Saturday, April 07, 2007


Maria... she's all girl and she's alright.

This is a girl post. I have a lot of thoughts, and forgive me; I have no idea where I'm heading. Let's just scratch around here and see what we find. I am thinking about boys and girls and how they are different. Yes, I know they are different, but there are a surprising number of ways I did not know they are unique, and it's also surprising how they are treated uniquely.

I am thinking about being feminine. Maybe it was being a young girl during the seventies that made me so unfeminine, so determined to not succumb to adorning myself in typical girl fashions; there was such a Feminist backlash against femininity, pink, lace, daintiness, vulnerability, pink, dress-up, pretty, girly-girl pink stuff. In my mind, wearing jeans and T-Shirts were the key to retaining sensibility, reason, strength and integrity, and avoiding pearls and classic accessories like lip gloss, hair mousse, faux fur trim, satin, and other high maintenance trappings of girlhood were safeguards against frivolity. Curling irons were unnatural, matching hair ribbons were for fancy girls that didn't know how to scramble up a tree or catch a football.

As I scratch a little deeper, while I must admit that the seventies were largely to blame for my rough exterior, there were other contributing factors to my pink aversion, namely poverty and secret, suppressed envy and denial. I did wear dresses and liked them. I did pose for pictures feeling pretty and polished. When I was about six years old I had a pair of sky blue pants that came with a pink blouse, and at that time, the two colors looked more beautiful together than anything I could ever imagine pairing. I can still recall the confidence and pleasure it gave me to wear them, and the special feeling of pride because they were bought for me; they were not hand-me-downs. I wore them until the blouse strained to contain me and the pants began to look like capris. I don't know how many years I yearned for a canopy bed, matching dresser and night stand, but as I realized those would never be forthcoming, nor black patent leather shoes, or regular shopping sprees at Penney's, well then I naturally snubbed the very idea of desiring fashionable clothes, matching anything or any routine involving curling irons, beauty treatments or new season fashions.

I soon forgot that somewhere, deep inside me was a girl that thought pink is sweet and looks pretty next to sky blue, that lace is amazing, intricate, interesting complex and beautiful, and so are flowers, butterflies, princesses, jewelry, eyeliner and nightgowns. Somewhere along the way those suppressed feminine feelings were replaced with the belief that girls who accessorize, flirt and giggle were trained that way and were in peril of being shallow, losing neural connections and that they were victims of commercial, capitalist conspiracies.

And then I gave birth to three boys, and I thought that I was their prime influence; teaching them that there are no gender lines, to follow their interests and not their societally expected roles. I expected they would wear the colors they like, play the games they preferred and be in touch with a harmonious balance of masculine and feminine emotions and behaviors that were more suitably recognized as simply human, universal qualities. It sort of has worked that way, so naturally I felt a little smug proud, because I had overcome gender bias and created a smart, strong, intelligent home. While we enjoyed and respected traditionally feminine interests, like sewing cooking and floral arrangements, we were not shopping the pink aisle at Target or hanging lace curtains... never would...

And then came Maria.
When people found out we were expecting a girl it began... they said, "A girl," with wispy, heartfelt sighs. They said "Girls are so sweet and easy," and they said, "You're going to love shopping for a girl."

I thought, 'Typical stereotypes and social conventions.' I felt a little different though. I did want to buy dresses, and ribbons look pretty in long hair; did I say 'long hair?' Long, feminine hair, brushed and braided and the ends tied with bows?

I thought, my boys have been easy and sweet, girls don't own sweetness. I felt a little different though. I noticed that Geoff and his boys have a lot to share that actually is unique to guys. They are sweet boys who will grow to be men and have men experiences, and it is a realm that I can admire, respect and observe, but I will never fully know. I thought about being a girl, being my mother's daughter and the connectedness we have by being women. I love relating to my boys and reliving childhood, but expecting a girl opened up memories of not only being a child, but of being a girl. I was remembering that all of my dolls had names that I had wanted to be a princess, wear flowing dresses and flowers in my hair.

Even after having three children, and knowing perfectly well they come pre-packaged with personalities, gifts, attitudes and passions, I still believed that gender roles were assigned and molded by parenting and social expectations. I was wrong. I was naïve.

When Maria was born and we met face to face the first thing I saw, that made a lasting impression, were her lips. They were full and pink, moist, soft and feminine. I would have known she was a girl from just those lips. And how is that possible? She was dainty from head to feet. We dressed her in some hand-me-downs from the boys, but she looked beautiful in lavender. We brought her toys, all kinds, but she sighed and rushed to embrace her first doll. She loves balls and trains and she is wild on the playground, climbing, scaling, and balancing. She also lines her babies safely, comfortably on the bed and pats them when they 'cry.' And when she could sit up and pull things, she began to accessorize and preen. Like a bird, tending her feathers, Maria would adorn herself, adjusting her finery and turning her head to appreciate the affect, she would smile gleefully at her reflection. I had never seen this behavior, even in myself... maybe. Maybe I do remember putting on nightgowns and wearing one on my head for a princess veil, or coveting a grass skirt and bikini top. Maria was not even one year old and she would take any scarf or T-Shirt and put it on her head like a veil, and coo, blissfully glad to be feminine.
Sitting in a shopping cart, when Maria sees shoes her feet twitch and she raises them like magnets drawn to the strappy sandals and cowgirl boots. She makes an urgent plea, "Shoes, shoes, shoes. Off shoes. Pease." She pulls out dresses from the closet and takes them to her daddy, so he'll dress her. Packages in the mail, that come with toys and treats... she finds and pulls out any clothes and hugs them sighing and admiring.

Most days I wear jeans, either the ones with a hole in one knee or the other pair, and I wear a dress that is a sad excuse for a dress by any stretch. If I shower and brush my hair, then I feel lucky. Some days I find my lipstick. Once a month, at most, I put on something newer, cleaner or prettier, and Maria always notices. She lifts the hem of my skirt, looks at the pattern or the lay of the fabric, her eyes meet mine, she smiles approvingly and says, "Pretty, pretty."

So, it turns out it really is about balance, and I have been living out of balance, unappreciative, almost disrespectfully so, of my femininity. What I had categorized as contrived convention, is actually simply another layer of the human experience and it includes, if you like, dress-up, grace, pride, delicacy, flowy gossamer veils and strings of pearls, sparkly shoes, and tea parties, tending baby dolls and cooing at baby bunnies and kittens. My strength and intelligence are neither compromised nor diminished by pinkness and dancing on tiptoes; Maria taught me this.

Friday, April 06, 2007

School is out for Easter break, and I have all my children at home, with me! I am thrilled. No plans for tomorrow. Maybe we'll have a pajama party all day. Bliss.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

This is Chickenblog, where I cluck like a happy hen everytime I think of something new to share...

800 Posts! Eight Hundred. Are you feeling the joy? The wonder? The sheer magnitude and volume of 800 posts merits celebration, and much rejoicing. Have you thought about how you are going to mark the day? I was thinking of baking a three tiered chocolate espresso cake with chocolate butter cream frosting... just kidding. It turns out today is going to be a day like most other days around here. The car needs gas. There is a lot of laundry that is clean, but it needs folding and hanging. Maria ran a fever all night; relapse, again? I'm a little disappointed, because last night I dreamed up beautiful ideas for reflecting on where Chickenblog began and where we are today, and I wanted to make witty references and add brilliant insights, but there really isn't time. Wouldn't it be great to throw in some new bells and whistles, maybe add labels in the sidebar and clever icons to Chickenblog? I nominate myself for a Bloggie: Super Prolific Under the Radar Blog. Cheers to me, the Chickenblogger!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Remember junior high? Remember counting the days 'til summer or the next week-off? Alex was having one of those disappointing 7th Grade Blues kind of days. I hear him and I agree on many points; School ought to be better than it is... I think many of us would agree. Sometimes the fear and loathing of middle school is like a rite of passage that we carry with us. Only years later can we happily connect with our peers, recalling the torment and angst of our early adolescence.

Alex has always had high expectations of the world. He once found me reading a MAD magazine. Alfred E. was gracing the cover, some rude and funny comic was on the back. Alex was about 6 or 7 at the time and he looked appalled. "Why are you reading that?" he asked incredulously. "It looks disgusting."

It sort of was disgusting, but I was on vacation and enjoying a moment of sentimental immaturity, and I explained that while he might not 'appreciate the humor, because it was in fact inappropriate, I wanted to read it. So there.'

With Alex there is no double standard. He said, "You should get rid of it."

I agreed to throw in the recycling bin, not to leave it around to offend young impressionable minds.

He offered to burn it. "You should burn it now. It's disgusting. Why do you want to read it, if it's disgusting?"

This was a growing/learning/responsible parenting moment: I had to choose between junk food for my mind and showing Alex that his convictions and beliefs are worthy of respect. I imagined him in ten years struggling with peer pressure and difficult choices, tempting, but dangerous choices, and I decided I wanted him to feel as bold and empowered to follow his clear and good convictions, as he did about that stupid magazine. Together we put MAD on the fire.

It seems school is tough for the usual reasons we all recall. Who wouldn't rather sleep a little later, and take learning on a mood basis...? "I feel like reading all morning, then riding my bike, before I build a robot."

But Alex gets down and defeated by other things, like the revolving door in the art program. They are starting with a third art teacher, and it seems the art department doesn't even have a pencil sharpener. He wants to learn about art and be challenged to learn new skills. Progress has been glacially slow. Other areas that have come up short include music, technology/computer classes and the promised but revoked Tae Kwon Do program.

He is right, there is reason to be frustrated and disappointed; I feel it too. School has been good for reasons like expanding his experiences. But in terms of the school being prepared to commence a middle school program? It falls far short of what we were promised. I have tried to look forward and be patient, but I am feeling as though the middle school program is incomplete, like an experiment and of course it comes at our expense, in several ways. The administration is unprepared and frequently changing directions, methods, curriculum, staff and even furniture. The teachers seem eager enough, but they are stymied by the administration's shortcomings and inconsistencies.

Life is a learning experience, and not always the one we think we are paying for. Writing in Chickenblog helps me sort my thoughts, and now I realize it may be time to write another letter to the school... if only to get a pencil sharpener in the "Center for Visual and Performing Arts."

And Alex, hang in there mi'jo. It could be worse.
2 days until Spring break.
72 days until Summer break.... only 46, if you don't count weekends and holidays!

Like Wild Geese and Photographic Memories

This poem came from my friend Anne. She's one of the few bloggers I know personally... she always knows what's cooking at my house. I wish I had photos of wild geese, so you must visit Firefly where the wild geese have been visiting.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Ready for another round of Memory Lane, the game where I ask you to sit through highlights of our digital past? I began with these first images in 2002. Then I was browsing more pictures and thought 'I may as well finish my look back and share more pictures.' The last post of old pictures finished with Max rolling in shaving cream. I think there will be one or two more series after today's and then I will be done. This will bring us to the end of 2004. After Maria was born, I was too exhausted to encrypt images any more, and of course lately I post lots and lots of pictures. The "remembering" is a treat for me. I like the random highlights and memory triggers.

A picture is so much more than one image. A picture can hold my hand and take me places, show me where I've been and remind me of places, people and feelings I hold dear.
We haven't been to this park in a long while. I think we should visit soon, look for ducks, hike and play. Picnic, anyone?

I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that these children, Tamsyn and Alex, have grown a lot. It has been three years since this picture was taken. Wow! They have grown a lot.

Adam did us the honor of erupting his volcano in our back yard, at the TreeHouse. Baking soda and vinegar; it never gets old!

Look at that smile. I miss these lemons. These were from our neighbor's tree and they are the best lemons ever. Anne, do you remember Lemon Saturday? It was delicious.

I miss our neighbor and friend, Tamsyn. We don't get to hang out as much. Sigh. Even though I didn't much love the Treehouse, I knew it would not be fun moving away from Tamsyn.

There's a story here. Anne and Chango. This is a friendship that began reluctantly and with trepidation, but Chango wooed his lady fair and finally, he won her heart. Patrick El Gato must be so grateful.

Are we just getting busier? Seems like we got together with friends more often, in the olden days. William and Jacob are hanging out at Max's 6th birthday party. Two cool dudes. Yes, definitely: Time to plan a picnic or a Lemon Saturday.

We could meet in a good tree climbing park, which we know Max would love.

And maybe we can even get the men folk to join us, because we love our men folk.

Pepper Tree Grove, a park in Balboa Park, would make a fun picnic spot.

Okay, so we've been sick and winter weather is not conducive to much outdoor play, but things are looking up around here and I am determined to get some friends together and go wild. I am inspired.

One last image until next time. This is a good example of what can happen when I am struck by inspiration. Foggy dawn at the train station. Where were we off to?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Day In April

Geoff really should consider rising to a management position, or producing. He likes programming and no doubt he's good, but sometimes I am convinced he's not taking full advantage of his natural managerial skills, like list making. I should have let him make me another list yesterday, so that I would not have come home from the store without laundry detergent. The domestic queen is foiled again. So after loathing and resenting my TODO list, I am meekly, apologetically acknowledging the wisdom of making lists.

I need a grocery list and a random household necessities list. I need a list of things I must accomplish, and even a list of things I would simply enjoy accomplishing. I need a calendar that cross references all the lists and a huge bulletin board with flow charts, maps and diagrams illustrating the execution and scheduling of all activities listed. I feel all tingly just thinking of it.

Cristina asked about my camera lens: It is a "12x Optical Zoom... Meg O.I.S." Does that make any sense? It's all built in. I used the macro feature when shooting the pickle weed, but it's not been real consistent. I'm still learning. When it works, wow! I want to fall in to this flower... can you guess what it is?

Maria is in love with these bunny folk, that stand in welcome at her brothers' school. She has spent a week tentatively pointing at them, then she shyly touched a paw.

This morning she could no longer contain her affection. "Bumbies!"

Maria loves bunnies. I do too. It occurs to me that if this weren't Chickenblog, it could very well be Bunnyblog.

A package arrived yesterday, and Maria did not need a single hint or suggestion; she immediately declared that the small and heavy box must contain, "Bumbies." Alex and Max hadn't even begun tearing off the packing tape and she was chanting, "Bumbies, bumbies." And she was right! All the way from Hawaii came an Easteriffic bunny variety, including bunny bookends and Tutu's speciality: Chocolate Marshmallow.

Max shivered in anticipation of this holiday tradition, and I think I still have him convinced that chocolate and marshmallow only grow together in Hawaii, where his grandma has special Santa choco-marsh and bunny choco-marsh connections. Big mahalo and aloha to Tutu and Poppa Corn Man.

Something numerical... this is the 797th post to Chickenblog. The idea of closing in on my 800th post has been very intriguing to me. Is 800 a magic number? Geoff thinks it is significant that I am nearly at 1,000, but I am fascinated by 800. I really am seriously considering a Chickenblog contest and prize giveaway, or confetti and horns extravaganza. Maybe I will meet myself for coffee, wear big sunglasses and grin knowingly.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Geoff posted a "To Do" list over my desk, where I sit and pretend to be busy. He scrunched his words together, so I read "TODO" instead of "to do." Todo is everything in Spanish and so I see everything looming over me. Everything I need to do. Everything I should do. Everything I want to avoid, delay, postpone, evade, escape, delegate, and deny.

Alex says, "Feh" calmly and cooly, but with a sufficient hint of disdain, when facing tedious or annoying tasks. I say Feh, when I look at the list. I don't even have to look at it. Geoff read it to me twice. He made me sit beside him in bed when he composed it. I know it has important and necessary jobs, like "prepare taxes" and "clean car." Heck, I can even think of some good ones he left out.

I just haven't been hit by the spark of enthusiasm and motivation that higher functioning beings run on. I feel distracted and scattered. I think of things like learning to knit, writing, taking pictures, going back to the thrift shop where I found Maria's blue dress, unpacking Grandma E's tea cups, starting a new quilt, visiting Anne's new yard, driving somewhere. My mind is so busy producing and creating, that I resent the list tacked to the wall, calling me, "Do this, do that, be efficient and effective." Feh.

Geoff's right. We have no room for shirkers and lazy, crafty, daydreamers. We have no need of volunteering room moms, gone for the day to do good in some other world. We need Todo, done right here under the mighty roof of Cramalot, where we are still packed and cluttered, and unsettled. We need effort and focus.

I've already stated all my disappointments and obstacles, and it matters not one bit that I feel derailed and undone. Life must go on, and it ought to go on in a clean house, with regular and healthful meals, and the taxes done. Feh. I feel so justified and indignant when I make my list of rationales and excuses, for not being a high functioning super human, wonder mother. But the list remains tacked to the wall and demands execution of stated chores.

Someday I will have lived in one place for more than 3 or 4 years. I will know where scissors are, and double sided tape. I will not have to recreate a home, with organized closets, shelves and rooms, again. I will not have to change services, addresses and furniture arrangements, again. Someday I will feel at home, and then my to do list will be frustrating only in the usual sense, and it will not feel like I have had my life turned inside out, again.

I will say this: I am full of awe, wonder and gratitude. My children are clever and delight me. My husband is handsome, brilliant and generous. I find funny things in many and unexpected places. I find beauty too. It's a blessing that even when I am sad or overwhelmed, I can still recognize all that is good, like blue dresses in thrift shops, cowboy hats and ribbons, beautiful children and absolutely amazing jugglers.

9 things on the list... I can juggle this... I'll start with #2...
(Thanks Aunt Carol.)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A Summary

Last week I sent out a "Come See Art" invitation for Grandma Nancy's quilts; visit here for her one of a kind creations.
(I love her quilts so much I couldn't help but make a general call to one and all; I wanted to make connections and strike up conversations about art, beauty, imagination, inspiration and sharing. Now I feel a little self conscious, like a mediocre and loud street performer. Anyway, I will just carry on, while you look at the quilts. Be well.)

It's time for a summary of conditions here at Garage Mahal Cramalot. We have put out Easter decorations and they look charming and spring worthy. They also look a little drowned out by the daily clutter, so as usual, I am trying to move in. Moving in will likely take as long as our lease lasts, and then I will commence moving out. Unpacking and moving in is continuing to be interrupted by sickness. Yes, we are still sick. Geoff, Max and Maria are hardest hit at the moment. The pediatrician said our situation is typical of a lot of families in the area who are being visited by an endless cycle of viruses. Geoff's doctor sent him home with an arsenal of pharmaceutical elixirs and tonics. The pediatrician sent us home $20 poorer. I've said it before: You have to pay $20 on Friday, listen to the patronizing drivel the pediatrician spews, so that you don't end up in the ER Saturday night, where they will look at you scornfully for neglecting your child. Max and Maria are showing the faintest signs of improving. Geoff's cough syrup seemed to help, but I accuse it of making him an angry, grumpy, bad tempered bear of a man, but don't tell him I said so.

I have been returning to our private nature center, under the power lines, just passed the no trespassing sign on the high fence. The boys can ride their bikes there and I can push Maria and take pictures. The camera is still a complicated character, with a seemingly endless variety of options. I took far, far away pictures and found that I can get photographs of houses that are at least two miles away. It reminds me that we are losing our privacy in very many ways, and it makes me a little sad, because I don't feel quite as safe being weird in public. You never know when a goofy parking lot dance will end up on YouTube.

I've taken close up pictures of buckwheat and sage and some insects, and the rest of the nature in the easement is shrubs and dirt. There is also ice plant or pickle weed. Living in So Cal most of my life, pickle weed is as common as nail salons and cell phone kiosks; they don't inspire me to stop and admire. But I want to play with my camera, so I took a second look at a big anemone of a blossom sitting in a succulent, green pickle weed sea.

I regret that I had never before taken the time to appreciate the delicacy and beauty of the pickle weed blossom. Up close the flower is intricate and lovely. It is both bold and fragile, and reminded me of playing in tide pools, touching the outstretched petals of underwater life forms. I plan to go back today to see whether they have a detectable fragrance.

This is a weed, or as I have read it is also known as wild radish. I have pulled these up looking for the radish and found none. Either I pulled too soon or I read wrong. I will investigate further. The tiny hopper on the blossom doesn't seem to mind one way or another

I deleted the pictures of people's big houses taken from miles away. I kept this picture of the moon; also taken from miles away. I like that it's not perfectly focused. The colors are like a popsicle's melting and melding, romantically mingling in the evening sky. Makes me feel kissy and poetic.