Saturday, December 29, 2012

Group vs. Community

"I love individuals. I hate groups of people. I hate... a group of people who have a common purpose. 'Cause pretty soon they little hats, y'know, and armbands and fight songs... and a list of people they're gonna visit at three a.m." -George Carlin

Of all Carlin's choice witticisms, these words speak most directly to my soul. Groups creep me out, whether they're organized religions, political parties or social clubs. Trust me, I've experimented with all of these things. But "getting involved" with a crowd of like-minded individuals inevitably leads to me becoming deeply self-conscious and saying something awkward. I do well with a couple or a a few other people, but conversing with a larger assenbly stresses me out. When my daughter was born, many cool, intelligent women would say, "You should join a mommy group," and I would say, "Oh, what a great idea," as I shuddered internally. I don't necessarily think all groups are inherently bad, they're just not for stalwart introverts like myself.

I recently wrote and performed a monologue about my experience being a polite northerner living in the south. I talked about feeling that I don't belong in either my native Michigan or here in Chattanooga and that I was starting to give up concept of belonging. I really meant those words when I said them, but then the next week came along...oh, brother, what a week. By the time it began, Michigan was suddenly on the verge of becoming a so-called "Right to Work" state. A few lame duck Republicans helped pass that and a slew of other conservative measures that wouldn't have passed in January. That knocked the wind out of me and many people I love. But as depressing as it was, I found the vehement response from Michigan workers just as moving. 12,000 people protested in Lansing that Tuesday. They made me proud to be from a place where people push back even when they know they won't win, because that's what you have to do. I followed the protest online, but I wished I could have been at the capitol with them.

The tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school happened a few days later. There's too much to say about that. My words are insufficient at this moment. I feel a deep sense of mourning for the victims and also a need to evaluate my part of this American culture of violence. Many of the people I interact with online have expressed similar emotions, and that comforts me. Granted, some cope by way of their soapboxes, which can be annoying. But most of that indignation comes from a place of sensitivity. I'll take sensitivity over its alternative any day, but especially on that day and the many long ones that followed.

That gut-wrenching week also saw the sudden and too soon passing of a highly esteemed friend in Michigan, the patriarch of a wonderful family I first met twenty years ago. They're a very smart, funny, creative lot and seem to draw all sorts of interesting people into their circle. This was especially apparent from the outpouring of heartfelt condolences and sweet remembrances shared on Facebook alone. From my point of view here in Tennessee, that was FB's finest moment because it allowed me to be part of this beautiful, intricate tribute to a man so many people loved. It made me very sad, but (at the risk of being a bit too earnest) it also helped me find a space in my heart I didn't know existed.

In the midst of so much heartache, that experience made me realize that I do long for a community, something I don't currently have here in Chattanooga. And that makes me wonder, how do communities form? Why do some places work for me while others don't? I lived in Ann Arbor, MI for nine solid years but never felt at home there. Sure, I met some great people, made friends, had a couple cool jobs, lived in a student co-op. I belonged to several loose, unorganized crowds, usually comprised of transient individuals (students, mainly). But I didn't feel part of a rooted society. And that's very similar to the way I feel right now. Again, it makes me wonder if I'm just incapable of communal kinship.

But now that I have Michigan on my mind so much, I remember that I did feel a sense of community when I lived in Ypsilanti. Ypsi is Ann Arbor's smaller, humbler town next door. I adore it, as I have since the day I first moved there. Even now when I go back to Michigan and wonder, "What the hell did I miss aboout this place? The endless winter? The roads? Everyone being broke and depressed?", I'm always happy when I find myself back in Ypsi. That was the place where I actually got to know my neighbors. We'd run into each other while walking our dogs or at the food co-op. Sometimes we'd meet up for trivia or karaoke at the bar down the road. And when a bunch of them were unjustly fined for not shoveling their sidewalks (they had, by the way), I went to a city council meeting to support them. To me, that signifies community - giving up a Monday night at home in the middle of February to fight the man on behalf of your neighbors.

Like groups, I suppose that communities tend to form around shared passions and ideals. In Ypsi, my neighbors and I felt a common pride and affection for our sweet little underrated town. Now there's a nice, broad area of interest. It allows for a wide range of types, ages, backgrounds, styles. You don't have to spend a lot of money or dress a certain way to love a place like Ypsi. You don't have to believe in the same god as the next guy, or any god at all. You can be a loner and be a part of something bigger than yourself at the same time. I was able to do it there. I want that opportunity again.

I'm hopeful that it'll happen, maybe here, maybe somewhere else. I sometimes fantasize about moving back to Ypsi and reclaiming my battered home state, but life isn't likely to move us in that direction. And if it doesn't happen in Chattanooga, I won't take it personally. Maybe communities are like friends - you hit it off with some folks and not so much with others. It isn't that those non-friends are bad people. They're just not your people.

I'm grateful for at least knowing what I want. And until I find it, the internet is proving to be a surprisingly good proxy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Third Confession

I gave a toast at my sister M and her wife E's wedding in October. For months, I was nervous about it. Being shy and introverted as I am, public speaking has always filled me with dread. But how could I turn down the opportunity to pay tribute to one of the most loving and enduring relationships I know? Preparing my little speech was a surprisingly fun writing activity because it involved telling true stories about people who are dear to me. It isn't so different from what I do here, really.

I was anxious until the moment I stood before that tent full of fancy dressed onlookers. But, oh my goodness, it went so well. My stories flowed. People laughed, people went "awww", people applauded in the middle of the toast! I felt so honored to be cheer leading M and E's union and so pleased to have worked up the crowd. But I won't lie, it was also a big ass ego boost for this quiet writer.

A couple weeks after the wedding, I received a Facebook invite for a local event called Wide Open Floor, which is a monthly open mic night at a small dance theater. Naturally, it often includes several dancers but also poets, musicians, comedians and storytellers. It's one of those Chattanooga arts things that I read about and think, "Oh, I should check that out," and never do. But I was still high on the wedding toast rush when it occurred me that I could tell stories at Wide Open Floor. Why not?

At the start of this year, I resolved to take my writing more seriously. Aside from just writing more, this has meant delving deeper into social media and its outlets for self-promotion, as well as submitting an essay to a literary journal. But until that moment, I'd never considered writing as performance. Maybe this was exactly what I needed to do. I don't appear to have many blog readers here in Chattanooga. One reason may be that people around here don't seem to spend as much time online (that's what I like to tell myself, anyway). Perhaps public storytelling would allow me to connect with another sort of audience. Maybe it would just be fun to try.

I missed early sign-up for the November WOF. While they allow space for last-minute contributions, I didn't feel quite ready for it anyway. I attended as an audience member instead and I have to say, the breadth and depth of talent was quite impressive. Sure, some acts were far more engaging than others, but I honestly admired every person who had the nerve to get up there. Their gumption inspired me and got me excited for my next chance.

I signed up for the December show with little idea what I would present. I considered reading some old material, perhaps one of my more story-ish blog posts. I've tried writing fiction, but my brain isn't much good at extrapolating upon past experience to create something new. I just find it easier to write honestly about my life and the things I know, which seems to work fairly well in this format. But unlike a work of fiction,  a spoken blog entry (one of mine, anyway)* is just plain awkward and I felt like doing something new. Ultimately, I pieced together a few old stories, all of which I'd related in past posts, and built a narrative around my experience being a polite northerner living in the south. I liked my piece. I rehearsed it. By mid-day Friday, I felt completely ready.

I performed on Friday night. It was one of the most horrifying moments of my life. When I got off stage and back to my seat, Dan said, "You did great!" I laughed. "No, I didn't." In hindsight, I don't think I did such a bad job, but it wasn't even the quality of my story or presentation that upset me. It was the spotlight. I couldn't see any of the audience members' faces, just dark fuzzy outlines of a too quiet crowd. I felt like I laughed at my own jokes more than they did. Granted, that's an almost daily occurrence in the life of Tara but not on that scale. I was never able to harness my voice, which trembled throughout my eight minute piece. Eight fucking minutes.

Though I'd hoped to go out for a celebratory drink after the show, various technical difficulties plus my late placement in the program meant that I got off stage at 10:40. Our babysitter expected us at 11:00. It was a pretty shitty night. I didn't feel like celebrating anyway. I just went home and cried.

Now I know why narcissists do so well in spotlights. It doesn't matter, because they can never see anyone else anyway. I, on the other hand, felt so awfully vulnerable. That sense of disconnection with a silent listener reminded me of one of the other most horrifying experiences of my life, the Catholic rite of confession. I only ever did it twice, in preparation for my first communion and my confirmation. The second time was the worst. Not only did I have to drag myself into that narrow, little booth and whisper all my sins through a screen to some faceless priest, I had to admit how long it had been since my last confession. I felt more guilty about that than anything else, especially every Sunday when I walked down the aisle for communion. "It's SO WRONG that I'm doing this because I haven't confessed my sins in YEARS but if I don't walk down the aisle, everyone will know that I'm a BAD PERSON." Oh, the layers of shame. I was about 14 years old and certain I was the only one who felt that way.

When I finally entered the confessional that second time, I had to tell the priest my dirtiest secret right off the bat. "Bless me father, for I have sinned. It's been six years since my last confession." He tsk tsked and said, "That's a very long time." Then I mentioned fighting with my brother and sister and being mean to some classmates. When that didn't seem bad enough, I added some blown up charges of swearing (which I'd done only once, in private, to see if god would strike me down). I think I got five Hail Marys and that was that. I felt relieved, but only because it was over. I didn't feel like a better person. And that was one of the early inklings, one of those nagging moments when I had to ask myself, does this belief system make any sense at all?

Within a year, I was faithless. I would still go to church because I didn't want to make waves, but my inner self was done with being Catholic. Around that time, my English Lit teacher, Mrs. P, read Frank O'Connor's short story "First Confession" to our class. It's a brilliant, hilarious tale, in which a little Irish boy dreads admitting to a priest that he wants to kill his crass, ill mannered grandmother. Most of the kids in my class were Muslim, so I don't think they necessarily appreciated it. I had tears and snot running down my face, it was so fucking funny.  But Mrs. P was also a gifted storyteller. She recited the whole story in a brogue. That still stands as the best reading I've ever attended. Come to think of it, I probably should have taken her forensics class. Maybe I'd be better at this public speaking stuff now.

I'm not positive that I won't do this Wide Open Floor thing again. I still stand by my story being good, even if the presentation was nerve-wracking. Maybe next time I'll talk about being terrified. Maybe I'll ask the tech guy to raise the house lights. Maybe I should have asked the priest to pull back the screen. I remember that being an option. It seemed like the craziest idea at the time, but I have this weird feeling it might have helped me quit being Catholic sooner. Maybe I would be less Catholic now.

*I tried doing this on a Youtube video when my friend G asked me to share my birth story with her Bradley Method class. After reading and recording both posts, I watched about thirty seconds and thought, “Well, this is terrible.” So I recorded myself talking through my story instead, and that turned out to be much better.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rest of the Year Resolutions

Don't freak out.

Bake prodigious quantities of shortbread and share.

Accept gifts graciously and be surprised; expect none.

Exercise frequently.

Replace the traditional tree with festive garland, hung far outside baby's reach.

Appreciate the temporary increase in available work hours. Be prepared for a crowded commute, stressed out customers and a nonstop holiday themed Muzak soundtrack. Remember, it's just cheese. Remember to taste the cheese.

Feast without guilt but also without obligation.

Relish your fondest memories of snowy days while basking in sixty degree sunlight.

Dine with friends.

Watch as many of the following movies as you can:
Bad Santa
Christmas in Connecticut
Die Hard
Emmet Otter's Jug-band Christmas
Holiday Affair
It Happened on Fifth Avenue
It's a Wonderful Life
Meet Me in St. Louis
Santa Claus (MST3K version)
The Shop Around the Corner
A Very Brady Christmas

Don't spend all of Christmas Day cooking a meal too big for just three people. Go out for Chinese, instead.

Drive south on December 31st. Greet 2013 in a completely different place.

Friday, November 23, 2012


It was the beginning of August. I was getting ready for my first day back at the job after a week off. I'd been dreading the commute as it would involve driving around throngs of anti-gay customers dutifully swarming the Chik Fil A adjacent to my workplace. The national boycott had been in effect for a few days, but the counter protest was undoubtedly far stronger and very much alive here in Chattanooga. At least I knew what to expect.

What greeted me on Facebook that morning was more startling. My coworker - a very sweet, deeply religious woman who rarely posts updates - had been tagged in a photo. She was not actually in the picture. Rather, it was a shot of her husband, seated behind the wheel of a convertible, sinking his teeth into a chicken sandwich. The caption read, "Forty minute wait for Chik Fil A - don't mind if I do." There were two comments -

"traditional marriage, yay"


"Bigot! lol"

I felt nauseous. My heart raced. I began writing a comment, then erased it. Ultimately, I said nothing but quietly unfriended his wife. I didn't know to what extent his photo reflected her views, but that wasn't the point. I just didn't want any more of this ugliness thrown in my face.

Yet I'd already been exposed. His photo haunted me throughout my shift. Sure, I could do my job, assist customers and engage in banter, but it was always at the back of my mind. I would think about my gay family and pals. I would consider my coworker's lengthy friends list and wonder what portion of that group represented the LGBT community - at 10% that would be 150 people, maybe 200?

I tried to put those thoughts out of my mind that evening so I could be festive and fun for my manager's going away party. Oddly, it didn't occur to me that I might run into my former Facebook friend until she walked through the door. And there was her husband. She introduced him to me. I could barely muster a "hello". After their arrival, I was so out of sorts that I couldn't conduct a normal conversation. It was a perfectly awful end to a grim day.

I've been carrying a piece of that bitterness inside me for over three months. I think of it as shrapnel, those icky memories leftover from some acquaintance's bigot bomb. When I've witnessed such explosions on Facebook, my response has generally been the same as it was in that situation - unfriend, hide, try to ignore. The problem with that approach is that even after I passively eradicate that person's vitriol from my sphere, I'm still stuck with the shrapnel. All these shards of disappointment and sorrow build up until I get super bummed and I have to wonder, when did their intolerance become my problem?

I have a new approach. When someone says something ignorant or hateful, I call them out on it. I don't do this because I expect to change that person's mind. I do it because it makes me feel better. So far, this strategy is working very well. At first I thought it would be really tough because I'm so non-confrontational, but the result always trumps the initial discomfort. For example, while attending a recent party I argued with a young man who claimed that elderly people can't be held accountable for using the n-word because they "don't know any better". All I said was that plenty of older people manage to not spew epithets and therefore age is no excuse. Wow, was he offended. He expressed his antipathy in bizarre, passive aggressive ways, like bumping into me and taking the cheese platter I'd been grazing and licking it clean. So, that was weird. But I didn't have any trouble falling asleep that night. No shrapnel.

I wish I'd confronted my coworker's husband. I would like him to know that he ruined my day and that his presence upsets me. In lieu of that, I'm blogging about it. Sharing this unhappy tale, which involves a person I know and frequently see, is definitely a breech of my personal code of online conduct. No doubt this could get back to my coworker and her spouse. And while I don't particularly wish for that to happen, I don't really care if it does. His prejudice is his problem, not mine. All I know is that telling my story makes me feel better. What a relief to finally get that splinter out of my skin.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Happy Election Day

Then came the Night. The streets were cleared of horses, buggies and wagons. All crosstown traffic stopped. At seven o'clock firecrackers began to go off, the signal that the polls were closed. Whooping and hollering, a whole generation of kids came tumbling down out of the tenements and got their bonfires going. By a quarter after seven, the East Side was ablaze... Grandpa enjoyed the sight as much as I did, and he was flattered when I left the rest of the boys to come up to share it with him. He pulled his chair closer to the window and lit the butt of his Tammany stogie. "Ah, we are lucky to be in America," he said in German, taking a deep drag on the cigar he got for voting illegally and lifting his head to watch the shooting flames. "Ah, yes! This is true democracy."

I had no idea what Grandpa was talking about, but he was a man of great faith and whatever he said was truth.

- Harpo Marx, from his autobiography Harpo Speaks

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why I Need to Spend Less Time with the Internet

Because sometimes it seems like I spend more time looking at Facebook photos of my daughter than her actual face. Yes, this statement is hyperbolic, but not as much as I'd like it to be.

Because it's so easy to misinterpret what others are saying and even easier to assume the worst.

Because internet : compassion :: oil : water

Because one of my tweets was retweeted by five different strangers and I find this more unnerving than flattering.

Because there are piles of unread books and magazines scattered throughout my house.

Because so many people are expressing their beliefs by way of memes, many of which are glib, sloppy or dumb. This is the year of the meme election and it is excruciating.

Because now that I'm a parent, I find it harder to not click on news story links regarding abducted and murdered children.

Because I’ve decided that I have no space for mean and abusive people in my life.

Because, for now, it just isn't that cold outside.

Because I used to savor the feeling of sitting alone in a quiet room, but when I go offline after a lengthy session, sitting alone in a quiet room can feel scary. It's like I just awoke from a very real-seeming dream that wasn't entirely pleasant and I just can't shake it. But it must have been someone else's dream, because it doesn't tell me much about my real life.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cognitive Dissonance

I generally avoid blogging about politics because I don't think I do it well and I don't enjoy arguing. But lately I've had some gnawing thoughts on the brain, and I need to vent.

Apparently, as of this past Tuesday, Florida congresswoman and Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was unaware of President Obama's well-known kill list.

The President's kill list has been widely reported, including this informative New York Times front page story from May 29, 2012.

Wasserman Schultz's ignorance is shameful, and yet I find it perfectly representative of many Democrats' response to the President's kill list and the way he has embraced drone warfare. Could she really be that dumb? Or rather, is she, on some subconscious level, aware of actions she can't abide and using denial as a means of coping? How does a liberal deal with the cognitive dissonance that comes with trying to reelect a leader who unilaterally ordered the killing of a U.S. citizen?   

Here's how I've dealt with it - I do want Obama to defeat Romney, who would certainly not improve upon the foreign policy precedents established by the former, and whose domestic policy (as far as I can make out) is abhorrent.* But I refuse to get excited about our leader or his campaign. I skipped watching the convention, because there are big chunks of the past four years that I don't want to feel good about. And yes, I've skipped the debates, too. I prefer to read recaps, because in those tense, live TV moments, I find it difficult to not cheerlead for the side that better represents my views. Essentially, I'm taking a very pragmatic, unsentimental approach to this presidential election.

I realize that my approach doesn't win races, especially in a culture so fixated on fun times and entertainment. Trust me, feeling this way is no fun at all. I'm far beyond disappointed in our President, but the cultishness of his most ardent followers continues to disappoint me every day. One thing I'll say for our leader is that when he's on, has an incredible knack for inspiring his fans. When you consider that, it's almost easy to see how Wasserman Schultz-style denial becomes a very attractive means of dealing with the cognitive dissonance.

* This is not to say that I will be voting for Obama. I will be voting. I live in a red state. I'm exploring my options. There are more than two.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Birth Story Revisited

My friend G, a Bradley Method instructor, asked me to share my birth story via Youtube so she could play it for her class. Coincidentally, this whole wacky adventure got started a year ago today. Revisiting this story has been a very satisfying perspective-checking experience. So, I thought I'd share the videos on here. Total running time is about 19 minutes. This is based on my Planning for Peanut blog posts from last November. Here are links to part 1 and part 2 of the written story.

Video, part 1

Video, part 2

And on a completely unrelated note, here is a tribute to our American League Champion Detroit Tigers - woohoo!!!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Confessions of a Mildly Detached Mother: Sleep Training

In this blog series, I examine the conventions of "attachment" parenting (which I wholeheartedly embraced before my child's birth), and detail how I have fallen short of those ideals. I don't mind being imperfect. If child rearing is a competition, I forfeit.

Sleep Training

I Ferberized my baby.

Doesn't that sound so evil?

Shut up! I don't care what you think, with your stupid, judgmental face.

Okay, obviously I do care. And if you are a firmly attached mom or dad, maybe you think I've done a bad thing. That doesn't change my feeling that this was one of the best parenting decisions we've made so far.

This sleep training system is named after the Dr. Ferber who developed it. I'm not going to bother with the five minute internet search that would help me present a more detailed history of the man and his controversial method. Basically, our pediatrician, Dr. C, told us about it and we did what he said. Only later did I learn that this was that thing called "Ferberizing" a.k.a. "crying it out".  

"This is a great opportunity to begin sleep training," the good doctor said at our four month visit. "She's developing a more adult sleep cycle and she doesn't really need to feed more than once between, say, 6:00pm and 5:00am. Eventually, she won't even need that one feeding. You may just want to skip it for her."

The thought of a regular bedtime and waking up only once in the middle of the night thrilled me. I hadn't slept for more than four straight hours at a time since the middle of my pregnancy. We picked a date to move her crib out of our bedroom. On that first night, I put her to bed when she fell asleep on her own (around 10pm) and woke up to feed her whenever she cried. On the second night, we followed Dr. C's recommended formula - last breastfeeding an hour before bed, 45 minutes of hardcore playtime, warm and fuzzy bedtime ritual, a little song, then to the crib at 8:00pm. At that point, she did exactly what he predicted. She screamed and screamed. We waited five minutes, then Dan went in to comfort and smooch her. Ten more minutes of screaming, followed by another smoochy comfort visit. We were supposed to wait another fifteen minutes before Dan's next visit, but at 8:20 he blurted, "I can't take this anymore!" and headed to her bedroom door.

That's when I miraculously grew a second, fire-breathing head that bellowed, "Don't even think of going in there!" Normal Tara would never boss her husband, but sleep-deprived Dragon Tara had no such qualms. Alarmed by my other self, I stepped out to the porch for some much needed fresh air.

At 8:25, I returned to silence. Our baby was actually asleep and she remained that way until 11:00pm. I think I fed her twice that night. She had a somewhat easier time getting to sleep the following night. By night three, she was simmering down by 8:10pm.

Here's how it's been since -

- Baby has been pretty great about getting to sleep within ten minutes of bedtime, except when she hasn't, which usually happens when we  have company, which makes us feel like shitty, callous parents. The truth is that when company isn't around, it's been pretty easy to deal with her crying. Pre-baby, I never thought my sensitive soul could handle it. I was wrong.

- For the following six and a half months, I still nursed her whenever she awoke. It was twice a night for a while. Then it was just once, except when it was actually three or four times a night, and that's when I wanted to jump off a bridge. What can I say? Teething and growth spurts are a bitch. Some parents will say that the early weeks of waking up every two hours to feed a newborn are the worst, but I disagree. I was mentally and emotionally prepared for that drudgery. The worst is when baby's sleep patterns spontaneously regress.

- I hoped that she would learn to sleep through the night on her own, but that happened just a handful of times by age 10 months. That's when I finally opted to do as Dr. C suggested and just skip those feedings for her. That was a tough choice, not because I felt like I'd be hurting her, but because I felt like I'd already failed as a mom. Other people's kids slept solidly. Why wouldn't mine? But honestly, my sense of failure was more a reaction to other people's concern. I avoided talking about my broken sleep schedule because I couldn't stand those worry-faced expressions. Were they judging me? Maybe, or maybe not. The answer didn't really matter. The point is that for many months, I didn't mind that one midnight meeting with my sweet, snuggly baby girl. Getting out of bed blew, but feeling her melt in my arms as we sat in placid darkness was its own bliss. Nevertheless, I ultimately decided that I wanted at least seven straight hours of slumber more than I wanted to bond during the wee hours.  

A few times, I mistakenly tried to implement that change on the fly. "I'm just not going to feed her tonight. Simple as that." Dragon Tara inevitably reemerged when sleepy Dan would roll over in bed and say, "I have to work early tomorrow. Can you just go feed her?" Alas, the baby's screams were too much for either of us to resist and then I'd find myself stumbling through the dark. Eventually, I recalled Dr. C's more organized and purposeful method. We picked a date. We chose our strategies. We tried feeding her water instead of breast milk. When that didn't work we just let her cry. The first night sucked. The second night was a little better. She's slept through nearly every night since.

As I've stated in other Confessions posts, I'm not writing this as advice. I realize my methods may not work for other kids or parents. Rather, I write this for kindred Mildly Detached Parents seeking encouragement. I would like them - you, perhaps - to know that they (you) are not bad people. I'm not a bad person. At least, I strive to be a good person. But I also strive to be happy. Sometimes that means making choices that benefit me instead of putting my child's gratification first. If I always opted for the latter, I'd be a sleepy bitch with sore nipples and no time. And that wouldn't bode well for my relationships with everyone other than the baby.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Be a Star!

I'm taking a break from my Detached Mother series to share this gem with you. My sister K recently posted this video on her 16 year old daughter's Facebook timeline. From what I gather, this was my niece's jam back in the day. It's the most splendidly awful bit of pop culture I've witnessed in a very long time. I present Tyra Banks singing "Be a Star" from the 2000 Disney Channel movie "Life-Size" starring Lindsay Lohan.

Clearly there's some comic action in this scene that I don't get because I know almost nothing about the plot. And that's fine. I like it that way. At first I assumed the joke was that Tyra is a terrible singer because she is. But I don't think that's why it's supposed to be funny, which makes this perfect. Ms. Banks's enormous ego coupled with her void of self-awareness makes her a most magnetic mess. She was doing the Sarah Palin thing way before Sarah Palin.

When I told Dan about this clip, he said, "Can we please never talk about this again? I kind of hate her. So do you!" He sounded so disappointed in me. It's true, a few years ago I had to break up with Tyra and stop watching "America's Next Top Model". I was fed up with her misplaced sense of importance, despite that being her most entertaining characteristic. I confess, I tried to get back into ANTM last winter when I was housebound with a newborn. Other than eating, there's nothing more fun than getting lost in some engaging drivel when you're sitting around, breastfeeding all day.

Problem was, ANTM had become sucky beyond the point of return. It was that "British Invasion" disaster.Ugh. I used to love this show for the drama. You had your mean girls and your sweet girls, your dummies and your crazies. Now it seems like they're all just different shades of dumb and mean. Is this how casting works when a reality show has been on for too long? Maybe after witnessing so many seasons of catty, cruel and self-loathing behavior, the mean dummies are the only people left who are willing to put themselves through the experience. In any case, their absolute dominance makes for a very boring viewing experience.

ANTM was best when Tyra had no right to assume that she should be a role model to her contestants but lectured at them anyway. Now it seems she really is a better person, and that's just depressing. This scene from "Life-Size" reminded me of the good old days. OMG, do you think she's ever personally lectured Lindsay Lohan?((Sigh)) One can dream.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Confessions of a Mildly Detached Mother - Diapers, Dinner and Disgust

In this blog series, I examine the conventions of "attachment" parenting (which I wholeheartedly embraced before my child's birth), and detail how I have fallen short of those ideals. I don't mind being imperfect. If child rearing is a competition, I forfeit.

Cloth Diapers

I use cloth diapers because disposables are an ecological hazard and I can't stand synthetic materials touching my wee one's precious bum. Ha ha, just kidding! We use cloth because it's cheaper. Dan and I recently figured that we've been saving at least fifty bucks a month, which means more money we can spend on designer pork products. Woohoo! As long as the current diaper size fits, our savings will increase over time.

We're thrifty about diapering, but not stringently. We frequently supplement with disposables when it's easier (overnight, on vacation, when someone else is watching the baby, etc.). For me, cloth's major drawback is that it's inconvenient. While I don't relish all this labor intensive poop disposal, I don't find the task revolting. I feel for parents who do. I keep thinking about this Disgust Scale test I took a couple years ago. It lists several hypothetical gross out scenarios that you rate from "strongly disagree" to "strongly agree", such as:

"Even if I was hungry, I would not drink a bowl of my favorite soup if it had been stirred by a used but thoroughly washed flyswatter."
(My answer - strongly disagree. Borscht rules!)

Then there are hypotheticals that you rate on a scale from "not disgusting at all" to "extremely disgusting", like:

"Your friend's pet cat dies, and you have to pick up the dead body with your bare hands."
(Sorry, friend. I find your dead cat extremely disgusting.)

In the end, I learned that I'm not bothered by germs and dirt as much as I'm sickened by dead things and vermin. But the larger lesson was that disgust is a very personal reaction. As a new parent, I feel very fortunate to be relatively unfazed by feces. If I found poop as upsetting as cockroaches, I would definitely skip cloth diapers. In fact, I'd probably skip the baby altogether.

Solid Food

Like many attached parents, I was totally geared up for cooking, processing and storing my own baby food. I get off on that sort of highly involved kitchen project. That would be the fun part of introducing solid foods to my baby's diet. But I dreaded spoon feeding. Then I learned about Baby Led Weaning and realized I needn't bother with the project or the spoon.

Here's how it worked - I breastfed my daughter until she was six months old. At six months and one day, I started giving her chunks of solid food at mealtime (soft fruits, veggies, bread, cheese - it just had to be "gummable"). By that point, she was physically capable of putting the food in her mouth on her own. Chewing was another story. Some babies take days or weeks to figure it out. They may gag and spit out their food. But at that age their gag reflex is near the front of the mouth so there's little risk of choking. My kid learned to chew pretty quickly, establishing herself as a very curious and eager eater.

I'm glad it's working for her because I'm a huge fan of BLW for many selfish reasons -

No spoon-feeding I have no patience for it, especially those "here comes the choo choo train!" shenanigans. Dining is a cherished pastime. I don't want to manipulate her into enjoying it with me.

She eats the things we eat This is convenient. Also, I don't want to be in the habit of making a separate meal for her.

She eats a wide variety of foods Perhaps because she isn't being force fed (which is pretty annoying to all people who aren't between the ages of four and six months old*), she has a good time at the table and enjoys exploring many kinds of food. She'll probably become more finicky about colors and textures as she gets older. I figure if her scope will inevitably narrow, it's wise to start off with a wide breadth of options.  

It provides endless entertainment for grandparents My BLW book warns against staring at babies when they're eating, because it may make them self-conscious. This has never been an issue for my little ham. She loves putting on a show. Her Skype production rivals anything on your Netflix streaming queue. Dinner's broadcast is the best. 6:00 nightly.

We got to put off solid food diapers for an extra two months That's when it starts getting more hands-on and stinky. I miss those carefree days of just breast milk poo.

When my pediatrician, Dr. C, talked about introducing cereals at four months, I told him about my BLW plan. I detected a barely suppressed eye roll in his expression. Oh geez, I thought. He probably thinks this is hippie garbage. So when we returned for her six month checkup, I arrived armed with a long long list of foods she'd already tried.

"She's had cucumber, sweet potatoes, avocado, bananas, even a little broccoli."

Dr. C's eyes widened with surprise. "That's great!"

I felt my shoulders relax, but the desire to prove myself remained. "She's had some bread and cheese, but only a little. I know she isn't supposed to have too much sodium."

"The important thing is that she brings the food to her mouth on her own. You'll want to avoid nuts, seeds and saltwater fish in the first year. Otherwise, just make sure the food is finger soft. Oh, and she'll like broccoli better if it's been cooking with meat all day."

"But is it okay to season it like that? What about the sodium?" In hindsight, it seems my voice was so shrill.

He bore a squinty expression, followed by another suppressed eye roll. "Just season it how you would season it for yourself. Her pulmonary system is brand new. She'll be fine."

Duh. Of course she'll be fine, because she eats what I eat and I eat really, really well. I make it a priority. I save money on cloth diapering so I can spend more on fresh, often organic, unprocessed foods. I work at a health food store so I can get a discount on these things. Baby Led Weaning makes sense for us because we already love cooking for ourselves. I can see that it wouldn't be such an enjoyable undertaking in a less food-centric household.

It also wouldn't be much fun if you're repulsed by the constant mess. Again, I must consider my position on the Disgust Scale. Post-meal debris doesn't bother me. I do thorough cleanings at restaurants and other people's houses, but I care less at home. I'm often discovering crusty bits of my daughter's last meal stuck in the corners of her high chair just as I'm getting her ready for the next meal. Between cleaning her hands, face, table top and bibs, I get distracted. Many of her clothes are forever stained with peach nectar and tomato juices. I figure it's okay because she's a baby and her natural good looks tend to draw more attention. Heaven help her if she's destined to be a glamour queen because I am clearly an obstacle in that path. Oh, well. If in twenty years she's still willing to dine with me in public, we'll be alright.

*This is the main reason pediatricians recommend starting a baby on cereal at four months. It isn't because the child requires solid food at that age. It's because a four month old will tolerate spoon feeding, and cereal is the easiest thing for them to digest. In other words, it's for training purposes, not nutrition.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Confessions of a Mildly Detached Mother: Immunizations

In this blog series, I examine the conventions of "attachment" parenting (which I wholeheartedly embraced before my child's birth), and detail how I have fallen short of those ideals. I don't mind being imperfect. If child rearing is a competition, I forfeit.

I thought I was supposed to be vehemently opposed to immunizations. I've known several thoughtful, intelligent, "attached" parents who refused or delayed their kids' vaccinations. And when I first started thinking about this stuff a few years ago, Andrew Wakefield's research connecting autism with vaccines was still relevant.

Since Wakefield's fall from grace, I haven't found much evidence that getting vaccinated is more dangerous than not getting vaccinated. That's not to say I'm especially well read on the subject. Honestly, I've forgotten most of what I have read. My ego wishes this were a more informative post, full of helpful links and specific arguments about each type of vaccine. But that would misrepresent the actual amount of time I spent thinking about this issue.

Here's how the decision went down - When baby was born, we refused the Hepatitis B shot they gave at the hospital because we wanted more time to mull over vaccines. In fact, I purposely avoided selecting a pediatrician in advance because I didn't want anyone pressuring us before we were ready to decide. But we couldn't leave the hospital without a pediatric check-up, so we requested any doctor who happened to be making rounds.

We were told we'd be meeting with Dr. C--. While waiting for him to visit our room, the baby started fussing so I began feeding her. That’s when the doctor arrived. He was nebbish and quite awkward. In a movie about my kid’s birth, he’d be played by Buck Henry. When he saw me, he gasped. "Oh my god, you're nursing!" and scurried away. He returned a half hour later. After examining the baby, he couldn't figure out how to rewrap her diaper. “I’m so sorry!’ he flustered. As is standard procedure, he asked us to bring her by his office for a one-week checkup. I grudgingly agreed. I didn’t want this to be a long-term relationship, but I could deal with one appointment, just to be sure baby was okay.

Fast forward to the one week appointment - Dan and I were sitting in stony silence, waiting for Dr. C. We'd just had our first big parents' fight. I felt cranky and tired. Meeting with Buck Henry guy was the last thing I wanted to do. The door opened, I braced myself, and then a completely different dude walked into the room. He bore the bear-like look and calm, funny demeanor of my cousin J, which is to say that I liked him immediately.

He checked the baby’s vitals and was pleased to see that she'd actually gained on her birth weight. We discussed the Hep B shot we'd skipped at the hospital. He was cool about it, but clearly explained the vaccination schedule he would follow if we were to continue seeing him. I said I needed more time to think it over. I was trying very hard to be politely firm and internally critical of this new doctor. But then he glanced at Dan, who was calming the baby by gently vibrating her in his arms, and said, "Hey. You're a pro." Shucks. What a kind thing to say.

Dan finally asked, "Excuse me, but what is your name?"

"Um... I'm Dr. C--"

"Oh, we thought the man we met in the hospital was Dr. C--," Dan said, offering a description of our nebbish friend.

"That sounds like my colleague, Dr. H--. Hmm, I guess he likes to impersonate me." Dan and I shared a much-needed chuckle. Before leaving the room, the doctor wished us well and said I was welcome to stay and nurse the baby as long as I wanted. He waved a hand toward the window, which faced some autumn gold-drenched trees. "Enjoy the bucolic view," he added, throwing around my favorite adjective like it was nothing.

My ego wishes I could say that I went straight home and immediately began my immunization research. In reality, Dan and I made up, then got Steak 'n' Shake burgers and took the baby to the park. The fact-finding mission actually commenced about two days before she was due for the first round of shots. Still determined to be distrustful, I specifically sought solid, anti-vaccine literature. Unfortunately, most of what I found was anecdotal, tin foil hat-y and terribly written. The best arguments were along the lines of, "I don't know, it sure is creepy how many shots kids get these days...Is this really necessary?...Weird..." I think that's a reasonable sentiment, and I think it's wise to question medical wisdom that so greatly benefits the pharmaceutical industry. (Medicine that is ideally consumed by everyone? What a windfall!) Still, I never came across any specific information that really frightened me. A tiny percentage of patients have suffered horrible side effects, but they seem outnumbered by unvaccinated kids who've contracted serious illnesses.

By that point, we'd already met with Dr. C again at the one month visit. He said so many nice things like, "Hey, girl! I love your name," to the baby, and, "A+ job, you guys," to us. That's also when I noticed his magical ability to hone in on my deepest, unspoken concerns. "Are you worried about not being on a schedule yet? Don't. Right now, it's just about meeting her needs. You can't spoil her. Just get through the days. Now, if by ten weeks you two haven't gone on a date yet, I'm going to start bugging you. By twelve weeks, mom should be starting to get her life back." No schedule okay? Date night? Me have life?! Prior to that moment, I couldn't conceive of any of those things ever being true. And suddenly, there was this huge ass carrot of hope dangling in the distance. I felt so relieved. I hadn't anticipated getting a free therapy session with the purchase of a well visit.

I always knew that if I wanted a pediatrician, I’d have to get my kid vaccinated. Once I realized that we’d lucked into an awesome pediatrician, and that I wasn't really scared of the risks, the vaccine decision was simple. I didn't even bother looking into the delayed schedule option. At the two month appointment, I had some lingering concerns about the rota-virus shot. The doctor allayed those concerns. And that was that. Baby had her first set of immunizations that day. I admit, it was awful. Listening to her scream as I watched the nurse stick her three times, I wondered, "Is this the real reason parents refuse this stuff?" Seemed like a perfectly good reason to me at that moment. But I'd be lying if I didn't also admit to loving those extra long naps that followed.

Please don't read this as a pro-vaccine or anti-anti-immunization screed. I'm not saying that the refusers are wrong. And that's beside the fact that another parent's choice is none of my business. I have just one bit of advice for anyone who is struggling with this decision: don't freak out about it. Whatever you decide, take comfort In the overwhelming odds that your kid will be just fine. Both sides of the argument speak to tiny percentages. You're a new parent. Your challenges are many. Do the tiny percentages really deserve that much of your limited mental power?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Confessions of a Mildly Detached Mother

In hindsight, I'm ashamed that I spent so much time arming my child and myself against the party hostess's unfiltered judgements. Cloth diaper on baby bottom? Check. Bottle of breast milk (not formula), casually but clearly identified as such? Check. I'd already considered ways I could steer the conversation away from daycare and its inevitable role in our future. Let her tongue click later. I just had to get through this one party.

It was all going so well. She graciously offered to let the baby sleep in any one of their quieter rooms, if I felt comfortable leaving her alone. Certainly, I said. I wasn't one of those parents who had to hover over their kid non-stop. Not like my friend so-and-so with their toddler, I said.

The party hostess's face fell. Obviously, she had hovered over her kids when they were that age. In mocking my friend, I had mocked her, too. And then I just felt like an asshole.

Cursed judgment, it's so contagious. The party hostess tells other parents how they should raise their kids. And when she's not around, those other parents criticize her for homeschooling her brood. It never ends. In my ideal world, everyone stops giving a shit what anyone else thinks and everyone also keeps their mouths shut. But I don't see that happening, especially since I can't even live up to that standard.

Child rearing shouldn't be a competition, but that's how it feels at times. And I've gotta say, the attachment parents are usually the worst. I use "attachment" as a catch-all term for the generally liberal, usually middle class parents who are philosophically dedicated to at least some of the following - natural childbirth, breastfeeding, co-sleeping, organics (food, fabrics, etc.), cloth diapering, cooking their own baby food, delaying or refusing immunizations and never, EVER letting their kid "cry it out". Strict adherence to these methods requires sacrifices of time, money and sleep. And some among us seem to be keeping score. Since my days of working in nonprofits I've never met so many cutthroat martyrs. Who will give the most of themselves purely for the benefit of their child?

Answer - not me. Sure, I share many of the aforementioned values and lifestyle choices. But, my reasons for doing what I do are not always based on what's best for baby. In many ways, I am mildly detached from my child. This is how I keep myself sane. I'm proudly imperfect and in this series of blog posts, I’d like to tell you exactly how ~

For the first six months of my baby’s life, I fed her nothing but breast milk. I was able to do this because I am both lucky and privileged.


  • Nursing your baby does not cause significant physical pain
  • You don't rely on a prescription drug to get through your day-to-day life
  • You don’t have any serious issues with the mechanics (latch-on, milk supply, etc.)
then you are lucky like me.

  • You are able to stay at home with your baby for an extended period of time
  • You work for people who are genuinely supportive of your nursing habit
  • You own a breast pump
then you are privileged like me.

Breastfeeding is a fantastic experience and I’m truly thrilled if you or your partner are able to do it. But please acknowledge your luck and privilege. And if you must judge parents who feed their babies formula, please use your pre-mouth filter. It’s really none of your business.

So, yeah, I’m a World Health Organization superstar, and I continue to nurse my baby between solid food meals. Bully for me! Alas, I would probably not qualify as a La Leche League superstar, because I do not always feed my baby whenever she wants. If I know she's not needing food and I don’t feel like it, I may find another way to placate her.

And speaking of placating someone when they’re cranky - I broke out my breast pump for the first time back in December and have used it frequently since. Yet, I didn’t go back to work until last month. Why would I bother pumping if I’m gonna be around my baby anyway? So I can have a couple beers and not worry about it getting into her milk. Sometimes mommy needs her bottle, too. This is what I mean about being mildly detached. My life is mostly about her, but I get to enjoy these little patches of pure self interest. I’m able to keep my balance and I think we both fare better in the end.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Green Acres 2012

No time? Hire a vegetable grower

Here's my concept for a "Green Acres" redux - in this modern version of the classic 1965 sitcom, Oliver and Lisa are 30s-ish Brooklyn foodies. She's a native New Yorker and a restaurant critic. He hails from suburban Detroit and is an avid community gardener. Lisa is forever in love with her hometown, but Oliver has grown frustrated with the "rat race" and his lucrative but soul-crushing marketing career. At his insistence, the two relocate to a cheap expanse of prairie on Detroit's east side, where he realizes his urban farming dream. But, the farm livin' reality doesn't match up to Oliver's fancy. He must contend with crappy, unpredictable weather, a crumbling infrastructure (bringing back the telephone at the top of the pole), and constant miscommunication with his neighbors. Yet, while he struggles with his unexpected "fish out of water" status, a more worldly Lisa is better able to adapt to the environment and relate to other community members, including Sam Drucker (who owns the neighborhood corner store; he kindly agrees to sell Oliver's veggies, though no one seems interested in his $5/lb. heirloom tomatoes), Mr. Haney (another vendor at the neighborhood farmer's market; much to Oliver's chagrin, he's clearly dealing in shady, non-local goods, like grapefruit and foreign-made car parts), and the Ziffels (who speak to their pet goat*, Arnold, like he's people). The comic gold is in uptight Oliver's constant frustration with his unusual surroundings vs. Lisa's easy acceptance of their new lot, and the fact that neither of these two food-fetishizing farmers know how to cook their produce.


The inspiration for this concept came from a guy I don't actually know, a friend of a friend. My buddy told me how this dreamy suburban guy had started a farm in Detroit. Apparently, farmer dude found it necessary to brandish a rifle as a way of dealing with pesky neighborhood crackheads. My immediate, albeit silent reaction was, "Uh, weren't the crackheads there first?" Gentrification is a very complicated thing, and I should know because I'm on my fourth round of being a white beneficiary. I think that many gentrifiers view themselves firmly rooted in the moral high ground because they're "fixing things up". Combine this with foodie ideals and you find yourself in an ethical quagmire.

Speaking of which, the only way this remake could work is with a television writing dream team. In my fantasy, this would include David Simon, Louis C.K., and some really funny Detroiters, like the guys who write "The Ed and Moe Show". That combination of folks could handle the sociological realities with humor and some degree of accuracy. Because, let's be real, Oliver and Lisa would be white, and most of their neighbors would be African American. Without great writers, the show would either be stupid at best or racist at worst, and then my brainchild would end up on the pages of my current favorite website.

*I've heard of people keeping pigs in Detroit, but I've actually seen goats there.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Peevishness is My New Pet Peeve

I've developed a nasty pet peeve and it won't leave me alone. It's of the spoken variety, and it goes like this - 
(unbelievable or irksome revelation, followed by) "... really?... REALLY?!"

Alternatively, it may go like this -

"Seriously? No, really, SERIOUSLY?"

Do you remember when 97% of your acquaintances didn't utter one of these statements every day? I do. It was a glorious era when we could conceive that dumb and frustrating things happen all the time. Yes, that other driver did cut you off in traffic. Your boss did keep you late for no good reason. Your stupid cat indeed did pee outside of the litter box. It happened and it sucked and maybe you groused about it, but you never wondered, "Is this reality? Was my cat just joking?"

Until recently, I had no idea how this rampant bout of incredulity got its start. Then I learned that it emerged from that hotbed of catchphrases both irritating and irresistible - Saturday Night Live. Since I haven't watched a full SNL episode in nearly twenty years, I had no idea. Apparently, "Really!?! with Seth and Amy" was a Weekend Update feature during the Meyers/Poehler era starting in 2006. This social tic is six years old, yet never so inescapable as it is now. Check out this headline from the Guardian UK website, back in January.


All I can say to Ms. Harding or whoever wrote that headline is, you didn't know that guy is a complete piece of shit? He is. I'm not trying to downplay his awfulness. You should never cease to find him disgusting, and it's good that you're letting others know what a horrible person he is. But your disbelief is rather unbelievable in itself. In fact, it's kind of a drag.

Exasperation is a turn-off, people. It's a weak, whiny response to life's unpleasantness. And please don't mistake this as me saying, "just suck it up." Bitching is great and complainers are some of my favorite people. What bugs me about the "really/seriously" trend is that it posits suffering as something new, which leads me to my theory on why it's so popular.

I'm now aware of its SNL origins, but I hate to blame my pet peeve on Amy Poehler, whom I adore. Based on my undocumented, unscientific observations, I suppose that the "really/seriously" trend gained enormous popularity in the past four years. I think it's largely a response to the recession. For anyone who is deep in student loan debt with only a minimum wage job to show for their degree, or who lost their retirement fund and now looks forward to working until they die, or who lives in an apartment when they used to own a McMansion, or is an out-of-work professional competing with hundreds of applicants for a gig at Home Depot... well, I guess "Really?!" is an appropriate response.

My problem with this trend is that these expressions have spilled over into the way we handle everyday difficulties. Now we have a cliche. And as cliches go, it's a downer. The problem is that it's so insidious. Unlike "a couple of wild and crazy guys" or even "not!", it's so easy to insert "really/seriously" in any complain-y conversation. I catch myself almost doing it all the time. Fortunately(?),  I find it so grating that I'm usually able to avoid usage. I just step back and remind myself that annoying shit is commonplace and I don't need to sweat it. I can respond in so many other ways - criticize, mock, ignore. I try to save my exasperation for a special occasion, like this blog post.

I'm requesting that you do the same. It seems sometimes our world is defined by unfairness, maybe more so than ever. Or perhaps it's just that we Westerners are feeling it more than we used to. What can you do but make the best of whatever shitty hand life dealt you? Whether that means shrugging it off or starting a revolution, I wish you well*. Just keep this in mind, a poker face can go way further than - "Really? Seriously? My high card is a seven?!"

*unless you're Rick Santorum, or someone who would vote for him.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Surprise Center of Everything I Miss

In just eight days, we'll pack two tons of baby gear and one baby girl into a rental car, drive ten hours north on I-75 and spend a week in our beloved, mitten-shaped homeland. During that time, we'll be lodged in exotic... stunning... Livonia, Michigan.

The first image on the City of Livonia's "Community Profile" page.

No kidding, I'm honestly geeked to be staying in this grid-shaped expanse of strip malls and post war subdivisions. Growing up in Dearborn, my primary association with Livonia was the old Ladbroke DRC where we'd go to watch horse races. That was the only reason I ever went there. But now I see it as a rather ideal locale, for several reasons:

Proximity to a slew of southeastern Michigan hotspots We've got must-see people and destinations in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Canton, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Detroit and Huntington Woods, not to mention a pair of dentist appointments in Bingham Farms. That's three counties, y'all! Livonia may be the most central location, which never occurred to me until we booked our room. Apparently, it's also a haven for traveling businessmen, as our hotel's complimentary breakfast includes "traditional Japanese items" - ooh la la!

There's a Costco there You may be thinking, "Costco? Ha ha! Tara has officially turned into a boring mom." Fair enough. I just recently became a card-carrying member, but I feel as if Costco and me were always meant to be. What's not to love about prodigious free samples and cheap, organic, frozen burritos by the dozen? I can get Dubliner cheese for six bucks a pound! The little cafe in the front sells giant, hand-dipped ice cream bars for $1.50. It's like Ikea for people who enjoy food more than furniture (though they also have furniture, and clothing, and car tires). I hate shopping, but I love going to Costco. We'll have a kitchenette in our room so being this close to one is rather practical. After all, we can't live on traditional Japanese breakfast items alone.

There's a secret oasis of bucolic grandeur there Our friend J is a longtime Livonia resident. Hopefully, we'll get a chance to hang out with her and her faithful Labrador/Chow mix, who looks just like a little black bear when he stands on his hind legs. She introduced us to the lovely hiking trails at Rotary Park. Those woods are quite serene. Right about now it's probably strewn with wildflowers. It's a cool respite on a hot, sunny day and a natural shelter in light rain. Once, I saw someone on horseback there. If you enjoy nature walks and find yourself in the vicinity, I recommend checking out this place. I foresee at least a couple jaunts with our baby and our dog.

It's Metro Detroit, and that's good enough for me I know my audience, so I'm careful to include the word "metro". People from SE Michigan bristle when suburbanites say they're "from Detroit", because everyone is so aware of the difference between the mostly African-American city center and its much whiter suburbs. But consider this - while the city population has dipped below 800,000, the metro area is about 4.3 million. That's a significant number of people in a specific area that I think we may as well call Detroit. Whatevs. Chattanooga's metro population is 500,000 and it's the biggest city within a one hundred mile radius. I miss the advantages of living in a more densely populated region. More so, there are quintessential Metro Detroit things I crave. Like, for instance, choosing from dozens of possible routes between points A and B. "Should I take I-275 to I-94 or just head down Ford Road or Michigan Avenue?" - you don't get all those options when you're surrounded by mountains and ridges. I miss the long-established immigrant enclaves, and eating delicious Greek, Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese and Mexican food. I can't even find good pizza around here. I miss AM 580, this funky Windsor oldies station that still plays pop tunes from the 1950s, as well as an inordinate number of Guess Who hits (to satisfy Canadian content minimums, no doubt). Now that I live far away, I realize that particular combination of things doesn't exist anywhere else. So it really doesn't matter where we hang in that vast cement grid where the mitten's thumb meets its palm. As long as we're with people we love and a short ride from a Coney Island, it's all home to me.