Wednesday, June 29, 2011


So, guess how many days it takes to learn to ride a big kid bike?  Well, if you've first gotten really good on your pedal-less bike, it's 4 days!  I am insanely proud of Elizabeth, and well, inordinately pleased with myself. 

What's a pedaless bike, you ask?  Exactly as it sounds, it's a small two wheeled bicycle that doesn't have pedals (and often the steering is a little restricted so it doesn't go all over the place).  The child pedals, Flintstone style, with its feet and learns the key to bicycling: balance on wheels.  I learned about these bikes in 2007, and did a ton of research.  They gained popularity in Europe (in countries with high bicycling rates) and proponents claimed they gave kids a fast track on learning to ride a bicycle - after learning balance, the child can graduate to a two wheeled bike without having any training wheels.  The thing is, since they were fairly new to the US, and came from European countries, they were also incredibly expensive.  I was intrigued, but not going to pay $400 for something that may be a little gimmicky.  But I kept looking, and amazingly Target came out with a pedaless wooden bike for $50, which I picked up at the end of summer for $40!  We gave it to Elizabeth for her second birthday.

But, she was far too small for it, so it didn't really see any action for actually a couple of  years.  I've been going through photos and only found a few from April 2009.

It's too bad we don't have more photos or videos, because she was a whiz on that bike, though it did tend to wear out the toes of her shoes as you have to drag your feet to slow down.  And of the 30+ kids roughly her age who live on our block, 4 more pedaless bikes showed up, though we still got a few funny looks every once in a while.  (and, I have to admit, last year I had to have both tires replaced on the bike, and instead of getting an estimate, I just had them do it - to the tune of $40/tire!  So the bike has not quite been the absolute bargain, but still a pretty good bargain).

Anyway, at the end of last year we realized she'd need a new bike this year, but we've been dragging our feet, unsure what to get, and not wanting to spend much money.  Elizabeth's school had a graduation/promotion for her class (another post to come!), and when my parents were here they suggested we hit the thrift store, so at the very last minute, three days before the end of school, it occurred to me that I should see if I could snag a bike for a present.  And sure enough, there were two possibilities which I debated, but ended up going with the more solid, heavy choice - mostly because I noticed it had a sticker from the high end bike shop in town.  And when I got home, a google search showed me I had paid $20 for a $180-when-new bike.  Yes!

Anyway, the night before the end of school, Rich suddenly said, oh shoot, I didn't go out and get training wheels.  I looked at him and said no training wheels!  We did the pedaless bike!  We're not going to training wheels.  He was skeptical, but since we didn't have any other option decided to see what happened.

The gift was a big success!  

My blog posts are too long.  I got caught up in looking for old pics of the trusty pedaless bike.  But anyway, here's the progression:

Day 1:  bike riding with adult running along behind holding bike upright.  Exhausting for adult.  Rich was impressed with her tenacity, and after a few passes I said, heck, 15 minutes and she'll be done. Rich was skeptical, thought it would be several more hours.  Fell once.  Practice time:  <30 minutes
Day 2:  100% confidence in stopping on her own.  Needed help starting, but able to pedal down sidewalk with no support once underway.  Beginning frustration that help was needed to start.  Practice time:  again ~30 minutes  Mommy:  patting myself on the back and acting extremely smug. 

 Day 3:  Insistent on learning how to start all by herself.  Managed 2 out of about 8 tries.  Totally frustrated to the point of tears, though really excited at the riding part.  Mommy: big mistake in saying, listen, maybe you need a break, it's ok if you don't learn to do this today.  Elizabeth: Insistence on perseverance, until it was nearly dark outside.  Practice time: about 30-45 minutes
Day 4:  Success within 5 minutes.  Grasped concept of using knee to push pedal to correct position, push with one foot and hop with other until underway.  Mommy: insufferable with smugness over ease in which she learned to ride, thanks to pedaless bike. 

Then we went camping for two days and didn't bring the bike out.  But we did at the next campground, where the road by the camping spots was paved in a loop.  I first told her she had to ride back and forth within sight, but after watching her twice, I said heck, go for the loop.  And so on Day 5 of learning, she learned how to ride while standing up on the pedals!

But besides the absolute pride I feel for how she persevered and insisted on pushing herself to learn a physical task, know what the second best part was?  When my mom admitted she thought the pedaless bike had been a bit silly but she was wrong!  Yes.  Now that's satisfaction. 

Last weekend our street had a block party which included a parade, and our little bike rider had a great time. 

And the pedaless bike has passed to Andrew, who is completely and utterly excited.  And one inch too short!  Let's hope for a little bit of growth this summer so he can ride along, too.

I was 6 or maybe even 7 before I learned to ride, of course older than I should have been, but too timid and uncoordinated to learn earlier.  I over relied on my training wheels, but once I learned I've loved bike riding - there's something very free about it.  How old were you?  How did you learn?  Seen any pedaless bikes around, or are they a big city fad?  

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Observant readers may have noticed a change in Elizabeth and Andrew in the last post.  That's right, on June 10th, they had their second haircuts ever!  Well, their official second - you may remember that Elizabeth cropped Andrew's bangs almost to his scalp last summer, precipitating the first official haircuts.  Andrew's hair had gotten ridiculously long, and he was occasionally mistaken for a girl. 

 Rich and Gee (our babysitter) were petrified I would get it cut too short, and the hairdresser showed me several pictures of close cropped boy styles, with the back totally layered.  I had her do a looser cut, leaving the back longer. 

Elizabeth first had her long, mid-back length, curly hair washed.  
And I first had her cut it below shoulder length, but Elizabeth really, really wanted it shorter.  She has two friends with shoulder length pageboys and bangs, and really wanted her hair to look like theirs. We decided to take another inch off, and gently taper some of the front.  But the front of her hair is too curly for bangs.  

 She LOVED it.  I thought the blowdry took out the curl, but I've been surprised that most of her curl is really gone.  When not blown dry, the front is a bit wavy and the back will still do a nice flip. 

 We left a fair amount of hair on the floor. 
 Our two cuties!  The salon gives out little toys after cuts, and they both chose whistles. 

Monday, June 27, 2011


Well, so much for my grand plans for Re-o-ju-blo-po-mo.  So much for good intentions, right?  Well, my excuse is my parents came into town on their annual summer mystery tour in their RV, and then decided to extend their stay, and then one night I said, hey, I've got nothing going on and Elizabeth just finished school, so even though Rich has to work, why don't we come along with you all next week? 

And so we did.  My parents have a 32 foot Winnebago, and it has two slideouts, so in some ways it's pretty spacious, but in most other ways it's pretty small.  Packing for trips has gotten easier now that they're older - I packed one bag for me, one for them, a miscellaneous bag of toys and shoes and diapers and wipes and any extra stuff, my computer bag (but no wifi anyplace we went), a cooler, a "dry goods" bag (snacks, sippy cups, dog food, etc), Elizabeth's new bike (post to come), Andrew's scooter, and two kid helmets.  All in all not bad, though it still took several hours.  Luckily the RV is fully outfitted so there was no need to pack towels or sheets. 
And, did I mention I decided to bring Skipper?  Skipper actually loved it - I was able to walk her a bit off leash and she just loves to run around. 
So, 3 extra people, 1 extra dog - it was a little cramped. Storing our stuff out of the way, and keeping it minimally organized, was a challenge. 

The RV has a bedroom in the back, with its own TV, so my parents could escape there in the evenings and leave me to deal with the two maniacs.  There is a couch that converts to a queen size bed in the front, so the three of us slept there (and when the couch opens up, there is open space underneath, so Skipper felt right at home!).  Something happens at 9 pm on camping trips - they just get totally wired and go crazy.  Facebook friends know we went tent camping over Memorial Day weekend (post to come) and let's just say sleeping is a huge issue.  Stern Words were spoken every night (usually to no avail, until my father exited the bedroom and laid down The Law).  

Despite the challenges, I do enjoy going on camping trips with them.  Living in the city, I think it's important to get them out in nature as much as possible, and a few days on the Eastern Shore did not disappoint.  And the beauty of the RV is that we can spend time in nature and then hustle into air conditioning when we need a break!  Elizabeth loves exploring outside, and shocked me the first day by picking up the biggest, ugliest black beetle I've ever seen.  She was fascinated.

And at our second campground, she was excited to find a box turtle walking in the woods!

Of course we had to bring him home to examine him in more detail, but we quickly let him go, which Elizabeth later sobbed was "the hardest decision ever."

And in great news, Rich was able to compress his work schedule and come meet us for the final night.  That meant we had to fold down the dining room table and make that into a bed, too, and Rich got to speak the Stern Words that evening.   Whatever he said, it (finally) worked. 

The From Left to Write Book Club consists of over 100 bloggers who read books and then write posts inspired by the book (not a review of the book). This month's post was partially inspired by The Unexpected Circumnavigation.  As a member of the book club, I was given a free copy of the book, which was essentially a travelogue/diary compilation of blog posts, minimally edited, from a trip across the Pacific Ocean in a 43-foot power boat.  

I tend to like books about grand adventures.  The best book about someone taking on a trip for which they were not entirely prepared has to be Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. The scene near the beginning when his (totally unprepared, overweight, and out of shape) hiking companion throws half his gear off an overlook because he is too overloaded still makes me giggle.  

A couple of years ago I picked up a book called Queen of the Road: The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 miles, 200 shoes, 2 cats, 1 poodle, a Husband and a Bus with a Will of Its Own by Doreen Orion.  I'll admit that the 200 shoes caught my eye, but it's far more than that - a story of a (slightly unprepared) couple touring around the US in an RV.  The author also kept a blog of the trip, for friends back home, but then turned that blog into a book by weaving together the stories into a coherent whole, including natural history, local history, and indepth characterizations of the people they met and the places they visited.  I passed that book to my mom just after their Western US RV trip, and I've had another friend take a similar trip - it seems like everyone in an RV visits the same places and does the same thing when traveling in the West.  

And finally, I have to recommend Vincent Bugliosi's And the Sea Will Tell - yes, the crime author/lawyer who prosecuted the Manson murders and wrote Helter Skelter.  I don't usually read true crime, but this book truly captured the remoteness of the Pacific and how things can go terribly, horribly wrong.  But more importantly, Bugliosi does a great job of "showing, not telling."  It's not a cut and dried recitation of facts that he tells you, he shows you what life was like on a small boat, in an isolated paradise, and why that paradise might not be all that it seemed.  Bugliosi wouldn't ever write something like there were sharks in the lagoon.  He did the work to figure out what kinds of sharks, and what size they were, and whether they were dangerous to humans (most sharks are not). 

edited to add - whoops, I totally forgot Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm.  Yes, it's a thrilling (and of course ultimately tragic) read of big storms and big seas, but one scene I've always remembered is the men stocking up on provisions before the big trip.  Junger totally captured the joy of living as they whiz through the grocery store, throwing everything and anything into their carts, then peeling off bills from a fat roll to pay.  And, of course, he captures the feel of loneliness and isolation at sea and masterfully shows the men's stories.  

There are plenty of grand adventure tales out there - hope to read a few more before summer is over.  What's your favorite grand adventure story? 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

the temper

There's one aspect of Andrew's personality that isn't quite so charming: this boy has a temper.  Unlike Elizabeth, he has been known to throw a tantrum a two.  I wonder sometimes if it's because unlike Elizabeth, he has a older sibling who attempts to control him?  Whatever it is, it can be fierce.  He throws things and has been known to hit.  But also, the storm usually passes fairly quickly.

About two months ago, something happened at the end of dinner that set him off - we can't remember what it was, but he was mad.  For dessert we doled out 10 M&Ms to each child.  In his anger, though,  when I put down his M&Ms, he angrily swept them off the table onto the floor.  'Oh no', I said, 'that's too bad, no M&Ms for Andrew.  I will pick them up and put them at Daddy's chair and Daddy will get M&Ms.'  This, of course, only set him off further and his furious cries continued.

Until suddenly they stopped, mid-cry.  Andrew turned to us with a big smile on his face and said, 'I done crying now.  Can I have my M&M's?'

And yes, he got them.  Call us suckers - but how can you turn this down?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The little guy

I read through some of the archives this morning and can't believe how spotty this record is.  It's not NaBloPoMo, but I have a little pledge for my own Rest-of-June-Blo-Po-Mo.  We have too much cuteness not to share! 

Last summer I wrote Andrew was just on the edge of language explosion, but then I never got around to describing it.  He's amazing - Elizabeth was and is a very verbal child, but I can't tell you how people gush about Andrew.  He may be more talkative than she ever was.  At 2.5, you can have clear conversations with him.  He's the most verbal boy on our street.  We saw a child-free friend last weekend we hadn't seen for awhile and after their conversation she turned to us and asked the usual question - how old is he?  Is it typical for 2.5 year old boys to talk this much? 

Last summer, he started counting.  It started on pool trips.  He would walk to the edge of the pool, shout TWOOOOOOO and then jump in.  Whether or not anyone was there to catch him.  We kinda sorta use the 1-2-3 discipline method, which means you count to 3 and if child is not complying by 3, there are consequences.  However, both Rich and I are too loathe to impose said consequences, so we tend to drag out the twoooooooo.  And Andrew picked up on it perfectly. And he's not looked back since - he can count to 12 now without any problems (5 was a little left out for a while), and keeps trying to  push it further. 

I always get freaked out at the pediatrician when the nurses ask all these development questions at the beginning.  I think I take them too literally and get all worked out about being precise with my answer.  Last November, at the 2 year mark, the question that through me was does he know his colors?  My reply, is he supposed to know his colors?  I had no idea - it wasn't something we were working on.  The answer was he knew no colors, so we started working on that.  For a while, he would just simply guess green for any color.  And if we said no, he'd guess blue.  Then, lellow?  But by the spring he was getting it right more often than not, and now he's pretty good, except last week we noticed he clearly had trouble with red/green.  We'll see where that goes. 

And he loves to pretend to be his trucks or animals or whatever toy.  He grabs two similar toys, holds onto one, hands you the other and says, you be dis vun, I be dat vun.  He's losing the dis and dat for a more clearer this and that, and vun is slowly becoming one, but I loved the way he said it.  Initially, he didn't know what to do after you'd agreed to be dis vun, so the two toys would just look at each other and say hi repeatedly, but now he constructs adventures and expects you to follow along in character. 

And he does not like it when you do things for him.  "I fought I was goin' to do dat,' he'll say accusingly.  So you have to back off and let him do it. 

The video above is from May - Elizabeth's school does a mother's day program that he and I attended.  There was a delay in staring it (*eyeroll*) and so to occupy him, I suggested he run around.  He LLOOOOVVVES this video and we watch it all that time.  Andrew running?  Let's see Andrew running! 

Last weekend, Rich attempted to put him down for a nap, only to hear, today is not nap day! 

But my all time favorite started about a month ago.  When we put him in his crib at night and he lays down and is ready to sleep (as opposed to when he stays standing and insists on one more book or playing dis vun dat vun) he lays down and snuggles in and then says, when the sun comes up, I will wake up. 

And we say, ok, little guy, that sounds like a good plan. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Happy World Ocean Day

When I was in grad school (the source of my Seminole love), my group was pretty tightly knit and pretty much exclusively just us oceanography students.  That's not surprising - grad school is all encompassing under any circumstances, but particularly so in science, with experiments and field work and lots of time in the lab and lots and lots of work at all hours.  We worked hard, and well, we played hard too.  In short, we pretty much traveled as a loose, semi fluid pack of broke grad students, spending all our time together.  And despite our obvious differences, our work meant we were more alike than different.  

My housemate Heidi was better at branching out and having outside friends, and so every once in a while we'd hang out with some rugby players.  (Heidi is still with Clarence, a rugby player whom she met near the end of their time at FSU.)  And actually one of the physical oceanographers was a rugby player, too, so there were some connections.  Anyway, however it happened, here was a connection to people who were a little different in their work and ambition than us - the thing that held them together was rugby, but they did all sorts of other things in their real life.  The thing that held us together was oceanography, and that was pretty much all we did.

At this point in my life, I'd spent two summers and one winter as a park ranger at Assateaugue Island National Seashore, (the best job I've ever had), another summer as a naturalist at Pocomoke River State Park, two other summers on a conservation crew working on the Pocomoke River, I was diving weekly in the Gulf of Mexico for our research, spending weekends diving in the clear freshwater springs that dot Florida, spending time at the Marine Lab, teaching kids on the weekend about the natural history of the Florida coast - in sum, doing things I loved that were also fun.  I'd be on one deep sea research cruise, and had missed diving to the bottom of the ocean in Alvin by a coin flip for the last spot on the last dive. 

And I've never forgotten a conversation held at a bar with some random rugby player one night.  He was going to law school, and was asking us about our research and our work and what we did.  He told me that his goal was to make a lot of money, which was why he was in law school.  And he'd work hard at law, and make that money, and on his vacations, 4 weeks a year, he'd go diving and swimming and camping and visit and stay in fabulous places.  And I remember just being incredulous.  I'd never actually met anyone who professional goal was to make money in order to fund the things he loved doing.  Everyone I knew at that point did the things they loved doing on a daily basis.  And sure, we'd never make a lot of money, but who needs a lot of money when you get to spend every single day doing what you loved?  It was a totally different perspective - one I've since come to learn is, let's be real, the prevalent one in the US.  Work is the thing you do to make money.  I'd always thought of work as your vocation - the thing you love to do more than any other thing and so while the reward may or may not be monetary, the true rewards come from doing what you were meant to do. 

And, well, since that time I went on two more deep sea cruises, and did get to visit the bottom of the ocean in Alvin, and realized research wasn't the path for me, but that the intersection of science/policy/education was and did lots of interesting work in interesting places.  And then along came Elizabeth.  And when I was pregnant with Elizabeth, I worked two port calls for the scientific research vessel my company managed and I stood on the deck of the ship and felt a powerful tug to sign up for a two month long research cruise, but also knew that was never, ever going to happen.  And then there was Andrew, and I've managed to patch together work in science and policy and education, until lately I've not been been able to.  And now I'm looking at jobs that are just that - jobs.  To earn money.  To be able to do the things that really matter to me.  But those things now are t-ball and field trips and music class and story time. 

It makes me sad, to be perfectly honest, to realize I can't make it work.  I look at lists of "good mom jobs" and think why didn't I become an accountant?  And then I think of free-falling in Alvin with the siphonphores twinkling in the dark of the deep ocean and know I wouldn't trade any of that away.  I just can't, for a variety of reasons, make it work right now, but now isn't forever. 

Happy World Ocean Day. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


When we first lost Aggie, I was stunned mostly by how empty the house felt.  There was a presence missing, and the house was quiet.  Too quiet.  And so Skipper came to live here in January, a little over 4 months ago. 

Rich calls Skipper the Bizarro Aggie.  (for those not well versed in Seinfeld minutia, here's the wikipedia, though it doesn't focus on the hilarious Bizarro world interactions as much as the man hands and Kramer's job!).   Skipper is completely opposite Aggie in every way.  Aggie was 100% personality, coming directly at you, forcing you to deal with her.  Skipper would prefer very much to just be left alone, thank you very much. 

Quite honestly, Skipper appears devoid of any personality whatsoever, though that's not fair to her.  There are flashes of personality, but they are fleeting and quickly subdued. 

Here's Skipper's schedule:  Wake up when we do.  Get hauled out from under the bed, then picked up and taken downstairs when leash is put on.  Go for walk and hopefully take care of business.  Come inside, have leash hooked on a chair to keep her in one place, then have wet food set in front of her which she quickly eats as long as no one is watching.  Be unhooked from leash, make a mad dash for under the couch.  Wait til Rich and Elizabeth leave for school, then dash past Gee and Andrew and follow Susan upstairs.  Dash under bed.  Stay there.  At 5:30, get hauled out from under bed, leash hooked on, carried downstairs for afternoon walk, where hopefully business is taken care of.  Come inside, leash unhooked, and depending on mood dash under couch or dash upstairs and go under bed.  If stayed downstairs, wait until kid's bathtime and follow Susan upstairs, and dash under bed.  Get hauled out from under bed around 10 and carried downstairs for evening walk with Rich.  Come inside, have leash removed, and dash upstairs to under bed.  When it is completely quiet and dark, creep out from under bed and crunch dog food and lap up water.  Hide under bed til morning.  Repeat. 

To be honest, a terrarium with a couple of snails may have more personality. 

As Rich says, to counter my argument that at least she's an easy dog: I'd like to know I even have a dog in the house! 

I vacillate between two strategies.  Either we leave her alone completely to come out of her shell on her own, or we haul her out from under the bed and force her to interact.  If I had errands to run in the car on cool days I've taken her along.  We sometimes make her sit with us downstairs.  Harrison is jealous when we do this. 
She was great in Florida.  OK, well, sure, she spent her usual 22 hours of the day under the bed, but I was able to walk her off leash every day and she loved it.  So when we got back, I took E and A and Skipper to Rock Creek and we hit a short trail. 

She is a cute dag (Rich: cute is not enough!). 

And to be fair, she has some sort of intestinal issue that we cannot seem to fully resolve, and it clearly impacts her.  We deal with one thing and she's great, and then another thing pops up.  Perhaps she has IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), brought about by stress/nervousness.  She'll likely be at the vet again this week.  And she does sometimes break out a little bit - three out of the past four days she's come out from under the bed in the morning and followed me downstairs, without the hauling and carrying.  There is a playful, sweet pup in there, we just hope, with a little attention, patience, and more time we can bring it out. 

The From Left to Write Book Club consists of over 100 bloggers who read books and then write posts inspired by the book (not a review of the book). This month's post was inspired by The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, by Elisabeth Tova BaileyAs a member of the book club, I was given a free copy of the book. This isn't remotely the post I wanted to write about this lovely, spare, lyrical, poetic book.  I don't actually read all that much natural history, even though I tend to love what I read (because of a lethal combination of "I give at the office" mixed with jealousy and bitterness that I don't write like this).  This is among the best natural history I've ever read.  I love, love love Victorian naturalists, but even more than their writing I love when someone else culls through their prose and pulls out the best bits.  And what I truly loved about the book is that it sits in many categories - I loved the natural history, but the woman who brought this book to the book club did so because of the long-term debilitating illness that is the other portion of the book.  This book came along at precisely the right and absolutely the wrong time in my professional life, as I face the reality of leaving behind the world of science and nature, even as tenuous as my connection had been the past few years.  I have a few posts in my head to write about that, so we shall see if they ever make it into pixels.