Tuesday, January 30, 2007

School Stresses, Part 2

After some wrangling with his teachers, I pulled Wizard out of school this morning and took him to our home elementary school for gifted testing. We arrived early and met Mrs. E, the Program Specialist in charge of Exceptional Student Education (ESE). [In Florida, gifted programs fall under the same umbrella as learning disabilities programs. This doesn't make much sense to me, but that's the way it is.] She was a very nice woman, who had an easy rapport with Wizard. He used his best manners and introduced himself to her. They went off for about 30 minutes for her to administer the Kaufmann Brief Intelligence Test 2 (KBIT). KBIT describes itself as "A brief, individually administered measure of verbal and nonverbal cognitive ability." Apparently, this test is designed to identify anyone from a gifted to a special needs student. To my mind, it appeared primitive, a quick way for an educator to glean a shred of a child's intelligence. The test accomplished just that: Wizard scored very high on the verbal portion and only a few points lower on the non-verbal portion.

Wizard's composite score was close to the threshhold level for further gifted testing, so Mrs. E recommended we pursue further gifted testing for Wizard. One of her comments to me was, "He has quite a vocabulary, doesn't he." Uh, yeah . . . he reads and understands college-level texts. But, I digress. After Wizard finished the test, Mrs. E invited me back into her office to discuss the process.
  • First, I signed a preliminary consent form authorizing the school to do the KBIT testing, based on Wizard's instructional needs. I also filled out a registration form for the school district so they could issue an identification number for Wizard.
  • Second, Mrs. E needs to forward Wizard's scores and registration information to the school's data entry operator, who was not available at the time, for her to prepare a full consent for the full battery of gifted testing.
  • The school psychologist then has ninety (90) school days within which to perform the complete evaluation. She will use either WISC (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children) or RIAS (Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scales).
  • During this time, the public school will ask for Wizard's teacher to complete a Gifted Characteristic Checklist. When I mentioned to Mrs. E that Wizard has several teachers, she looked stunned. I explained that the private school transitions its students in 4th Grade to individual teachers in subject-specific classes. I suspect we'll ask the Language Arts teacher to draft the checklist and consult with the other teachers for their input.
  • Once the school psychologist has all the scores in hand, she will then review the results with me and WineGuy. After that, the entire team – school psych., parents, ESE coordinator – will meet to decide Wizard's eligibility.
Mrs. E's comment was "we should have this done [for Wizard] by the end of the school year." Just shoot me. The private school contracts were mailed home last week. They are due in February, and I won't know until April or May sometime whether Wizard qualifies for the public school gifted program. Wizard's class in the private school is filled to capacity. There is a huge wait-pool for kids desiring admission to his class. If we pull him out now, we have no idea if there will be space for him in the private middle school. If we sign the private school contract and later decide to pull him out, we could be on the hook for the entire tuition anyway. We did that once before, when Wizard and Wild Thing were in the local country day school; I do not want to do that again.

More than that, in my heart of hearts I know Wizard belongs in the private school. It challenges him academically. The teachers strive to connect with him on his level, and they keep tabs on him. As such, he has matured and become far more responsible than his peers. I am really proud of him. Moving him into the large and wild public middle school, even into its gifted program, would be immersing an already hormonal pre-teen into an environment for which he is not ready. He could handle it, but it would inhibit him. Wizard has reached the point where he loves school, loves his teachers, loves learning, and desires to do well for himself. His study skills are greatly improved, as is his self-discipline. I do not see how public middle school can foster that growth. Maybe I'm prejudiced; maybe I'm blind.

In the end, he does not want to leave the private school. He will do what we ask because he is a good boy. I do not want to ask this of him. I want him to revel in his intelligence and enjoy his achievements. I want him to be emotionally and socially stable. He will have all of this if we stay connected to him and he stays connected to his community.

So, I ask my friends who are educators, psychologists, and more experienced than I: what do you think? What would you do if you were in my shoes? How do I convince WineGuy that Wizard needs to stay where he is for three more years? Thank you for reading yet another missive.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Free Dinner!

Yes, there is such a thing as a free dinner. Last night, we drove over to the new Panera bread store that (allegedly) opened last week. As we walked in, a manager explained that, between 5:00 and 7:00 that evening, every patron (over age 10) would receive 15 Panera dollars to spend at the restaurant, no strings attached! They were conducting employee training and wanted to expose the new hires to rush hour. We received $60.00 for the five of us, more than enough money to buy dinner and lots of dessert.

I had the Portobello Mushroom Panini with a bowl of Broccoli Cheddar Soup. The soup came out hot and cheesy with lots of good broccoli flavor. The boys insisted I share it with them, which I did. The panini was also hot and brimming with cheese; I would have liked more mushrooms in there. My soup came with a baguette on the side, and my sandwich came with an apple. WineGuy ordered roast beef and horseradish on a baguette. The beef was rare, and the dressing was tangy. I saw WineGuy add mayo to his sandwich, so it may have been a bit dry. Wizard ordered the Asian Sesame Chicken Salad, which he loved: leafy, dark greens tossed with a rice wine and sesame vinaigrette and some marinated chicken.

Wild Thing and Moose each had a kid's roast beef sandwich on whole grain white bread. The kids' meals came with a choice of chocolate milk, white milk, or juice. Here I must commend the management team. The description of that whole-grain bread led me to believe there might be seeds on or in it. The manager pulled out the bread book, which lists all the ingredients and potential allergens in each bread product, and reviewed it for me. She also let me look it over to be sure. I really appreciated Panera's taking the time to double-check an allergy issue, even at the height of the dinner hour. With that service and the continual, roving attention of servers and assistant managers, Panera has made me a customer. The food was worlds better than the crappy Calistoga bakery down the street.

Oh, and they have desserts there, too. Wild Thing had a delicious oatmeal cookie filled with raisins. Moose had a decadent chocolate brownie. Wizard had a scrumptious raspberry brownie. WineGuy and I shared a Cobblestone (muffin?) that was a dead-ringer for the rum-buns we treasured at Bish Thompson's restaurant of long-ago DC. I am so going back for a coffee and a Cobblestone next week! We also brought home a strawberry pastry, a coffeecake, a loaf of three-cheese bread, and a loaf of raisin bread to try. All free, of course. The strawberry pastry was forgettable, although the berries were fresh. The coffeecake was pretty good, although it was closer to a danish ring because of the fruit filling. The boys had raisin bread with peanut butter for breakfast today. It smelled and looked yummy. The boys and I had turkey sandwiches on the cheese bread for lunch today: Wizard and I liked it; Moose and WT did not.

Two thumbs up preliminarily for Panera Bread.

Afterwards, we went shopping at the new Wild Oats store in the same shopping center. It was jam-packed on a Saturday night. We ran into a few people we knew. The produce was magnificent: fresh and gorgeous and only slightly more expensive than Publix. The fish department smelled briny and clean, not a hint of fishiness. The fillets were moist and glistening; the whole fish had clear, glassy eyes. The prepared foods looked okay, as did the baked goods. We'll have to sample some at a later time. I'm looking forward trying the goodies on the olive bar, too.

S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night! ... in the suburbs wasn't too bad after all.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Photo Friday

Like Old Blue Socks, I didn't have much to say today, so I also went trolling for a meme. I came upon Photo Friday, whose meme challenge was "brother." I can do that. Here are some brother pictures from our house.

Million Dollar Brothers:
Wild Thing, Wizard and Moose with $1,000,000.00 cash
at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, Washington, DC (Summer 2005).

Splish, splash!
Moose and Wild Thing, Spring 2006:

Brothers, in the City of Brotherly Love (Summer 2006):

Wild Thing and Moose with My Brother, The Doctor – DB2 of 3, (Summer 2006):

Lastly, a photo of DB1 hugging DB2 at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel,
right before the wedding of DB1's eldest daughter (August 2006). I love this shot.

"The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows when
But I'm strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy, he's my brother. "

--Rufus Wainwright

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Disco Bow

This is one to file under "cute things they say".

Yesterday, I had to wrap two birthday gifts for the boys to give. I asked Moose to help me so Wild Thing could do his homework. I let Moose pick the wrapping paper for each gift.
Moose: Can you put a bow on B's present?
Me: Yes, choose a bow.
Moose: I like the green one.
Me: No, there's no green in the wrapping paper ("Cars" movie paper). Pick a different color. How about red, like 'Mayter?
Moose: No, I want a "disco bow".
Me: What's a disco bow?
Moose: A sparkly one, like a disco ball.
Me: Ohh. [smacking my head, duh!] A disco bow!
He chose a gold disco bow, fyi.

Now, I remember the disco years. I was in high school then. I loved all that disco music; I still do. What I want to know is, how does a 4 year-old know what disco is? Are they playing "Disco Duck" or "Saturday Night Fever" in Pre-Kindergarten these days?

For you techno-divas, how do I add a sound clip to this website? This post really needs a clip like "Disco Inferno".

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Worldly Wizard

A bonus post, mostly to illustrate a point. Please read School Stresses first.

Wizard reads the local paper and the New York Times everyday, just like me and WineGuy. On Sunday, Wizard read an article about Fidel Castro's health and the future of Cuba. He came to us at dinner with all kinds of questions about Cuba. We discussed who Fidel is, how and why he came to power. We talked about Cuban history and our various family members who lived and worked in Cuba in the early 20th century. Wizard wanted to know about communism and socialism and whether Fidel's revolution was successful. We all speculated what will happen when Fidel dies. I told Wizard about the Cuban ex-patriot community in Miami and its powerful lobby in Washington. It was a high-level and engaging discussion that lasted over an hour. Later that evening, I pulled out my college texts on Latin American history and Cuba. Wizard has been reading them for two days.

So, I ask you:
  • How many 10 year-olds do you know read the newspaper everyday? I'm talking about the whole paper, not just the sports page or the comics.
  • How many 10 year-olds even know where Cuba is?
  • How many 10 year-olds have a good-enough grasp of world affairs to be interested in, let alone intelligently discuss regime change and its impact on American affairs?
  • Doesn't a child like this belong in an academically challenging school that reinforces good character and personal achievement?
Why would you put a kid like this in with a bunch of dolts? I'm just saying.

School Stresses

It is no secret that my kids are in private school. The simple reason is that public schools pretty much suck throughout Florida. Those that don't suck are overcrowded and filled with underpaid teachers who are struggling to meet the needs of the average student. To be clear, this house is in one of the two best school districts in the county. Our kids are not in that elementary school because the classes are huge, and because the gifted program at the time was part-time, pull-out and non-resident. Class sizes have largely remained the same, although our home elementary school now has a full-time gifted program. It's a mediocre program at best.

Wizard is not and never was an average student; he is extremely bright. This private school is meeting his academic needs and challenging him every day. In fact, his math teacher said to me today, "He will be valedictorian some day." Moose is not an average student. He walked at fifteen months, spoke intelligible full sentences at 18 months, and was computer savvy at two years. He is 4, nearing his 5th birthday, and is reading and comprehending Kindergarten to 1st grade books. Wild Thing is an average to above-average student. He has to work hard for every gain, but they are well-won. He has a good attitude about school and loves it. WT's teachers have fostered an engaged, happy learner in him.

The school has just issued enrollment contracts for 2007-2008. Middle school and high school tuition will increase 9%. [Wizard will go to middle school next year.] When WineGuy heard this, his immediate response was "Find out what the gifted program entails in the public middle school and get him tested. This tuition increase is robbery." I was angry and flabbergasted at his response. Wizard has been in private school since Kindergarten and to move him into public school because of a large tuition increase is reactionary and ridiculous. Public school classes are large; the gifted program generally means more work, not more challenging work. There are significant discipline and behavior problems in public middle school. If we put Wizard into public middle school next year, we will lose him. He will become another unmotivated, bored kid whose intelligence is wasted.

What to do? I remembered CK's sage advice about conceding to WineGuy's wishes on another topic, so I agreed to have Wizard tested for gifted. I'll take Wizard to our assigned elementary school next week for preliminary testing, and we'll take it from there. I also spoke with the director of admissions and financial aid for the private school. Unfortunately, there is no multi-student discount for families, although there should be. She encouraged me to submit a financial aid form. That's kind of laughable considering our income and where we live, but she said it's conceivable that we might qualify for financial aid considering we're paying three tuitions. I told WineGuy I'm filling out that form. He wasn't thrilled, but at least he'll see it's pro-active. My back-up position is to ask both sets of grandparents to pitch in for tuition. My in-laws have thrown away thousands of dollars on tuition for undergraduate and graduate programs never completed by WineGuy's brothers. I hope they would see the benefit of keeping Wizard in this private school through 8th grade. Public high school is viable option we'll seriously consider in a few years.

In the meantime, my desk is a disaster. I have no desire to clean it or fill out that financial aid form. I'm forcing myself to get right to it as soon as I finish this entry.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Where The Wild Thing's Things Are

Once again here in The Zone, the boys' rooms were trashed. Wizard did a pretty good job of cleaning his on his own. Moose needed a lot of help and guidance cleaning his mess, although he needed no assistance in trashing it in the first place. Wild Thing took two days to make his room spotless, but his closet was another story.

The day Wild Thing wore dirty clothes to school and dawdled at dinner, his mother called him "MESSMASTER" and Wild Thing said, "I AM NOT!" so she sent him upstairs to clean his room. That very night in Wild Thing's closet a mountain grew and grew and grew until there was laundry piled up against the walls and almost to the ceiling. The big, smelly mountain of laundry became the world all around.

There was no ocean, and there was no private boat, but there was a giant staircase that rose twenty feet in the air. So the Wild Thing stood at the edge of the stairs and contemplated his navel until "Ding!!" a brilliant idea popped into his head. And when Wild Thing came back to the giant staircase, he flung his laundry. Shirts, shorts, underwear, socks, sweaters, pants came soaring over the ledge ... and each piece hit his brother, Wizard, on his head for the Wizard was foolish enough to sit in the line of fire. Wizard roared terrible roars and gnashed his terrible teeth until Wild Thing said, "Bombs away" and launched himself down the vestiary slide. Down, down he tumbled until he knocked Wizard out of the way and reached the bottom floor.

"And now," cried the mother, "let the sorting start! Darks here, whites there, colors behind me." And Wild Thing looked with a vacant stare at the mother and replied, "Huh?" The mother growled, "Darks Here, Whites There, Colors Behind Me!" They sorted: darks here, whites there, colors behind her, until the mountain of laundry had been reduced to a few, little, smelly moguls. "Now stop!" said the mother and sent the Wild Thing into the laundry room with an armload of darks. Into the shiny deep washer they went, and they were lonely. The darks in the wash sent Wild Thing back to rescue more darks from the floor. Wild Thing went back and forth, rescuing darks, until all the darks were together again in the washer. The mother sent the darks on a watery journey until they were clean. Wild Thing went to play at a friend's house while the mother entertained the brothers at the park.

Later on from far across the town the father came home, and there was no one there. The father rescued the darks from their watery journey and banished them to the desert until they were dry. Then the father led the darks out of the desert and folded them neatly one by one until there was a small treasure of dark clothes. The father presented this treasure to the Wild Thing and sent him back up the giant staircase to put the darks away.

Wild Thing trudged back into the daylight of his very own room, where he found his empty drawers waiting for him . . . and the next three loads waiting to be laundered and folded.
The End.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


I have two holes in my belly. One is the bellybutton Dr. Epstein left me with when he delivered me 44 years ago; it's an innie, and it's fine. The other one is the ugly result of a botched C-section when I had Moose nearly 5 years ago. It's in the middle of an inevitable scar, and it looks like a giant crater in my gut. The crater was itching and twinging this evening. I am never happy to be reminded of the medical malpractice for which I was not allowed to seek redress.

Ancient History: When I had Wild Thing nearly 8 years ago, he had to be delivered by emergency C-section because I was deathly ill and he was in bad shape, too. It was a vertical incision necessitated by the urgency of the delivery. That incision healed well, and I eventually got over the trauma of a vertical scar. I mean, I'll never wear a bikini, so no big deal.

Modern History: When I got pregnant with Moose, there was no question that I would be a repeat C-section. My medical history prevented me from being a candidate for VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean). Fine. We scheduled the c-section for a morning when my OB/GYN, Dr. H., could operate with her partner, Dr. B. The surgery went smoothly, but the wound started oozing and seeping through the staples shortly thereafter. Why? Because Dr. B convinced Dr. H not to put drains in the incision. Dr. B said that drains were rarely used anymore and usually not necessary for proper wound-healing.

Dr. B, you are incompetent. I was a morbidly obese obstetric patient who had been on powerful blood thinners for months preceding delivery. I took straight heparin right before delivery and bleeding was going to be an issue. You should have put a damn drain in my belly for a couple of days. You didn't, and I ended up with a giant hole that took six months to heal (and poorly). Technically, I developed a seroma beneath the incision. [A seroma is a collection of fluid (plasma, lymph, and serous fluid: ew, gross) that often occurs in surgery sites.] The seroma was the size of a small doughnut, and it needed daily attention for the first four months of Moose's life. Finally, I delivered a child that was healthy enough to come home from the hospital, but my incision was a mess.

I had to go for wound care every single, goddamn day for four months. Most days I went to Dr. H's office; some days I had to go to the hospital's wound-care clinic. It was a huge challenge managing 2 wiggly boys and an infant while I was supposed to be lying down for the tech to debride the wound yet again. Dr. B wanted me to go back into surgery to revise the incision. Absolutely out of the question. The wound healed very slowly, despite daily care. After four months, the hole was smaller but still not healed. Wound care went from daily visits to every other day to three times per week, then two.

Six months post-partum the wound was officially "healed". I was left with a 1/2-3/4" indentation in the middle of my lower abdomen. It looks like a second belly button, and I hate it. WineGuy thinks it's funny, but it looks like a butt-crack to me. If I ever lose all the weight I should, I am going in for a tummy tuck and liposuction, and I'm going to get rid of that hole.

The redress part? Dr. H and Dr. B are colleagues of my husband in a tight-knit medical community in a relatively small town. Even though the OBs clearly erred in failing to insert a drain into my incision, I could not sue them for malpractice without irrevocably damaging my husband's reputation and livelihood. WineGuy would not even allow me to speak my mind and chew them out for doing such a shitty job for fear of repercussions. I held on to my anger for a very long time. I'm mostly over it now, but I NEVER, EVER recommend anyone to Dr. H &B's medical practice anymore. I send everyone to my friend, Dr. K, a nice Jewish OB.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Body Views

I picked up this thread from As The Tumor Turns.
Your mission: list at least five things you love about your body and yourself. Five is the floor; you can always do more. And no self-deprecation! No offsetting a compliment with a dig.
Lymphopo queried how you respond to this challenge when your body ceases to be all the things it was, when you can no longer define yourself as you once did. In her case, cancer treatment has left her body a mere shell of what it was physically. She gave her body credit for surviving the toxic attack of chemotherapy.

It got me thinking. Could I list five things I love about my body without saying something self-deprecating? Here goes nothing:
  1. Despite my weight, my blood pressure is normal. I will have a physical this year and have a full blood chemistry done.
  2. My ankles and my wrists are the smallest parts of me.
  3. I have great hair. No matter how I color it, highlight it, cut it or not, it is shiny, healthy and thick. It's my mother's hair – even when she lost half of hers during her chemo treatment 15 years ago, she still had a head full of hair, and it came back beautifully.
  4. My body is still attractive to my husband after all these years. There's just more of me than when we married.
  5. My voice is my favorite part of me. Whether it's singing, telling stories in funny voices, or yelling at top volume, my voice identifies me.
Can you list five things about your body that you love?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Lucia, Lucia

I've just finished a quick read by Adriana Trigiani, Lucia, Lucia. Set in the vibrant New York City of 1950, Lucia, Lucia is the story of a passionate, determined young woman whose decision to follow her heart changes her life forever.

Lucia Sartori is the beautiful twenty-five-year-old daughter of a prosperous Italian grocer in Greenwich Village. The postwar boom is ripe with opportunities for talented girls with ambition, and Lucia becomes an apprentice to an up-and-coming designer at chic B. Altman’s department store on Fifth Avenue. Engaged to her childhood sweetheart, the steadfast Dante DeMartino, Lucia is torn when she meets a handsome stranger who promises a life of uptown luxury that career girls like her only read about in the society pages. Forced to choose between duty to her family and her own dreams, Lucia finds herself in the midst of a sizzling scandal in which secrets are revealed, her beloved career is jeopardized, and the Sartoris’ honor is tested.
Trigiani's characters are well-drawn and believable. The storyline moved quickly, although the ending was weak. What I liked most about this book was that it was a window into my mother's coming of age in Washington, DC of the same era. The descriptions of Lucia's clothes and creations drew me back into the satin and crinoline-filled confections in Mom's cedar closet. Like Lucia, my mom was a dead-ringer for Elizabeth Taylor in those years: svelte brunette, light eyes, great bone structure, beautifully dressed. My parents married in 1950, like Lucia, and my mother graduated college a year later. She worked for the first couple of years of marriage until my oldest brother was born.

The book drew me back to the elegance and grace of bygone city life. I love the fashions and passions and innocence of postwar America. I wish we were there again.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Funeral For A Friend

Today was TimO's memorial service. It was the first Christian funeral I've ever been to. It was a bit disconcerting because there was an entire church service, communion and all. No one stood up to give a eulogy for TimO; no one was asked to. The priest (or whatever an Episcopal minister is called) gave a humorous but self-serving homily about TimO's life. It all lacked a certain emotion or warmth. Nevertheless, I participated as best I could.

Late last week, Sulialto asked me if I "would be Episcopalian for a day." Of course. I had no idea what that entailed, but how hard could it be to join a church choir for one service. Very hard. I got the music earlier in the week and studied it. I went over to Bird's house for some coaching and guidance. I showed up on time today and immediately disliked the church organist/music director, but I kept my mouth shut. I couldn't shove myself into the black cassock which everyone else managed to wear. I did fit into the white cassock, which was fine because I had on a white shirt and black pants. I felt like an idiot, but apparently no one noticed. We processed into the church two-by-two. Everyone else bowed at the altar, but I did not.

I sang the best I could, not having warmed up too well. I had poor breath control today. I was nervous and tired and borderline emotional. Actually, I held up pretty well during the service. However, during the offering of peace -- you turn to your neighbors and bid them peace -- DivaSal (another chorister and chorale friend) hugged me tight and said, "You did a very special thing singing today for Sulialto and TimO. You're a wonderful friend." That made me cry. Thankfully, I tucked a handkerchief into my choir folder.

We finished singing and processed out of the church into a picture- perfect Florida afternoon. I went through the receiving line (another alien concept) and hugged Sulialto and her daughter. I gave my condolences to the rest of the family and drove home. Fortunately, the funeral reception -- Episcopalian shivah?? -- was being held at my neighbor's house down the street. I changed clothes and walked down to pay my respects for a little while. Everyone came up to me and thanked me for singing with the church choir. They all said how wonderful we sounded and how amazed they were at how smoothly it went. I was pleased to honor my friend and her husband this way.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Celebrity Crushes

Inspired by an item in the five things I didn't know about Christina, I got to thinking about celebrity crushes. I remember my first celebrity crushes being on David Cassidy, when he starred in The Partridge Family, and on Bobby Sherman, a singer popular in the early 1970s. I still remember going crazy over his song, "Julie, Do Ya Love Me?" What can I tell you? I'm old.

After those two, it must have been Donny Osmond. Those teeth, that smile ... oh my. Frankly, I still think Donny Osmond is a tremendously talented performer. From the time "Risky Business" was revealed, I had a big crush on Tom Cruise. That scene of him dancing in the white dress shirt and underwear made the teenage me swoon. I remained a fan until he went off the deep end with Scientology. Now, I can't stand him.

When I was a freshman or sophomore at Cornell, I saw Jimmy Smits act in "Man and Superman" while he was completing his MFA. I followed his career from "L.A. Law" through "NYPD Blue". I really enjoyed his portrayal of Matt Santos in the last season of "The West Wing". He's definitely my longest crush because I still think he's fine.

Lately, I cast my eye on Jude Law. He loomed large on the big screen during the film, "The Holiday". His blue eyes and chiseled features made sitting in the second row worthwhile.

'Fess up! Who's your celebrity crush?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

You May Not Know

I accept Old Blue Socks's tag to tell you five things you don't know about me.
  1. I love otters. Their faces are so cute. They are playful. They are highly intelligent and very resourceful.
  2. I am organized, but my desk is not. My messy desk is borne of procrastination and an utter loathing of deskwork. WineGuy is organized, and his desks are always clear.
  3. I always wanted a house full of boys. I never, ever wanted a daughter. G-d gave me what I asked for, so I shouldn't complain.
  4. Texture and color are visceral. I am attracted to or repelled from things based upon their feel and color. For instance, I abhor the texture of rice pudding and cream of wheat: too gritty. I don't like slimy foods like custard or sea urchin sushi. I like clear, true colors. Muddy colors make me ill: sage green, olive green, ochre. Give me cobalt blue, ruby red, fuchsia, black, even hunter green.
  5. I spent most of my second year of law school dating, boating and having fun with my then-boyfriend. I even passed my classes.
Anyone want to pick up the tag from here?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Guiding Light (or, Fractured Fairy Tale)

No, not the TV soap opera. Just a fairy tale about my house and hunting down the elusive shade for my kitchen light fixture (seen above).

Once upon a time Mike built a house on spec. It was a big, pretty house with lots of pretty features. Mike cut lots of corners when he built this house, but no one ever knew about that until much, much later. Mike spent a lot of money building a fancy kitchen in the house. There were granite counters and fancy appliances and three chic light fixtures. Mike and his family lived the in the pretty house for a little while and then flipped it a few months later.

Alto2 and WineGuy came along at just the right time and bought the pretty house for their family. They moved in and started fixing things right away. Alto2 learned how to replace light switches, re-attach doorknobs, and hang 9-foot interior doors that magically fell off their hinges. Alto2 had lots and lots of fun tools in her toolbox; she had lots and lots of spackle, too, to fix all the holes her three darling boys made in the walls.

One day, many years later, Alto2 picked up her three darling boys from their school. Except they weren't being so darling that day. They were very bad boys that day. They fought in the car. They fought in the garage. They fought in the house. One of them even threw his shoe at his brother. But he missed. And he hit a chic light fixture instead. The glass went crash and smash. Little tiny pieces of chic glass littered the lovely granite counters and hardwood floors. Alto2 was very angry. She looked a lot like this:

Or this:
But a lot LOUDER!

The next day, Alto2 and her three darling boys drove all around town looking for a new shade for the chic fixture. They didn't find one that day. Three days later, Alto2 ventured out again, this time with the darling boy who broke the fixture, because he was home sick from school. Again. They went to Lighting Store 1, who couldn't match the fixture but kindly offered to sell Alto2 three brand new fixtures for her kitchen. Price: $300, plus installation, because the ceilings in the pretty house are sooooo tall. They went to Lighting Store 2, who couldn't help Alto2 at all. They went to Lowe's, thinking it would have replacement shades; it did, but nothing like what Alto2 needed. So, Alto2 drove home, despairing of ever fixing the chic light.

She arrived home and EUREKA! Alto2 remembered what the lady from Lighting Store 1 told her, "Find the name of the manufacturer in the cap of the fixture." So, Alto2 ran out to the garage, dragged the ten-foot step ladder into the pretty house and right into the pretty kitchen. She climbed up, up, up to the ceiling. She unscrewed the cap of the fixture and took it all apart. Lo and behold! There was a sticker with the manufacturer's name! And it was still legible.

Alto2 practically jumped down off the ladder and ran right to her trusty computer. She asked the oracle, "Google, Google, in the ether, who has made my chic light fixture?" Google answered in 0.12 seconds, "Kovacs ... George Kovacs." Alto2's fingers flew over the keyboard as she narrowed in on the elusive shade. She found a store in The Ether; that store had an alphabetical listing of Kovacs lighting. Alto2 searched ... A ... B ... C ... Cones! The fixture's name was "Cones". Alto2 called the store excitedly, begging them to get her the glass. The store said, "No glass. Call the manufacturer." Alto2 called the manufacturer who said the fixture is still being made, and the glass is available. Oh, joy! Oh, heartbreak, when the manufacturer said, "We can't sell to you directly. You'll need to place a special order from one of our retailers in your area." Alto2 fired up the retailer-locater and found that, verily, Lighting Store 1, was an authorized dealer. Exultation! Alto2 called and e-mailed the nice lady at Lighting Store 1. The nice lady actually called her back and said, "They have nine shades in stock. How many would you like?" Alto2 really wanted to say, "All of them," but she restrained herself and said , "Two, please."

And so, the nice lady ordered the glass shades. The manufacturer will ship them, and Alto2 will have them in a fortnight.

The End.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

More Book Talk

As I looked through my bookshelves, I found more books that I read last year. I continue my reading thread today.

For One More Day, by Mitch Albom: I don't know why Mitch Albom's books are so intriguing. They are short little volumes that pack huge emotional wallops. For One More Day is yet another thought-provoking little work that reads like it should be true. It is the memoir of a down-on-his-luck man who tries to kill himself, but instead finds himself spending one last day with his (deceased) mother. In a Dickensian mode, the mother shows the son what a positive impact she and he had on others' lives and how he just can't give up that easily. Add this to your reading list.

The Templar Legacy, by Steve Berry: A great book, particularly for Dan Brown fans. This novel follows former government agent, Cotton Malone, as he unravels complicated conspiracies and esoteric brainteasers surrounding the ancient religious order, the Knights Templar. This was a captivating read and slaked my thirst for more Code-like fare.

The Rule of Four, by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thompson: Another Da Vinci Code wannabe. The novel is as complicated and complex as the code it purports to reveal. Don't bother.

Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell: What was she thinking? Julie Powell is hardly a cook let alone a writer. This is actually a blog turned into a book. It should have stayed a blog, where no one had to pay to read it. Powell's writing is disjoint and crude; the book is no testament to the grande dame of cuisine, Julia Child. To coin a phrase, "mal appetit."

On Beauty, by Zadie Smith: I'll be very frank. I don't like much British fiction. P.D. James, Ian McEwen, Susanna Clarke ... they put me to sleep with their verbosity and micromanagement of the narrative. I was skeptical about reading On Beauty, despite its winning Britain's Orange Prize for Fiction. This is a novel of race and identity, family dynamics and adultery, and academic rivalry and competition. I enjoyed the premise of the book -- white English professor married to proud black American woman; raising their kids in present-day America -- but the story wandered and finally collapsed in the end.

Possession, by A.S. Byatt: Two contemporary scholars, each studying one of two Victorian poets, reconstruct their subjects' secret extramarital affair through poems, journal entries, letters and modern scholarly analysis of the period. I've had this book for years. I originally bought in my Anne Rice years, thinking it was gothic fantasy. It took me months -- again the aversion to BritLit -- because of the verbose, overwritten style. I didn't love it, although The Washington Post and The New York Times did. What do I know?

Gods in Alabama, by Joshilyn Jackson: A beach read at best. It's the story of a young, Southern woman who returns to her hometown to confront the demons of her past. File this one under chick-lit; read it if someone gives you a free copy like I did.

Beloved, by Toni Morrison: I remember trying to read this book when it was first published in 1987. I couldn't get through it, not even a few pages. I returned it to the library and didn't think of it again until last spring. In May 2006, The New York Times deemed Beloved the most important work of American fiction in the last quarter-century. I chose it as the summer-read for our book club, and I was not disappointed. It is not easy or comfortable to read this book, but you must read it.
Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement.
Happy Reading!

Monday, January 08, 2007

My Reading List (Jan. 2007)

Somewhere In The Suburbs regularly posts about books she has read. I am a voracious reader and the ersatz leader of a local book club, so I figure I should be posting about what I read. I routinely have 3-6 books on my nightstand.

On-deck right now (in no particular order):

The Blessing of A Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel: The author of this very useful book uses Jewish teachings to raise self-reliant children. She offers concrete advice about finding a way to lovingly reassert our moral authority and spiritual mentorship over our children.

When The Brain Can't Hear, by Teri James Bellis: A professor's discussion and description of auditory processing disorder. Redmond Mom recommended this book, as she is very learned on the subject.

Case Histories, by Kate Atkinson: A modern-day suspense narrative combined with the elements of a traditional detective novel and psychological character studies.

The Places In Between, by Rory Stewart: A young Scotsman reports on his adventures walking across Afghanistan in January of 2002, shortly after the fall of the Taliban. One of The New York Times 10 Best Books of 2006.

Night, by Elie Wiesel: A first-person tale of the Holocaust by one of the world's premier authorities on the subject. It's been sitting there for a while, but I need to read it.

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani: I don't even remember how I came to read Adriana Trigiani's Big Stone Gap trilogy (Big Stone Gap, Big Cherry Holler, Milk Glass Moon). It may have been a review in The New York Times. At any rate, I found these books about an Italian-American woman stranded in rural Virginia. A compendium of reviews called the series quirky and comforting, Southern Cinderella stories combining 1970s nostalgia with Appalachian local color. All true, and I gobbled up each book. Lucia, Lucia is not part of the series but is a window into New York of the 1950s. It promises to be a fast and luscious read.

I just finished re-reading The Catcher In The Rye for tonight's book club. I hated the book the first time around, and it didn't get any better this time. My only hope is that the woman who insisted we read this classic shows up tonight (for once). I've always found Holden Caulfield to be an insipid, self-absorbed, spoiled boy; I never identified with him at all. [Note: the woman who insisted we read The Catcher In The Rye did not show up for book club last night. I just voted her off the book club island.]

What I've read in the past year:

The Whole World Over, by Julia Glass: A captivating story about how the past impinges on the present, and how small incidents of fate and chance determine the future. It is the story of baker, Greenie Duquette, and how her predictable New York life is uprooted when she suddenly accepts a job offer in New Mexico. The author examines Greenie's and her husband's lives and the lives of rich secondary characters who cross their paths.

The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory: The story of Catalina de Aragoña's stunning and cunning rise from Infanta of Spain to the first of Henry VIII's wives. A thorough, fascinating and accurate piece of historical fiction. I also read Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl and The Queen's Fool, both of which are terrific. I'm putting The Boleyn Inheritance on my list of books to read this spring.

Heat, by Bill Buford: A non-fiction account of a writer's transformation into a line cook under the tutelage of Molto Mario Batali and his mentors. Buford's apprenticeships reveal the pleasures and the real human cost of making food and why people cook. Eggbeater recommended this one; thanks, Shuna!

Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson: An excruciatingly long narrative about WWII code-breakers and their legacy. Recommended by my BIL, the MIT PhD. Need I say more?

The Jew Store, by Stella Suberman: Biography of a New York Jewish family's migration to a small town in the Deep South. It was fair.

Artemis Fowl series, by Eoin Colfer: Wizard insisted I read these books about faeries come to battle the bad guys on the surface. They are inventive and creative works of fantasy.

Twelve Mile Limit, by Randy Wayne White: The Sanibel Island author's latest story of intrigue and danger in Southwest Florida. I also read his Dead of Night. I really like the local color of White's work, and I've read just about everything he has written.

The Expected One, by Kathleen McGowan: A modern-day tale of the legacy of Mary Magdalene. I was looking for the next DaVinci Code, but I did not find it in this book.

The Elements of Style, by Wendy Wasserstein: The late, great playwright's venture into narrative fiction. A parody of the lifestyles of the super-rich, as seen through the eyes of a New York pediatrician. Too much Jackie Collins, and too little of Wendy's wit. Blech.

The Emperor's Children, by Claire Messud: One of The New York Times's 10 Best Books of 2006: "This superbly intelligent, keenly observed comedy of manners, set amid the glitter of cultural Manhattan in 2001, also looks unsparingly, though sympathetically, at a privileged class unwittingly poised, in its insularity, for the catastrophe of 9/11." I thought it was an overwritten glimpse into the lives of a bunch of spoiled 20-somethings. Crap.

Intuition, by Allegra Goodman: A fictional account of the inner-workings of cancer research and the perils of relying on gut-instinct instead of scientific fact.

The Brooklyn Follies, by Paul Auster: I found this one in The New Yorker. They didn't love the book, but I think Auster is a masterful writer.
After a "sad and ridiculous life" in the suburbs, Nathan Glass retires, gets divorced, and moves to Brooklyn to die. To pass the time, he decides to write an account of mishaps and mistakes, beginning with his own—"The Book of Human Folly." A chance encounter with a long-lost nephew leads Nathan into an unlikely second act, involving a longer-lost niece, her runaway daughter, and a host of lively Brooklyn caricatures—a gay used-bookstore owner, a tough widow, an H.I.V.-positive drag queen—all in the midst of unlikely second acts themselves. Nathan narrates increasingly absurd events with persistent cheer.
I checked out a few other books from the library this past year but never finished reading them. I may get back to those titles, but I'm sure I'll add tons of others to my "To Read" list.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Damage Done

Wild Thing has struck again. Friday afternoon he was just wild riding home from school. He and his brothers fought in the car and then spent 20 minutes bashing garbage cans against each other and the garage door before they stomped into the house. I stepped into my office for 2 minutes to put the mail way, and "CRASH" ... tink, tink, smash. Silence.

I flew into my kitchen to find a frosted glass pendant fixture smashed all over the granite counter and wood floor. Wizard was standing there looking guilty as hell. Wild Thing ran out the door at 120 mph. Moose was cowering in the corner, and all I could to was scream and scream and scream. I screamed so loud and so hard that I damaged my voice. I screamed so loud and so hard that Wizard and Moose winced in pain. Wild Thing disappeared into the woods until I threatened to drag him out. He finally came skulking back to the house.

WT threw his shoe at Wizard because Wizard was antagonizing him. Wizard denied culpability. "He started it," Wiz whined. "You goddamn well clean it up before I finish both of you right now!" I roared. They swept glass off the counters and floor – it was in the sink, in the dining room, everywhere. Then I made both boys vacuum the entire kitchen and dining area. I sent the two of them to their rooms so I could calm down.

Just about then WineGuy walked in from work. I told him what happened and that I was not feeding them dinner. He was angry but very calm, thank G-d. We told the boys that they were going to pay for the replacement shade(s) out of their Chanukah money. WT started complaining because he already was losing some of that money to replace the brand-new bicycle pump he tore apart. I told him he better stop complaining or else he could forget about a birthday party this year (May). He shut his mouth.

I refused to make the dinner I had planned, so WineGuy gave them cold sandwiches. We lectured them ad nauseum over dinner. As if it did any good. I caught Wizard kicking a stuffed toy into the family room window yesterday. He was unrepentant and mouthy until WineGuy chewed him out royally, at the top of his lungs and an inch from his face.

We suspended privileges that day. They got their computer time today, until I went upstairs to check on Moose, who was coughing. Wizard's and WT's rooms are disasters. No privileges until they're spotless. So sad, too bad. They're lucky they're sleeping in beds.

With apologies to Neil Young, "gone, gone, the damage done."

Friday, January 05, 2007

Four For Friday

Sometimes Mondays are my less prolific days. Today I'm feeling uninspired, so I went trolling for a meme. Here are four completely unrelated questions for today.

Question 1 - Investing: If you had extra money to invest in 2007, where would you put it? Real Estate, the stock market, municipal bonds, a friend's start-up, in a savings account, in a hedge fund, under your mattress, in a foreign market, in U.S. savings bonds, mutual funds, precious metals, your 401K or IRA, baseball cards, or somewhere else?

  • If I had extra money to invest, I would put it into the stock market, municipal bonds, US Savings bonds, 526s for each of my kids and probably sink a few bucks into a precious metals fund. If I won the lottery, I'd pay off our mortgage, pay off our commercial loan and get back to being completely debt-free.

Question 2 - Execution: As recently as yesterday afternoon, nearly six days after it happened, U.S. President George W. Bush steadfastly denied having seen the video of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's execution. Do you believe him?

  • I absolutely do not believe Shrub has not seen the video of Saddam's execution. In fact, he has probably screened it for everyone in the White House, including the janitor. I am sure he sent Poppy his very own copy.

Question 3 - Gays in the Military: A recent poll from Zogby International shows that U.S. military personnel are increasingly at ease serving with openly gay colleagues. The poll reveals that 73 percent of military members are not bothered by lesbians and gays serving alongside them. Nearly one in four (23 percent) service members polled reported knowing for certain that someone in their unit is lesbian or gay, including 21 percent of those in combat units. Do you feel gay people should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military, and despite what you believe, has you opinion on this matter changed any over the last 5-10 years?

  • Yes, gay people should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military. They are as able to fight and defend our country as anyone else. Singling them out is absurd. We might as well single out the wife-beaters, the pedophiles and the smokers. Ridiculous. I have always maintained that gays and women should serve in the military and in combat positions. The problem with today's armed forces is not their sex or sexual orientation, it's their intelligence and the adequacy of their armaments and training.

Question 4 - Movie: What was the last movie you saw, and would you recommend that I take my Mother to see it?

  • The last movie I saw was "Dreamgirls." The music and production were terrific. Jennifer Hudson was outstanding, and Beyoncé was a snore. You definitely should take your mother to see it!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

From The Ridiculous To The Sublime

Yesterday was both ridiculous and sublime. The morning and early afternoon were filled with the usual housecleaning and crockpot craziness. I also made a brisket for Sulialto, to go along with a noodle kugel I made and froze. Yes, yes, I'll post those recipes on The Need to Feed.

The ridiculous? The circus! WineGuy and I bought the boys tickets to Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus for Chanukah. I picked up the boys early from school and fought early rush-hour traffic up to the arena and into the parking lot. (My friend, Calvin, warned me to park close to the exit road so I could get out quickly. Wizard moved a few orange cones so I could get a better parking spot.) We rushed into the arena and bought our souvenirs first. I know it makes little sense to you, but I didn't want to fight the crowds during intermission or after the show. We found our seats – right in front of the center ring – and sat down in time for the national anthem. In no time, Moose announced he was hungry, so I went out and bought a few snacks. $10.00 cotton candy anyone? No thanks!

The circus was magical. The boys were captivated. There were prancing horses, dogs who caught frisbees, and tumblers of all sorts. Wild Thing liked the trapeze the best: he was amazed that people could swing so high in the air and jump from one bar to the next. Wizard liked the lady who twirled up high on the length of silk; this was very much like Cirque du Soleil, where a woman climbs 25 yards of red silk, twists herself around and hangs suspended in mid-air. Moose liked the elephant the best; he wanted to ride on the great beast's back just like "the pretty lady in white". I was most impressed with "The Upside Down World": a man and a woman walked, upside-down, on a platform 50 feet in the air. They juggled and danced as if they were on the ground. Wizard speculated the platform was a giant magnet and their boots were made of steel. I suspect he's right. I was surprised to see that Wild Thing and Wizard enjoyed the circus the most; Wizard said some of his classmates teased him about going. Moose was a bit overwhelmed, but at least he wasn't scared.

We bolted out the door in the closing minutes of the show. A quick pit-stop – boys are fast! – and we were racing to the car. Calvin warned me to get out quickly otherwise I'd get stuck in traffic. I made it out of the arena and on to the highway just fine. We slogged along in rush-hour traffic until I could exit and take secondary roads home. WineGuy arrived before us, so he prepared part of dinner; the rest came from the crock-pot. The boys and I ate quickly so they could get to their homework and I could change clothes for . . .

The sublime: a concert by Dick Hyman and friends at the performing arts center. It was billed as an evening with "Jelly Roll, Fats and The Duke". It was all that and more. Dick Hyman, a famous jazz pianist, brought with him a clarinetist, a trumpeter, a trombonist, a bassist, and a drummer. They played selections by Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton, including a rollicking, stomping "Wolverine Blues," which should have been dedicated to the University of Michigan football team. My favorite Fats Waller song, though I loved them all, was Dick Hyman's brilliant piano interpretation of "Honeysuckle Rose". Hyman improvised a piece from ragtime stomp to the most sophisticated modern jazz chord progressions and rhythms. The group played several Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington classics like "Cotton Tail" and "In My Solitude". The best Ellington piece was "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," performed as a duet by Wycliffe Gordon on trombone and Jay Leonhart on bass. Gordon played masterfully, using the full instrument and the mute. They both sang, "scatted," like great jazz singers. The most impressive part of that song was when each man scatted the other's part/instrument. The evening ended with the group's rendition of Ellington's "Caravan," which should have been a chaotic, frenetic dash through the desert, but instead was a lazy stroll on the beach.

From the ridiculous to the sublime and back to the circus we call home.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Moose On The Loose

While I loafed through New Year's Day – slept late, watched the Rose Parade, and saw "Dreamgirls" – Wizard got industrious and removed the training wheels from Moose's bicycle. Truth be told, Moose had pretty much wrecked those training wheels, and they were ready to come off.

As I drove in from the movie theater, the boys quickly scrambled to attention. Very suspicious. Wizard said, "Mom can you come outside in 5 minutes." I answered, "What are you guys up to?" Silence. "I want to talk to Dad for a little while," I added. Wizard agreed. A few minutes later, Wizard summoned us outside. Lo and behold, there was our 4 year-old "baby" riding his 2-wheeled bike! Moose has had the bike for about a year and probably never needed training wheels. He is far more athletic and coordinated than Wild Thing, who mastered the 2-wheeler only a year earlier.

Moose was really funny (and dangerous) riding the bike. He couldn't turn too well, so every time he changed direction he fell over, like Arte Johnson in the tricycle bit from "Laugh-In." He could only stop by riding into the grass; he almost took out my neighbor's mailbox. Every time Moose fell over he'd grumble, "You stupid bike!" or "You imbecile!" WineGuy and I could not stop laughing. Moose kept riding into the street, and I kept yelling at Wizard to keep him out of the street. Moose has no regard for traffic on our quiet street, despite great efforts to teach him to stop and look both ways. Wild Thing is almost as bad, although I just lectured him that he is now responsible for Moose when they go riding together. WT will certainly enjoy his little power-trip serving as traffic cop for Moose.

It's only a matter of time before these hooligans go racing up and down the street together. Wizard can't wait, and neither can I.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Eve in Nature

I really wanted to sneak in and post about our wonderful adventures on New Year's Eve, but we were so busy having fun that I didn't have a minute!

We woke up early on December 31st. WineGuy turned to me and said, "What do you think about driving over to Miami for some dim sum this morning?" It was a great idea, so we quickly packed up the boys and headed across Alligator Alley. We had all the time in the world, so we took the back way into Miami, heading down the old Okeechobee Road. This used to be primarily a truck route from Miami to Lake Okeechobee. Twenty years ago, when I lived in Miami, this area was populated with a couple of rock mines and little else. Now, this corridor is filled with more rock mines, heavy industry, and amazingly enough, loads of residential housing built right to the edge of the Everglades. It was an interesting yet depressing ride.

Our destination was Tropical Chinese restaurant. It serves surprisingly good dim sum, nearly equal to the best we had in Boston. Kind of odd that there would be good, authentic Chinese food in Miami, but there is. We arrived just as the restaurant opened, so we got a good table. The carts started rolling immediately, and there were lots of great choices: shrimp balls (fried and in noodle wrapper), shrimp and scallops in rice paper, shrimp cakes, stuffed crab claws, eggplant with shrimp, green pepper with shrimp, mushrooms stuffed with shrimp, leek dumplings, leek spring rolls, steamed Chinese broccoli, and the most delicately steamed bok choy. I ate nearly the entire plate of bok choy myself; it was so delectable. Did you notice the shrimp theme? Moose proclaimed that he would eat anything as long as it had shrimp in it, and he ate every shrimp thing. Wild Thing ate so much, I thought he would explode. He even snarfed down three egg custard tarts and two steamed coconut buns for dessert. WineGuy knows how much I love those buns, so he ordered a few extra to go.

WineGuy wanted to take the scenic route back to the Gulf Coast, so we quickly picked up Tamiami Trail (US 41) westbound. The Trail is most popularly known as Calle Ocho in Miami. It is the heart of the Cuban exile community, from its origin downtown all the way out to the suburban fringe. True to WineGuy's restaurant radar, we found Palacio de los Jugos, a little Cuban juice bar right at the edge of town. It serves all sorts of freshly squeezed juices from tropical fruits: guava, mango, papaya, passionfruit, pineapple, coconut, guanabana (soursop or custard apple), mamey (sapote). Each cup of juice was a burst of tropical sunshine. I had passionfruit, which was sweet and tart and a great thirst-quencher. It felt like a good digestif.

Completely sated, we continued our drive westward into the Everglades. We passed through the Miccosukee Indian Reservation, complete with its alligator wresting joints, chickee huts and casino gambling.

Before long, we reached Everglades National Park. The park is the largest subtropical wilderness in the USA and is the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River. The heart of the Everglades is Shark Valley, the lowest point on the Florida plateau between the ridges upon which Miami and Naples are built. The park was first designated in 1939 but was not established then. In the intervening years, Humble Oil Co. explored for oil in this area, but its efforts were thankfully thwarted with the dedication of the park in 1947. Humble did build an access road, which is still in use today. It is a 15-mile paved loop road on which you can bicycle or take a tram ride. We first took a tram ride about 2-3 years ago and enjoyed it so much that we were itching to get back.

We quickly parked the car and bought tickets for the next tram ride. Veterans that we were, we sidled our way up to the front of the tram, so we could chat with the ranger along the way. Wild Thing and Wizard got outside seats. WineGuy and I kept Moose between us so he wouldn't fall out and become 'gator bait. The weather was glorious: low 80s, mostly cloudy, a warm breeze, and no bugs. Neither the tram nor the road were crowded so there was plenty of room to stretch out and explore. Vistas spanned sawgrass prairies stretching for miles in every direction. Hardwood hammocks and small islands of other trees dotted the landscape. Migratory birds of every shape and size colored the nature's painting with their varied plumage. We saw dozens of great blue herons, white egrets, and anhingas. We spotted a couple of green herons and one purple gallinule, with its candy-corn beak. There were many woodstorks and vultures around, too. Of course, there were alligators, lots and lots of alligators. Our last time through Shark Valley, Wizard counted 83 alligators. He told this to our ranger and driver, who made a special effort for us to tie and ultimately break our record. Our 'gator tally for the day was 88! Mamas, daddies, babies, and every snaggle-toothed size in between. One day I'd like take a bike ride through Shark Valley and get a closer look at the flora and fauna.

Alas, our tram tour ended, and we needed to head back home. We traveled further west on Tamiami Trail until we reached our area. I tried to convince WineGuy to stop on the way at the studio of reknowned nature photographer, Clyde Butcher, but he wasn't interested. We finally arrived home with just enough time to get cleaned up and changed for the evening.

For the first time in ten years, we had a babysitter on New Year's Eve. WG left the planning to me, so I kept it low-key. We drove down to the beach and watched the fireworks display gulfside. The night was clear and mild, with just enough breeze to blow away one incendiary bloom after another. We could see each fiery "blossom" reflected in the gulf's calm, clear waters. Afterwards, we waited for the crowds to subside, then we walked over to our favorite café for a late dinner. We dined al fresco. The food was fair, but the evening was lovely. We came home around 10:00 p.m. and barely kept our eyes open until midnight. We watched the ball drop in Times Square, kissed each other Happy New Year, and crawled into bed.

It was a magical day, a treasured way to end an otherwise ugly year.