Friday, January 31, 2014

Too young for funerals

In honor of the Year of the Horse, this is Davinci's horse from the Meijer Gardens that I photographed  a few years ago
I asked Shanna if she thought Oliver was old enough to go to Ramy's cousin's funeral the other day. Absolutely not! The Syrians are quite vocal in mourning especially when the circumstances surrounding the death were so tragic (young,sudden, leaving 3 children under 4 behind). He would be frightened.

I was a year older (7) when I went to my first funeral, my grandmother's. We were still living in NY; my grandparents: Ann Arbor. My father wanted to catch a plane to see her for the last time but I was no where to be found. I spent the summer days just wandering around town. My mother never asked where I was going.But they wanted to leave before I usually returned so a whole lot of screaming when I finally showed up. Once she was dead, the rest of us went to Ann Arbor by train.

I remember the smell of her embalmed body, very heavy of rose oil, attar for those of us in crossword puzzle world. It was years later when I was able to identify the smell. In my teens, there was a popular cheap perfume, A Rose is a Rose. I felt her cold waxiness. So strange.

The funeral itself was held on a terrace on their property. They lived on top of a steep hill (probably the steepest in our county) in a large house looking like it belonged on a southern plantation. It was a beautiful, sunny August day. The funeral itself was boring but then we went to the grave site. My father was alternately throwing himself over the casket wailing  and shaking me screaming in my face that I would never, NEVER see her again. Don't I understand? His cousin kept trying to calm him down. My grandfather seemed disgusted by his display and tried to order him to be quiet.

After years of being screamed at, I knew it was usually best not to react and just put on my usual poker face. He mistook my stoicism for lack of understanding about death. I did love my grandmother. She was bed ridden for as long as I knew her. These days she would have been treated much differently. She had diabetes. She would have been encouraged to do some exercise. I am sure her inactivity led to the stroke.

More snow in the forecast for us bedraggled winter hating folks.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Painting with fingers

The above photos I took during yesterday's babysitting adventure. There's a lot more of Tess because I am trying to find one suitable to convert to a large canvas. I do like the one with her standing but I cut off some of her head. I had bought this dress some time ago thinking it wold look good with her coloring. I also tried to take some of Oliver,much more  difficult.He has a nice smile but can not or will not show it on command. So I tried to catch him while he was watching TV.

I let Tess use the iPad for the first time She was using an art app in which she can paint with her fingertip. She watched her finger make various colored lines and then would lift her finger to see if it was stained. She did this several times until she as convinced she didn't have paint on her fingers. She also did a better job than Maya on the Doodledot program in which you are told to touch various colored dots to form a picture. She almost always was correct. Maya refuses to concentrate and keeps hitting the dots without listening.

While I was entertaining her, Daniel got into some cupcakes and crumbled them all over his face and the carpet. Quite the mess. First he isn't allowed to eat near the carpet nor is he allowed to take stuff without asking. I asked him Who is going to clean up this mess?

Oliver quickly replied that Mommy would. Nope, Daniel will do it. I had him put the larger pieces in a bag with him complaining that this was too much for him. Then it was time for him to vacuum. He recoiled in fear as the noise scares him. Too bad. He eventually cleaned everything up.

I was back there today after going to the Y but I only had Tess and she was sleeping most of the time.

We missed Maya's dance and music concert at her school. Naomi showed us movies though. Maya usually loves to sing and dance but on stage she stood petrified holding her cousin's hand.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Babysitting r us

Steve and Allie at 4 months

I don't look like an attentive sitter here but she just woke up
Every day this week we will be baby sitting though on Thursday and Friday, not all day. Due to Ramy's cousin's sudden death, a lot of it is so they can attend various services and the funeral. We are at Shanna's now. Tess is taking a nap and the boys are mesmerized by the minitablet we gave Oliver.

Yesterday it was because Allie's daycare was closed. Now I understand why schools were closed because little kids shouldn't be out walking around or waiting for the bus in minus 35 windchills but I would guess that the daycare workers drive in. They are closed today too but Julie already was going to take today off to take Allie for her check-up. Maya is back in school though Oliver's school district is closed.

This all has wreaked havoc with my exercise schedule. So that I wouldn't go completely crazy, I went for a run early this morning. Coldest run ever at zero and a 15 mph wind. Tough going into the wind. I had to stop to remove ice from my glasses. Fortunately they cleared the bike path somewhat so the surface wasn't too bad unlike the roads which have patches of black ice where they have salted and then the salt water freezes as it is so cold. I will have to miss my Y class again tomorrow but maybe I can get into the Y early before heading back to Shanna's. I will just have Tessa tomorrow and Friday and she is the easiest of the five by far.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Bath begonia gardens. I am in there some where
Again we are in the midst of a polar vortex. Current windchill minus 33. Even UM is closed for the first time since Jan 1978 (I do remember that blizzard in which we couldn't leave the house for 3 days due to so much snow). Presumably the Y classes are cancelled when the schools are  closed but Ann Arbor schools were going to be closed anyway for the end of the semester. Allie's daycare is closed so we will go watch her so the mom can work.

On the immediate left: my view from my window

The theme of this week: baby sitting.

Last night we had the boys and Tessa. Sadly, one of Ramy's groomsmen died Sunday, a cousin, leaving 3 very young ones. He had been feeling ill for about 3 weeks thinking it was a combination of the flu and baby sleep deprivation. A week ago, he goes to the doctor. The next day: the ER where he was admitted.Turns out he had leukemia and a raging, uncontrollable infection. They had a viewing just for family. I assume there will be a funeral  and Shanna has some appointments coming up. So our services are needed.

As it was a toasty 8 degrees in the morning (only getting colder as the day progressed) I found a path to run. We had yet again a few more inches of fresh snow so I got an upper body workout too.

Back to organizing things. My favorite: editing old photos. Fun to remember when I was in a place all green and full of flowers compared to the all white landscape outside.: From our England trip:

Steve came across this scary swarm in Canterbury

Monday, January 27, 2014

Oliver turns 6!

One of the two rooms full of inflatables

Dual birthday celebrants
Maya's favorite

Hard to get the kids lined up and looking in the same direction

Daniel and pizza

Tessa and Aunt Naomi
The Birthday King sitting on his inflatable throne

Mom helping Oliver unwrap his many presents

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Double Birthdays

Oliver is 14 months here
Shanna is pregnant with Daniel
Today Oliver's sixth birthday will be celebrated by a party at a bouncy castle place. Steve's birthday will be celebrated with dinner with me and the joy of seeing his grandchildren jump up and down. We are so lucky to have all the grandchildren so close together.

Another polar vortex is blowing in. This January must be the coldest, snowiest ever. Yesterday was the warmest day at 20 degrees but another 4 inches of snow had fallen plus massive drifts from the strong winds of the day before (below zero with 40 mph winds..weird, spooky noises all day). But with only 15 mph winds yesterday, it was relatively calm so I tried to run on top of some packed snow. Initially it was quite pretty with the sun shining on the sparkly snow but black clouds moved in quickly snowing hard and then it was clear again, all within my 50 minute run (and another 30 minutes of shoveling..Steve has a cold).

We did have our Moms' group Friday night. I brought my praline custard cream puffs. A better choice would have been to bring the almond meringues (they were if I can just shape them like French meringues) made from all the left over egg whites as everyone seems to be on a diet. But it was a nice dinner and warm (as sharp contrast to the weather). The conversation at one point turned to what they will do in their retirement, all their projects, etc. Examples were given of others with 'good' retirements but strangely no one even mentioned me and mine. I kept quiet and was a bit hurt. It was similar to times in the past when various people categorically stated that they know of no good marriages. Hmmmm

But I don't think people meant to hurt my someone once said, I can't be thinking the worst.

Retirement. We didn't plan this though I am sure that we would have been outta there by 60. I was only 54 when our jobs suddenly disappeared (Steve worked longer and is a bit older). I did have a list of things I could be doing but ended up not doing in part because cancer took up a good chunk of time and energy.
Grandbabies, particularly Maya, take up another chunk of time. I do try to travel when I can. I am so happy that I chose to study in Italy for almost 6 weeks, a highlight of my apparently tiny life.

Some how though I am always busy.

Steve in a hedge in the Cotswolds

On The Cotswold s Way

Friday, January 24, 2014

Pâte à choux

From Hell, Michigan website Nearby Hell is freezing yet again
Pâte à choux is so glamorous sounding yet it one of he easiest things to make well. It has only one rule: strict attention to proportions. Half way into its production, I noticed that the quarter cup measuring cup was actually a third of a cup so I put 1.67 c of something that I meant to put in only 1.5 c. Quick adjustments, easy to do with the butter but hard to adjust the number of eggs. Also I used my fancy new mixer to beat in the eggs one by one. I used this mixer to make pie pastry the other day. Bad idea. It came out tough as nails. Need to do that the old fashioned way in the future.

So my cream puffs are baking now hopefully warming the house up. I was reminded of them watching an old  Modern Family episode the other day. Baby Lily is holding cream puffs (strange thing to have a baby hold) on a plane. The new parents overhear someone saying something about the  cute little girl with the Cream Puffs; Mitch gets on his high horse about gay bashing until it was pointed out that the cream puffs were literal.

 These are for the Moms later tonight. What to fill them with? Crème pâtissière? Ice cream? Josh would eat a whole bowl of the former if I'd let him. But he is gone now to Wisconsin. For two weeks in a row, he will going to places colder (hard to believe as current wind chills are way below school for anyone)  than here for bachelor parties. Up north for the second party. For a while he was going to at least 6 weddings a year and then nothing for a while. But now at least 3 in the near future.

Friday Funny:

And you can only buy Hundred Island Dressing now

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Our worse winter ever here. No immediate end in sight
I remember as a child going to bed thinking the next time I open my eyes, it will be light. Those were the days! A good night these days is waking at 5 am. When I wake is creeping ever so much earlier. I hate just laying there. If I am awake, I try to do something be it play with the iPad or read. Anything but obsess. I am not tired the next day surprisingly, but sometimes I nod off to sleep around 9 pm.

But reading is my go-to activity. The latest book: The Third Son by Julia Wu. If you at the birth order store, make sure you select First and Male, particularly if you are Asian or English in the Downton Abbey days and times previous. Basically in these cultures, the first born male gets everything even before he inherits his father's estate and subsequent children and females just get scraps. An interesting variant is in the Yoruba culture where twins are very common. In the case of first born sons who happen to be twins, the boy that comes out second gets  the rights of primogeniture.

The Third Son concerns the trial and tribulations of a third son growing up in Taiwan. There was a fourth son who was allowed to starve to death despite being in a relatively wealthy family. Not much scraps got past the first son. He felt he was entitled to everything the others earned too. Take, take, take. The story opens up as our hero an 8 year old boy is forced to evacuate the school due to the Americans dropping bombs on their city during WW2. Taiwan had been a Japanese colony since 1895. Despite a rocky start,  the Japanese were fairly good to the locals allowing them self rule, building an infrastructure (roads, railways, schools). Most of the locals learned Japanese and adopted Japanese names. In return the Taiwanese fought on the Japanese side. My SIL's family did quite well under Japanese colonial rule. During the bombing, our hero barely survives but does meet his future wife. While they are hiding together, he learns that family life can be filled with love; not the torture he routinely experienced. Eventually the all-clear signal is given and returns home only to be beaten by his mother because he was late. Being bombed was not an acceptable excuse. Another 12 years of extreme cruelty at his parents' and older brother's hands ensue. He is very clever and takes to reading on his own. He also has a supportive uncle who mentors him. Meanwhile, the Japanese lose the war and Taiwan. Could they just continue their self-rule? That would be nice but the Nationalists headed by Chiang-Kai-shek from Mainland China storm the shores having lost the Revolution to Mao's Communist forces. At first the Nationalists are welcomed. After all, most of them were Han just like the majority of the Taiwanese. Living with fellow Han must be better than the Japanese. The newcomers came with nothing, except guns and so they took everything that they could and murdered those who objected to having their possessions and land removed. The Nationalists justified this as the Taiwanese wealthy class were probable Japanese collaborators. Japanese and Taiwanese became forbidden languages. The language in the schools henceforth would be Mandarin. Our hero's father is a master at switching allegiances and becomes a Nationalist even though he had won an election based on being pro-Taiwanese. The older brother gets worse as he grows up. He is trying to take his brother's beloved fortunately no arranged marriages there. Our hero needs to escape his awful family. Despite not being able to attend the top school in Taiwan , he manages to pass a test that lets him study in the US. His father is momentarily proud of him and even provides funds for him to go. Older brother fumes.Unfortunately his wife and son have to stay back. Even worse, they have to stay in that hideous family.

Part of his studies were in Ann Arbor where things seem to be described accurately. He has found his true home in America unburdened by family obligations. His cleverness lets him go far and fast academically. However he is unable to escape the politics of his homeland. Chinese-American Student groups were especially dangerous. On one hand finding people who spoke your language was comforting but sometimes they were spies for the Nationalist Government quick to report anything seditious true or not, especially if they were jealous of you. True a lot of anti-Nationalists had fled, if they could, Taiwan. The US supported the Nationalists as an ally against Communism. The Nationalists called themselves the Republic of China pretending they were the true rulers of the mainland. Nixon screwed things up for them recognizing Mainland China and not them. Anyway, evil older brother manages to throw a wrench in his plans to get a green card and bring his wife and son over by leaking information that our hero had Communist sympathies. Lots of problems with that. Fortunately our hero had friends in high places here. At home, he proves to his father that the older brother was the source of this rumor and that it taints the father too (the father was unable to leave the country.) His father manages to make things right but still is overbearing and impossible to deal with. Happy ending. This was a true story of the author's parents. So the political considerations were interesting. I had learned about that from my SIL and the competing Taiwanese groups at work. No love lost between them. Of course most Americans didn't understand, they came from the same place after all. The hardest concept for me to grasp is why he kept trying to honor his family who were just so hideous to him and his wife.

So, so cold here. I planned an escape in a few weeks to some place warmer. Today was a Y day again.

Tomorrow, the Moms.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Maya at school. Lunch is provided

The steps they sit on for story time
I awake in the middle of the night a few nights ago and can't open my eyes. They are glued shut. I soak them with a warm wash cloth. Still a pesky film remains giving me blurry vision. Both eyes? That has never happened to me before nor can I think of anyone who would have given me this. Even though I have been exposed to pink eye numerous times by my husband or kids, I only had it once as an adult. It is supposed to be highly contagious and a cause of kids being excluded from school. Not a fun thing. Plus my eyes burned.

Strangely my eyes were not pink nor did my eyelid puff up. (the last time I had it, my lids were so swollen I couldn't open my eye because of that). Conjunctivitis (pink eye) can be caused by allergies, bacteria or viruses. I didn't think allergies would cause all the pus. Fortunately from all Steve's infections (which I did not get even though we may share the same pillow case), he had left over ocular antibiotic which seemed to clear it up so I am all better from that at least.

At least I didn't have a hordeolum, a name as ugly as what it is:a sty.


Further annoyance: an elderly Asian man could not see Naomi's black car against a sunny white background and clipped it while going around a corner. Michigan has No-Fault laws so even if he admits it, which he has, too bad for us. We are out a thousand bucks. Nothing happened to his car.

Today was Maya's teachers conference. It turns out her speech therapist was a Girl Scout of mine.  And one of the teachers was one of Naomi's basketball coaches. Overall the conference went well and several issues were cleared up, at least for me, as I was getting very garbled feedback via Naomi. The overall message was is that Maya is very behind but rapidly making progress in all areas. One thing she was downgraded for was that her pretend play didn't have a sequence of events. I asked for an example. Well if she was pretending to make supper, she would need to pretend to set the table, cook the food, eat the food, take the dishes off and then wash them. if she ever saw this done.

Since the preschool serves largely low income students, they have a Food Bank there occasionally such as today. Naomi refused to take anything. As we were leaving, we ran into a softball dad whose daughter, the same age as Naomi, had a baby the year before Maya was born. He shared that his daughter and her son finally just moved out to be on their own. Naomi chimes in that she has been on her own for 5 years now. Not really, I pointed out.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Success or Failure

From Campanastan:

A family dinner

All our children and their children went to dinner last night at Shanna and Ramy's. It was fun watching them all interact. Such blessings! These are my happiest days being with my family. And Shanna prepared a tasty meal. Extra bonus: Josh now appreciating the work that goes into parenting and his amazement that I could coach soccer, do Girl Scouts, train for marathons plus deal with kids and work. Downside: he said he didn't learn about manners much from me. Going to others' houses taught him to keep a napkin on his lap ( I admit to not putting napkins on my kids' laps..thought it was silly once they outgrew bibs).

Again I am fighting a cold. I took a day off from running yesterday though watching the trees bend in the wind didn't make me enthusiastic about going out. I did go out the day before when it was much colder (but calm and sunny). Dicey ice for a mile then it was clear. Am I too sick to go out today? Steve insists that  the cold gives colds but truthfully I was not chilled outside. Inside our house is another story... Plus I have gone for years without getting sick even though I was outside much more, especially when I would ski for hours. It's these grandkids I am exposed to.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Rude awakenings

Yesterday's house guest

Allie's daycare is kept at 62 degrees. Needs a hat as a lot of heat escapes that large, bald head
For the zillionth time, I hate winter. There was supposed to be just a little snow Thursday. Ha! But no matter I have access to the Y on Tuesdays and Thursdays even when I am going to miss class, one of those cancer perks. However, since I was going to park downtown for more than 3 hours, my options were limited (yeah, I could pay $6 for parking, indeed if I could find space in a lot..parking is privatized and is making a fortune at our expense) due to only one side of the street available for more than 2 hours, trash day and ice mountains.  Right way I come across a woman trying to leave from a prime spot, my lucky day! But she just couldn't get out. Underneath her tires was glare ice. I helped her raid a recycling bin for traction materials but the two of us just could not move her car, ice mountain right behind her and uphill in front with only inches of wiggle room. She gave up. So my hunt for a parking place lasted about 30 minutes giving me almost a mile to walk at the end of my lunch through the blizzard that popped up. I was able to run (though not as far as planned) and lift some weights before our tasty lunch afterwards. Fun to meet friends during the day and get caught up. Lots of accidents that day due to the very slippery roads but I only had to go 5 miles back.

Naomi has been ill most of the week and lacked the energy to deal with Maya. Don'tae had her for a while; we got her Thursday after school . She is such a cute little thing but at night, she is used to company and is just hell to sleep with with her thrashing and teeth grinding. I put up a wall of pillows between us to at least spare my self from being kicked too. Suffice it to say, no sleep for me. And no rest the next day either as Naomi made a brief appearance just to piss off Steve who stomped off to who knows where with the car with the carseat so I had Ms. Maya to myself. We ( Maya and I)did take a nap together. But no going out for me. It was dark by the time Don'tae retrieved Maya.

Over the past few months, some crazy lady has been calling us in the middle of the night asking for someone. It is the same person according to the caller id. She is clearly mentally disturbed. I do not know why our number is on her speed dial. She once called during the day and seemed quite apologetic but continued her calling spree waking us. Well we finally had her number blocked. Even though the kids would call us first by cell if something was wrong, it still makes my heart stop to hear the phone ring in the middle of the night. I just assume it is the 'authorities' ready to report some bad news.

Today is even colder and windier than yesterday but my cabin fever is so severe, I would go out in anything.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


Throwback Thursday..60 years ago

A few weeks back, on Facebook there was a quiz from the NYT  ( that predicts where you are from based on your vocabulary and pronunciations of a few key words. It pegged me as a Michigander.
Well I have lived here 52 years though I am from upstate NY. I was surprised it could separate me from the rest of the Midwest. Apparently Devil's Night is only known in Michigan. What is a frappe? (pronounced 'frap')? A shake in MA.

We had a few Bostonians in our group last night: one with an extremely heavy accent even though she hadn't lived there in more than 40 years. The other, a young woman, moved from there recently but you couldn't really detect any accent. ( I guess I don't consider speaking Michigander an accent). She is like Zelig, sucking up the local lingo quickly. Both of them haven't had cancer themselves. One is there for her daughter, the other for her mother back East. The latter is concerned that her mother's poor diet has led to cancer and wants her to change her ways. Good luck with that! If nagging worked, we'd all be thin and perfect. 

Another woman reported her work as a nurse. A patient had  beckoned her:
I need some ass.
Huh? Not a service she was willing to perform. But a Southerner had overheard and provided  the patient with some ice.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Soup alors!

Some of the ingredients
Winter soups were the subject of our cooking for survivors class today.

The best: black barley/porcini/ parsnip with dill/ mustard cream
A distant second: peanut butternut squash

Didn't really work: Three bean minestrone. The only flavoring agent was a cheese rind. No tomatoes.just bland but the winter vegetable one  above more than made up for it.
Mainly the same people have been showing up to this class for years so we are a little family now. This class was rescheduled from last week due to our crappy weather. One woman showed up last week unaware and cried because she looked forward to it so much.

What I need to do is just cook using these recipes.

I thought I would be sitting in on Maya's teacher's conference but Naomi was confused where it was to be held. She swore she was told that it would be at her place but no, they wanted her to come in. She was sick anyway so maybe next week.

Allie's daycare has a spy camera where you can watch your child remotely to make sure you don't have a nanny like the one on Downton Abbey with Sybil junior. Unfortunately Josh and Julie's computer doesn't support the software. Couldn't we spend the day watching it? No sound and very grainy images.

It is restaurant week in Ann Arbor so I am going with a friend to lunch tomorrow though it conflicts with my Y class. But I thought I would be at the teacher conference today.

Vegetables from an earlier class:

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Yoga for the Hopeless

Even Maya would do better than me
I show up for the class knowing full well of my limitations: inflexible, poor balance, core muscles gone to uselessness, arm mobility issues, inability to follow rapid fire directions and inability to remember Sanskrit names. I do have a great cardiac system and strength in my arms and especially legs but not much of that helps. This is a class specifically for breast cancer survivors as we have several issues in common. I assumed it would be taught at a beginner level. Indeed, my first instructor, Momma Sunflower, focused on  gentle moves and restorative poses. I learned to relax, hard for tense me. Unfortunately her cancer came back (and she is not doing well at all: kidney failure due to treatment side effects. She has a child younger than Maya!). She was replaced by someone who never had cancer and seemed to have the attitude that if she could do it, we could too (young and limber as she was). Well I couldn't repeat anything she did and felt bad about myself and frustrated so I quit.

I heard that the new instructor was a cancer survivor so perhaps she would be a bit more gentle. No. Do this and then this and then this in rapid fire. I couldn't see what she was doing due to hair in my eyes, darkness, large neighbor in my way and continued instructions to keep our eyes closed. (doing balance exercises is hard enough with my eyes open; try them with eyes closed). My gut feeling was to run out of class crying (this is my gut feeling too often) but in the words of Hushpuppy: Don't be a pussy!. I stuck it out hoping the hour would pass quickly and that we could get to the bit of restorative pose at the end (can't remember the name of that for the life of me..survasasama?).Looked it later: shavasana i.e. Corpse pose It didn't help that as yesterday had the best hope for good weather for the week, I went on a long run so I was exhausted coming in. I did feel good afterwards so yay for that.

I spoke to her after class. She is very open to feedback and a nice lady. She had had cancer many years a go (and she is quite a bit younger than me) so she was young at the time. It destroyed her hopes of having a family. In those days, cancer patients were quite isolated, no support groups, on line forums, etc so she felt quite alone.  Yoga healed her she fervently believes. She will try to have us do things more slowly. And maybe I can get better.

I went home to find Naomi and Maya. I told Naomi about some of the impossible positions we were expected to obtain. She did them easily. As said many times before, my genetic contributions to my children were minimal. Josh does have my inflexibility though.


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