New Year

It seems a little silly to be recording my New Year’s Resolutions now, in February… But so far 2010 has kinda caught me by surprise and for a number of reasons, I have gotten off to a very slow start.  So here I am, bearing in mind that it is also the start of a decade, resolving afresh to do all the usual things (be better with money, eat well, exercise more blah blah blah) and also hoping to take a longer view of my aspirations.

I’ve also been reflecting on my thoughts at the start of last year, when I was heavily pregnant and everything seemed to be on ‘pause’ while we waited to see who would arrive and how he/she would impact on our lives.

This year we are in limbo again as we look ahead to the end of our time in the US and try and imagine where we will end up next.  Once again this is totally determined by Akira’s career choices, which is fair since that is why we made the big move to come here.  But I am hoping that this year might bring some clarity for me in terms of potential career-changing new directions.

So what am I resolving to be purposeful about as we enter 2010?

  1. I may need to change the title of the blog as this is the year for returning to the paid workforce in some manner.  Ideally I would like this to be ‘part-time’ so that I can still be primarily focused on caring for Kazuo.  But the increased costs of being resident aliens (we are now ‘substantially present’ here!) and childcare may impact on that decision.  With this in mind, I have applied for a work permit this week, so it will be a few months yet before I can seek out employment, but we are making progress on childcare options for Kazuo…so Not Working may take a change of direction…
  2. I did what I could to stay somewhat politically engaged over the past year and hope to at least maintain my regular attendance at Amnesty International meetings.  Whether I can sustain any more active involvement really hinges on the outcome of point 1.
  3. We need to totally trim down our food outgoings…at the same time that Kazuo is ramping up his solid food intake – sheesh!  So, more creative ideas need to kick in really soon (have been rather meticulous about this lately… doing OK so far) for healthy food that we all love, that is nutritious and appetising and that keeps down the costs.  Being a working mama may erode this resolution… and it seems like a tall order – but imperative nonetheless.
  4. The weather is really cramping my exercising style – last year it took until September to lose the baby weight, but it DID go…now I need to lose my winter layer!  I am keen to get Kazuo and I back on my bike in some fashion in the Spring.  Perhaps Akira and I both need to join a gym…
  5. I still wanna get crafty for cash…I have a few ideas but they do require capital and time, both of which are still a little scarce.  But after the Fall craft shows in STL last year, I felt newly energised.  So need to make this a priority I think.
  6. I would like to become a slightly more chilled out individual this year – I know that seems unlikely, but it might be good for all concerned.  So I guess I need to look out some me-time things that make me feel connected to others, and to myself…yoga? date nights? getting arty/crafty? more weekend girly time? naps?…ideas anyone?
  7. Time for doing the things I love…reading, watching films, listening to music, going to theatre…hmmmm I need to make these things somehow fit into family life.
  8. Kazuo is my number one priority these days…so it is only fair to say I am pretty much resolved to help him grow into a happy little guy.  Guess that goes without saying though…
  9. Become a little more other-centred again.  Life became very insular when adjusting to the newness of parenting, but we are getting a little into the swing of that now, and should have a bit of a hiatus before we consider whether we will go down that route again, so I think that in considering paid employment and any ‘spare’ time I may have, I am keen to think about how I might make my time count for those in less abundant circumstances.
  10. Cultivating wonder was a priority last year, and as I had imagined, Kazuo gave plenty of opportunity for that to happen. Getting outside into the natural world and continuing to foster that wonderment is also important for me right now.   I wish to combine that with an increased sense of gratitude this coming year…

So, that is enough I think.  The year ahead will be galvanising for me personally, for our family life and for Kazuo’s development.  I look forward to seeing how it will all pan out, and hope that having at least some sense of purpose will help when things seem a little murky.

AI Art Auction – Part II

Well, last night was a lovely evening… and somewhat of a success as far as Amnesty is concerned.  Friend and members came out to support the work of Amnesty International, have a drink or two, find out about the Women of Zimbabwe Arise movement and take some art home with them.  We were grateful for the generosity of our friends, and for the donations of the artists and I think everyone was pleased with their acquisitions.

A BIG grateful THANKYOU from me goes to Claire, Katie and Denise who came out on a busy week night… wonderful to see them and extremely wonderful of Katie to buy this wooly beret that looks superb on her!

On the nibbles front, I tried out this recipe for stuffed mushrooms from Purple Foodie, but made some adaptations due to the resources and time available to me, and the limitations of my oven.  My adapted recipe, which made about 60 little button mushrooms – that I thought turned out pretty OK for a first experiment – is below:

Herb Butter Mushrooms With Mozzarella

30 oz. button mushrooms or cremini mushrooms (I used both for a nice mix)

6-8 cloves of garlic, minced

1/4C of Basil leaves

3 stems Rosemary leaves

45g/3tbsp cold butter, cut into tiny cubes

Olive oil to brush the baking sheet and mushrooms

4 oz./115g mozzarella

Salt and pepper

  1. Brush the pan with olive oil and place the mushrooms gill sides up with the stem removed.
  2. Chop the stems in the food processor with the garlic, basil and rosemary and stuff it back into the mushrooms.
  3. Dot the mushroom stuffing with cold butter.
  4. Brush with olive oil and top it with thin slices of mozzarella cheese.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Slip the pan under a broiler for 5-7 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and the mushrooms fragrant
  7. Pop the pan into the oven on a low heat (~325F) for about 10mins to allow mushrooms to cook a little more.
  8. Put pan on top of oven for final 10mins to allow mushrooms to stew in their own juices a little…
  9. Transfer to a plate, garnish with cilantro and serve immediately (or in this case… even later in the day they are still moist and tasty)!

I’d have taken you a photo of them… but the day was a little crazy, so I didn’t quite get there… you will just have to imagine as they are all gone.  This might be my new party treat.

AI Art Auction I

OK, I know I have mentioned this already.  But today is the day of our Amnesty Art Auction.  I am going to the farmer’s market/library/post office, preparing nibbles, getting early dinner and pretty much putting everything in order so that I can escape the house – leaving Dada in charge, for which I am extremely grateful – at 6pm… unheard of!  So I don’t have oodles of time for any kinda internet musings.

But I have high hopes for a good night out and some happy fundraising activity.  If you are reading this today… PLEASE come join us at 7pm at SqWires in Lafayette Square, there will be a cash bar (proceeds to AI) and some nibbles (hopefully some from me, if I get my act into gear) and good company!

Amnesty International Art Auction

Last night was Amnesty International night… We discussed final plans for our Silent Art Auction that we are holding in a few weeks.  Since my life still pretty much revolves around Kazuo, I was grateful for the efforts of Helen who has really taken this event on and will be the reason for its success.  But I am hoping to see friends turn out to view/purchase art, find out more about Amnesty and have a lovely social outing.  Here are a sneak preview of some of the art that is on offer:

Jovan Hansman

Jovan Hansman

Tania Chackumkal

Tania Chackumkal

The event will be at SqWires restaurant in Lafayette Square, St Louis on Thursday 19 November.  If you are in the Lou and can make it, please join us!  The work of Amnesty is so important, I hope we manage to both promote the work, and raise some much-needed funds to help further protect Human Rights wherever they are at risk.  It would be great to see you there.

Whew

Some time ago I realised that many of my earlier blog posts were (a) a bit long and (b) a bit rambly… that I should really try and restrict myself to one topic per post.  Since then I have tried.  But some weekends are just too busy and give me too much to think about on a Monday… and I am not sure I am up for the daily blogging thing yet…

Apologies then to those of you who make their way through this ramble, and I will aim to be succint.  This weekend did make me go ‘Whew’ several times by the end of it all…

Early in the week, after having decided that the parsley was finally coming along and maybe we might eat some before the cold weather set in, I was astounded to discover a colony of Eastern Swallowtail caterpillars chewing their way through the now juicy plants!  So Akira dug up the plant that still had foliage and rescued the pretty caterpillars from the birds who flock to our feeder.  On Friday night we witnessed an ancient miracle as one of them split its skin and turned into a chrysalis.  We have one remaining caterpillar this morning and it should go the way of the others by bedtime.  They have been an incredible nature lesson and I am looking forward to posting pics of the beautiful butterflies in a couple of weeks.

Caterpillars

Saturday we ventured out, post-nap to the annual Wash U Psych Dept BBQ.  It was a gorgeous day and there were scores of people at Deer Creek Park for the party.  The best part of this event for me was meeting up with several new families with babies as it opens up a world of social opportunities for us with Kazuo that we will really need in the coming months. I was so glad we went, and although Kaz didn’t really love the crowd, he did last the distance, which was quite a feat. Whew…

Our big drama this weekend happened on our return from home.  And just as well we returned when we did!  This old fridge had been occupying space in our garage (turns out it doesn’t belong to anyone who lives here) and about 20mins after we arrived home, it caught fire! Quick thinking from Akira (who knew where the fuse boxes were because we had been doing some investigation into our power bill… long and really silly other story) and some help from the neighbours whose dryer was going right next to the fire meant that the fire was out by the time the Fire Dept (who are just across our back fence) arrived with an ambulance, massive fire truck and two police cars.  WHEW!

Fire

On reflection we were lucky the whole fridge didn’t explode while the guys were in the basement with hoses and watering cans… and it was a very narrow escape.  The fireman put it down to lint from the dryer (harumph!) which made our poor neighbours feel a bit bad… but when we inspected it all later, it was plainly an example of the landlord needing to get rid of stuff that is left behind and do a wee bit more tidying up before new tenants come in… we were very fortunate – WHEW!

Clayton Art Fair

Sunday was another sunny, stunning  ‘Fall’ day.  It was the St Louis Art Fair in Clayton, 20mins walk from our new place.  We had our friends Nate and Denise round for lunch and as soon as naptime passed, we popped Kaz in the back pack and wandered up the hill to see some art.  Last year we only dropped into this big event, and had no real concept of the scale.  It was huge… and impressive.  There was nothing in our price range, but it was wonderful to see some of the incredible things people are doing.  Nate & Denise’s friend Joachim Knill was there with his beautiful still life, large format polaroids… and the most striking things I have seen in a while were the wax-based resin moulds in stainless steel (I think) that embedded little twigs and gumnuts and other wonderful, natural found objects.  Sadly, I didn’t catch who the artist was… but I was so taken by these organic little masterpieces, so much precision involved in their production.  We tested Kazuo’s gallery skills… the heat was not too helpful and he was not that taken with the whole activity if we stopped to look at things, but he had a nice little nap on the way home.  Whew.

Quilts and Dancing

I should have told y’all about this a week ago… but things got a bit congested around here after the holiday weekend’s antics.  Anyway, I am a bit of a gallery hound… happiest when I am nursing gallery legs from too long days spent trawling around museums and galleries and pausing every few seconds to take in things in a rarefied, hushed environment.  There is something a little mystical about these places and I don’t really like to interrupt other people’s enjoyment of them.  Consequently, with an increasingly shouty little person to spend my days with, I have avoided the hallowed halls of St Louis’ fine and free galleries until now.  But have been mulling over getting Kazuo used to them, since we are London bound at Christmas, and no trip to London is complete for me without some time spent pottering about in the Hayward, the National Gallery and the Tate Modern.

Our friend Tarah called a couple of weeks ago to say she had membership at the Missouri History Museum, and did I want to come with her for an outing to see the  Gee’s Bend Quilts that had been on exhibition there all summer.  I love to celebrate the home-style crafts of women that are a testament to centuries of providing for families in the most creative ways they can.  So I jumped at the chance.  I was a little apprehensive about Kazuo’s current loud impatience, but Tarah wasn’t phased, and a Friday afternoon at the MO History Museum was not busy time for the gallery.  So off we went.

I confess to not really having known much about quilting… save that it is a very labour-intensive art form well beyond my patience levels.  I have made one patchwork quilt in my life, it was a pretty lame affair… strips of calico that I died three different colours and alternated with some Laura Ashley fabric, cut into squares and machined up as quickly as I could onto an existing blanket.  It was serviceable for my bed but nothing to show off about.  Ironically, the thing that Tarah was not keen about with these particular quilts was the one thing I disliked about that quilting experience… it was all just too symmetrical!

It was wonderful to me, then, to encounter these incredible quilts and the women who made/inspired them, because they were the least symmetrical things you had ever seen.  They were put together from scraps of workaday fabric, which is how quilts should be, and they were born of necessity – women of the south who had to keep their families warm and stayed up long into the night peering at their piecework to do so.  Fantastic!  Here is one of the quilts… I loved the choppy irregularity of the designs, no quilt was like another:

MLB-show

We also managed to get two exhibitions in during our visit, we dropped into see the Katherine Dunham, Beyond the Dance exhibit.  Not sure how I had not heard of Katherine Dunham, but it was also an inspiration to view a retrospective of a woman who had so shaped dance and social anthropology in this country.  She had such a vast impact on both art and culture in the early/mid 20thC here, and I am keen now to seek out some of her films and watch some of the incredible works she choreographed.

Katherine Dunham

All in all, a satisfying afternoon at the gallery – thanks Tarah – and Kazuo got a little scratchy, but survived the distance.  There is hope for us yet!

Dealing with the Heat

We have been extraordinarily lucky so far this summer.  St Louis is notorious for the sticky high humidity of its long hot summers and last year I toughed out the morning sickness in the air con of our apartment and harboured nostalgia for the calm sunny days of my Nelson adolescence.  Thus far, it has been a Nelson-y kind of summer and I have managed to get out for some lovely long walks daily with Kazuo and not feel too messy on my return.

But now it is August – and it is fire-y hot and so so humid.  Ugh.  Weekends have been hard work recently, so we decided a few weeks back that in order to make for peace and harmony all round, we should plan some fun things to do.  Like long walks in the many parks around… and picnics… and trips to the pool…  I had made quite the list and we have had some lovely times making inroads on the list.  Yesterday morning we decided to walk in Forest Park, since it some time since we all did that.  We set off around 9.30am, and by then it was already blistering outside.  Sigh.

The walk was lovely.  We walked through the woods in northwest corner of the park and saw our first hummingbird of the season!  (Would like to say this was it… but we were not that quick and our camera not that flash… but you get the idea)  We are very excited about the hummingbirds of MO as we don’t get them anywhere else we have lived.  Akira spotted it first (as per usual, how does he have such eagle eyes?) and wondered what the enormous bee was doing… they are so tiny and perfectly formed.   Would really love to have the patience to put a feeder outside our place and see if any come, but they take a lot more maintenance than the regular feeder.  Speaking of which, we had a little hiatus when we were eaten out of house and home by the gobbly finches, but now have an enormous bag of feed and they are starting to find us again, had a cardinal couple here yesterday, just hoping the gold and house finches come back soon!

Hummingbird

At the end of our walk we circled back to the top of Art Hill, towards the massive silver tree in the Art Museum grounds.  I have such vivid memories of coming across it in the brilliance of a post-blizzard day the week we came over for Akira’s interview in 2007 and I love that there are so many great free art works like this in St Louis (including the Art Museum!).

Forest Park

The heat is still killing us though… the rest of the day involved helping Kazuo to deal with heat rash that ensued from the walk and playing the fan on him to cool him down in his little helmet.  Here he is taking a helmet break.  Poor little lad… though his head has stopped being as sweaty as it was at first, but can’t say I would like to be in a plastic helmet in 40degC!  He is a trouper.  Hope it cools down again soon…  Can’t wait for October!

Helmet Break

Op Shops, Passports, Helmets and Art…

Last Monday I made a much-overdue foray to the local charity shops.  In New Zealand, we call these Op Shops (‘op’ being short for opportunity… not sure why) and they have been a favourite haunt since my teens – at the age when having a whole new wardrobe every week just meant going to the nearby Sally Army with a shopping bag and coming home with Op Shop gold.  Well, St Louis is a veritable mine of charity shopping.  And the local Goodwill is like a superstore.  When we moved in May, I began the repainting (still a work in progress) of our little eat-in-kitchen table and have been on a hunt for black chairs to match.  I found these beautiful numbers just hanging out at the Goodwill:

Kitchen Chairs

They have such a sturdy feel to them, and the covers are in wonderful condition.  Our dining room chairs are much less robust, they don’t make things like they used to – I was enjoying the musings of  No Impact Man on this very issue the other day.  Obviously we would do so much better in environmental terms if only things had a more permanent feeling…  I do hate acquiring things I don’t think I will use for a long time, or that have a feeling of flimsy impermanence about them – children’s toys are a dreadful example of this.  And computers… well, don’t get me started on built-in-obsolesence!

Another recent acquisition in our house is Kazuo’s US passport.  At least one of us can move in and out of this country with relative ease!  Our re-entry visas expired in March, so on our trip home to London this Christmas, we will have to go stand in line at the US Embassy again and apply for new visas to return to our home and work… such a strange system, it seemed odd to us that we were not given paper work for the entire time of our proposed stay, but when our immigration papers were updated in March, we realised that we would have to return to the UK for new Visas in case Akira wanted to travel to conferences abroad during the rest of our time here (which of course he does.) Our little guy will have about six different nationalities to choose from when it comes time for him to decide the country of his first allegiance… for now we chose his birthplace to make travel more expedient.  The passport arrived a few days ago and Kazuo immediately started devouring it when I gave it to him to hold:     Passport

Last week we finally made a visit to the Plastic Surgery Dept at St Louis Children’s Hospital.  Kazuo has Congenital Muscular Torticollis, a condition that was most likely caused by his cramped breech conditions prior to his birth.  He has been having regular physical therapy and home stretching since he was three months old and should make reasonable, if not full recovery from this condition.  However, it has also caused Positional Plagiocephaly, or a flat spot on the right side of his head that has also pushed his face forward on the right and his little ears are unaligned.  It is a reasonably common condition, and often self-corrects within the first year.  But lately it has seemed that maybe Kazuo’s flat spot is making slow progress, and that a better outcome for the Torticollis might be achieved if we remedied the Plagiocephaly.  This is what the medical professionals were  implying, and the Nurse we saw last week wrote a prescription for Kazuo to be fitted for a Plagiocephaly Helmet . He will wear it for 23 hours a day for about 3 – 6 months, depending on how fast his head grows. A timely parcel arrived from my aunt and uncle in New Zealand on the day of the appointment – including an All Blacks Jersey and Hirini Helmet (as we have christened him) – an All Black bear, complete with protective helmet. We hope Kazuo will feel a special bond with Hirini as the helmet days are played out…

HPIM2032

It appears that our marvellous Healthcare Company, unlike all others, has become obscure and evasive about their criteria for these helmets – on the phone, before the appointment, they assured us it would be covered.  Since then it has transpired that they only cover a random handful of cases, and mange to sidestep the others by claiming that they are not ‘medically necessary’. We have found this totally infuriating as we would not be going down this route if it had not been demonstrated to us to be medically necessary in the first place… it is a hard place to be in when faced with a treatment that seems invasive and unpleasant (although we have been assured that the babies make a much quicker adjustment to wearing the helments than the parents) and then realise that you are forced to endure financial hardship in order to pursue the treatment.  We have railed against the negative impact of private healthcare since coming here… this is just one more bad example.  Both of us have delayed pursuing medical treatment for ourselves for more minor complaints that we would still rather have cleared up, due to the added expense we would incur.  However, we reasoned that this is a treatment Kazuo would have had in England, and we would hate for him to encounter difficulties later in life because we did not treat these problems now, when he is growing and most likely to recover well.  But I can really see how many people would be deterred from having certain procedures because of the cost involved.  It just doesn’t seem right… we miss the NHS!

Finally, with Kazuo taking lovely long naps in the daytime, and starting to sleep through the night, I have more time to be a little organised about my days.  This also has lead to thoughts of creativity.  Last year I spent most Sunday evenings with friends at a ‘Stitch n Bitch’ craft group.  We produced a great variety of lovely things and it was wonderful to be among others who were thinking creatively.  There is a move afoot now to resurrect the craft group into ‘Crafternoons’ – kindly, so that it fits in around my need to be at home with Kazuo in the evenings.  I am really excited.  To celebrate, this last weekend I finally created the mixed-media painting for our living room that I have been carrying around in my head since we stayed in Hanmer Springs in New Zealand on our post-wedding-holiday in 2006.  There was a similar work on the wall in one of the houses we rented.  However, I was also keen, since I was using Paua Shell as the main colour inspiriation, to make a representation of the myth of Rangi-nui-te-po and Papatuanuku.  Since it was a good 20 years since high school art classes, I was really hoping that it would come out a little bit like the image in my mind… usually creating art is a matter of post-hoc rationalisation for me.  Thankfully it was pretty much as I had intended, and I feel inspired to move on and try out some more ideas I have brewing, so yayyy for Crafternoons!! One of my resolutions for this year was to see if I could come up with an idea for stay-at-home-mum income generation… watch this space.

Rangi and Papa

Rangi and Papa in the living room with Kazuo and me.

Of Water, the Web and Wimbledon…

This has been a week of wonderful outings and much much cooler weather, so better for all of us to bear.  Having had a very harrassed afternoon at the university pool last Friday, where Kazuo did manage to have his first swim, but also seemed ready to expire from the heat… I was keen to try him out in the water in more reasonable temperatures, and in a slightly more conducive environment.  The chance came last Sunday, a mild but sunny day.  Akira and I packed up all the pool paraphenalia, and drove to the local community pool.  I was pleased to have acquired a crab pool float for Kazuo that had a canopy to keep him shaded from the dreaded sun.  There are not too many things that really get me concerned with Kazuo, he is happy and healthy and there is not much to be wary of right now, but coming from a country under an enormous hole in the ozone layer, the sun really gets me going… and with him still being a little young for sunblock… well, I covered him up as much as was reasonable, but was extra glad for Crabby’s cover.  Here is our serious little guy in Crabby, just checking out the water and all the kids playing around him:Swimming in Crabby

A wonderful successful swimming trip… seems like the water is a hit with Kaz, so you can imagine my consternation when I received a recall email yesterday for the pool float.  Sigh… what to do?  It seems that some of these toys rip at the leghole and babies can fall into the water.  Apparently there have been 31 instances of this across the board of all their pool float toys, no incidents that were injurious or caused a drowning, but  they are still recalling all 40 million toys sold between 2002-2009!!  In my mind this seems excessive… and I am in love with Crabby, he solves my sun neuroses… so I don’t want to part with him, esp since there are no alternatives on the market, this company has it cornered… and I am never going to leave Kaz swimming alone in Crabby, so could catch him should a tear occur… so silly, so extreme, I am assuming that they would not replace him with a better model, this smacks of a going out of business kinda operation.  I guess if I do hold onto him, I am just forfeiting my right to sue if something does happen… weird.

This last week we also had our lovely friend Caroline, from Leeds, come stay.  She bonded with Kazuo over his bottles and was very kind and chatty with him.  We have had a few visitors since Kaz arrived and it is nice to share our slower pace of life with our very understanding guests.  Caroline managed to arrive in time for the opening of the marvellous new City Garden in the downtown area.  St Louis is odd in that the CBD was abandoned in favour of the Clayton area in the 70s and it seems that regeneration of what was once a vibrant city (the 1904 Olympics and 1905 World’s Fair were here!) is a slow-going dream.  But this marvellous space may just help that effort along… a wonderful couple of blocks with art, gardens and fantastic interactive water features that are a hit with the children in a hot summer.  It particularly liked this sculpture by Mimmo Paladino on a little rise at the entrance to the garden:

Art at City Garden

More water was in store for Kazuo.  We explored the water jets in the water play area, and Kazuo was rather bemused.  I take his placid and serious approach to new experiences to be at least approval, since I am sure he would cry if he disliked/was frightened by whatever we were exposing him to.  But cheerful smiles and chuckles of delight are still a way off I guess. Here he is stripped off to his nappy and checking out a middle-sized spray of water… well, I thought it was fun, he will get there I suppose:

City Garden

Having disposed of the cable box, and hopefully this week, the television, we acquired a PC to watch sports on and to speed up life online, since we had been relying on my ancient and slow laptop.  We managed to watch the Federer/Roddick final this morning (a very boring morning for Kazuo as his parents obsessed over every stroke…) and were both on the edge of our seats as the match went into 30 games in the fifth set… as wonderful as it would have been to see underdog Roddick win his first title (we have a preference for the underdog in this house), it was an amazing relief to see Federer make tennis history with his 15th Grand Slam… and with such graceful, elegant tennis.  A great morning.  The computer has also provided an opportunity for Kazuo to have a little foray into cyberspace… I know it won’t happen too often, and is not really the kind of thing we will be encouraging, but Akira has found a cheerful little program called Baby Smash that converts the keyboard into a random letters/geometric pattern generator, and it is really Kaz friendly.  Here he is with Dada, getting ready for some Baby Smash action:

Baby Smash