Friday, February 29, 2008

Remodel mania!

Steve took all of two days off after the magazine redesign/issue deadline before starting on some house projects. His college roommate is in Boulder and is a handy guy, so the two of them tore out the upstairs bathroom and the ugly walls and ceiling of one of the downstairs bedrooms, which Steve is turning into his office.
Here's some before and in-the-middle-of photos.

The office, (waaay) before (before we bought the house, so nice and empty)

The intrepid remodelers...

And the very ugly bath...

With any luck, I'll be able to post "after" images within the week. (If not, it's going to be *very* close quarters in our one remaining bath when my folks come to stay!)

We have a vanity en route from the Los Angeles area (not being brought by my parents -- we've already loaded their station wagon up with our request for cheap Trader Joe wine) that I bought using my new method of freeing up decision-making energy for the actual enjoyment of life. I call it Simplification Through Synchronicity (TM pending).

I "know" someone, by which I mean I read her posts on the simple living site's discussion boards, who just spent a couple of months with her daughter volunteering in a poor town in Mexico. She wrote about the lack of choice at the local tienda -- there either were beans on the shelf or there weren't. When you saw something in stock, you bought it because it might not be there another day. She said that returning to the States and going to the grocery store or Starbucks was paralyzing to her at first. So many decisions to be made before you even bought a quart of milk (non-fat, low-fat, organic, Rbst free, lowest cost, half-gallon a better deal?)

It reminded me of something Steve read months' back, I can't recall if it was a book or an article (shoot, for that matter *I* could have been the one that read it, or heard it on the radio -- mind like a steel trap, I tell ya) about how our minds are overwhelmed by choice -- the number of choices we have to make in a day has increased astronomically and it costs us some amount of mental energy to make each one.

I flashed back on this as I tried to decide what laptop to buy this week, and what vanity to buy for the bathroom. With the internet, there's *so* many options available at so many price points and so much opinion to seek out about relative merits of this versus that. I was completely paralyzed by it all. Until I decided to let the gods guide me. (or universal energy, or whatever. Call it chance. It works just fine for me however you name it.)

So after running computer model after computer model through CNET's reviews, I found one on where the auction was ending in 20 minutes, it was more-or-less in my price range, it got a fairly good review and the high-bidder was from Fort Collins, CO. And the third highest bidder was from Loveland, Ohio (there next town down from us is Loveland.) So I bought it! And it felt so good to have that stupid decision behind me.

Next major choice was the vanity. Researching for hours on the internet. Paralyzed by choices. Finally, I found one I liked, it was a bit more expensive that Home Depot's, but it could arrive a few days earlier and the brand name was Harrison. Bought it. We'll christen the upstairs bath, Harry's Bathroom.

I don't want to spend my life agonizing over these decisions, because I know (from another fairly recent psychologist's interview/book/vaguely remembered source-and-discussion-with-Steve), that it doesn't matter what choice you make, you will be as happy with it as you are habituated to be. The brain has a certain set level of happiness, and we settle at it regardless of which choice we make. We may think it matters what house we buy or what spouse we choose, but in fact we will be about as happy either way, because of the general way in which we have learned to respond to and process things in our life.

So, I'm experimenting with letting the universe, via synchronicities, help me decide. And I'm loving having that extra energy to enjoy the important things in life

Thursday, February 21, 2008

An interesting piece on the value of unstructured play...

A homeschooling friend noted this NPR story today, and I listened.

Once the surges of reactivity and parental guilt subsided ("oh, no, I buy Harry *toys*", "we've ruined their childhoods by not moving a remote log cabin in the mountains!" Where *do* these thoughts come from? Why can't I just pat myself on the back for not loading them up with structured activities?? Sigh...) and I got to the meat of the story, I found it very intriguing that independent, imaginative play is so directly linked with self-regulation skills.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

And one flew away...

Morgan from the Humane Society called us this morning to say she was ready to release our bohemian waxwing, and when could we meet her? What a great soul to go out of her way for us like that. We called up our friends Jill and Addie, who joined us for the release. Morgan assured us that waxwings are very good at finding their flocks, like bats, and that they're not as rare here as our birdbook made them out to be; this is within their winter range.

Here's the patient, shortly before release (having eaten lots of frozen mixed berries)

And here's Morgan and Harry, about to open the carrier (the box next to Morgan contains 9 of the 11 that didn't survive. We left them out in the field, near where I think a fox might den (based on how Sunny growled at the culvert one day as we hiked there), and we'll go back tomorrow with Jill, Addie and Luke to see if they were appreciated....

And here is a bird so happy to be free that all you see of it is its shadow as it flies off.... (if you click on the image a larger version is called up)

We released it in a nearby preserve that has a couple of very old cherry trees in it, leftover from some farmer's orchard. We thought she might like a snack and she might find her flock as well...

An epiphany!

I don't know why it's taken me until 43 to figure this out, but there's a whole other world of games out there, not the ones on the shelves at ToysRUs, not the card games that I've played until I'm bored to death -- fun games, creative games, intelligent grown up board games! I'm so excited! I've always had this vision of being the family that plays games together, in the evenings, in bad weather, at holiday gatherings, but to be honest, there's only so many times I can play Uno and Skipbo and Kings in the Corners and, uggh, monopoly, before I get bored silly.

But this fun group of gamers have the coolest collection of really interesting games! Bohnanza and Werewolves and Alhambra are the three that I've played with them so far and they've all been fascinating and fun!

I want to play more and I'm delighted to find that there are whole new game realms to explore!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Doesn't this seem backwards?

I got an email from a homeschooling-and-UU-Church friend alerting me that her group of mostly UU Moms (MUUMs for short) who walk together were planning to walk around the playfields of our elementary school tomorrow. This a)thrilled me to know there were some like-minded families within a mile or two of us whom we could meet tomorrow and b) made me realize that Steve and I could be walking laps around the playing fields with a walkie-talkie and the kids could stay in the house, as is their wont this winter, with the other walkie, and see us out the windows.

So, when the kids said they wanted to keep doing what they were doing this morning, Steve and I said, fine, we'll take the dogs out to the playground. And it struck me, at Lap 5, that things were a bit backward. The kids were at home doing embroidery (Maddie -- thanks Aunt Diane for the birthday embroidery kit!) and sitting at the computer (Harry exploring Stormwind city in World of Warcraft) while the parents were out on the playground!

It's a cool and windy day, so I can't blame the kids for not wanting to march about in it. Hopefully it will be warmer tomorrow for the playdate. We're off shortly to a game-gathering, another wonderful find at our UU Church. A group, again, of mostly UUers who get together every Sunday afternoon to play board and card games. The kids and I are excited.

Steve, alas, has to go into work again today. He is redesigning his magazine this issue (which adds a great deal of extra work into the normal production cycle), and this past week was supposed to be the final deadline week for the Mar/April issue, but he got sick last weekend with something like the flu and missed 3 days of work this past week. So now he's working all weekend and having to push back printing deadlines to get everything done. Oy.

And lastly, a bird update. Steve looked up our waxwing in a birding book and found that it wasn't actually a cedar waxwing but a bohemian waxwing, a far northern bird that rarely strays this far south into the continental US. Once every decade or so, when food is scarce in its normal range of southern Canada and the Pacific Northwest, it will fly further south in search of fruit on trees (like our chokecherry tree out front.) And the flock is back in the yard today, eating from the chokecherry and trilling in our cottonwoods. I'm trying to figure out how to get large owl shaped cutouts pasted to our high window above the entryway....

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Wildlife and wild death...

Well, we had a terrible bird accident at our house yesterday. I was sitting on the back porch enjoying the afternoon sun when I heard an odd whump, which reminded me of certain small earthquakes back in California, then a flock of birds zoomed past me and across the field. As I was sitting there wondering what it might have been, the kids raced to the back door to tell me that a bunch of birds had flown into our front windows and were lying on the sidewalk outside.
It was terrible. Twelve beautiful cedar waxwings were down in all, most already dead. We picked up the dying and held them to keep them warm. The one I was holding worked a chokecherry fruit out of its gizzard as it lay in my hand, and I gently removed it from its beak. After it died, I took Harry's from him and wrapped it in my shirt, holding it to my belly. I could feel life pulsing in it still. Maddie held hers close as well. After a while, I knew mine had died, but Maddie's actually had opened its eyes and was sitting, beak open, stunned. We set it up in a basked with a warmed rice bag under it and covered it with a towel to keep it quiet.
After an hour or so, I checked and it looked fairly alert, so I got online and asked on our local unschooling discussion board about bird rescue places. One of our friends told me of the humane society and when I called, they said, bring it in, we're open til 6:30. So the kids and I braved cross-town rush-hour traffic, bird-in-basket-in-lap. The wildlife rehab worker said it looked better than any cedar waxwing they'd gotten in recently and that we'd done a good job of keeping it warm. Apparently these birds are not building-savvy and fly into windows often, and in large flocks this time of year.
So we left our little survivor there, much to Harry's dismay. The wildlife worker said we could call today and see how it's doing and perhaps be there when they release it.
Here is a photo of some of the ones who didn't survive, as well as a few other, happier wildlife shots....

Deer like to browse through the field across the street from our schoolyard from time to time...

And here's a shot of Sunny and Cherry the squirrel, experiencing a minor detente.

An update: the wildlife supervisor said our waxwing made it through the night, but is still not moving much and not eating, so they're not ready to release it yet. They gave it some homeopathics, interestingly enough, and he said it's not doing poorly, but it's obviously still injured. Sooo, I'm glad we took it in (I had the thought as we were driving off that maybe we should just leave it out to fly away, instead of trekking halfway to Loveland with it, but I guess it was more injured than I realized.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Our favorite picture

The kids like to look through funny animal photos on the web, and we were at it again when we re-discovered this one, our all-time favorite now that we're living in squirrel territory...

Funny Pictures

Sunday, February 3, 2008

New realms of geekdom

Say it loud, say it proud, I'm a weather geek!
Steve pronounced me thus, with some surprise, and he's right. For years, I've quietly been reading the NWS forecast discussions on-line, trying to parse out what the forecasters mean with their myriad abbreviations and arcane terminology. But yesterday, I went on a weather hike sponsored by the local Audubon chapter (good lord -- I just had a total brain fade and couldn't figure out to spell that word. Thank goodness for google. It's still looking alien to me) and led by a meteorologist.
I peppered the man with questions all the way up and down the side of Coyote Ridge. At the top, we could see Pikes Peak, a more than two-hour drive to the south. We could also see the rising ground south of Denver known as the Palmer Divide, which, along with the also-visible upwelling at the Wyoming border, creates a bowl that protects the Front Range from the extremes of weather in this part of the country.
I found out how weather forecasts are created (my god, what an expenditure of weather sampling equipment! Two balloons a day, every day of the year, from thousands upon thousands of sites around the globe, drift off, rarely to be found or returned). I could bore you with the physics behind the warm Chinook wind, the Snow Eater, that blows off the mountains in winter, mysteriously warming us 20 to 40 degrees in an hour or two. I grok the rain shadow effect now, and I understand why we often have a scrim of clouds on our eastern horizon that cuts the glory of sunrise short so many mornings.
Disappointingly, I also discovered that we haven't adapted amazingly well to this climate after all. I'd been thinking that the fact that weather in the 20s seemed comfortable to us was a sign we had acclimated. But apparently, the same phenomenon at work in dry desert climates ("oh, it's 90 but it's a dry heat!") works in the cold as well. So 40 degrees in a moist climate can feel as cold as 25 degrees in a dry climate like ours. As long as the wind's not blowing!
He was animatedly expounding to me his frustration with the popular reliance on relative humidity as a measure of comfort instead of dew point (which I confess, was starting to make my eyes glaze over) as the walk came to an end. I can't wait to go out again in April when he'll explain the spring weather phenomenon. And the summer walks ought to be really exciting!
Oh, and for some reason this book, the National Audubon Society's Field Guide to North American Weather, which he showed us, really cracks me up! Something about the way cloud formations are treated just like the bird species in their other books seems delightfully absurd.
I returned from the hike to a sumptuous breakfast of crepes and two kids who wanted to get online and get going with World of Warcraft! We bought the game Friday, discovered my laptop didn't have enough memory, asked Steve to pick some up on his way home ("Honey, we need more memory, a load of equanimity and some compassion if you can find it on sale!") Then came the 10 hours of downloading updates that put gaming off until the next day.
We did finally get online and played it until an act of god interrupted our cable internet service last night. I'm guessing I'll be playing it shortly, as soon as the kids get up.
At first I was resistant to the game, as much of the quests center around killing (albeit NPC or non-player characters -- the computer generated ones), but as we played yesterday, I began to notice the random acts of kindness. Other players occasionally ran past us and threw a spell on us to improve our armor or stamina. Players would start fighting alongside us as we killed NPCs to finish a quest (at first, paranoid soul that I am, I thought they were trying to steal the loot you get after your quest NPC dies, but the game ensures that only the person who starts killing gets the loot and in fact they were just helping us out).
So, I'm warming up to it and the kids seem to love it. I have to make sure to get plenty of exercise before I sit down at the computer though, since the sessions seem to go on and on!

Friday, February 1, 2008


Wow, I don't think I've ever been as excited to see February begin as I am this year. Living in a winter climate definitely sharpens your awareness of time (or at least season) and its passage.

I'm thrilled that tomorrow is groundhog day, believe it or not. I used to think that was a silly publicity stunt made up by some small town. I never realized this before, but it's exactly six weeks after solstice so it marks the end of "solar winter," the 12 weeks of the year that have the least light, and from here on out, we could start growing plants in a coldframe (if we had one set up. Next winter!).

We're in a time called late winter now (deep winter ended about a week ago) and I can feel it (either that or Colorado's notoriously changeable weather is simply obliging my brain's need to see patterns in everything.) But whatever the reason, the snow has melted for us, the temperatures aren't as cold and the quality of light has changed. I can imagine the possibility of spring. I remember, even living in mild California, that in the depths (okay, the shallows) of winter, I couldn't really remember how summer felt, the prickling of heat on the skin as soon as you walked into the sun, the days that were hot before they began, and the reverse was true too, I couldn't remember in the heart of summer, what a chilly day felt like. So, I can't say that I can envision summer here yet, but I can definitely imagine spring. We're getting it lately, a day here or there. Ah, and it's glorious.

We're doing very well. I'm enjoying myself being at home with the kids, not coercing myself as much on the "chores! to-do list! accomplish something today!" front, having the emotional space to be more present with them. I'm playing so much more with my kids, and we're learning so much. Board games, card games, computer games (still love those Nancy Drew mysteries, Mom. Thanks!), crafts, projects and toys.

We've been having some fun get-togethers with folks on the unschooling list. We hosted a playdate to make fairy gardens last week, we went rollerskating for the first time this week (fun! I'm doing it every week! I say this not having fallen down yet...) and we went over to our friend Jill's house and learned about World of Warcraft from Luke. Harry wants to play with Luke every day at his house and have sleepovers there and Maddie wants Luke to come over every day. I love how completely enthralled kids are about their experiences, they hold nothing back and it's an enthusiasm and openness that I'd love to recover in myself.

Maddie wants to post various photos, and I've promised Mom I'd post some video tours of the house, but for now, this will have to do.

Looking forward to February and really enjoying staying at home and exploring this new life!