March 25, 2008

The Road East is Paved in Chocolate

I've always had a crazy sweet tooth. When I was three my mom took me to the dentist, and he told her, "If you don't stop feeding your daughter candy, all of her teeth will fall out." She tried. In my ballet class, the teacher would hand out candy bars to all the ballerinas during break-- somehow I don't think they do that anymore-- and when my mom told me I couldn't have my break time Snickers, I stomped out of ballet class and never looked back. We'd go to the store, and I'd fling myself down mid-aisle and wail my little heart out, and Nana Pat would whisper in Mom's ear, "One little piece won't hurt her, will it?"

Those baby teeth didn't stand a chance.

In school I moved on to blow pops, pop rocks, and Abba Zabbas. Once in eighth grade, at my friend Jenny's house, I made myself sick on candy and soda, and my mom had to come and pick me up. I thought I'd get in trouble if I told her I'd eaten a gigantic bag o' dime candy and watched Mtv all night, so I just pretended to have food poisoning. It wasn't until a few years ago that my mom finally asked me if Jenny and I had been boozing it up that night. All this time my mom thought I was a 12-year-old lush.

As an adult my sweet tooth has changed. The Abba Zabbas are too hard on my teeth these days, and instead of Snickers, I enjoy a dark chocolate turtle. Although, I have to admit that I do still really get a kick out of drinking anything cold and fizzy through a red licorice straw. Yum.

Lately, though, it's become somewhat of a problem. The smidgen of conscientiousness I used to have about how much sugar my body could safely intake has completely disappeared. Right now, for example, it's 10:30 at night, I've sent the children to bed without dessert because it's not healthy to eat sweets this late at night, but I'm popping Jelly Bellys like it's 1985.

I can eat 2/3 of a box of Trader Joe's chocolate covered almonds (or if feeling particularly evil, Oreos) in one sitting, and I have. I have cookies for breakfast, and I don't even wait for my tea to steep before I start in on them.

Poor Buckaroo is probably getting a sugar high from his supply of breastmilk.

Karen, my friendly neighborhood therapist, has suggested that I'm masking my anxiety about moving across the country with food. She says that people who overeat don't have the brain switch in that flips on when our tummies are full (I think, in junior high, I yanked that switch out of the wall and stomped on it) so we have to think about our state of fullness logically when we're eating, "Am I full now?" "How about now?"

She also says my brain is confusing fatigue with hunger, and when I'm craving chocolate torte it's because my body is wanting to use the sugar as an energy boost, so what I really need, instead, is to take a nap.

I tried it on Friday. I had a crazy hankering for a hunk of chocolate, but Buckaroo fell asleep, so instead of giving in to my craving, I took a nap with him. He sleeps much better when we're snuggled up together, and we had a good, long, luxurious siesta. When we awoke I celebrated my accomplishment with a big slice of cake-- wheat-free, of course.

March 11, 2008

A New Kind of Storytime

I'm sad to say that readers in America are few and far between these days. I just read this bleak little article in Poets & Writers Magazine about the lack of readers in our country. Fewer than one-third of American thirteen-year-olds read for pleasure every day, according to The National Endowment for the Arts, and the 15-24 crowd is reading for only seven minutes a day on average. Though they are still squeezing in their two hours of TV time. According to Timothy Shanahan, past president of the International Reading Association (such a thing really exists!) the lack of reading is not the fault of the TV; kids say they don't like to read because it's lonely. Huh?

I think that's backwards. Reading is the perfect cure for loneliness, but it does also take a little imagination. Maybe TV is not to blame for the decline in reading, but I think it is absolutely to blame for sucking a child's imagination right out of her brain. If I remember correctly from Psych 101, when people read, our brains take a little trip into a hypnotic state, and it seems perfectly reasonable to expect that a child who has little or no practice entering that hypnotic state will have more difficulty getting there with a book. TV watchers don't have to use their imaginations; the entertainment is all done for them, and they don't have to be patient for it, either.

Don't get me wrong, I've watched more than my fair share of TV. I could still tell you the order of the shows I watched every day in middle school from the time I got home until I dragged myself to bed, and there was nothing educational in the lot. I didn't really become a reader until I read Deenie in eighth grade. Judy Blume changed my life. So I have hope because I believe there's a Deenie out there for all of those seven minute readers-- the one book that pulls at them and makes them realize how many delicious word worlds there are, just waiting-- and I have an idea about how to bring them together!

Ok, it's more of a dream at this point, but I was thinking about how much I love library storytime-- the crinkly sound of a book cover being opened by a friendly librarian still makes me feel glowy all over-- but it's only available to the kids whose parents take them to the library. I'm concerned about the kids who've never seen the inside of a library. I want them to have storytime, too-- feel the glow-- and I want to bring it to them.

I want to become the crazy storytime-at-the-laundromat lady. I want to read stories aloud at the BART station, the bus station, the swap meet, the DMV!-- places where people are hanging around with kids who have nothing better to do than sit down and hear a tale. I want to do this because, while I'm frightened by the idea of a country run by citizens who don't read, I'm even more disturbed by the idea of a country with no imagination. What will become of us?

So, there I am, just me and my book (and maybe a couple of undercover child volunteers) reading aloud, changing America one story at a time. Can you hear the uplifting, patriotic music in the background?

March 10, 2008

Yum Baby Yum

Today was carrot cake day. My friend Fay gave me a recipe for the wheatless cake from Live Well Magazine (of which I had never before heard). Carrot is our favorite. We tried to have carrot cake for our wedding, but the baker said she couldn't do cream cheese frosting, so we had to nix it. What is the point of carrot cake without the cream cheese, I ask you?

Which is why today's was not a wheat- and dairyless carrot cake. Obo (who was still in homework Hades) took a break long enough to look horrifiedly at the cream cheese container. He likes to dip his chips in the stuff and could imagine no other purpose for it. Boy, was he surprised at what a little sugar could do.

The cake is pretty tasty if I do say so myself, and I even made it with Buckaroo strapped and sleeping on my back. The wheat-free baked goods have this kind of sandy texture that's just eh, and they either need a bit of something crunchy or a whole lot of chocolate to bring them around. This cake has pineapple, coconut, and I added large bits of walnut to make it nice and chunky.

R is excited that we've found a cake we can make for Buckaroo's first birthday, which is right around the corner. I'll have to make it walnutless for him, I guess, but I'll just frost it after I give him his big boy birthday slice!

March 8, 2008

Hiking with the Cows

It is with shame that I have to admit that my hiking shoes had real cob webs in them when R brought them up from the basement today. I think the last hike we took was when I was preggers with Buckaroo, and he's almost a year old.

Today, though, we did venture into the great outdoors, and it was lovely. R heard about a website ( on KFOG where the fabulous outdoorsy people tell all about their weekend excursions, so this morning we looked it up, found a description of Garin Regional Park in Hayward, and set off. Here's Sherpa's description of the park:

"East Bayers traditionally head to Mt. Diablo for big views; but for a less popular yet still compelling vantage, head to Garin Regional Park and its namesake peak. Just southeast of Hayward, this underused park offers wide views without crazy climbing. Yes, there's some elevation gain, but it's a pleasantly gradual ascent through rolling green hills, grazing cows, and shady creek canyons. Navigate the Vista Peak Loop Trail (3.3 miles round-trip) clockwise and within the first 30 minutes you'll be treated to the sight of the southern San Francisco Bay spreading all the way to the highlands of Sweeney Ridge and the Santa Cruz Mountains. The cows and rain can make this trail messy, so bring a spare pair of shoes to change into after you're done. What would life be without a little messy fun? To reach the park: From I-880 going south, exit Industrial Parkway and turn left. Go 2 miles and turn right on Mission Blvd. After .25 miles, go left on Garin Ave., which takes you into the park. From the parking lot, follow the paved road (Vista Peak Loop Trail) east through Arroyo Flats. Garin is dog-friendly."

Perfect! There is a $5 parking fee as well, but the man in the booth was awfully friendly. It must get boring working in that booth all day. He gave us a map and told us exactly where we wanted to go. We strapped Buckaroo on R's back and away we hiked (Sweet Potato is off on holiday and Obo is attempting to hike his way through a dark valley of science homework).

It was beautiful-- blue skies and sunshine, ladybugs and quail. We even saw furry scat and attempted to determine its origin. R thought owl, but I thought maybe coyote. The view from the ridge is probably lovelier without the smog, but it was still good to stop there and share a Lara Bar.

On the way back down the hill we spotted bat houses. I didn't know what they were, and R said he wouldn't have known if he hadn't been researching how to build them for our adventure in The Woods. They're flat pieces* of wood on posts; I imagined them more like bird houses, house-like. I also imagined them hanging in the treetops, but I guess they have to be on those posts-- not as romantic as I had hoped, but I'm still excited about the bats they will bring and the mosquitoes to be eaten by them.

We found our way back to Pinot, and while I nursed Buckaroo R announced that he had a hankering for a beer, a burger, and a spot outside in the sunshine. R does not often have hankerings, so we mulled over where to go while we buckled Buckaroo into his car seat. While R buckled, I distracted Buckaroo with Eric Carle's book of animals. When we got to the duck, I said, "duck," and Buckaroo said "Dut," and I think he meant it.

The three of us ended up having a late late lunch at Pasta Pelican. R had a burger and two Coronas while I had salmon salad and The Dark Drink (aka Coca-Cola), and we watched the sailboats in the estuary. Meanwhile Buckaroo sucked on chopped olives and flirted with the older ladies at the table next to us.

*R later clarified that there is some space in there for the bats to congregate and elbow one another in a jocular fashion.

March 5, 2008

Little House in the Big Snow

R's dad was nice enough to send us photos of our house-to-be in winter. This photo was taken yesterday. While March in California is hopping its way into spring with all of the fruit trees blossoming pink and white, and the world abuzz with bees and hummingbirds, there is some winter still to be had in Massachussets.

Karen, my friendly neighborhood therapist, says I'll have to be sure to grow indoor plants and flowers in The Woods so that I'll have something colorful and cheery at which to gaze so I don't get depressed during the dreary months, and I can see that she's right. I mean, this photo almost looks like a black and white. I guess I'd better start watering my green thumb.

I've come to think of this move like a pregnancy, and we are now entering our third trimester. Are there moving doulas? I could use one right about now.

March 4, 2008

Saying Hello to the Trees

Ok, so with the help of R I'm putting a positive spin on the tree thing. Yes, I'm going to miss the trees from my childhood, but there are trees where I'm going, too.

And they're not just any trees. These are those spectacular autumn brilliant world-on-fire kind of trees that people travel from everywhere to see. I've never been to New England in fthe fall, so I can only imagine, but here's a list of native trees into which I am sure to run (and knowing how clutzy I am, it'll probably be painful):

Eastern White Pine
Red Maple
Eastern Hemlock
Northern Red Oak
Sugar Maple
Black Cherry
White Oak
Red Spruce
Pitch Pine
Black Gum
Paper Birch
American Chestnut

According to the Massachusetts Forest Association, there are also several red maple and white cedar swamps scattered about the state. I've never seen a swamp, let alone a tree-swamp. This could be exciting.

The other thing I've been thinking lately is that I'm only 36, so if I spent the rest of my life in Massachusetts, I could end up living there longer than I've lived in California, strange as that seems. When I am 86, this might feel like my childhood, so the sugar maple could yet become the beloved tree of my youth.