Jun 28 2010

Mi Pueblo

So I went around the supermarket snapping pictures like a gawking tourist so that I could bring you a post on Mi Pueblo, our local Hispanic supermarket.

I guess I should start by noting that, though you’d never know it by looking at me, my great-grandmother was born and raised in Mexico. Not much of Mexican culture got passed down to me—in fact, pretty much none of it got passed down to me—but I suppose my fondness for the Latinos may be to some degree self-congratulatory. In any case I seem to gravitate to Hispanic neighborhoods; the first place I lived in San Francisco was the Mission, and now here in Oakland we’ve settled just on the border of Fruitvale.

Now I’m going to go off on a tangent, but it’s something that’s been knocking around my head lately: I don’t understand the hostility against Hispanic immigrants that’s erupting so virulently in Arizona and other places. It’s not just that I don’t agree with it; I don’t understand where it’s coming from. Hispanic people make great neighbors! They’re hard-working, family-oriented people, and in their areas they create the infrastructure—restaurants, produce markets, bars, street vendors and entertainers—that makes for a great, livable neighborhood.

The contrast between Fruitvale and the Coliseum area of Oakland—essentially, the contrast between the barrio and the ghetto—is stunning to me, and I haven’t fully wrapped my head around it. In the poorest Mexican neighborhoods (and not all of Fruitvale is very poor, but some of it is), you still have commerce and vitality and cultural vibrancy. In the poorest black neighborhoods, there’s nothing. No restaurants, no bars, no grocery stores, no street life other than groups of young men standing around on corners. Block after block of bombed-out houses and occasionally someone sitting on the front steps, staring with an empty face at whatever passes by. I think it must have a lot to do with the generations of institutionalized assault on the African-American family? And I should say quickly that the majority of Oakland’s black population isn’t represented by the city’s worst blocks; mostly the black people of Oakland, like the white people of Oakland, are living in a patchwork of diverse neighborhoods that vary by income. Still, because Fruitvale and the Coliseum area are right next to each other, the contrast between them is really, really striking, and I wish I better understood the cultural and socioeconomic forces that created one neighborhood versus the other. To the uneducated eye, the most apparent difference is that in Fruitvale people are working.

And shopping! Which is why in Fruitvale we have this:

Behind that yellow barricade is where the magic chickens happen. Almost every day they’re roasting pollo asada on the barbeque, and for a little under ten bucks you can take home a whole chicken along with some salsa and a packet of tortillas.

Inside, it’s like a party! There’s music! There’s streamers! People are happy and smiling! Let’s all get some groceries now! Yay!

You want salsa? We got salsa.

You want peppers? Dude, this isn’t even half the peppers. Please note also that you can buy your cactus with the spines still on, or you can go around to where one of the store employees is deftly de-spining them with a great big knife that might be a machete someday if it drinks its milk. I assume you pay a little extra for the cleaned cactus, but it’s probably worth it.

Someday I’m going to make my own tortillas!

This is only a small glimpse of the sweets case in the panaderia. There’s also a savory case, where they sell soft fresh-baked loaves, and rounds of cheesy jalapeño bread. People are always lined up to get the fresh bread.

Against the other wall there’s a “deli” that’s more like a whole restaurant:

They also have meat, and seafood, and a whole case of fresh cheeses, but at some point I started to get embarrassed about taking pictures, so this is all you get. Mi Pueblo! What a great place!

Jun 26 2010

What’s for Dinner

So we’re loving our new CSA box from J&P Organics. For two-thirds the price we were paying in San Francisco, we’re getting equally hefty boxes stuffed with beautiful veggies. This morning our box held a pint of beautiful cherries (yesss), two pints of jewel-like strawberries, four oranges, a bunch of carrots, a head of lettuce, a bunch of kale (Ah…my old friend…), three smallish heads of broccoli, four avocados (NUM!), five zucchinis, and eight little red potatoes.

I also have a cauliflower left over from last week, so tonight we’ll have cauliflower cheese and a big salad incorporating the broccoli and carrots, and maybe some bacon. Tomorrow night I’ll make the avocados into guacamole, and we’ll pick up chips and a roasted chicken from the awesome Mexican supermarket a few blocks done, Mi Pueblo. Mi Pueblo really deserves its own post, with pictures, so I’ll leave it at that for now. Tomorrow I also want to make one of the pints of strawberries into strawberry bread, because strawberries go off really quickly and I’m not sure that even Robin can polish off two pints in two days. Other than that we’ll eat all the fruit straight.

Monday we’ll have apricot-glazed chicken breasts with steamed and buttered zucchini on the side. We generally have leftovers from the apricot chicken recipe, so on Tuesday I’ll put those into a quick-and-easy rice dish with some sauteed onion, and maybe some more of the zucchini. Then Wednesday I’ll use the potatoes and kale in a pot of caldo verde. Thursday, I don’t know, maybe Louisiana-style red beans and rice. Then Friday will be for leftovers.

Jun 25 2010

Ongoing Projects

1. Still pregnant. Last night I had about three hours of mild contractions, and I was so psyched, but they never went anywhere. I was pretty bummed when I figured out it was only Braxton-Hicks contractions (“false labor”), which is something I never had with Robin. I’m still a week away from my due date but I feel just impossibly huge and awkward and achy and ungainly and exhausted—and, if you couldn’t tell, whiny.

I’m remembering, now, an interaction I had with a nurse last week when I told her I felt certain the baby would be born closer to 38 weeks than to 40. She just smiled and told me kindly, “They all say that.”

2. Potty training continues. Robin’s happy to sit on the potty and be read to for ten or fifteen minutes at a time, but he has yet to make the crucial breakthrough about what he’s supposed to be doing there. Today I’m pretty sure he was holding a bowel movement while he was sitting on the pot, because as soon as I put him back in diapers he dropped a big load in his pants. I tried to tell him that he could have pooped in the potty, but he shook his head and told me “no!” So, I dunno.

I’m aware, by the way, that whenever people complain about parents blogging, it’s always the potty posts that bother them most. The thing is though, potty training is a pretty big deal when you’re in the middle of it! Anyway, let’s just say that I certainly don’t hold it against anybody who chooses to skip over these particular posts.

3. Robin’s bed is working really well so far. Yesterday and tonight he fell asleep cuddled up in our bed, and then we moved him into his own bed, where he slept until the early morning. Both mornings he climbed back in with us to snooze for a few hours before getting up to face the day. But he doesn’t seem upset to wake up and find himself in his own bed, and we’ve gotten our bed to ourselves for the majority of the night. It’s been really nice! I like snuggling with Robin, but I also like sleeping in my own bed without getting kicked in the ribs, or having to balance on the very edge of the mattress while a little boy pretends he’s a starfish in the middle of the bed. So we’re enjoying having our bed back, at least for now.

4. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a vocabulary update? I am proudest of teaching Robin to say “please” and “thank you”—or “pease” and “tank you!”, as he actually says them—and I think Sam is proudest of teaching him to say “cookie” and “dude”! Robin also asks for “nums?” when he’s hungry, which is pretty cute. Or he requests specific foods, although his vocabulary on this front is limited to “noodles,” “orange,” “bee-yeah” (banana, an evolution from the original “mmm-yeah!”) or, again, “cookie.” He pronounces orange very well, although this is a very context-dependent word: he does like to eat oranges, but sometimes he’s requesting orange juice, or even talking about something that happens to be orange. It’s easier to tell when he wants milk (“nolk”). He’s also started talking about the bath (“baf”), which he now quite enjoys so long as nobody is trying to wash his face or hair. He will even scrub himself with the washcloth!

Other than that, it’s pretty much all Thomas all the time. Robin frequently tries to initiate conversations with us, other family members, or complete strangers at the grocery store about Thomas (“Dass”), James (he pronounces this pretty much spot-on), and Emily (“Ah-me”), and I think just today he was talking about Harold and Toby as well. The problem is that once he’s initiated the topic, he can’t tell you much about them other than the fact they go choo-choo. It does get repetitive, but the attraction of the topic is, for Robin, apparently inexhaustible.

Although he continues to add new words to his vocabulary, Robin still doesn’t often make longer sentences. We’ve heard a few two- and three-word sentences, but mostly it’s baby babble with the pertinent word stuck in at the end. I think what Robin really needs to stimulate his language development is to spend more time with other kids, and adults who don’t already know (as Sam and I do) what he’s likely to be talking about.

There’s a local preschool, the Peter Pan Cooperative Nursery School, that I would like to sign Robin up for: they’re full now, but I’m going to try and get him in for the fall. They’re right next to our local park, and they take the kids to the park every day, so I’ve started timing our visits to coincide with theirs. It’s a nice group of kids and adults: I like that they mix kids of different ages together, which seems more natural to me than strictly age-segregated groups, and I also like that their focus is on socialization and play. And because they’re a coop school (meaning that parents also volunteer as teachers) the costs are insanely low. $255 a month for three mornings a week is very, very reasonable by Bay Area standards. I’m not entirely sure how I would fulfill my teaching commitment with a baby on hand too, but assuming I could work that out, I really like the idea of being fully engaged with Robin’s school in that way. And every time I take Robin to the park at the same time the Peter Pan kids are there, he tries to leave with them when they all line up to go back inside! So I think he’s itching for a larger social environment.

Jun 23 2010

Big Boy Bed

With Davy coming into the world so soon now (Dear God please let it be soon now), we’re starting to think about getting Robin into a bed of his own. I’m afraid you can’t see it very well under all the bedding, but the frame was carved by Robin’s Pappy, and Sam slept in it himself as a boy. It’s a lovely piece of family history that we’re delighted to have for Robin. We’ve set it up, for now, in the little area off the master bedroom that doubles as my office: we’ll move it into the boys’ room later, once Robin has fully transitioned into sleeping alone.

When I laid Robin down for his nap, his head was on the pillow. By the time I came back to snap this photo he’d twisted around into the pillbug position you see here.

Jun 17 2010

Potty Training

Thank you, everyone, for your kind words and thoughts about Marlis. We’re still grieving. It comes in waves. It will sound faintly ridiculous to those who have never had a beloved family pet, and very obvious to those who have, but sometimes I just feel stunned by the pain of her loss. There are moments when it just hurts and all I can do is concentrate on breathing and getting through it. But those moments pass. And already sometimes my thoughts of her are gentler and more bittersweet. I know that soon my memories of Marlis will be nice ones.

As for Robin, I don’t think her absence has really registered with him. He saw her after she had died, and I explained that she was gone, but I don’t know how much of that he understood. He seemed more worried that I was crying so much. He hasn’t asked about her since. We kept him inside while we buried Marlis, beneath a tree in the backyard that we’ve finally managed to identify as a California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica to you, Mom). We put a couple sprigs of the aromatic leaves in the burial box with Marlis, so that she could rest on her laurels. Her other grave goods included a comfy blanket, a squeak toy, and her rhinestone collar with brass nametag. So the archaeologists of the future will know her name, and that she was loved.

On another subject, today seemed like a good day to start potty training. I’ve been putting it off because my books all say a) not to start potty training when your family is experiencing major change, like, oh, for instance, a move to a new house, or the arrival of a new baby; and b) they also say to wait until the child himself expresses an interest in using the potty.

Well, conversations with Robin about the potty go like this:

Me: “Robin, look at this little potty we bought for you! Would you like to sit on the little potty?”
Robin: “Noooooo.”

Me: “Hi Robin! Yep, here I am in the bathroom, pooping on the potty. Someday you’ll go poop on the potty just like Mommy and Daddy!”
Robin: “NO!”

Me: “Sweetie, look! We got you a little toilet cover so that you can sit on the big potty like Mommy and Daddy! Would you like to sit on the big potty now?”
Robin: “NoooOOOOoooo!”

Then, sometimes, he runs away and hides.

For me, though, some kind of crucial threshold was crossed yesterday, when Robin found our Roku remote, turned on the TV, navigated through the Netflix-on-Demand interface to select a Thomas episode, and sat down to watch it. I thought to myself, “If he can do that, he can darn well poop in the potty!”

So, today, I set up the child-sized toilet cover, and the stepstool, and I got a couple of books, and I took Robin’s pants off, and I cajoled him into the bathroom and up on the stepstool. I could in no way cajole him to put his butt on the seat, and finally, in direct defiance of everything the potty training books say, I just sat him down by force as he screamed and bucked. Then I immediately distracted him with a picture book.

And the amazing thing is that it worked! He sat there, on the potty, while we read Where the Wild Things Are and Crazy Hair, and he was perfectly happy to do so! He even kind of commented a few times on how he was sitting on the potty: he pointed down at his bare lower half and said “Poopy!” and “Pee pee!” I responded by rhapsodizing about how, yes, he was sitting on the potty, and it would be absolutely wonderful if he decided to go poopy or pee pee while he was there, because that is what the potty is for.

He did not go poop, nor pee, but after the stories were over I lavished him with praise, and then he hopped down and I put his diaper back on. I’m completely thrilled just with the demonstration that Robin can sit on the potty for five minutes without it being a major ordeal. I’m hoping we can repeat the process tomorrow, and the next day, and then maybe build from there.

Jun 16 2010

Marlis: In Memoriam

Our cat Marlis died last night from kidney problems. She was fourteen. Like many tabby cats, she was very affectionate and cuddly: if there was a lap, she wanted to be in it. She used to follow me around from room to room—when I took a shower, she’d even hop up on the toilet seat and keep me company from there. She slept every night curled up on my feet. Sometimes she liked to lick my face before she settled down to sleep: her tongue was rough, but I let her do it, because she was so sweet.

She was a little brown kitty with a beautiful stripey face, green eyes, and velvety soft paws. She had a ready and splendid purr. She was part of our family, and we loved her.

Jun 14 2010

What’s for Dinner

I’m writing this up because I don’t want to write about my cat, who is very sick.

Tonight: seared bay scallops with bacon succotash
Tomorrow: roast chicken with salad
Wednesday: chicken salad sandwiches, assuming there’s leftover chicken (I also need to make stock from the bones)
Thursday: Pasta with chard and cream sauce
Friday: Swedish meatballs (Robin loved these so much at Ikea that Nonna bought me the Ikea recipe book!)

Most of the vegetables were bought at the farmer’s market over the weekend. I also bought about a pound of zucchini, so I have to remember to saute those up for lunch at some point. Friday will be our first CSA box from J&P Organics, so I’m looking forward to that!

Jun 10 2010


In Láadan, the “language of women” invented by Suzette Haden Elgin, there are five different words for pregnancy. If I were writing in Láadan now, I would use some form of the verb widazhad: “to be pregnant late in term and eager for the end.”

As of tomorrow I’ll be 37 weeks pregnant. Although due dates are calculated for a 40 week term, any time after 38 weeks is actually considered full term. I told Sam that I bet this baby’s coming closer to week 38 than to week 40. And he told me that’s what I said last time. (Robin was born 40 weeks to the day.) But I swear to God there is no more room in there. If he wants to get any bigger, this baby is going to have to make some alternate arrangements.

Jun 9 2010

That Other Thing

I opened up my novel-submission notes today, and realized with chagrin that it’s been two months since I did anything on that front. I was moving house and all, but a lot of it’s on me: I’ve been meaning to do another round of queries for a long time, but apparently I prioritize almost anything else—including blogging, scrubbing the toilet, and performing daily maintenance on my son’s wooden railways—over writing, or marketing my writing. So it always just seems like I never have the time for it. Well, of course I don’t, if it’s literally my last priority!

The following is jargon-y. A quick gloss: a “query” is the standard pitch that agents like to see. Some agents request that the query be accompanied by the first five pages, while some want the query to stand alone. Agents who are interested will request a “partial,” typically the first fifty pages. Agents who are still interested after seeing the partial will request a “full,” i.e. the full manuscript.

I noted earlier that my query seemed to be working well, but my opening pages were not. The submission stats for my first round of queries look like this: 35 queries sent > 6 requests for partials > 0 requests for fulls > 0 offers of representation. ALL of the six requests for partials were generated from queries that had no opening pages attached, and none of them led to further requests. This indicates, like I said, that the query letter is good (a one-sixth response rate is completely acceptable in this industry) but that the opening of my novel is weak. Critiques from the people kind enough to read early drafts of the book confirmed this for me: the beginning chapters were too slow.

I also blogged about the trouble I was having cutting material from those first few chapters, even after I knew it had to be done. Well, it was painful, but I eventually managed to cut ten pages out of the first sixty, which I think tightens up the opening considerably. (Incidentally, I also changed the working title of the book, from Avalon 2010 to The Millennial Sword. The first title is out because there’s no way this book would come out this year, and plus, it ensures that the novel would be dated as soon as it was released. I’m not purely happy with the second title either, but I couldn’t think of anything else that better conveys the concept of a modern-day girl who ends up wielding Excalibur. Suggestions welcome!)

So today I sent out five more queries featuring the new, improved opening pages. I’ve already gotten back one request for a partial, which is truly heartening: I’m no longer losing the agents’ interest by page five! Yay me!

On a less-good note, Robin made it really hard to carve out the time to review the rewritten pages and send out the new queries. He and I struggled a lot today over the issue of my attention not being firmly directed at all moments towards himself. He is, in fact, as I type this, attempting to clamber between me and the keyboard. Also I have to go make dinner. I feel good about making some progress towards marketing my novel—but not good about how very difficult it was finding the time to do so.

Jun 8 2010

Picture of the Day

Robin fell asleep just now clutching Thomas the Tank Engine to his chest. He also brought Thomas to bed last night. His first word this morning was “Thomas!” (he pronounces it something like “Dass”). I think it’s fair to say that the boy really likes Thomas.