Saturday, July 31, 2010

... Right, mommy? ...

When Carbon and I were traveling, the others in our tour group started laughing about how often he would interrupt his stream of monologue to say "right, mommy?". He would be giving a little discourse on something - his understanding of ancient Roman history, say - and as he threw out his facts he would look to me to confirm that he was right "right, mommy?", and after my nod he would continue on.

Well, apparently he expects me to know almost everything. I didn't realize just how much of an authority he thought I was until the other night when we were reading Pyle' King Arthur for a bedtime story. Uther Pendragon is described as "that most puissant king", and Carbon stopped me to ask what puissant means.

"I don't know", I answered.

"You're lying!" was his response that took me completely by surprise. After all - why would I lie about knowing a word meaning?

"You have to know! You're like the human dictionary - no! like the human computer google."

How flattering, that my son thinks I'm like Google. We got out the big dictionary (the one all covered in dust), and looked up that word. For the record, it means powerful or strong.

I'm afraid it can only be downhill from here. He's going to gradually start to think that I know nothing and am a complete idiot, and that will peak in the teen years no doubt. I'll have to enjoy this while I've got it.

Friday, July 30, 2010

I wear my sunglasses at night ...

Or rather, during the day. A visit to the eye doctor yesterday left Carbon with dilated eyes and no sunglasses! (I don't know why they didn't give us those dorky disposable things.) So I popped us into a store and picked up some sunglasses so we could finish our errands without inflicting pain on him. New sunglasses = rock show once we got home!

rock stars

got my shades

Summer Reading

Summer time hasn't had much beach reading for me, but I've had plenty of airplane reading and since I'm home I've had playground reading while my kids play. I should be catching up on the big pile of professional development books that I bought last year but couldn't find the time to read - I really need to stop buying books until I read all the ones I have.
But that's not what I've done with my summer time. No - I've been reading fun books.
Uglies, Pretties, and Specials (The Uglies Trilogy) by Scott Westerfield. My husband had already read these and had them on his Kindle, so I took this with me on my trip. First - I really want a Kindle now. It was so nice to have a library of books at my fingertips while I traveled! I'm sold - the text is just like reading a book, no extra eyestrain - and you can buy a book you want in minutes without going anywhere! (OK - maybe that part would be dangerous for me).
Back to the books - they are young adult fiction, with all the simplistic language and low levels of emotional complexity that usually go with that. But for what they are, they are wonderful. The heroine is kick-ass, but makes plenty of mistakes and struggles with knowing what she wants in life. Normal teenage struggles of wanting to be pretty, believing you are unlovable the way you are, and needing to fit in with a group are magnified by the plot which takes it all and builds a dystopian future in which all 16 year olds undergo massive surgery to make them of average height and symmetrical features and average skin and hair tone and "Pretty". Until that age, they are known as "Uglies" and are not allowed out of the little ghetto known as "Uglyville".
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. This mystery novel started off very slow and dry, and I had trouble getting into it. I don't know if it's Larsson's writing style or the translation that made it so dry, but I actually felt like I was in a cold and snowy country reading the beginning of the book. Then the heroine finally moves into the plot, and she is an amazing character. Once she is involved in things, the pace picks up and there are some truly shocking scenes and real suspense. The last half of the book was an addictive page-turner.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I forgot that I had pre-ordered this in paperback, so a cheerful Amazon box was waiting for me when I got back from my trip. It's another YA, with yet another kick-ass female main character (I love these kick-ass girls - good counter measures to Bella Swan), and almost from page 1 this is a page-turner. The book is limited in time-frame and scope, being the story of kids who are forced by the tyrannical government of the future to enter a stadium and fight each other to the death. all televised like reality TV. The book felt cinematic, and it would make a great movie (in fact, I've already seen a couple movies with a very similar plot, most notably Battle Royale).
I seem to have quenched my thirst for fun fiction, and now I'm back to reading about Generational Theory and Zen and Comparative Religions and all that. But it was a fun summer reading fling while it lasted.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Summer time, and the living is ...

Each year, as I approach "summer time", I imagine that I will get so much done. I will: paint, catch up on my reading list, do tons of home repairs, go camping, take a trip, do craft projects, and also rest and relax and feel no sense of rush.

That is the myth of summer, that it is a vast open field of unhurried time in which I will attain all the goals I've been unable to reach during the regular church year. It is not the reality, and each summer I've come crashing up against that reality.

Summer is a finite resource. There is only so much time, and the list of things to do is too large to all fit in there. Perhaps I should be more realistic about what I plan to get done.

Which is why I set my alarm clock for 6am yesterday so I could do this:


freshen up

And there is plenty more to do! The song should be, "summer time, and the living is

time sensitive if you want to use the sunny weather for necessary tasks before the rainy season starts again... "

Actually, no, it's more fun to sing it the real way while still working hard. At least in my mind I'm in summer mode.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

hand wash cold

sandy feet
(picture selected only because this is the closest I've come to a "Zen Moment" in quite a long time)

We expect it to be the way we want it to be; and the way we want it to be is the way we call right. In other words, my way. My way is what you have before you have children. There is no right way to parent; there is only a right-now way.

Karen Maezen Miller, in hand wash cold: care instructions for an ordinary life

Miller is a sensei at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles, and the author of another book sitting on my shelves (but not yet read): Momma Zen. In hand wash cold, Miller describes her journey through broken relationships, personal disatisfaction, and self-absorption toward Zen and falling in love with "an ordinary life". The book is organized into three sections: the laundry, the dishes, and the garden. As Miller says in her book "life is the laundry", "life is dishes", and "life is a garden".

The book mixes personal confessions with remarkably wise insights, and Miller illustrates how we could all fall in love with the life that we already have. A beautiful reflection on Zen for those of us busy with householding duties.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The great car debate

I am currently driving a Subaru Legacy station wagon, with just over 100,000 miles on it. I would like to be driving an electric car (or be all on my bike or the bus - but I've shown I can't do that with two little kids in tow and my work schedule).
The subaru is paid off, finally, but now we are entering the stage where it just is going to go bad, bit by bit. We have a weird noise and a weird jerking-action on tight turns when the car is warm, and today I took it in (again) to see if the shop could figure out what that is. They think it might be the rear differential - which will cost me $600 just to take apart and might cost $2000 to fix. Ouch, on a car that is only worth about $4500 at this point.
I really want to buy an electric car and just park that subaru as our "spare" car. I can buy one of these Xebras for under $10,000, and it would work for my "neighborhood" driving, which is most of my driving. I could get around town on all electric power, but I would be limited to under 30 mph. And the subaru would have to keep running, for times when we needed to go farther than 30 miles from home or go faster than 30 mph.
If I wait a bit longer, I could buy a Nissan Leaf when it comes out. It's still affordable, for me, priced at 25,000 and getting a tax break. It would go freeway speeds, and it's still all electric. And it's bigger, so I could really carry both kids in comfort and maybe get my full grocery run at the same time. Folks who have reserved one could get them in December.
Or there is the Chevy Volt or the Prius plug-in hybrid. They are both more expensive, but they have the advantage that if you run out of electric charge, you can keep going on gasoline. With the Prius, they estimate that you can go 13 miles on just electric charge, so that would get me to work and back again with zero emissions. But - that won't be out until next fall.
I don't want to wait until next year to get a new car. I don't want to still be burning gasoline to run back and forth across town, especially with the new schedule that will hit me this September with both kids in different schools. But I also don't want to spend $10,000 on a NEV (neighborhood electric vehicle) this year and then decide that what I really want is a Nissan Leaf next year.
What to do?

Sibling love

They said they didn't miss each other. Each of them, separately, commented that they were happy to not have the sibling with them on their trip/visit to Grandma. And yet when they were reunited (and after the boy got over jet lag and I was rested enough to put the screen time limits back in place around here) they can spend all day long playing together. Fighting also, but mostly playing and enjoying each other's company.

outdoor play

I often think about the sibling bond. I felt so close to my brother growing up, but we are not so close as adults. My other siblings were much younger than I, so that made the relationship different - too much of a power and authority imbalance.

And yet, I would let any of them move into my house with me. I know they would be there for me if I needed them. Someday, we will have to work together to care for our aging parents. If anything happened to me and my husband, it would be one of our siblings that would care for our children. We share more of our DNA with our siblings than with anyone else.

And a sibling can drive you so amazingly crazy! It can seem like there is only so much love, approval, and respect to go around in the world and your sibling can seem like the main competition for those limited resources. Or they can just be plain irritating, like having to spend too much time focused on your own worst traits.

The bond that never goes away. :)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Back on the Home Front

the garden

You know how it is when you get home from a long trip? The dirty laundry you brought home with you, the pile of mail waiting for you on the table, the "surprise" when you open the frige - it is a lot of work to come home again.

I could see what my husband did and did not do while I was gone:

He did take care of all my animals and none of them died.

He did not take the trash or the recycling to the curb for collection.

He did wash the dishes that he used (after I was actually home, but he did do it eventually).

He did not eat the leftovers in the frige.

He did bring all the mail in.

He did not do any yard care or mow the grass.

The main problem was the grass - I should have mowed it right before I left, but I didn't, so it had been about 4 days since I did it. I was gone for 2 weeks, so the grass was up to my mid-shins when I got home. I only own a little pushmower - by choice - and it is not good to have shin-height grass and a push mower.

Let's just say that it took me 10 hours last week just to mow the grass and weed whip against all the structures in the yard.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Our tourist days in Budapest

at Hero's Square

Our days in Budapest were hot - about 106 F! But we still took a bus tour to Castle Hill and Hero's Square (shown). The tour guide was very good, but we were still happy to ditch the group and set off on our own. The Rick Steve's guidebook was wonderful and wonderfully helpful, and Carbon and I had read it as bedtime reading for the last couple nights so he could pick what he would want to see. He chose the National History Museum, which was nice and cool in that hot weather and fulfilled his twin desires: see a statue of Augustus Caesar and see lots of medieval weapons.

The metro system was easy to use and everyone was friendly and helpful. By the end of our trip, I was feeling capable of navigating in a city where I couldn't speak the language and found the money hard to grasp. I'm not quite ready to set off backpacking or hitchhiking around the world, but I did overcome some of my fear of traveling.

My husband would love it if I got the travel bug. So, next year it will have to be Mexico.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Budapest is Beautiful


Driving in to the city I was awed by how beautiful it is. I only went on this extension to the trip because the rest of my church group was going there, but I am so happy that I did. I loved Budapest.

Friday, July 23, 2010

And a bit more Unitarian Content

To wrap up our Unitarian pilgrimage, after we left our partner village we headed to the city of Kolozsvar. Kolozsvar is home to the First Unitarian Church, and we stayed overnight in the dorms of the Unitarian high school there. Here was where Francis David established Unitarianism - here is the rock where is he said to have stood when he delivered the sermon that converted the city. I don't think I have the personality to feel awe about this sort of thing, but I did feel a connection to something real. After all, that rock is actually just so small. It's soemthing real, something tangible. It makes the history that I know and teach so much more real.

First Unitarian Church

in the pulpit

on the rock

Francis David

More Dracula tourism

The other big Dracula tourist trap is in Sighisoara, the purported birthplace of Vlad Tepes, aka Vlad the Impaler, aka Vlad Dracul. The connection brings out all the tourist vendors with souvenirs of varying quality, but the town itself was a pretty magnificent experience of stepping back into medieval times. The fortified walls around it, the narrow cobbled streets, and the old buildings built close together felt like a movie set - but this was real.


birthplace of Vlad Tepes

strolling through Sighisoara


Thursday, July 22, 2010

Home visits in Transylvania

While we stayed in the village, we had the chance to visit several people in their homes. They were all incredibly welcoming and hospitable, and Carbon got to jump in and see some different ways of living.

One woman we visited has a huge loom taking up half of her living room, and after the minister had tried to use it (without much success), Carbon asked if he could try. The lady gave instruction, which then had to be passed on by our translator, so both of them were leaning over him and trying to help. He just kept trying though, until he was doing it by himself.

trying to weave

using the loom

And then we visited this 85 year old woman who lives alone in the forest above the village. She still plants and harvests her own corn, bakes her own bread in an outdoor oven (pictured below), tends her chickens, and lives without running water or electricity. I don't think she gets many visitors, so when we arrived she insisted we stay and she would make some cookies for us.

indoor oven

on the front porch

making treats together

outdoor oven

Seeing these glimpses into their real lives was every bit as interesting and educational as seeing castles or other such sights. I'm so glad I took Carbon with me.

Sunday in Kissolymos

Going to church in Transylvania is a different experience than at home. The Transylvania Unitarians have very different beliefs than the American Unitarian Universalists, as it is still a very biblically based Christian faith in Transylvania. It is also basically a hereditary religion, with its own history of persecution endured and overcome, so that gives it a different flavor as well.

But none of that was apparent from sitting through the church service, mainly because I couldn't understand a word the minister said (it was all in Hungarian). Well, no I did recognize when he said "Americans" when he was welcoming us as guests.

The big, huge difference that really jumps out at us as guests is that men sit on one side of the church and women sit on the other. This is just how it has always been done, but to our American sensibilities it feels weird. Carbon got to sit with me because he's just a little kid, but most of the kids and teens actually sit up in the loft. So it's a very segregated church experience.

After church they had organized a community lunch in their community hall for us, and the folk dancing group that the minister has organized performed. Lunch always starts with soup there, and is the biggest meal of the day. They also pushed a lot of palinka - their signature homemade liquor - on us for lots of toasts. Isten Isten! (God God - nice and simple to remember).

Unitarian church of Kissolymos

minister dancing

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Gates of Kissolymos

When walking or driving through the towns and villages of Transylvania, you don't see people's houses, porches, or front yards. No, it's a different culture there, one where the courtyard is shut off behind a gate. In all those courtyards, there are gardens, laundry drying, animals, cars, and children playing. But what you see is a variation on this:

gates of Kissolymos

gates of Kissolymos

gates of Kissolymos

playing across language barriers

There weren't many children out in the village (it is summer time so school is out and families are out working in the fields together during the days), but on one day of our visit we drove to the next valley over to visit with the previous minister in his new town. He and his wife have a five year old son and had a neighbor girl hanging out at their house, so Carbon had a chance to try and play with some kids.

It reminded me of the video The Little Traveler's Visit Japan, when the girls had a play date with a Japanese girl and they all stood around being shy for awhile. Carbon and Tomas were both shy and distressed about not being able to talk to each other, but they overcame it with the help of our interpreter and bubbles.

It wasn't easy for them, though. Maybe if they had been a bit younger, language wouldn't have mattered so much.


overcoming language barriers

playing with bubbles

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Our Partner Church

Our trip wasn't just a sightseeing vacation, although we did plenty of that. It was also a pilgrimage, to see the history and roots of Unitarianism in Transylvania, and a chance to meet our partner church in the village of Kissolymos. We spent five days in the village, meeting people, seeing how they live there, going to church with them, sharing meals, and building a stronger partnership between our two churches.

After some initial shyness, Carbon came to love being in the village and staying at the parish house. The minister and his wife speak a little english, and we also had a translator staying with us to help with communication. She was really nice and took a liking to Carbon, and he to her.

parish house

The parish house was built during Communism, so it had to be built on a standard floorplan handed out by the government.

trying to use the whip

The minister tried to teach Carbon how to snap a whip. He tried and tried and tried until his arms were exhausted, but it's not that easy!

Transylvanian Hounds

These are Transylvanian Hounds - hunting dogs - which the minister breeds.

parish house kitchen

They were wonderful hosts and showed us great hospitality.


Kopjafa in front of the Arkos Unitarian Church

Kopjafa in front of the Kissolymos Unitarian church

Kopjafa in the village cemetary

kopjafa for all the bishops of the Unitarian church in Transylvania

These are all kopjafa (cope e ah fah), carved posts that memorialize a person or an event. We saw these all over Transylvania, but especially in front of the Unitarian churches. We saw so much beautiful carving work on this trip, such as this carved gate:

carved gate in Transylvania

Monday, July 19, 2010

Church Sanctuaries

My church is a spiritual sanctuary, and we call our worship space just that - the sanctuary. But what if your church was your physical sanctuary? The areas we saw in Romania have seen centuries of strife and fighting, and so they have a heritage of fortified churches. Several of the fortified churches we saw are still in use today, so their worshippers still experience passing through the outer walls to come to their church.

Prejmer Fort

Prejmer church

Prejmer fortress

fortified walls around Arkos church

The crumbling walls of Arkos Unitarian Church

We also saw, but didn't get any pictures of, the 13th century walled Unitarian church of Sz├ękelyderzs . Talk about a sense of history - this church has a tradition of families storing their surplus food in storage boxes inside the outer wall, and curing their meats in the corner towers. This way, if they had to retreat to the church when attackers came through the village, they would have food in there. The families of the village are still continuing this tradition, using the same boxes and hooks that their families have used for hundreds of years. They also have family pews in the church, also going back hundreds of years. A very different sense of it being your family church than we have around here.

I love Squares

I just wish my home town had a space for people to gather in that looked like this.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Castle Bran

Our second day in Romania took us to Castle Bran, the castle associated with Count Dracula in the book by Bram Stoker. Although the castle has actually nothing to do with Dracula, it is marketed that way for tourists and surrounded by cheap souvenir stands carrying tacky vampire stuff. Carbon might have been horribly disappointed in the castle if we hadn't done our homework beforehand, reading that it would not be spooky or actually have anything to do with Dracula. He was prepared, and the castle turned out to be cooler than he was expecting. It is in excellent repair and was an enjoyable self-tour experience.

We also took the tour of the luxury castle, Castle Peles, which I don't have any pictures of because they charged 50 lei (about $17) "photo tax", and it didn't seem worth it to me. If you like Baroque opulence, this castle delivers, but it wasn't what Carbon expected from a castle.

Castle Bran, aka "Dracula's Castle"

Castle Bran

the spookiest thing we found