Curse you tooth fairy!

I knew Primo would need braces at some point.  His teeth were coming in at such strange angles, behind other teeth; it seemed like the tooth fairy had visited him drunk every time.  But really- top level of severity on three dimensions?  Three?  Bottom jaw juts out in an under bite like a bulldog, side to side is way off, and the top and bottom are tilted off one another in some strange axis.  Oy.   Our kind, gentle dentist told us as sweetly as possible Primo needed a consult with an orthodontist soon, that at this age they can plan and begin a process to help him.  She handed me the referral, saying at some point they may even need to pull some teeth if his jaw does not grow significantly in the next several years.  But, she added, on the bright side, Segundo just has a slight under bite, and they both seem to have strong, healthy teeth and gums!  Thanks Doc.

Growing up, braces were like saying you wanted a pony; so far outside the margin of possibility that they were not even worth thinking about.  They were simply too expensive.   While prices have come down and the technology involved has become more sophisticated, it is still a sting to the pocket when considering the years and degree of difficulty involved with Primo.  But I have seen the problems Husband has had with chewing, sleeping, all sorts of functions I take for granted and if we can alleviate those issues for our kids, then I would like to try.

I wonder at the genetics involved.  How did both my kids get my Husbands mouth?  Did they get his whole head?  Did they get his propensity (and his mother, and his grandfather) for a bad back?  Segundo certainly got his hair.  We joke that if he had been a girl she would have been a hair model, it is so thick and straight and beautiful.  Segundo hates for us to wash his hair though, it is so thick it makes it difficult to get to the scalp- yet he will not get a buzz cut again, he says it makes him look dumb.  Primo cares little about his hair and clothes most of the time, and is the easier going of the two.  He seems to have hair more like Husband, but not the carbon copy straight shot Segundo got. 

Did they get anything from me?  I worry that they may have only gotten deficits; did they get any of the scary cancer genes we suspect run in my mother’s family?  Or did they get the extreme longevity of my father’s side?  They have eyes similar to mine in color, but it is also the color of my mother-in-laws eyes.  Both boys got the wonky toenails of their father (who has had to have nail surgery for extreme in-grown nails- are they related to the teeth problem somehow?).  I hope they got his nose, not mine.  I hope they got his even-keel personality, his wit, and his creativity (whether by genes, modeling, or a combination of both).  We both have big squishy hearts, which is evident in the boys.  Whatever neuroscience and genetics has said lately about attributes of altruism, empathy and the like I would like to read.  The boys have these qualities in spades and would probably make good research participants.

I know kids grow and change.  I know Primo’s jawbones and head (which already takes an adult size M-L hat!) will grow more in the coming years.  I know they will expand their already barrel chests, wide shoulders, and long legs and the proportions will shift and exaggerate like a fun house mirror over the years.  But it would be good to see them at some point and know visibly they have something of me in those cells, something written in the DNA that is not a deficit.  Time will tell.  In the mean time I have to put a slit in an empty coffee can lid and start saving money for braces and what ever else the dental magicians have come up with for Primos mouth.  I trust the words, songs, jokes, and ideas that come of it- now I need to learn about and trust the hands and appliances that will go in.

Downsize me-I

Many of us are downsizing.  Many of us never sized up; some for ethical and moral reasons, some for purely financial, some for both combined.  There are entire magazines now devoted to the “movement” of simplicity (as absurd and contradictory as that seems to me).  Eating out as it is called, is one of the first things to be cut from most budgets.  It certainly was from ours, and it happened a long time ago.  Less because we thought it was consuming a hole in our budget and more because we found ourselves just saying, “what the heck was that?” after most meals. 

Case in point:  the boys got to have McDonalds with their great-grandma yesterday, and I ordered a happy meal too (small portions).  It was as I remembered, awful.  Tasteless, oddly dry, and smacked afterward of a floating sense of ick.  The film Supersize Me got mass produced US culture right, but only touched upon the taste issues. That yuck sensation is the same one we get whenever we eat at chains, and why we developed the rule that we would not eat out unless it was a. food we could not cook ourselves (or at least not as well)  and b. that was actually good (ok, this conflates two rules).  After spending several years reading about food industries, as well as high culinary experiences (Anthony Bourdain is a great read for information and laughs) we found our rule was not only practical, but healthy as well.

Accordingly, there are but a few places in town we “eat out” (The second rule is only once every two weeks do we eat out).  Of three Thai restaurants in town, only one is any good.  The food is prepared with fresh ingredients, and the nuances of flavor are not watered down or changed for anyone.  The owners are a wonderful couple and their extended family helps out.  The matriarch has been trained in a variety of skills, and never fails to make beautiful carrot butterflies for the boys and flip to PBS kids on her flat screen when we walk in.  It is always a pleasure to eat at the café Thai Flavor.

There is an equally kind and competent couple who run the Saigon Café, our go to for Vietnamese food.  We can’t go without the boys watching the koi, or without me being amazed by all the framed expert textiles.  Never a bad experience there.

The co-op Little Grill is a funky place that offers live music in the evenings and lots of terrific young people who try to do a little good every week (Mondays all day are soup kitchen day- anyone eats for free no questions asked, and much of the food is locally grown and organic).  Breakfast here is always packed, and on weekends anyone not familiar with needing to arrive early will find themselves with a long wait.  The ambience is decaying 1930’s micro building that has been lovingly patched up with a variety of fun items and colors.  The food is generally pretty good, and while we are not vegetarian or vegan I am told the multiple items for those folks are very good (I try them, and eh- it’s ok).  The juice is always fresh squeezed, and the giant tub of Mr. Potatoes and parts are on a shelf with the monkey-headed Godzilla, available for kids.  A giant Gonzo rides an antique bike near the ceiling, and a paint-by-numbers Martin Luther King hangs next to ancient velvet Bob Dylan.  A small mirror ball hangs a distance from a beautiful antique wooden plumb, and local artists have work that rotate according to the vicissitudes of the co-op members.

With so many Spanish speaking immigrants in this area, you might imagine we have a few decent such restaurants.  Wrong.  Everything claiming to be Mexican or some such are absolutely awful, and several routinely riddled with health inspection notices.  I asked one of son’s preschool parents (She is Honduran, her husband is Mexican) if there was anywhere she recommended and she laughed.  She gets her tamales from an old woman who makes them out of her home for people who know about her, and her aunt makes her flour tortillas the old school way and offers them from home as well.  She promised to hook me up when she places her next orders.  Given my previous post, my dime bag of Garam Masala rant now has a parallel with my procuring of good “Mexican” food.

Four hours from the coast might as well be four days.  The seafood around here stinks (literally), and locally offered trout are incubated in ponds down stream from where the owners’ cows see fit to crap whenever they wish.  In essence, no thanks.

A terrific Korean couple owns Café Jako, and the husband of the two is a fun sushi chef, who is very good to kids.  The food passes the worth-it test, and satisfies our jones for sushi, tempura, and miso.

A new Indian restaurant opened up, and it passed the “worth-it” test.  The Blue Nile owners (Ethiopian food) renovated a building downtown and while not all the complexities of the regional foods are represented, it is fresh and it is good.  The ambience is hip, and in the evenings it becomes a club.  Husband argues for a nice bar downtown, Clementine’s, but I respond that while offering food, it is not where we would take the kids and “eat out”.

There are several other locally owned places.  Most of these are popular, or at least consistently patronized, but the food truly stinks.  They do not pass the “worth it” test.

We do not live in a metropolitan wonder where we could explore the culinary offerings for years, but what we have will suffice.  At least until we cut out eating out altogether, that next step in downsizing.  Prepping for this, we are experimenting with a large garden.  That’s what that big box of compost we have been making for a year is intended to feed.  We’ll see what we learn from this first year of serious gardening training and how it affects our diets.  Oh, that’s another “movement” I hear, Practical Yards or some other title.  If you can do it, good on ya.  As Garrison Keillor so eloquently pointed out, there is nothing better than fresh homegrown tomatoes and corn.  Producing it will downsize your waist, and consuming it will downsize financial leak I am told.  We’ll see.  I know my ninety-four year old grandmother took gardens for granted, necessities of life.  I hope we can tap into that Midwestern gene memory and learn. 

My memories of my great-grandmother’s city garden, which she tended into her late eighties, are some of my best.  The center was a long grape arbor, cool and dark to walk under.  Each narrow row shot off from this center.  The back row was entirely high sunflowers, providing a mask for the fence.  In the front were gnarled but fecund fruit trees, one on each side.  The bees buzzed purposefully, and the sun seemed to warm everything it touched.  The garden was her entire, long backyard.  It was meticulously tended, and beautiful.  When she died, I crept into her stone basement and lining all the cool wall shelves were ball jars of green beans and bacon, tomatoes, and all assortments of vegetables and fruits she had canned.  Husband, when his grandmother died, was allowed to take something from what she left behind.  He took her old ball jars.  They have traveled far and wide, and now maybe they will live again.

A blog I read recently ranted about all the crap we can and will do without (  I’ll add that it is not only tangible crap, but experiential crap as well.  I’ll trade access to all that crap for the old ball jars, and knowledge about how to make our garden work.  It has been said that downsizing may ultimately be the best thing that happened to many of us.  I do not idealize the necessity of downsizing; there are too many folks of all ages (and I lose sleep over how to make sure it is not us) who will be without heat, homes, food, jobs, and the real necessities of life while the rich wave their hands and say it’s good for us all.

But for now, I am hopeful we are getting a bead on one facet of our lives, the food.  How to maintain quality and health and variety on a limited budget.  Grocery store offerings are not getting cheaper, or more healthy, and the collection of cookbooks we have needs more stains. 

More later on how this all plays out.


Needs and wants

There seems to be a lot of discussion right now about what defines need and want. Both are categories of desire.  Need is most clearly defined by the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy: food, shelter, safety. Included above this is some vestige of social connection, a form of intimacy akin to love- that thing without which babies die (see the studies regarding this from mid-twentieth century), old folks slip into afflictions and die, and the rest of us suffer depression and a variety of illnesses.  Abraham Maslow (1943) developed a pyramid of levels to represent a complete individual that has been revised from time to time, but the basic ideas have stayed the same.  There is a line on the pyramid, below it are needs and above it are what we might call wants.  Above the line categories include respect, achievement, creativity, self-determination.  Our founding folks might have seen these as the basis of the “pursuit of happiness”.  So are they really wants- or another form of needs?  I suppose it depends on whom you talk to. 

Many wealthy people in this country think cutting back on their monthly liquor orders constitutes privation.  They will also tell anyone who listens that everyone else, those making below 50k a year especially, ought to just suck it up and cut back.  They shake fingers and cluck, some massaging their conscience with a few dollars thrown at a charity (for which, as Blago of Chicago made clear, they expect a return in money, big parties, and other benefits).  No health insurance?  Too bad you are not “talented” enough to find a good job with benefits.  Need extra tutoring for your kids?  Daycare?  Too bad.  You should not have had children you can’t afford.  The list goes on and on. They strut around at cocktail hour, palms open, telling their friends “what do they expect?  Of course our companies/banks/businesses need the bailout.  We are the ones who keep this country going.”  The unquestioned assumption that big salaries, and big compensation packages are also necessary, needful things; this fun-house mirror of self regard and privilege is horrifying.  Finding out recently that a high percentage of the businesses getting bailout money operate core off-shore tax havens and that much of that money is being funneled away to these havens is also scary.  It all points out that the modus operandi for too long has been nothing more than greed driven to the extreme, and instead of being the foundation for a healthy, complex economy– undermined it entirely.  Like over-mined ground in West Virginia, the ground is collapsing and everything that rested on top is caving in and becoming toxic.  The fires that burn below in the mines of Pennsylvania will burn for thousands of years (  Let’s hope this metaphor for our financial system is a little less long term. 

Maslow had it right I think.  In a very pragmatic way, we know if people don’t have basic needs met their lives spin out of control, and even worse, they die.  I don’t think the vast majority of people in this country are confused about the difference between needs and wants, and they don’t need daytime talk show hosts to wag fingers and wax poetic about the uplifting opportunities for self improvement by learning to live with less.   What most people seem to need is parity between those who want to believe they are the caretakers of our systems, and those who have little control over them. Business journalists held hands over their collective mouths until the holidays had passed, and now are starting to blather forth all the bad news they held in.  It’s gonna get a lot worse, and no one is really sure how much worse.  Where have you gone Nancy Reagan; ketchup never was a vegetable and a full belly is a basic need.  We can’t wish or talk away the realities of what is happening.  The time for blame seems to have passed when the government is giving life boats to the very wealthy while yelling into the megaphone to look the other way, these are not life boats, they are some thing else, um, yeah, bailouts that will make everything better.  Just keep your noses to those rapidly sinking grindstones, and we’ll give you a couple hundred bucks at tax time (and take it back in the now $17,000 per wage earner that will be needed in taxes to fund the bailout).  When the ship is going down, those scions of business and culture will be off to their private islands stocked with alcohol and say it was everyone else’s’ fault. The nut-bags plan to hole up in Idaho, and as one blogger put it, “I’ll have the guns to come take your organic gardens, liberals”.  No, we have no time to blame.  

What do I need today?  I need a laugh.  I need to clean my house.  But more importantly, I need to know I can feed my kids, get them adequate medical care, and keep a roof over our heads and clothes on their rapidly growing bodies.  A solid elementary and secondary education is essential as well.  For myself, I’ll skip a meal or two but I can’t live without the laughs. It is way too dark for me, and many others, right now.  We have to find a way to laugh without sticking our heads in the sand as many conservatives would have us do.   We have to find a way to channel our anger productively, and act.  When we suggest a state-wide schools strike involving students, parents and staffers in the local newspaper comments section (in response to the announcement of deep cuts in public schools as the first place to plunder now that the state is broke) it is rapidly removed.  There was no foul language; it was a short, thoughtful, polite comment.  Do we need or want to speak out?  How about both? Perhaps it is doubly necessary, this need to speak, to form consensus, then act– no matter how scary it seems to those in control.  The ship is sinking.  What do you need as it does?  What are you going to do about it?