Friday, February 27, 2015

Building things

"Momma, what are porcupines for?"

"How are porcupines built?"

"How are seeds built?"

These are the questions a four year old asks his mother before saying, "Momma, hold me close," and falling asleep.


We're regularly astounded by our child. I suppose most families delight in the strides their little ones take. We're onto letters now. Like, "Oma, your name has three letters."

Wednesday, February 25, 2015


When will our culture affirm that raising children is
that is as valuable as paid work
maybe more valuable
as the lyrics go,
You can't buy me love.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Chinese Lunar New Year 2015

For a resident of the northeastern region of the United States of America, Chinese Lunar New Year comes at a particularly dire time of year. Exactly the time that I need some fire and movement. It's exactly the time winter begins to loosen its grip, the sun rises higher in the sky, and there is the potential for something new to happen. It's quite unlike January 1. 

Every January 1 New Years, I consider going to Philadelphia to see the Mummers. Every year, even the January 1 Jared and I lived in Philadelphia, I have skipped the mummers. Lots of color and movement, but I wonder about the fire. Firemen in costume, maybe. Maybe one or two, but not the fiery good luck red of Chinese New Year.

Before we left the house, the three of us sat in the living room around the wood stove. Jared said he would begin to pack our bags for the day. Knowing Beren best responds to ideas introduced over time, I asked Jared to stay a moment because I had questions for him. I asked Jared, possibly I a somewhat forced voice,  "What are some things that you like about Chinese New Year? The firecrackers? The lion dance? The music?" After each of my inquiries, Beren announced, "No." 

Jared laughed, "I don't think this is working so well." "No, I think my play is closing the same day it opened," I said. "A total flop." Somehow we made it not only to the car with no complaint, but also the entire hour and a half drive.

As it was last February, this New Year was magical. The distress of our house search had been blasted away on a firecracker in 2014. And so when we returned to Philadelphia this year, we were quite a changed family. We have our own house and farm. We're healthy and thankful.

We watched a dozen or more lion dances in front of a string of Chinatown businesses - bakeries, hair salons, restaurants, a wholesale cigarette shop. Though Beren said, "I like the noise," we put a pair of hearing protectors over his ears, and jammed ear plugs in our own. This is my child who usually dislikes noise. 

Drums and cymbals crashed. Lions danced and Lions ate and tossed lettuce and cabbages in exchange for good luck largesse sealed in red and gold envelopes. 

In Philadelphia, the feeling is controlled chaos. No metal barricades like in New York. Instead police sit in patrol cars blocking the streets. Likely there are plain clothes officers, but their presence is not felt. 

Lion dancers and musicians seem to rule the moment, guided by older fellows who shout occasionally and wave their hands. "This way, this way! Other side, other side!" One man smokes, he raises a hand that holds his cigarette and waves the dancers on. The entire crowd, participants and spectators lurches forward.

Last year, we missed most of the martial arts demonstration. We saw just a half of a master's form. This time, we saw a man walking through the crowd carrying a guandao. "Let's follow him," Jared said.  We eventually lost him in the crowd, but later saw him and his students posing for photos under the arch at the entrance to Chinatown. 

We ducked into a bakery to get a quick lunch of pork buns and watched them from the window. They wore their uniforms and snow boots. The pavement was wet, and we wondered if they'd perform at all. Lion dancers came closer to the bakery, and an employee moved a ladder holder a stick with firecrackers and lettuce out onto the sidewalk.

We stepped back out onto the street and watched more. Just as we were about to leave the area and get lunch, and circle formed around the martial artists. Hung ga, mantis, tiger, monkey. Open hand, weapons forms - bo, double broad sword, and the final form of the day - guandao. 

I'd never seen a guandao form in person. It's a heavy weapon - a large, wide blade sits atop a six foot staff. Created for unmounted combatants fighting cavalry, it is a brutal and slow.

The master began his form. Upon his open palm, the guandao spun slowly. The remarkable, but sometimes not so showy things that Kung fu master can achieve is inspiring. The technique, control, and practice. The cultivation of chi.

The crowd clapped and I somewhat reluctantly agreed that we should leave the crowds for lunch. It was already mid afternoon.

We order the barbecue platter at Vietnam restaurant. A few rice wraps in, a waiter came to our table, and said, "The lions are coming." He pointed out the window, and we saw the ladder draped with firecrackers. "Ah yes, thank you so much," I said in the manner I heard my first Kung fu teacher utter hundreds of times. 

Beren and I went to the window to watch. The ladder held more firecrackers than I'd seen yet. We waited. In front of the restaurant was a shiny black BMW. I wondered how dusty it would get. The dancers arrived, followed by drums and crashing cymbals. 

I heard Jared whistle. He pointed to the door. Two lion dancers filled the room. Really, I should say four because each lion requires two people - one who holds the head and opens the mouth and makes the eyes blink and another person who bends over at the waist to hold up the rump. Beren's smile covered his face. The musicians jostled into the entry way. The dancers worked their way through the room, until they retreated back outside.

Men lit the firecrackers with fat incense sticks. White then dark grey smoke filled the air, obscuring our view outside. Acrid fumes seeped in. Beren was stoic. I, too, though enjoying this treat immensely, thought that this might be a little like what living in a war zone might be like. The smoke quickly cleared, lions ate the lettuce, and collected their red envelope.

We finished our lunch and explored Chinatown until the sun waned. Our souvenir for the date were three sets of chopsticks from a Chinese department store that seemed to be going out of business. I wondered if that might be bad luck, but decided probably not. 

Back on the street, we swung Beren over cast bronze signs of the zodiac embedded into the sidewalk and headed back to our car. The drove home and quietly talked over the day. 

At home, I made our quick meal of choice - miso soup with seaweed, rice noodles, and whatever vegetables we might have. Jared and Beren built Chinatown out of blocks. After dinner, we pulled out our drums and pot lids. We made a lot of noise, tossed ribbons like firecrackers, gobbled and threw green towels like lettuce, and stomped. 

Happy new year!

All photos by Jared.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Thank you, sorry

"I'm sorry, I don't have any butter," Beren told Jared and I while we played "restaurant" this morning. 

I wrinkled my eyebrows and mouthed "sorry?" to Jared. Indeed, Beren had used the word sorry for the first time and done so perfectly.


In the evening, Jared and my bed became tiger's house. Three sleeping bags were arranged at the foot of the bed. One became a set of rotten steps that then went into the bonfire (my suggestion) that could be lit from inside the house with a Kung fu belt (Beren's idea). 

Then, Beren was serving food to animals. "This is the thank you," Beren said as he arranged his golden eagle puppet atop a sleeping bag. "This is the thank you for eating dinner." I could only guess what he meant by "thank you", if he thought it was one word or two, or what he thought he was saying in the scant times he's thanked me or anyone in his four years.


Overheard Beren telling Jared that a block building they were erecting was "awesome". Jared told Beren he had a college friend named "Asim", more or less pronounced "awesome".


"Momma, isn't it crazy that the cap broke off that bottle?" Beren said while in the tub.


All these new awesome, crazy words. They are integrated into language that we've been working on (thank you) or not really working on (sorry), and I'm realizing again and again that words don't have the same meaning from person to person, nor do they have instanteous meaning to a young person just because I've been saying them for the past 4 decades (thank you, sorry) or 2 and a half decades (awesome, crazy) colloquially. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Mountain Kitten, You're a Changed kitten

First vet trip today, second car trip ever. 

The woman at the front desk knew our rural street, and inquired if we lived near a blue house on the bend that had been for rent and for sale on and off for awhile. I said that I couldn't picture the house, that our house had been for rent and for sale on and off for awhile, but our house was white and probably had been for a long time. 

Beren and I sat down across the room from a woman and her huge dog, Buster. Beren and I flipped through a book called "Cats in Love", which seemed to be photographed entirely in one teeming feral cat colony in a rural, coastal European town. We commented on leaping cats, fighting cats, tussling cats, and nursing cats. 

I was surprised to see a photograph of three kittens at least as big as our own three month old Mountain Kitten, nursing. I had sensed that Mountain could have used at least another few weeks with his mother, though he was already eating plenty of cat food when we brought him home.

"Mountain?" the vet assistant called, and I lugged our oversized Uline box/kitten carrier to exam room 1.

The vet, or "The Cat Doctor", as I called her to Beren, was congenial, gentle, and a touch enthusiastic. "What a handsome cat! Is this your cat?" she asked Beren. "Mm hm," he replied.

We opted for the feline leukemia and FIV tests, deworming, and of course, the reason we were there, rabies and distemper shots. 

"I'll take him back for the test, and I'll do the vaccine at the same time," she said.

"OK," I said uncertainly. Beren reached to be picked up. 

"I'll be right back," The Cat Doctor said. 


When she left, cradling our kitten in her arms, I asked Beren, "Are you worried about Mountain?"

"No," he said. But I had the feeling of a doctor wheeling my infant (cat) out the door. This is what we are 'supposed' to do, and I like this person, but that's my kitten. 

Earlier, when we were in the waiting room, a tired looking woman with a cat came in. The cat cried a few times from the carrier on the floor. The woman stared across the room. She was called, and an assistant vet took the cat in the carrier to the back.

The assistant returned with the news that the cat would have to stay. The woman left without asking to see her cat.

Shortly, The Cat Doctor returned with Mountain, who we gently returned to his box. We soon learned, unsurprisingly, that Mountain Kitten was a healthy kitten.

At home, he lazed around, quite a bit unlike himself. He infrequently engaged Beren in kitten play (I think they are both playing and fighting each other for Top Cat position). He discovered a warm hiding spot behind the wood stove and rested there again and again. Jared and I agreed, "This mellow cat thing is nice, but it's too bad that it's because he took his second car trip ever and wound up at The Cat Doctor."

Monday, February 16, 2015


 Beren watches Papa and Steve play music

The blogs and websites dedicated to the betterment of middle class North Americans are myriad and are awash in product placements. Now, it's my turn, but I promise to not direct you to anywhere to buy anything.

Raffi. Timeless Raffi.

I never knew Raffi's music until recently, but Jared did. Growing up with younger sisters, he listened to so much Raffi, he could probably sing the songs backwards. Because Raffi is so delightful, playing his music backwards would likely reveal an equally sweet, catchy song, but perhaps a B-side that was never released to the wider public.

Anyway, Raffi. I heard an interview with Raffi on NPR a few months ago, and was so delighted and moved by what he said that I later looked up his music after Beren's bedtime.

Jared picked out a two-CD set on a national online shopping source (remember, no links to websites). I can now sing along with majority of the songs.

While Jared was at an class this evening, Beren and I ran in circles around the house to Raffi. Not big into sing-a-longs, Beren immediately liked Raffi. "Why is this music good?" Beren asked.

Ain't it great to be crazy? I'll be singing that in my dreams...

Monday, February 9, 2015

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Communication breakdown

Hitting some developmental milestones:

Waving bye-bye.

Using the word 'crap'.

Yelling at the faucet to send warm water out.

Embracing me and asking for a 'cuddle'.

Big words like 'challenge', 'extension', etc.

Sudden onset of Big Brother in relation to tussles with our new kitten - "I didn't do anything. Mountain did it!; "Mountain is not my friend!"