Sunday, March 30, 2008

Basketball and Botox

The Tarheel men's basketball team had the late game last night, playing Louisville in what amounted to a second half nail bitter - for me, anyway. The Tarheels played a brilliant first half, beating the full court press and running their fast break offense. The Tarheels seemingly in control, the conversation in our living room turned to Louisville coach, Rick Pitino's obvious use of Botox or cosmetic surgery. We even guessed then googled the ages of Williams (57) and Pitino (55).

Pitino obviously spent half time coaching rather than changing his suit and coiffing his hair, as he did during half time of their game vs Georgetown earlier in the season (which, btw, they won and Pitino later admitted- after first saying at the post game interview that he had spilled Diet Coke on his suit- that he changed from his Benny Hinn-white suit-get up because his blue boxers were starting to show through from butt sweat. Dude, TMI. I liked the Diet Coke story better.), and brought his boys back from an 12 point half-time deficit to a tie with about 10 minutes left to go.

Pitino seemed to have made an adjustment in strategy at half time, and his Cardinals came back and made basket after basket with the "give" - to their big man Padgett at the top of the key - and "go" to any player finding a hole in the Carolina defense. But in the end, Lawson and Hansbrough stepped in up for the Heels; Lawson weaving through the Cardinals' full court press with grace and ease, rendering it totally ineffective (back-up Quinton Thomas didn't fare so well). And Hansbrough, well, being Hansbrough, playing with intensity and confidence to the buzzer's blare.

Now for the final four. We have a conflict though. We have tickets to visit the Mouse in Florida next weekend. Personally I'd rather be watching hoops that trudging through crowds of crabby parents and overstimulated kids, but since we have already laid down the money, we best be out in the mayhem.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Hurl,Trot and Hack

The Spring Break train not only brought snow but a gaggle of viruses that are roosting in our home. The Brainiac was down all day Sunday with a fever, then he hurled. The Firecracker woke up Tuesday with a severe case of the trots. Then early Thursday morning, while sleeping over at a friend's house, the B woke up to discover he had the trots, and they had, um, already trotted, if you know what I mean. Poor guy, he was up in the middle of the night trying to clean himself and the bed he was sleeping in without disturbing anyone. (I know, I konw. TMI) Now he has a head cold and cough to go with it.

Luckily, the adults have dodged the viruses, and we have largely enjoyed our vacation in Asheville, though we have done nothing resembling tourist activites, except eat a few take out dinners. The weather shaped up and we have been soaking it in - gardening, playing baseball, soccer and tennis, walking the dog. Of course, we watched college hoops on the tube.

Tomorrow brings rain and cooler weather, if you believe the weather folks round here, so I'm going to hit the trail with the hound dog while I have a chance.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Spring Break

Well it doesn't feel much like Spring Break here, mostly because it's 32 degrees with snow fluries supposedly turning to rain this afternoon. We were headed to the beach but decided to save some dough and stay here. It is supposed to warm up this week, so we have plans to enjoy Asheville like tourists AND get a few things done round the homestead.

Easter was a bit messy at our house - the Brainiac had a stomach bug. I didn't sleep well last night, half listening for the inevitable trips to hug the toilet, not just from the B. I always expect that it's just a matter of time before the rest of us fall like dominoes and make our path to toilet. But so far, we are all well, inlcluding B, who has recovered enought to play Nerf football with his little bro.

Speaking of.. here's the Firecracker with his best Tyler Hansbrough impression.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Cuba and Tourism

At the end of Cuba trip, we spent some time exploring in Havana. We visited this Jesus statue,a tourist attraction that overlooked the water.

Some folks in my group spent time speaking with a young, English speaking tour guide. He shared the history of the statue; it was commissioned by Batista's wife in 1957, several years before The Revolution. Batista was the corrupt Cuban dictator eventually ousted by Castro. It arrived from Italy in 67 pieces of marble. After further conversation with this man, they found out that he used to be school teacher but left his job to make more money being a tour guide working strictly for tips.

The average Cuban makes about $25 US dollars a month. Although they have free health care, housing, electricity, and food rations, this isn't much money. A tour guide can earn more than a typical day's pay with just one tip, presuming it is one CUC, the Cuban tourism Peso, basically equivalent to one US dollar. The CUC is worth much more that the national Peso that citizens use. So this young man left his secure teaching job to make more money telling the story of the Jesus statue. He wanted more money and apparently, according to him, others in similar respectable jobs including doctors and lawyers, have left their careers to become bellhops, waiters, etc to cash in on the tourist Peso and the financial boost it can provide.

The Tourism industry is something relatively new to Cuba. The government began promoting it in an effort to assist their ailing economy which was suffering greatly from the ongoing US Embargo and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, who until the collapse, had been their primary trade partner for almost 30 years.

When Castro took over the government in 1959, he essentially leveled the playing field with Socialized programs. He wiped out poverty by providing food rations for everyone. He closed the schools for 6 months and sent youth out to the rural areas to educate everyone to read and write. As a result, Cuba's literacy is better than the US. He provided housing, health care and jobs for everyone. Free enterprise and capitolism aren't part of the economic culture. There is seemingly no way to prosper financially. However, the tourism industry is providing some with the opportunity to advance financially. No doubt tourism has helped the Cuban economy but the two Peso system has altered the way some Cuban's view the Socialist system and what it does and doesn't provide.

We spent many hours traveling across the Island and every time we stopped to use a public restroom, whether at a gas station, restaurant or public park, there was someone attending it for tips. The attendant usually sat outside of the restroom, sometimes handing us toilet paper. Typically, the restrooms weren't clean. Most didn't have toilet seats - presumably another trade victim; it must be cost prohibitive to import, though I never asked anyone specifically. Still, we tipped, grateful to have somewhere private to do our bizness. Certainly bathroom attendant isn't the coveted tourism job, but it is a job, nonetheless.

I must say that we didn't witness any homelessness nor begging, sans the many stray, diseased dogs politely hovering round our dinner table at most open air restaurants, hoping for a scrap or two. And crime is very minimal. Coupled with the beautiful countryside and warm Cuban people, it unquestionably adds to the allure of Cuba as a desirable tourist destination.

Unless, of course, you are American, and prohibited from going there by your government.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Cuban Agriculture

Finally something about Cuba, though I can't take credit for the photos. My friend, Marc, took them.

While in Cuba, we witnessed and learned of their nationally supported organic farming model. This was developed in response to loss of trade and support for their commercial agriculture model, due to the ongoing US Embargo and diminishing trade relations with the Soviet Union after the fall of the Soviet bloc. I found a paper by, Peter Rosset, on the Internet that explains it better than I. His words are in italics.

Because of the US Embargo in 1961, Cuba developed a relationship with the Soviet Union and heavily relied on them for trade. Cuba depended upon its socialist trading partners for petroleum, industrial equipment and supplies, fertilizer and pesticides, and foodstuffs. In the late 1980's relations became strained with the Soviet Union and imports/exports suffered greatly.

Cuban agriculture was based on large-scale, capital-intensive mono-culture, more similar in many ways to the Central Valley of California than to the typical Latin American small-scale farm. More than 90 percent of fertilizers and pesticides, or the ingredients to make them were imported from abroad. This demonstrates the degree of dependency exhibited by this style of farming, and the vulnerability of the island's economy to international market forces. When trade relations with the socialist bloc collapsed, pesticides and fertilizers virtually disappeared, and the availability of petroleum for agriculture dropped by half. Food imports also fell by more than a half. Suddenly, an agricultural system almost as modern and industrialized as that of California was faced with a three-pronged challenge: to essentially double food production while more than halving inputs - and at the same time maintaining export crop production so as not to further erode the country's desperate foreign exchange position.

Cuba moved to an alternative model of agriculture, one that promotes ecologically sustainable production by replacing the dependence on heavy farm machinery and chemical inputs with animal traction, crop and pasture rotation, soil conservation, organic soil inputs, biological pest control, and biofertilizers and biopesticides.

Our culinary experience in Cuba included eating only fresh fruits and vegetables: pineapple, guava, papaya, tomato, cabbage, cucumbers, green beans, onions, plantains, bananas, oranges - all grown on the island. The chicken was fresh not frozen, eh hum, it was just killed that day. My Brainiac loved "Cuban chicken" and the "chef" who made it for him. The eggs we had for breakfast each morning were especially fresh but all the butter and salt added while cooking probably enhanced the flavor just a bit. Of course, rice and beans were a staple at every meal - cooked in oil with salt and garlic added - and very tasty. Cuban food isn't spicy; spices are imports and if they were readily available or affordable, it wasn't evident.

We spent one day visiting the rural area outside of Camaguey. It was here that we saw the farm laborers bagging the rice. Below is a picture of the finished product.

Notice that this is on a blacktop road. Before the rice was scooped into the large sacks, it was occupying about 1/3 the width of the road and extended about 1/4 mile. That is where they dried the rice. Interesting.

We spent 5 days with our sister congregation in Camaguey, eating most of our meals with them. The last night we were there, they wanted to treat us to a "special meal". These people were so gracious and considerate that they wanted to share with us foods they didn't normally eat as the cost was prohibitive; fruit cocktail and canned tuna. The fruit cocktail consisted of fruits that weren't grown in Cuba. And surprisingly fish isn't something they eat much of either. It was the only time we were offered fish in our 10 days there. Camaguey isn't on the water, but it seems like fresh fish would be more affordable and common considering the proximity to the water. I never inquired. Perhaps it's the transportation involved to get fresh fish inland. A question for next trip, I guess.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Welcome Back, Lawson

Much of the weekend was spent watching ACC hoops and my favorite basketball sons, the Tarheels. It's been an interesting season in Chapel Hill. The Heels' amazing point guard, Ty Lawson, was out for six or so games with a sprained ankle giving the once spastic Quinton Thomas a chance to mature into a leader and have a positiv minutes while on the court. Since Lawson's return a few weeks ago, he hasn't been a hundred percent. But yesterday, even though coach Williams said he's still not fully whole, he made things happen. It was good to see him back. Dude, he is so exciting to watch. Sometimes it seems as if he just hits some turbo charge button, takes off and blazes past everyone on the court like they are standing still.

Sometime mid-way through the second half I started singing the Welcome Back Kotter tune each time Lawson worked some of his magic, making the layups look so easy, and dishing the ball off for one of his 8 assists. My Firecracker was annoyed. I was happy.

Welcome back. Welcome back. Welcome baaack.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Enjoy the Ride

There are miles of things on my list. Not the least of which is creating a power point presentation - something I'm never done- on Cuba for a talk I am giving to the "Fun Bunch" at my neighbor's church on Tuesday morning. YIKES! And the ever present taxes. And all I have to do is gather the information for my accountant but that takes hours.

But of course the minute I sit down for blog moment, the boys are in need. The Brainiac is packing for his 3 day class trip to Camp Greenville, but he needs help. I effectively put him off for a moment but the FC came in from shooting hoops and wants to get on the computer. Typically, this is when I make them do a chore; it is their ticket to ride. But what I need done requires a little supervision and I am unwilling to be interrupted, so I yield, telling the FC that he will have to afterwards, knowing full well that he won't be as cooperative.

The book fair was at the boy's school this past week. They both came home with the flyer and had books in mind to purchase. Unfortunately, the Brainiac had no money - spent it all last weekend on a game for his Nintendo DS. It was the first game he had bought for his DS since purchasing the DS just before he and I left for Cuba in January ( subsequently, he was invited to three birthday parties in which he only showed with a handmade card- no money left for gifts). Anyway, the Firecracker has plenty of money saved despite his Webkinz obsession. (Luckily, he has found a supplier, St Joseph's gift shop, where he can buy one get one free.) In a generous moment, the FC gave the Brainiac money to buy the books he wanted, no strings attached. Then FC bought three chapter books, including Diary of a Wimpy Kid, despite the fact that he only reads for homework, and then only for the twenty minutes required, not a moment more. Well, the Wimpy Kid facilitated the proverbial 'turning of the corner'. He read it out loud to me, then took it to bed to read. The next day he apparently read it on the way to school (DH said - I'm going to have to impose a 'no reading' in the car rule, so the boys will talk to me.) during free time at school, and on the bus ride home. This morning he woke at 6 am and read. He is so proud of himself. ME TOO. Me too.

As a parent, I am mindful to avoid comparing the boys in front of them; they are competitive enough as it is. In private, of course, I do. I can't help it. When the Brainiac was in second grade (as FC is now), he blazed through all the Magic Treehouse series, as well as Chronicles of Narnia. It didn't seem especially advanced to me, as he had many friends who were reading similar books at a similar pace. But now it seems clear that indeed he and his friends were advanced and the FC seems to be advancing at a normal rate.

I'll take it. The past three years with this bright, high energy, passionate child had been a challenging journey. It is good to see him in a place where he can channel his energy and passion positively, control his behavior, and become excited about learning.

I know this parenting gig is like a roller coaster ride -sometimes you are laboriously climbing the hill wondering if it will ever end, and sometimes it's all downhill and you are incredulous that you scored a ticket for this killer ride.

For now, I'll enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Basketball and Butt

I shot hoops yesterday with the Firecracker. Of course, we can't just shoot, we have to play a game. One in which the rules of the game don't apply to him. He travels, double dribbles and fouls the crap out of me. He can score a three pointer. I can't. The game was close - the lead changing back and forth, when I blazed past him for a rebound. He blurted out, "Chubby butt", regarding the appearance of my back side. There's no edit button on this kid. Stunned, I stammered for a few seconds then said, "That's booming butt." And don't you forget it kid. Then I raced by him for a lay-up. Too bad I don't have the ups to dunk. That was the exclamation mark that I needed.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Friday Night

It's Friday night. Good week. Only one sick day this week, and that was just half a day. I'm 100 pages away from finishing my book club book, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Not bad, except that we meet tomorrow afternoon and there is no time tomorrow to read it. Rio, is coming over later tonight to sleep over. She is in town for a friend's birthday party. So why am I blogging instead of reading? Procrastination, I suppose. In a moment.

Last night, my friend Erin invited me to see this very cool Irish folk band, LĂșnasa, at Diana Wortham. Her boss laid the tix on her yesterday morning, so I was her last minute date. I did consider staying home to read the book, but decided it lame to pass up free tix to live music. It was a good decision.

The boys are having a slam dunk contest on the Nerf basketball goal in the FC's room. My DH foolishly agreed to judge it. I can hear him giving scores right now. This can't end well. Someone will be crying before it's over. Even if the scores are tied!

Tomorrow the DH is working, so I'm carting the boys around to their activities. Lucky for me the soccer has already been canceled due to all the rain today. However it doesn't solve the problem of overlapping activities and only one parent. FC's basketball game starts at 10 am in Woodfin. Brainiac's Super Saturday, Physics is Phun class at UNC-A at 10:30. He knows one kid in his class and he won't be going tomorrow.

Time out. FC is yelling because he crashed during the dunking contest. Told you it wouldn't end well.

Back to Super Saturdays. Last semester, another mom and I coerced our boys into taking Chemistry. I told B, Nico signed up for Chemistry and she told Nico that B had signed up for the same. Not a lie - I did sign him up, he just didn't request it. They both were jonsing to take something lame but it was more important to be in class together. They loved the class so we worked our magic again this year to get them into Physics. Clever and creative parenting don't you think?

OK the dunk contest is over. The boys are in front of the TV, watching basketball.

Back to my book.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Stranger In My House

Yesterday as I was getting ready to leave my house, my hound dog, Patch, began incessantly barking at something in my storage room in my garage. Sometime in the past week he was in the same spot doing the same thing but the FC flushed him out.

Yesterday, I investigated the commotion, and found a scared young cat curled up on a moving pad on a shelve just out of the dog's reach. Probably my neighbor's, I thought, so I gently scooped him(?) up and released him in our yard, Patch hot on his heels. Basically he scampered around our house, Patch wildly barking behind him, and tried to seek cover from where he came. I scooped him again and took him across the street to my neighbor's yard, where he would be safe from Patch and would be able to seek his home. To my surprise, he darted right back across to our driveway, past the momentarily stunned dog who had to be thinking you're going to give me another shot at you? But Patch was soon in hot pursuit, his mournful hound dog bark leading the way. They both disappeared in the garage.

At this moment, I received a phone call from my DH. I think there might be a cat living in our garage, he said. What gave you that impression, I asked, not divulging my discovery. There have been paw prints on my car since Monday and this morning, after all that rain on Tuesday, I had fresh prints on the windshield.

Hmmmm. Well, I didn't have time to ponder, I was going to be late for my meeting. Patch was hoovering around the front of the van, waiting for the cat to emerge from underneath. I backed out and watched in amusement as the hound dog sniffed and searched for the cat. He looked like a cartoon character, nose to ground, in total disbelief that the cat wasn't there. It just disappeared! I began to wonder if the kitty was in my engine somehow. But I was late, so I headed off. I left the garage door cracked so the kitty and dog could get in/out.

When I returned home, I couldn't find the kitty anywhere. Neither could the dog, which was probably an indication it was gone. But about 4 hours later, when my DH arrived home, he found him underneath my van. Hmmm, I wonder if he was hanging out in my engine the whole time?

So we fed the poor beast. He's actually kind of cute, as cats go. But I'm not a cat lover. I guess I should post some pictures round the neighborhood, though it has no collar. I'm afraid it is just a stray.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Last Week

Last week was nutty, mostly in good way. One sick day and two snow days (why don't these ever collide?) left me behind on some things and out off the Yoga mat but I managed to get in some tennis which kept me sane.

Tuesday came and went without incident: no drunk call from the retirement community. Wednesday and Thursday were snow days. The boys did a little sledding and a lot of bickering.

On Thursday I saw Moonlight and Magnolias at the NC Stage Company, a professional theatre here in Asheville. It was quite a hilarious comedy, based on true events, about writing the screenplay for Gone with the Wind.

My parents were in for the weekend for the first time in a year and a half. Its a haul up here from the Fayetteville and they are busy folks - my dad still works, they are enjoying 4 or 5 cruises/year, and there are 10 other grandchildren that live in the ville.

But before they arrived Friday night, we entertained my Mother-in-law's former neighbors, a couple from Winston. We went out for a nice dinner, at the Corner Kitchen in Biltmore Village. Right off the bat, my MIL ordered a glass of wine. My husband went behind her back and canceled it. When the meal arrived with no wine, my MIL refused to eat her meal if she couldn't have wine and left the dining room to sit outside and sulk on the front porch. Oy Vey! We have a third child on our hands. On a good note, she already has another kitty named Sissy. We were disappointed she didn't wait for us to help - we thought an adult cat would be easier, but she seems happy to have that hole filled. Who cares if the kitty rips up all her new upholstered furniture??

My folks got to see the Firecracker play basketball - he scored 20 out of 26 points for his team while we yelled directions from the sideline, "Harly (or Nathan or Trenton) is open", trying to get him to pass the ball. And he did, eventually, but the kids couldn't handle it.

We had a lovely time hanging with my folks. The boys spent most of Sunday outside in the glorious sun chasing around a little white ball with a tiny metal stick, while my mom and I hung out at the homestead. The FC completed his day of outdoor activity with an hour of baseball at Jones Park with some neighbors, then later an hour of shooting hoops outside. Exhaustion makes for good sleep; something I was craving despite my inactivity. My folks slept in our comfy bed and we took the hard as a rock futon bed. I guess I need to address my guest sleeping arrangements.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Boys and Bathrooms

The Brainiac has racked up a tab, payable to Firecracker. They share a bathroom between their rooms. B locks both doors when he uses it, but forgets to unlock his brother's side when he is finished. This has caused strife for almost three years now, so I told B he had to pay his brother a dollar every time he forgets to unlock it. Rather quickly, he ran up a tab of $5. In a clever move, B brokered a secret deal to barter his debt away. He would build some Lego ships for the FC. I'm not sure how it all went down, but when I paid them their allowances on Thursday, the FC wanted his money. B then hurled the "deal" ships on the floor, breaking them into many pieces. I reacted by taking away his play date - the one I was about to take him to. But after considering it, I decided to skip the torture of leaving him home to seethe and aggravate his brother (and me) all day, and sent him away. Instead, he wasn't able to attend a birthday party the next day. I backed off that one too, allowing him to go an hour late, after a load of chores at home. Not so consistent, I know, but he did come home complaining that he missed the best part of the party, so the desired effect was achieved.