Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Buy this book!

Newly released and available on Amazon: The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp Through History's Best Bits, by Erik Sass and Steve Wiegland. Erik is a dear friend of ours and knows much about history. He's the one who can draw detailed world maps from scratch. Justin and I read the book when it was still a lil' baby manuscript. It's really fun and has naughty trivia you didn't learn in tenth grade world history because your teacher would've gotten fired.

And right now it is #70 in books from Amazon! Yay!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Road trip: Maine, part 1 (Not Acadia)

We spent the second night of our trip at the Chapman Inn, a bed and breakfast in Bethel, Maine. We chose the location based on the Rough Guide's suggestion of Bethel as a cute town and its approximate equidistance from Burlington and Acadia National Park. There are not that many places to stay on Highway 2 between Burlington and Acadia anyway. So this is where we stayed:

I was mostly asleep around 12:30 when we heard whispering in the hallway and what Justin assumed to be drunk people trying to unlock our room with (obviously) the incorrect key, until Justin yelled "This is our room!" and they left. The next morning at breakfast, we found out that the inn is the only certified haunted bed and breakfast in western Maine. So maybe they were ghosts instead of drunk people. Anyway, we loved breakfast, which included pancakes made from fresh blueberries, fresh apple cider, freshly baked bread, and a lot of other fresh things. Yum. Also Auletta was made much of. And I accidentally booked the wrong night but they had space for us anyway. So we enjoyed our stay, ghosts notwithstanding.

And Bethel is pretty! Look at the little town green:

From there we drove eastward and ate lunch in Bangor at the Sea Dog Brewery, which we liked enough that we stopped there on the way home too. More importantly, we drove by Stephen King's house and took a picture of Justin standing in front of it like the creepy stalkers we are. Justin noted he had an Obama-Biden sign and a Stop This Endless War sign, because we are creepy political junkie stalkers.

Then we continued to Bar Harbor, Maine, on Mt. Desert Island, the gateway to Acadia. We're so used to the huge scale of national parks in the west--I got up before 4 AM once to take sunrise pictures in Canyonlands, because it took nearly an hour to get there from Moab--that it's weird to stay in a town a couples of miles away from the park entrance. I kept comparing Mt. Desert Island to Martha's Vineyard. I think Mt. Desert Island wins because 1. you don't have to make reservations eons in advance on an expensive car ferry to get on and off it, 2. it's not insanely crowded (at least in October) and does not have stupid regulations against traffic lights at intersections that are ridiculously unsafe without them, 3. it is cute and not very pretentious (kind of chessy, but that's okay). See that clock? It's cute!

Of course you would be insane to swim in the ocean there, at least in October, but since Auletta is apparently prejudiced against oceans and I'm not a big swimmer, that's fine with me. So we were there at the end of the season--all the shops were having their sales on tourmaline and scrimshaw and whatever else you buy when you're in Maine, affordable accommodations were not hard to find, and the foliage was at its peak. I think it peaked a little late this year (down here at least it seems we've had a mild autumn), so our timing was perfect and I took some lovely pictures. More in the next post.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Road trip: New Hampshire

We really didn't give enough time to New Hampshire. Since we went north through Vermont and back south through Maine, and New Hampshire is a narrow state, we just passed through the skinny parts going either way. But we did make a point (or I made a point, and Justin tagged along since I was driving) of driving up Mt. Washington. At 6288 feet, it's much lower than many of the passes we've crossed in the west, let alone the mountains we've seen, but it does have the distinction of having the most wretched weather just about anywhere. When we drove up it was clear, about 25 degrees with winds of 20-25 mph (imagine the wind chill under those conditions), which is a good day. This was a week ago. The road is now closed for the winter. We made the good move of going late in the day, so the road was closed to cars going up when we came back down. It's a narrow, winding road with a steep dropoff on one side and often barely enough room for two cars to pass each other, so I was really glad not to have to worry about squeezing by anyone on the way down. We listened to a CD audio tour about the road, which has been there since the mid-19th century. There are some wacky speed records going up. The current record I think is 7 minutes; we did it in about 25. I don't know how people race up there without killing themselves.

This is the view from the top:

You can also take a cog train up. Next time, maybe. It was very cute. (Oddly, the very family friendly CD did not tell us about the tradition of mooning the cog.)

Windblown ice.

This building is literally chained to the mountain.

Here's why.

Attempt at a self-portrait.

Justin and Auletta stayed in the car (perhaps wisely) while I ran around taking pictures and freezing my butt off, but they did step out for a quick picture.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Road trip: Vermont

I have always thought I would like Vermont, but had never been there until last week. I did like it. We went there first, driving up through western Connecticut and Massachusetts via the Litchfield Hills and the Berkshires. I still haven't clicked with Massachusetts; the Berkshires, like Martha's Vineyard, seem to be very conscious that you are supposed to want to go there. But Vermont is much less so. We worked our way south to north, from Bennington to Middlebury and finally to Burlington, where we spent the night.

Unfortunately I took no pictures of Burlington, which is silly because I really liked it. It is a smallish college town, not unlike Charlottesville and Ithaca. It is near a lake, like Ithaca (Lake Champlain, in this case), and like both towns, it has a downtown pedestrian mall with fun little shops. We went to the Crow Bookshop and of course Lake Champlain Chocolates, where we ordered yummy Aztec hot chocolate. There was a ginormous farmer's market that morning (it was Saturday), and in general it looks like a very engaging, walkable town. The University of Vermont is in Burlington, and it has a law school, so hmm/brr/hmm.

We proceeded eastward through northern Vermont, taking in the leaves...

...and, as always, the political landscape.

Um, yeah. This was obviously not in Burlington.

And then across the bridge over the Connecticut River:

Well, not that bridge necessarily, but it is a neat covered bridge. To New Hampshire! Next entry. See, I told you I would really write multiple posts about this trip.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fifty nifty

We went on another road trip, this time a little swing through New England for some leafing, and to check a few more states off our list, which is my latest obsession. Forty-eight down, two to go. The last two are biggies, Alaska and Texas. Well, this might take a while. I am working on pictures. Here is the only family photo from the trip, on top of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park in Maine. Not the best picture in the world (it's kind of fuzzy and I had to crop the heck out of it), but it's kind of my fault for having an insanely pimped camera and then forgetting to turn it on before I handed it to the complete stranger British cruise passenger who kindly took the picture at all, so I should just stop complaining now.

It's weird for a couple that met in Rome, but we haven't been out of the country in more than five years. All our travel has been within the country, and I have to give Justin credit for encouraging me to visit all the glorious places between my comfy coasts. We live in such an amazingly diverse country, in regard to geography, culture, cuisine, accent, politics, religion, everything. I had one of those shouting-at-the-radio moments a few weeks ago...some supposed political satirist suggested that the country would be a much better place if all the red-staters visited Europe for two weeks. And God knows I would not deny anyone a two-week trip to Europe, but I don't think that was his point exactly--anyway (Justin will attest) I responded to Mr.-Political-Satirist-Who-Couldn't-Hear-Me that all the blue staters should visit the red states for two weeks. So there! We who have spent our lives ensconced in our coastal enclaves with our independent bookstores and our espresso and our feisty college towns should know our own country, especially since we are the ones who claim to be all cosmopolitan and open-minded. I include myself in this description because blue-state moderates and conservatives are prone to this sort of parochialism too, and maybe it's worse because we fancy ourselves the champions of middle America but still shudder at the thought of traveling somewhere more than ten minutes away from Starbucks.

Of course there is nowhere more blue than New England these days (not Upper New England so much as our own environs, of course), so this was not exactly the same as venturing into Kansas or what have you, but it was still enjoyable and lovely, and eye-opening in its own way. The foliage was superb in many of the places we visited. I will say this again when I get to more detailed posts on the places we visited (I really intend to do so this time), but VISIT ACADIA right after Columbus Day. It is not insanely crowded and the leaves are still gorgeous. We timed this perfectly--with much thanks to Justin's fall break, of course, but the felicitousness of our scheduling makes up for the fact that I spent last autumn too busy to see all the leaves because I was busy having a baby. Yay.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

All I hear is clanging cymbals

I am not sure whether to publish this post, which I've been editing on and off for a few days, but I guess if I hit the button it'll happen and you can take from it what you will. I am not the best person to be writing this, and I want to emphasize first of all that it is not directed toward anyone who does not identify themselves as Christian (not that the topic of this post, love, is exclusive to Christians, of course, but you will have your own way of talking about love if you are not and I will leave that to you), and that of course even if you do I have no real spiritual authority you need recognize. I am a lazy Catholic with God only knows how many beams in my own eye. But I have spent years of academic and extracurricular thought on what the Catholic part means, so in a way this is what I do. It's also one of the things I started blogging about in the first place, although this has become much more of a mommy blog lately and I'm sure most of my readers find Auletta much more compelling than my attempts at theologizing. Anyway.

* * *


I said in an earlier post that people who hate Sarah Palin are entitled to their hatred. I was wrong. If you're Christian, you're not. This is between you and God, of course, but I'm pretty sure you're not. Same if you hate Obama, or Biden (although personally I find both of them likable even when I disagree with them--so maybe this just comes easier to me, at least this election year when I think all the major candidates are quite personable, and I should not be so judgmental)--you are not entitled to that. You are not entitled to defame them, or to presume you know things about them that you don't in order to score rhetorical points, or to insult them, or to do any of the above to their supporters. Even when they do it to you.

* * *

This gets at something I've been thinking about for a while, which is the weird divide between the religious right and the religious left. I have one foot in each world and sometimes I wonder if there's much else they have in common, besides a name and a book and others like me. I have very conservative Christian friends and very liberal Christian friends, and it seems to me there is strikingly little intercourse between those two groups in real life. (I have more affinity with conservative Christians, I suppose, having come from that background, but over the past several years I've met lots of more liberal Christians, all very good and kind and sincere people, and my own views have changed, for various reasons but of course not least because of the people I've met.) As a result I often feel like I have to downplay my true beliefs, which are somewhere in between. Whatever, that's not a tragedy compared to the wider problem, which is that the church (big C or little c, however you want to talk about it) is supposed to be one body.

If you are of an age, late 20s or early 30s, you probably go to a lot of weddings. And at most of those weddings--church weddings, at least--you probably hear 1 Corinthians 13 as one of the readings (Justin and I were an exception; we selected Romans 12, which is equally apt). Read in context, of course, this passage is not about spouses' love for one another--after all, loving one's spouse is easy about 95% of the time, although the other 5% can be a real doozy--but about love within the church, without which all other gifts, all the other functions of the body of Christ, are meaningless. This is hard. And it's hard when right-wing evangelicals think they have nothing in common with gay pacifist Episcopalians, or liberal Catholics think they have nothing in common with Bible-thumping homophobic fetus-loving fundamentalists. Not to mention, when liberal Catholics think they have nothing in common with conservative Catholics, or vice versa, even when they share the same pews. But actually, we have the most important thing in common, and that thing--that Person--spent most of his time on earth talking about love, and inspired the first generation of his followers to talk about love, which sounds like a terribly difficult thing the way it's described, not at all fuzzy or romantic or easy, and not at all optional.

I will leave the last word to Paul. Remember that this is how you're supposed to love the person you least want to love. And you cannot implement social justice or save the babies if you cannot love your fellow Christian like this--no matter how little you think that person deserves the name; that is not up to you. And I, the worst of sinners, will remember as well.

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

One reason we don't want to stay here

Justin found a tiny bag of what we presumed to be crack (we didn't try to prove it) on the sidewalk in front of our house. The police's response was, yeah, that happens all the time, and we can't do anything about it because we can't connect it to anyone and if we responded to every report of crack on the sidewalk we'd do nothing else all day. And by the way don't touch it or you could be charged with possession. So that's super. We live in what I would consider one of the few "nice" neighborhoods in New Haven, i.e. the crime rate is low, houses are well maintained, and our immediate neighbors happen to be cops or retired cops. Obviously there is an unfortunate but real racial element involved in this as well, our neighborhood being mostly white (Italian-white, which is cool because I'm getting back to my roots, but obviously we don't just live here for the pizza). It's not what we would have expected, basically. I mean, not that it's a huge deal because it probably just fell out of someone's pocket and it doesn't necessarily mean drug transactions are taking place right outside our front door, but it makes me feel a little less safe here with a baby and a husband who we already both feel needs to take a shuttle or taxi when he comes back from school at night, "night" being anytime after 4:30 for much of the school year at this latitude. I actually liked New Haven in the summer, once we moved into town, but I think the honeymoon is coming to an end.

Friday, October 10, 2008

One year!

And she is already learning how to fake smile.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Photo essay: Auletta's first chocolate cake

We're in Ithaca, celebrating Auletta's first birthday with Justin's family. Her birthday is tomorrow, but her party was today for various scheduling reasons, and so I could say I had more fun tonight than I was having the night of October 9, 2007. Justin's mom continued the family tradition of baking a teddy bear cake for each baby's first birthday (this is the ninth one she's done). Somehow I have avoided giving Auletta chocolate until her first birthday. So this is her very first experience of chocolate. The photos are in chronological order, so you can see how she delicately dipped her fingers into the frosting before finally diving in.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Closing in on one year

Auletta had her twelve month appointment today. Which did not include shots. I remember specifically asking the receptionist when I scheduled the appointment if it was okay for Auletta to get her shots a week before her birthday, and she said it was, but then the pediatrician said it would be best to wait until after her birthday, in case she has a picky school district down the line that doesn't count the shots because she got them too early. Oh well, we'll just go back in a couple weeks.

Here are the stats: Auletta is 18.5 lb. and 28 inches and has a 46.5 cm head circumference. (Somehow I cannot spell circumference today.) That puts her, oh I'd have to look at the chart, but like 85-90th percentile head circumference and maybe 25th percentile height/weight. I asked the pediatrician if her petite size was okay, and she said as long as Auletta's height/weight proportionate, she's fine and she can put that in a personal ad. Just kidding about the last part. So all is well and she gets to be poked another time.

UPDATE: More like 10th percentile height/weight. Anyway. I am a little worried about clothes because I had expected her to outgrow all her 6-12 month stuff around this time, but it all fits except for a few onesies that won't go over her brainy head--and it's all summer clothes, which are rapidly becoming inappropriate, or rather the weather is rapidly becoming inappropriate for them. I need to get out her 12-18 month clothes, most of which I bought last year, since they're winter clothes, but I'm afraid they'll be big on her. I was expecting the fact that she was born around the time the seasons change to work out as far as clothes go, and it did until last spring, but her growth has slowed down since then. That's fine, since she's healthy and that's what matters, but all her cute holiday clothes I bought last year are looking kinda big right now--except for this really cute Fair Isle knit hat, which I think is too small (but it's Gymboree, easy to find on eBay in a larger size).