Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stiff and Stiffer: Mary Roach at Town Hall

A few years back, someone recommended I read Stiff – The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, so I put it on my Amazon Wish List, where it sat for five long years. It wasn’t until Pa and I were at Bailey Coy, when I recognized its cover—a pair of feet adorned with a toe tag and attached to a sheet-draped body that I remembered the book. As I perused, most notably, through the pages where she interviews the forensics expert for the TWA Flight 800 crash, I had a feeling that Stiff would be the kind of book I wouldn’t want to put down until I finished.

Little did I know that Mary Roach has a knack for making one laugh out loud while reading about the dead. But she writes with a great deal of respect, as Stiff is more of a celebration of those who, in death, made vast contributions to science. Toward the end of the book, she discusses the relatively new and controversial, yet ecologically friendly method of human composting, and I thought, what a great way to ensure reincarnation. Die as a human, come back as a rose bush! It’s perfect.

Just a week after I finished Stiff, I learned that Mary Roach was going to be in town, promoting her new book, Bonk—The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. So, last night, I made the trek to Town Hall to hear about her research for the book which, reading about in Stiff, was half the fun.

Mary had the audience laughing quite a bit, and she is as engaging in person as she is in her work. She admitted that Bonk was a difficult book to research because sex is difficult for scientists to research. It’s not like scores of people are willing to sign up and participate in studies, especially when the studies include having sex in front of one or more researchers. Mary figured this out, first hand, disclosing that she and her husband were participants in a study, which is discussed in a chapter of Bonk. You can also listen more about it during a recent interview on NPR.

If you have the chance to see Mary during her book tour, you should. I was bummed that there wasn't a book signing after her talk, but I intend to bypass my Amazon Wish List and pick up a copy of Bonk as soon as I can.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Whole Kit and Kaboost

If it was up to Mr. Na, he’d be driving a circa-1960s white, Volkswagen (Herbie) Beetle. He’d also stay up all night long, and would only go to school for recess. Sounds like a normal kid, I know, but it’s funny how frustrated he’s become about the fact that his height hasn’t quite caught up to his ability to reach the gas pedal of a car; or that he conks out after ten minutes of our allowing him to stay up “late”; and just the other day, the school principal joked about his strong enthusiasm for learning (the way in which she described it, though, made me see shades of Arnold Horseshack with his annoying “Ooooh, Oooh, Oooh”).

Slowly but surely, he’s shedding his “baby” image—trading his train table for monster trucks; using a booster seat in the car, instead of a full-blown car seat; riding his Razor like a skateboard, and favoring shows like Word World over The Wonder Pets. And usually, the transitions are pretty smooth, almost transparent, except for this past month when he declared he would no longer sit at the piano or the dining room table with his booster seat. He was “tired of being treated like a baby”, and as such, he was going to sit in a normal chair, even if his chin was level with the table.

Well, Mr. Na got his wish—except that in the nick of time, I found this clever contraption to solve his booster seat issue. The day it arrived at the house, it felt like Christmastime all over. He was so stoked once he got himself seated at the big table and as a bonus, the chair works great over at the piano.

The Kaboost came in one piece, and took nanoseconds to attach to the legs of the chair. It’s a brilliant invention and not too ugly or invasive (though who on Earth would want to buy one in lime green?), and it also came with a travel bag, though I don’t think I’ll have a need for it since I feel it’s still a little too unwieldy to carry around.

When I bought the Kaboost online, the company e-mailed this video, which I thought it was pretty spot-on, so enjoy!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It's April 23rd, and everybody knows that yesterday was Earth Day...

I know, I know. I'm a day late. And my sincerest apologies, too, to Dramarama for completely bastardizing their song in my headline. I thought it'd be kicky.

Anyway, well of course yesterday was Earth Day...it said so on Google. But, according to an essay in the Washington Post, Earth Day is dead, so I guess Hallmark is going to need to find another holiday upon which to capitalize. Maybe they'll develop a line of cards for the Boston Marathon.

I'm being cynical, yes, to prove a point. 18 years ago, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Earth Day with fanfare. There were concerts and t-shirts and TV programs and Earth Day hacky sacks and other green tschotskys. And the interesting thing was, after the celebrating was finished, and everybody went back home, leaving millions of pounds of trash in their wake, some people left scratching their heads, wondering why, on that 20th anniversary, Earth Day hadn't been celebrated for the 19 years before. Why was Earth Day suddenly so important in 1990? More importantly, if we fast forward 18 years, what have we done to date, other than mass produce more "stuff" like cell phones, SUVs, and plastic water bottles?

Now, I am probably the LAST person to pontificate the virtues of going green, so please don't think that my rant is about everyone else scorching the Earth. I'm just as guilty. But I am trying to make an effort, and little by little, I hope that I can incorporate better, environmentally-friendly habits in my family's daily routine. So, after the first of the year, I made the following changes:

1) Shutting off my computer every night: Time Magazine quoted the U.S. Department of Energy's statistic that "The average desktop computer, not including the monitor, consumes from 60 to 250 watts a day. Compared with a machine left on 24/7, a computer that is in use four hours a day and turned off the rest of the time would save you about $70 a year. The carbon impact would be even greater. Shutting it off would reduce the machine's CO2 emissions 83%, to just 63 kg a year."

Some experts say that setting your computer to "hibernate" is just as effective, but for me, it's just as easy to shut it off completely than to set it to hibernate.

2) Replacing my lightbulbs with compact fluorescents: I've got to admit, at first, I hated the lighting that compact fluorescents produced. But over time, I got used to them and now I replace our standard bulbs with compact fluorescents every time a bulb burns out. The reason? An article in Fast Company puts it succinctly, "the energy savings. Compact fluorescents emit the same light as classic incandescents but use 75% or 80% less electricity."

2a) Shut off the lights! This is a tough one because I'm constantly following Pa or Na around, turning off the lights in the rooms they've just left; but I'm finding that Mr. Na is starting to "get it", too as he turns off the lights he doesn't need.

3) Use canvas bags for groceries: When you go to a grocery store in Paris, you must buy a tote to use for your groceries as they do not offer paper or plastic. And from what I'm hearing, pretty soon grocery stores here in the States will soon follow. I find the canvas totes to be quite handy, so long as I remember to bring them when I make a mad dash to the store!

4) Walk: I'm awfully lucky to live in a pedestrian/bicycle friendly city that has relatively mild weather year round. And since Mr. Na has started Kindergarten, we've been walking to and from school nearly every day, which is about a mile and a quarter, round trip. The dogs love it, too.

4a Drive less! Again, I am very lucky to live in a city where I don't have to drive everywhere, and that Pa, along with most of our neighbors take the bus to work every day. And it shows. According to a study conducted by the Sightline Institute, drivers in the Pacific Northwest have cut their gasoline consumption by 11 percent since 1999. Now, ok, before you get all debate-y on my ass, yes, I realize much of this is because no one wants to pay $75 to fill up their cars at the gas pump. But I truly believe that "if" gas prices ever get back to any sort of reasonable amount, you'll find a minimal rise in gasoline consumption in the area. Yes, I have a car and no, I'm not getting rid of it because I own it and it'd be stupid to just flat out sell it. But it's 8 years old and has only 52,000 miles on it.

5) Stop buying water in bottles: I honestly don't know how we started the bad habit of buying cases of Crystal Geyser from Costco. Not only is it incredibly stupid to pay a premium for water, but our local tap water isn't so bad, either. After I got Mr. Glugger for Christmas (yes, he has a name, thanks to Mr. Na), we started filling him up with tap water and putting him in the fridge. There's something so refreshing about cold water from the fridge! Is that hysterical, or what?

There are other things I do (like wash our laundry in cold water and run a full load in the dishwasher, which, by the way is more efficient than hand washing) but I also know I should be adopting greener habits much more frequently. But I am human, and as such, I'm taking baby steps. Maybe, though, those steps will lead me into leaving a much smaller carbon footprint.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mr. Na and the Dalai Lama

Last Wednesday, Mr. Na – along with 14,999 fellow classmates from the school district – had the rare opportunity to see the Dalai Lama speak. The program, Seeds of Compassion, was part of a 5-day visit to Seattle that included lectures, workshops, and lots of kid-friendly activities. When I first learned of Mr. Na’s class trip, I wondered what sort of program would be offered to school-aged children that they’d be able to sit still through and—perhaps—take one or two things away from it. I mean, after all, he’s five and as such, has the memory of a gnat. But I had the opportunity of catching the program via webcast and it was an hour and a half filled with music, storytelling, laughter, and finally, His Holiness, whose presence moved the entire Key Arena to absolute silence. Not an easy feat to accomplish, when 99.9% of the audience was children. Yet, it was so.

I’ve seen His Holiness speak on a variety of television interviews and programs and found him to be quite jovial, despite the decades-long hardship in Tibet. And my comment comes from awe, not judgment, that he is a living example of his belief that the very purpose of our existence is happiness. He’s a man that, despite his presence, is overwhelmingly down-to-Earth to a point that it makes me often wonder why I fall prey to sweating over the small stuff in life. Wednesday's program was no exception. When His Holiness took the stage, after the hour-long music and words by various performers, he said, “Because of all of the programs this morning, my mind’s scattered, so I don’t know what to say!” He discussed the concept of compassion--though understanding alone is not enough--and urged parents and teachers to lead by example, incorporating compassion into our daily lives.

The Dalai Lama spoke about our interdependency and interconnectedness – and not just among humans, but within the entire universe and beyond. One “body” does not mean one absolute, but a variety which is all interconnected. And since the very purpose of our existence is happiness, everyone has the same right to it—though not everyone achieves it.

"Compassion begins with motherhood" was a common theme throughout the 5-day program. The Dalai Lama had a very special bond with his own mother, and claims that even with all of his training, his spirituality, and his lifelong commitment to compassion, it was his mother who set the example for him. This was discussed at length on the Friday before, when Ann Curry from NBC News and Dave Matthews hosted an informal Q&A with His Holiness prior to a concert given by Death Cab for Cutie and then Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds (you can catch that webcast of the Q&A session, too, if you click on the link above and scroll up to Friday, April 11, at 4:30, but the concert is not a part of the webcast).

When I picked him up at school on Wednesday, I asked Mr. Na what he learned during his visit to see the Dalai Lama. He told me that he learned how it was important to be kind to others--proof, indeed, that a seed or two of compassion has been planted for our future.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ukraine Bound, Part Two

For those of you keeping score, here's the latest news about our second adoption:

We started our paper chase last June, which involved hiring a social worker to prepare our homestudy, getting physicals, obtaining copies of our home deed, marriage license, etc...etc...

We had everything gathered, notarized, apostilled and sent to our translator in Ukraine in October--two days before the adoption center in Kiev closed its doors to adoption for four months. Isn't that always the way?

The adoption center re-opened in February and since all of our documents only had a six month "shelf life" we had to re-do them again, and send the new batch on to Ukraine.

Our documents were submitted to the adoption center by our translator last Tuesday.

We'll find out by the end of May if we've been approved and the date of our appointment in Kiev.

Our translator predicts our travel to be either at the end of July or in August (barring any closures).

If you know me and you've lived through project "Mr. Na", you know that the adoption process is full of uncertainty (that makes it so thrilling, don't you think?) We have no idea "who" we'll be adopting (by that I mean age, sex or health) or, for that matter, we have no idea if we'll be successful. All we know is that we're going on another journey, albeit this time, during the summer and not the winter (January was a little too cold to enjoy Kiev). The bonus is that we'll be taking Mr. Na, who will be an enormous source of comfort.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Is that a Prius or a Pious you're driving?

The dogs and I were on one of our daily walks yesterday when a shitty little incident occurred that made me, for the first time in eleven years, hate the fucking hippie-turned-yuppies that live in our neighborhood.

As we were admiring the spring blossoms, each in our own special way, Oatmeal took a little tinkle on the median strip. Now, mind you, she's an old dog and she pees frequently, and when she does, she squats. And unless you're watching diligently, you might wonder whether or not she's pooping. Well anyway, once she was finished, we continued on our merry way, and right as we were about to cross the street, a man driving a gray Prius rounded the traffic circle. He stopped the car, rolled down the window and said,
"You know, most people clean up after their dogs."
I looked at him completely befuddled and replied,
"Oh, uh...she just...peed."
Failing to apologize for his poor judgment, the asswipe simply said, "Oh."
Unsatisfied with his lackluster response I said,
"For what it's worth, I do clean up after my dogs," to which he replied, "Ok."
At this point, he stopped making eye contact with me, but that just made me get closer to his car window so that I could hold up the poop bag container that has a roll of 35 ECO-FRIENDLY, BIODEGRADABLE POOP BAGS which are conveniently clipped to Scout's leash.
"Would you like to see my poop bags?" I proffered.
"No, I understand. Have a nice day," he said, and then he rolled up his window and drove away.
That was one of the moments when I wish I had one of those poop bags full of Oatmeal or Scoutie goodness. I would have loved to have chucked it right in the passenger seat.

I realize that there are the occasional assholes who do not clean up after their dogs, as evidenced by the random piles of dog shit that dot the median strips. But as a homeowner, law abiding citizen and someone who hates stepping in dog shit as much as the next person, I believe in cleaning up after my dogs. And yeah, sure, this guy didn't know me and probably figured I looked stupid enough to let my dogs crap in front of someone's house in broad daylight; but that's just the thing that gets my panties in a bunch. Mr. Dickwad loses mega points for assuming the worst in a fellow neighbor. All in the name of righteousness.

I was going to let this stupid thing go...chalk it up to randomness and call it a day, until this morning when the driver of a red Prius shot me a dirty look as he drove past and watched Oatie get up from her squat position.

ATTENTION PRIUS (MIDDLE-AGED MEN) DRIVERS OF OUR NEIGHBORHOOD: Back the fuck off. You may think you're stewards of all things green, but it's about time you got off your fucking high and mighty horses, ok?

Oh, and have a nice day!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ready, Steady...Neti?

When I moved to Seattle 11 years ago, I developed allergies I’d never had before. Assuming it was because of the constant dampness and moisture in the air, I figured it was moss or mold related; but what I discovered over my first year here was that my allergies were mostly seasonal: I would have an attack in the spring, then again in mid-summer, and finally in the fall. These attacks often came on like bad colds or the flu—I experienced body aches, sore throats, stuffy head and a bad cough. But because they came on during same time every year, I suspected they were allergies (I also never had a fever). Finally, I went to an allergist who ran a whole host of tests on my arm—poking me with samples of grasses, dog and cat dander, mold, oak--the whole shebang. And sure enough, I was allergic to grasses, dog and cat dander and oak—though, surprisingly, not mold.

The allergist told me not to let my dogs sleep in my bedroom (yeah, right!), to wear a mask when mowing the lawn or dusting the house, and he put me on some nasal sprays and told me that I could get away with just using Claritin or Sudafed as needed. He also said that if those things weren’t doing the trick, I could come back in for weekly shots, a thought which, I explained to him, did not interest me in the least. He then suggested I try nasal irrigation, which is something Pa had been doing for years (his allergies are far worse than mine). I explained to him that I had tried that a few times, the way Pa’s allergist had instructed him—a little salt mixed with baking soda in warm water, and using a bulb, snort the stuff up the nose, hold it there and then let it out—but all it did was make me choke and make me swallow lots of salty water, so I stopped, thinking it was a mild form of torture. But my allergist said to try just a simple nasal irrigation using a Neti pot, which is a fancy-looking pot that has a long spout used for stuffing up your schnozz. Armed with some instructions, I went to one of the gazillion naturopathic wellness stores Seattle has to offer and plunked down $15 for a pretty little ceramic Neti pot with a blue glaze. I bought some coarse sea salt from Trader Joes (the salt must be non-processed, non-iodized) and when I got home, I mixed a half a teaspoon with warm water filled to the rim of the Neti pot.

At first, it was a little tricky, but once the water started coming down out of the other nostril, it was easy to just relax. Nasal irrigation can be done using a bulb like the one Pa uses, but I discovered that Neti pots are a lot easier to use because you don’t have to squeeze the water up your nostril, you just pour the water while tilting your head and let gravity force it out the other side. Now I use the Neti pot every day, right after I brush my teeth in the morning, and after two months, I really do notice a difference. Once the cherry blossoms bloomed in my neighborhood a few weeks ago, I hunkered down in preparation for my spring seasonal allergy attack; but so far (knock on wood, but not red oak since that might trigger an allergy attack), nothing has happened except for one sinus headache. And I think—the next time I feel a sinus headache coming on—I might just try using the Neti pot twice a day to see if that’ll alleviate the pressure.

Though nasal irrigation using a Neti pot has been around, like, forever as an Ayurvedic treatment, it’s become popular as more and more medical papers are being published about the subject. Do a Google search on Neti pot or nasal irrigation and you’ll find family medicine websites that provide step-by-step instructions—even a demonstration video. The press has also grabbed hold of this technique—even Oprah’s own Dr. Oz has touted its efficacy.

I’m all for doing things the natural way—especially when I see immediate results, and I don’t have to pop a million horse-sized supplements to make me feel better. I really find that using the Neti pot has worked for me. It’s definitely alleviated any allergy symptoms I usually experience with every change of season. But this is as “gross” as it gets for me, and I assure you that you won’t see me singing the praises of a coffee enema any time soon.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Carpe Diem, Na Style

Last week, Mr. Na was off from school for Spring Break--a term I still associate with heavy drinking and practically falling off a house boat in Lake Havasu.

There was no partying going on here, but I have to say, it was actually a joy to have him around. He's gotten to the age when children have better control over their emotions, a high command of language, and attention spans longer than 5 minutes. So one day, we took a day trip to see the Tulips up north and had a picnic; the next day, we rode our bikes all the way to Green Lake, and had another picnic; we walked the dogs together; he practiced braking on his Razor; and we watched episodes of Discovery Kids Ultimate Guide to the Awesome--where we learned about dinosaurs, crocodiles, the sun, the human body, even spiders! And not once did I have to raise my voice or get into an argument with him over this or that.

No matter what we did or where we went, every so often, Na would exclaim, "I loooooooovvvvve picnics!" or "My mom is the greatest mom in the world!" or "I love my bike more than my scooter." or "I love my scooter more than my bike." And these affirmations were totally unprompted too. He would just blurt out his love for any one or any thing that was within his reach.

From what I've read, Na's behavior is not unique. Five year-old kids are, for the most part, in love with life. In fact, Louise Bates' book about five year-olds is titled "Sunny and Serene", which pretty much sums up their little personalities at this age. From the time that he wakes up in the morning, to the time he goes to bed at night, Mr. Na is one of the most pleasant human beings to be around. His healthy attitude puts mine to shame because, as anyone who's ever been around me in the morning can attest, I'm a total bitch. I have to thank Na, though, for his cheerful enthusiasm since it definitely rubs off, or, at least, makes the morning more bearable. I often wish adults could have the same optimistic, bright and chipper outlook on life. It'd certainly make the world a better place.

Sadly, though, Na is turning 6 in June and according to Louise Bates, he'll soon transition from "sunny and serene" to "loving and defiant." I don't want to hang my hat on the opinion of only one child development specialist, but I've read enough of Bates' books to know that she's not too far off from nailing a kid's personality at a given age. So while the "loving" part is something that seems to be a continuation of his current demeanor, I'm not looking forward to the "defiance" half of the label. This is especially vexing since, in her book, Bates describes how six year-olds shift from placing their moms in the center of their universe to laying blame on them for everything that goes wrong. It makes me wonder how well he'll deal with going to Ukraine to see his birthplace and to help us adopt a younger sibling. Ukraine's a tough place to be for an adult, let alone someone smaller and dependent on someone else to keep them occupied. But Pa and I both feel we'd be making a huge mistake in leaving him home, since, we feel, he's a major part of this family and as such, needs to be involved in this life-changing milestone we're about to experience. And hey, at least when he starts to fight with his younger brother or sister as siblings often do, and he blames me for making his life miserable, I can remind him that he was just as much a part of the decision-making process.

Having been with Na these last four years, I know that his behavioral shifts don't happen from the moment he has a birthday. It usually takes about six months to see his personality change, which means it'll happen some time during the fall or around the holidays; but I will definitely miss his daily declarations like, "That is the BEST peanut butter and jelly sandwich I've EVER had!" I've often thought about turning on the voice recorder on my phone, just so I can capture these sentiments, and play them back whenever we have bad days. Maybe then, we'll both try harder to move away from the storm clouds and, as one of my all-time favorite Chet Baker songs goes, "try to find the sunny side of life."

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

I'm just gonna forget that I haven't posted since last year

To do list this week:

1) Crash the Trophy Cupcakes shindig
2) Sugar crash from the Trophy Cupcakes shindig
3) Continue to work on various writing pieces I've been working on for several years
4) Finally submit aforementioned writing pieces so that someone else actually has a chance to suffer through them
5) Get off my ass and run the much dreaded 800s, plus a long run
6) Do the caucus thing, again, as a delegate for the 43rd
7) Re-start this silly little blog because, really...how frickin hard is it to blog a little every day? (Ok, maybe not every day...)

More later...