An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.

~ G. K. Chesterton, On Running after One's Hat, 1908

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Best Trash Can Ever

I often think about my relationship to stuff.   I'm not a consumptionist, but, despite my best efforts, I am a materialist. I love my stuff and hate to let it go.  I like to think my stuff loves me right back, which is no more crazy than you thinking your dog would rescue you from a fire or your cat is plotting to take over the world. I have no illusions about my cats. Stuff, though, is so endlessly fascinating.

Matt and I recently watched Objectified, a documentary that, as the title suggests, is supposed to be about our relationship to the things we own. It depicts instead the relationship of designers to the things they've designed. I'm not sure what the title should have been. Maybe "Designers on Designing: Worried about Your Comfort and the Environment -- Sort of."  The focus of the film is design process and philosophy. A light sustainability theme runs through and writer Rob Walker, whose work really does look at that relationship to the things we own, provides a counterpoint. 

At least two of the designers discussed how designed objects can and should get better with time. A briefcase, one pointed out, becomes more beloved once the shine literally wears off.

My briefcase and a small Poe
My own briefcase is a designer item that had found its way to TJ Max because of a slight imperfection. It is gorgeous and the intial scratch made it more so in a waba-sabi kind of way. The scratches I've put on it since have only made me love it more.  Some of my happiest moments are flitting to work on my scooter with it slung across my back.

 My friend Carl once lent a pristine leather briefcase to his mother until it was appropriately battered. I enjoy breaking in my own stuff and creating a history, but I sympathize with Carl because I remember being incredibly embarrased in middle school -- well, all the time --- but in particular, by new and sparkling white tennis shoes. If only they could have come pre-battered, like jeans in the 90s. (Later, as college student, I wore loafers so beaten that I adapted a shuffling walk to keep them on my feet and jeans so legitimately threadbare that the orange tights I wore with them were a style choice. I loved 90s grunge -- it meant I didn't have to throw out beloved clothes, part with my beloved stuff.)

The documentary showed a design team trying to come up with a better toothbrush and that lead me to my new toothbrush, the handle of which is made of recycled U.S. currency.  Time for a new brush?  I keep the ergonomic handle and replace the head. My teeth are not only clean, but also righteous.

We, being the righteous recyclers, reusers and composters that we are, don't throw much out beyond the occasional disposable toothbrush head, but trash happens -- even to righteous people such as ourselves. It is here that I will put in a plug for the the best trash can ever.

Or, close to here. First, I will vent.

Trash cans have come a long way since I was a kid.  We want our homes to be comfortable and now that  the kitchen is the center of our universe, a dirty plastic bin with a swinging lid has no place in our pleasant environs. Trash cans are now part of the decor: hipster trashcans, retro trash cans, traditional trash cans, which for some reason, are wicker. Perhaps wicker evokes our colonial roots? If I ever meet someone with a wicker trash can, I'll ask.

My friends are modern and cool, but not self-concious or hipster about it, so almost everyone I know has a variation on the stainless steel column with a foot pedal. These are things of beauty.

Ephemeral beauty. Which is odd. For a garbage bin.

Simplehuman is probably the brand of choice for these things. My first was a knock-off. My parents bought it for me at the Knock-off Store because they are practical people.  Knock-off Can was solidly built and worked well for about six months. Then, the plastic pedal broke and left a sharp metal stick in its place. Being my parent's daughter, I fixed the problem with duct tape, which did very little for my pleasant environs, but increased my DIY cred half a notch.

A fully notched DIYer would fashion another pedal with no more than tweezers and a discarded tie rack.   I have a collection of tweezers, but lacked the skills and vision. And, I'd just Freecycled my last tie rack.

Enough playing around, I thought.  To Target. My next trashcan was a brand-name objet'd art with a rounded triangle footprint that hearkened to both the past and the future. Art deco?  Perhaps postmodern.  No footpedal interrupted its smooth design. I lightly tapped the lid;  it gently floated to up like a butterfly lighting on my shoulder, giving me a moment to contemplate the trash held in my hands and my place in the world. With this beauty in my kitchen corner, I was just as likely to think of old-style chrome glam as the meditave quiet of a birch grove.

Sure, I didn't actually want to comtemplate my trash, and the chrome-colored cannister showed more fingerprints than a dusted crime scene, but I could ignore that. I just wouldn't touch the sides and being forced to contemplate my waste gave me more reason to recycle.  I could not, however, ignore the tiny plastic engineering marvel that created the pneumatic effect ... because it broke within six months. The entire lid was useless. To keep the can meant I would see (and smell) my trash.  I do eat meat occasionally, so Knock-off Can came back for a while. I refreshed the duct tape.

But, it didn't last. The duct tape was failing;  my right foot was developing a callous.  Knock-off can was relegated to the project room where it would serve a dual function of garbage receptacle and future project.

Contemplating trash: it's now a choice
When Matt moved in, we realized we had a problem.  This time I did the research and and we shelled out some bucks. The results:  The best trash can ever could handle the grossest of the gross. It could handle medical waste, adolescent angst and the physical manifestation of the latter. It would look right at home in a school nurse's office -- because, well, it was designed for a one. We bought this model because it didn't occur to me to look for a prison supplier. (I'm not comparing our love to incarceration or our house to a jail.  I'm just saying that stuff built for institutions is built to last.).

The best trash can ever has no tiny plastic parts. It has a simple straightforward design that instills faith. And, love.

And, so I have now I've been introduced to online school supplier catalogs.  Lecterns and activity tables. Adjustable media carts and tiny chairs. Stuff built to take the abuse of a thousand furniture-eating demon-children and the mistreatment of underappreciated civil servants. Stuff built to last forever. *Sigh*

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Unicorn vs. Bear: Food and Loathing on the Internet

Goodbye, Minimalist. I hardly knew ye and wish that I had discovered you sooner. After more than a decade of presenting clear and simple recipes in the New York Times, Mark Bittman is turning to other things. I will miss the Minimalist, but look forward to mining Bittman's online treasure trove.

I remember as a kid, watching someone on 60 Minutes explain the Internet to Andy Rooney. The early Internet was full of dead ends and messy personal pages;  the explainer didn't give the curmudgeonly Rooney much reason to explore. Well, the guy said, you can find recipes. Recipes? Rooney snorted. At the time,  I cheered Rooney, but now I think if Rooney spent more time with good food, he probably wouldn't be such a grump.
I joined the website Urban Spoon on Christams Eve in Evansville, IN.  We were hungry, far from home, and facing snowflakes the size of feathers.  Not at all sure what would be open, we were in need of ideas and directions.   Within just a few minutes, we were out of our car and inside drinking hot tea and eating hummus.

Some romantics feel technology wrings all serendipity out of life. The criticism, I think, is that we no longer have the pleasure of being lost or making a discovery on our own. Please. Being lost is overrated. I still get lost  -- as anyone who has leaned on my navigational skills can attest. Give me a map and mild distraction. With me as your guide, you're more likely to wind up in a alarmingly gritty part of D.C. than at the National Gallery ice rink like you expected.  Want twenty extra minutes of cornfields in a car trip through southern Indiana? I can do that.

My best adventures have come with a little direction. The criticism begs the question: What's the difference between falling into a heavenly hole-in-the-wall and realizing, thanks to pocket technology, that you are a mere two blocks from one?  Does the former even happen?

I'm all for being the first to discover a new restaurant. With regards to food, the Internet is like a circle of friends writ large, giving you advice. Given the perils of opening a restaurant and the inexplicable optimism of restauranteurs, there's still plenty of opportunity for discovering the new and untried. 

Perhaps I am one of the first in the provinces to try Mesh on Mass, in Indianapolis, which opened in August. I thank the Indy promotion Devour Downtown for that.  Friends just introduced me to the promotion last week and we all used the the webpage to mine menus and negotiate where to go for dinner. If anything the reconnaisance increased my pleasure in the evening.

True, where discovery used to happen in conversation or through in-flight magazine, it now increasingly happens online.  I'm not crying in my  French onion soup over it. All I can do is bemoan why I had not seredipitously discovered a resource earlier. Why hadn't I noticed Urban Spoon before?  Besides food, I also love reading and writing critiques.  You can find me gratifying all three proclivities under the handle Bee. I went on a bit of a mini-review-writing bender a few weeks ago.

Another online discovery that leaves me wistful is the story of a whimsical Texas pizza call center employee.   His response to a customer is below.

Dear John,
My name is Chad from Austin's Pizza Call Center. We received your online order earlier this evening. We saw your note, "Please draw a unicorn fighting a bear on the box."
Unfortunately, our stores are not equipped to fulfill such a request. They simply do not posses the required skill. I, however, took it upon myself to draw out the picture you requested on a post-it note. I hope this suits your needs.
Chad Frierson
Austin's Pizza

Let's forget for a moment the request and motives (or sobriety) of the requestor and applaud the humor and initiative of the Austin Pizza employee.  This is the kind of person I want to greet me when I go to a restaurant. Perhaps coordinating delivery electronically is a bit different than schlepping pizza to your table, but some of the talents required must surely be the same.

 "They simply do not possess the desired skill," Chad says of restaurant staff.  I can relate.  I dwell on Chad and his pleasing post-it art because service in my town is often dismal as I'm reminded anytime I eat anywhere else ... in the world. Is it due to inexperience and disinterest of the transient college-age crowd  or mismanagement on the part of the restauranteurs that employ them?   I probably couldn't do much better than mediocre in either role, but when I say bad, I mean absurdly so. Sullen servers, understaffed dinner hours, forgotten items, soggy toast. A waiter once flirted with my date.

That wasn't my Matt, but it could have been. I keep a wary eye now. 

Early in our relationship Matt and I discovered we each held a devotion to Cook's Illustrated. He subscribed to the magazine. I held an online subscription.  It turns out, you really need both.  Like a lot of people these days, we eat out less to save money and enjoy the pleasures of cooking. So, we patronize restaurants more purposefully and mediocre won't do because we can do better at home.  That doesn't mean we're snobs about it. I love a good honest diner as much as fancy digs with low lighting. And, I'll never master short-order style hashbrowns.

That reminds me of a meal I regret. A decade has passed and I still remember the disappointing breakfast I had at a once-good diner where the management had changed.  We have a finite amount of life and finite number of meals in this lifetime. I wasted a small part of my youth eating a sub-par meal while mourning the memory of better. If it were to happen today, I'd let everybody know about it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

2010 in Review: People

Looking back at 2010, I think about the people in my community – close and not so close, most friends and some not – who have either inspired me or made my life better or more interesting. I couldn't whittle it to 10, so I offer 11.  If you are not mentioned here, please know that you are number 12. Yes, you! 

Poster by Sally Harless
    11. Artist Sally Harless
I don't know artist Sally Harless, and I hope she doesn't think I'm stalking her, but I love her work and I admire her industriousness. She was a key player in the opening of Paper Crane Gallery this year and continuing the very successful local Handmade Market. I don't know the ins and outs of her contributions (See. Not stalking), but she makes the most delightful posters. Sally brings beauty and whimsy to Bloomington.

Trashion/Refashion show

10. Environmentalist Jeanne Leimkuhler  Recycling and fashion. What a glorious combination. I met Jeanne over a decade ago. At that time, she and her husband Joe were leading an effort to build a sustainable house with Habitat for Humanity.   Jeanne's latest projects to make Bloomington a more environmentally friendly and interesting place are Discardia, a nonprofit “dedicated to refashioning used materials that would otherwise be discarded” and the annual Trashion/Refashion, a winter fashion show and fundraiser for the Center for Sustainable Living in which models strut down the runway in fashion made from upcycled materials.  

9.  Theatre Professional Chad Rabinovitz
It has been a privilege to watch the Bloomington Playwrights Project evolve over the years. Sometimes it grows in fits and starts, but the trajectory has definitely pointed up. Chad stepped into the role of artistic director two years ago and he had big and beloved shoes to fill when my dear friend Rich Perez headed for new opportunities in Chicago. Chad has worked like a madman.  Sometimes we disagree, but the man has vision. There are changes a plenty going on at the BPP. The renovation at the Bloomington Playwright's Project alone is an amazing feat.

The beautiful new  BPP Lobby
Gabe the Juggalo and our mayor.

8. Actor/writer/theater manager Gabe Gloden
Without Gabe I would never know the miracle that is the Insane Clown Posse. I like him anyway.  Gabe Gloden grows on you. Or at least, he's grown on me over the years. And, I'm so glad because Gabe makes the world a better place with his ridiculous jokes, his theatre productions, his parties and his love of making and consuming good food.  Try his bacon bourbon. No, wait, don't, but do admire the label.

7. Actress/provocateur Emily Goodson
Where have you been all of my life, Emily Goodson? You are so delightfully odd. Whether you're sharing your talent on stage, plotting to steal my husband or starting imaginary fights with Gen-X celebs, when you are around there is magic in the air.  Please invite me to SausageFest.

6. Environmentalist/gadfly Michael Hamburger
I don’t much mention my professional life on my very personal blog. Suffice it to say I have one, and I made a transition this year that brought me temporarily into the orbit of environmentalist Michael Hamburger.  Sometimes he drove me batty, but Michael Hamburger's dedication to sustainability efforts is unsurpassed.  I have learned from Michael that if you want to create positive change, sometimes you have to be a little deaf.  The local community owes much to his inability to hear the word "no."

Puppet by Rachael and Adam
 5.   DIYer Rachael Himsel
Last year I had a birthday party for myself. Terrible, I know. We made tacos. Everyone pitched in to bring the fixings. If people wanted to mark the occasion with a gift, I suggested I'd only accept a handmade card or a sock puppet.  Rachael and her then-fiancĂ© Adam were the only people who stepped up to the challenge.  

Rachael's wedding was just a few short weeks before mine this year. She lent us supplies and the minute she returned from her honeymoon she  was at my service. With pinking shears and an iron, she and I turned  a few sheets of raw linen used for ad hoc tablecloths into matching cloth napkins for a crowd.  Rachael is the yin to my yang and the eggs to my bacon. I cannot imagine life without her schemes and dreams, her generous heart.

4.  Physical therapist Marissa S.
Without my physcial therapist Marissa's patient efforts, I would not be able to walk. Enough said.

And yet, I’m going to say more because I worked with her almost half a year. While I never looked forward to my sessions, I never dreaded them because Marissa was so knowledgeable, encouraging and sympathetic.  I’ve been through several physical therapists on and off over the last few years. All of them helped me in some way, but Marissa helped me create a long-term plan. Now that my PT is over, I actually miss her.

3. Jill-of-all-trades Lori Garraghty
Please do not ask Lori to do something for you because the woman has trouble saying no. She tells me she's better, but I don't believe it. She is just too generous to turn down the opportunity to help. So, if you need a class taught, a play stage-managed, a fund-raiser produced, a baby shower or engagement party hosted, a wedding planned, please go elsewhere or I will beat you up.

2. Rebecca Stanze
Rebecca needs no qualifier. A week without Rebecca is like a week without my pinky toe. I love my pinky toe. It helps me stay balanced. And, so does Rebecca. Like my pinky toe, Rebecca accompanies me on many an adventure. Book club meetings, lectures, hula-hoop making, catfish dinners in rural Indiana.  Unlike my pinky toe, Rebecca is good with a screwdriver and muck bucket. Before the new husband, we tackled many a household project together. We still do, but Matt now holds the ladder because he's bigger and less distractable than I am.

Without Rebecca, I might not be married. Really. Not only did she and Lori help plan my wedding (and serve as important wedding-day coordinators), but Rebecca was present months earlier when Matt and I decided to get hitched.  

"Enough already," said the impatient Rebecca. "Enough with this talking about maybe, possibly one day getting engaged. Why don't you just get engaged?"  And, then we did.  Yes, that is the story of our proposal.

1. Co-conspirator Matthew Hicks
We're newlyweds so of course Mathew Hicks had a big impact on my life this year. I'll try not to be cute about it. 

Partners in crime
 Every day, Matt inspires me  with his enthusiasm about his job, his classes, and our plans for the future.  He works full-time,  takes 9 credit hours in such irresistible subjects as Chemistry  and Regulatory Affairs in the Biotech Industry, and does his share – perhaps more than his share – of the household chores.

Do you want to know how great Matthew Hicks is?

When I said I wanted to build a huge hippopotamus statue in our backyard so that our future child would not be a total social outcast, he didn't say, "I don’t follow your logic" or "That sounds like a lot of work."

He said, "First, we have to make a mold."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Snow Day Crows

Bloomington was supposed to get a snowstorm last night. We didn't, but I took a snow day anyway and made Christmas cards in honor of our crowly visitors.

All of the posted are paper cut outs.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Gifts for the Sated

I don't need anything. Really. My little house is so crammed full of stuff that not a week goes by we don't happily eject an item or two.  I'm not a minimalist, but I'd like to be.

I'm also not religious. Neither is the new husband, but we were both raised in households that celebrate Christmas. There's no question that we'll continue to do so with our parents and siblings, but what's to be done in our own little house.  Should we exchange gifts?  It's our first married Christmas and we're talking traditions.

We want to live a more sustainable life, a simpler life. A life that where there is a place for everything and everything in its place: A life with less stuff.  A life that is less materialistic.

And, yet...

I like giving gifts and don't want to live in a world where gifts aren't given. I, personally, fight incurable narcissism and gift-giving is a way to break out of myself, to reflect on who others are, their likes and dislikes, their passions, their needs.

But, what if, after some reflection, you realize your loved ones are just as sated as you? What to get for the person who has everything?  In the last few years, I've been trying to shift to consumables and re-suables in gift-giving, to functional art and whimsical utility.

Gifts that are fleeting
Some of my fondest memories are of  traveling and trying new foods with my  long-time friend Julie. I have ideas on what to get her and her husband for Christmans, but when I really think about it, what I want most and what I hope she wants most is focused time and shared experience -- just like when we were teens. This year we plan to go out for a swank meal (sans the children) instead of exchanging presents.

My Dad, who isn't online and won't see this (Mom might -- don't tell!), thinks going to the movies is a luxury. He's getting gift certificates for his local movie theatre. Maybe I can talk him into going Christmas night with us.

The perfect gift is shared experience.  It doesn't always work out. Sometimes you might not want it to. I'm not here to judge. Other options: Coffee, fine wine or even local beer. Everyone has something that they love that is to be experienced or consumed -- leaving no trace.

Courtesy of Bag It Conscious

Gifts that are sustainable
Last year I discovered reusable cloth sandwich bags and life has never been the same. These colorful bags serve as reusable gift wrapping for small gifts or are gifts in themselves when filled with a cookies or nuts. I now have a pattern and will try my hand at to making them one day, but in the meantime, I get my fix on Etsy at Waste Not Saks and Bag It Conscious. Goodbye Ziploc bags.

Thanks to the economic downturn, the vintage, the repurposed and the upcycled are acceptable. One relation is getting a vintage pin from Sublime. Someone  (not saying who) is getting an upcycled handpainted mug from Bloomington artist Sally Harless.   And, while I don't have anyone in mind for these upcycled zombie figurines brought to my attention by my friend Rebecca, I really, really wish that I did.

Courtesy of McSweeney's.

Gifts that keep on giving

 Museum Memberships and season tickets could make someone's year. I heard about a cookie-of-the-month subscription today. The twist? The giver's doing the baking.  If time is short, there are plenty of quirky subscription services to please the quirkiest of friends. I gave a Wholphin subscription to friends getting married this year.  If you have friends even hipper than mine, consider a McSweeney's T-shirt subscription.

Gifts of useful beauty

I think it was my friend Danielle who once said she'd like everything she owned to be a work of art. Hear, hear.  Hand-crafted wooden salad tongs, screen printed tea towels, whimsical kitchen implements. I have a cloth napkin covered in screen-printed ants that makes me smile every time I spill my soup.

Courtesy of Sally Harless

You do have to be careful. I bought my rather serious brother a can-opener shaped like a shark one year. My idea was to brighten up his life with whimsy. I think I just convinced him I'm daft.

My brother, by the way, is very good at gift-giving. He bought me my first New Yorker subscription.  Another year it was a bottle of Absente, the closest thing Americans could get to real absinthe until 2007. It tasted terrible, but I enjoyed imagining life as a degenerate artiste.

Gifts that give
I'm tempted by the Heifer International charity gift catalog of  but  Ms. Manners frowns on donations on behalf of someone.  "It's very nice to give people presents and it's very nice to donate to charities, but let's separate these two things," she says. If you do get a charity gift, Ms Manners has advice on how to word the thank you note.

Gifts that are just too much
Give but give responsibly. Reasonably. IU researchers are finding that the generous of heart are thought to be anything but.

Don't give too much. Don't give too little. Don't give something that will take up space and depress someone's spirits, and cost  money to keep.  Ugh. Gift-giving is fraught. Gift shopping can be a joy, but it can also be disheartening when you realize you don't know someone well enough to know where to start. Maybe it's time to do something about that.

On the other side, the delight in receiving is not in the having, but the unwrapping and being the focus of attention for a moment. Sometimes there are well-intentioned misses. In these cases, gift-receiving allows for the practice of grace under disappointment.

The lessons of grace and delight are the reason that I want very much to maintain Christmas-time gift-giving if/when a kid enters the picture. Matt worries about religious traditions to which neither of us subscribe. It's a discussion for another day. This year Matt and I decided not to exchange, but we've still given a gift to ourselves: a stay at a bed and breakfast on our visit to the family.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Unfounded Fears: Rabies, Crows and Belly Buttons

"Crow Invasion Has Neighbors Squawking"
- Bloomington Herald Times headline, Sunday, December 5, 2010

When I was a kid I was afraid of two things. Okay, I was afraid of lots of things, but two in particular thanks to my mother's evocative warnings.  One fear was that my belly button would pop out. This, my mom told me, would happen if I picked up my none-too-little little brother. I really shouldn't have tried to lift him. Arguably, I also shouldn't have been imagining torrents of blood stream out of a hole in my stomach. Thanks, Mom.

Speaking of stomachs, the other fear was rabies. After we watched Old Yeller, my mom, warning against strange dogs, told me that rabies required a month of painful shots. Every day. In the stomach.  We saw lots of westerns in my household; I think I conflated the imagined pain of this with gut shot.

For the record, even if this dramatic treatment was ever true, it's not true now. Four treatments. In your arm over the course of 14 days. That's it. And rabies, though fatal if not treated, is so rare in the United States that only 55 cases of human rabies have been diagnosed since 1990.

Rabid dogs are scary, but even the best efforts of Stephen King won't make you look twice at the family pet. Some creatures just have a P.R. problem.  Bats can carry rabies, but so can raccoons and nobody runs in fear when they first see one (though perhaps they should). 

Bats from one perspective are tiny teddy bears with wings who make margaritas possible and control the insect population, but the vampire bat's dance with Bela Lugosi has ruined their reputation.   The little brown bat (actual name, not me being precious) that flies through Indiana trees, eats our mosquitoes and provides choice fertilizer isn't after our blood or set on giving us seizures. Enter a P.R person's dream and a ecologist's nightmare: White Nose Syndrome. Nothing creates a more enduring legacy than an attractive corpse. And, bats have never looked cuter.  Pictures of sick little bats huddled together evokes "Got Milk" ads and what's more wholesome than milk?

I'm thinking about bats because Bloomington has been visited by the other B-grade horror fixture: the crow.  A murder of crows. If that appelation doesn't hearken to darker things, I don't know what does.

While some Bloomingtonians are none-to-pleased by the invasion of crows, I like them. One recent foggy morning, I scootered downtown to fetch bagels.  As I drove through the back roads of the Maple Heights neighborhood, mist hid the horizon and leafless black trees reached across the road. Crows as big as cats flapped in front of me and disappeared into the fog.  My life had taken a turn to the delightfully spooky.

I wasn't always delighted by crows. On an early trip to Disney World, a stalled Haunted House ride trapped me next to a squawking mechanical crow. Or, raven. Or crow. The difference was immaterial. It was unhinging -- like being trapped in a real-life cross between The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven.  By the end, I was ready to plead guilty to anything.

Fortunately, I was a child at the happiest place on earth, not a terrorist suspect. My punishment was the It's a Small World ride, which my parents inexplicably loved.

Bats, compared to crows, have it good. While bats are now tragically cute, they also have the Organization for Bat Conservation and attractive TV spokescientist Rob Mies.  Crows have no attractive spokescientist. They have goth teens.  Bat houses can be bought at Lowe's, while cities and farmers invest in sonic bird deterrents. No one respects a scavenger.

Crows do, however, have a sympathetic new documentary. My view of crows changed on seeing this film. Not only do crows clean the streets of road kill, these omnivorous creatures have a complicated social structure, mate for life and have the capacity for tool use -- an ability long ago thought to be held by humans alone.

They can also hold grudges, another human-like trait.  Take that, dolphin, sweet jester of the deep.  In fact, not only can crows take a dislike to someone, they can teach that hate to their children, which is both neat and disturbingly close to home.  

Bloomington has seen the crow's visit as a nuisance. In a recent newspaper article, the great number of crows was compared to a scene from The Birds. I've never read an article so full of excrement. Literally. "Wear a hat," an IU biologist said.

Perhaps I would feel differently if my back deck was besmirched. Instead I look at the crow painting my friend Brett gave Matt and me as a wedding gift and choose to think of the murder, not as menace, but as a mysterious break from the routine. I'm prompted to learn more. I know vaguely of the crow's trickster place in some myth, and as I research I'm surprised to find one very different story: The Rainbow Crow, a hero's journey that colors my view of crows yet again and makes me wonder more about why some creatures are admired and others aren't.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Baby, Decide My Future

When I was in my early twenties, my mother asked me when I planned to have children.  "When I'm 28."  A glib answer, but even so, it seemed so reasonable, so normal, so in the distant future. Twenty eight seemed like a very grown-up age.  Twenty eight came and went and here I am staring down the barrel of 37. 

And, I'm still not ready.

Some days I still don't feel like a grown up. I check my mileage at all the milestones. I do all of these very grown-up things, and yet the immaturity lingers.  I ever-so-briefly dated a man who told me on our second date about his checklist. He asked about mine. Besides the more prosaic home-ownership, which I attained about the time I should have been following the biological imperative, my checklist of things has long included writing a novel and flying in a hot air balloon.  After a master's degree, he planned the house, the wife, the kids, ... the political career.  Our date was part of a larger plan. I ran for the exit. Or, maybe he did.

Part of the problem on my side was that I would make a terrible politician's wife. The other part was the plan. His plan and mine.  I wanted to be married but to someone who wanted to be with me -- not with a guy who needed a wife.   I've struggled with two philosophies of life:  for life to happen naturally, which is not so much fatalism as a belief in serendipity, and the desire to own my decisions. I've bounced back and forth between these and it might explain why some friends would probably describe me as both flighty and methodical, depending on the occasion.

A friend of mine was appalled a few years ago when I told her I might not have children. She was taken aback that I'd even consider straying from the course that most people take.  That was decision-owning mode. On the flip side, there is the go-with-the-flow, accidents-happen mode. Sometimes the two philosophies converge in odd ways: tidal-wave riding with a life vest.  For years, I've stashed away PTO for a maternity leave I've never planned to take. Accidents happen.

I just recently went from being flighty and methodical for one person to doing so for two. Our checklist now includes building a garage -- albeit a parent-aggravating sustainable one ("It's going to be made of what?") and maybe, just maybe, the possibility of expanding to three.  I went from very ambivalent, but prepared just in case, to game to the possibility.  One baby is doable. One baby is portable. One could fit in our little house.  One baby is a good excuse for a middle-aged woman to make sock puppets.

I also could train physically for one. And, I will have to train. I have a shifty vertebra and need to keep a strong core just to walk. And, so again, the methodical me kicks in.  I'm stronger than I've ever been, but need to be stronger. Let the training begin.

My husband's training seems to be sharing information on the lifetime costs of child-rearing, studies that point to decreased happiness for people with children and articles about how having children changes your life for good and bad.  He's interested in the subject and nothing deters him.  He's an optimist. I ignore these suggestions for reading material and enjoy books such as Baby Fix My Car. I don't even have a car, but like the idea that a baby can be so useful. I'm an optimist, too.

We recently had reason to think serendipity had struck despite our most methodical of practices and plans for the not-so-near future. We walked to CVS where I bought a New York Times and a plastic stick that would decide the rest of our lives.  Planning ahead, I sprang for the economy twofer with an expiration date of December 2012.

It took less than a minute to get the answer.

I'm not going to lie. I was relieved. Mostly. But, I had the PTO just in case.