldn't cook fish (and I still can't do a decent job at it). My dishes improved so much after an expat friend in Paris taught me how to season properly. For fun, I read cookbooks and search the internet for easy, delicious recipes. I work at the cooking. It's not a natural talent.

My musical skills are decent. I'm not conservatory-trained, so I don't think I'll ever be at the par of the musicians I most admire. I never worked hard at music -- I wasn't disciplined enough in my youth to practice more than 30 minutes to an hour a day, but I took a hell of a lot of lessons over many years. I was persistent. I didn't stop lessons in violin and piano until right before college. I think I have a talent for sightreading music (being able to play sheet music placed in front of me for the first time), which has been both a blessing and a burden. It's helped me get lots of piano gigs, but technically, I'm really lacking so some of those gigs ended up with my faking my way through pieces (playing most of the notes, but rarely all). Made me feel pretty crappy afterwards -- like a fraud, and I was one! These jobs should have been given to real pianists -- not someone who stopped lessons her senior year in high school and didn't really practice until her junior year.

People may be misled into thinking that I'm a full-fledged dancer, but I'm really a beginner. Two years of hip hop workouts does not make one a dancer, does it? I did take ballet and tap for four years in my early childhood which I think did set up my brain for learning routines at an adequate pace. I did take a few months of jazz dance and ballet when Maylin was a baby which have trained my body to align and balance itself properly. I do think that the jazz dance classess that I now take on Sunday mornings will take me to a much higher level. The regular teacher (I've had two lessons with her and two lessons with three lessons with subs) is super-tough and notices EVERYTHING. I love it when she tweaks my positioning and tells me what I'm doing wrong. I'm definitely in the right place emotionally now to be able to take any necessary criticisms. And I sure learn the most when the teacher has high expectations for each student. And I love that I come out of the class with wobbling legs and have sore quads for the next several days. I am going to be so strong after a few years of this! The class is also very humbling because I'm usually the least experienced person there. It reminds me of how far I need to go. I also look at all the perfect, trim bodies in the room and think, "Someday, I'll look like that." I think I have a relatively slender figure, but dancing among these gazelles, I look rather like a gorilla. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but my mid-section could use some work for sure.

With art, I'm a complete hack. I admit it. Utterly no training. I think I've inherited a pretty good eye for balance and composition from my father, who is a self-taught painter, so that helps. I've always drawn for fun, and am adept at copying illustrations. Ask me to paint a realistic portrait or draw a human figure and I will totally flop on my rear. Cartoon-y stuff is what I can manage sans training. I do wish I could at least draw characters from different angles. I even have difficulty doing simple side profiles. I am not a risk-taker when it takes to drawing or painting. I do what's safe for me. Remarkably, people still like what I've cranked out, so that's nice.

Now teaching, I think I'm definitely a natural at. I remember helping my classmates even in the primary grades. I continued tutoring throughout my academic career, but I had to stop once I got to Cal because the material got pretty hard for me. I was the one who always needed help. This was hard because I was very proud and really struggled to ask for help. Anyways, homeschooling seemed to be the perfect fit for me, someone who wants to teach everything (not just one thing). And I'm always curious and find so many things interesting. I have a big opportunity now to learn anything, everything. Now, I've identified all the names of the birds who visit our yard, I've grown my own vegetable garden (officially, it's Maylin's, but I definitely did most of the work), I'm composting with worms (not well -- I think I almost killed most of them), and my Chinese is getting better -- all these are the by-products of homeschooling. I don't think I would have advanced this far without it. In the mission to educate my child, I have educated myself as well. How wonderful is that?

And life is too short to stop there. I think everyone can keep growing, becoming better people...you can never stop learning. To stop learning is to stop living, in my opinion. I hate feeling like I'm stagnating. That's exactly where I was before we moved to Paris. I was too comfortable where I was before the move. I was a musician, but mainly because I didn't know what else to do and because that's what everyone expected me to do. I followed my abilities, but not my passions, which I hadn't figured out yet. I needed Paris to help me get on the right path to figure it out. I couldn't help but learn about myself as I gained much real self-confidence from learning a new language, adapting to a new culture and environment, and creating my life instead of letting it create me.

One of the biggest things I learned about myself is to not necessarily follow my abilities. My passions may involve skills yet to be developed. With patience and hard work, I will evolve into the person I was meant to be.

Living joyfully


Here's Stefan soaking it all in on Mt. Rainier in Washington state. Ah, the joys of being a toddler -- no, now preschooler! He always brings a smile to strangers' faces as he runs by them. Stefan is almost always exuding joy from every ounce of his little active body. Yes, ACTIVE! I was thinking of signing him up again for the Chinese class he took last fall, but he cannot sit still! Especially if there are other kids around. A normal trip out includes my chasing after him, worrying about losing sight of him, dodging the crowds as he wiggles quickly through them, ahead of me.

Things feel like they're falling into place properly now. I feel happy and well-balanced. I have time to think about my novel that I won't start writing until November 1 (I'm so excited -- I've got a character, a supporting character, a vague setting, and a non-existent plot!). I have time to volunteer at our homeschooling school's resource center (fun!). I have a few moments here and there to sing an opera aria or two in a very acoustically live area of our house (joy!). I write in a cafe and take a jazz dance class every Sunday morning (so wish for more of these exact mornings). I have time to write out a customized math lesson every morning for Maylin (she needs variety, just the right amount of easy and challenging work, and games -- logic puzzles, sudoku, hidden pictures to graph, and fun word problems). I am teaching Maylin piano and she likes it and is doing great! I have time to take Stefan to a beautiful park nearby and enjoy the serenity (no people!) and the scenery (amazing view of the bay, including San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge). I am enjoying Maylin's own interest in writing, as she types away (now on her second page of a story entitled, "The Dolls").

Recently, I asked her again what she wanted to be when she grows up. She replied as I expected, "an artist." But then I asked her, "what kind of an artist?" Maylin answered, "An artist that writes and draws." The drawing part was nothing new to me. She draws almost all the time. Now, she is writing almost all the time as well. Her own self-initiated projects. Stories, pen pal letters, e-mails...and her writing is good! And I really can't claim any credit for it! Except that I model a lot of that for her. She sees me writing and typing, sees that I enjoy it, and then does it herself. I think that parents modeling positive behavior is so important and much more influential on our children than we think, and much more influential than anything we tell them. Actions speak stronger than words?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Being true to yourself, part I

Yesterday, Maylin and I both took free acting classes at the Berkeley Rep. Maylin didn't have the best of times since it sounded more like running and jumping than actual acting, but my experience was awesome. We did a lot of breath-work, connected with our bodies while lying on a mat, and made our own personal connection to a few lines from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. My big take-away from that class was learning the importance of making the text your own -- finding your own personal truth in it and making it real for yourself. I guess it sounds obvious, but how many times have you seen a production where you say to yourself, "That actor delivered those lines perfectly, but I don't feel anything." The actor may have been trained to deliver the lines well enough to be heard and understood, but has not made the text true for himself so that the audience can feel the emotion of that personal truth.

Last night, before going to bed, I read a few brief bios of essay writers, gleaning a similar message -- that a good writer writes words that are the most true to herself. That is so true. Some writers' work seem so contrived. In fact, my college essays sounded quite contrived because I was writing with the voice that I thought I was supposed to have instead of writing with my own voice. But how is a young adult supposed to know her own voice already? I know some talented teens who have probably already discovered their true voices, but I certainly had not by the time I entered Cal. In high school, I learned how to write a good analytical essay, but I don't remember anything about learning how to write a good personal essay. We should have learned since one of our most important essays in our lives was the college application essay -- a very personal essay.

Anyways, I woke up at five this morning to the revelation that good acting and good writing is a lot Iike good living. I haven't done the best job living until now. For a long time, I hadn't found my voice -- I hadn't given myself permission to live my own life on my own terms, not someone else's. And now that I'm in control, I'm going to really listen to myself, do only what feels right to me (follow my gut, because it's always right), and not be swayed by what I think I should be doing. Overthinking can get me into trouble, but when I am really in tune with my feelings and follow through in action, then things usually turn out just great. More on this later...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Feeling giddy about writing


Woohoo! I'm so excited to come back to my regular Sunday morning cafe, sip my tea, and write to my heart's content!

Two nights ago, I had an amazing, cinematic dream that I knew would make an awesome novel (and later, a movie?). But (a big BUT), I don't think I know how to express such a cool story in words! It kind of has a Lord of the Rings feel to it, so maybe it's time to actually read the trilogy. I've never been a reader of fantasy, but it's never too late to start! This will be for research mainly, but who knows? Maybe I'll actually enjoy it. I'm not sure if I'll use the story for my National Novel Writing Month project. I'll probably save it for when I'm a better writer. National Novel Writing Month is going to be the time when I just pull something out of thin air and see what happens. A stream of consciousness novel -- haha! That would be fun to read.

Argh -- I have too many ideas in my head to really know where to start writing today. I guess that's a good thing. With homeschooling, there's always an overload of information.

Maybe I'll start with how I'm feeling. I feel energized, youthful (in the last two days, two people have commented on how young I look), and optimistic about the future. But I feel pretty darn naked in these leggings I'm wearing right now. I'm suited up already for my dance class which follows this writing session since I'm too lazy to change right before class in the studio dressing room. Usually, I wear the ones that hug my thighs and butt just right, but flare out towards my feet. These are your typical high-waisted (ugly!) leggings that smush everything from the vulnerable belly to the shy butt, from the embarrassed thighs to the less inhibited ankles. It's mostly my butt that feels really exposed. I'm used to wearing hip-hugging jeans, but somehow this is a little different. These pants leave nothing to the imagination. I might as well be strolling down the street in my birthday suit. Fortunately, I'm feeling pretty confident these days, and my body is in an "acceptable" condition for exhibition (I'm working on getting an "excellent" rating in my head). So, for now, three and a half stars? Maybe almost four?

Enough of that. Last month, after a deep discussion with my husband, we decided that we needed to have regular dates to increase the health of our marriage. Fridays have been our date night (two dates managed so far). 1.5-2 hours seem to be enough for us to get a nice dinner in Berkeley (luckily we're blessed with marvelous restaurants in this town) and catch up with what's going on with us and the kids. And we get to hold hands. I miss that. Holding hands were a common occurrence before we had kids -- now, we've got to work at it! It's such a simple pleasure for me.

Homeschooling is really going great. Of course, there are days where I'm completely frustrated about not feeling like we accomplished anything on my agenda, but then I look back, and I realize that Maylin accomplished a lot on her agenda (and that's okay!). For example, my anxious days are actually very creative days for Maylin -- she may have evaded my strict morning schedule of math and grammar, but she drew a comic, wrote several paragraphs on her self-initiated story project (typing it all on her own), and continued programming her animation project with Scratch, a visual programming language accessible to people of all ages, among other things. I will feel better personally if we can get back on track (she was sick for a couple of days and it really put a wrench in our schedule) and fit in our yoga, math, grammar, and reading in the morning -- she can have the entire afternoon and evening devoted to her own activities.

I have been informally homeschooling three year-old Stefan as well (just turned three last week). He recognizes most of his uppercase and lowercase letters, can count to 29 (with some trouble around 15 and 16), knows his shapes (we're working on ovals and octagons now after mastering the others), has known his colors for forever (although he mixes up yellow and white often -- interesting!), and is excellent at matching games (thanks to our newly-acquired iPad, which was actually a gift for a wedding that didn't happen in the end). He loves books, still leaning towards train, car, monster truck, construction equipment, and jet airplane themes, but I am so relieved he now likes good old storybooks now, too. As I'm reading to him, I occasionally run my finger across the sentence, and I think it's really helping him understand how reading works. Sometimes he runs his fingers across the sentences, too, and attempts to "read." It's the cutest thing.

Another wonderful is seeing Maylin and Stefan read together. Maylin will often initiate a reading session, and it's just so precious to see them sitting quietly next to each other on the bed sharing a book. With homeschooling, these beautiful moments happen more frequently. And with homeschooling, I can see them creating a stronger bond as sister and brother than they would have without the homeschooling. Homeschooling is a gift. The most valuable thing about homeschooling is the freedom of time. The kids have more time to cuddle, play together, read together, "work" alongside each other...I am sure that the strong friendship and sibling love that they create now will continue to flourish through the years.

This seems like a good place to stop. I'm still feeling good, but maybe I feel even better, now that I've released my thoughts to the universe. I'm off to my jazz dance to get my butt kicked (and enjoy it, too).

Until next time...

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

The writer I want to be

Well, I've said it. I want to be a writer. But if you've been reading my blog all along, this is probably nothing new. Caroline writes in her blog, albeit not regularly. Caroline has said many times she aspires to write a children's book. Caroline may have mentioned (have I?) that she is going to participate in the National Novel Writing Month campaign which requires her to write 50,000 words in 30 days (yikes!).

Yet, I do not want to be a novelist. The novel's just an exercise in writing for me. I just got to get my creative juices flowing. And also, I need a really ridiculous challenge once in awhile, just to let myself know that I'm alive and have control over my own destiny. I compare it to doing a triathlon without doing any proper training. What have I got to lose? It's not like I might break a leg or drown in the process.

So, what kind of writer do you want to be then (even though you're going to waste all your time writing a novel), Caroline? An essayist! Yes, yes! You heard me right. Even though I've been reading books like Writer Mama, which tells you basically how to break into the magazine article market as a freelancer, and No Plot? No Problem! by the guy who started the whole National Novel Writing Month phenomenon, I find I most identify myself with the writing of essayists. David Sedaris was my first inspiration, although the more I read of his work, the more I think that this is a guy I wouldn't necessarily want to hang out with. And now I find myself dipping back into one of my college texts from English 1B, Eight Modern Essayists, compiled by William Smart. Ah, to be in the company of fine writers/thinkers like Joan Didion and Alice Walker is pure pleasure. So now to read, to be inspired, and to write. Wish me luck!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Maylin earns orange belt in karate


For two years, I had Maylin take ballet, and though she had much talent and grace, it turns out that she didn't enjoy it. Too girly, she said. Yes, that's my daughter. I'm fortunate we discovered a karate program that she enjoys. After one year of study, she earned her orange belt at the end of the summer (it starts with white, then yellow, orange, green, blue, purple, brown, red, red with black stripe, and finally black). I'm always in awe of her determination, focus, strength, and flexibility when I watch her practice her forms or her kicks. It's so beautiful! There are a couple of kids who are one step away from their black belts, and their work is the most amazing. I could see Maylin being one of them in a few years.
I remember last year when she talked about how much she would sweat in the hour-long class, or how she almost felt like throwing up (it's not an easy workout by any means) but kept going. The perseverence! She's learning much more about herself than I could ever imagine.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I have "monkey mind," as evidenced by my bedside table

Those who practice meditation may be familiar with the term "monkey mind." It describes a mind full of noise and activity, which prevents one from achieving an inner calm. Meditation is supposed to help with that. I probably need a dose of meditation now. I usually am a one-book-at-a-time kind of gal, but now, just look at the bedside reading I have on my nightstand and you can tell I've got a mind that just won't calm down (in order of acquisition from the library and Amazon, not including the children's books for storytime): The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise (classic classical homeschooling lit -- I highly recommend this book to any homeschooler who doesn't want to leave any gaps in their child's education), Best Food Writing 2009 edited by Holly Hughes (fun and educational, but it's all over the place -- I guess that's how an anthology is going to end up), Naked, Drunk, and Writing by Adair Lara (supposed to inspire potential memoir writers...I haven't read enough of it to feel particularly inspired, but the conversational style is my kind of writing), Craft, Inc.: Turn Your Hobby Into a Business by Meg Mateo Ilasco (and no, I don't have a hobby I can turn into a business right now because I have no product to sell! -- just thought it'd be a fun read), Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter (perfect for me, right? I love reading about food and I love memoirs; can't wait to find time to get past page 6), No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty (to help with the Maylin's and my novel writing during National Novel Writing Month in November), and Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids by Christina Katz (it sounds interesting to me, but I don't think I'm ready to pull it off and I'm not even sure it's something I'd want to do).

This is a sign of a brain going in too many directions at one time! Whoa, Nelly! Instead of requesting all these interesting-sounding books from the library (by the way, making book requests is THE way to go for busy moms who don't have time to browse at the library because they're chasing their toddlers from the periodicals section through cookbooks and crafting to a well-used graphic novel section), I COULD just writing down the titles somewhere for future reference. Geez.

Yes, I have an inability to focus. I think when I focus, I can really excel at something, but inevitably, I get bored. I move on to the next thing. Once I feel I've mastered something, or have achieved the highest level I think I'm capable of achieving (sometimes it's a plateau), I get the itch to move on. In the last couple weeks, I've had a few itches. Let's see if I scratch or not.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Toddlers don't like Impressionism

On Sunday morning, we took the kids to see the Birth of Impressionism exhibit at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. The exhibit featured many familiar and not so familiar masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. When we lived in Paris, this museum was my favorite, so I was so happy to see some old friends, including Caillebotte's The Floor Scrapers (the light is so amazing, and I find myself very calm enjoying the beauty of this work) and one I hadn't ever seen before, an unusual Cezanne entitled, Maincy Bridge (it's so geometric, so structural, but you can feel the cool, humid air and sense the mystery of the water under the bridge). Of course, there were the Renoirs and the Monets, but we see them so much these days on calendars and notecards, that they don't thrill me like they did when I was in high school. Unfortunately, today these masterpieces are nearly cliche.

Okay, so I loved the exhibit. The kids were grumpy and hungry (we woke them really early, whooshed them out the door, and stuffed some -- not enough -- Gorilla Munch cereal in some Tupperware which they gobbled in the museum cafe before our exhibit entry time), so you can imagine the loud complaining from Stefan ("I want to go hooooome") in between content sessions on benches with his Hot Wheels cars and the quiet, yet constant, complaining from Maylin ("I'm booooooored"). I even gave Maylin a primer on Impressionism the day before, so she saw many of these paintings in a book before seeing them in person. I thought it'd be cool for her, but boy, was I wrong.

We had a pleasant lunch in the cafe afterward, so at least the visit ended on a positive note. Maylin did remind me that she had warned me before of her dislike of museums. Ugh. Thought this would be inspirational for my little future artist. I guess she's still a little young.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Old fantasy come true!

It's 8:35 a.m., Sunday morning, and I've just sit down in a cafe on a plush purple armchair with my laptop on a small marble table -- free wi-fi, an electrical outlet and hot lavender tea by my side, surrounded by the character of an old building, the cheerfulness of the barista, and Beethoven. For years, since Maylin was a baby, I had imagined this type of scenario. A complete hour or more of peace. My private time. A mind open to creativity. And I also have a dance class to look forward to across the street. Not my usual hip hop, but I'm venturing out to a different world of dance. We'll see what happens, but I'm definitely in a phase right now where I feel like I'm being reborn.
My focus lately has been on getting Maylin's third grade curriculum in order. It's been fun, but frustrating at the same time. It was fun finding a social studies curriculum ("Story of the World" by Susan Wise Bauer -- Maylin LOVES it!), fun finding a language arts program (by Susan Wise Bauer and her mom, Jessie Wise), fun discovering a Chinese program that I can use for Stefan, too (betterchinese.com), and frustrating locating the ideal math curriculum. After scouring reviews of many math programs, borrowing and buying various books, I've decided upon a mix of two programs, Singapore Math (for mental work) and Developmental Mathematics (for mastery). Last year, there weren't enough drills of basic arithmetic and now we're paying for it. At least she understood the concepts of multiplication and division -- my only math victory. The handheld electronic Flashmaster that we discovered the other day is providing a fun way of drills of addition and subtraction facts.

I've been slowly making my way back into music -- I've been singing in an a cappella group and, in September, I'll be singing with a classical chamber choir. But I think I'm itching to get back into solo singing. I'll probably go back doing the classical thing. For a little while I was thinking of learning vocal jazz or composing my own songs to sing at open mics. Still on the fence, but I definitely feel the best about my singing when I'm singing classical music. I can use the full range of my instrument -- extreme louds and softs, very high notes -- things you don't find often in jazz or pop. I miss acting, too, but not sure if opera is where I want to be for that. Maybe join one of my friends in doing improv?

It's all pretty exciting. But I'm trying to think where all this excitement and all this motivation to reinvent and rediscover myself has come from. And actually, it was from a pretty dark place. One evening, the day before my thirty-sixth birthday, I was experiencing one of my semi-annual nervous breakdowns which resulted from weeks of sleep deprivation, little help around the house (John was working long hours), and no break from Mommy duties (it was Camp Mommy this summer for the kids). I was just about to run out of the house screaming, but decided instead just to take a quiet walk. Ended up on Telegraph Avenue in one of my old college haunts, Moe's Bookstore. Looked through volumes on book design, illustration, and freelance writing. It made me feel a little better, but I was in a slump for a few days. As a newcomer to the large club of Project Runway admirers, I've found myself both inspired and depressed. I'm inspired by seeing designers take on projects with all their differing creative processes and depressed feeling that I should be doing creative projects as well. If I would do my youth all over again, I would have taken drawing classes in high school and put together a portfolio to go to art school. I don't know what I would specialize in, but some sort of design, I think. Well, it's never too late, right? Maybe I should take some drawing classes. I'm really quite a hack and have no technical background.

I'm a little girl full of big dreams (or just too many dreams). Let's see what happens next...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My best oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe

Can it be that my tastiest cookie is actually egg- and sugar-free? Don't let that scare you. You won't miss that egg at all. And the highly processed granulated sugar is simply replaced by good ol' natural maple syrup. These cookies are crispy around the edges and chewy in the middle -- just how we like'm around here. I didn't come up with this recipe from scratch since I borrowed ideas from a recipe by Martha Stewart and another by Alicia Silverstone (which she borrowed from someone else, but put in her book, "The Kind Diet.")

Ultimate Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix these dry ingredients together:

3 1/4 c. rolled oats
1 c. + 2T all-purpose flour
1/2 c. oat bran
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. coarse salt
2 T flaxseed meal

Mix these wet ingredients together in another bowl:

1/2 c. safflower oil (corn oil or canola oil are fine substitutes)
1/2 c. melted butter
1 c. maple syrup
2 t. molasses

Combine wet with dry, and stir in 1 1/2 c. chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoon onto parchment paper-lined cookie sheet (or use a silicone sheet like me -- the French Silpat). Flatten slightly with fingers. Bake for 14-15 minutes. After a couple of minutes of resting in pan, remove to cooling rack. Enjoy!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Art project: Styrofoam printing



Materials:
Paint (I used paint for silkscreening because I thought we were going to do t-shirts, but we didn't; tempura should work just fine)
Completely flat, hard, smooth surface for rolling paint (e.g. piece of glass or marble)
Brayer (found in art stores; mine is a rubber one with a plastic handle by Speedball)
Flat piece of styrofoam (cut from a meat package, for example)
Card stock or paper (I prefer card stock)
Pencil

Draw picture onto styrofoam with pencil (not too lightly, not too harshly). Words will have to be inversed if you use them. Pour some paint onto your hard surface (I used a piece of broken marble salvaged off the street in Paris). Use a brayer to roll over the paint (try to get an even layer of paint on your brayer). Roll the paint evenly onto your styrofoam drawing. Place styrofoam, paint-side-down, onto your card stock. Press down on the styrofoam (be sure to press on the edges as well), releasing the paint onto the card stock. Remove styrofoam, and voila! You have a cool print! You may have to do many prints until you get the perfect one -- it takes practice getting just the right amount of paint onto the styrofoam (in a smooth, even layer) and pressing it down completely onto the card stock.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Maylin makes movies through xtranormal.com

Maylin started typing this school year, with most improvements being made after going through the free, online BBC's Dance Mat Typing Program. Her typing has enabled her to do various things, including type out forms (using Grandma's electric typewriter), search with ease on Netflix for favorite movies, and make movies through xtranormal.com. Check out this one of seven videos she made today, now featured on YouTube!



For more of her videos, visit her channel on YouTube.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Maylin is an official Junior Ranger!

Social studies isn't a subject that comes naturally to me as a homeschooler. Many suggested topics haven't sustained much interest for Maylin. But, we did discover the World Heritage in the U.S. Junior Ranger Program which provides awards for completing a 10-page booklet about World Heritage sites. This was the first time Maylin was really interested in social studies (besides making her own maps and improving her map skills) -- because she could look forward to receiving a badge, map, and certificate. She received them today and she said she felt very excited, and I'm sure, proud, as well. Maylin learned a little bit about the world and a lot about what makes a World Heritage site. I hope she'll be interested in earning other Junior Ranger badges through the National Park Service. Click here for the World Heritage in the U.S. Junior Ranger Program, and click here for other Junior Ranger programs under the National Park Service. The latter site also has curriculum and field trip info for teachers as well.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Maylin creates her first stop-action films!

We got inspired when we heard that one of our friends was going to a stop-action animation camp. With a little research, and the help of iPhoto and iMovie, I was able to support Maylin in her creative endeavor. She has made 9 films so far (we started last week), and this is our favorite right now. I set up the tripod, she attaches the camera, sets up her toys, and away she goes! I do the compilation after she takes all her shots (what an amazing attention span she has -- she'll do a movie in one session). She recorded her precious voice-over. Enjoy!
Click here for YouTube video!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Little Farm with Stefan








On April 15, we headed off to the Little Farm in Tilden Park, where kids can feed farm animals! Stefan was very excited, and I was so happy I had the chance for some mother-son bonding time. We got to sing "Baa Baa Black Sheep" upon seeing the black sheep, fed lots of animals, including a very beautiful gray cow, saw a Daddy turkey chase a Mommy turkey, and took a hike and happened to spot a cool banana slug!

Our Easter "eggs"


This year, I was going to avoid the problem of too many leftover hardboiled eggs that nobody wanted to eat. I had lots of clay left over from my camp last summer so we ended up making our own clay "eggs," letting them dry, painting them, and applying Modge Podge afterward to make them shiny. Maylin and I both had a lot of fun. I think next year I want to try painting wooden eggs so they'll look more authentic.

CalDay 2010








Maylin and her friends had lots of fun at the Cal campus on April 24, 2010. They went to a physics lecture, played in front of an infra-red camera, learned about and played with robots, watched a dance performance, examined fossils under microscopes, and held an albino boa and a leopard gecko. Cool!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Make your own composting worm bin

We planted a veggie garden a couple weeks ago and just started vermicomposting (worm composting) today! Here's are some helpful sites if you want to get started composting with red wigglers!

http://www.journeytoforever.org/compost_worm.html

http://whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/Easywormbin.htm

More photos and updates to come!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What we're up to

I haven't been blogging much lately, I know. But life's been good. Stefan's continuing to be the amazing sponge. We revisited our Melissa and Doug pattern blocks and he remembered trapezoid! We need to review the more basic shapes as I think he's forgotten rectangle and square [if I can remember, I'm going to make a shape activity out of felt]. He cuts up triangles from thin strips of paper so he easily recognizes those. His colors and counting are still great. He knows his alphabet and sings most of the song now. And he sure loves to sing. His favorite songs at the moment are Head and Shoulders, This Old Man, B-I-N-G-O, and Twinkle with hand movements. He's so cute!

Maylin is doing well with her homeschooling. According to our Education Coordinator, she seems to be well ahead of most kids with her writing. I wish she would read more -- still prefers my reading to her, which is fine. A great bonding experience. The last book she read was from the series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which actually negatively impacted her writing because it's written from the point of view from a middle-schooler who writes quite informally with many colloquialisms. It twisted her writing a bit, but now that enough time has passed, it's gotten better.

It's National Poetry Month, so I've had her start a poetry book of her own. I will share some of her beautiful work later. We took a week off for spring break and now she's doing the standards test, but I'll have her write more soon.

Maylin really excelled at her karate test this past weekend, moving up to yellow belt. She didn't want me to take pictures, so no evidence of this monumental occasion, but she did so beautifully, I will never forget it. Her graceful and powerful front kicks that went up past her head, her turbo-charged running kicks, and her side kick which broke a wooden board...it was all so impressive and drew sounds of approval from the crowd. I'm so glad my parents were able to make it and see how amazing their granddaughter is!

I might have said it before, but I arranged a piece for my a cappella group which I almost completely overhauled because I thought one part was too low for the altos -- thankfully the original was saved by our director before I made any changes. Instead, we'll do some vocal changes instead to resolve what was bothering me.

I am in the market at the moment for a new violin and may be in possession of THE one after about a month of shopping around (I don't own it yet; it's on trial). I'm crossing my fingers. A good violin brings so much more pleasure than a so-so violin. My present violin is decent, but has always felt a little big for me making some musical passages very difficult, doesn't project as well as it could, and sounds a little muffled in the upper positions on the lower strings (a problem I encountered on a violin that cost twice as much, so it must be common). This new one sings with ease, I don't have to work hard to make it sound nice, all the notes are clear (so far), the E-string is not shrill at all, and the lower register is very deep and dramatic sounding. I'm hoping that after this trial I don't discover something that I don't like. I'm hoping this is the one!!!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Raising butterflies





For Christmas, Maylin got a "butterfly garden," which consisted of a collapsible mesh "cage" and a coupon redeemable for 5 caterpillars. We got our tiny, 1-millimeter long caterpillars in a plastic jar with their own food in February. Within a few weeks, they had grown into very large caterpillars (very hungry guys that could double in size in a day or two), formed their chrysalis, and hatched into their beautiful painted lady butterfly-selves. We fed them orange slices and released them in a couple of days, minutes before a rainfall. That was unplanned. I felt so sorry for them. One second they're thinking, "Freedom! I can fly!" Next second, "Crap! Now what do I do now?"

This was a great educational experience for the whole family. Too bad the chrysalis formation and the actual hatching happened so quickly we missed them!

More paintings




I posted these photos on Facebook, but forgot to put them in my blog. Earlier this month, I finished "Flying Owl" for another school auction, and Maylin posed with her beautiful painting which is hanging in our house.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Caroline paints again!


I have lots of painting projects to do, but I've finally finished one only because I had a deadline. (I need deadlines!) This one was for another school silent auction and has left me forever! It was good to make the donation, but it's weird -- it feels like a piece of me is gone. This one's entitled, Little Blue Girl on Green.

I finished this painting yesterday and the day before, I finished arranging a piece for my a cappella group. That was a first for me -- a really great creative project. There will definitely be some tweaking after I get some feedback, but I actually finished a piece for once! When was the last time I finished a composition? Probably about a decade ago -- for a church choir I directed for several years.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The latest in my chocolate chip cookie adventure


This time, I've used the "Good-as-Store-Bought Cookies" recipe from the book, King Arthur's Cookie Companion. They are pretty darn good, and have a lot of fiber (there's a lot of ground-up oats in there). It takes a little more work than regular chocolate chip cookies because you need a food processor to grind up 8 oz. of chocolate and 2 1/2 cups of rolled oats. They say these cookies are supposed to taste like department store cookies, which I've never had before. The texture of these cookies is pretty light, so it's easy to eat too many. I personally prefer a chewier cookie, so my next adventure, will be "The Essential Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie" recipe from the same book.

ABC cards for my preschooler


Stefan's 2 1/2 years old now and is quite the sponge. He knows his alphabet, his numbers (1-10), his colors, and his shapes. Since I'm homeschooling Maylin, it makes sense to homeschool Stefan as well. I've been using the uppercase alphabet cards that I made for Maylin (and I've copied them so Stefan can play a matching game with them), and now I've made lowercase cards, too, for later. It doesn't hurt to start him on his letter sounds, so he listens to this phonics song on youtube. He loves it!

If you're interested in making similar cards, you'll need 3x3 squares of colored paper and card stock (glued together) or squares of colored card stock. Type up the letters in your word processing software (I used Century Gothic font in size 150). Cut and paste letters to your card and laminate using laminating sheets found at an office supply store. Cut out and use!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Gingersnaps

I've been making these gingersnaps for years. I think they're just beautiful and addictive, too! I use the recipe from Fannie Farmer's Baking Book, but I substitute butter for the shortening (no transfats in this house!). You will need to refrigerate your dough for at least 10 minutes before rolling though to ensure picture perfect cookies. I didn't refrigerate before the last batch and they weren't as uniform. The warmer bits of dough oozed out of formation.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Lentil ("dal") recipe


Many have been asking for the recipe to my lentil dish. I don't follow any specific recipe, so it's a little different every time (but it is inspired by a Deborah Madison recipe for dal). This is what I did the last time I made it:

Ingredients:
2 cups red lentils (which actually look orange), rinsed and drained
1/2 small red onion, diced
about 4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. turmeric
1 15-oz. can of coconut milk
2 cans of water (plus a little extra just in case)
few tablespoons butter
salt to taste
cilantro (optional, for garnish)

Add butter to a pot or Dutch oven. Heat to medium high. Add onion and garlic. Stir. When softened, add lentils, coconut milk, turmeric, and water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 10-15 minutes, checking and stirring occasionally until lentils are tender. If it looks like it's getting pasty, add more water. Add salt to taste. If you wish, garnish with cilantro for a contrast in color.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Cheerios multiplication

Well, we actually started off using chocolate chips, and then I realized, by the time we got to multiples of 4, that that would be way too many chocolate chips (I was letting Maylin eat them after the activity).

Math manipulatives are great. You can use legos, wooden blocks, beans,...just about anything. Kids love to do physical activities, and I think, probably learn more when their bodies are actively engaged in their lessons as well as their minds. For math, being able to see the math problem in front of them in concrete form is so much more meaningful than memorizing a whole bunch of facts (which is how I was taught growing up).

If you'd like to replicate our lesson, follow these simple instructions.
1. If you want to introduce multiples of two, then get two identical containers (I used Pyrex custard cups), and 24 Cheerios.
2. On a piece of paper, write out the number problems for 2x0 up to 2x12, leaving a blank for the answer to be written in.
3. Go over 2x0 and 2x1 with the child, showing that two times nothing is nothing, and that two times one Cheerio is two Cheerios (child writes in answers after counting the Cheerios you've placed in the containers).
4. Let child do the rest of the problems independently (adding one Cheerio to each container for each additional problem), but do check in once in awhile to make sure s/he understands the concept.
5. If the child shows enthusiasm for doing more, pursue multiples of 3s and 4s. Compare answers for 2x10, 3x10, and 4x10, as well as 2x11, 3x11, and 4x11, and have child look for patterns and determine answers for larger numbers.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Great U.S. geography game

Maylin loves playing the game, The Scrambled States of America. She has so much fun that she doesn't realize that she's getting a great lesson in U.S. geography every time. It's basically a card game, but somehow feels like more than a card game because each player gets to use a cute map for reference. Maylin and I both love the illustrations. The game is based on the book of the same name by Laurie Keller. On amazon.com, it's $17, but I think I paid $12.99 at Games of Berkeley on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley.

Lessons on simple machines for elementary school-aged children

Can you believe the whole family is sick with the flu? Stefan had it first, so he's much better now. The worst hit me earlier today. I have just enough energy to do some homeschooling research. Maylin was interested in learning about simple machines, but I never looked hard enough for really fun, engaging experiments/demonstrations. I found these online that look great and are not too difficult to put together. Mostly household items. I bought the game, The Way Things Work, but most of it is too advanced (or worded in a way that sounds too advanced) for Maylin. Other science projects in the works include growing bacteria in petri dishes, making our own secret formula for cola (even though Maylin hates soda), and growing crystals. When the rain ceases for awhile, we will start a little veggie garden. Do I have time for all this???

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Montessori Method

I don't know much about the Montessori method, but it's so incredibly popular and effective, that it seems worthwhile to spend time learning more about it. I'm hoping I can use some ideas or processes in our daily homeschooling experience. I found a scanned version of Dorothy Canfield Fisher's "The Montessori Method" which is used (in probably a newer, updated version) in the training of Montessori teachers. You can read it online or download it here, for free.

Here's also a website with videos and activities that can give you a better idea of the method.

If you've heard of Waldorf, another method, here's a good comparison of the two (it speaks of Montessori and Waldorf preschools in particular, but I think it gives a good overall summary of the methods).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Maylin learns about wheels, axels, and gears

One of Maylin's presents for Christmas was Oogly Googly, a building set with motorized gears and not-so-remote control (attached with a wire). As she built this "tractor," she got a hands-on lesson in simple (and more complicated) mechanics. She had a lot of fun, although there were some pieces that were really hard to attach without a parent's strength. So much for the toy's advertisement as "easy-to-assemble." She would have been really frustrated if I weren't sitting right next to her. Pretty good toy, overall, and fun for Stefan as well!

Sticky caramel rolls

Before going into the oven

Right out of the oven

Stefan had a fever all night long, despite the use of Tylenol. And despite of my exhaustion, I was able to crank out some sticky caramel rolls for the first time ever, with the help of my stored bread dough. Recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I left out the pecans per Maylin's request.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Carrot ginger soup

My best friend Peggy gave me this marvelous recipe for a beautiful, uncomplicated, elegant soup. It's a little bit on the spicy side, so if you have kids who prefer blander foods, you can leave out the garlic and ginger for them. Also, for the half-and-half, you could substitute heavy whipping cream (I did it only because that's what I had in the fridge) or coconut milk (for you non-dairy peeps out there) or even chicken broth (the texture of the soup is already pretty creamy without the cream!). I cannot locate the primary source of this recipe, but most likely, Gourmet magazine.

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 T finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 t finely chopped garlic
2 lbs. carrots, peeled and chopped
4 1/2 cups chicken stock or broth
3/4-1 cup half-and-half

1. Cook onion and celery in oil in a 4-5 quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6-8 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes. Add carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes.
2. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until carrots are very tender, 15-20 minutes.
3. Puree soup in batches in a blender (I used a food processor -- better! I have also used an immersion blender which does a quick job, but it's hard to tell if you've purreed every last drop) until very smooth, about 1 minute per batch (watch out with hot liquids), transferring to a large fine-mesh sieve set over a large bowl. Force soup through sieve (discard any solids), then thin with cream to desired consistency. Season with salt (if you don't add the garlic and ginger, I would season additionally with a dash or two of ground white pepper). (I did not use the sieve, or actually, I tried, but was unable to get the soup through -- my sieve was, I guess, TOO fine. I still think the texture for marvelously smooth and creamy.)
NOTE: Soup can be made 2 days ahead and cooled completely, then chilled, covered. Reheat.

The photo is a different version of this soup -- I added 6 cups of stock instead of 4.5 and omitted garlic, ginger, and cream. I did add the white pepper. Still pretty tasty, and a little simpler. Very kid-friendly.

Chocolate crinkle cookies


After caring for sick kids and a vomiting dog, it was time to do what is therapy for me -- cooking and baking. I'm now pureeing a carrot soup, waiting for my baguettes to rise, and eating my chocolate crinkle cookies. Pretty cookies...they taste just like brownies -- but why do these seem sour to me? I took the recipe from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. Any ideas?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Make your own all-natural body moisturizers

One of my friends started her own business selling handcrafted bath and body care products. She inspired me to try it on my own as a hobby. I've only had time to dabble in it a little, but I think it's a great idea to put all-natural, healthy products on my skin, knowing exactly what's in them. Living in Berkeley, I am able to find all the ingredients I need locally. Berkeley Bowl has nearly everything you need (now there are two locations so parking is much easier). As far as I know, the herbal store, Lhasa Karnak, on Shattuck is the only place in town that sells beeswax in solid cakes for grating. They also have little cosmetics jars and tins for lip balms, but it's a little pricey since you're buying them individually. If you'll be making large quantities, it's best to shop online for your containers. The Sunburst Bottle Company is in Sacramento and has many supplies available, but they seem to have trouble keeping the popular 2 oz. glass jars in stock (backordered for me). They do have excellent customer service -- always calling me with updates.

Over the Christmas holiday, I made this whipped shea butter cream with my sister-in-law for the first time. It was fun and not too hard. I halved the recipe, omitting the corn starch and mica powder. For the oils, I used sweet almond, avocado, and a little vitamin E as a preservative. 7 drops of essential oil of lavendar gently fragranced the cream. The whipping seemed to take forever over the bowl of water -- it might be best to put the bowl in the freezer once in a while as other sites have recommended.

I noticed that for some of my extreme dry winter skin patches (esp. on my legs), pure shea butter is the best treatment, although without mixing in some oils, it is not the easiest to spread. But when applied to the skin, it will begin to melt from the skin's heat in a few moments.

Books you might want to look at if you're interested in other bodycare products to make at home are Better Basics for the Home by Annie Bertholod-Bond (highly rated book on Amazon) and EcoBeauty (beautifully designed book by Lauren Cox, but not sure if all the recipes have been fully tested). I am pretty new at this so I haven't tried many recipe at all, but will keep you up to date on my latest projects.

Social studies through board games

I made a killing at El Sobrante's Thrift Town yesterday. This is an excellent thrift store if you're lucky. I happened to find some great stuff: a black leather skirt for $6 (a little worn, but it fit me perfectly), dressy black pants by Ann Taylor for $6, four shirts with dump trucks, fire engines, etc. for Stefan ($2 each), a jean jacket for Maylin for $4, kids' books and videos from 50 cents to $2, and three great board games ($2 each) -- Milton Bradley's Chinese checkers (the exact version I grew up with -- the pieces are actual pegs, not marbles that roll around -- I got teary-eyed with nostalgia!), Life, and Risk. The latter two I had never played before.

Maylin was very eager to learn them all. And we did play them all last night and she loved them all. I'm so glad I found a fellow board game lover in the family. John doesn't help in that department. I thought Life and Risk would be too advanced for her, but she picked up Life really quickly -- and what a great social studies lesson for a homeschooler! She learned about salaries, loans, stocks, and insurance (homeowners and auto) in one sitting. Risk was a bit more complicated (for me, too), but she learned so much about geography. As a primer, we visited this link that allows the child to click and drag to identify each continent: http://www.softschools.com/social_studies/continents/map.jsp

After getting into a rut with the homeschooling (Maylin and I found it to be more work than fun -- my fault entirely), we are having fun again with games and creative lessons (that require a lot more planning, but so worth it!).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I love my mornings


Here's one of my favorite photos. I took this in Ohio in October -- can you guess what this is?

***

I'm an early bird. I don't love being awakened before 6 a.m. because I know I won't be able to get back to sleep, but I do like being able to get a lot done. Especially in the kitchen. I love my kitchen! Last year, John redesigned the kitchen, we had his best friend do the work for us, and now, I am extremely productive! It's only 8 o'clock, and I've already started some bread dough for baguettes later today, ribs, and a butternut squash soup. And I still have time now to catch up on e-mails and head out to my hip hop class in a couple hours. You might be wondering, but what about the kids? Oh, they're still sleeping, and probably will still be sleeping when I leave the house. They are on an incredibly late schedule and it's going to be hard for me to break them of it since we're on a homeschooling nonschedule. No more getting up at 6:30 so I can get up Maylin at 6:50 so she won't miss her 7:35 bus. Eek, was that a pain. So much struggle. It definitely puts a strain on your relationship with your child when you have to push, push, push your child to get ready for school. I'm the type of person who can just leap out of bed and start her day. Maylin's more like her dad -- takes a bit of time to get out of bed, get out of that groggy state and be a fully-functioning human being.

My latest, greatest achievement that I wanted to share with you is that I transcribed a song (with lots of help from my friends) and put it into Finale Notepad, a music notation software program (download for only $10!), which resulted in some beautiful, professional-looking sheet music! It's been about 10 years since I've done something like this. It was a very satisfying project and I gained so many skills in the process -- the program is pretty much intuitive, but there were some little things that I had to figure out on my own. The a cappella group I sing in will be performing the piece, All I Have to Do is Dream (performed by the Everly Brothers and the Nylons), for the first time next month. I'm so excited! My upcoming music projects include writing an original song for an international songwriting contest (let's see if I can make the deadline of Jan. 31! ugh, it's gonna be tough) and arranging a beautiful Canadian folksong named, She's Like a Swallow. I love making stuff!!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

In memory of our dog Leo

Our dog Leo passed away on November 1, 2009. We loved him dearly, and he is always in our hearts. My husband John has written a wonderful eulogy for him. We share some special Leo memories with you.

***

We adopted Leo on Valentine’s day 1999, from the Oakland SPCA. He was between three and four months old, and only the second dog we had seen that day. He had enormous paws and instantly approached us in his cage with tail wagging and such an intelligent look in his eyes. We decided to look at one other facility before making a decision, but quickly went back and decided to adopt him. His given name was Sebastian.

We were driving my Volkswagen Beetle convertible, and on the 25-minute drive home Leo both vomited and pooped in the back of the car.

After briefly considering calling him Woody, we settled on Leo as a name, after Caroline’s father. I always liked the name and with him it just fit.

Because we adopted him in the springtime (for California, anyway) housetraining him was easy. We just left our large sliding doors open enough for him to get out, and at intervals took him out back to our large ivy patch. Within days he was going there religiously, which was convenient in that we never needed to clean up after him. Throughout his life, he always chose remote patches of ivy or other groundcover to evacuate, which made walks with him that much more pleasant. Getting ready for walks was another matter. While I would be tying my second shoe, he would be on the floor in front of me pulling my first shoe’s laces untied.

Caroline and I were both working at the time, and we actually had not planned for what to do with a puppy that would be home all day. I decided to take him to my office with me. I had not asked permission; my plan was to “sneak him in” and be confident that he was so well behaved and cute that all would want him to stay. It worked, although my boss treated it as an act of defiance. Leo would quietly curl up under my desk and often people did not even know he was there. I would walk him up and down the street at intervals during the day. Next door was a grass yard where we would play fetch. One colleague noted that he was so smart and responsive, “like a little person”. When he needed to go out, he would sit by the door and the receptionist would open the door.

We avoided disaster twice. I once found a devoured box of rat poison in the hallway, and had to immediately take him to the vet for de-tox. He was fine, but another time I took him out to lunch with us and had him sit out front of the restaurant waiting for us. He did fine, but unbeknownst to us a passer-by took him by the collar to the nearby luxury dog day-care outfit, assuming that he had escaped. After hours of searching, we seized on this as the likely outcome and found him there, living it up with the other pampered dogs.

Another near-disaster was when he jumped out of my VW convertible….while I was driving. At about 25mph he leaped right out the driver’s side. I heard him make the move and watched in the side view mirror as his chin banged and scraped along the pavement. Unhurt, he trotted off the road to pee on a bush. Amazingly, he tried this one other time in France while stuck in traffic on the freeway in our Renault minivan. Apparently he had had enough traffic. He actually exited the car another time when we were leaving our Paris neighborhood for a weekend out of town. While accelerating across a boulevard from a stoplight, I heard a frantic scraping of dog feet on plastic, and in the rear-view mirror saw the minivan’s hatchback swinging closed and the end of Leo’s tail disappearing through the opening. I had not latched the lid before leaving, so when Leo leaned against the door it opened and he fell out. Horrified, I stopped to go get him. A car stopped beside me with a man intent on communicating something to me. As I knew the message to be “monsieur, your dog has fallen out of your car” and it was pretty obvious that I was taking appropriate action, I ignored him. Again, Leo was fine and glad to get back in the car.

He was less lucky when I was working on a large retaining wall along the property line of my uphill neighbor. We were using steel-reinforced concrete and for awhile there were sharp pieces of steel re-bar sticking up between our yards. Apparently Leo attempted to jump over them and did not quite make it. Nobody saw him get hurt, but he became quiet and started licking a spot on the side of his body. While jumping, he had gotten caught on a piece of re-bar and it had torn a hole the size of a quarter in his right side. It did not puncture any organs but surely could have. Of course he had to be stitched up, and thus we learned the importance of the orange plastic safety caps placed on exposed re-bar.

Leo always loved to play tug-of-war, and early on could jump quite high. He could take a rope from my hand at 6 feet off the ground. He would also at times of excitement get into a sort of frenzy where he would spin around at high speed, sort of chasing his tail, and growl ferociously at nothing in particular. He would do this while in our front courtyard when the mailman visited. Leo would grab his toy rope...his mailman substitute….and thrash it about violently while growling and spinning just inside the fence from the mail slot. Dust and debris would fly out under the fence as it shook back and forth. Of course, our mailman was terrified of this 90-pound Tazmanian Devil, and refused to deliver our mail if Leo was in the driveway. Knowing Leo would never hurt anyone, once I walked Leo out to our mailman in his truck so that he and Leo could become friends. The mailman replied, “I don’t want to be friends” as he slipped my mail through the small crack in the truck window.

But my theory was proven when later, while off-leash on a walk in our neighborhood, Leo saw a mail truck with another mailman standing beside it sorting mail. Despite my yelling, Leo charged him growling viciously. This mailman looked up but did not flinch. Upon reaching the man, Leo did not actually know what to do. He sort of bumped into the guy with his shoulder, sniffed him, and then started wagging his tail.

Leo pulled the spinning move once when we took him to a dance party at the community clubhouse of some friends of ours. He followed us onto the dance floor and began spinning around to the music. The dancers cleared out into a circle and clapped in unison as he whirled and growled for about 30 seconds. I’ve never laughed so hard in my life.

Leo was a hit with the neighborhood’s two pre-teen girls. Gwen, the ten-year-old next door, would set up an obstacle course in her yard for Leo to traverse. She would cajole him through the various jumps as if he were a horse. They would invite him out to play, where we would later see him being pulled around in their wagon, wearing a pink ballet too-too, and just loving it. He was less thrilled when they took him trick-or-treating dressed in a cape. Midway through the evening, Leo somehow became spooked by the cape, it being tethered to him and following him everywhere. He bolted in a terror, shredding his cape and strewing candy in the street. They chased him for two blocks before he settled down.

Because of his good behavior and discreet defecation habits, he earned the run of our Berkeley neighborhood, at least until his last year when, unable to find or navigate his usual ivy patches, resorted to frequenting a neighbor’s garden. If he did not appear at the house after a few calls, he was usually at either of the houses next door, either hopelessly trying to befriend the cat or in the fenced yard cavorting with the neighbor’s dog. Once I look over their fence and there was Leo standing beside their golden retriever, both of them happily chewing opposite ends of the same stick. One time I heard him yelping, and followed the sound to the neighbor’s fenced-in trashcans. Leo had worked himself inside the gate, obviously after some enticing odor, and it had latched behind him. Other times he would be at the school across the street, trying to separate the Montessori grade-school students from their lunches. I’d see him facing a row of kids, all with their sandwiches held high above their heads.

I would take him running with me on my course through the neighborhood. We live on a hillside, so I’d repeat a ½ mile course five times to alternate the uphill and downhill stretches. Initially he would follow me for all five laps, but eventually he wisened up and would only join me for the first, third, and fifth lap, while sitting out laps two and four in front of our house until I passed by again. He first learned this tactic when I took him to the Cal football stadium to run the bleacher stairs. My workout was about 50 trips up and down about 30 rows of bleachers. Initially he followed me all the way up and down, but after about five trips, he stopped to wait for me five rows from the top, then seven rows from the bottom, then ten rows from the top, and eventually he just sat down at the fifteenth row and watched me pass by until I was done.

He would get upset at any human-like effigies that did not look quite real. Realistic statues were fine, it was the obviously distorted images that bothered him. One Halloween, a house on our normal walk route placed a seated scarecrow on their patio near the street. It was full-size, and with normal clothing, only with a head about twice normal size made from a round pillow. Leo decided that there was something inappropriate about this unresponsive, mute encephalitic character, and would bark at it incessantly. After it was removed, he barked at the space it had occupied for another year, as if it were haunted. In fact, Leo held a grudge against any place he felt to have done him wrong. At one street corner where he had once been frightened by a loud car, he thereafter barked at every single car that passed.

Like dogs everywhere, Leo was terrified of the ironing board and the vacuum cleaner, the latter particularly so due to my failed experiment for controlling Leo’s shedding. But nothing shook his confidence as much as when I got him to ride an escalator in a Paris department store. Dogs are welcome in French stores, and although Leo was bigger than most Parisian dogs, he was welcome and admired by the locals (“Il est enorme!”). I knew the escalator would freak him out, but I needed to go to the second floor, so I approached it quickly with Leo on leash. At a glance it looked just like a staircase to him, so he hopped on with me but instantly realized the trouble he was in. The poor guy crouched down, looked around, and tried to dig is toe nails into the steel treads. After he was peeled off at the escalator’s top, he pranced around as if his life had just been saved. Going back down later, of course, was another story. He flat out refused to budge towards it, one of the few times that he absolutely refused a command. He pulled himself out of his collar. Eventually we found the elevator.

This was not the first time I experimented with Leo and stairs. In an attempt to have him be happier while left at home during the day in Berkeley, I built an ad-hoc wooden stairway onto the flat roof of our house. It ran about ten feet from the elevated ground in the back yard, and at eighteen inches wide was eminently navigable. I’d had Leo on the roof before, and he liked it up there. I used the same technique as with the escalator, having him follow me up the stairs before he knew what he was doing. He got halfway up and, realizing his predicament, decided that moving forward was safer than moving backward. He bolted up the stairs onto the roof, and later followed me down, but of course never went near the stairs again.

Leo had several run-ins with the local fauna. We have deer everywhere, and he was able to chase a few in his early years. Caroline watched him catch one of his hated squirrels, which promptly feigned death and ran away limping when Leo paused in his attack. When Leo was home alone we often left our sliding door open for him to go in and out, and sometimes birds would wander into the house. I found bird poop on my side table once, so I knew it was fairly common. I came home from work once and found feathers strewn about the house, but no carcass. Leo had a satisfied look so I assumed that he had just eaten it. I saw this scenario almost play out again when he and I saw a bird hopping across the downstairs bedroom floor. He went after it, slipping and sliding on the slick concrete floor, so the bird hopped under the bed for cover. Leo scrambled in after it, and as I watched the bird popped out the other side of the bed, took flight, and flew two circuits around the room until it spotted the open door and flew outside. Leo appeared from under the bed looking to and fro for the bird, but alas he was too late.

He was less lucky with what I assumed to have been a bout with a bee. Arriving home from work, I noticed Leo in a subdued mood and with his face all puffy and swollen. Seeing no wounds, I began a game of tug with his rope to cheer him up and as he went to bite the rope he yelped out in pain. Opening his jaw exacerbated the pain of whatever had happened to his face, and I realized that he had probably caught one of the bees that he liked to chase around the house, and that the bee had likely gotten him, in the mouth.

And, of course, he had his one encounter with a skunk, with predictable results. He never met the small family of raccoons that would regularly appear on the neighbor’s roof to stare in at him through our picture window, but he would stare diligently back, his body tense and quivering.

He was always pretty restrained when it came to taking food off of tables. Occasionally a half-eaten burrito would disappear off of the coffee table, but things changed when we started him on a diet after returning from France. On two occasions he took whole loaves of organic whole wheat bread off the dining table and devoured them whole in the courtyard. They were not baguettes, but likely the closest thing.


His time in France was a bit less eventful, although I’m sure he is remembered in the lore of our immediate quartier after his antics in front of a restaurant one Saturday evening. It was summer and early twilight, which in Paris means about 10:00 PM, and I was walking Leo around the block, off leash as usual. I spotted my friend Tom Turchioe dining on the sidewalk with a friend, and went up to say hi. Of course Leo knew Tom and immediately nuzzled up to him for a vigorous scratch. Whatever Tom did sent Leo into an uncontrollable fit of humping spasms. He broke loose from Tom’s grip and started off across the sidewalk, sort of humping and hopping about with an embarrassed and helpless look on his face. A line had formed at the restaurant entrance and they took notice when he veered towards them. Stepping away from him, they gasped as he proceeded by them and into the empty street. Almost a full minute later he finally stopped as I led him down the street and around the corner. Mon dieu!

Such incidents did not prevent friends from getting in line to pet-sit him when we were out of town, even though he shed profusely and could barely fit alongside you in Paris’s coffin-sized elevators. One couple, while watching Leo one weekend, tried to plan a road trip with visiting friends. Overhearing the discussion of whether “Leo would get carsick, need frequent bathroom stops, or be too hot in the car” or “we would need to bring Leo’s food and water” and, finally, “he would make it harder to find a hotel“, the friends finally asked “who is this guy and what is his problem?” Not knowing Leo was a dog, apparently they thought he was some high-maintenance relative.

In his later years he developed other strange behaviors. Over time his back legs grew steadily weaker, and he had a harder time getting around on walks. Sometimes in mid-walk he would just lie down in the middle of the sidewalk, content to chill out for a while. I could hoist him up and continue, but Caroline would have to return to the house to have me go and fetch him.

One time I came home from work and I heard him yelping in the side yard. He was trapped in a raised, planted area above our retaining wall, and I still do not know how he got up there with his legs the way they were.

On his last day, he ate his lunch normally and I let him out into the October sunshine to spend the day lying in the driveway. I spent time with him there doing some work on my car. We had a short walk over to the school with the kids, and he hung out with us while they played. Later, Caroline saw him from her car, walking along a neighborhood sidewalk with Rune, a Belgian shepherd of his own age and his best friend. Rune had obviously come over to visit and they both had wandered off together.

Before dinner I went out to take Leo for an evening walk, and he was still in the driveway but was panting heavily and would not stand up. I lifted him to his feet but he would not walk or look at me. It was hot, and I was worried that he had overheated in the sun and had lost the energy to cry out. I brought him water but he was not interested. I carried him inside and realized that something was seriously wrong. I called the local emergency vet and told the kids we had to take Leo to the doctor, as Caroline was away for the day. I carried him into the car, and into the vet office where we put him on a high, rolling table for diagnosis and treatment. I stayed with him as the first fluid brought him sleep, with his signature snore, and the second put him down for good.

Leo may have passed younger than most dogs, but he did live a full life. He caught one squirrel, one bird, one mailman, chased several deer, caught one thrown Frisbee on the fly, and for one session at the beach showed the fortitude to chase a stick through some sizable breaking waves. That was my proudest and perhaps best day with him. His proudest day, or at least his most satisfying, was another day out windsurfing with me (see below). He was always a great beach companion, especially at Crissy Field in San Francisco where he would endlessly run on the grass and beach with all the other dogs. I could go sailing and leave him alone knowing he was safe and responsible. Oddly, after our first child arrived, he would never quite relax at the sailing sites. He would cry out for me as I went out onto the water, sometimes swimming after me, as if I was abandoning him. I think it was because he realized he was not the only “child” in the house anymore, and this depleted his self-confidence.

As he got older, at the beach he was content to just lie by my car anyway. However, there was some excitement one day. So I’m windsurfing at a familiar site on the Sacramento River, parked in a field below a grassy slope with Leo along, and in the process of rigging a smaller sail to handle the recent increase in wind. Leo is off somewhere.

I hear a holler and look up to see a long-haired guy running down the grass slope carrying his board and sail rig and yelling Hey! Whoa! Just then, a sudden wind gust caught his sail and this sent him out of control. The rig buffeted him around, then planted in the ground and sent him flying over the board onto his back. The rig then tumbled over him, banged off of one parked car and then wedged itself between two others.

I thought he was either 1) Really excited about the strong wind and was regaling his buddies at the car to come on out, or 2) Legitimately out of control and frightened due to the rogue wind gust or 3) Chased by bees….but then he emerged from between the cars holding something wet, floppy, and grass-covered and hollered out “that dog just ate both our steaks! Who owns that dog?”.

I looked around quizzically and went back to rigging my sail. Having been frightened off, Leo emerged from between some cars several rows away and warily wandered back to me. Of course I acted like I didn’t know him. He continued to gaze longingly back at the site of perhaps his greatest meal.