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Grim Cheepers

Today Myra-Jean was a lammergeier.

What the hell is that, you ask? I have no idea. Or hadn’t, until today. Turns out it’s a bird. Otherwise known as a bearded vulture. My daughter’s ornithological knowledge has officially passed from the cute to the bizarre. It’s one thing when your four-year-old pretends to be a sparrow, heron, or even a blue tit. (Although the latter did raise a few eyebrows in the over-ten set.) It’s quite another when she claims to be a bird that no one has ever heard of and that you, her parent, can barely pronounce. Speaking of which, where the hell did she learn to do a french accent? The whole thing is just creepy.

“I eat mostly bones, Mama. I drop them onto rocks to break them open.”

“Really.”

“Then I eat the marrow inside.”

“Can we finish brushing your teeth now, please?”

“You mean my beak?

Right now she’s super into a book called “Guide to Birds.” It’s excellent–detailed, packed with interesting information, well written. It’s also for older kids, so it’s a wee bit on the graphic side.

“It takes practice to become a proficient killer,” one section, called “Blood Lust,” starts.

“So most birds of prey specialize in a particular strategy. For members of the eagle and hawk family, the principal weapons are the talons, which kill by puncturing the prey’s body and inflicting mortal wounds. In contrast, falcons hold small prey in their talons and use the bill to snap the spine and cripple them.”

“Goodnight Moon” it’s not.

I feel slightly mortified introducing such imagery to her, but MJ seems drawn to it. She asks for the same pages–the bloody ones–over and over again. True, she was initially perturbed by the book’s high body count. But she quickly grew able to compartmentalize. Take secretary birds, for example. These odd creatures, looking like “eagles on stilts,” are the only birds of prey that both stomp their victims to death and swallow them whole. MJ “loves” them. Loves! Most girls her age love cookies. And puppies. And “Frozen.” My kid loves the avian equivalent of the Terminator. Either she’s compartmentalizing or she’s crazy.

Mike says books like “Guide to Birds” are probably as good a way as any to introduce MJ to the vagaries of life. I suppose this is true. God knows it’s easier to talk about birds dying than people. Still, when I’m sitting with her in the rocking chair, cuddled up under a blanket, trying to define the word “impale” without traumatizing her  completely, it all feels like a bit of a parenting “don’t.”

On the other hand, if it toughens her up a little bit? Makes her roll with the punches–like scraping her knee, getting her hair combed, or being handed the wrong-colored bowl at breakfast–a tiny bit more easily? Maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all. Better than a claw through the skull, right?

Now there’s some good parenting for you.

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Car-Oh Mio Ben

Have I mentioned? I’m blotto in love. You can tell my husband; he already knows. The symptoms are classic: I think about my new love all the time. I touch it gently whenever I walk by. I sing songs extolling its virtues. I tell everyone I know about it. Maybe it’s a midlife crisis kind of thing–it does, after all, involve a car. Mine.

My new electric car. I’m in love.

Friends, family, and co-workers have had it up to here. They’ve been listening to me for weeks. I’m like Shakespeare, but without language skills. I wax absolutely un-poetic. I can’t stop going on about it: my good fortune, its good mileage. My fellow salespeople roll their eyes dramatically when they hear me telling yet another customer about my Nissan Leaf.

“It’s all electric!” I gush. “No tailpipe. No gas!”

“None?” my customers ask politely.

“None!” I croon.

“There she goes again,” my co-workers mutter.

I can’t help myself. This is a huge deal for me. I’ve wanted an electric car for, oh, ten years, and this is the first time I’ve been able to afford one. Used to be, in order to buy an EV you had to have the extra $2500 to install a charging station at your house. Now that’s no longer required. My car–my beautiful roadster–charges from a regular extension cord run (OK, rather unglamorously) out of our garage. Plug it in just like it’s a lamp. The next day–presto!–a full charge. Which, admittedly, only gets you 85 miles, but that’s far enough for my needs. And much farther than any lamp I’ve met.

Here’s what I love: the sound it makes (none), the emissions it puts out (repeat the former), the $2500 I’ll be receiving back next month from the state of CA, the little digital song it plays when I turn it on (“ding ding ding ding DONG”), and the heated seats. Which are, of course, an unnecessary drain on the battery, but provide such profound comfort that–hell, if it comes down to it? I’ll walk.

Anyway. It’s just a car. But with news about climate change growing so dire you don’t want to read it after 8PM (for fear of wrecking your night’s sleep) it’s a little bit more than that. It’s a statement. It’s a gesture of hope. It’s a source of encouragement.

And it’s many, many, many trips right past the gas pumps.

Can you hear the angels singing?

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Bird (on the) Brain

First the Big Bang. Now tiny tweets.

As they are wont to do, Myra-Jean’s obsessions have shifted again. Leaving behind the interstellar plane, they’ve flitted back to earth and landed nimbly in the world of ornithology. Good-bye, Jupiter! We are all about Juncos now.

It began with a book our next-door neighbor gave us some time back. It’s a quirky, prettily drawn tome called, simply, “Birds.” It sat unread for awhile, but gradually MJ took to it, eventually memorizing it nearly completely. This happened between literary flights to outer space, of course. “Birds” was a side interest, you could say. A flight of fancy. Had a bit too much Kuiper Belt? Let’s take a palate-cleanser with a belted Kingfisher!

Then my mom got her a bird bingo set for Christmas. A simple but pleasant game, with gorgeous drawings of exotic breeds, it became a daily activity. MJ–a typical, classification-loving four-year-old–learned quickly how to spot Spotted Kiwis, Arctic terns, and Magnificent Frigatebirds. It’s weird to hear your kid pull a card out of a bag and cry, in a competitive fervor, “Come on, Andean cock-of-the-rock!” But, with kids this age, you get used to anything.

The bird bingo craze abated. But, for MJ, interest in her feathered earth-mates did not. A couple of weeks ago, at the library, she found a just-published book called “Look Up!” Everything you ever wanted to know about birdwatching, it’s for kids a bit older than my daughter. But that didn’t stop her. We read it. And read it. And reeeeeeead it. Soon she (and we) knew more about ornithology than any person without binoculars decently should. I was more than a bit embarrassed when, at the zoo, MJ pointed at a cage and yelled “Look! A Eurasian blackbird! I think he’s a juvenile!”

“Ok, kid,” I muttered. “Simmer down. Let’s keep the Linnaean classifications to a dull roar.”

One day not long after that we took a trip to the beach. Many of MJ’s classmates were there. “Why don’t you go play with them?” I asked.

“No way. I want to go sketch those brown pelicans.”

“Um–”

“And Mom! I think that’s an albatross!”

Little Miss Audubon drew for hours. I went to sit with the adults.

The obsession, at this point, is at what I’ve come to call its “boiling point.” We’re as far in as we can be. I half expect to go into her bedroom in the morning and find my daughter incubating eggs. All day today she insisted on being called “Saurus Crane.” She routinely squawks. She says she dreams of penguins.

And we’ve hit the library again. In fact we’ve pretty much cleaned it out. The whole avian oeuvre is here, with us. We have books about penguins, birds of prey, crows, owls, and sparrows. We have generalized bird books. We have “Birds of Los Angeles County” and “the Audubon Guide for Young Birders.” We are steeped in ornithological facts. It’s even infecting me. I am looking at our local ravens with new eyes, staring obsessively at mourning doves, and considering killing the neighbor’s cat on behalf of the local hummingbird population.

OK, not really. Although I have taken to calling him Hitler.

Anyway. It’s super weird. But also wonderful. I wish I’d noticed the natural world when I was younger. Perhaps, growing up in Brooklyn, it was an impossibility. Certainly growing up in my brain it was. Either way, I’m thrilled to have a kid who makes me pay attention now. Oh, there’s a down side. The more you learn, the more there is to get depressed about–half of the damn bird species are struggling to survive, and the neighbor’s cat will continue to do his fucked up, feline part. But there’s beauty in the minutiae of this world; I’ve found that learning about it makes the somewhat rampant ugliness a touch more bearable.

So here’s to the robins! Hail to the mockingbirds! Kudos, California condor!

Now how can I get a bell on that asshole tabby…?

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Rained In

In Los Angeles, rain. Finally. It’s a miracle.

The certainty of impending precipitation has made the last few days feel holiday-special. Grown adults have seemed giddy with excitement. When will it come? When will it be here? Rushing to our windows to check for its arrival, we’ve acted like children on Christmas eve. Amazing to think that we ever took it for granted. We recieve it now with a gratitude bordering on frenzy. Because, believe it or not–and hate me if you must, all you east coasters–sunny, dry, unrelentingly perfect weather can be not only tiresome, but downright toxic after a long enough stretch. We’re so dry here we’re crumbling. Dust has accrued in epidemic amounts. Skin is nail-file rough. Shocks  from the slide at the playground have grown, well, shockingly strong. To say nothing of the larger, drought-related misery.

But no more! Finally, I hear it falling! Weather has come!

And with it, a cold for Myra-Jean. Not as an effect, of course. Their coinciding arrivals are simply bad timing. If it is, indeed, bad. Just as well such an affliction happen now, when she will be forced indoors anyway. Still, it’s never fun. She’s a wreck–angry, red circles under her watery eyes, deep, wrenching cough, violent sneezes. She looks like the guy from the Robitussin commercial, but in astronaut pajamas. And female. And four. And–OK. She doesn’t look like him at all. But her cold sure does.

Anyway. Due to MJ’s ill health we spent the entire afternoon reading. First it was multiple repetitions of Ranger Rick Jr.–I know more about vertebrates now than anyone on my block–then on to one of her favorite books. And mine. We usually read “Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space” in short sections. Tonight, though, it was nearly cover to cover–something that took over an hour. I couldn’t have minded less. “Astro Cat” contains much of the same information as “The Big Bang,” so it felt like visiting an old friend. A clever, smartly-drawn, feline friend in an orange space suit, that is. It’s an effective conceit. Imagine if all tough lessons were delivered by such a spokesperson. “On Particle Physics, by Professor Astro Cat.” “Your 2014 Tax Return,” by same. He could hold forth on nearly any subject and I’d be rapt. I think they should start a series.

All kidding aside, it’s a wonderful book. Did you know there’s a diamond-filled ocean on Uranus? That black holes cause something called “Spaghettification?” That the quicker a spaceship travels through space the slower it will travel through time?

Here on earth we have rain. Far better understood, but, today, at least, just as magical.

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(Sis)turmeric Love

Little sisters. Such copycats.

Abigail, whom you may remember from her infamous chicken foot stew, has now jumped on the turmeric bandwagon. And, as usual, one-upped me–by mixing her turmeric into a kale-and-almond-butter-based smoothie. Will I follow suit? Most likely not. Yes, it looks delicious. Yes, it packs a bigger nutritional wallop than my simple “yellow milk.” But I’d have to get the blender dirty. This is an insurmountable obstacle for one such as me.

My other sister Lily has also joined in the turmeric craze. She’s on day three of drinking it every day. That the both of them are now imbibing the “magic yellow” (and not the urinary kind) makes me very happy. I get to credit myself with improving the health of 75% of my siblings. Or is it 63%?

Anyway. I have three. Two are drinking turmeric. You get the point.

Now if I can just get my brother on board I will ensure the longevity of my entire family line. Our blood–tinged slightly golden–will flow through the ages.

I will also ease my mathematical struggles. Statistics were never my thing,

As for me? I actually stopped drinking the stuff a few days ago. I know. I have no willpower. I have no consistency. I have no dishwasher! I hate washing the pot. That yellow scum is a bitch to get off! If I hadn’t killed my Gaffers and Sattler with the wrong kind of soap back in October we might be having a different conversation right now. As it is, I think I’m back to just taking a multivitamin.

And saving up for a Bosch. That’ll really improve my health.

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Mellow Yellow

Turmeric milk. Yum. Ish.

I’ve started drinking it every day. I know it’s an eccentric habit, but, considering that a friend of mine recently tried to get me to start drinking my morning urine–and I considered it–I think I’m actually getting less weird by the day. Perhaps the yellow spice will even help with that. It cures so many things–depression, arthritis, inflammation, cancer–that my overweening eccentricity will surely decrease with consumption as well.

I’m making a recipe I found online. By accident, really. I was reading Facebook, and one of my friends was struggling with something, and someone posted that she should try turmeric milk, and the next thing you know, there I was sipping a cup. Because, you know, why should there be a new-age cure I don’t try? Even when I don’t have the disease. Haven’t you heard of prophylactic dosages? (And if you think I’m talking about giving an aspirin to a condom you need to break out your dictionary app.)

I’ve been trying to get Mike to drink it, too. He has a bad back, lots of stress, and a cold. Who’s better qualified for help from a nutritional panacea? Still, you’d think I was offering him, well, a cup of my morning urine. I’m getting about the same reaction. Oh, he drank the first batch, alright. And the second, albeit with greater reluctance. But now that he’s back out of bed he seems to think he’s past his need for my ministrations. When, today, I offered him a cup, he turned his nose up at it. Literally. Sniffing imperceptibly at his foolishness, I poured myself his serving as well as my own.

But I couldn’t finish such a giant helping. Turmeric’s good and all, but not two cups worth. Even when I added prodigious amounts of honey.

Still, I believe that, with this new regimen, my already excellent health is going to improve . Too bad I will smell like a to-go container of sag paneer. Is that even a curry dish? Whatever. You get my point.

At the very least I will not smell like pee.

Bottoms up!

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Banging Out Bad Titles

OK, let me just say for the record that I realize now that “Big Bang, Little Girl” is by far the worst and most disturbing blog post title ever. It only occurred to me after I’d hit “publish:” Shit, thought I. That doesn’t sound like a post about space at all. It sounds like the name of a webpage my teenaged-boy-babysitter in Nova Scotia might have found awfully appealing.

Ugh. I blame it on my iPad Mini. Trying to blog from it is like trying to give a massage with oven mitts on. Impossible. Useless. Unspeakably frustrating for all concerned. Add to the that the time constraint of trying to post during my lunch hour and you get exactly the kind of ill-conceived, uncomfortable-making prose mentioned above. I apologize. I have recommenced lugging my laptop to work. It may be six years old. It may weight three kilos. But it doesn’t make writing so labor-intensive that my brain stalls out.

I also apologize for saying–somewhat smugly, I now realize–that I intended to teach MJ everything I learned in the “Big Bang.” It was an ambitious statement, made when I was only 40 pages into the book. Now that I’m knee-deep in Einstein’s theory of special relativity I have rethought my position. I aim to teach her everything–provided that a) I understand it myself, and b) it requires no discussion of alternate dimensions. Since this effectively rules out everything from page 41 or so on, we will officially be concluding our little talks. On that subject, at least.

Now, if she wants to talk about the relative merits of iPads versus laptops? I have a lot to say.

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