rivka: (travel)
So I went camping with the kids this weekend. And survived! It was fun. Read more... )
rivka: (Rivka & kids)
I took the kids to a farm up north of the city this afternoon. They've got a corn maze, a pumpkin patch, hayrides, farm animals on display, a hay bale mini-maze for little kids, a dried-corn sandbox, apples and cider, and every other feature of wholesome harvest Americana imaginable.

When I could get past the self-conscious awareness that "I am having an iconic family experience!" I enjoyed myself.

We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day:

pumpkin_patch

I had been kind of dubious about whether it would be wise to enter the corn maze when I had both kids by myself. (Look at that thing!) But Alex was really, really excited and we decided to go for it. Because we've had torrential rains recently, areas of the maze - especially near the entrance - were unbelievably muddy. They'd put down sheets of plywood which were now only covered in a couple of inches of mud, but if you stepped off the plywood you could easily find yourself in sucking, oozing mud up over your shoe tops.

cornmaze1

Fortunately it was much drier and less terrifyingly slippery as you got further in.

I loved the way the maze was designed. If you wanted an intense challenge, you could search the maze for twelve way stations that had irregularly-shaped hole punches attached. If you punched your ticket with all twelve, you "won." But if you just wanted the experience of wandering around in a maze, it wasn't that difficult to figure out which direction would bring you back out. Alex loved it. She led the way, directing us at every intersection with great authority. (There weren't many dead ends, just paths that led into other paths.)

cornmaze2

And of course we bought a pumpkin, and rode the hayride, and admired the livestock, and had a snack of hot cider and pumpkin bread. Colin slept almost the whole time, which is exactly what one hopes from a baby in such an environment.

It was a lovely afternoon.

fall_field
rivka: (I love the world)
We went to the fair yesterday and had a great time.

Unlike last year, we weren't lucky enough to see a birth in the birthing center. We did get to see chicks hatching and day-old piglets nursing, and we got to pet a piglet and a chick. Once again, they had a milking booth set up and Alex got to milk a cow for a minute or so. They had a sandbox filled with soybeans and dried corn, and Alex had a lot of fun playing there. While she did that, I browsed the agricultural displays nearby, which included a glossy free book explaining that organic food is worthless and that agribusiness makes our food ever so much cleaner.

milking/

baby_chick

Michael's company offered discount fair tickets this year, including an all day ride wristband for $15. That turned out to be a fantastic deal. It was great to be able to tell Alex she could ride any ride she wanted, as often as she wanted. They had about ten different little-kid rides that she went on, plus she and Michael rode the 100-foot Ferris wheel.

speedway_ride

I had a really delicious softshell crab sandwich for lunch, with a pile of homegrown tomatoes on the side. Alex insisted that for lunch she wanted "chicken on the bone." By which she meant the giant smoked turkey legs. We told her that she wouldn't really eat one. She swore that she would. So finally we bought it for her... and damned if she didn't make an impressive dent in it. She couldn't eat the whole thing, of course - she split it with Michael, and even he couldn't finish it - but she ate a lot for a four-year-old.

turkey_leg2

This year I got to spend a lot more time in the Home Arts building. I have to say that I wasn't very impressed with most of the baked goods on display. Most of the cookies looked dry, drab, colorless. I'm thinking that next year I may enter my oatmeal raisin cookies. I had thought that you could only enter recipes you developed yourself, but it turns out that as long as you bake from scratch it doesn't matter if you use an established recipe. (And my oatmeal raisin cookies are from a recipe I modified, anyway.)

The fabric arts sections were just beautiful. And I had a nice conversation with a woman in the preserved food section, who told me all about the jelly she made from violet petals.

It was a lovely day. Tiring, but lovely.
rivka: (I love the world)
[Poll #1422136]

"The Factory Tour Capital of the World" is York, PA. Unfortunately Alex and Colin are too young to tour the Harley-Davidson plant, but we're thinking of touring the Wolfgang Candy Company, the dairy, and perhaps the Utz potato chip plant. I think it will be fun.

Is there something wrong with me?
rivka: (I love the world)
It poured rain all day here in Baltimore, and then the sun came out and made the streets sparkle just in time for the Pride Parade. As if it weren't already clear which side God is on. (After all, Jesus had two dads.)

Baltimore's parade is fairly small and low-key. We watched until our church came by, marched with them to the end, and found another spot to watch the rest. Alex had the bright idea of wearing her princess costume. (We firmly vetoed the shiny plastic high heels, much to her chagrin.) She got a lot of positive attention for it, including a shout-out from the reviewing platform.

pride_princess

Most surprising parade hand-out of all time: child-sized neon plastic handcuffs, actual locking ones that come with a matching little neon plastic key. The guy giving them out made a special delivery right into Alex's hands and into the hands of the little boy sitting next to us. Handcuffs. Huh.

Pride always makes me nostalgic. Riding on the back of my friend Emily's motorcycle with the Dykes on Bikes in Portland, the summer we graduated from college. The Dyke March organized by the Lesbian Avengers the night before the Pride Parade, tramping down the street chanting "We're DYKES! Don't TOUCH US! We'll HURT YOU!", eating fire at the rally afterward, having the Boys' Auxiliary bring us cookies they'd baked. Going to Seattle and seeing a Pride Parade there that took three hours to march by, including six-foot model vibrators from Toys in Babeland and the Queers With Corgis (accompanied by one non-matching dog wearing a sign that said "Spaniel But Not Narrow"). My first Pride in Iowa City, where the gay community was so small that everyone marched and no one was left over to sit on the curb and watch, and my stats professor was giving out cold drinks with PFLAG. Going to my first Baltimore Pride with friends, realizing that I should've thought out in advance how I would handle being greeted by clients at the parade.

I still think of Pride as my holiday, and it's kind of a jolt to go to Pride now and feel like such an outsider. I mean, you know, I'm there with my husband and kids. It's entirely reasonable for people's eyes to slide past me without that smile of fellowship. Still feels kind of weird, though.
rivka: (panda pile)
Man, I blink, and suddenly it's been a week since I posted to LJ. I'm sorry. I know that in my current state of craziness there are people who worry if I don't post.

The Wild Women gathered again this weekend. This time was mellower - we all met at one person's house in the DC suburbs, went out for Indian food and then ice cream, stayed overnight, and decamped before church the next day. We drank prosecco and beer and wine and ate hummus and pretzels and raw veggies and bagels and hazelnut chocolates. And we talked and talked and talked.

Colin came along, which just shows how awesome my friends are. I knew this group of women would never pressure me to leave an infant, but I did figure that I'd be missing out on gatherings until Colin was old enough to be left with Michael overnight. It turns out that I seem to have been the only one with that expectation. Colin flirted happily with the Wild Women, who passed him around and got drooled on and speculated about whether they were really 100% done having babies.

When I was younger, I was almost exclusively friends with men. (Or, if we go back as far as high school, boys.) I always seemed to fit in better among men, and their ways seemed easier to understand. Honestly, the performance of femininity kind of scared me - I knew I was lousy at it, and I expected other women to judge me and find me wanting. I gradually started to have more female friends when I became involved in fandom and usenet, and in recent years I've been fortunate enough to have lots of great women in my life. But I never imagined that I'd have a group of girlfriends like this. I would've predicted that I would feel awkward, say the wrong thing, not be understood, miss signals, be rejected. Instead, being with the Wild Women feels like coming home.

I am really lucky.
rivka: (phrenological head)
Last night we went to our first homeschooling event. It was billed as a "curriculum fair;" it turned out to be a massive flea market for homeschooling families to get rid of old books, curricula, games, software, resources, et cetera. (There were workshops, too, but we skipped them because they didn't seem like a good fit.) Everything I saw was very cheap, and it was nice to be able to chat a bit about how people had used things.

The biggest thing we learned is to get a babysitter next time. It was in Annapolis, which is a long way to go in after-work traffic, and when we got there the church where it was being held was swelteringly hot. Alex alternated between desperately needing everything she saw and whining that she didn't want to look at anything else. I would've liked to have more time to page through potential resources, consult with Michael, and sift through the big bins of fiction books. Oh well. There will be more.

The sponsoring group was a fundamentalist Christian homeschooling group, and, well. Mixed in with the sane resources on the various tables would be things like Astronomy God's Way. There's a good-sized secular homeschooling organization in Baltimore, so we won't be dependent on these folks for an ongoing social network. Which is good, because there's only so much biting my tongue that I can do.

At any rate, we came home with loot! )
rivka: (Baltimore)
Michael's company owns four season tickets to the Baltimore Orioles. The partners get first dibs on them, for personal use or business entertaining, but the rest of the staff can put their names in for any unclaimed tickets. Michael won a pair of tickets for Sunday afternoon's game.

We'd been meaning to take Alex to her first ballgame sometime this summer, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. She sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" all the way from church to the light rail stop, and from the light rail to the stadium.

They were good seats. Right at third base. On the club level, where you can order food and have it brought to your seat or visit a dedicated club-level concession stand. Club level, where the concourse is air-conditioned and has couches and big-screen TVs in case you want to cool off without missing any of the game. Club level, where the bathrooms are clean. I had never been up there before. We got to walk past the private box with the presidential seal on the door.

We had figured that third-base club-level seating would be shaded. Unfortunately, when we came out from the concourse we discovered that the first three rows were sunny, and our seats were right in the first row. But I didn't even have time to start worrying about the sun. (Colin is too young to use sunscreen.) As soon as the usher caught sight of us, he bustled over. "Your seats are... okay, let's put you up here. We may need to move you around a little, but we'll keep that baby in the shade. Your seats should be shaded after the first inning." (They actually weren't shaded until the fourth, but there were plenty of unclaimed seats in our section, so we had no trouble staying in the shade until then.)

I settled in to my seat and started to nurse Colin. Moments later, the usher came over and started talking to Michael. I saw him point at us and cringed, thinking that he was probably telling Michael I couldn't nurse there. But in fact he was saying: "Is this the baby's first game? Be sure to stop by the concierge desk - they'll give him a certificate."

Awww.

The game moved along pretty briskly, because neither team could hit a damn thing. (The O's eventually solved that problem by putting Danys Baez in as a relief picher. Everyone can hit off him.) I had been prepared to ditch the game in mid-progress, but Alex actually lasted until the very end. Colin had a less-good time - he was fussy, wanted to sleep, couldn't sleep. It might have just been too hot for him.

I had a barbecue sandwich and a really tasty beer. We admired the new scoreboard (Okay, it's not new. We just haven't been to a game in years.) and enjoyed the city view beyond the outfield. It was a very pleasant afternoon.
rivka: (travel)
We got back from Montreal Sunday night, dirty and exhausted but reasonably pleased. It was a good trip.

As far as the ostensible reason for our trip, the Society of Behavioral Medicine conference, the thing that will pay for my plane ticket and the hotel room and a fair bit of the food: it went surprisingly well. My talk was well-attended and well-received; there were more questions during the question period than I had time to answer, and some people stayed to ask me questions afterward or even approached me later in the exhibit hall. I think I did a good job writing the talk and delivering it, especially considering the circumstances.

Last year I didn't enjoy the SBM program very much. This year, I managed to make it to several great program items. It seemed like there were more interesting options and better HIV representation. I particularly enjoyed a symposium on novel strategies for accessing populations of ethnic-minority men ("So it turns out, in our part of North Carolina, you reach African-American men through the churches, but Latino men, no. And then we found out about the soccer league!"), and a keynote address on using marketing and mass communications to disseminate valid scientific information.

The only thing that's bugging me about SBM right now is that it seems like every year there is more and more of an "obesity epidemic" focus. I was never interested in that topic era to begin with, but now that I've read so much that debunks dieting and obesity panic, I find it irritating. I'm fine with the program items about increasing activity level and consumption of healthy foods, because I think those things have independent health benefits, but I kind of want to go to the weight loss intervention panels and ask politely what the follow-up data looks like five years out.

I managed to see three-quarters of most of the sessions I attended. They were mostly scheduled to be 90 minutes long, and somewhere around the 70-minute mark Colin would start to wake up or make sounds. I was hypersensitive to every noise he made, because at a professional conference Colin is not part of the community and has no independent right to be there. So at the second coo or gurgle we were out the door. We got nothing but friendly looks, though.

The non-conference portions of the trip were just excellent. [livejournal.com profile] papersky always provides visitors with quality entertainment. One major highlight was a free-flying butterflies exhibit at the botanical gardens. Picture a big plant-filled atrium with thousands and thousands of butterflies swarming about - not just common ones, either, but massive South American specimens. I mean, just walking along you'd find yourself flinching away from the most spectacular butterfly you'd ever seen, trying to keep it from flying right into your face. (Also at the Jardin Botanique, a really neat greenhouse filled with "economic" tropical plants - foods, dyes, etc. I never knew what a black pepper plant looked like. Or the source of the ubiquitous xanthan gum. Alex loved that room.)

The other big highlight was a picnic on an island, on the unexpectedly warm and lovely Saturday. We spread blankets under some pines for the shade and found ourselves in the center of an active flock of red-winged blackbirds. A woodchuck ambled back and forth, sometimes as little as twenty feet away. After a delicious lunch, we went into the Biosphere (not to be confused with the Biodome) - a small museum housed in the frame of a giant geodesic dome. The only great exhibit was a water activity room, but that one was really great, so that was just fine. Plus admission was free for Earth Day. Alex had a wonderful time making rivers and pools and channels and sailing boats and walking across water on pontoons and otherwise getting very damp indeed.

Of course, as is the case any time one visits [livejournal.com profile] papersky, we had excellent food. Highlights for me were a Chinese feast the first night, an incredible dim sum spread on Sunday morning, and - oddly enough - the shish kebob dinners we ordered delivered to our hotel room the night that [livejournal.com profile] papersky and [livejournal.com profile] rysmiel had a dinner party to attend. But really, there was only one meal I thought was just so-so, and that time it was clear that I had ordered the wrong thing.

So that was our trip. I think I'll probably write another post about traveling with both kids later.
rivka: (talk about me)
The "favorites" edition...

[livejournal.com profile] vom_marlowe: We're due a snowstorm here. I was thinking of that time we went to the ski cabin, and had a Finnish sauna. Do you remember that? That was sooooo much fun. It's one of my favorite memories.

What's a favorite memory of back then?


I do remember that. All my ski cabin memories are really happy. I wonder if the ski cabin is still like it always was, and if they still keep it unlocked so that I could go there if I wanted to. (I remember the directions.)

I really loved the Reed formals. I loved the way everyone got so dressed up, by whatever definition they personally had for "dressed up," and the way the majority of the clothes were obviously from secondhand stores. I had a perfectly amazing formal dress, rich black velvet with a wide band of dangling jet beads at the neckline. It made me feel gorgeous. The formals I remember best had fantastic swing/jazz music. I love dancing to that. And at formals I always felt like I could walk up to people and ask them to dance. (That was probably all those bottles of vodka they kept stashed under the tables so that the bars could clearly be seen to be serving just juices and sodas.)

[livejournal.com profile] fairoriana: Which other countries in the world do you feel the most association to? Why?

I don't really feel personal connections to other countries, although I have fond memories of Scotland (where Michael and I honeymooned) and Wales (where I went with my sister), because in both places I had a wonderful time and the locals were incredibly nice to us. I have a little faint intellectual interest in where my ancestors came from, but it doesn't make me feel connected to those places. I'm an assimilated American, the third generation born in the U.S.; the "old country" doesn't have much meaning for me.

There are plenty of countries that I'm interested in and would like to visit, but I think that's a different question.

[livejournal.com profile] marykaykare: What's your favorite piece of jewelry? What do you look for/attracts you most about pieces you buy?

I wear very little jewelry. I have a couple of Elise Matthesen necklaces - I couldn't say what drew me to them, because they just reached out and grabbed me in a process that was entirely emotional; it bypassed my reasoning mind.

I will say, however, that I'm coming up on ten years of marriage and I have still never seen a ring prettier than my engagement ring.

[livejournal.com profile] patgreene: What's your all-time favorite movie, and why?

Casablanca. Because it's so beautifully filmed, and because it's such an incredible cornerstone of our culture, and because it's so well-acted that even when I should be rolling my eyes, I don't.

[livejournal.com profile] guruwench: If you've watched any of the Muppets, who's your favourite, and why?

I like Beaker best. Doesn't everyone?

[livejournal.com profile] chargirlgenius: What's your favorite section of the Walters? What kind of art really speaks to you?

My favorite section is the Chamber of Wonders, the recreation of a 17th century nobleman's private house museum. I love the way art and natural history pieces and artifacts are jumbled together. Plus it reminds me of a very strange book I enjoyed, Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder.

I am pretty ignorant about art. My personal tastes run towards outsider art, the kind of thing that's exhibited at the American Visionary Art Museum. And I saw a truly amazing exhibit of trompe l'oeil paintings at the National Gallery a few years ago, which I still remember vividly. But for the most part I would rather go to a history, science, or natural history museum than an art museum.
rivka: (I love the world)
My favorite band, in Baltimore, on my birthday. What are the odds?

Maybe the second-best Great Big Sea concert I've seen, and I've been to a bunch of them. It's hard to beat the first time Michael and I ever saw them, in a little hole-in-the-wall college bar in Iowa City about ten years ago, during their first U.S. tour. A busload of Canadian students had been brought down from some college near Dubuque, so the crowd was intensely enthusiastic. GBS were a little drunk on the fun and craziness of suddenly being obscure, and they did things like an extended medley of 80s songs. Alan Doyle launched into "It's the End of the World As We Know It" and then visibly realized that he didn't remember all the words.

It's hard to beat that, but this show probably takes second place. It was awesome.

They played in the Ram's Head in Baltimore, which is a large-ish club that manages to fake "intimate" pretty well. We stayed sitting down until GBS actually came out, and were able to just walk up to a spot 20-25 feet from the center of the stage.

They played everything. All the old stuff: The Process Workers' Song, The Night Pat Murphy Died, General Taylor, Mari Mac, Old Black Rum, Lukey, When I'm Up I Can't Get Down, Consequence Free, Ordinary Day for God's sake, the first GBS song I ever heard. They played When I Am King and John Barbour and Scolding Wife and End of the World (Alan Doyle is much smoother about the words he's forgotten, ten years later) and some gorgeous songs from the new album, like Here And Now and England.

They played and played, and we sang ourselves hoarse, and I learned that jumping up and down while six months pregnant, while not advisable, is sometimes necessary.

My favorite band. In Baltimore. On my birthday.

It was awesome.
rivka: (Obama)
I've signed up with the Obama campaign to go to Pennsylvania on Election Day, to help get out the vote. They've asked me to go to Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, which is a small conservative city in the southern part of the state. It's about 80 miles north of Baltimore.

The form e-mail I got assigning me to Harrisburg says that I'll either be canvassing or working the phones; I assume that on Election Day itself I'm more likely to be asked to work the phones, but it's possible that they'll still be going door to door even then.

So far I'm very impressed with their organization. They have a webpage aimed at "border state volunteers," people who live in safe blue or safe red states who want to travel someplace where the election will be close. They encouraged me to come for a four-day trip (and I wanted to!), but I was also free to sign up for whichever days I could actually travel. My field office match came complete with a link to a 16-page PDF booklet called the "PA Border States Volunteer Welcome Packet," which provided everything from the phone numbers and addresses of every field office in the state to a list of hotels offering discounted stays to a suggested packing list with wardrobe suggestions. The booklet also had a brief guide to the PA political scene and the parameters of the race in PA.

I was particularly struck by this:

Thanks to our hard work registering voters, there are currently 438,536 more registered Democrats in Pennsylvania than there were at the time of the election in 2004. Meanwhile, there are 175,472 fewer registered Republicans than in 2004. Democrats have nearly doubled their registration advantage of 580,208 voters in 2004 to 1,194,216 voters
through October 2008. The Obama campaign registered over 350,000 of these new Democrats.


I don't know how necessary I really am to the get-out-the-vote effort. Recent polls in Pennsylvania haven't been particularly close, for all that the McCain campaign has been insisting that they can win there. I guess I just want to feel like I've done my part, and there's not much I can do toward that end as a Maryland resident. Plus, I think it will be fun.

How about you, or at least, the Americans among you? Do you have Election Day plans? Do you live in a state where your vote might make a difference?
rivka: (her majesty)
Recommended: Going to the Family Dance sponsored by the Baltimore Folk Music Society and having a great time dancing to live music with your three-year-old.

Not Recommended: Leaving the dance, getting in the car, and backing out of your parking place, only to discover that you have an extremely flat tire.

Not Recommended: Your three-year-old developing a multiple-bathroom-trip case of diarrhea while you're trying to get the car situation straightened out.

Not Recommended: All of this happening at dinner time, so that the kid's stomach is a ticking time bomb in more ways than one.

Recommended: Toyota roadside assistance, which comes free to 100,000 miles when you buy a Toyota Certified Used Vehicle. I called their 800 number, and about 10 minutes later a lovely young man was in the church parking lot changing my tire. All told, it took just about half an hour from discovering the flat to being on the road again - including bathroom trips. No money changed hands. And Toyota called later to double-check that everything was okay.

Recommended: The three-year-old belting out from the back seat, "I like black and white, dreaming black and white, you like black and white, run runaway."


Now I am extremely tired.

The Family Dance was wonderful, though. Alex is to the point where she can follow some basic dance directions, and she's much less reluctant to hold fellow dancers' hands than she used to be. For some of the dances she was able to be my partner instead of just my shadow - including one square dance in which she was required to run around the square in the opposite direction from me. I only had to carry her for a grand total of about three minutes. And no one patted me on the head.
rivka: (I love the world)
Alex and I went to "Bug Fest" at the Carrie Murray Nature Center today. We've been a bit disappointed by some of their other events, but oh boy, this was awesome.

The first thing to capture our attention were trays and trays of mounted bug specimens. The collection tended towards the Big And Impressive: stick insects eight inches long, giant scarab beetles, tons of showy South American butterflies. There were plenty of things we'd never seen before - especially not from a close-up, feel-free-to-touch-the-case perspective. My favorite were some three-inch scarab beetles that had huge protruding horns in front, as long as (or longer than) their whole bodies. The guy who owned the collection was there, and he did a great job of answering questions in a way that was neither condescending nor inaccessible.

Alex got her face painted to look like an incredibly elaborate butterfly. It's really striking. She looks gorgeous.

There were also a number of displays of living insects and spiders. At one end of the room were large habitats holding caterpillars, chrysalises, and butterflies. It was really neat to see all stages of the life cycle in one place. Another table had a couple dozen small habitats. We saw different species of preying mantises, lots of beetles, several different kinds of spiders, stick and leaf insects, and a few kinds of roaches, including Madagascar hissing cockroaches. (Ick.)

The last display was set up by a woman who had brought in her own collection. She had two different kinds of caterpillars, including one with striking facial markings on its back (to fool predators) and another that was large and covered with spikes. She brought the caterpillars out and let the kids hold them, which was very exciting. She also had mounted specimens of what they would metamorphose into, which was cool to see. And! She had a habitat with some Vietnamese stick insects, and she brought them out and let us hold them, too. The adult specimen was a good four inches long. It crawled all over Alex's hands and arms. I was fascinated to learn that the stick insect also feels like a stick - rough to the touch. Holding the stick insect was the highlight of the day for me.

There was going to be insect eating later, but we decided to leave before that happened.

I was interested to note that about 80% of the kids there were girls. And these weren't just girls being dragged along to something educational by their parents - several had brought in their pet bugs or specimens they'd caught in their yards, and they were jockeying for a chance to hold the crawly critters and sharing bug facts with great excitement. It seems like people think of bugs as such a stereotypically "boy" interest, but that certainly wasn't in evidence at Bug Fest.

Sadly, we haven't replaced our stolen camera yet. Because some of those pictures would've been really cool.
rivka: (panda pile)
This is probably a shocking confession coming from an American - especially one who lived in the midwest for five years - but until today I had never been to a state or county fair. I didn't grow up in a fair-going family, and I don't tend to like thrill rides, so I never really saw the point.

But, you know. We looked at the Maryland State Fair website, and it was impossible to deny that Alex would love it. Plus, it was on the light rail, so we wouldn't even have to drive. So we went for it. It turned out to be a great experience for all three of us.

Rides are expensive. We went on three rides, and it cost a total of $30. Alex rode the flying elephants with Michael (and loved it) and the carousel with me (mixed reaction - the carousel at the zoo is better). Then all three of us rode the 100-foot-high ferris wheel. I had never been on such an enormous ferris wheel before. It was amazing. Not only could you see the whole fair, you could also see a large portion of the surrounding countryside. Alex was technically five inches too short to ride, but fortunately the guy running the ferris wheel didn't give a damn.

The coolest stuff was happening in the Cow Palace, though. They had a Birthing Center set up in one corner. We were looking at chicks hatching in an incubator when a University of Maryland animal science student let me know that a cow was giving birth right then. So we made our way over to a large pen with bleacher seating surrounding it, and damned if there wasn't an animal tech narrating, "Okay, I can see the calf's nose..." We found seats, and ten or fifteen minutes later there was a wet, bedraggled calf lying on the straw. It was amazing. You could come up to within five feet of the mother and baby, and you could see everything. (I heard many hesitant conversations around me in which parents tried to explain the concept of "the afterbirth" to their kids. Because it was hanging out of the back end of the cow, that's why.) We watched the mother licking and licking the calf as it struggled to stand. Nearby were pens with an extremely pregnant cow and a day-old calf and its mother. I had never seen an animal giving birth before. What a neat experience!

Not far from the birthing center was a milking demonstration. For a dollar, Alex got to spend a couple of minutes hand-milking a Guernsey cow. A group of very kind, very elderly farmers ran the booth. They had one stool set up on each side, so two people at a time got to squirt some milk into a pail. We'd talked about "milk comes from cows" before, and the fact that all mammals make milk for their babies to drink, and then in the birthing center I showed her the cow's udder and explained that it was full of milk for the baby calf to drink. But still, until she pulled on the udder and actual milk that looks like what we actually drink came out, I think Alex had no real understanding of milk production. She was amazed.

On the way out, they gave her a frosty 8oz bottle of milk to drink. I thought that was a nice touch.

We spent a bunch of time by the horse ring, too. What I liked about the fair was the close-up immediacy of the animal areas. Animals at the fair are there to be shown, and the animal areas are set up for the convenience of the people showing animals. There was very little in the way of fences and barriers to keep the public at a distance. So when we wandered into the horse section, horses were ridden by just a couple feet away from us. We leaned up against the fence of the practice corral, watching the riders, for a while, and eventually sat down near the show ring and watched some teenaged girls jumping. It was a good time.

There were pig races. It was every bit as corny as it sounds, and yet kind of fun.

Also? There was a food booth run by the Maryland Watermen's Association, and so I had a soft-shell crab sandwich for lunch. Add your own lettuce-tomato-mayonnaise, and the tomatoes had obviously been grown on someone's farm rather than coming from the supermarket. They were INCREDIBLE. I put some on my sandwich and another pile next to my sandwich, and the lady running the booth just beamed at me and didn't say a word.

I just got a peek into the Home Arts building, because I was the only one in the family who was interested. If I'd had more time, I would have loved to look at all the needlework. I was surprised to see a cross-stitch that I recognized - it was the project I did before my current one. I had no idea that you could enter something you made from a kit, in a fair contest. I would've expected that they would require original designs, or something.

So: the fair was a great time. Consider me a convert.
rivka: (ice cream)
This morning I woke up to a cheerful three-year-old climbing on top of me and saying, "Let's have a pillow fight!!"

I got up. I made pancakes.

We walked to church for "Union Sunday," a special annual service in which UUs from all over the greater Baltimore-Washington area come to our church to hear a rabble-rousing sermon by a notable guest preacher. (It commemorates William Ellery Channing preaching the foundational sermon of Unitarianism from our pulpit in 1819.) The Union Sunday service is always a huge deal and very long. Afterward we went to the reception and listened to the guest preacher, who is running for president of the UUA, explain her platform. (Alex spent most of this time leaning out the window of the parish hall and waving at people.)

Walked home from church. Made a late lunch for myself and Alex while Michael did yardwork. How can a 15-foot-square courtyard require so much work? Started to transplant seedlings I bought yesterday at the Mount Vernon Flower Mart (a festival, not a convenience store), realized that I needed more soil. Decided that as long as we needed to buy more stuff, I should go ahead and buy the rest of the plants I wanted to put in.

Drove to Home Depot with the family. Did some rapid-fire plant selection while Michael and Alex restocked our supply of river pebbles (for the front border) and topsoil.

Drove home. Waved goodbye to Michael as he went off gaming. Planted stuff in the two beds we'd prepared and the containers we bought for vegetables. (Experts at the flower mart confirmed that lead might be an issue. Testing will take a few weeks, so we decided that we'd do our vegetables in pots this season.) Pulled the thicket of weeds from the circular medallion in the center of the courtyard - OMG that was pillbug heaven - and planted stuff there too. Fended off Alex's enthusiastic help.

In the shady bed I planted streptocarpella, a shade-loving form of fuchsia, and some white and lavender impatiens. In the center medallion: white and lavender miniature petunias and some deep magenta verbena. In the sunny strip along the house: some nice tall plants with little flowers, in blue and white, I forget what they're called. Wait, the white ones are this and the blue ones look similar. In pots: a grape tomato, a miniature bell pepper, some parsley to wrap up our herb collection, and a teensy tiny melon called a "Minnesota midget," which the lady at the Flower Mart swore was perfect for container gardens and made weensy little five-inch melons. I was totally charmed.

I think I messed up transplanting a couple of the fruit/veg seedlings, though. I bought them yesterday and didn't plant them until today, and I haven't planted anything since childhood, so I had sort of forgotten about how wet they need to be to come out of their pots cleanly. So the roots got disturbed, and maybe they won't take. Oh well. This is our experimental season.

After all that: I decided that there was no way in hell I was cooking dinner, and besides there isn't much food in the house. So I sponged the garden dirt off Alex and myself and popped her into the stroller, and we walked to a sushi restaurant for dinner.

Walked home. Sponged Alex off again, put pajamas on her, read stories, and put her to bed. Put away two loads of clean laundry and ran another load through the washer and dryer. Caught up on LJ. Willed myself to get up right now and start cleaning up the downstairs. Failed to assemble the necessary will.

The house is a shambles. There are toys and books and clothes and papers everywhere. I will be sorry in the morning if I don't pick up at least a little bit before bed. So instead of writing long LJ posts, you know what I should do? Pick up the downstairs.

Uh huh. Goodnight.

SUUSI 2008

Mar. 30th, 2008 06:47 pm
rivka: (boundin')
Yay, they posted the SUUSI catalog!

They've made some good general changes to the schedule this year. Instead of scheduling adult-focused musicians to play at 5pm and calling that a "family concert hour," they've moved concert hour back to the 8-9pm slot and kept every late afternoon open for chaotic community play time. Evening concerts push worship earlier, which works better for us with Alex's bedtime. And this year they're offering the opportunity to be in Covenant Groups - small groups which meet daily during SUUSI for spiritual conversations, and which can continue throughout the year by e-mail. I think that's a great innovation.

SUUSI is moving from the Virginia Tech campus to the campus of Radford University, about twenty miles down the road. On balance, I think it will be great. Radford is much smaller, and we'll have it to ourselves. VA Tech was always jammed full of sports-camp kids and freshman orientation students - mealtimes especially were a nightmare, with huge crowds and a stressful, rushed atmosphere. SUUSI will still bring a thousand people to the dining hall, but I think the atmosphere will be much more relaxed with everyone from the same program, sharing the same living-in-community expectations.

Dorm rooms will be smaller, and instead of three-bedroom suites with living rooms we'll have two-bedroom suites with no living rooms. I know that the SUUSI Board thinks of this as a feature, not a bug; it will force people to congregate and socialize in open communal spaces rather than private gatherings in living rooms. It remains to be seen how well that will work. The one thing I wonder about is what parents will do between bedtime and the start of childcare co-op. Hang out in the halls, I guess.

I am in the happy position of finding waaay too many things in the catalog that I want to do. Although there is a distressing preponderance of woo-woo workshops, which I think says less about the interests of the average SUUSI attendee than it does about the enthusiasm of woo-woo people to give workshops. (Next year I really need to think about offering the kind of workshops I would want to take.) I have some hopes for "Science, Religion, and the Universe" ("What’s new in physics and how does this relate to our beliefs. The beginning and end of the universe (mostly dark matter and energy) and what happened in between. Also some fun experiments done by participants.") being relatively woo-woo free because it is being offered by a physicist. Although one never knows.

I always think about branching out and trying something completely different at SUUSI, like (particularly) "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain," or singing with the SUUSI Cantatori. But it would take up so much of my schedule. I'd have to commit to showing up to something every morning all week long. I don't necessarily want to nail myself down like that.

There are a lot of nature trips this year that are rated for ages 0+, which is nice. I want to do a couple of those with Alex, and a couple of good challenging hikes for myself. I am intrigued by the dawn canoe trip, but probably not enough to miss the chocolate-making workshop it's scheduled against. (The same one I tried to take last year, which was foiled by intense humidity. I see that this year it's been moved to the morning, which should help.)

Yay! SUUSI! I am so excited.

possible schedule )
rivka: (Baltimore)
...although the lying bastards sent a robocall on Saturday that claimed the service was up and running. Making Michael waste another hour fiddling with it and waiting on hold for tech support. Now they swear we'll have DSL by tonight. I am not holding my breath.

Other than that it was a good, busy, fun weekend.

Friday night Michael's new company treated us (and all their other employees) to a night at the Baltimore Symphony for an event called "Pops Goes Vegas." We weren't really sure what to expect, but it turned out to be awesome. The company event started two hours before the symphony center was open to the general public. When we came in, someone snapped our picture in front of a glitzy Vegas backdrop. We were given flashy (literally: little racing colored lights) pins shaped like a pair of dice which identified us as private party attendees, a deck of company-logo playing cards, and a ticket we could exchange for casino chips. There were gaming tables set up in the main lobby: blackjack, poker, roulette, and craps. On the mezzanine level were a couple of open bars and a sumptuous buffet featuring things like crab claws, pate, sushi, and beef tenderloin. Circulating waiters brought by hot hors d'oeuvres. They also had a magician, an Elvis impersonator, and some feathered-and-sequined showgirls strolling around.

We ate, drank some wine, and played a little poker. I busted out three times in quick succession (it was not particularly difficult to come by additional chip vouchers), mostly I think from bad luck - neither Michael nor I could pinpoint any stupid decisions. He made out like a bandit. Each chip could be exchanged at the end of the evening for a ticket to enter the door prize drawing, which I thought was a nice touch. Michael didn't win anything, though.

I didn't really know what to expect from the music. It turned out to be a glitzy, rather silly Vegas-style spectacular, with a Liberace impersonator, a Frank Sinatra impersonator, a couple of other singers, and dancing showgirls. Lots of costume changes. The orchestra had been forced into white dinner jackets. The singers were good, but I kept thinking that the whole thing was a waste of a very good orchestra.

Afterwards there was a dessert buffet, and then we walked home.

Saturday we had tickets to the National Aquarium, also a benefit from Michael's company. (They have corporate passes to a variety of Baltimore institutions, and anyone is allowed to check them out - it's not used as a merit incentive, or anything. Which is cool.) Alex went crazy over the dolphin show, and was also particularly taken by the rays. (The National Aquarium has a huge ray pool that you can view from both above and below the water.) She was scared of the sharks and some of the bigger fish, which is a new thing.

Afterwards we went to Barnes & Noble, because I had a Christmas gift card burning a hole in my pocket. I got Secret Ingredients: The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink, which is a compendium of food-themed articles and cartoons from the full course of the magazine's history. It is wonderful. And I got the DK First Atlas for Alex.

Sunday: church, and then a chilly and windy picnic at the St. Patrick's Day parade. (Alex: "Are there going to be any beanbags at this parade?" Me: "... ... ...Bagpipes? Yes, there will probably be bagpipes.") A little monotonous (pipe-and-drum band, high school marching band, local Hibernian chapter, lather, rinse, and repeat for two hours) but still fun. My favorites: the Mid-Atlantic Irish Wolfhound club, the very very tiny step-dancing girls, the fife and drum corps dressed up in colonial-era costumes, and a group of poignant, battered-looking Civil War reenactors (in blue) with a torn American flag. I'm not sure what connection the last two groups had with St. Patrick's Day - or the Buffalo Soldiers reenactors, come to that, or the fire engines - but I suppose that they were just there to be suitably parade-like.

We also turned over the key to the old house this weekend. Now we're really and finally moved. Yay.
rivka: (panda pile)
I'm a little embarrassed about how long this post is. But so much happened! Most of it good! Read more... )
rivka: (christmas penguins)
This afternoon, as we've done a couple of times before, we went to a family dance sponsored by the Baltimore Folk Music Society.

The way they've set these up, there's a family dance from 5-6:30pm, then a potluck, and then American folk dancing (contra and square) for adults. Both groups share a caller and dance band. Um, supposedly. This time, the band was very very late - they still hadn't arrived by the time that we left, when the family dance was nearly over - and so the caller had to accompany himself on guitar or fiddle. It's a testament to his considerable skill that this worked at all; in fact, it worked very well.

The family dances seem to follow a particular rhythm: they start out with simple folk dances and dancing games for the first half, and then in the second half there's more of a skill-building focus. The second half of tonight's dance was an introduction to square dancing, leading up to a fairly complicated square dance. ("Duck for the Oyster," if you follow these things.)

Alex was the youngest walker there. ([livejournal.com profile] telerib and [livejournal.com profile] moeticae had Baby Spud in a sling.) For the first two dances, she was my shadow - we held hands and participated as if we were one dancer. (That's what the youngest children usually do, so that they don't have to change partners away from a parent.) After that, she rode on a hip. She did amazingly well when she danced - she did a rough approximation of the steps, kept her focus on the dance, and showed great stamina. And she danced with such joy. She just grinned from ear to ear. Her clear favorite was the Kinderpolka - she even asked me to "sing it" on the way home, which seemed to mean talking out the steps. My favorite was Sasha, a wildly popular (in folk dancing circles), raucous pseudo-Russian dance that the caller couldn't resist putting in when he realized he had not one, but two different Alexandras at the dance.

The other Alexandra is someone I've seen at English Country Dances since she was about four years old and riding on her father's shoulders. She's now nine or ten and has become an accomplished dancer - when we did a cakewalk at the end to win a free pass to next month's dance, she spontaneously did an impressive set of clogging steps. It was cool to see.

I'd like to get more closely involved in the Folk Music Society again myself, and I'd like us to do the family dances more regularly. I had been thinking that we were in an awkward time for that, with Alex too big to be carried and too little to dance herself. But she did great. And it seems like such a wonderful first structured physical activity: it's fun, it builds strength and coordination, it has the potential to be a lifelong hobby, it brings you into a supportive intergenerational community, and there's absolutely none of the competitive or figure-conscious baggage that comes with more traditional activities like team sports and classical dance. And oh, did she ever love it.

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