Thursday, July 30, 2009

My take on a venerable classic- Eh, OR Deb reviews the Tao Of Physics

One of my favorite television shows is Law and Order: Criminal Intent. I'm more of a Goren/Eames fan, but Logan and Wheeler have had some great episodes as well. (Of course, I haven't seen the show in over a year, so who knows what it's like now, but I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.)

One of my favorite Logan and Wheeler episodes involved an exchange between Wheeler and Captain Ross. Wheeler has made a break in a case, linking the perpetrator to a decade old murder. Ross looks at her wearily and says (approximately), "Congratulations. You've just solved a murder that was closed twelve years ago after someone confessed. And died. In prison."

That is pretty much the reaction I'm anticipating now.

I have finally read the Tao of Physics. Finally, as in 35 years after it was written, 20 or 21 years after I first thought I should read it, and three weeks after I checked it out of the library. I thought it was going to be all that and a bag of chips. Sadly, I didn't get the chips. (Which is probably for the best, because I'd probably have a reaction to them if I ate them.)

If you like this, please go to the Amazon link on the right and vote for it- it will be the most recent review for at least a few days. (Of course, having put that in writing, I will probably review something tomorrow after not having written a new review for over a month.)

Wow- I'm so satisfied with myself I think I'm going to read the news, finish Insight Yoga, get some sleep, and work on a new meeting for two of my characters, hopefully not quite in that order.

Deb in the City

It is fair to say that I began reading this a few weeks with some excitement. As with just about every other item I've had high hopes for, I was disappointed.

I can follow lay-person, general science pretty well. I thought Capra did an excellent job presenting the general history and theories of physics. Esoteric concepts such as objects as processes, nouns as verbs and particles as waves were clearly explained- or at least, as clearly as they can be explained. Capra is aided by the familiarity most of his readers will have with the basic concepts of modern physics, courtesy of Einstein, of matter as energy and time as the fourth dimension of reality. More essentially, he shows the evolution in physics from a construct of reality as a building with basic elements to one of an interdependent universe which cannot be understood in part but must be understood as a whole. I have no argument with his presentation or with the ideas and concepts he presents.

Unfortunately, Capra makes the almost shocking mistake of stove-piping his subjects. He mentions at the very beginning that the Milesian school in Greece in 6th century BC and Heraclitus of Ephesus saw the world as interconnected, dynamic reality. He goes on to describe how Greek scientific philosophy evolved into one of classification and the search for the primal elements- in other words, the exact opposite of their 6th century beginnings. Capra even goes so far as to note the similarities between the Milesian school and Heraclitus and the "Eastern" philosophies he takes up. What I was waiting for- and did not find once, anywhere- was for Capra to ask why those similarities existed in the first place. We know at this point- and I'm pretty sure we knew when this book was written in 1974- that "East" and "West" were not separated by an impenetrable barrier before the 1700s but that there was a rich and varied dialogue of ideas and concepts (and even sophisticated trade). Is it so hard to believe that ideas from "the East" might have made it to Ancient Greece, albeit with some augmentation and alteration along the way? It is not, and that he didn't explore this possibility by the fourth edition baffles me.

By treating these two subjects as standalone items, his conclusion that physics "evolves" to resemble the world view of "Eastern" philosophy and religion takes on this odd, almost messianic undertone. I'm pretty sure that I agree with the belief that reality is defined by its interdependence and that separating elements from each other is a false construct, but the manner in which he describes this evolution almost gives you the impression that a bunch of Asian philosophers and writers are smugly nodding that they told us so. I don't think that's what happened.

My other complaint about the approach the author used is that he treats "Eastern" philosophy- he calls it mysticism- as a monolith. He goes into a brief overview of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zen, and "Chinese Thought" (mostly Confucianism), but after doing so bundles all of them together because they share, to varying degrees, a belief in the interconnectedness of the universe, an aspiration to experience reality beyond the illusion of the duality of everyday life, and an understanding that the universe/reality is a dynamic organism and therefore no "thing" or state is constant.

Again, I agree with all of the above. However, all of the philosophies he mentions have long, complicated political and intellectual histories which affected the development of their ideas (e.g., the emphasis in some Buddhist countries on reincarnation to enforce the social caste systems, or the bloody internecine struggles in Confucian countries over the importance of nature law versus physical essence). It is a gross over-generalization to put all of them under the same umbrella, especially when he spends so much time explaining certain aspects of physics.

In addition, most of the chapters were formulaic- here is the concept from physics, next is the aspect of Eastern philosophy that's applicable. By the last three chapters, I found the style grating.

That I could pretty easily follow the ideas presented is, I admit, probably a function of how much those ideas have permeated our popular culture since it was written. That's a complement to the book, because some of the ideas here are inherently hard for us to grasp. However, I look at this work as a jumping off point and not the final authority on anything presented.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Testing the chocolate cake, playing in the pool, and oh yeah my finances, OR is it time for Deb to have writer's block?

As I mentioned before, I bought memberships to the Museum of Science and my local community center last month. I agonized over how I would spend my limited funds and what would best entertain the children for the summer. I could go to two museums for free or very reduced on some days, so the MOS seemed like a good choice. Still, would that be enough to entertain my children for the summer?

Um, yeah, it would. In fact, I could have lived perfectly well without those two memberships. There have been more than a few days where it wasn't feasible to leave our home, and on the days we have we've ended up in public places, like Frog Pond or the Boston Public Library. I've also felt sanguine about entertaining them by taking them on errands with me as a way to get their "outdoor" quotient in. We've gone to the MOS twice- I'll try to go more.

Yesterday we went to Frog Pond and they loved it. I decided that today we would finally go to the Community Center Pool. When I got home around 9 AM, I called to find out that they were open for families at 3. Deep breath- okay, here we go.

What did I do in the meantime? Did I put away the laundry that had piled up, or the dishes? Nah- too much fun. Instead, I checked bank balances to find that, lo and behold, yet another bill I did not know about had come against my account. Well, I know what it is now. In the midst of complaining to my husband that I needed to know *for real* what all of the bills were, I finally added up all of the bills that I knew about. In addition to items with very specific amounts (the mortgage, insurance premiums, et al), I also added in things like electricity and gas, which I have some idea of, and then food, medical bills, and music fees, which I made some average guesses about. I went high for food, but I left out things like clothing, entertainment and gifts (those things are so overrated). Anyway, after I did the calculations, my husband's salary came up a little short. Which is not a tragedy, because I do bring in some money. However, it's erratic and mostly not in my control (that's how you can tell how much sales is really involved). What it means, therefore, is that we should basically have enough money to cover the bills, but very little money to actually save. My calculations do include payments to the lines of credit, but even if that's a safety net, it's not savings, per se.

What to do, what to do? Catch-22. Michael wants to change jobs, but we need a cushion before he does. I did a calculation of what absolutely would need to be paid, and that came up pretty high, as I knew it would. Honestly, having run this marathon of paying down late fees, I'm not in the mood to do this again and I'd rather have all of it saved. But... how to do that when the funds aren't adequate to the expenses?

I could do something else, at least for a few more months. I'm reluctant to do that, not just because I've been in this cycle for a few years now and I *need* to follow my bliss, but also because it takes a toll on my children. Jazmyn and Sam both suffered when I worked full-length days. The boys were younger and on different schedules, but now they'll be on Jazmyn's schedule. Also, childcare is not cheap, and they would require at least a little bit of it if I were to work at different hours. If Michael subs in, it cuts into his time at work, whether for himself or someone else, and that calculation hasn't made sense since I became a yoga and Pilates instructor (it was a different story when I was an application developer). So while I need to do more, I'm not pursuing full-time (at least not all in one block). Crossing my fingers that the fall will bring me more clients... somewhere.

These were the unsettling but clarifying thoughts I had as I walked all of the kids towards the pool (Sam went to the library next door). In addition, I was nervous about taking the boys in, because there were two of them and one of me. Jazmyn, I knew, could be a help, but she's still not big enough to overpower them just yet.

The locker room was depressing- lots of water on the floor, and it smelled of mildew. However, the boys were excited enough about going swimming that they even enjoyed the required pre-rinse, which was amazing considering how they usually act around showers. My mood started to lighten as they giggled in the water.

I put life vests on them, then grabbed the kickboards they both referred to as skateboards. That didn't work so well, and I wasn't sure we'd make it five minutes, much less forty-five. Then I remembered. "Jaz, get two noodles."

Once Jacob had his noodle under his arms, he was floating, kicking and zipping through the water. I had Jazmyn tail him for safety's sake, but he was fine. Simon, on the other hand, screamed when I tried to get him into the water, and insisted on clinging to the edge of the pool. It was one of those moments of poetic justice, because Simon is the Alpha in his relationship with Jacob, his older (by 13 minutes) but smaller brother. There he was, screaming for the safety of the wall while Jacob was proving what an adrenaline junkie he can be.

After almost ten minutes, I had Jazmyn switch places with me. Jacob stubbornly insisted on heading toward the dividing line, and Jaz isn't tall enough for that depth. Jacob was thrilled to touch the line, and when I turned back I saw that Jazmyn had somehow coaxed Simon away from the wall. I brought Jacob over to Simon, and grabbed onto Simon's noodle. After a few tries, I let go, and Simon was floating about as well as Jacob. He didn't think about it just long enough to enjoy it and let his body take over, and they spent the next twenty minutes happily paddling in the pool.

After we dried off we met Sam at the library. I tried to leave without getting anything, but they insisted on two movies (Peter Pan is playing as we speak). Then we walked home, and all of them demanded food. A good day.

I'm pleased because Jacob is very lazy usually, but in the pool he was a little machine. He needs the exercise for muscle development, so I happily promised that I'll take them again tomorrow.

Emboldened by a good day at the pool, I decided to test out the raw chocolate cake I want to make for my birthday (the end of next month, but I believe in planning- when it comes to birthday cake). The cake recipe as written calls for nuts, which Jaz and Michael can't eat, but Ani Phyo had a tip to use vegetable pulp instead. I had some carrot and apple pulp in the freezer. After it thawed and dehydrated, I made a modified version of the recipe- and it was really good. It needs a little tweaking, but I feel good about serving it to everyone. And with the substitution of vegetables for nuts, it's *much* cheaper. I'll try to post the recipe after I get it just right.

And that's that. Off to write a fund-raising plea, and then hopefully read some more of the Tao of Physics.

Little frustrations make us appreciate the rest of our day.

Deb in the City

In defense of the non-traditional education

A few weeks ago, while waiting for the bus, I had a phone conversation with one of the mothers taking Sam back and forth to her music camp. We're just getting to know each other- at this point we've only spoken on the phone- and one of the inevitable first questions is about where our children go to school. This always takes me much longer to answer than most other mothers. Sam, at the age of fifteen, is just about a college sophomore at a community college. While Sam is brilliant, that's not the only reason she's where she is right now.

I always knew Sam was very smart. I'm her mother- of course I think she's smart. By first grade, though, other people started to agree. That was when I approached her principal and teacher about promoting her. Most Boston Public School principals are reluctant to do that, and this time was no exception. The next year the teacher went out of her way to tell me that keeping Sam with the class she started with was the right choice, even though she was ahead of everyone else.

The next year just about all of the other students who were performing near Sam's level were gone. Some went to Catholic school, some to other towns and cities. One day I went to pick her up and was told to go to the next room. There she was, in the fourth grade. Uh, okay. It took her a week or two to settle in with a small group of friends, but after that she was fine both socially and academically, so much so that at the end of the fifth grade she won the Academic Achievement Award for her school.

Great, right? Except she still wasn't being challenged. The next year we sent her to an accelerated program in Boston. It wasn't what I really wanted to do, but the other options available didn't make me comfortable- too far away, or not a great reputation with the teachers. Again, she made a nice little group of friends, but I wasn't satisfied with the academics. It was a lot of work, which at first she wasn't used to. Eventually she acclimated, but I didn't feel like we gained anything. It was a lot of busywork- as in, do a packet of about 50 sheets and find the countries in Asia, Africa and Europe that export and import the most coffee, or tungsten, or... you get the idea. Someone described it very well as a lot of breadth but not a lot of depth.

So why do that? Because that's what the exam schools, the jewels in BPS' crown, teach to. I reluctantly agreed to send Sam to one for the seventh grade. They pile on the work and brag that only two-thirds (at most) of the entering class will survive to graduation. My twelve-year-old was up until three in the morning, and she wasn't the only one.

The evidence grows every day that sleep deprivation is dangerous and worse when you're younger. And as these kids strive to be smarter and better in every way, the stakes get higher. I pulled her out when she was in the ninth grade because she was degrading before my eyes. I took a lot of smack off of people for it, but too bad. My daughter is finally herself again a year and a half after the fact, and I think if I'd waited any longer she would have been harder to pull back.

For a variety of reasons, she didn't want to go to any of the other public schools, and for a variety of reasons I wasn't going to push her. I let her "unschool" for a little while, then found her a place at a community college close to us to take the science and language classes she wanted. (Someday she will realize that she should be studying music too, but I'm patient.) Long story short, she scored so well on the placement tests that the administration agreed to let her enroll as a freshman last year. She's just about half-way through her Associate's Program and may very well graduate from there when she's seventeen or younger.

Some people look down their noses at me for having "wasted" such an intelligent child with so much potential on a low-ranked community college. Those people also feel like I've (intentionally?) alienated her from her contemporary peer group. Those people, obviously, did not see her so catatonically depressed that she wouldn't get dressed or get out of bed. I have regrets too, but they are different.

I don't think Sam ever did have a contemporary peer group. Of course she wasn't the only very intelligent child her age in her city, but she did things at a different pace. She picked up language and math very quickly, and she was a very good writer. However, her organization skills lagged behind others as intelligent or as old. She needed a longer period to absorb knowledge and indulge her interests before she started in on project-based work. There are other children who might be better organized but need more time on the more rudimentary subjects before they blast ahead. There are a host of possibilities in between. All of our children are different, and more and more it seems that they are not being well-served by the public schools.

Jaz, my second daughter, is also very bright. She had us scared from age one and a half to three because she was very late to talk (her first word was "Up" when she was over two) and when she was starting use more words at three she lacked enough of a base vocabulary to pick up more. From the age of three to six, she received speech services. By the time she was five we could have stopped, but I didn't want to deprive her of something she might need. However, when the specialist called to ask why she was there, I thought maybe it was time.

You would never know now. Witness the blog and vlog. She was also very observant and knew that her older sister had been promoted a year ahead of schedule. In the middle of kindergarten, she went out of her way to tell me she wasn't being challenged. You have to appreciate how hilarious that is coming from a six-year-old. And yes, she was six in kindergarten because she has a fall birthday. I'm not one of those people who thinks that a child benefits from being the oldest person in the class, so that always irritated me. (And what's the logical conclusion if we all embrace that philosophy? That everyone is going to stay back for a year?) Her school is more open than Sam's old school, but I wanted to handle this properly. I asked for a meeting with the principal and her teacher, and I put it on the table. I didn't expect any action that June, but I wanted it to be out there so that if it came up again it wouldn't be a surprise. They were both great and put it in their hats.

First grade was a different animal, and there were different things to learn. Jaz was still going on about how unchallenged she was, so I bought her a book called What Every First Graders Needs to Know. We were done with that before November. Hmm. Okay. Obviously, she did very well that year.

By the time second-grade came around, she had had enough. Every day, every God damned day, she would tell me how bored she was and that she wanted to be promoted. She told me that when the teacher- who was really wonderful- told the students the techniques to use to handle two vowels in a word she rolled her eyes and thought, "Yeah, this is so hard." (Early sarcasm is a measure of intelligence.)

I like her school, and I wanted to work with them. I also liked the parents in her class, and I knew that there were a good number of children who were also ready for an accelerated class. We talked about something along the lines of grades two and a half, and I was content to wait.

A few weeks later, Jaz was not and said she wasn't getting anything new. Okay, okay. I spoke to the principal, and she said in a calm but serious tone that of all of the children in her grade, Jaz was the one who was ready to be promoted on all measures. At this point, we were knee-deep in the problems with Sam at her school. I had to fight the urge to cry. The principal was wonderful, and she said that she didn't anticipate the same problems- in the short-to-midterm, at least- with Jaz.

I was ready, Jaz was ready, but Michael needed some convincing. After several meetings with the school, I finally put my foot down. Really, I just couldn't listen to Jaz complain anymore. So she was moved to the third grade. The new teacher was nervous at first, but by the time we had our review in the spring, she completely understood why Jaz was moved. She was also worried about how she would handle the next few years if she continued to learn at the same pace.

Jaz is still very bright- see her post about finishing two summer packets in three days- and is enjoying her classroom because of her friends and because she's getting just a little bit more than she was before. But it's still not enough. I think she could easily skip another grade, but now she's adamant that she doesn't want to. The fifth grade teachers are planning to address her needs and the needs of the other students, so I'm hopeful.

I have a feeling, though, that when she's out of her current school, she's being homeschooled. I'm going to keep our options open, but I'm also going to start planning for that possibility. The boys, one of whom is an early reader at the age of four and both of who are reluctant to follow instructions? An open question at this point.

Back to my phone call (I did not forget). That mother has a similarly bright child and similar concerns. She was surprised that not one but two of my children had been promoted because Boston is so notoriously conservative. She's a substitute at her child's school, so she knows the policies better than I do. She has also heard unflattering things about the accelerated programs, including the exam schools (though in fairness, we both know people who are doing well there). She's also been thinking about homeschooling. Her concern is the socialization, or lack thereof. What she's finding, though, is that there are just as many if not more opportunities for her children to socialize in a homeschooling environment. That's what I'm hearing more and more of too. For now Jaz's friends are in her school, but at this point she can make friends anywhere. We shall see.

In all honesty, as much as I genuinely believe that it would be good for my children, it would also be good for me. I truly relish the idea of daily jaunts to the library and weekly visits to museums. I like the idea of showing them the city and its historic sites, as well as helping them through projects (when they're ready). And more importantly, selfishly, I like the idea of them being with me. I was so happy a couple of weeks ago, in a different way than I usually am. Something felt complete when I looked at my small living room, and I realized it was because they were all with me. Not so selfishly, as much as it warmed and fed me, I could feel how much it meant to them, even if they didn't realize it. There is something to be said for family, and is it wrong to include that in a child's education if you can?

Deb in the City

Monday, July 27, 2009

You never know

So, as I've indicated elsewhere, I'm a little cash-strapped right now. I don't feel too sorry for myself- you'll find me complaining a lot less than people living much more affluently- in part because, as I've also mentioned before, my children are in a school system where 72% of the children qualify for free or reduced lunch. I own my home, I'm paying my bills (now a little better than before), I feed my children. I crave time, space and freedom more than I do things.

Still, I grew up without a lot of money- *really* without a lot of money. It's not something you brag about, at least, not back then. I tried, once, to explain that to a teacher of mine in high school, and he didn't believe me. He said he didn't consider himself short on cash unless underwear was a problem. Suffice to say, as a child, I was there.

So I regard people who live affluent lifestyles with some unease and suspicion. A little bit of that is the memory of people like that rejecting or taunting me, a little bit of that is the feeling that such people won't "get" what my concerns are. Over the years, my definition of affluent has varied. It can be anything from driving a good car to living in a nice area. Hell, sometimes it's just they don't look like they buy their clothing from a thrift shop (it depends on the day).

Yesterday, I met a good friend for iced tea who lives in a very nice area, dresses impeccably and drives a very nice car. She is also one of the wisest, most intelligent, talented and caring people I know. My initial leeriness around her because of her trappings quickly subsided when those dimensions of her personality became evident.

I can talk to her about relationships, children, career concerns and creative ambitions. She even read one of my drafts and is willing to read the second. So many other people said they would and didn't come through, but she did. Back in the day, when Jaz had some speech delays, she had some creative ideas to help. It was something I was very stressed out about, and I was touched.

She also has wonderful children that she is close to and two careers which provide her with emotional and creative sustenance. Even with that, I wouldn't trade lives with her right now because she is going through a difficult period in her personal life due to an acrimonious divorce. It is not my place to go into too many details, but suffice to say that the person she married was never good enough for her and he is proving that by making her jump through hoops to obtain the divorce he necessitated, preying on her maternal instinct to protect her children from emotional distress, and depriving her of money. Not money to shop or travel, but money to pay bills for herself and the children. Some may argue that therefore it's time she got a "real" job, but it's a particular slap in the face when this person thwarted her (though not always successfully) everytime she tried to do just that.

On top of that, she told me yesterday that he has ratcheted up his hostility by making threats and offering bribes to third parties. The level of indecency is astounding, particularly because this affects not only her but also their children.

This man makes *plenty* of money- my friend makes about 1/40th of what he makes, in a good year. Fine, people make whatever choices they make. But, after x years of marriage, I think my friend is entitled to, oh, alimony and child support. Further, since the bank account is still shared by the two of them, she is also entitled to having a certain amount of money accessible to pay utilities and buy groceries for their children until the marriage is dissolved.

All common sense, but it wasn't until she told me how much she had been assessed in bank fees that the switch went off. I did some quick math. "Wait, are you with such and such bank?" Of course she was. Even though I had told her about all of my financing issues- imagine this blog over the last few weeks, condensed into 20 minutes. Poor dear- now I knew she really did understand, and I felt less alone by one more person.

I realize, of course, that there are many things about her situation that I do not understand. I have complained about the way my husband has handled things, but I've never felt that my husband was spiteful towards me or our children. If anything, I'm the spiteful one- but even I wouldn't deprive my children of anything it was in my power to give them. I can't imagine parents doing that, and I can't imagine having to live with that constantly over my head.

For myself, I have been frustrated by a lack of funds, but after getting more details of my friend's story, that seems like less of a punch in the stomach than knowing that there are more than ample funds lying right next to me that I can't access which would help me and my children. Actually, the story is just a little bit worse than that, but I think that's bad enough.

So I didn't know and I think I still don't know, but I do know enough about my friend that I'm not, ultimately, worried about her. She's smart, she's wise and she's strong. She'll get what she needs and deserves, and she's able to be both parents to her children. I humbly admit that I have much to learn from her- and it has nothing to do with money.

Deb in the City

Friday, July 24, 2009

Best veggie burger ever

Confession: last Sunday Michael and I took the boys to buy sandals and visit the SoWa Farmer's Market. Foolishly, I did not pack food, so we needed to make a couple of stops. We went into a place on Washington Street near Downtown Crossing that used to be called Low Fat, No Fat and now might be called something like UBurger. I snuck in a couple of fries until I realized that they were battered (*sigh*) and Michael shared some of his veggie burger with Simon.

The boys and I went out yesterday and I wanted to go to Chinatown to get some rice noodles ($1.65, and I shared with the boys, although I did end up getting them a piece of cheesecake after for $2.25). Anyway, Chinatown connects SoWa (that's South Washington, for those of you not in the know), and they had it in their heads that that was there they got the veggie burger. So as soon I mentioned Chinatown Simon started insisting on a veggie burger. I put him off by telling him we could have one at home. I was going to buy something in the frozen section, but then I realized I had the ingredients to make them at home. So I did. Concept below.

"Concept" because I didn't use exact measurements. The rice and textured vegetable protein were about 1 to 1, but I used a little bit less mashed potato. Try and play- it's very good.

1 part brown rice
1 part reconstituted textured vegetable protein (use just enough hot water)
Slightly less than 1 part mashed potato (I used one medium size potato)
Flavor (to taste) with:
nutritional yeast
garlic powder
onion powder
liquid smoke

Mix all together until pliable. Shape about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of mixture into circular patties. Place patties on a greased cookie sheet. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes, turning over once to crisp both sides. Eat as you would any other burger.

I couldn't eat this- textured vegetable protein is a soy product- but I could smell them and my husband had to hold me back from trying one. Even my pickiest eater loves this.


Deb in the City

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I've been having small epiphanies for the last 24 or so hours which are doing some goodness towards lifting my mood. Why so down for the past few days? I think it's related to all of my food reactions, which have been going on for a while. I've been doing pretty well at handling my stresses, but something has to give. Outwardly, it's been my body rejecting traditional "comfort" foods, one by one. I think it is, in some ways, my body's manifestation of my belief that I can't use crutches or take an easy way out. I have to "get through" whatever it is that's getting to me or getting me down, and even the comfort of something like corn chips and hummus is too much of a distraction. (Cut me some slack guys- it's that or my body is slowly breaking down- and it's not.)

Psychically, it's been resurfaced old memories that I was happy to keep below the surface or simply banish altogether. But they keep coming up, centered around people that I kept around because they gave me a really good excuse to feel bad about myself. I don't think I would ever go into the full extent of this with anyone, but I imagine having to explain myself, and over the last few days the explanation that keeps coming to me is that these were people and events that made me feel like I would never be able to do what I really wanted to, and that I had to accept the fate that life had given me. In one case, as I was recalling all of the ways in which one person in particular made me feel demeaned, I had to stop myself because I also remembered very clearly getting the best retribution possible in this situation. I had gotten the final word in an argument of sorts and I had won. Clearly. So why was this person/situation still bothering me?

There were people I was never good enough for and would never be good enough for. Instead of walking away like any reasonable person would have, I stuck around- because I thought I had to meet challenges, because I wanted to turn the tables, because I had trouble being around people who thought I was worth liking. There was always something wrong with them (because they were people), but they were never as flawed as the people I chose to be around.

I proved nay sayers wrong. I'm further along than a lot of them told me I could be. But this next step I want to take is so unknown to me that I'm falling back on very old fears to give myself something to do other than pursue what I want. Once I clearly saw that, I stopped. I'm still very unsure about how to proceed next, but I'm feeling better about getting myself ready and then trusting that I can take advantage of events when they fall into place.

As, perhaps, a reward for such an insight, I received a call today in reference to the workshop I mentioned yesterday that I agreed to give in August. We've gone from one day to two. I'm gratified and excited. I want to see a lot of people attend. My strategy thus far has been to give people a handout with my name and contact number, but I want to do more. I want to create a forum- somewhere, maybe Facebook or Ning or some other venue- and put my information there and start an ongoing discussion. Very obvious, I know, but this wasn't something that seemed to have minimum mass for that until now. But it does. Might this lead to more work for me? Maybe, but right now I sincerely want this to be about finding solutions, and I'm looking as much as anyone else.

Deb in the City

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A downer week makes for a Downer Deb

This has been a rough week so far, but I can't complain entirely. The good: yesterday the boys and I went to the library for a reading readiness program (which was silly for us to go to since they've already had two years of kindergarten and are getting a third next year, but they fell within the age range). We sang and danced with a few other kids and their families, and then we played with shapes to make different objects. Jacob surprised me by joining two hearts together and covering them with a circle to make a butterfly. Go Jacob. Simon did well with shapes- he's that way- but he was really taken by the drawing of a dragon that was on the wall. Hopefully we can make a project of that this week.

Otherwise, I don't have anything to do tonight, and since a client canceled on me, I don't have anywhere to go tomorrow. These are good things- I get to be home with the boys. Also, one of my sisters sent me a link to the Mark Bitman story on salads- oh yum! Can't wait to try those. Finally, I got an invitation today to give another yoga workshop to another school community.

The not-great: My cousin called last week to tell me that he was leaving to go back to Korea. I am so sad. I so wish I had seen more of him while he was here, and I wished it while he was here. I couldn't leave work, and even when I could, I couldn't afford to go nearly as much as I would have liked. The silver lining is that his wife and two children will stay here for another year, so at least I have the opportunity to see her more.

On Monday, the public learned that Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. had been arrested in his home for, I believe, disorderly conduct. The police came to his home in the first place after someone saw him budging his jammed door as he returned home from an overseas trip. Charges have been dropped, statements have been issued, but it's just so depressing. We always knew that "post racial" was going to be more of a goal than a reality, but still. This happened right near Harvard- the house is owned or at least managed by the University- and in Cambridge. I lived in Cambridge from the time I was two to thirteen. My life was difficult, and I thought that a lot of my classmates were mean. But the ideas that I learned shaped me as a person and even then made me feel hopeful, not only for the world but for myself. I am therefore deeply, personally disappointed by what happened to Professor Gates.

And the person that I am now, the one who lives in the present, has to think that if this can happen to a wealthy, well-known, educated man of his stature in his own home in Cambridge, it highlights how easily such things can happen in the next city over to those with far fewer means. You can feel the racism that persists in Boston, even to this day. Perhaps I feel it more because of the school my children attend. Racism is such an integral part of poverty in so many urban areas you almost can't separate the two. The people whose health I want to improve are those touched most by poverty. They are also, surely, those touched most by racism. I can give people tools- that's not a problem. I can probably make impressive inroads into their physical health. But I can do only so much about their means. The people who have stayed in the Boston schools, and in many ways the people who have stayed in Boston, are those who couldn't afford to leave. My only hope is that I can encourage people to organize, and that the community activism that will foster can be used towards other things. As ambitious as I can be, I don't know if I can do that.

Next downer, although on a much smaller scale, was today's visit to the dentist. First of all, a trip that by car would take about twenty-five minutes took almost double that time by public transportation. Why? Because there is no direct route from Point A to Point B or anything that looks like it, and that's ridiculous. Next time we go I'll try buses and see if that's better than trains.

More importantly, three out of four kids had cavities or otherwise require follow-up. The one who didn't has arguably the worst dental hygiene and the one who has the most potentially serious issue (a nerve might be involved) has the best. A lot of it is just the way the teeth fit in the mouth, I guess. But still, I feel like an awful mom. Don't worry, everyone is not only flossing as of today, they're all rinsing too.

Seriously, I have to wonder to what extent my mood is impacted by my diet. I realized this weekend that I've been part of the green smoothie movement for about a year and didn't know it. Um, great. Because of the weather and finances, I decided to pursue it a little bit more (don't worry, plenty of dates and cashews are being consumed as well). So it's been all fruits, vegetables, nuts and a few seeds for almost a week. I guess I'm detoxing. My face and hair look great, but I wonder if a lot of psychic junk is coming out in the process. Hmm.

Off now to read more of the Tao of Physics. I'll share my thoughts once I've finished it, realizing of course that a slew of people have already read it.

Hoping for a better mood,
Deb in the City

Monday, July 20, 2009

Is there a statute of limitations on bigotry?

I came to college just as a new paper was being started up by some of the Senators (don't forget the capitalization) from the Student Government Association and one or two reporters from the primary newspaper. I remember seeing people stay up very late, not go home, bitch about layout- the usual. (I ended up marrying one of the original founders, but he wasn't there at the time. I digress.)

They were not funded nearly as well as the other paper, and that was part of the reason that they became more about opinion than news. Over the next year, they started taking on some of the issues that were up and coming in the early 90s. The one I remember best was the issue of homosexuality. Even then, one couldn't help but wonder why it was an "issue" when for many people it was just a fact. One person, a friend who used to be in SGA whom I will refer to as MK, had come out and was writing pro-gay rights. The other person, whom I will refer to as AM, was definitely anti-gay rights.

I don't remember MK's arguments too well because they were logical, clear and self-evident. I have a better memory of AM's writing, because he used some ugly language and thoughts. Such people were an abomination, didn't deserve the same rights and were sure to be punished by their God when the time came. Not surprisingly, this person's other writings were pretty right of center. Someone told me that this person used to a member of the Communist Party or something like that in high school. Typical.

I remember seeing this person walking through campus and being amazed that someone so hateful could walk around so happily. I stopped in my tracks more than once when I saw him. I'm pretty sure he had no idea who I was, but he must have noticed me looking at him.

A few years later, when a popular chain grocery store opened up in the next town, I saw him again. He worked there as a Team Member. This was over a decade ago, and he's still there.

I think he's recognized me as that strange woman from college who used to stare at him. I'm not sure he knows why.

I see him interacting with people now. He seems friendly enough, and I know that at least one of the people he works with is gay. You can be as much of an ass as you want when you're on campus and playing in the world of ideas, but in the modern workplace? Not so much. He's either reformed or he's not nearly as much of a fire-breathing repressor as he used to be. Plus he's working in a town that's very progressive.

I have to think he's changed. I have to think I shouldn't glare or turn away when I see him. I should smile, like I do at most people, because that's the way I am. Being a jerk is exhausting.

But what about all of the other people he was ready to spit on because he didn't agree with their way of life? I didn't have a ton of gay friends in college- I didn't have a ton of friends- but I think about them and I think I owe them a little rudeness to this person. Scratch that- I owe it to them to remember that he was such a jerk about them and that he was wrong and they didn't deserve it.

But what if he's changed and I'm the only one still holding onto it? Who is that serving?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

So hot

(Gosh, I hope this isn't riddled with typos.)

Yesterday, for maybe the third day in a row, we had 80+ degree weather. I had to meet a client in the late afternoon, very close to my house. So I left my house and walked what should have been five or so uneventful minutes.

As I was walking, I saw a biker on the street diagonal to mine coming toward my street. Should be uneventful, except that she was starting to shout, calmly, that the black van moving along my street needed to slow down. So I slowed down, and then I saw that the passenger in the van was practically hanging out of his window getting a look at me.

I shook my head and pointed to the biker. "You have to stop." But at this point, the biker had stopped safely, and the black van sped away. The biker and I exchanged a few disbelieving remarks, and then I resumed my trip.

I ran into someone I used to see when I worked at the cafe. We had a brief, pleasant exchange, and then I continued. Before I could get to the next block, a man walking in the opposite direction told me that I was such an attractive woman. After the episode with the biker, I couldn't muster my usual sneer. All I could manage was an exasperated eye roll, to which the man replied, "I know, you must get that all the time."

Did I mention that it was hot? So you know what I wore? My black Gap cami top that I usually teach my group fitness classes in. I'm going to assume I'm not going to get the 80s bs that I was asking for it, because really, I wasn't. Also, I've seen other women wearing tank tops on the same street, and they don't appear to be slammed twice in five minutes.

I am baffled.

I am attractive, but I think what distinguishes me most is my body. I'm reasonably slim and curvy, which is not surprising given my vocation and eating habits. I'm also not too thin, which I appreciate (finally). But I'm not drop-dead gorgeous or extraordinary. I look like a person, not an ideal.

Please, no one needs to write in to assure me that I'm good-looking. I think I am. What baffles me is the behavior that I, a normal person, encountered.

Maybe I'm giving myself too much credit, but I'm assuming that the driver of the van was also looking sideways at me instead of forward at the road (and biker). Even if it was just the passenger, seriously, what was he thinking? The staring- am I supposed to find that attractive? Am I supposed to be flattered? And if I was, in some way, responsible for a near-collision, trust me, that's not a compliment.

As for the guy on the street who had to tell me how whatever I was, sheesh- thanks a lot buddy. Made my day, because I left the house hoping that I was going to earn the admiration of a total stranger on the street. That's how I know I'm a valued member of my community.

I understand why some Muslim women where head coverings of various types even when they live in a community that does not require it. I disagree with it (but I'm not going to be France about it). I think instead of learning how to set up the burqa they should be given a can of mace (or maybe a baseball bat) and get some instructions on how to use it. Same net effect of scaring off unwanted suitors, and much less annoying in the heat.

Deb (and hot) in the City

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, July 17, 2009

A question mark

Big screw up today. I misjudged the date of Sam's workshops and realized she missed one today. I have a call in to see how bad this was, but I haven't heard back yet. *Sigh* Will probably be okay, but now it's a weekend of worry.

I was supposed to have four clients today, but it worked out to two (isn't that always the way?). Filled in the time with a visit with my mother and then a trip to the library with the kids. We were going to go out again, but the kids declared it too hot. Okay- I tried.

Tried to be a little more productive, but heat and food sensitivities left me unable to concentrate. (The kids didn't help either.) I'm hoping I can get some reading of the Tao of Physics done before it all starts up again tomorrow.

Til then,
Deb in the City
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hives again

This time much worse than I've had in years. Appeared on my right leg yesterday, then back again today, this time on both legs.

Culprit: soy. I was 95% sure yesterday, positive today. Add that to the corn, chickpeas, wheat and oats. Seriously not sure what I am going to eat once my current stock runs out since we bought pizza with Michael's cousin Tom yesterday and now have to pay for a movie ticket for Samantha.

Things are not as bad as they seem, but the little attacks of hives and tight chest leave me exhausted after the fact, which means that I also haven't left the house today since I got back from work. Not supposed to be an issue because of supposed thunderstorms, but since they didn't appear, now I've got irked kids on top of everything else.

On a positive note, it's not thundering, so maybe I can take them out in the little green space of our condo after dinner. (I'm trying here!)

Deb in the City
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Due to some last minute shuffling yesterday, this morning I did not have to go into work. I'll make up for that not only tomorrow and with a busy Friday, but for now I'm enjoying the full-time home with the children. I also found time to get my fill of the news- God bless the Blackberry- and also read more of the Tao of Physics, one of the many books I've wanted to read for years and saw at the right moment last week at the library. So far I'm a little disappointed- I don't think the author asked all of the right questions, and the way he glosses over some of the intricacies of the politics that led to the changes in Eastern "mysticism" annoys me- but I'll reserve judgment until I'm done. However, I do like that he said that 25 years after writing the book he feels that the scientific construct of our times isn't physics but ecology. Yes, I agree, but I still want to know.

Had a conversation with my boss yesterday. I don't blame him at all for the lack of work and I can see he's been busting his ass for me. Given the conversation, I felt it only fair to tell him that I might have an opportunity elsewhere. Tenuous is the best word to describe it, and I think most career advisors would say that I shouldn't have said anything, but I really don't want to screw anyone, especially someone I like who's been nice to me. Hopefully that doesn't come back to bite me, but at least I'll feel better about it.

I decided to review the bank balances today, and found that, shockingly, nothing has blown up in my face and it looks like nothing is going to blow up in my face. I mean, we're not even halfway to the next pay period, so who knows, but it might just be that my planning and obsessiveness will pay off. Further, I did an estimate for next month, and it looks like I will be able to save money- what I might even call real money. That would be a big deal, but I'm not going to write or talk more about it until it happens- no jinxing please.

Part of the reason I didn't blog yesterday was that it's the day I wake up very early and teach until 7:30 PM. There were pockets of time to write, but I was exhausted. (I also decided to give my sourdough bread a whirl, which took a little time and effort. Of course I can't tell, but it got good marks from everyone else. I can say though- damn! That was a thick crust!) However, I forced myself to take everyone to the library after 3. I'm glad we waited- the sun wasn't as strong, and I need a few days to recover from my outing on Monday- and everyone got something they wanted. It was nice to see other people, and I found out about some programs the boys can take advantage of over the summer (Gosh, I'm regretting that museum membership). When we walked back, Jacob told me, "That was the best trip." Satisfaction is the best word.

Today we'll be going to the Children's Museum with a pass the boys got from their school a few months ago. We'll see how that goes.

Deb in the City

Monday, July 13, 2009

Catching my breath

Yesterday, Sunday, was one thing after another. 9 o'clock client, but before that kitchen work- dishes do add up, don't they?- followed by a double batch of pizza dough for a calzone and sticky buns, then mashed potatoes, also for the calzone. When I got back, both the buns and the calzone came together quickly. The calzone was potato and cheese, and my children had to be pulled away long enough for it to cool. We staved them off... with the sticky buns!

Left to get a present for the second birthday Jaz was attending this weekend, then came back in enough time to put together some bread dough. Then left to meet Jaz's friend at the T before we hopped on a bus to go to the party. While we were waiting, got a call from the hosts inviting us to join them and some of the other families for dinner. Dropped the girls off (lingered for a bit), walked back home and announced to Michael and the boys that we were going invited over. They were tired from the park but agreed to come (didn't waste too much time with Sam. Fine- I put her to work on the bread instead.). Got on the bus- Michael and I could easily have walked, but the boys would have whined- and then arrived at the party. Lovely- my friends are good hosts- and it was nice to see and talk to people.

The hosts insisted on giving us a ride to the train station. Would have been nice to have lingered but the boys had caused enough mayhem. After meeting the other friend's relative and dropping her off, got home to find that Sam had managed the baking perfectly.

Cap of the night was an episode of Miss Marple. Well done, and I find it hilarious that in both episodes that I've seen Miss Marple's trustiest confidante just happens to be a handsome, very young man. Oh, Agatha :-)

Off to see Tall Ships today, and bagel dough is rising (I'm counting on Sam to manage that till I get home). Also working on some sourdough with Rejuvelac. Will hopefully have some time to amuse myself with the Tao of Physics before the end of the day. Right now, just grateful for the activity and the little breaks in between.

Deb in the City

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Another full day

Saturdays are not rest days for me. Neither are Sundays, but Saturdays are more offensive because I lean much more towards Judaism than Christianity. But today's busy was more satisfying than most.

Day started off with a phone call with a friend. It's nice to feel connected, and not just through a screen. (What does that say that the phone feels like meaningful contact?) After I made muffins for everyone else, I ran off to an awesome event in Chinatown for the Sam Yoon campaign. You'll be hearing more from me about the Boston Mayoral Race, but for now let me just say that I feel better than ever about his candidacy and Boston's chances to get the progressive change we so desperately need.

Came home, changed and then skipped off to teach my 2:30 class at YMAA. It was small and we were in the room I use to teach privates, but there was a lot of laughter. Plus I got a little vindication when one of my students finally understood what I was talking about regarding the iliopsoas (or primary hip flexor) muscle. I giggled, and so did he, because I've been bitching about the need to stretch that muscle for the last year, but only a visit to a new, vigorous class this week made it click. Whatever it takes!

After I came home and did a bunch of things in the kitchen (dishes, beans and rice, rice with lentils and potatoes), Sam and I used a dvd to stretch- I just couldn't instruct anymore today. Karen Voight's Yoga Stretch is awesome, but unfortunately nothing is held for very long. Maybe more tomorrow.

After that, made dinner. Still hadn't gotten around to menu planning at that point, but I went to a curry instead of the usual pasta standby. The "big people" (Sam, Michael and I) were the only ones up for it. When the others were ready to eat (Jaz came home from a birthday party and the boys woke from a late nap), I made them small omelets. I'd like for everyone to eat the same thing, but for now the smaller portion size was a good compromise.

Now a little menu planning. Actually, I think that's too grand a word. For now, I looked at the list I posted last night and came up with some recipes that I know we like. I want to rotate dishes so that we're not in a constant state of eating pasta (which I can't even eat). Most things I need to ration, but people can eat (relatively) unlimited portions of rice and beans.

Below are the menu ideas/dishes I'd like to include this week and next. It's pretty loose- I'm not specific on vegetables for a reason. Because everyone is always fascinated by food, I'll try to list out what we've eaten for each meal.

Sticky Buns
Homefries and Scrambled Tofu
Rice Pudding
Fruit (for however long it lasts)

Beans and Rice
Curry with Potato/Lentil Rice
Vegetable Soup
Tofu/Vegetable Stir fry
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
Cornbread and Beans
Pasta and Sauce
Shepard's Pie
Frittata (with pasta or potatoes)
PB&J Sandwiches
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

Deb in the City

Friday, July 10, 2009

Payday adventures and grocery lists

Friday is my happy day. It's my version of Saturday- sort of. (I teach on Saturday, and tonight I had two clients. But I sleep in late.) The direct deposit from one employer went through, but not the other. After Sam packed off for her last day at camp, Michael and I set off with the little ones to Back Bay. Found out the checks weren't ready until 10:30, so I met them at the library around 9:30. Good time to get there- very little crowd until we left. The boys listened while I read (a little bit) and Simon amused himself drawing while Jaz tried to work out a sudoku (yes, she's still 9). Jacob started running away around 10:10, right when it was time to pack up. We checked out the books, then walked back over to work. The gym was quiet then, but the two other staff members who were there and saw my children thought they were gorgeous and charming despite being threatened by a dinosaur and a shark. We left before they could think otherwise.

Next stop was the bank to deposit the check and pay the mortgage. Before we got there, I had to promise that I'd get them a treat to make it possible to run the rest of my errands. Therefore, after we left the bank (again, early hours meant smaller crowds, so we could get out quickly), I had to run them into Starbucks. I know, I know. After a package of madelines, a cinnamon bun, a brownie and a venti soy iced chai (so we could all share, but Jacob took most of it), I was poorer by 11.34. Grr- fine.

We took the green line to Brookline. When I was younger, the first trains I took were the Red Line routes. Later I figured out how to navigate parts of Boston by Green Line and get to my beloved Boston Public Library. When I was older, I started taking the Orange Line, and that's what's dominated my public transportation outings for the most part. However, I still have a fondness for the Green Line, possibly because I associate it with the beginnings of my independence. They are cozy and intimate, and I approve of the new designs. Of course, I was on the C-Line, not the E- or B-Lines, which have some of the slowest service I've ever experienced on public transportation at peak times.

The boys were very loud on the way into Brookline, but fortunately the ride was less than fifteen minutes. First stop was my favorite independent bookstore. I had two books I wanted to sell to them. It wasn't as much about the money as it was that they have access to the publications, one of which they tried to track down for me last year but couldn't. So I was very disappointed and a little surprised when the person going through the books looked at the titles for about half a second and declared that they weren't something the store needed. Um, okay. Won't try that again.

Next stop was the CVS on the same block. I was looking for a photo album and two sketch pads that I'd promised the boys. Guess what? This CVS didn't have them. Brookline was officially a bust, but I was less annoyed than I'd usually been because I'd enjoyed the ride over so much.

Next stop was a brief visit with Michael so I could give him the coupon I got at Starbucks (someone might get a little something out of that visit) and the books so he could donate them to the library (did I mention yet how much I love the library?). On the ride over we saw some very young Russian Merchant Marines. Simon and Jacob thought their uniforms and their caps were fascinating and ended up asking a lot of questions about the anchor on their hats. They're here for the Tall Ships. I had no interest before, but having met people who came from so far away to participate, I now wish I could go.

The boys were very pleased to see Daddy, who walked us to the Orange Line before returning to work. They were miserable about him leaving, but reluctantly agreed to come with me if he returned home with gum.

We got off at Mass Ave and then headed to the very large CVS. This one did not disappoint. Album, sketch pads and even crayons that they had asked for- check, check, check. Now we could go onto the real reason for venturing out: Whole Foods.

I know how ridiculous it seems that someone on a budget would go to Whole Foods when buying for a large family. I hear that, but my reasoning was that 1) it was the closest I could get to one-stop shopping and 2) they would deliver when I spent over $150, which I was guaranteed to do. I had to buy food today, and I had to take them with me. Yes, there were a number of things I could get at Trader Joe's for less, but I'd be screwed getting it home. Because I was starting from scratch, it was guaranteed to be a big order.

After almost an hour in the store- yes, that was a lot of fun with the boys- I bought almost everything on my list. I could not find vital wheat gluten for seitan, I forgot to look for veggie broth, they didn't have vegetarian worcestershire sauce and I changed my mind about the dates. Still, as I said, I got most of it.

How much did I spend? $309.19. Yep. On top of that, I bought two $15 gift cards for the wonderful mothers who have been driving Sam back and forth to camp. In addition, I took out $10 in cash so that I could tip the drivers. (Having been in the service industry, I always tip now.) Including the other purchases I made today, that's pretty much it. I still have to somehow get a present for the two birthday parties Jaz has this weekend, but I think I can swing it.

So what did $309.19 buy? See below.

Finally, finally, we got home. I had just a little time before Sam and the groceries were scheduled to arrive and I immediately set off to pay bills. Everything was about what I expected or less, actually. One bill was adjusted down (I have no idea why) and the electric bill was $7 less than it had been the month before. I do thank the weather for being so cool (I knew there was a silver lining), but I'm convinced that most of it is due to my insistence on washing the dishes in the sink as opposed to the dishwasher.

So we should be up to date on just about everything, but the big financial downer of the last twenty-four hours was my husband's student loans. I... am increasingly frustrated. I've asked for feedback about what I think is due, and it isn't unless I ask specifics that I get specific answers. I guess that's human nature, but a lot of it is guess work. I hope that by the fall I have everything accounted for if not sooner. Part of the confusion was that there was no bill for the payments yet. I'll have to track down who to pay before the next pay period. The whole thing has me bummed because while it doesn't completely wipe out our (theoretical) surplus, it does put a big dent in it.

The other big bummer was a breakdown of the phone bill. We're current as of now, but for the next time... I was blown away when I had the customer service representative give me an estimate of what the charges will be next month. I think cellphones and blackberries are a necessity, even if they didn't exist 20 years ago, but I do wonder if there's a better way. Would an iPhone be cheaper? I just did a rough calculation of the bills for next month (two pay periods from now) and it looks like close to $700 less. Surprises are always there, of course, but I feel a little better about it.

Okay- here's what I bought (I was going to type out an itemized list, but I'm just too tired):


Celery (O)
Lettuce (O)
Cilantro (O)
Kale (O)
Cabbage (O)
Coconut Milk (O)
Sushi (for Simon, because he wouldn't be quiet until I agreed)
Children's Vitamins (big ticket item- $25.99)
Cashew Butter (cheaper than Almond butter)
Nutritional Yeast
Vegan Butter
Bananas (O)
Agave (O) (Non-negotiable)
Safflower Oil
Roasted Cashews
Raw Cashews
Vegan Chocolate Chips
Shredded Monterey Jack (O)
Shredded Mozzarella (O)
Shredded Cheddar (O)
Parmesan (the good stuff)
Whole Wheat Tortillas (O)
Whole Wheat Flour (O)
AP Flour (O)
Half and Half (O)
Heavy Cream (O)
Pasta (4 different kinds)
Peanut Butter
Extra Large Eggs (O)
Maple Syrup (O) (I couldn't find it otherwise)
Liquid Smoke
Frozen Spinach (O)
Frozen Broccoli (O)
Frozen Asparagus (O)
Frozen Green Beans (O)
Frozen Blueberries (O)
Frozen Strawberries (O)
Yellow Onions
Lemons (O)
Pears (O)
Apples (O) and Not (O)
Vegan Cream Cheese
Soymilk (O) (6 packages)
Silken tofu
Extra firm tofu (O)
Soy yogurt
Pasta Sauce (O) (3 different kinds)

Deb in the City

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The trouble with summer and public playgrounds

As promised, I took the little ones out after lunch and went to the park until we had to return for Sam (she doesn't have her key). I finally felt like a Responsible Mom this week, since we haven't gone out yet except for a trip to the library.

We got there a little after 1:30. The number of children there shocked me. I'm not great at estimates, but there were at least 100 kids there. Guess we weren't the only ones excited about finally having nice weather.

I'm not agoraphobic, but crowds make me sigh when I have the boys. As one of my sisters once said, "they're actually not good boys." Of course they're supposed to run around, and going in opposite directions is to be expected, but they take instruction very badly, even given their age. Still, it's not impossible, and so far no one has been lost.

That wasn't what concerned me when I got to this park. There were just too many kids there for the amount of space and the size and number of play structures. Not to mention that a number of them looked like they were at least thirteen. The park we were in was clearly designed for younger children. There was a basketball court, but there weren't enough for all of the kids who were old enough to want it.

Who were these children? I don't know for sure, but a number of them had tee-shirts with the name of a nearby private school. I'm also pretty sure that a bunch of them were from nearby summer camps. Hmm.

Jaz is nine and at the top end of what I consider age-appropriate for the facility. However, all of the structures that were appropriate for her were taken and with lines behind them. She was content to sit on the bench, but I finally convinced her to watch/play with her brothers.

What did the boys want to do? Against my advice, they brought their toys. They wanted to continue their "game" from home (I'm still unclear about what goes on in that game, but mostly no one is hurt). Fine, but there was even less action than at home. As crowded as it was, there was still room to run around. Instead, they were content to sit and play tic tac toe or dig in a shady corner. Great- I didn't have to worry about them running away from me, but that was a cold comfort.

Fresh air is great, but what are they- or I- missing?

I looked at the other kids there thinking a couple of things. On the one hand, it's a public place and everyone can use it. On the other hand, many of the kids were there when we got there and there when we left. How long had they been there? If I were a parent paying for summer camp, I'm not sure I'd feel like I was getting my money's worth if my child spent one quarter of the day at a public park, especially if they probably got more exercise walking back and forth than through any activity once there.

We almost didn't go to that park. My first choice had been a much larger space in Back Bay with more play structures. I used to take the boys there quite a bit when they were younger. It was a very safe enclosed space and they always enjoyed themselves, but if I got there right before lunch I was always a little annoyed by the private school kids who were taking recess there. Again, public place for everyone, but they would quickly overwhelm the area when they came. Irritating. I'm sure the facility charged quite a bit for tuition (Back Bay is a swanky area). They couldn't afford to build a playground? What were *those* parents paying for?

Outside time must have done something, because Simon conked out within an hour of returning home. But I could just as easily have walked him to the grocery store or neighborhood library. I didn't just want activity, as important as that is, I wanted outdoor play. I can't stop thinking that the other kids in the park wanted some of that as well.

We need more parks and playgrounds for our children to play in. I contrast this playground with the ones I've been to in Brookline. Some of those get really busy, but I've never seen them overflow. I have no statistics to back me up, but I'm just guessing that it's because a lot of the kids who would go there have yards they can use instead.

I think also about "the big kids" at the park today, a few of whom earned Simon's wrath because they were standing on the platform of one of the structures that he wanted to use as a boat (it had a wheel). There aren't too many other things for them to do, and there should be. More basketball and tennis courts, more open spaces, hell, even more tables and benches so they can socialize and play games (as some of them like to do). But generally, something that gives them space to be active, because 90% of the kids at the playground were on the heavy side.

I don't know what the answer is, but tomorrow my children will have plenty of activity as I take them around for errands. Go figure, I don't feel nearly as guilty about that as I would have earlier.

Deb in the City
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

More surprises

Found out today that there is one more expense I did not know about and didn't account for. It's the $200 application fee for Sam's music program. It's a worthy expense, but I'm only finding out about it now. And now I'm sort of screwed, because that puts us over the value of my husband's paycheck. We will have enough in the overdraft protection to cover everything, but this isn't how I wanted it to go.

My only consolation is that next month the expenses will not be so high. In fact, I am fairly certain that the expenses will be less by about $600 for the next pay period and just about positive that the expenses will be less by almost $700 last time. I'm going to try and focus on that and not how difficult the next two weeks will be. Again.

I really need to go food shopping tomorrow. Really, really. I put in the information for direct deposit to both of my primary places of work, but no one was sure when it would go through. Therefore, I am planning on making a few trips tomorrow to pick them up. Again, focusing on not having to do that next week.

A reader suggested off-line that some might find it useful to see what I'm planning on buying to feed my family of six. I think so too, and maybe also see where I'm planning to go. I'll also list prices or estimates as I remember them.

But not this second. Right now I have to make lunch and take the kids outside, because it finally isn't raining.

Deb in the City

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


So unhappy right now. I decided, however reluctantly, to let go of the raw food for the week while we waited for the paychecks (on Friday, which is in two days. No, less.). Anyway, I'm still vegan (non-negotiable) and have been avoiding the four things I've previously reacted to: wheat, corn, oats and chickpeas. That was hard this week- I was gazing longingly at oatmeal. I want very badly to stay on a budget, and while I didn't like the idea of cooked food, I like the price and was coming around.

Until I looked in the mirror just now and saw a bunch of little hives all over my face. And felt my itchy scalp. And touched my hivy, itchy back. Ugh. I can't do this.

What can I do? Clearly, what I was doing before was better for me than what I'm doing now, but I don't want to maintain two separate diets, especially when only one person is eating one of them. So I'll have to streamline what I do eat, but is that wise?

Deb in the City

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Rain, souffle, living room yoga and gratitude for little things

After missing my opportunity to take the little ones out when it was gorgeous on Monday, I was unable to take them out again because it was raining yet again on Tuesday. Which is probably for the best, since this is my very early morning (4:15 wake up call) and I took an impromptu nap at 2:30 (for all of ten minutes). The boys also did a very good job of amusing themselves in the house. I dragged out the IKEA tent and a cloth tunnel (I think the latter was a birthday present, and I think they were both under $30) that we've had for years. There was something about a dolphin toy being a demon, but the play was pretty tame by our standards. The tv was on intermittently, but they were fine without it. We did try to read, but they decided there were too many words in the dinosaur book and returned to play.

I bought some eggs on Sunday and I wanted to utilize them for lunch yesterday. I've always wanted to make a souffle, so I figured now was as good a time as any. Because I was wanted to play, I ended up giving the little ones a cheese souffle for lunch and a chocolate souffle for dessert. This is not good dinner party planning, but the preteen-and-under set is not going to care. I didn't eat either, but I could see that they rose. My children thought they were both awesome, and while they're not extra special bitchy about presentation, they are sticklers about taste.

When Sam came home, I told her that I had made souffles. Didn't think it was going to be a problem because she's told me repeatedly how much she doesn't like eggs. Wrong. She started whining, and then when I agreed to make either the cheese or the chocolate, she whimpered that she couldn't decide. We finally settled on the cheese- apparently I owe her a chocolate souffle today. After eating it, she pronounced it "so good. That was worth crying over." She is a little more discriminating than her younger siblings, so I guess I'm flattered.

Well, I was. Right now I'm just tired and a little sad. Long story short, I think I'm not teaching kids yoga at the community center again until the fall, if at all. Childcare issue, no hard feelings. But I'm sad. I love those little kids, and I hope I can see them again, if only to say goodbye.

Instead of going to the community center, we ended up at the library for a bit in the morning. Actually, they went with their dad while I had a client, then I met them. Anyway, we took out a few books, then came home. (Did I mention that it's raining again? It is.) Since then, we've been tv-free and they've been playing some kind of game which involves the tent and tunnel again. And bike helmets. Something about demons and school (hmm). I am so grateful that they can amuse themselves, although I am happy to turn on the tv when their play gets too dangerous.

While they were playing, I decided I needed a little bit of yoga but didn't want to rearrange the living room. So I did some seated salutations that I got from a book called Yoga on the Go by Ursula Karven. I picked it up a bookstore in the discount pile, and unfortunately it's out of print. Unfortunate because it has some great ideas about how to fit in a little bit of yoga everyday, and I think everyone can use that. I know three rounds of my seated salutations pepped me up.

Alright- time to make some lunch for my little devils.

Deb in the City

Monday, July 06, 2009

Surprise, surprise

So remember how I said that all would be well without any surprises? Well, surprise!

First nasty surprise: the condo company actually hadn't shut off the automatic debit. Found this out after I paid the bill last week and had a check out there to the Temple. The condo company was nasty when I pointed out there mistake, but agreed to fix it and refund the payment. Just for a few days when I send it back out. Called the Temple but they weren't there. All of this discovered right before work.

Got home and found a bill for car insurance (!) Last bill ever, but still. Not happy, but I'll pay it and never have to pay it again. Also got a quarterly bill for my life insurance, which is of course much higher than the monthly bill. Okay, fine- pay it this month and then not again for a few more months.

Completely stressed, but I called the bank to find out whether anything would bounce. Thankfully, no- the over draft protection is doing it's job. We should be okay until Friday. But still...

Tomorrow I have two clients in the morning- we'll see- and then one class at night. Otherwise it's the little ones and I. I was exhausted today- long story- so we stayed in. I felt bad because it was beautiful out, but they had fun inside while I puttered around in the kitchen. Tomorrow I'd like to go out, but not sure what the weather will bring. But we'll have fun regardless :-)

Deb in the City

The weekend in review

July 4th was this Saturday. I'm not one for crowds in the heat with small children. Plus, until Friday, I need to keep spending to a minimum. So I amused the kids at home with some baking and cooking. Cooking as in seitan cutlets (inspired by Isa Chandra Moskowitz) and baking as in bagels. The seitan cutlets were inhaled in about 2 minutes, no joke. They were fried, they had chicken-y seasonings- of course. I was inspired to make bagels because Sam and her friends made them at a friend's house a few weeks ago. We haven't had bagels in a while (and I'm never going to have them again), and I've made them twice before following a recipe published in Julia Child's baking book. Do I need to tell you that following the recipe exactly was a production? Make sure you're using bread flour, flour a kitchen towel, manage to glaze the bagels after boiling and before baking without it gluing to the peel- in addition to the extra and non-negotiable step of boiling the bagels before you bake them.

I've been baking a while, and my skills have improved. This is due in part to an increase in confidence and genuine skill, but it's also due to the yeast that lingers in the air- and walls- after you bake. Or so Bobby Flay says, and who am I to argue? Whatever it is, I decided to go about bagel making my way.

Bagel dough is essentially bread dough. The difference, at least according to the recipe I use, is that you use vegetable shortening instead of oil as your fat. I suspect that the bagels would be very similar with oil, but for now I've got plenty of (non-hydrogenated) vegetable shortening, so I followed that part. Also, because of the sugar restriction, I used agave instead of sugar for both the yeast "feed" and the bagel bath.

Other than the shortening, I treated this like regular bread dough. I've started doing things a little differently- instead of adding flour incrementally into the water/yeast mixture, I pour the liquid over flour- but I'm positive other bakers are doing in that way as well. Knead the dough, then let it rise. Mine rose much more quickly than the directions indicate- again, yeast in the walls- and after I punched it down and let it chill in the fridge, it's rose faster again. So I didn't get the four hours in- I'm such a rebel- but pulled it out after two and started preheating the oven, boiling the water and shaping the bagels.

The shaping was where the rest of the family got involved. The original recipe calls for ten bagels, but these were going to be huge bagels. I wanted to get twelve, but Michael was adamant that we should make the huge size. Assuming that they were more likely to be satisfied by a large bagel than a small one, I relented. It also made the math easier- now each of the five of them could have two without any leftovers (and fights).

We cut the dough into ten pieces, made tight balls, then poked a hole in the center. Then we twirled the rings around two fingers until the hole got very big but the ring of dough wasn't in danger of breaking. (This is outlined in the book as well as the companion series.) Then we put the dough on the floured kitchen towel- I know- and boiled them in batches of five at a time. After two minutes on each side, they baked in a 500 degree oven (into which we first threw some ice water to create steam). I used the prescribed 25 minutes for the first batch, but they were just a little too dark. Next batch went in at 20 minutes, and that was just right.

Of course, everyone ate one as soon as they were cool enough to handle. We were low on vegan cream cheese, so I made some from silken tofu. Sam wasn't a fan, but it worked for everyone else. Despite longing gazes, I was able to save half for breakfast the next day. The results are below.

On Sunday, I took Jaz and the boys to go to the park and then went food shopping with Sam (a little crash course in home economics for her- 30.62 for two bags of groceries). In between that time, I doubled a recipe for pizza dough from the Tightwad Gazette 1 (think bread dough, but with more yeast). From that double batch I was able to get dough for rolls, one pizza and sticky buns.

The sticky buns were my real concern- I've done them many times before, but my filling always included sugar, which I can't use anymore. This time I used a mixture of agave, vegan non-hydrogenated butter and vanilla. After I spread that on my dough, I sprinkled on cinnamon and vegan chocolate chips. Before I put them in the cake pan to rise, I brushed the pan with vegan butter and added agave and a little maple. After a rise of about fifteen minutes, they baked for about another fifteen. Pictures included. All but one gone in about twenty minutes.

Last night, after a client canceled on me and I realized I didn't have to go into work this morning- yes, I see the writing on the wall- I asked Sam and the boys what they wanted for breakfast the next day. Bagels-3, Sticky Buns-1. Bagels it was. This time I decided to make two batches at a time using baking sheets instead of the pizza stone. They came out well, but they needed extra drying time in the oven. This was due to being baked on two different racks. Next time I'll use a larger sheet pan and see if that cuts down on the time. Regardless, everyone (else) had bagels for breakfast today and should be able to have some tomorrow, when I must leave early.

I'm loving making bagels for everyone. I offered to make sesame, poppy, onion or garlic, but everyone wanted plain. They'll come around...

In the middle of the baking projects, I also managed to clear out some old books not only in the living room but also in the hallway. Yes! A bunch are reserved for the library, and one I might try to sell to my favorite independent bookstore. Yet more fun was that I went through some of the old magazines I've kept and filing the articles I want to keep and discarding the rest. I love the little rush I get when I feel organized.

After I move out the give away books, I think I'll have cleared out pretty much everything I can before I have to paint. It's still more stuff than I'm looking forward to moving back and forth between shelves, but not nearly as much, and I'm spared too much of the kicking myself over things I don't want. Now I just have to get spackle- my friend B. talked me out of a power sander- and paint. And, oh right, childcare for the weekend. One thing at a time.

Deb in the City

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Progress (for me, anyway)

I started a long post this morning/afternoon on homeschooling, inspired in part by a post from Emily, and in part by a phone call from a new friend. It's longwinded, even by my standards, and I think I want to add to it- get wet when you go swimming- and also clean it up. So I'll go back to mundane again, just the way I like it. Project Clean Up, work, and the bills.

It says something that the best part of my day was cleaning up my living room, both about my day and my living room. But no, seriously, it was very satisfying. Two of the shelves and the top of the piano were conquered today. Big victories on both front. The piano has become the catchall for everything, our version of the proverbial treadmill or exercise bike. (Oddly enough, my husband's elliptical has been spared that fate, in part because all four of the kids like to jump on it throughout the day.) Of course there were lots of children's books, but much of the mess consisted of Simon's drawings. I think I have hypergraphia, and I think Simon has the drawing version. It's great practice- he's very good for his age- but I can't deal with the clutter. I'm going to get him a sketch pad next week- payday- and then I won't be so frustrated. In the meantime, I uncovered a roll of paper that should amuse them for about two days. I'm trying to think of a way that I can jury-rig something with wire hangers either over a door or on top of the coffee table.

The shelves were special because it meant 1) reorganizing the dvds and videos and 2) going through a catchall box of mine which had everything in it from passports, birth certificates and safety deposit keys (oh, that's where they were) to index cards and old buttons (don't ask- I don't know). Also included were three versions of old health insurance cards, as well as a bunch of other things I did not need. And boom- away they go. Instead of overflowing out of the box- and it's a big box- everything both neatly fits and makes sense. Except for the stapler, but I'm only human. Now the only thing left is the bookshelf. (Oh great...) And yes, I'm still taking pictures which I'll be happy to publish once I'm done with everything.

After today's load of throwing away was done, I left for the meeting I referred to yesterday to talk about possible childcare in August and yoga instruction in the fall. Nothing is ground in stone, but I have more information and am one step closer- actually, a few more than one. I have a possible schedule to work around with other opportunities- hopefully we'll have more information on that front tomorrow. I acknowledge that this is the pattern of my life- a bunch of opportunities that linger over me for a little while- but I'm getting better about managing this and letting things slowly settle into place rather than forcing things because I can't stand uncertainty.

The bills. A few more surprises today, but a little smaller- for the most part. A few fees from a few weeks ago needed to be paid- yes, it would have been nice to know about that- and then money had to be shuffled from one account to another to cover one final bill. That should work. Then today I came home to find out about one more big bill. I was surprised, but maybe I shouldn't have been. It was the cable bill. The cable/internet bill- you know, that thing that makes it possible for the words I type on my laptop to make it to my blog. My jaw dropped when I saw the amount. Gee, was it that much? Did I need cable and the internet that much? Couldn't we just go to the library and, I don't know, read at home? Then I looked closer. It was that much because it was behind and there were late fees. Oh- that makes sense. Oh- great. So I added it to the informal little document I'm starting to keep with the information about the bills. If there are no other surprises- my husband is going to review- I will not only have enough to pay the bills next week but also enough to send some money to the credit line. And the same thing for the next pay period as well. Could it be? Maybe if you all clap your hands and believe it will come true.

Deb in the City

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

When opportunity knocks, or the definition of luck

The second workshop today, early in the morning. I raced to get there to find the coordinator sitting in the hall. She was pleased to see me, of course, but shrugged about my haste. She wasn't sure anyone else was going to be there. I went upstairs and waited, and sure enough, no one came. At least I got my own practice in.

That turnout was just a little worse than the first workshop on Monday evening. One person showed up. I should say that I love working one on one and this participant wants to bring the work into her school in the winter. Okay, there's something. Also, the coordinator was apologetic after the non-workshop and indicated that there still might be people who were interested in bringing yoga to their school but couldn't attend (the formal attire they wore for the rest of the conference was probably a deterrent).

It's not a total wash. I still get paid, and I think people in this community think well enough of me to recommend me for other projects like this. I also don't feel that people stayed away because of me- they had to come in order to get a bad impression of me! However, it was enough to give me pause. How much do I want to work at this if no one is going to come?

I teach yoga to the staff at my children's school. It's free; that means it doesn't cost anything. Still, the most I ever had in a room was under 10. I connected with the four people who came on a regular basis, but really, more people should have taken advantage of a FREE yoga class.

People have good reasons to do what they do and not do what they don't, but I'm not sure I want to bang my head against a wall trying to change it, however worthy my goals might be.

While I was waiting for the bus to take me home, I got a call from a friend inviting me to an opportunity. This friend is cautious and smart. She is also a font of knowledge in her field, and this invitation speaks of her opinion of me. I'm flattered. It is also something that I've been thinking about.

But... Part of why I'm reluctant to work into a frenzy over the yoga participation is because more and more I want to stay home and work on my drafts. My writing. (I mean, surely my regular readers must appreciate the need.) Seriously, that's where I want to spend my energy building and creating.

But but, much less effort would be required here than elsewhere, and it's a little more lucrative. I do want to get to that place where I don't have to worry about money any longer, but we're not there yet.

Just to make things a little more complicated, I got a call earlier in the week inviting me to a meeting for an affordable summer camp. The person inviting me happens to be someone who could make some decisions about yoga in one of the schools next year and whom I've been trying to see for a few weeks. Obviously, another invitation to find out how much opportunity there is, as well as the opportunity to secure childcare I might suddenly need to take advantage of.

Hmm. What to do with immediate manifestation?

Deb in the City

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry