30 June 2012

Second quarter 2012 - Reading and watching

started a lot of stinkers (books and movies) this month. im getting much better at ditching things once i realize there is no hope of enjoyment. here are the good ones:

- "god is not great". 4/5. yeah, the title was meant to turn heads. the book came to be on my reading list when the author (christopher hitchens) died and was written of with much respect and admiration (he was a world-renowned journalist). i then looked up his books on amazon and found this to be the top rated one. the topic is such a touchy one that its not useful to get in to any specifics except to say that i connected with his early comment that "We [atheists] are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot..." and i will say that reading this book added "study philosophy and world religion" to my list of things to do during retirement (along with studying art history and photography).

- "pride and prejudice". hadnt read it in a couple years, re-read it while i was waiting for new stuff from the library. i felt like in this reading i found all kinds of new nuances. i dont know if maybe its just been long enough since the last time i read it that i had forgotten some things, but really it seemed like a nearly new experience to me. how lovely! it really was the first and greatest romance novel of all time. such an idyllic hero and heroine, they are never to be bettered.

- "the spirit catches you and you fall down". 4/5. damn. a story about a hmong family, their sick (epileptic) child, the american doctors who butt heads with them, and the examination of a massive culture collision. fascinating, disturbing, and tense. neither side could be blamed or championed. weird to read a book that simultaneously pushed your buttons and pulled your heart strings and wrenched your stomach. it also irritated me that id never heard of the hmongs bravery and struggles before. i dont want to be obscene when i say that i think their wartime experience was worse than (or at least comparable to) the people in the WWII concentration camps, certainly their post-wartime experience was. this book is definitely an important read, but i cant bare to read the other hmong story on my reading list: the latehomecomer: a hmong family memoir.

- "perilous gard". 4.5/5. how do i love having english teachers as friends, let me count the ways. i had finished "a wrinkle in time" and was bitter that i disliked this "classic" so much. i told amy and she ended up suggesting this book to me. written in the 1970s, i am depressed that i hadnt heard of this before. how delightful my teenage years would have been otherwise. such an intelligent, respectable, intriguing heroine. wimpy bella swan she is not. and the prose did not stoop to the lowest common denominator, yet it can still be a young adult book. a great adventure set in a great time period and land, and i loved the quirks of the hero too. im such a goon that tears even leaked out of my eyes in the final dozen or so pages. i love that stuff. thanks as ever eva!

- "the great swim". 3/5. historical reporting on the first women to swim the english channel. fairly dull swim rivalry writing in the beginning but mixed with an interesting discussion on womens place in society in the early 1900s. the chapter detailing the first successful female swim was pretty gripping and crazy to see what 19 year old gertrude ederle went through (as well as the previous days attempt by clarabelle barrett). the story took another interesting tack with its description of all the unwanted attention the poor, shy, homebody girl (ederle) had to endure post-crossing. her mental fight to beat the channel seemed nothing compared to the emotional fight with the mob crowds and greed grabbers. it gave a new perspective on all the crap celebrities have to endure, let alone someone who never sought the lime light but simply wanted to achieve a physically/mentally challenging goal. she was then tossed aside like trash a few weeks later when a mother of two became the second woman across the channel. the rest of ederles life was such a downer, even after she hauled herself out of her despair and regained her self-respect. ugh, it was quite a ride to read.

- "the sherwood ring". 3.5/5. this was a fun (short) one. the first book from the "perilous gard" author. it is unfortunate to be so partial toward "perilous gard", but i found this one to have many of the same elements, just not the same oompfh. i do love the way she writes her heroines, i just wish the woman had written more books.

- "my lobotomy". 4/5. apparently this started as an NPR story and it really drew people in. this memoir is written by a man whose stepmother got him a lobotomy at the age of 12. he was very lucky he didnt die or turn into a vegetable but his life was shattered after the surgery (it wasnt all that awesome before either). his life is written about in short matter-of-fact sentences and is packed with his honest internal emotions and reactions to all the crap he had to endure. what a childhood, what a life, but he finally got himself on the right path, figured out how to forgive his father, stepmother, and the doctor who did the surgery. im always intrigued about how parents influence the adult a child will become, and this book fit the bill.

- new yorker article about living alone. a book(s) review weaving interesting thoughts/observations about those choosing (or sometimes not choosing) to live solo.
- new yorker article about the titantic. musings on what draws us to the titanics story even 100 years later, a skimming of all the titanic-inspired literature genres, and some titantic lore. the most interesting thing mentioned was a fiction novel eerily describing a titanic-like ship sinking...written 14 years before the titanic set sail. really makes me need to get to the titantic cemeteries in town here.

- "true grit" (original version). 3.5/5. it probably would be a 4/5, but something about john wayne gets under my skin. i like his legendary voice, but other than that i dont get the appeal. the lead girl in this version irritated me a lot in the beginning but all of the characters grew on me as the story unfolded. the panoramic scenery was gorgeous and the plot was steady and strong. i loved the quirk of all the characters language not using contractions (saying "do not" instead of "dont"), it was fun to listen to.

- "winters bone". 4/5. what do i say about this one? the writer must have had one hell of a childhood to paint that picture. i realize all "backwoods" people are not like that, but damn if im not a little more terrified of their power. the set director should win a lifetime achievement award, ive never seen such detailed poverty, even the faces and "costumes" of the cast were grizzly and weather-beaten. above all, jennifer lawrence has a hell of a career ahead of her, if she doesnt let "hunger games" take her down another path.

- "blue valentine". 3.5/5. oh ryan gosling, you never disappoint and michelle williams always brings it. in their sad love story, i definitely sided with ryans character. he was genuine and never pretended to aspire to be more than he was. i liked his line about how men are more romantic, "when they marry its because they damn well wanna be there, stuck to one woman...women (he says) seem to settle, they have a vision of a prince charming but end up choosing whoever works when they cant find anyone else". now, i dont agree with his female assessment (although it works to describe his woman), but i do understand where he is coming from with his male assessment (and this is the point around which his character is wound). the movie was a good character study, i just didnt really care for michelle williams character.

- "true grit" (coen brothers remake). 3.5/5. i can see why the coen brothers wanted to remake this. its right up their alley. it was as visually beautiful as "no country for old men": the lighting, the stark scenes, the grizzly faces of the weathered men, the opportunity for old fashioned blood and gore, and the interplay of characters. i liked matt damons texas ranger better than the original. the girl who played mattie here did a great job, though i do believe i liked the original girl better. and as for "rooster", again, this is where you get in to trouble remaking classic movies. i will say that john waynes portrayal actually grew on me. i love jeff bridges, and he brought his own rooster to the table, but he didnt do the same thing for me as wayne. plus, they seemed to try to make rooster more of a chatty cathy in this one, which he wasnt in the original. and i had to laugh when they put the word "abides" in to jeff bridges mouth in this one (a la "the dude abides" from "big lebowski"). also, i did not like the end of this version nearly as much, though perhaps it followed the book a little more closely? not sure.

- "jane eyre" (2011). 5/5. damn, THAT is a book adaptation. they trimmed away the more tedious parts of the book for me and left only the juicy morsels. the casting was superb. the locations/sets and lighting and costuming were flawless. the dialogue between jane and rochester was captivating, it was like charged, sexy verbal foreplay. the scene before he proposed i had tingles all over and then tears spilled out of my eyes of their own volition. i really dont think ive seen such a movie in a long time. the director knows his shit. i finally have respect for jane eyre, the book. while im always pleased that jane ends up with everything she ever wanted/needed from life (though only after being beaten around way too much for my taste), i still feel that rochester doesnt deserve her, but at least in this adaptation i felt that he totally understands that fact. bravo cast and crew!

- "MASH". 3.5/5. i see why robert altman is always talked about as the master ensemble director. this one was a crazy quilt. it took me half the movie just to tune my ears properly. he overlays so much action, details, jokes, plots in each scene. i loved the men he tapped to play his characters for this one, perfection. donald sutherland and elliot gould were money. the other roles were well filled too. i would love to have more time to watch it again x5, i feel like i missed so much. i can see why it was turned in to a TV series as well. the oldies never cease to impress me.

- "waiting for superman". 4/5. a heart breaker about american education. the disparity between the wealthy school districts and poor districts churns my stomach. those kids are born with just as much potential as everyone else and yet at EVERY single turn they are crapped upon. and to see their parents, as concerned and determined to provide for their kids as anyone else, unable to secure spots for their kids at the few successful schools they have in their area...tears. tears. as the need for intellectual jobs increase in the u.s. we need to be mining talent from all the pools of kids we have. its terrible that we are allowing a large portion of our kids to drown because we cant get our act together.

Turning away from gossip

the tom cruise/katie holmes divorce spurred this post today.

ive been thinking a LOT about gossip in the past months. gossip, being the negative version of simply "catching up", holds basically zero value to me now. i trafficked it a lot in college and was still seeking it out and dealing it beyond that. but as ive moved away and lost my day-to-day connection to old social networks, the poisonous nature of gossip has come into clear focus. also, the true understanding that it is utterly useless and unimportant to talk about people in that way has become clear to me too. ive noticed this feeling in personal gossip as well as celebrity gossip.

while it was really easy to see the damage personal gossip does, it was possibly more interesting noticing my disgust at celeb gossip. i mean, truly, who cares if tom cruise and katie holmes are divorcing? am i shocked? no. but the details are all up to them. do i care that reese witherspoon is pregnant? yes. but i dont care about every detail of her pregnancy, just that she has a healthy baby...and id love to see his/her name and maybe a picture...at a release time of reeses own choosing. i will always love movies and follow my favorite actors at the cinema, i care about and enjoy the oscars, but that is largely the extent of my voyeuristic interests. im busy trying to improve my own life and it takes up a lot of energy. i remember it being fun to make fun of celebs and reality stars who were total nut jobs. but that doesnt better myself, it gives me a temporary boost while i compare my seemingly more meaningful and important life to their f-ed up one. but just like a sugar high, that temporary mood boost crashes and you are left feeling sick to your stomach.

and thats how i remember feeling about gossip, even as i was in the middle of passing it around. but it was like a moving train, i couldnt stop it and i didnt want to jump off. that woulda been too painful and disorienting. the real remedy to the poison cloud was leaving my old life. i would like to think i would have stopped being lame and weak at some point and gotten off that track on my own, but i really cant be sure. now i really do find pleasure in just catching up, maybe asking how another mutual friend is doing if i think i wont see her/him, maybe following up on someones illness or hard time but not using that to branch off on a hurtful conversation. and, as i say that, im not saying im perfect, nor have the gossip pangs totally subsided. sometimes, usually when i get pissed or frustrated or things just arent generally going well for me, i wanna spray vitriol. i like to think i can always curb the bubbling desire from actually bursting, but sometimes i do the catty girl thing and then instantly feel bad about it and try to make sure i dont get to a point where i act that way again in the future. its still new for me, and im still learning. but i do feel lighter and freer and less dark about that part of my personality.

28 June 2012

We think we can make this work because...

some various notes about why we think we can make this crazy move to finland work:

1. the similarities with life in halifax
- halifax/helsinki weather is very similar
- we rarely get visitors here in halifax. we deeply appreciate all those who have come here to visit and definitely understand why others were not able to do so, however, on the visitor front, we arent going to be sacrificing much.
- we think its very doable to come back to the u.s. for 2+ weeks each year. this is not nearly enough time for some loved ones, we realize, but its about as much as weve been averaging while living in halifax.

2. the new/exciting opportunities to visit with people
- do you like europe or surrounding regions? come! if you have any interest in involving friends on your vacation, we would love to fill that void. a villa in tuscany? a boat off the southern french coast? a tour of jane austen country (eva, we are doing this for our 50th birthdays...yes?)? a condo anywhere in spain or portugal? skiing in the alps? how about morroco? we could get on-board for these things (and likely could be talked in to anything else). gleefully. think about it. it might not be next year that you are up for this, maybe its 15 years down the road when your kids are grown. or maybe you just want to tack a brief sighting of us on to a solo trip of europe you have planned, im sure we can manage that too. this alleviates the pressure of coming directly to finland if thats not possible or of interest to you.
- while we're at it, let me mention that if you and i have been friends or even enthusiastic acquaintances, i will remember you, i will always want to see your face, and i will always welcome you to our corner of the world...however long it might be until the next time i see you. i feel like that is one joy/benefit of the long-distance life: you more vividly carry with you the people who made you happy in the past, and, with minimal effort, can fan the flames back up to a full-blown fire of friendship.

3. the strength of my relationship with dave
- i was talking to a mom friend here (the woman grew-up in a nova scotian fishing village of ~200 residents and yet seems to have had quite an adventurous life before becoming the [single] mother of three nice kids. she solo sailed, taught in prague, traveled alone around south america, the far east, the middle east, and europe, hitchhiked up to lapland and ran with some long distance runners going from paris to moscow) about finland and the different things to contemplate about the move and at some point she stopped her train of thought and said "gee, to make a move like that, to do that, you need to have a very close bond with your partner". i paused for a beat after she said that before agreeing, not because it was something surprising to say (i agree with her of course) but because it felt palpably true. its a simple statement felt very heavy with importance to me. we can go anywhere in the world because i automatically get to transport my best friend with me. im lucky that it doesnt feel stifling. its my normal.

4. the "success" stories of all the academic couples who came before us
- in gathering tales of adventure from academic people over the years, i always marveled at their fascinating lives. the things theyve seen, the opportunities theyve had, the experiences their kids got to have, and the comfortable-in-their-skin energy they exude. it was always a mystery to me how they amassed such a life of interesting tales. i wondered, when could my life sound like that? or would it ever? i still dont know, but i suppose this kind of move is one of the bigger steps onto that road. not that i would be choosing this life to collect stories, rather i chose this life to see and do and eat and bump into a million different people who bring me new ideas, viewpoints, energy and in the end i hope i am brought closer and closer to understanding who i really am. that must be how they arrive at the comfortable-in-my-own-skin vibe. so, this path is not without its huge challenges, but its also not without its rewards.

5. our new countrymen
- in reading more and more about the finns, i think they might be my kind of people. it is said they are loyal, introverted, determined, honest, hardworking, have ironic senses of humor, like to swear, and are major consumers of information. if i can find an "in" with some of them, or even just one (to start), i think i could make myself quite comfortable.

6. the countrys values
*disclaimer: these points are obviously from my outsiders perspective and understanding. who knows what the actualities of the countrys value and actions are...i suppose we will soon enough.*
- equality is numero uno on their priority list, followed closely by government transparency. people are taken care of and everyone is given a fair shot at a good life. you pay a heap in taxes, but at the end of the day you dont need to worry about saving for college (free! including a masters degree if you want!), incurring medical debt, buffering your savings for periods of unemployment or maternity leave or retirement, or things of this nature. it seems that the money you actually get to take home is, largely, truly yours to freely spend on enjoying your life. of course you still need to buy food, pay bills, and maintain up-keep of any vehicles you might choose to own (and many choose not to own a car), but beyond your cost-of-living stuff you dont need to divide the remaining pot of money into  "needs" and "wants". you can just spend it on "wants". that seems pretty nice.
- two interesting examples of what their taxes provide: 1. all pregnant women get maternity packages sent to them (unless they just want a check) and the maternity package box is even bad ass. 2. school lunches are free and actually nutritious (really, there are guidelines).
- a highly complimentary article on finland from a UK paper.

7. * patience and perseverance *
- the last thing i wanted to note: dave did an internship with exxon during his phd (summer of 2007) in houston, texas. after the internship he was offered a job with a cush salary. he politely declined but kept a line of communication open with them throughout the years. he really wanted to teach and be in the academic research world. we knew houston and corporate/industry world was not for us and we would have to struggle to keep ourselves happy in that lifestyle. it felt weird because u.s. society trains you not to turn down offers like that. its been 5 years since the exxon offer and i can honestly say we never looked back. it hasnt been an easy ride and i know dave has had to be very patient and persevere while wading through feelings of self-doubt, but im beyond proud of him for sticking through his struggles. i didnt know what would would become of us or when it would happen, but i just never saw us failing. closing this post-doctoral chapter of our lives (or daves career i guess) will be interesting because a permanent job has been SO desired, but it also leads us into the biggest unknown yet. true living abroad, with all of our stuff, in a place basically totally foreign to us. but, we think we can make it work, with patience and perseverance. here goes nothing...

27 June 2012

Contract signed

its official, we are headed to finland in january. contract is signed.

first there was my long ago post about first job applications. then there was the sweden interview that had us contemplating northern europe for the first time as a new home. and then there was the round of applications that went in this past "season". a helsinki interview was offered in march, the visit was had in april, at which point an offer was given. after careful consideration, the offer was accepted and the contract phase ensued. two (long, to me) months later, the contract arrived in daves mailbox and he signed it and sent it back in today. this makes me happy for many reasons, not the least of which is that im excited that the lining of my stomach can finally start growing back. joy!

between my last finland job update and now, these other items occurred:
may 28 - daves halifax boss, chris, agreed to him being done with dalhousie work just before he attends the AGU conference in san fransisco in early december. thus, all three of us get to be together in michigan to sort out our stuff, make final preparations, ship our stuff off, and visit with family and friends. this is great to have confirmed. i think we will base ourselves in ann arbor for about 3 weeks in december. yay!

june 6 - the beginning of contract details came to dave. here are some highlights:
- a 4 year, tenure-track contract (upon positive evaluation, future contracts would arise). this contract laid out their expectations that will be used to evaluate getting tenure. its a little daunting, but he can do it.
- extra pay per month for being an international hire
- 6 weeks of vacation
- july "vacation bonus" money (most people take the entire month of july off)

*this is a permanent position: assistant professor, tenure-track. the next contract would be a 3 year contract that would make him associate professor. after that contract, if they like dave and he likes them, he would be tenured and able to stay on until retirement as a full professor.

**sorry i had to seriously delay posting about finland. i had to wait until the contract was signed. in case you didnt notice, i back-posted two entries that were written at the time but couldnt be posted until now. you can get to them from here:
-"Job offer...accepted!"
-"Heading to a new land in the new year"

Mi oh mi, how things have changed

did our huge summer trip back to michigan. we changed sleeping quarters 4 times in 6 days, but the pace this time seemed to be marginally better than past trips. we are learning. slowly.

wednesday (june 20):
-up at 5:30a for flight. arrived at DTW early. all went well. we went from about 65F in halifax to 90+F in detroit. ew.
-drove to dearborn for a visit with moomoo (my moms mom). X was very curious and sweet. then she wanted to go out and play on the playground in high heat (she so cannot self-regulate when to slow down and come inside yet). we went to shawarma place (on michigan ave) for lunch. pretty tasty, cheap food. got dessert at iversens bakery.

(moomoo blowing bubbles for X)

-drove to clarkston. X napped in the car.
-arrived at daves parents house just as the movers were leaving the driveway with the bulk of their household items. did i mention daves parents sold their clarkston house...the one we got married at? yes, they were to be totally out of the house by sunday. :( X instantly began exploring the lake and empty house. such a huge adventure. she was very social with grandma, which was cute. we spent the day watching her eat black raspberries from the bushes, catch frogs, scoop algae, go barefoot, get wet in the lake...the typical michigan summer childhood experiences.
(lake fun with grandma; at some point she started offering algae sandwiches to everyone.)

-went to our clarkson b&b, the mill pond inn. its right on main street in downtown, a nice place with flowers outside for X and a friendly hostess. we got dinner takeout from the clarkston union and ate outside our b&b at the table in the yard. dave and grandma and X went to the towns playground afterward. she was FILLED with energy despite the lack of sleep and heat!

thursday (june 21):
-X up early (7:30a, after going to sleep at 9:30p. ugh.)
-had a chatty breakfast with our nice hosts
-went to the whipps house for lake play with grandma (X could NOT wait to get there in the morning). grandma/pa babysat while dave and i picked up lunch at brionis (i was shocked X took to grandpa so easily this trip. she totally flipped a switch in terms of socializing in the last few weeks). she even did bubbles with grandpa!

-went to visit great-grandma ohara. we surprised her and she loved it. she and X had a great time looking at family photos together.
-drove to great lakes crossing mall to stock up on jcrew shorts in bulk for dave, i ran through my sections of jcrew and banana republic and then i had to get out of the mall. dave and X explored the bass pro store. she loved their huge fish tank and the ducks. on the drive home we hit a thunderstorm. cool! dave was happy.
-back at the whipp house, dave and i sifted through daves boxes of childhood memories/keepsakes to determine what we would take with us. hilarious. i love looking at that kind of stuff. then, daves high school friends paul and ryan came over with their kids (and pauls expectant wife, carla). the 5 kids had a great time and everyone was so well behaved and sweet.

(lily telling X "this is my juice box and that is yours")

-X in bed at 10p. long day!

friday (june 22):
-grumpy morning! a tired and hungry X for breakfast in the morning was not pleasant.
-to grandma/pas for lake play. while they watched her, dave and i ran up to target to stock up on socks and underwear. so sad really, we dropped almost $100! then grabbed brionis again for lunch. X seems now TOTALLY as ease with grandma and grandpa. it may seem like a weird remark, but she has, until this trip, been so iffy with people, even her relatives. it was great to see that she has turned a corner. and now we are sad to see the clarkston lake house go.
-drove to birmingham. parked at friend phils house and walked into downtown (he was at work). my, that town has changed. it seemed to me that the place is bursting with new boutiques and eateries. as usual, the town felt very upscale, and we very much did not fit in. i can see why we trolled around there in high school, but its so not my scene anymore. then we went over to poppleton park to play until phil got home from work. we got to meet quincy, his new dog. so adorable. and phil and bree (his girlfriend) did a bbq dinner for us.

saturday (june 23):
-got NY bagels for breakfast. yum!
-played at booth park on old woodward. really awesome playground.
-drove to royal oak. this town is more my scene, but still not quite...and it was never a real haunt of mine. we hit astoria bakery and royal oak brewery for lunch.
-drove to the renaissance center (aka ren cen) in detroit and checked in to our hotel. a 46th floor room facing the city. detroit really is something to see, and not to be ragged on nearly as much as it is. X was in HEAVEN watching the people mover track below. insta-babysitter. then we went down to the river walk and explored the river days festivities. so fun! the gorgeous water, views, fountain, and fair all brought downtown detroit alive and it really felt like a glorious city. we need to take advantage of it more in the future. it was a very hot and sunny day but for the amount of time we were out we had a great time.

(detroit river walk and river days fair fun!)

-wedding. i headed off to sarah rineharts wedding while dave went off for a solo night with X (it was an adults only wedding). the ceremony was outside at hart plaza, the reception at the top of the ren cen. it was so cool and so brave to have guests at such a public, outdoor location. it totally worked though. the bride was stunning. the woman has the body of a ballerina, the face of an angel, and a heart of gold. ive never heard her judge others, though shes quite hard on herself. she is so kind and open. she always makes you feel welcome, loved and important. i am so happy she found her man and i wish them all the happiness in the world. and more selfishly, im so happy i had her and the entire crew of people i winter swam with to weave into my childhood. im a better person because of them, really. i caught up with at least 5 of that crew at the wedding. two were moms who i saw last summer and love, great to share parenting stories with them. another one was dear, precious erin. she and i bonded, randomly and post-childhood, in ann arbor when sarahs job brought her to town and erin went to UM law. we all started having dinner together regularly and it was fantastic. erin is always bubbly, upbeat yet honest, and has an infectious energy. she always makes me feel like she cares about me more than i deserve and i just love being around her. needless to say, being at the wedding was a wonderful, memorable experience. plus, those people always restore my faith in humanity. there really are people like them in the world and from time to time the stars align to let me bask in the glow of their awesomeness (side note: X and dave had a blast without me. they rode the people mover, ate lamb shank in greektown, had a bath, and she went to bed easily. win!).

(beautiful bride and her father)

sunday (june 24):
-left the ren cen hotel for the zoo. we stopped at NY bagel again on the way. we got waved into the back because i saw phils dad. total VIP moment. lol. it was very nice to say hi to him.
-at the zoo we met up with the eatons (chuck and georgette and lily). then paul and lily (pauls daughter) showed up. it was hot, sunny, and as expected the going was slow with toddlers. i had assumed this would happen but in the heat i really wasnt digging it. plus, i forgot that the zoo is so sprawling (not at all like the shubenacadie or brevard zoos weve been to lately). i was dog tired and drenched in sweat by the time we made it back to the car. it was nice that big lily (pauls daughter) and X got to play and wanted to go in the same direction (miraculously), and it was lovely to finally meet smiley little lily (georgettes daughter). next time i see her she will be walking. :( such is life.

(zoo fun with big lily and little lily)

-drove to ann arbor. had a picnic at argo pond with my dads side of the family. the weather held up for us (it was supposed to storm)! it was still a hot day there, but we had some shade. argo had just opened a newly developed area called "the cascades". it was really well thought out and seemed like the canoe/raft rental was hopping! in a few years when the landscape matures it will be really gorgeous. well done ann arbor!

 (X, me, grand-pappy and dave)

(my lovely cousin linnea took these pics. as always i love them. thanks lsd.photography!)

-popped over for a visit with lily (third lily of the day!), ercan, and baby everett. so nice. they always make me feel more peaceful and grounded when i leave their house. X was about at the end of her rope (and i fear we riled everett up too) so we couldnt stay long but they were extremely understanding and helpful and took all the pressure off, as usual. i hope next visit we can be fresh the first time we see them.
-checked in to our hotel in the UM league (didnt know, previously, that there was a hotel there). on the drive in, campus looked more fancy and refined than ever, and as always they are still expanding and constructing new things. once settled, i went out alone for takeout from amers. ann arbor completes me. from the feel of campus grass under my feet, to the young people oozing into the streets, top of the park jamming away, the pace of traffic and pedestrians, and the unique shops (which, sadly, are changing on me here as well). i love the place. its in my veins. when ive been away too long i need the recharge and i got it, even during this short walk for my favorite sandwich. thank you ann arbor. THIS is where i belong in michigan. i hope it always feels like a sort of "home".

monday (june 25):
-got brueggers bagels for breakfast
-went to county farm park. AWESOME playground. depressing that i was not aware of this park when we lived in aa.
(county farm park playground)

-went to the BP gas station nearby and watched a building being demolished. good timing.
-went to trader joes. swoon. pangs of jealousy every time i enter that place.
-lunch at j garden. of course! lentils and falafels are the bestest!
-hit up the childrens section of the downtown library with friends missy and lonnie for a short visit. it was nice of them to find time for us even with a very busy monday in progress.
-walked to kerrytown and got raspberry sorbet from zingermans. yum.
-did the playground at wheeler park (near caseys tavern). friend julie met us there. i love her energy and the genuine conversations we can have.

-drove up with julie (dave and X walked) to campus. met lily and ercan and everett on a blanket near the diag. great idea. sarah and little madelyn came for a bit and it was nice to see how big miss m has gotten. definitely a fashionista. so funny how different little personalities can be. X was more interested in making julie laugh, in fact both girls seemed very drawn to julie. so cute. got amers for dinner again.

(picnic with friends and babies!)

-left the picnic playdate and went to underground printing for some local shirts. what a cool store. we had steve and barrys during college but this store is way better. really nice shirts. we also went to insomnia cookies, decent but weird to have so much store space to sell a variety of about a dozen cookies.

tuesday (june 26):
-got brueggers bagels for breakfast again
-went to downtown ann arbor library but missed the toddler story time. happily though, we were able to meet up with jen and her little girl piper.
-jen and piper came with us to eberwhite schools playground. the huge wooden structures would have been bad ass if the playground hadnt been in full 90+ degree sun. blah!

(piper was high fiving X. adorable.)

-got btb burritos for lunch. drool!
-drove to moomoos in dearborn again. did we see a huge drug bust along the highway on the way there? its possible. visited with moomoo and had X burn off the last of her steam on the playground before heading to the airport.
-traveled home. the DTW airport was busy for a tuesday evening! had an easy flight home. done!

** link to the full picasa album of our trip **
** link to the picasa album of my cousins pics **

MI impressions
things that really stuck out to us this time: how huge the roads are (how wide and how plentiful they are). the massive amounts of truck traffic. the muggy, sunny, stormy weather. the feeling in the air is so different from halifax (the pace of life, as well as weather-wise. its weird, because halifax is humid but almost always its a cool humid that chills you to the bone, michigan doesnt seem to have cool humid but the water drips off every pore in the summer!). how obscenely cheap the food is, especially at restaurants.

i think i say it every time, but every time im back i feel how much ive changed. and it colors my impressions of things so much. it also makes changes other people have undergone seem very abrupt, it can be a disorienting experience. just another downer about having moved away, every time you come back you recalibrate to the current reality of the place you are coming back to and you will have to do the same thing over and over again each time you come back.

i think im done mourning the loss of what life in michigan was like. i will likely never live in a place that is surrounded by old friends. this doesnt have to depress me. it is what it is. wishing or comparing is also counterproductive. i can simply appreciate the benefits of old stomping grounds when i come back to michigan and focus on the positives of life away when im away. i think i can work on that dichotomy a little more these days. i feel better about things than i did last time we visited at least!

19 June 2012

X files - 2 Years & 2 Months Old - Social climber

well, it looks like i will try to do "X files" every two months. i think that makes sense. these past months were really fun. the conversations had were hilarious and Xs physical and social being emerged and went nuts.

amazing/amusing phrases: thank you for picking out the brown sugar and giving it to me
obsessions: climbing, flowers, nature guide books, trams
food: cauliflower, rhubarb
good books: pete the cat rocking in my school shoes, extra yarn, franklin in the dark, honey...honey...lion!, chameleon chameleon, how to clean a hippopotamus, lowly worms storybook, the extraordinary dictionary of ordinary animals, actual size, bones, time to eat
good videos: moomin (invisible child episode), miniscule (ladybugs)

(we have a new dinner time game...she closes her mouth and opens her eyes and we put some food in there and she guesses what it is. shes never been wrong. we havent abused this game by putting a bunch of vegetables in her mouth so she seems to love it)

X-citing developments:
1. tummy. she has been ADDING things to her food list, ugh (cashew butter, sunflower seed stuff). i asked the doctor to order a 3 day fecal test to look for blood in the stool. the test said there was no blood, so that was good to know. woo hoo. now we wait until she gets older and see what she grows out of. weve already noticed that she is having less tummy cramping and behavioral insanity if she eats something from her "no no" list, now if something bothers her it shows up in the form of diarrhea and/or a red butt rash. one exception seems to be soy. i think that will be sticking with her for a while, or forever. im just glad the other stuff seems to be starting to wane in intensity. she can even eat small bites of cookies with butter in them. im trying not to get too excited.

2. bee sting. she got stung at the public gardens but didnt cry or tell me about it (i found it a few hours later). poor thing had a good welt from it. and the day before had been nibbled on by 2 black flies. she doesnt seem bothered by bugs.

3. tooth #19 & 20! teething done! this teething episode mounted gradually and then all of a sudden i was furious that i hadnt slept well in over a week. every day X was whinier and clingier and hungrier (because she wouldnt eat) and less willing to follow instructions. i found myself being very grumpy and negative and if someone opened the door a crack about complaining i would push it open, venting my frustration. i really hate how prolonged episodes of teething can make me so crazy. but now, that ship (teething, not the crazy) has sailed. hooray!!!

4. sleep. since her teeth popped out the nights have settled way down to the point where i would now consider her regularly (aka most nights) sleeping through the night, or at least by my standard. yes! also, our bedtime routine now involves replaying the day for her. she loves it and i think its a great decompressor for her to hear it. she has even allowed dave to put her to sleep lately. sweet, sweet freedom! lastly, she has been stroking my hair a lot for comfort. at night. and during the day sometimes i hear "you want to touch mamas hair". fine by me.

5. physical.
-crazy climber. she climbs boulders (singly and grouped) and she climbs scary ladder-type things at playgrounds now. its amazing to see her exude confidence in her body, if you can clench your hands in your pockets and bite your tongue against the "danger" signs flashing in your mama brain. of course we stand close by and occasionally offer verbal suggestions if she says she is stuck ("maybe you could put your hand/foot right there") but she gets up them all by herself. and, since finland, she has been very daring on the slides these days too. i love it!
-she has discovered narrow deer paths at the park and likes to bushwack through the woods and see if she can find her way out. shes really good at it. seriously, i think she will be hiking the grand canyon for her 5th birthday.

6. personality.
-she is finally becoming social and taking great interest in what other kids are doing, following them, and even interacting with them. its been interesting to watch her enter this new phase. she is starting to enter the wide world, and learn from and be interested in people outside of her parents. im used to her curiosity about books and nature and animals, etc. but her curiosity about what other people can show her and teach her is really neat to watch. it also means that her idea of fun is changing and she is seeking out the packs of daycare kids at playgrounds, or the older girls drawing with chalk at the park. it also means that our activities are really needing to change up to add more socializing opportunities.
-she is obsessed with flowers. she can walk around the neighborhood and distinguish between daffodils, tulips, geraniums, lily-of-the-valley, forsythia, pansies, dandelions, rhododendron, mums, forget-me-nots, buttercups, blood hearts, irises, and petunias. she adds more flowers to her list each week. its really shocking that she can see a flower in one color and later use the name properly for a different colored, same variety flower. she has seen tiny photos of flowers and accurately identified them. she also walks around opening and closing her hand saying things like "the buttercup opens. the tulip opens". sometimes when she goes looking for flowers and sees them she says "i like flowers so much, i sing this song: doe a deer a female deer...".
-she has been memorizing her books about animals, in particular two favorite books about underwater animals. she can tell you most of their names and factoids about many of them. i guess this is that phase where some kids become catalogers of dinosaurs, vehicles, animals, etc. i just love hearing her talking about the basking shark, daisy brittle star, or jonah crabs. i laugh every time.
-she is perfecting her blank expression with a sideways glance to mean "i heard you and im trying not to give you the time of day, while showing you im fucking with you".
-she can pick up that you are "playing a trick on her" instantly and can play the game back to you, and is not just mimicking. so dave will say "this is a turtle right?" (and its really a dolphin) and then she will say "its a frog" (and its really a crab). then she'll smile at you and shake her head and "nooooooo".
-she pretend plays "Xs restaurant"
-she is making up weird laughs to get a rise out of us
-she has been closing her eyes while walking (and occasionally while riding her bike)...and yes, she has bumped into walls.
-she has been identifying smells lately. "sniff, sniff. smells like puppy poo/flowers/dinner". too funny.
-she has been liking stories about things we used to do when we were little.
-she can open closed doors now. yikes.
-she handed me one of her toy whales one day and then grabbed a horse and said "i want to go to sydney, take me in your mouth" (this happens in "finding nemo"). then we proceeded to play a game where various animals got a ride in the whales mouth and get blown out of his spout. too funny.

7. language.
-she has taken to saying "heck no" and "of course"
-she is starting to switch "you" in her sentences to "i", but she still doesnt know she can use "me". thankfully she also hasnt started using "mine!" to any big extent.
-she has been working on properly using words like recognize, notice, remember.

8. death talk. at the museum one day, we were talking about the animal bones and began the discussion about death/dying. i have no problem being honest about it, but i found that the descriptive words are very abstract and not really understood by her yet so i had to find a way to describe it so she could get it (sort of). "when the whale gets sick he slows down, slows down, and stops swimming. then his skin comes off and all thats left is his bones and teeth/baleen". and then she wants the hear the story about how all of her animals die.

9. introvert. someone at playgroup told me X was an introvert. not that i wasnt aware of this, but i hadnt put a name to it. i think it helps because then you can enter new environments or social situations from that angle and it helps get her settled and comfortable faster to think how she thinks. i guess i should also read that newly popular introvert book (quiet). dave and i both sport varying degrees of this personality as well, so it could be very enlightening.

momma mentionables:
1. change. be the change you want to see in your child. seriously learning a lot over here. again. as usual. right after her birthday X started to sport what i called "advanced tantrums": she pretended like she couldnt hear my initial request, then we would go through a whole series of hemming and hawwing until i ended up picking her up and carrying her (kicking and screaming) to whatever thing (diaper change, or whatever) we needed to get done. it was obviously far from ideal and nothing about it felt right. this always happens when she reveals a new and undesirable behavior to me. i just do something, anything, at first, and when it doesnt feel right (or work) i think more about it and keep my ears and eyes open for others with the same issues and finally we come up with something that works best for everyone. in this case, it turned out it was that i needed to be firm and committed to the request i was making (though not dictatorial or disrespectful) and guide the situation to where it needed to go. she needed me to be in charge and make her feel secure and taken care of enough to follow the rules. so instead of both of us flaring up like wild animals, i initiate my expectation, observe and verbalize how she feels about what im asking of her, but assert that we still need to do the activity. by calmly, but firmly, being in charge she is able to stay calm, and even if she doesnt like the thing we need to do, she will come because she trusts me and the atmosphere i have created around the thing we need to do. always learning something new.

2. daycare. im ready for some day care. ive hit my wall. i always thought (pre-pregnancy) that i wouldnt be able to stomach any time as a stay-at-home mom, so lasting two years was fairly shocking to me. but things are just not making sense for me to stay at home full-time anymore. im getting bored, she is getting more and more curious and energetic and i feel like other kids are better able to fill that role than me, for a certain chunk of the week at least. im looking at doing part-time daycare (a few mornings per week) to get us all eased in to the inevitable trek toward school and me working more hours. i think this will be good for everyone. she really wasnt ready before, and that is why i waited, but now i really see it and feel it. i think she can do this, i think she will enjoy this.

3. a blog entry about really trying to understand the people who oppose your beliefs (in parenting or otherwise). this has been something i have been trying to work on for.ev.er, with (what seems like) agonizingly minimal shuffles forward. being a know-it-all is something i think i came out of the womb as. i think somewhere in college i got a whiff that maybe my way isnt always the best for everyone. and now that i really, really know that to be true, its been a goal to focus on the humbling practice of controlling my tongue, calming my knee jerk reactions, and halting the free flow of advice that every minute threatens to spill forth from my mouth. its been painful, mostly because i honestly believ(ed) that what i can impart can be of use to the person because lots of things that guide me come from other people...but only when im ready to hear, understand, accept them. i feel like, because of X, ive been making changes in this realm faster than before, but ive still got a horribly long (infinite?) way to go until i feel like what i exit from my mouth is able to be perceived and absorbed by the person with the right intent and compassion that caused me to craft the message internally.

 4. a blog entry about rage and control and parenting. i could relate and am myself seeing less and less and almost none of Rage these days. it feels good and im glad i got ahold of myself early. not that i spanked or did/said anything i really regret, but rage is a cloudy poison and im glad to see clearer these days. its also great to have to apologize less.

5. a blog entry about trying to explain to others why you parent the way you parent. not that i do everything that this woman does, but it is a good generalization of our parenting tendencies. thankfully i dont feel like i have a use for an open letter to our extended family, but in case anyone was wondering what we attempt to achieve each day with X, this would be the best thing ive seen yet, to give you an idea.

6. a blog entry about a mother asking for compassion as she navigates her childs aggressive behavior. aka, me on most days.

18 June 2012

Fathers day weekend: ferry, fossils, and family fun

our fathers day weekend outing.

we had wanted to go to PEI (prince edward island) for their small halls festival, so we had planned to go this weekend...even though we did not end up attending any musical events.

friday (june 15):
-after Xs dinnertime snack (at 8:30p), we hopped in the car and drove up our b&b (willow house inn) in pictou. this was the same b&b we had randomly visited in cold february 2010.
-X stayed awake for 1 hour of the 1.5 hour drive and then woke up when we arrived. it took an hour after arrival before she finally fell asleep.

saturday (june 16):
-had to get up at 6:45a, i was exhausted but X woke up easily. i think she was excited for all the new things we were going to do. its funny how each trip we take is so different with her.
-our b&b breakfast was meh. we shared it with other guests who were up early to catch the ferry to PEI as well. nice people.
-drove on to ferry and did the 1 hour ride. the sun was out, and it was windy of course. i didnt know we'd be locked out of the lower car area so when X needed a snack, the only safe thing to eat from the boats cafeteria was rice crispies. she ate them by the fistful until the big cup was half gone. lol.

(on the ferry)

-drove off ferry to lord selkirk park. i feel it was ill-described online. they had a crappy, smelly "beach" area that didnt have much going for it, though the red dirt was pretty. we didnt stay long.

(red beach of lord selkirk park)

-X and i snoozed while dave drove to charlottetown. so cute! historic and artsy, the citizens seemed proud of their town, were clearly supportive of art/cultural activities, enjoyed a decent variety of things to do around town, and had nicely developed their scenic areas. i was really impressed. we couldnt help comparing it to halifax and wishing it were more like charlottetown, though in many ways that is just plain silly and unrealistic.
-in charlottetown we: walked their historic area (queens square), wandered around the confederation centre of the arts area (a whole city block!), chose castellos (italian) for lunch [ate outside on a pedestrian-only street, X ate like a horse], popped in to the childrens section of the library, got some local gahan house beer at a beer store, walked down to confederation landing and browsed the tourist shops at peakes quay, found a hip cafe for a smoothie and cookie [Xs tummy actually tolerated a few bites!], drove over to victoria park [such awesome playgrounds!], and grabbed dinner at the grocery store before leaving town.

(cute historic areas; the cool fishbone climbing thing at the victoria park playground)

-X dozed on the way out of town as we drove to victoria-by-the-sea. we had dinner at a picnic table on the water there. X was pissed to be woken up, but finally calmed down and we ate dinner with mosquitos.
-drove over an hour to our b&b (country stiles) in nappan, nova scotia. on the way, we crossed the PEI bridge (8 miles long & a $44 toll [you only pay PEI tolls when you leave, via ferry or bridge]). our b&b hosts were a nice energetic couple who were waiting to greet us. we were the only guests in the house. after a crappy previous night sleep and a long day...we got to sleep! beautiful sleep.

sunday (june 17):
-fathers day! gave dave a tshirt from favorite local brewery, garrison.
-b&b breakfast: non-dairy blueberry pancakes for X and for us...fruit and yogurt parfait with maple cream shavings, blueberry orange muffins, and local egg omelet with brie/ham/pear and lime/cilantro juice on top. best breakfast ive been treated to in...not sure how long. X correctly identified the flower decorating our breakfast plates as a pansy even when i thought it was a violet. crazy.
-drove to joggins fossil cliffs, a world heritage site. pre-dinosaur era fossils are exposed here in beautiful sedimentary rock layers along the beachs edge. the visitors center is pretty but we didnt stay long, we went down to the water. on the path down, X pointed to a sign and said "a wooly mammoth" before i even noticed it (the joggins fossils are from a time before the wooly mammoth, as the signs were explaining). you cant collect fossils without a permit there but you can take pics. X and i sat on the beach and threw rocks in the water while dave got his nerd on and explored the cliffs. even just sitting near the water, i found the pebbles surrounding me were like those on no other beach. it was a very beautiful and interesting place even if every rock we saw wasnt sporting a lizard footprint or a prehistoric bug. im glad we made the drive.

(on joggins beach; the fossils/neat rocks i found [note: the crab and crustacean pincher are obviously not fossils]; a big slab of fossil on the beach)

 -drove to truro for lunch. got off at an exit that was a fast food gauntlet. we chose the first decent option called frank&ginos, an italian restaurant. dave noticed the "kids eat free on sunday" sign and i actually perked up...and then instantly felt ashamed of myself. really? that excites me? eesh. i also got a little smile when i noticed there was a paved path around a pond (complete with minnows) next door to the restaurant, so family-friendly!

this prompted me to think about restaurants (only two outings on this trip but i felt overloaded by eating out). the enjoyment of restaurants is gone for me. we cant really go where we want and we certainly cant eat at the pace we want anymore, thus my current preference is just not to go. but from this experience, if i must do a restaurant, then my choice is to go to a place that makes that task easy...enter the family-friendly establishment. so this is why the market exists. i felt disgusted with myself. and then while all this was marinating in my head, a family with 5 kids walked in (one girl, four boys). i couldnt stop staring and wondering about them. they were all behaving awesomely so it wasnt that, i was wondering what their weekends look like, how/how often they travel (if they do), and how they function in general. the restaurant bill (on a non-kids eat free day) would be totally prohibitive. i guess they just kinda floored me, and i couldnt look away. it was an interesting restaurant experience.
-drove to shubenacadie wildlife park. it was crowded. X saw the deer, cougars, emu, river otter, black bear, and fed every duck, swan, goose, and peacock in sight. she even had the peacock eat out of her hand. we missed about 50% of the animal habitats, but that kind of thing happens with a toddler. she had a great time doing what she was doing.

(at the exit of the zoo)

 -then we drove home in high spirits and were glad to be back and unload.

*a much different (read: more pleasant) road trip compared to the fundy national park trip we took with 2 month old X. this was still too harried for me though. we havent figured out how to drive, eat, play, manage sleep schedules, and perform bodily functions in a successful rhythm yet. but, at least i know a weekend drive trip is doable now. i still dont know how my parents did all our trips as roadtrips growing up, or why they ever wanted to do it again once one road trip was completed. i assume it gets easier as they get older, or you have to wait longer in between roadtrips for your sanity to return and/or your memory to fade.

**the link to the complete photo album of the trip.

13 June 2012

2 year old photoshoot

we got our 2 year photos back today.

our local mom friend who did Xs pictures in october was able to do outdoor photos with us again. score! she was nearly full term preggo with her third on the day of the shoot, crazy lady. she was so great, she even got the pics back to us before giving birth. we had them done the first weekend in may in the public gardens. we had crap weather the weekend before, which was when we had originally planned them. and, as last time, we got some more good shots of all of us, so im pleased. and X was able to wear her little blue dress we bought her in iceland last year. yay!

here are some of our favorites, as well as the link to the full album.