Friday, January 30, 2009

Date Night

My husband and I have a date tonight. Can you even believe that?! I can't. Our lifestyle is so simple and we're both homebodies--perfectly happy to do stuff with each other and the kids around the house. But, tonight we have a date.

We're going out to dinner, haven't figured out where yet, and then to a play at a local theater. Doesn't that sound like a proper date? It is!

I don't live near my family. We're all within a couple of hours of each other, but not quite close enough to have them babysit frequently. And, when they were babies and toddlers, I nursed my kids constantly and neither one of us in the nursing dyad felt comfortable apart--that darned attachment thing...So, we never really established a babysitter. My husband and I never got into the routine of a date night.

What will I wear? I don't think I can quite get away with my jeans. Black pants and a blouse of some sort?

When my husband and I do go on a date, we get relaxed and happy and giggly and crack each other up and laugh--a lot.

We should do that more...

Hey, friends in my homeschooling group--how about a babysitting co-op? Who wants to trade with me? We'll watch the kids while you go have a proper date. Any takers?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Oh Snit...

My daughter just announced to me that she knows the swear word, snit. "How do you know that?", I asked her. "Because remember that one time when you said it under your breath when you were fixing my knitting? I said, Whit, plit, snit, and then you gasped--so I knew it was snit--I know a swear word!"

She's kind of proud about knowing this colorful language. We had a talk about it and she understands that snit can be an offensive word to people and she's not to say it to anyone. I don't want anyone to get in a snit about snit.

Yeah, no snit.

Write to Your People to Stop the CPSIA

If we want to stop the good intentioned but seriously flawed and poorly worded CPSIA, we need to make some noise. Below is a sample letter that I got from the Handmade Toy Alliance. You can sign their petition and you can copy this letter and send it to your Representative and Senators. It's easy to do and the more the powers that be get messages like this one, the more responsive they will be.

Thanks for getting active.

From: [your name and address]

To: [your congress person or senator]

Re: The Consumer Product Improvement Act (CPSIA) will result in a drastic deepening of the economic crisis

Dear [your congress person or senator],

The economic crisis in our country is distressing to millions of Americans. That is why it concerns me that under the CPSIA, many small business owners will be driven out of business, deepening the crisis. The premise of self reliance and entrepreneurship on which this country was founded is in jeopardy.

Like many people, I was deeply concerned by the dangerous and poisonous toys that large Chinese toy manufacturers have been selling to our families. And, I was pleased that Congress acted quickly to protect America's children by enacting the CPSIA.

However, I am very concerned that the CPSIA's mandates for third party testing and labeling will have a dramatic and negative effect on small businesses whose safety record has always been exemplary. It will devastate small manufacturers and home businesses who create children's products such as clothes, handmade goods and toys for children, beautiful Native American artifacts, children's books, adaptive products for children with disabilities, and classroom and homeschool materials. These small businesses simply cannot afford the $300-$4,000 price tag per product that Third Party testers are charging.

With the economic crisis we find ourselves in, fewer families will be able to afford the higher costs of the goods that remain available. Any company that is able to remain in business will undoubtedly raise prices due to increased compliance costs. Everyone will have to pay more for the remaining available goods, deepening the effects of the economic crisis for millions of families.

I urge you to quickly request the Consumer Product Safety Commission to make some very reasonable exclusions in their interpretation of the law as they continue their rulemaking process. These include exempting books and uncoated fabrics from testing and allowing manufacturers to rely upon testing done by their materials suppliers instead of paying for redundant unit-based testing. I would also like to see an exemption to third party testing requirements for micro-businesses similar to the exemptions granted by the FDA for small producers under the food labeling laws. As the Wall Street Journal wrote, "The Commission needs to implement the rules without putting more companies out of business in an already tenuous economy."

These toy makers, crafters, publishers and small home based businesses have earned and kept the public's trust. They provide jobs for thousands and quality playthings and educational products for hundreds of thousands. Their unique businesses should be protected. Please visit to learn more about this issue.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


[your name]

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chichen Itza

When we were in Mexico, we trekked rode comfortably for two hours through the jaguar permeated jungle on an air conditioned bus with a guide who explained about the Maya ruins we were headed towards. We stopped first at a sinkhole in the limestone under the thin layer of soil, a cenote, where we were able to climb down a rickety wooden ladder and swim if we so chose. The kids and I so chose. Look:

I'm the one on the left and my two kids are to the right. They had on life vests and I winged it without. Did you know that cenotes add literally dozens of pounds? So, when you see me there in my swimsuit, you can know that it's just like TV--cenotes put on the pounds. Isn't the water beautiful? There is 150 feet of water below us, and it's clear and fresh.

There were other tourists getting in and out, jumping from higher platforms and climbing down the ladders, but the kids and I ventured off to the side away from everyone else. The white smudge in front of me on the water is the from a tiny waterfall squeezing itself out of the side of the cenote towards the top. The brown vine like things are roots reaching down to try to touch the surface of the water--many of them do. You mustn't touch them out of profound curiosity, as I maybe did, because a guy who is near the wooden ladder might softly whistle at you and shake his head at you as you look over. Maybe.

Then we got on the road again heading towards Chichen Itza. Look at the jungle:

Kind of looks like Busse Woods, but it's not. It's the jaguar permeated jungle in the Yucatan. That sounds much scarier than I think it would be. If our bus broke down, I'm sure a jaguar would be more scared of a bunch of noisy Americans than we could ever be of it. It's always about perspective, isn't it?

This jungle is not like I expected it to be. It does not have a towering tree canopy with vines hanging down. It's kind of scrubby with a really tall palm tree towering over the other trees every once in a while. It was an amazing experience to come back through the jungle at night with not a single light except the halo of our bus headlights. That was the darkest place I've ever been.

When the Spanish came to Mexico, so our guide explained, the Maya had already had civil wars and revolutions where the amazing, strict, elaborate, uniform, highly cultured and educated elite rulers were overthrown. The common Maya had lived in little huts on the outskirts of the built up cities like Chichen Itza, and so the jungle was allowed to take back the large central buildings. So when the Spanish arrived, they didn't have to destroy the buildings to get rid of the science, the culture, the religion--it was all but already gone. The language of the Maya still existed, and still does, so the Spanish only had to politely request force the Maya to adopt their religion. Most Maya now are Catholic, and a few are various denominations of Protestant. Almost none follow the religion of their forebears, the polytheistic religion similar to North American Nations of Native Americans, or even know about it. But, the Maya are still here and sell all sorts of crafts and art along the wide dirt pathways that lead to the big buildings that tourists come to see.

I tried to speak Spanish as much as possible when I was in Mexico, but since tourism is the main industry in the Yucatan peninsula (construction and honey production follow) everyone speaks English. There are tourists from other parts of the world--I heard french and german being spoken at our resort--but, by the far it is Americans who go there. My Spanish is no muy bien, pero, esta bien--asi asi. So I asked a Maya ( they say Maya, not Mayan) man who was carving a mask with a knife if I could take a picture of him. I showed my camera and said "Esta bien?" He said "Sure!"

He was very nice and it was interesting to see the work he was doing on the piece of wood.

Women and girls were selling little handkerchiefs with embroidery on them for $1. LOTS of things were priced at $1 and the Maya would call out to us tourists walking towards el Castillo, "It's almost free! Only $1!! Better than Walmart!!" Guess where they have a Walmart--that's right, Cancun...

There were chess sets carved out of jade and other stone, gaudy crystal pyramids, t-shirts, wind chimes, masks, marionettes, silver jewelry and other things depicting the ruins.

And then we saw one of the buildings, not the main one, but one of the smaller ones, looming out of the trees.

This one also had the snake god Kukulcan slithering down the railings of the stairs headed towards the ground where they will enter and be the power that they are as a God of the people.

Then we walked a little ways to The Observatory, and that's where my batteries died in my camera. Great. The observatory is oriented with a wall facing to the north, south, east, and west and then you see on top in a smaller platform that the four windows are off by about 17 degrees....that's because they line up to the sunrise (or sunset) of the two equinoxes. The observatory is extremely accurate in it's layout and helped the Maya determine important dates and measurements to help them create their very accurate calendar. Could you do that with modern tools much less the kinds of tools they had available? They were scientists, astronomers, spiritual leaders. NASA has come several times to view the observatory and try to understand what the Maya were doing.

Finally, we crossed a huge clearing and came to the Castillo--the large pyramid in the center of everything. Here are a bunch of shots of it and you'll see that it's not completely restored. They restore where they can and wait until they figure it out for the rest. They are not using new materials--only what was there.

No climbing, as you can see.

Our guide explained that when the archeologists were working on restoring el Castillo, they were wondering where the body went to the snake God Kukulcan. The heads were there at the bottom of the stair railings, but there really were no bodies. And then guards reported seeing a wierd glow on the stairs one day. People began to look for it at every sunset. It was gone until six months later (maybe at the other equinox, eh?) they saw it again. The Maya had built a subtle relief in the stair railings that would be lit up just so on the equinoxes. When they are lit up for 4 minutes (1 degree) the people would see the glimmering body of the God slither down into the ground where he would be strong in the earth. That's where the body was--in the effect of the sunlight on one day twice a year for 4 minutes...Those Maya had a sophisticated understanding of things and high level of ability to make it happen and an exactitude that doesn't really happen in my household...

Here is a photo of the event that our guide showed us--see the golden glimmer? It's on the left side where the building is in shadow, all except for illuminated Kukulcan. See the crowd that gathers--must be fun to see that on the equinox.

Our crowds weren't that big.

We crossed over the central opening to see the ball court. This is where the men would play Pok-Ta-Pok.

Look--even now the jungle is still trying to take over the ball court...

Here you can see el Castillo from the ball court grounds.

Back to modernity, mostly, to a bathroom with a thatched roof. There are lots of thatched roofs all through the Yucatan. The plants are a cheap, plentiful and effective building material.

Then we rode the two hours through the jungle and back to our resort. It was an amazing experience to see Chichen Itza and it is now listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Morning in Mexico

This is a typical sunrise on the Caribbean in Mexico. Please take note of the billowy clouds. Also, notice the sun rays streaming down from behind the cloud. You may also wish to note the warm water lapping the shore wave after soft wave.

This is a typical closed bloom that you may find in a cluster of flowering plants, or shrubs or individual flowers scattered here and there. Note the unphotoshopped, natural, original color.

Now notice what a little time will do for a flower. This is an open blossom expecting some interested bee to come along soon...It's almost indecent, isn't it, the way it is calling out for attention?!

Good morning fellow citizens who live in cold areas as I do! Living where we do, we can all appreciate how brisk it is. We can appreciate the change of seasons...whenever that might happen a couple of distant months from now.

Come on! It's not that bad. It could be in the single digits with wind chill.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

I am Paul Williams...or Cher...

Me, at the top of my lungs: "Just an old fashioned love song; something, something, something, some thing!!" with a kind of Cher vibrato.

My husband, calling out to me from the other room: "You nailed it, Babe."

Thanks husband.

Let's hear the real thing now, shall we?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

It is About 12 Degrees Here...

It is cold, very, very cold here. If you lived in the Yucatan Peninsula or other climes south of the U.S. border, you would not feel the bitter cold. No. You would feel warm tropical breezes and see blue skies filled with billowy white clouds. Sure, occasionally, there would be a rain shower, but it would pass and then all would be beautiful again. The air would always be soft....except in hurricane season. That's only a couple of months to worry about though.

And since it's the tropics, there would be tropical flowers all over the place which you would soon come to regard as easily as geraniums in a suburban garden in the north. You might even become complascent and jaded. Maybe your eye would no longer catch the brilliance of it all. Hopefully not. Hopefully you would still see the wonder of it all. Hopefully, you would still be moved.

As a visitor, at certain points, I was almost breathless every day. It was beautiful and if I ever lived there, I don't think that I would become jaded. We don't have geraniums that look like this here in Very-Republican-Town, Illinois...

It is 12 degrees here and there is no sign of it warming any time soon. Let's look at the flower and pretend that it is warmer than it is. Maybe that can sustain us for a couple more months...

Friday, January 23, 2009

My Old Neighbor Buddy Mondlock

Here is a song by Buddy Mondlock who was one of the older kids who lived down the street from my family when I was a kid. It is a hopeful song about Barack Obama and was written by Buddy's dad who was a friend of my parents too. Small world.

Many people may not know who Buddy is, but if you're part of the Nashville music scene, you do know him as a great song writer and performer. He has collaborated with Suzanne Vega and more recently Art Garfunkle among others. It's been fun to see his career develop and grow from a distance and with a memory of playing running bases with him and his sisters and brother in the open lot down the street from us.

Thanks for the songs, Buddy.

Here's one of his classics, The Kid.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


We were so excited to be going to somewhere warm during the winter. I, a child of the 70's frigid cold and giant politics-affecting snowstorms, had never been to somewhere warm during the winter. You just get your down coat on, go where you need to go and get on with it. It's 20 degrees below zero wind chill? Oh yeah? Let me know when it starts getting cold. We're hardy around here--we're from Chicago.

I thought there would probably be lots of English speakers where we were going, but I also thought it a little arrogant to go to a foreign country and not try to speak the language there or do a little research about the history, customs, food etc of this other place. We're visiting them, let's be good guests was my thinking.

Months ago, I tried to get the kids to learn a little Spanish by watching a couple of Muzzy videos but the kids weren't having it. Muzzy is a language immersion system. Lots of videos are available in different languages. But, my kids only wanted to watch the English side...even though there's barely a story line. There's just enough to introduce some words and there's lots of repetition.

As our Mexico trip drew near, I did think it was important for the kids to learn, "Donde esta el baño?" A need for the baño might come up at some point and we would need to know how to find that out quickly, including the kids.

When we were at a great eco park called Xcaret, my daughter told me as we were getting out of the underground river that we had just snorkeled through, that she needed to go to the bathroom. I was a bit distracted as we were all getting ourselves out and seeing where we needed to go right then and my daughter ran over to a man and said, "Donde esta el baño, por favor?" He smiled and pointed up this way and then over that way to her and off she ran with me just standing there with mouth a bit agape.

Not only was my daughter comfortable with asking a person a reasonable question, she was fully comfortable using another language to do it and even said "Gracias!" after she got her answer. How impressed was I? Very, that's how much.

My kids knock me out sometimes.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Peanut Butter Recall and Raw Milk is Illegal Because...

If you go to this page of the FDA site, you will see all sorts of products that have been recalled after a huge salmonella outbreak in peanut butter. The products range from actual peanut butter to cookies and pet food that contain some sort of peanut ingredient to health food bars...kind of a broad spread of outbreak. Elderly people have died from salmonella poisoning involved in this recent contamination. It's very sad.

This is all highly processed food, even the healthy claiming protein bars, and are produced in factories where contamination is possible. In this case, the peanut butter ingredients are tainted and have affected these other products.

So, in thinking about food safety and health, my question is, why is raw milk still illegal in so many places? When's the last time you've heard of raw milk deaths or even massive outbreaks of disease caused by raw milk or raw milk products? (Of course it has happened--food becomes contaminated sometimes...but, of all the food borne disease outbreaks that I remember recently, they've been spinach and jalapeño peppers and pasteurized milk and peanut butter, but not raw milk.) Many more people have gotten sick from supposedly safe foods than from raw milk.

Here's an excerpt from an interesting article from the raw milk advocate group The Weston A. Price Foundation:

The chart below was drawn up for a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors vote on permitting raw milk in the County. (The vote was favorable, by the way, and raw milk is once again available in Los Angeles.) Except for a brief hiatus in 1990, raw milk has always been for sale commercially in California, usually in health food stores, although I can remember a period when it was even sold in grocery stores. Millions of people consumed commercial raw milk during that period and although the health department kept an eagle eye open for any possible evidence of harm, not a single incidence was reported. During the same period, there were many instances of contamination in pasteurized milk, some of which resulted in death. There have also been many instances of contamination of other foods, including baby formula. In fact, if we withdrew from the market every food type responsible for a case of food poisoning, there would be virtually nothing left to eat. But only raw milk has been singled out for general removal from the food supply.

Both raw and pasteurized milk harbor bacteria but the bacteria in raw milk is the healthy bacteria of lactic-acid fermentation while the bacteria in pasteurized milk is the bacteria of spoilage. And the overall bacteria count of milk produced under clean conditions is much lower than that of pasteurized milk. Both raw and pasteurized milk contain E. coli, normally a benign microorganism. The most likely source of the new strains of virulent E. coli is genetically engineered soy, fed to cows in large commercial dairies. If there is any type of milk likely to harbor these virulent breeds, it is commercial pasteurized milk.

Back in the days when scientists at our universities did real research, they compared the health of children fed raw or pasteurized milk. Children fed raw milk have more resistance to TB, scurvy, flu, diphtheria, pneumonia, asthma, allergic skin problems and tooth decay. In addition, their growth and calcium absorption was superior. (

Of course, as with all foods, raw milk must come from healthy cows and be carefully handled and stored. The same technology that we use to pasteurize our milk also allows us to keep raw milk fresh and clean. If you are buying directly from a farmer, be sure that the cows are mostly on pasture and that the barn is kept clean. The milk should go directly from the milking machine into a stainless steel tank or clean containers and be kept chilled. It should be used within a period of one week, after which it will begin to go sour (although it is not dangerous when it does so). With these precautions, raw milk is not only healthy but a safe food for all members of the family, even babies.

To find raw milk in your area, visit or contact your local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation.

No outbreaks of human illness from consumption of raw milk in California.

1997, 28 persons ill from Salmonella in California, ALL FROM PASTEURIZED MILK.

Massachusetts, June 1996, 38 persons ill and possibly contributing to one death from food contaminated with Salmonella served in a Wendy's restaurant.
1996, 46 persons ill from Campylobacter and Salmonella in California. Idaho, September 1995, 11 people ill due to E. coli 0157:H7 traced to food eaten in a Chili's restaurant in Boise.
No outbreaks of human illness from consumption of raw milk in California. 1994, 105 persons ill from E. coli and Listeria in California Florida, August 1995, 850 people ill from Salmonella newport bacteria in chicken served at Margarita y Amigos restaurant in West Palm Beach.
March of 1985 19,660 confirmed cases of Salmonella typhimurium illness FROM CONSUMING PROPERLY PASTEURIZED MILK. Over 200,000 people ill from Salmonella typhimurium in PASTEURIZED MILK Utah, January 1995, 96 people ill from hepatitis A traced to an employee of a Taco Bell restaurant in Salt Lake City
No outbreaks of human illness from consumption of raw milk in California. 1985, 142 cases and 47 deaths traced to PASTEURIZED Mexican-style cheese contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. Listeria monocytogenes SURVIVES PASTEURIZATION! Washington, DC, August 1994, 56 people ill and 20 hospitalized from Salmonella in Hollandaise sauce.
1985, 1500 persons ill from Salmonella infection Georgia, October 1993, one dead, 7 others ill from botulism in canned cheese sauce.
No outbreaks of human illness from consumption of raw milk in California. August of 1984 approximately 200 persons became ill with a Salmonella typhimurium from CONSUMING PASTEURIZED MILK Illinois, June 1993, 41 people ill, 25 hospitalized from Salmonella in food served at a Mexican restaurant.
November of 1984, another outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium illness from CONSUMING PASTEURIZED MILK Oregon, March 1993, 48 people ill from E. coli 0157:H7 in mayonnaise served at Sizzler restaurant.
No outbreaks of human illness from consumption of raw milk in California. 1983, over 49 persons with Listeria illness have been associated with the consumption of PASTEURIZED MILK in Massachusetts. An additional 50 cases of illness caused by E. coli 0157:H7 bacteria in food served in Sizzler's restaurants in Oregon and Washington were reported to CDC in 1993.
1993, 28 persons ill from Salmonella infection The western US, December 1992 to January 1993, 700 people ill from E. coli 0157:H7 in hamburgers served at Jack-in-the-Box restaurants in Washington, Idaho, Nevada and California. Nearly 100 of the victims developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious complication resulting from E. coli 0157:H7 infection, and four children died.
No outbreaks of human illness from consumption of raw milk in California 1982, 172 persons ill (100 hospitalized) from a three Southern state area from PASTEURIZED MILK.
1982, over 17,000 persons became ill with Yersinia enterocolitica from PASTEURIZED MILK bottled in Memphis, Tennessee.

And Now, Back to Paradise...

The water is warm and the waves are fun to splash in, but does that look like it might rain?

Look at those clouds billowing up...let's seek shelter.

Over here by this palm are dozens of thatch roofed umbrellas. Let's sit here a bit and enjoy the view of the sea.

Look--it's sunny again. Let's go play!*

*This winter break provided by the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, in conjunction with my generous Mother-in-law. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation had nothing to do with it...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Barack Obama--Congratulations to All of Us!

Doesn't that sound good? It is almost so momentous as to be overwhelming: The first black president; the first thinker in a loooong time; the first really well regarded president by the world.

At this point, anyone taking office would be fantastic in that the only way we can all go is up from here. Bush absolutely ran this country into the ground. I don't know how anyone could do a worse job if they intended it. But, the fact that Barack Obama is a brilliant, compassionate man with solid ideas and good people surrounding him makes his ascent all the more incredible and reassuring. To think that as a collective, the American people said, "Enough!" We voted for reason, and calm, and thoughtfulness, and a spirit of mutual respect and common decency.

Today is a day of great pride for America. We can all look at each other and smile and meet each other's eyes and realize that we are truly one people and together we can accomplish a lot. Obama's presidency makes real the abstract ideas of unlimited possibility in America, of pursuing your dreams and them coming true regardless of racial background, ethnicity, socioeconomic standing.

Congratulations Barack Obama. Congratulations fellow Americans. Congratulations to all of the civil rights workers who gave so much decades ago to open up our society to the equality expressed in the Constitution that went unenforced for so long.

We are one people. All of our lives are intertwined for the good and for the ill. When we all have rights and opportunity it helps us all. When segments of society are kept down, it injures us all. Every one's own brilliance ennobles each one of us and creates further opportunities and connections that serve to strengthen our families, our communities, our relationships with the rest of the world. If we all are allowed to shine, we all are made greater.

John Dunne expressed it well:

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.
John Donne, Meditation XVII
English clergyman & poet (1572 - 1631)

Well done Mr. President. We are so proud of you and your family. Good luck and all of our good wishes for your success!

Happy inauguration day everybody!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Coati Mundis/Yucatan Jays: Animals of a Different Feather

At the resort we stayed at, the boardwalk from the pool area to the beach wends it way through a tangled thicket of mangroves. In those mangroves are dozens of coati mundi. They are awake during the day and are always hopeful that someone will feed them. And, while they would approach us, they were still guarded and would scurry away at the slightest provocation--like say if some unnamed kid would try to pet them gently on their cute head...

They are related to raccoons and Jorge (a hotel worker who was from Mexico City and majored in TV production and is now a "friend" at this hotel) told me that they will eat anything when I asked him if they are vegetarians. They really behave very much like raccoons.

The kids adored them.

The mangroves host all sorts of animals. We found the iguana in the magroves lazing in a tree. Meanwhile these amazing startling blue and black birds were shrieking in the scrubby mangrove trees right above the coatis' heads. They are Yucatan Jays, as in jay birds as in blue jays that we get right here in Very-Republican-Town, Illinois. These are their southern cousins.

Aren't these such dramatic birds? They are beautiful aren't they? I think they are really striking.

As we would walk to the beach, a few coatis would come out onto the boardwalk and the yucatan jays would hop through the slender branches and we would hear the waves crashing to shore and the salty breezes would blow our hair. It was wonderful.

I don't know who this guy is, but I'll include him here because he was quite the magnificent fellow.

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