Monthly Archives: June 2008

Cool kid music for picky parents… like me!

(Got a case of the Mondays?  Play this song in your office on “repeat” and pretend it’s Friday.  And God bless TMBG.)

I said I’d never do it. Not with my kids. *MY* children were going to grow up listening to cool, normal music. My music, of course. They would never actually WANT to sing such hits (hits that have been kid hits practically since the dawn of time) as “If you’re happy and you know it” or “Itsy Bitsy Spider”. Pshaw. And because my children would be that wise beyond their years, they will simply chuckle from their infant carriers (cue in the Stewie voice): “But of course mommy! Bare Naked Ladies is an excellent choice of music for our car ride home from that silly little playgroup we were just at.” So, back when I was first pregnant and quite proud of myself, I registered for all the baby gear that came recommended. But when I came across those racks of music with such titles as “Wiggly Wiggly World” and “Here Come the Teletubbies”, I turned my nose up, I knew better. I mean, c’mon. Ewwwwww.

And then I had my first son. While he cooed in his bouncy seat, I made kid friendly mixes for the car – some bouncy Reggae, some BNL too, and I was suuuuure my boy wouldn’t mind a little danceable Justin Timberlake thrown in there too. Why not? Well, not so much. I tried it out on the way to our playgroups, but T. would just wail and holler. Well, maybe it’s not the music. Maybe he’s hungry. Maybe he’s bored. I maybed the maybes all parents do with a new baby and only a fraction of a clue about how to raise them.

When T. was six months old, and celebrating Christmas with the In-laws, I was given a Baby Einstein CD set of all sorts of classical music. “Um, thanks!” And I also got a CD called Mommy and Me.“Greeaaat.” Unopened and stuffed in with the rest of the gifts, I mumbled to my husband that there was no way my kid was going to put up with that sing-song crap. No way. But parenting is one big ironic moment, isn’t it? And on our way back from Grandma’s house that Christmas, during a ghastly two hour looooong car ride, with one arm over the back trying to get him to stop fussing (WHY couldn’t my kid develop some horrid habit like thumb sucking? Or a nice pacifier for the love of Christmas??? What, did my kid think he was better than all the other babies? What was wrong with him?) we caved. Grumbling the entire time, I yanked the cellophane off the CD and popped it in. Desperate times called for desperate measures. (I’d have tap danced on the roof of the car naked if that would’ve gotten him quiet… while it was moving.) And what do you know? S.I.L.E.N.C.E. Huh. Ok then.

So my lesson was learned. Time to do a little shopping. We needed some REAL kid tunes around that joint. But there was certainly something inside of me that cringed at the sight of anything “telletubbyish”. There had to be a compromise!

Fast forward almost 5 years, and I think we have found a pretty cool set of kid music that we love to jam out to. Sure, sure, we have some Wiggles CDs and the Mommy and Me (gag) is often the “go to” with our youngest. But there are some great options out there for my fellow “kid music snobs” (you know who you are). And I thought I would share some favorites with you.

1) They Might Be Giants: Here Come the ABCs and Here Come the 1,2,3s.This household loves and lives on TMBG. Both of these albums are at the top of the pops around these parts. Both boys dance their little patooties off, T. keeps asking when they will come here on tour and my husband and I love their wacky humor.

2) Bare Naked Ladies: Snacktime. A million thanks go out to Lil Mommy That Couldfor turning me on to this new BNL album. Like TMBG, it’s hysterical. In particular, I appriciate one of their songs called “Allergies”. T. has a peanut allergy and absolutely loves this song. Thank you BNL!

3) Dan Zane: You may have heard him on Playhouse Disney and he does great stuff. He offers a rock, reggae, ska, rockabilly, Latino influence (sounds fun, huh?), good stuff all around.

4) Sesame Street’s Platinum All Time Favorites: So this is more kid music than grown up music, but I am assuming you adults grew up around when I did – and loved Sesame Street as much as I did. I rock out to “I Love Trash” and “C is for Cookie” as much as my kids do.

5) Dog Train, the songs are written by Sanda Boynton and sung by various bands such as “The Spin Doctors”, “Weird Al Yankovic” and “Blues Traveler”. She has done some other albums too. The songs are wonderful, funny and the music is perfect for all of us.

6) Baby Einstein. I snubbed this music before I got it. I gather I was too mature for classical. While I wouldn’t say its exactly played by the Boston Pops, nothing soothes my savage boys better than some good old fashioned Baby Einstein. The Lullaby Classics in particular are wonderful just before bed time. And it seems to work better than the classical am station too. We all chill the heck out after a long day on a car ride home. The driver better be sure to have a cup of coffee though.

7) Laurie Berkner. She appeals to the folk music fan in me. Her music is upbeat and cute. We’re fans.

Now there must be stacks of more great kid AND parent music out there. Do you know of any? Please tell me your favorite albums and I will add yours to the list and link it back to you.

Remember, this kind of kid music has one rule: You must love it too.

Now go play the “They Might Be Giants” tune I linked up at the top of this post. If you can’t have fun singing that song with your kid, then there’s a little Teletubbies album I could recommend to you. Enjoy!


Filed under Children, Music, Parenting, Stuff I have

Giving Thanks and Going to BlogHer.

A crazy kind of fortune fell into my lap a little while ago. I won an all expenses paid trip to this year’s BlogHer conference in San Francisco. I know. It’s absolutely unbelievable. I was completely caught off guard. And I have been sitting on this news for fear the other shoe might drop. I mean, this is just too good to be true! But no shoe has dropped, babysitting has been lined up, the ladies at BlogHer came through, conference registration is done, plane tickets are bought and a very dear friend in SF is having me stay with her. So finally… FINALLY… I would like to take this opportunity to scream my gratitude and pure jubilation from the rooftops. Ok, so bear with me, here it goes…


Phew! Hee hee, I am really going to BlogHer!

But here’s the thing. Really, the emotion that is truly filling my heart right now is gratitude. You have to understand that this trip – a trip on my own, no kids, all for me and for my brain and my new found LOVE of blogging – means more to me than one could ever imagine. You see, I have been home with my children for 5 years now. Of course, I adore them. And, although we have hardly two pennies to rub together, I feel like the richest woman in the world that we have been able to afford to have me home. But my brain is mush, folks. Honestly. I am quite sure its shrunk from misuse, the stench of ghastly diapers and too much Noggin. I have been feeling like I would never find the old me.

But then I timidly started blogging. And it was like a tidal wave of brain cells rushed back over me. I CAN think; a truly “Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz” moment, indeed.

And then I won this contest.

As you can imagine, this opportunity was absolutely unattainable before. Like so many families these days, we have nothing extra for anything as extravagant as a trip across the country for a blogging conference. Cha, RIGHT! And little ol’ me, just trying to keep up with diapers and light saber fights and smashed strawberries in the carpet… little ol’ me who pecks away at her 8 year old computer whenever a child is napping… little ol’ me who peers out into the world through her computer monitor because I just don’t get out so often…. I… *I*… get to go to BlogHer. I am humbled and beyond grateful.

The other part of this is how smoothly it has all worked out. First of all, the ladies at BlogHer rock. No doubt. Who am I? Some lowly Ragu contest winner. They sure don’t have to rush around on account of me. But they did! Thank you so much. And then my family, not quite entirely “getting” this blogging thing in the first place, well they all shuffled themselves and made it work so my kids would be looked after. Even the flight times and dates I was looking for were found without a problem. And my friend in San Fransisco is welcoming me with open arms, even though we haven’t seen each other in 10 years. To quote Natalie Merchant, it’s as if “Fate smiled at Destiny” – I am meant to be there.

Now, stop laughing, because I believe in this mystical mumbo jumbo crap. I do. I truly think the blogging thing is supposed to be happening in my life right now. So I am going to follow it and see just where it leads.

And I am so frigging PSYCHED about it!

So again, to the wonderful goddesses at BlogHer, thank you. A million times over. This is a big life changing thing for silly ol’ “weary mom whose only been blogging for 4 months” me. I don’t think you could have happened upon a more grateful winner. I am going to soak in every single second. And then, I’m going to come back here, to my 8 year old computer, and do the absolute best I can by this little blog.

“All the goddesses will come up to their ripped screen door and say ‘What do you want, dear?’ ‘I want inside.'”

-Ani Difranco


Filed under Blog love, BlogHer Conference, Identity crisis, Travel

A Haircut and a Popsicle.

My youngest little guy, C., absolutely detests having his hair cut. There is no act more heinous or insulting to my little boy than taking a pair of scissors to that thatch of baby blonde. And I am honestly at a loss. The set up is as good as it gets. We put on his favorite Wiggles movie (yup, I know all the words). We offer animal crackers. He gets to sit in Daddy’s lap. The scissors don’t even touch him, there is nothing that could possibly hurt him. And yet, cutting C.’s hair is like trying to wrestle a feral cat. He screams, head-buts, swings hay-makers, and kicks with all of his might. Even my 6 ft. 4, 215 lb husband can only barely contain him. And, in the guilt ridden tradition of mothers worldwide, I feel horrible. Are we ruining him for life? Will his nightmares be filled with his mother towering over him, cackling evilly, as she leans in with razor-sharp knife like scissors looking for his precious little ear to snip? Will he refuse haircuts entirely when we can no longer contain him? Will he be borrowing my hair elastics and driving his perpetually “wiffle cut” father crazy with his long flowing locks? Not because he is making a statement but because he has been so horribly ruined by us at the mere age of two? Oh the shame. Can you believe I actually had to sit on him and pin his arms with my knees to get his bangs cut straight and just “right”? For what? For my reputation as a good mother who looks after her children and keeps them clean and manicured. For my mother in law who will be seeing her boys in about a week. I want everyone proud of my boys and saying how nice they look. That’s the truth of it. His terror, screams and desperate struggles are simply trumped by my controlling tendancies to maintain my so-called valuable “rep” as a mom. Great. Terrific. Hand over the “mommy of the year” award. I am failing at this parenting thing one haircut at a time.

So, once the haircut was over, I took my sniffling sweet boy out on our porch to calm him down. All he had on was a diaper but he was wearing his fair share of boogers and chunks of cut hair regardless. Whimpering and red eyed, he seemed utterly heart-broken. How could I do this to him? What could I offer him to make up for traumatizing his childhood? WHAT was enough in that moment.?

“Hey C., you wanna popsicle for being such a good boy?”

“YeaaAAAYYYY!!!!” (His “yeah” and “yay” are always mixed together, but that’s C. He truly celebrates whatever he affirms with a “yes” in his life.)

And then he smiled and hugged me and ate his purple popsicle. I think I might even be forgiven. I think he isn’t so bad off after all. I think his dreams might remain pure and filled only with Mickey Mouse and Captain Feathersword. I think all might be well again in his universe. I think.


Filed under Children, Guilt and motherhood, Haircuts, Parenting

When Good Gators Go Bad.

Well, it’s happened again. There was another highly publicized alligator attack here in Florida. A teen swimming in a Melbourne canal was grabbed by an alligator. He survived but lost his arm. He did, however, get a spot on the Today Show this morning discussing his attack. I am very happy to hear that he survived. And while he made some very good points about alligator over-population in Florida, he obviously did not have a perfect understanding of the potential harm these animals can bring or else he might have both arms today. But, once again, the country watched his report, wide eyed, and the notion of savage, blood thirsty gators hunting down Florida residents lives on.

I have lived in Florida for 3 years now. And as you might remember, I lived in Africa for a good portion of my life growing up. If there was one lesson I learned in Africa about animals, it was to remain humble about wildlife. We are only another animal in the grand scheme of it all. While we, as humans, have the capacity to remain separated and safe from animal attacks, if we are not well educated or respectful of the animals living in our environment, we can easily slip into our spot on the food chain and potentially be harmed. I have carried that lesson with me here. And Florida has certainly impressed me with its vast amount of wild life, just look in my own backyard. Even as I was writing this post and took a break to feed my kids lunch, I happened to see a gator swim across our back pond. This alligator is about 4 feet long and seems to have established this pond as its territory. Alligators are a very real part of our lives here and, it seems crazy to admit, seeing one is not quite the novel sight it used to be.

However, attacks can happen and so we hear of another on the news today. But, honestly, I’m just annoyed. These stories and fanciful national headlines very rarely give the viewer any sense of perspective. There is no information offered about the enormous mistreatment of alligators and our struggles to co-exist with an animal that has been going about its business in this state for hundreds of years. With the gory gator stories and all the misinformation out there, the masses just assume they want to eat us and that’s that. Even the victim had to make the comment “They’re out for blood.” Are you kidding me? 

Do you know why alligators usually attack us? They aren’t afraid of us. And why would an alligator go against its natural instincts and move towards us, rather than away? Because unfortunately, it’s been fed by humans. It happens all the time. Even down the road, there was a group of baby alligators that would swim up to a fence along the sidewalk when humans walked by. That’s insane. No, they weren’t born smacking their baby gator jaws, hungry for people blood. They wanted the scraps people threw to them. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen those alligators for some time now so, obviously, a call was made to the local “Alligator Hotline” (yup, that’s for real) and they were removed – and destroyed.

Do you want another reason why an alligator would attack us? Human stupidity. If we swim into its territory (um, teen from Melbourne, FL – this is you, buddy) or dangle our toes in a fresh water pond while we fish or let our dogs play in the water while we stand by – I’m sorry, you’re asking for it. Bottom line. Alligators do hunt by nature and will come after a mammal proportionate to its size if its right in front of its nose.

I have 4 separate bodies of water out back and no fence (they’re bloody expensive and don’t do that much to deter gators, but maybe someday). As you know, I also have two sons. And, as I’ve mentioned, we certainly have gators in that water out back. But have we had a scare with an alligator? Nope. Why not? My children are taught to be as afraid of any local fresh body of water as they are of the road. They don’t go near it. As a family, we are respectful of the alligators territory. If we do see a gator, we watch inside the perpetually locked back porch with our binoculars and talk about it. If my husband or I happen to walk out on the grass to get a better look from afar, the alligator immediately disappears, maybe emerging on the far end as it crawls out and into an even further pond. I promise you, alligators don’t want to be around us.

And this brings up the final unfortunate issue. Teen from Melbourne, FL., you’re right. There are too many of us and too many of them. And while Alligators don’t want to be around us, they are. Potentially, there may be more than one alligator in every fresh body of water in Florida. And, as we all move down here, set up shop, slap on our flip flops and sun glasses and park our booties under these lovely palm trees, the alligators are getting encroached upon. And while I don’t see the influx of humans changing anytime soon, unfortunately, the gator population needs to be controlled. This is a serious issue in any animal park or reserve where one species doesn’t have any natural predators – there are too many and it affects the natural balance of an eco-system. So while I am not a big hunting fan, I do support any humane destruction or relocation programs for alligators. It sucks for the gators, but we are really not responsible enough to live this close to this many of them for much longer.

Now before I start getting any comments about what a bad mom I am for raising my kids so close to alligators (um, did you read this post?), you should be aware of a few facts. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, between the years of 1948 and 2004, there have only been 15 reported fatal alligator attacks. That’s nothing when you consider how many of them there really are around here. In fact, the FWC receives 15,000 calls about nuisance alligators annually and then removes about 5,000 of the gators they are called about. These beasts certainly show up everywhere: in front door atriums, under cars, in a ditch, anywhere. But to have only 15 fatalities occur in 56 years? They really don’t deserve the man-eater rap they have been assigned. Like I said, they don’t like us and would be quite happy to just be left alone.

So that’s my public service announcement about Florida Alligators. I hope you’ve learned something. And I promise you that if my gators start getting frisky or deciding that they want to make my backyard their favorite sunning spot, I’ll be calling the alligator hotline asap. Maybe you’re wondering what they do with the removed alligators that are destroyed? Well, they sell it to make alligator meat OF COURSE. Do you think I’m kidding? A neighbor a few doors down had a nuisance gator removed… and guess what was for dinner? I kid you not. Gator BBQ. Gotta love Florida.


Filed under Africa, Alligators, Animal appreciation, Florida, Teaching kids, Wildlife

While we fantasize, Obama faces “The Devil in the Dark”.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if the presidential nominee of your choice won this election? Of course you have – and I have too. I have been thinking about it a lot recently. Well, maybe “fantasizing” is a better word to describe what I’m doing. Every time I hear about gas prices creeping up or more foreclosures or famine or floods or earthquakes, I like to sit back and think about something very hopeful – Obama being elected as our next president.

(Cue dream-like chimes and fuzz the picture in your minds…)

I imagine election night, with my husband, at home, eyes glued to MSNBC, hastily gulping down my glass of wine – hopeful, hopeful, hopeful as the returns come back and show red states turning blue. And then I go further and imagine a landslide victory and sending my husband out for champagne (I could never buy some early, I’d jinx the whole campaign!) while I gleefully jump on the couch and scream and kiss my sleeping kids and call my friends and family. Because that win would be so huge, so tear-worthy, so much bigger than even the Red Sox winning the World Series (the first time). I know I would feel so much relief and optimism. I picture the celebrating in Washington – shoot, I’d want to have a party myself (c’mon repub friends, join the fun!), I’d want to dance in the streets, I’d jubilantly bust out “The Cabbage Patch” AND “The Running Man” in a fog of champagne and joy in front of anyone who’d want to see. And you can hold me to that too.

I can also imagine McCain winning. I have to, there’s nothing to say that possibility couldn’t happen. NOTHING surprises me after our last election. I can picture my husband and I sitting on the couch, quiet. I would probably be gulping that wine then too – and, yeah, that moment would be tear-worthy also. While impossible to imagine, it would actually feel so much worse than the end of the Superbowl when the Patriots managed to “poop the bed” and experience the biggest upset in NFL history. But as I did then, I would turn the TV off right before the end to avoid the celebratory speeches from the McCain camp; I’m not sure I could even bring myself to watch Obama’s concession speech either. That night, I’d probably have nightmares and fall into a stressful “when is it ever gonna end” slump for a bit. It would suck. Royally.

When the fantizing is over, I do actually think very hard and very realistically about what our next president is up against. Right now, along with many other fellow citizens (c’mon admit it), it is very easy to blame all horrible things on Bush. Granted, his antics, horrid judgement calls and general stupidity make him target rich material. So, the logic follows in my mind that everything is his fault. The value of my house went down $50,000 – it’s all because of Bush. My favorite bread rolls went up a whole dollar, Bush strikes again. I stubbed my toe on my bedframe, that asshole Bush, that never would’ve happened if he wasn’t president.

And as much as I blame Bush for all things evil, I often ask myself if everything is then fixable just because we elect Obama? I worry a great deal about all the eggs we have in his basket. While I know he is the best choice for president, let’s not forget that the actual act of electing him will NOT solve the gas, the floods, or the real estate issues come January 20, 2009. Yes, yes, having him president will bring us a great deal of hope for change. But, those are just dreamy, inspiring words. We need to prepare ourselves for all of the work ahead and keep ourselves in check here. We are so so many miles up shit’s creek, and Obama is a paddle that will have to bust it’s ass, like no paddle ever has, to steer us clear of the mess we are in. Let’s stop, think and truly consider what an enormous burden he will be taking on.

For many years, the world according to the Bush Administration has been an oversimplified, black and white, “you are either with us or against us” cowboy story. There is no complexity, there is no grey area. Uh huh. Well, just because you say there is no grey area, Dubya, does not make it so. It has been sitting there toiling and unheeded for far too long. Obama is staring this breathing, living, disenfranchised “grey area” right in the face, and probably muttering – however eloquently – some version of “What. A. Clusterf*ck.”

(Can I digress here quickly? This mess? This grey area? I find myself picturing a Star Trek episode called “The Devil in the Dark”. You know the one where the moving rock is eating everything up, people included, and Spock mind melds with it to find out that people have been killing the rock’s eggs? Yeah, that’s what this mess – this angry mass of grey area – really is. …And please tell me you know what I am talking about and I am not just coming across as some Trekkie geek, ok?)

So what exactly does this complex grey area comprise of? Well, here’s only a small slice of it; you should all recognize it well enough. 

  • Obama has to get our troops home before any more are killed – but he must resolve the mess we’ve made while bringing stability to Iraq. And he can’t forget about Afghanistan – you know, where Al Queda originated from, poppies grow throughout and Taliban are thriving currently? Yup, the same place where, ironically, there are hardly any troops, support or resources available? Um, it’s kind of an important country too.
  • He has to focus on the environment, global warming and alternative fuel resources – but also smooth talk those oil companies into bringing gas prices down to something reasonable so we can actually afford to get our butts to work in the meantime.
  • He has to sort out the gridlocked rat’s nest that is our economy. Oy vey.
  • He has fix healthcare – and that’s like saying he has to fix that huge crack down the middle of the grand canyon.
  • He has to carefully and sensitively repair the remains of international diplomatic ties around the globe while assuring them of economic security and domestic investment promise. The dollar needs to be worth the paper its printed on again, and he has to convince the angry mobs outside our borders that it is.
  • Oh yeah, and borders, what are we going to do about those? We need migrant workers, they are part of what makes our economy work, right? According to farmers in California they are. But wait, do they get the same rights as American citizens if they’ve entered our country illegally?

Oh, its a grey grey world and Obama has to find some sense of color and reason again within it.

I was in Washington D.C. when President Clinton was elected for the first time. That city was practically fanning itself from the exhilaration of hope, optimism and saxophone playing it had riled itself into. It sort of scared me. Would he live up to these expectations? Could he get all that work done from up top of such a high pedestal?

I worry Obama’s inauguration would mirror Clinton’s – but 100 times over, feverish with expectations and jubilation, frenzy and froth. Election night will not, in of itself, get this figured out. Let’s welcome him into office and then think carefully about what we, as a whole nation, can do to work these complex issues out. He is only a man – with extraordinary potential, YES – but he is only a man, becoming president for the first time, bringing a green yet talented team together. It’s going to take a little time and heaps of work on all of our parts to make the change we hope to see. Grey area, folks, don’t forget.

And if McCain wins, we all better take some deep breaths. Yup, this election is as partisan as it gets. But democrats everywhere can not take their ball and go home to pout if we don’t win. We will need to buck up and work harder than ever before. We have a supreme court on the brink. We have an environment that can not go ignored any longer. We have oil companies ruling our lives. We have a religious right butting their noses into government. We have citizens not being treated equally. We have rich folks staying rich but poor people getting very poor. We have to do everything we can to come together and fix this. It may even take some version of bi-partisanship to do anything and everything to push, ease, cajole, and even beg McCain in the right direction. But, if he is elected, we won’t have much of a choice, will we?

Granted, this sort’ve reality check is honestly no fun during a time that is “cheek to jowl” (as my mother would say) with sobering reality checks. I would much rather just let my mind wander back to that uncoordinated display of joy in my living room on November 4, 2008. Couch jumping, “The Cabbage Patch”, and I think my husband even knows how to do “The Worm”.

So, positive thinking folks. Drag your friends and neighbors out to vote and shine up your boogie shoes, we can win this thing. Those dances of jubilation ARE a reality. And, with work from all of us, so is cleaning up this mess. It has to be.


Filed under Bush, Economy, Equal Rights, Gas, Getting green, Government, Inspiring people, McCain, Obama, Partisanship, Politics, Reality check, Renewable energy

From my father’s perspective: Vietnam today


I just got an email from my father yesterday and thought this might be a good time to write my second post about him and his adventures. So, if this topic interests you, read along and learn a little bit about Vietnam today.

Since April, my father has been the acting director of USAID in the Vietnam Program Office in Hanoi, Vietnam. Vietnam remains a communist country (we lost, remember?) and Hanoi is in the northern regions of this country. So far, my father has found it fascinating there, living in a town he never would have dared visit 35 years ago during the war. His apartment is just down the road from a very interesting memorial. On the shores of Truc Bach lake, there is a little statue commemorating the capture of a certain solider during the Vietnam war – a man we know now as Senator John McCain. My dad said it is not paid much attention, it’s a bit overgrown and covered with bird droppings. The fact that my father can take a walk on a day off to see this memorial absolutely fascinates me. This city was extremely dangerous at one time, and a man currently running to be the president of our own country was captured and almost killed there. Wow. And now, Hanoi is like any other developing Asian city, and this memorial stands there, and its really no big deal. (We are no different; we have our own war memorials, commemorating something big and now standing ignored, collecting bird droppings – the dates, battles and people inscribed rarely even acknowledged anymore.)

There is no doubt that Vietnam has been through a great deal over the past 35 years. However, one fact remains: this country suffered enormous losses, just as we did, during the Vietnam war. When my father arrived in April, his first time back to Vietnam since the war, he could not help but feel conspicuous. He was in Hanoi. And his country was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people with relatives in that very city. He expected a cool reception at the very least. This was not the case. In fact, he found that as he spoke with Vietnamese citizens and co-workers, and they would compare war stories, a knowing look would pass between them as if to say: “you were there, you knew it was bad, we both suffered, it was a horrible time, and we are forever bonded”. It was as if they had an immediate connection and understanding of one another. The Vietnam people are wonderful and strong, they have made peace, forgiven and moved on. I know I have mentioned this story before, but it is a lesson I can’t help but be overwhelmed by.

So my father sent me a batch of pictures along with his email and I am posting two here. A little while back, his crew visited the Cu Chi Orphanage in Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon). Interested in what USAID is doing there? Well you can read lots of details here about the program but, in a nutshell, USAID is working in areas with a high prevalence of AIDS to educate men and women about AIDS prevention, deliver safe and effective anti-retroviral treatments, and provide testing services. As the website notes: “By March 2008, the USG Emergency Plan Vietnam team will collaborate with partners to prevent 660,000 new HIV infections; provide treatment to 22,000 HIV-infected people; and provide care to 110,000 people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, including orphans and vulnerable children.” So yeah, that’s what he was doing at this orphanage.

When I talked to my dad about his experience at the orphanage, he could not help but be extraordinarily moved by the children he met. It is run by a sister (seen on the left of second picture) and all but one of the girls in this picture are HIV+ or have AIDS. Most of these children have already lost their parents to AIDS or they are in the process of dying and can’t care for their children any longer. If the children live long enough, the sister tries to enroll them at a local high school. However, these children are usually shunned and pushed out of their communities; their futures are short lived and extremely bleak. Nevertheless, the kids my father met were full of life and hope and fun. They took turns trying on my father’s shoes and clomping around. They also gathered at his feet, poking at him and petting his arm – very hairy arms are not all that common amongst grown Vietnamese men. My father must have seemed like this enormous, pink, smiley, sweaty, laughing giant. I can only imagine him playing and swinging those kids around like he does with his grandsons. He said his work in Hanoi has not been easy but this moment gave him perspective and renewed energy. The little girl he is holding in the first picture was wonderful he said, but also suffering from full blown AIDS (as you can see by the legions on her hands – nope, that’s not magic marker folks). She does not have a chance to live very much longer. But let’s hope, with increased education, medications and care, orphaned children like her will have a chance to live longer in the future. It could happen. My dad sure does seem to think so. 

So what can I carry away from this story? Things are tough right now in the U.S. But we have some sort of health care, we have education and we have support for our HIV+ citizens. Most of our children have parents and hope. Let’s remember what we’ve got and keep our perspectives in check. And then, let’s educate one another about what our global citizens don’t have. Remember our privileges folks – don’t feel guilty about it, just keep yourself informed and count those blessings with an open heart. Now excuse me as I shut this silly, over heating, time consuming computer down and go play with my kids.


Filed under AIDS, Children, Inspiring people, McCain, My father, Vietnam

Getting “Green” Kids

The other day, while I was pulling out my recycle bins to the curb, T. asks me “Can I recycle?” I stand up, beaming with pride and a little bit smug thinking my kid is so brilliant and say “Of course you can!” Excited but a little expectant, he says back to me “Ok!…” But then, he gives me a blank look. “Um, hon, do you know what recycling means?” “Nope!” Oh, alrighty then. Its time he learned. Its time he understands what it means to be (yup, I’m gonna use it, the cool, oh so “Al Gore” word of the moment is…) GREEN.

Now I am no uber-green mom. I hate myself for it but sometimes I do buy things out of convenience rather than their level of “greeness”. I live with guilt wondering what sort of carbon foot-print I am leaving when I buy the individual packages of goldfish for playgroup rather than the one big pack. And how many times do I forget the cloth bags for groceries and use the plastic instead? I’d say that has happened 75% of time recently. Not cool of me. I try though, I honestly do what I can. I’m just saying I’m no environmental rock star. But that doesn’t mean I can’t start teaching my son how to be more aware of what he is doing and how he might make a positive impact on his environment. Plus, if I show my kids how to be better with the environment, this could be my way of paying back the universe for years and years of sort’ve, kind’ve doing only the basics. 

To kick off getting my kids green, I thought I would put together a list of what I could realistically do with my sons. And selfishly, I think if I can succeed at teaching them to be more responsible with their environment, they can keep me on MY toes and maybe I will finally do a better job too.

But there are a couple things I want to do before I begin.

Firstly, I need to sit down and explain to my son what waste means. This is sort’ve a tough thing for them to get. What, there isn’t an endless source of everything like the endless source of crackers and water bottles in mommy’s purse, always there whenever I need it? Things actually RUN OUT!? I may need to sit down and physically spell this out to him. I might have to do some sort of demonstration or use a good website (I will get to those soon too) but it might break his heart to realize you can’t just keep going back for more of whatever you want. Honestly, its just a good old fashioned life lesson he needs to learn anyway.

Secondly, as I begin this process, one thing I absolutely DON’T want to do is make my children feel guilty or bad about the environment. There is plenty of time to feel bad about it as grown-ups (ugh, we’re screwed, seriously, my guilt is 100% “in check”, thank you very much…). Being a regularly green kid needs to be fun. It needs to turn into a habit. They can’t feel like the polar ice cap is melting JUST because they didn’t recycle that last water bottle. Lets make this a positive experience for them. If it makes them happy, they’ll actually do it right?

So here we go.

1) Turn the lights off when you leave a room. That’s not so hard to do! Maybe I could introduce a reward system? Or a glow in the dark sticker over the light switch that they can get excited to see? I think they can do this.

2) Be aware of water. Brush your teeth with the water off. Both kids should be in the bath at the same time and it doesn’t need to be “swimmable” full. Set a timer with the sprinkler or hose time. Have fun in it but, when you’re done, turn it off. Or even better, fill up the kiddie pool and play with water that way! Also, have them drink from a Brita or water filtering system and explain why.

3) Make a stack of recycle paper (usually left over from the printer) to color on. Make sure to use both sides before getting another piece!

4) Make the different recycle bins accessible and easy to identify. Make sure your child knows how to sort cans, plastic and paper (see cool websites again) and have them do this for you. Explain what it means to recycle and reuse. Point out everyday things that we can reuse (like the plastic grocery bags mommy always gets because she forgets her cloth bags – DARN IT). Even dropping off old clothes and toys at the salvation army is a way to recycle. Keep using these words in your vocabulary, they’ll get it.

5) When you go to the grocery store, have your child be the “bag helper”. Make it a big deal that he or she gets to bring the cloth bags into the store. A reward system for this would be good too. Because if they remember and are excited to bring those bags in – FINALLY – you won’t have to use those horrid plastic bags!

6) Walk and ride bikes! If there is a location (like a playground) that is bikeable distance, call this the “bike or walk park”. No cars allowed! It will force you to park the car and get your butt in gear too.

7) Have a NO MEAT night. Whether its a pasta night or bean and cheese quesadilla night, skip the chicken fingers once a week. Put it on the calendar and make it something fun to look forward to.

8 ) Have a monthly earth day. See how little electricity you can use in one day. Its like camping in your house! No TV, play outside, eat sandwiches for dinner, no lights at night, get out flashlights, tell stories, have fun!

9) Teach your kids to love the outdoors. This is a big one for me. Teach them that the trees and grass actually make the air we breathe – more trees, the better we can breathe! Teach them to appreciate bugs, and worms, and birds and all the parts of our eco-system that we actually depend on. I often do plant and animal scavenger hunts on walks: make a list of things they have to find such as a bug, 4 birds, 6 different kinds of leaves, 3 flowers, etc. If they grow up loving the environment and the animals in it, they will be much more likely to protect it.

10) Invest in a zoo or aquarium annual pass. Again, show them animals and have them talk to the zookeepers who are loaded with cool facts and ideas about how to protect and respect our wildlife.

So that’s a start. I do think these will work. Like I said, I am no expert here or HARDLY the green mommy of the year (cough, choke, hardly). But I am going to TRY putting these into affect. Wish me luck!

Finally, I found some really cool websites that might be fun to try with your kids. Check them out, make them favorites, sit with your kids and explain. There are some great games, interesting animations and cool learning tools. Have fun!

PBS Kids EEKOWORLD: Games, interactive fun, information

EPA Climate Change website for kids: Games, links, animations, explanations

EERE, Kids Saving Energy(US Department of Energy)

EPA Student Center (US Environmental Protection Agency)

Earth Matters: Games, information about Otis the Otter and the ocean

Ben’s Guide: U.S. Government websites for kids (Smithsonian, National Zoo, etc.)

I Buy Different: For Teen kids, sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund

Everyday is Earth Day: Starfall, a ‘learn to read’ website

Meet the Greens: Cool kids website about the Green Family, sponsored by Public Television.

Trees! Get into the coolness of trees at this website sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Write it! Feeling passionate about this subject too? Here is how you and your kids can contact your senator, representative or even the Prez!

Cross posted on BlogHer.


Filed under Animal appreciation, Getting green, Parenting, Recycling, Teaching kids, Unnecessary stuff, Wildlife

Tim Russert, the father.

I know that it’s the day after father’s day but I feel the need to recognize another exceptional father we have actually all been mourning over the past few days: Tim Russert.

There is no doubt in all of our minds, Tim Russert was an exceptional journalist; he was whom so many of us turned to during an election or political event to thoroughly boil down the important issues. He used to exude such passion for politics; like a fired up sportscaster, he got me psyched for every debate or primary return night. I feel as if we have lost our voice of reason – as his son Luke noted, he considered himself “the questioner of the American people”. He made sure that we regular folk had a clear explanation of the issues so that we could then become informed voters. He saw his work as his calling: Tim Russert pushed hard as a journalist for the sake of OUR understanding, not for the sake of television ratings or a sound-byte. How will this election go on without him? He will be missed. He will be missed. He will be missed.

But I think what has really resonated with me while watching the coverage of his passing over the past few days, is the man I knew less about. Tim Russert – the father. It is quite clear to me now that he was an extraordinary father. There was no limit to the immense love and pride he had for his son Luke.

This morning, I watched an interview with Luke Russert and Matt Lauer. It was a wonderful interview and, selfishly, it helped my mourning process to see his son getting through this difficult time and also to “see” some Tim Russert live on in him. 

But this is what I was truly left with: Luke Russert is an exceptional young man. And it is quite apparent that Luke Russert is the man he is today because of the father he had. The lesson to be learned here is that you can truly see the “stuff” of a man through the eyes of his own child. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, but Tim Russert showed no shame in unabashedly, pile it on thick, completely, 100% adoring his son – and what a son he has left the world with. I have found even more respect for Tim Russert, the father, after watching this interview. Please watch it for yourself here.

As Matt Lauer pointed out, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” Cheers to the memory of Tim Russert, the father, who gave so very much to his son Luke. Happy Father’s Day to the late Tim Russert.


Filed under Family, Fathers, Inspiring people, Parenting, Politics, TV

Introducing: my dad

(My dad, in Afghanistan, a bit road weary after riding in a Hum-V all afternoon.)

I have decided to finally try to tackle a subject very near and dear to me – my dad. The whole topic of my father has been a daunting one but one I have been itching to blog about for some time. There is no way I could possibly explain all that he does or the adventures he has in one measly post. But he is kind of a fascinating guy. And there is no doubt about this fact: he is absolutely “blogworthy”. (Mom, you are too and will play a prominent role in many of these stories, I am sure.) So let me take a brief moment here – appropriately on Father’s Day – to introduce him to you.

My dad grew up in a regular home in the regular town of Watertown, Connecticut. Up until the age of 18, he had never flown on a plane. (This is a crazy concept considering what he does now, but I will get to that in a moment.) He is the oldest of four; 7 years separated him and the next sibling, 18 years separate him and his youngest sibling. His mother, my name sake, adored my father. In fact, while my grandfather fought in World War II, my father and his very loving however “June Ward-esque” mother were the only ones at home for many years. My father remembers “meeting” his father for the first time and …ahem… not being as “welcome” in his parents bedroom in the days following. Nevertheless, growing up, my father was the second man in charge. While he looked to his father as a strong example in his life, innately, he seemed to carry the trait of a leader all on his own.

Soon after my father turned 30, my grandmother passed away very suddenly. My grandfather went into a deep period of mourning and struggled to care for the remaining children at home. My dad, solidifing his role as the family leader, stepped in and brought my younger aunt and uncle (still very young children at the time) home to live with us for a few years while my older uncle attended college. My dad became as much of a parent as he was a brother to all three of his siblings.

Having the charm of his father and diplomacy skills of his mother, my dad has a personality people seem to be attracted to. He tells great stories, he’s smart, he’s got a wonderful laugh and a deep rich voice. My father is an excellent public speaker, a very talented writer and an annoyingly accurate editor (ugh, high school essays always got exceedingly red-penned if I dared ask for his advice). He is highly skilled at listening and discerning an issue, while being respectful of those he works with or meets in the field. People ask him for advice, people want his approval, people really really like him – I know I do.

But he is hardly perfect. Scatterbrained might be the first thing to leap to the minds of those who love him as much as I do. I would bet if you asked him right now where his glasses, his wallet, his keys and his cell phone were…. it would take some hemming and hawing and frustrated grumblings until they were tracked down. He mixes his sibling’s names up with his children and his children’s are often confused with his grandchildren’s. My grandmother was a tad doting and, as a result, I am still not sure he knows how to wash his own shirts; I would hardly describe him as domestic. At all. Bills? Paperwork? Dates of important events? Forget it. And if you ever plan to get out the door somewhere with him, best of luck to you my friend. Maybe he procrastinates, yes, but I just don’t think he thoroughly “gets” the concept of time or how long it takes to actually do something. If there were EVER a man who needed one of those very cool, collected, one-step-ahead-of-the-game personal celebrity assistants – oh please, yes, for all our sanities – it would be him.

Dad, I love you. But you KNOW I’m right on this.

So anyway, back to the blogworthy stuff. Now, what is it that my father chose to do with his life? Well, as early as twelve years old he knew – and he did it. He decided he wanted to go into the foreign service. He had never even been on a plane but he knew that he wanted to learn about other cultures, speak different languages, discover the adventures of travel and adopt a service oriented career and lifestyle. And after attending a prominent boys prep school, followed by a little ol’ college named Harvard, he began his career in the Peace Corps. From there, the road is long, winding and filled with “Indiana Jones” like experiences all over the globe.

Did I mention to you that his work feeds him? It keeps him passionate and fans the fire within. He absolutely adores his work. But as a result, he is always somewhere else – and never here. All of his siblings, his wife, his children – well, we miss him and that is a constant. But he is a man on the move, he loves what he does, it keeps him young and, I can honestly say, he is changing the world one job post at a time.

He always tells the story about some crotchety old aunt of his who said to him for many years “Oh Roger, when are you going to stop all this traveling nonsense and come home to get a ‘real’ job?” What a laugh we have. His job is as “real” as it gets.

I haven’t left you much to go on regarding my father’s adventures, have I? Well, there’s too much to talk about. And that’s the point of this post. I have decided that, now and again, I am going to post a little story about what he’s done or what he’s doing. And yes, while he is technically considered retired, my father has spent these “retirement” years as an independent contractor in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Yemen and he is currently in Hanoi, Vietnam… just to name a few. There is much to tell and more stories to come. All of it, I can assure you, is guaranteed to be blogworthy. So please, humor me, and read along when you can.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! Where ever the heck you are.


Filed under Family, Inspiring people, My father, Travel

Blogging for Boobies

Breast cancer is an absolute reality in my family. My maternal grandmother had a mastectomy and a lumpectomy. My mother had a malignant tumor and lumpectomy when I was in college. Her sister had the same not far after her and I am fairly sure she has had more occurrences since then, although they may have been benign. My maternal grandfather’s sister also had a malignant lump. All of these women found their lumps when they were post menopausal. In the next generation, there are four women – myself and my three cousins. None of us are post menopausal. None of us have had any brushes with breast cancer – yet. But we know there is a ticking time bomb amongst us. It seems as if it is just a matter of time.

So today I had my annual gynecology exam. A thrilling day, no doubt. Gotta love those scratchy paper robes and the cold lubricating gel. Ew. But I am religious about going. I also had a cervical cancer scare before T. was born. So pap away, Dr. I have no reservations.

After the exam was over, the Dr. and I got on the topic of breast cancer. I am 35 in a month. (…dramatic pause… 35. Older-than-35 ladies, please don’t be annoyed when I say this but 35 seems like a gateway to “old”. 40 is just years away. What the hell! Ok, I’m over it.) I already had a baseline mammogram before C. was born. All was well. He said we could probably wait until I was 40 (gulp) before we did one again. But he was very adamant about the next bit of advice: “Do your breast exams.”

And you know what? I haven’t been. I know, I know! Its like playing Russian roulette – what am I, nuts? Nah, just clearly in denial. Breast cancer is for old women who don’t get their period. Not me. Not a… 35 year old. Uh oh.

So seeing my face, the Dr. told me a little story. And I want to share it with you all. He told me about a 41 year old patient this past March who got her mammogram, and it was clear. In April, during a self breast exam, she felt a lump. By the end of that month, she was diagnosed with malignant breast cancer. It was early but she probably saved her own life. Think about it – for a lump to show up so fast (also taking into account that mammograms are by NO means perfect) – well, it’s a real lesson for me. I MUST check my boobies. Once a month. When? He said after your period. Or a good reminder is the day you start your first pill pack. So, this is my resolution to myself, heading into 35 in almost a month to the day. I WILL CHECK MY BOOBIES. And if you got ’em, you should too.

Another point about this. Did you notice how unsure I was about my family’s history at the start of this post? Interestingly, one of my cousins (the daughter of my aunt who had breast cancer) just happens to be in Florida for a conference and is coming for dinner on Saturday. I have decided to hassle her for her family’s entire breast cancer history. And I will get together mine. My plan is to collect it all and compose some sort of document that we four of cousins can share. Its time to buck up.

B.R.E.A.S.T. C.A.N.C.E.R. , dude. Its not just for old ladies, anymore. It’s for people like me.


Filed under Birthdays, Breast cancer, Dr. Visits, Family, Growing up, Health