In which Kimberly attempts to lighten the mood around here by writing about obsession

Over the weekend, I indulged in one of my favorite summer hobbies: making preserves. I call it a hobby; Paul has been heard to refer to it as my obsession. Occasionally, when I am filling the last few jars with jam at midnight, and contemplating the additional time required for their hot water processing, I consider that he might be right. I don’t consider stopping.

This weekend, I made brandied peach preserves. The peaches came from Pence Orchards, a farm near Union Gap, WA that has been operated by the Pence family since the late 1800’s. I buy Pence peaches because I want to support family farming, and because they are luscious. The process that I use for making preserves, garnered from Well Preserved, takes three days. It goes something like this:

Day 1: Peel and slice peaches. Do random quality control on peach slices. Yum. Layer peaches and sugar in pot. Place lid on pot; set aside until next day.

Day 2: Juice from peaches has dissolved most sugar. Boil peaches in resulting syrup for 15 minutes. Add lemon juice. Pour mixture into shallow pans to allow for “plumping” of peaches with sugar and evaporation of liquid. Place pans in cat-proof location – oven is good – overnight.

Day 3: Return peach mixture to pot. Bring to boil. Open kitchen window. Boil 15-20 minutes; syrup should now be thickened. Open back door; latch screen door so that cats do not escape. Continue boiling. Begin heating water in canner, and sterilize jars and caps. Why has it not thickened? Continue boiling. Decide syrup is thick enough. Remove preserves from heat. Add brandy. Watch brandy boil on top of no-longer-boiling preserves; think about relative boiling points of liquids. Ladle preserves into jars, screw on caps, process in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove jars from canner; remove self and cold diet Coke from kitchen. Allow to cool.

After cooling, I labeled the jars, and stacked them into a case. And then, to Paul’s delight, I carried that case – and the other three cases of preserves languishing on our kitchen counter from previous weekends – down to the basement… where they joined the case-and-a-half already on the shelves. Yes, as of yesterday, the count of jars filled with yummy goodness from this summer has reached 66.

Here’s what I have so far:

    Cherries in Almond Syrup
    Cherry Chutney
    Blueberry Chutney
    Peach Melba Jam (that’s peach and raspberry)
    Brandied Apricot Preserves
    Brandied Peach Preserves
    Peach Preserves with Orange Liqueur

I feel tremendously satisfied, seeing the jars stacked in their cases on the basement shelves. Only the caps and a small amount of the contents are visible, so I can’t tell at a glance what is there. Sometime soon, I will remove the jars from their cases, aligning them in rows on the shelves, so that their colors – pale amber, deep blush, blue-black – are on display. As Paul rarely comes to this corner of the basement, the display is purely for my own pleasure.

And there is more preserving yet to do. I still have some William’s Pride apples from South 47 Farm in cool storage. They’re waiting to become applesauce or, if I’m really inspired, apple butter sometime later this week. I have more of the wonderful cherries from Alberg Farm in our freezer. I haven’t decided yet what to do with them, but they’re frozen, so they can wait. Sometime in September, the first pears will ripen, and I’ll be making gingered pear preserves.

I have about 3 dozen empty jars still in the basement. It will take some work to fill them all, but I think I’m up to it.

Six months on the road

Today is six months since my surgery, a fact I hadn’t realized until Kimberly mentioned it earlier. In a way, I guess that’s a sign that things are better, and that I’m not thinking about that day. Or maybe not.

Lately, I’ve been dealing with emotional aftershocks of that day, and it’s been very disturbing. Some of the work we’ve been doing in physical therapy has stirred up emotions that are very powerful, and only now getting processed. In my two most recent sessions, we’ve gotten my body into a position which triggered a very vivid recollection of the surgery, if “recollection” is the right word for an experience you weren’t conscious for. Both of these have got me wondering about the nature of anesthesia, and the drugs they give you to keep you from remembering the procedure. It seems clear that, while my mind has no memory of the events, my body sure does.

I guess that shouldn’t be surprising. It was a grueling ordeal from a physical perspective. More than that, they CUT ME! A lot of the work I’ve been doing in rehab has been on the scar where the tracheotomy was. It healed a little funny, it pinches and is still a little irritated. The other day, I was overwhelmed by the feeling “OW-OW-OW-OW!”, not now, but in a sense of memory. Did it hurt me when they slit my throat? I don’t know; define “me”. The part of “me” that is stringing these words together now had checked out. The part of “me” that does the breathing, and feels the weight of my butt against the seat, and everything else, was still, on some level, there and able to feel. And let me tell you, I have the impression we are pretty deeply wired to not have our throats slit, even if it were painless.

The optimist in me says that having all this quasi-memory, with its attendant emotions, coming up now is a good sign. It means that I’m healed enough, and strong enough, and not in survival-mode enough, for my internal psychological regulator to start letting it surface. But it sure isn’t pleasant. It makes me tearful, and twitchy, and lots of other things you might expect from someone who’s coping with pain, grief, anger, and assorted other emotions.

If you are wondering, yes, I have found a professional to help. She used to work with cancer patients at UW. We had our first meeting this week, which was mostly a data-dump. (Not that I can get through a data-dump on my medical history without breaking into tears a few times.) It’s definitely time.

Meanwhile, what else can I say about the six month mark? It’s a mixed bag. It could be worse, but I’m not where I wanted to be, nor where I thought I would be. I still have a pale white symbiotic worm poking out of my belly. I feed it regularly, and I seem to maintain weight. I’m very happy to be eating rice, but I’d been thinking of hamburgers by now. I’m thinking about a future, and my next career, but I’m dissolving into tears on a regular basis. The paramecium is beginning to look like my own skin now, but I still look puffy and lop-sided when I look in the mirror.

I haven’t yet come to terms with the fact that I will never again be as I was before the surgery. And I haven’t yet reached that place that could be labeled my “new normal.” I’m a dislocated person. This body I’m in doesn’t feel like the home I’ve known for 44 years. There’s no going back, and the way forward is complicated and slow and not fully clear. Meanwhile, every minute just feels “wrong” on a subliminal, and often a conscious, level.

I have to stop writing now.

Six months out

Paul’s surgery was six months ago today. Some days, that day feels to me like not-quite-ancient history; other times it seems like it was yesterday. Paul has written today about where he is on this road. I, too, have a long way to go in recuperating from the trauma of this cancer.

I bear no physical scars from this experience. My body has not been cut, reconstructed, left aching or numb or discomfortingly unfamiliar. But cancer, and its treatment, do not wreak these changes only on bodies, but on psyches and on relationships.

I’ve spent the past six months doing my best to cope, and to help Paul recuperate. And, oh, the things I have learned, about this cancer, nursing, swallowing, medical billing. I have learned enough that, within the past few days, two trained medical professionals with whom I have spoken have assumed that I was one of them. (If I were, I’d be glad to have all this knowledge. As things stand, I hope that I never have need of it again.)

So here we are, six months out. We assume/hope/pray that the cancer is gone. For the most part, my work as patient advocate, nurse and billing specialist is done. And yet, there is still much that I need to do. It’s time for a different sort of work.

My life is not as I knew it. Paul is changed. I am changed. Our marriage is changed. I do not know, cannot quite imagine, what our lives will be six months from now, or two years, or ten. And, as a former student of psychology, I recognize these signs: I feel exhausted; I cry frequently; I don’t concentrate as easily as usual; I’m more irritable; I enjoy my favorite activites less. It’s a classic pattern.

And I, like Paul, have found a professional to help me work through this. He calls my emotional state a “reactive depression.” Another clinical term for this is an “adjustment disorder.” Here’s a definition:

An adjustment disorder occurs when a person develops affective (emotional) or behavioral symptoms in response to an identifiable stressor. Stressors can be natural disasters, events or crises, or interpersonal problems. The person displays either marked distress, or impairment in functioning (i.e. unable to work or study). Adjustment disorders, by definition, last less than 6 months (after the stressor or its consequences end). If the symptoms last more than 6 months, the person may have another disorder.

This sounds right to me. I can work with this. I’d just really like to know when that six-months-post-stressor-or-consequences clock will start.

Rice is Nice: Signs of Health

Over the weekend, I was in the kitchen, looking at the big box of arborio rice my sister-in-law left us after her visit, and thinking, I wonder if I could eat any of that? I’d tried a little of the risotto she’d made, sitting with the family one night while they were here, and it hadn’t gone too badly. So I cooked up a small pot, with some of my home-made chicken broth from the freezer, and some butter and garlic, and had at it. Yum.

The good news is that every day since, I’ve tried to eat a little more rice. Yesterday, over the course of the day, I got in about 3/4 cup. It doesn’t go down particularly easily, but it goes down, and not into my lungs. There is considerable hacking and throat-clearing involved, but very little coughing, since I seem able to avoid aspiration. It seems like the big problem at the moment is getting solid stuff beyond a miniscule size past a certain point in my throat. The muscles involved in pushing it down don’t seem to want to play, or something.

It seems simultaneously wonderful and pitiful. I’m really enjoying actually eating something tasty and healthy, but considering how much work goes into each small bite, it’s, well, a long way from where I want to be. I keep telling myself, one step, or crank of the pedals, at a time.

As for other steps, several people have commented to me that the increased energy in my political rants is an indicator of returning health, and a positive sign. They, and other readers, will probably be pleased to hear that I’ve actually gotten up the energy to start a brand new blog, just for my political ranting, to spare Bush supporters and others who just want news about my health and how our family is doing.

Before you all go rushing off to look, be warned. There isn’t much there, and the metaphorical sawdust is still in the air. However, if you want to be among the first to bookmark it, (or add it to your Favorites, or whatever IE users do 😉 ) I’m calling it Ratiocination. I’ll be fixing the place up over the next few days with the aid of my top-flight template designer. If my megalomaniacal visions come to pass, it’ll serve as home base for my future career as a political columnist.

The casual viewer may miss the ways in which it is even more a sign of returning health. For one thing, it’s hosted at, not blogspot. When I was still reeling from my squamous diagnosis, and wanting to get a blog started as rapidly as possible, I chose blogspot for simplicity’s sake. Now I have the time and energy to set one up as part of the domain I’d created as part of my coaching business. That I have the ability to focus on the many niggling details of ftp addresses, file permissions, and managing remote Unix directories on a contracted server in Quebec, is a real sign for me that I’m getting better. (Lest anyone read signs of increasing paranoia in me basing my political blog on a server in another country, it’s just a co-incidence. Really. No, really.)

Speaking of future careers, and my coaching business, it’s been on my mind lately that I’m getting enough energy to start thinking about some kind of work. As we move into the Fall, I’ll be working on getting back into coaching. I’ll be starting in a limited way, at first, to see how I do with it, and to finish up my credentials. Stay tuned for further developments.

Time to go warm up a little bowl of rice!

Update (7:45 PM): OK, it was too good an opportunity to pass up. Ratiocination is hopping! Go there!

We interrupt this rant…

… for a little nonpolitical nonsense.

It is raining in Seattle. In August. While we understand that those of you who live elsewhere believe that it rains all the time here, those of us who live here know that August is the month in which we are most likely to have no rain at all.

Some years, August is all the summer we get. (Just ask my mother, who, arriving here in July of 1999 with only short sleeves and Houston-weight linen in her suitcase, borrowed sweaters and jackets from me every day of the trip.) But this year, a year in which summer came early and brought more sun and heat than usual, it seems to be leaving early as well.

Have we run out of degree days (or some equivalent measure of sun and/or heat) for the year? I’ve been worried this might happen. I said to Paul earlier this summer that, the way this year was throwing the warmth around, I was afraid it would run out early, and then we’d be left with a miserably cold and rainy fall.

Or maybe, sometime during the complete craziness of the early part of this year, we just missed a month altogether, and it’s really September. This weather feels like September, and that would explain the whole “early summer” thing. And, frankly, I wouldn’t mind being one month closer to the end of this bloody year.

But if it’s September, then today’s my birthday. Where are the presents and flowers? Why hasn’t anyone called?

OK… we’re going to leave the odd meanderings of my mind at lunchtime. I now return you to Politics with Paul. Aren’t you glad?

Why (whack) won’t (whack) this horse (whack) die? (whack)

[Yes, I am getting tired of this. I’ll be done with it soon. I hope.]

Now I’m starting to see headlines like “Bush Says Ad Against Kerry Should Stop.” You might think that the President has finally come out and done what John McCain, John Warner and others have been calling on him to do for some days now, specifically denouncing the ads against Kerry. Surprise!

What he HAS done is to denounce all ads from “527” groups, the supposedly independent advocacy groups of which the Swifties are one. That’s a little like saying, to borrow a metaphor from politico-blogger Josh Marshall, that if I say I’m opposed to politicians who support the death penalty, that I’ve denounced Josef Stalin.

Let’s look at that pesky old transcript:

QUESTION: But why won’t you denounce the charges that your supporters are making against Kerry?

BUSH: I’m denouncing all the stuff being on TV, all the 527s. That’s what I’ve said.

I said this kind of unregulated soft money is wrong for the process. And I asked Senator Kerry to join me in getting rid of all that kind of soft money, not only on TV, but to use for other purposes as well.

I, frankly, thought we’d gotten rid of that when I signed the McCain-Feingold bill. I thought we were going to once and for all get rid of a system where people could just pour tons of money in and not be held to account for the advertising.

This might seem surprising to those who’ve looked at his comments when he signed the bill, when he seemed to be very concerned that advertising would be restricted:

I also have reservations about the constitutionality of the broad ban on issue advertising, which restrains the speech of a wide variety of groups on issues of public import in the months closest to an election. I expect that the courts will resolve these legitimate legal questions as appropriate under the law.

OK, so, not only has he NOT specifically denounced the allegations against Kerry, instead issuing a statement about the “process”, against “527” group advertising of all kinds, but in the process, he’s misleading about what his original position on advertising in McCain-Feingold was. Nice. And somehow this gets reported as though he’s done the honorable thing, and come out against the anti-Kerry allegations.

(And, just in case you didn’t already know, John Kerry has specifically denounced the ad from MoveOn PAC, attacking Bush’s National Guard record, which was released AFTER the first SwiftVets ad. Kerry’s actual, specific denunciation was Aug 17.)

On Rhetoric

The point of my last post, beside my amusement at the image of W. with man-eating aliens, was to illustrate something about the nature of rhetoric in the current political debate. Behind this whole flap lies a meta-story, about what counts as “truth”, the difference between reporting, analysis and journalism, and, I think, a deeper philosophical issue between “revealed truth”, apprehended through non-rational, emotional perception, and “Cartesian reality”, apprehended through logic and the use of external evidence.

I’ve been seeing a lot of coverage in which dutiful journalism school graduates are working hard to be “objective” about the whole Swift Boat Vets allegation issue. Sadly, their interpretation of “objective” is to present both sides of the controversy as if they had equal weight. There are important cases where good reporting doesn’t just mean reporting “he said” and then “the other guy said”. Imagine if news reports merely took my last posting and reported it with the headline “Guard Vet Casts Doubt on Bush’s Alabama record.” Somewhere in the fourth or fifth paragraph, after reporting that I said Bush had ties to evil aliens and wanted to eat babies, there may be a mention that not only does the Bush administration deny the allegation, but many other people think I made it all up. Is it good reporting to make the story into a “he says one thing, the administration says another” situation? At some point, good journalism requires judgments to be made about what gets reported. Otherwise, any loony allegation becomes legitimized.

In the Swift Boat situation, the Navy records all support Kerry’s version. Sure, maybe such things aren’t always precise, given fog-of-war and fog-of-bureaucracy, but aren’t they at least presumptively the truth? Doesn’t anyone contradicting that historical record have a burden of proof, beyond mere allegation? Have the SwiftVets presented any actual evidence that proves those Naval records are in error? Alternately, is there evidence from other sources that Naval commendations are generally given out under false pretenses, which might then lessen the burden of proof in this specific case? No.

All the people who were closest to the action in question also support the Navy’s official (and Kerry’s) version of events. Interesting. Those who are accusing him either weren’t present, or were tens to hundreds of yards away. And, some of those who shared those distant vantage points ALSO support the official version. Doesn’t this give us basis to make some judgments about the evidentiary value of their stories?

Next, in evaluating an allegation, especially one that flies in the face of established historical record, doesn’t it make sense to evaluate the people making the claims, based on their previous reliability, and possible motives for either telling the truth or, perhaps, fabricating? The current set of “revisionists” are a motley group. Some are on record as actively supporting Kerry in his past campaigns, as reported in the New York Times. Are they lying now, or were they lying then? Others will tell you straight out about how angry they are about comments Kerry made after he returned home from Viet Nam, comments they often misquote or misconstrue. One of the people appearing in the ad actually worked in a minor position for the Bush campaign. Does this give us any hints about whether they have a bias?

Finally, before judging the credibility of these allegations, which a) contradict the record, b) contradict the stories of those closest to the action, c) contradict the recorded previous statements of some of those making the allegations now, and d) seem to potentially be biased by resentments over other issues, like Kerry’s anti-war activism, there is another step. Have we seen anything like this before? What does our previous experience tell us about situations like this?

As it turns out, we HAVE seen similar attacks on two decorated veterans recently, John McCain and Max Cleland. John McCain was running directly against George Bush. Max Cleland was running against a Republican candidate. Hmm. Some of the same people working on the Swift Boat Veterans ads also worked on these previous attacks. Could these Swift Boat Vets be a front for a group of Republicans attempting to smear John Kerry, rather than a legitimate group of old soldiers with an honest desire to correct the historical record? Maybe we should take a look at their funding sources before we repeat their allegations?

Sadly, there are people like Lee Atwater and now Karl Rove, who, in their commitment to winning and to power, figured out that objective truth doesn’t matter, and that the place to attack your opponent is on their strength, not their weakness. If you throw bullshit onto anyone, even if it all slides off, they still end up stinking. And in the meantime, everyone is looking at them with crap all over them, and no one is looking at you and your defects. It works especially well in a culture that has been conditioned by absurd TV advertising and sound-bite journalism to stop thinking for themselves, and not to spend much time questioning things that don’t seem to make sense. It’s abetted by a news media that ranges from drum-banging ideological supporters, to well-meaning, but unsophisticated, “objective” reporters.

To borrow a phrase, “America can do better.”

For the pithiest comment about the whole Swift Boat Vets flap, I recommend a Mike Lukovich cartoon that was reprinted in the Sunday New York Times print edition. I’d link to it, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wants to know way too much stuff about me before it lets me see the page I want, so I can’t. For those less obsessed about sharing demographic info on the Net, go look somewhere around for the Michael Phelps cartoon.

Also interesting, especially given Bob Dole’s comments this morning, is a Boston Globe editorial Sunday, imagining what would have happened if supporters of Bill Clinton had impugned Bob Dole’s war record in 1996. Speaking of Dole’s comments this morning, it might be worthwhile to remember Dole’s own 1988 description of one of his own wounds from WWII, caused by a grenade he admits he threw, badly, himself: it was “the sort of injury the Army patched up with Mercurochrome and a Purple Heart.” What? No time spent in the hospital, Bob? And “self-inflicted” to boot. Shame on you.

PS. For those who don’t think the Bush campaign has anything to do with this, here’s their official commentary on Kerry’s reaction to being called a liar, a fraud, and a coward.

“Bush’s campaign chairman, Marc Racicot, went on CNN and said the Kerry campaign has come ‘unhinged,’ and that Kerry himself ‘looks wild-eyed.’ Earlier yesterday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Kerry is ‘losing his cool.’ In 2000, the Bush campaign used similar language to portray rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) as potentially too unstable to run the country.” (Washington Post)

Guard Veterans for Truth

I know that it’s actually President Bush who is lying about his record from the Viet Nam war era. I served in the Guard with him, and I know that what he says is untrue. He is a lying coward and a pants-wetter, and I know because I had to do his laundry. Not only that, he wears frilly pink underpants. He suggests that he left his station in Texas to go to Alabama to work for a Congressional campaign. That is a cowardly fraud. I know that he went to Alabama to join forces with evil, man-eating alien monsters, hell-bent on destroying our country. That day he did not appear for his physical, which caused his pilot’s license to lapse, even though he was on active duty in the Air National Guard? He was on board the alien mothership, receiving orders downloaded into his brain. He avoided the physical so that their tentacle marks would not be discovered. No one can remember serving with him because they have all had their minds wiped as part of evil-alien mind-control experiments. That and the fact that his roommate on base was Ultrag, one of the evil aliens. Ultrag would confirm all this, but he’s dead now. He ate too many of the men in the unit all at once, mostly the ones that Lt. Bush didn’t like. The fact that none of the available documentation from his unit commanders says anything about men being eaten is just because they were based on Lt. Bush’s own reports. One of them even has the intials “BS” on it. No, I don’t know why it’s an “S” since Bush’s first name starts with a G.

Of course you’re wondering why I haven’t come forward about all this before. Well, I just think the President’s recent posturing as someone so obviously NOT under mind-control are insulting to all us Guard veterans…what? Well, yes I am. I was a Crossing Guard at my elementary school at the time. And besides, I didn’t actually remember any of this, no doubt due to alien mind-wipe at the hands of Lt. Bush himself, until just this year, which is why I’m on record in the past as denying the entire existence of evil man-eating aliens. It was only after special “presidential portrait” regression therapy, in Boston, with a doctor who just happens to be the widower of John Kerry’s nanny , that I started to remember. Why yes, that therapy does involve waving many small pieces of green paper featuring the pictures of dead presidents and ever-increasing numbers…I guess you’ve heard of it? Oh, and I hadn’t previously had a chance, at any time in the last 30 years, to get together with my other Guard vets to compare stories, until the Cabots and Lodges flew us all to Boston and had us over to their house that weekend, and I heard from the other guys all the horrible things Bush did. I wasn’t there to see it, but I heard from this guy I trust (because I served with him, y’know?) and he says he saw Bush in a meeting with Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan, who are both still alive on board the alien ship, where they discussed eating babies. Plus there was that Satanic ritual. And there’s another guy who told me that the President keeps talking to him through the fillings in his teeth, and that just shows how the President cares nothing about invading someone’s privacy for his own political gain. So after I heard all that, I had to speak up. Right? Of course I did.

I’m waiting for calls to schedule my appearence on all the TV news shows. I’m looking forward to meeting that nice Mr. Lehrer on PBS. Meanwhile, does anyone know where I can get a good price on aluminum foil? I need to make some hats for us and the cats.

Excellence in sport

Since joining our family (and probably before), Sergei has been an athletic boy. As a kitten, he amazed us with acrobatics in pursuit of his favorite toy, a cluster of feathers on a string. Backflips, vaults over furniture; they were beautiful, elegant… and talk about sticking the dismount. Sergei landed on his feet every time. He had the makings of a fine gymnast, I thought.

Little did we know that Sergei’s true calling was track and field, particularly the high jump. Sergei did not readily share this new interest with us; we had to discover it for ourselves. While sitting at my computer one evening, I heard a plaintive meow, followed by a scratching sound, then a thump. Roowwwwrrr… scrabble, scrabble… thump. I was puzzled. Roowwwwrrrrrr… scrabble, scrabble… THUMP. And curious. Walking into the hall, I spotted Sergei crouched by our bedroom door. He stretched nonchalantly, and strolled over to be scratched. Paul allowed as how he had heard the sounds, but did not know what Sergei was doing.

Some days later, again at my computer, I looked up to see Sergei crouched in the doorway to my office. Facing the door jamb, perhaps an inch away from it, he was looking toward the ceiling, making the same strange throaty meow as before. When he noticed me watching, he quieted and sat up. I turned back to the computer; he crouched again. In my peripheral vision, I watched him; muscles tense, almost vibrating, emitting that same strange meow (rrooowwwwwrrrr). Suddenly, he launched himself straight up into the air. His paws scrambled against the door jamb (scrabble, scrabble), adding a little height to his leap. Then he dropped to the floor (thump). And caught me watching him, looked startled, and ran away.

The first jump of Sergei’s that I saw, he got about three feet off the floor. Now, fully grown, well muscled, and with finely developed technique, he can jump nearly five feet. He has lost some of his diffidence, and is more comfortable with being watched while he jumps. However, he’s not one who performs for the roar of the crowd. Sergei jumps just for love of the sport.

And, sometimes, to catch a moth.

Backwards Aunt Kimberly

Before I go any further, I want to let you know that “aunt,” when used to refer to me, is pronounced “ant,” or perhaps even “a-yunt.” My people are from Texas. We don’t say “ahnt.”

Shortly before my family came to visit last week, Melanie wrote about asking Max to spell his name.

With a straight face, he responded, “M.A.W.” I laughed and said, “Max, that’s silly. How do you spell your name?” He replied, “M.A.X.Y.Z.” And then he burst into song: “Now I know my ABC’s. Next time won’t you sing with me!”

Reading this, I laughed, too. Then I started to think about ways I might amuse Max and encourage that quirky sense of humor he’s developing. After all, I am the aunt who, over Christmas, taught Max that it’s funny to turn a common children’s rhyming-game-with-toes on its, um, ear. The first time that I suggested that a piggie might be going somewhere other than to market, Max responded, “Noooooooo,” in such a way as to suggest that I had gone all the way ’round the bend. However, he found this craziness funny, and within a couple of days was happily participating in a revisionist history of piggiedom:

This little piggie went to the grocery store.

This little piggie stayed in the car.

This little piggie ate french fries.

This little piggie had some, too.

And this little piggie cried boogaduh-boogaduh-BOOGADUH

all the way home.

For some reason, when Melanie mentioned Max’s playing around with the spelling of his name, I thought about spelling it backwards. What would he think if I told him I spelled his name X.A.M.? This led me to consider turning the ABC song backwards, with a special made-for-Max twist at the end:

Z. Y. X. W. V. U. T.

S. R. Q. P. O-N-M-L-K.

J. I. H., G. F. E., D and C, B and A

Now I know my Z-Y-X’s. Isn’t that how you sing it in Texas?

I practiced it a couple of times – one certainly doesn’t want to blow it in front of a 3-year-old – and had it ready to sing for Max.

The song was a hit. I was made to sing it multiple times each of several days, particularly when we were in the rented minivan, and Max was a booster-seat-captive audience. After getting a bit bored with just the ZYX song, I would sometimes sing the straight ABC song, but change the last line from “Next time won’t you sing with me” to “Sing it backwards, if you please,” and then launch into Z.Y.X.etc.

It is, perhaps, not surprising that my song had an effect on Max’s version of the alphabet song. He was particularly taken with the reference to Texas, and modified the ABC song he already knew:

A. B. C. D. E. F. Texas.

H. I. J. K. L-M-N-O-Texas.

Q. R. S., T. U. Texas, W. X. Y. and Texas.

Now I know my Texas song. Next time won’t you sing it in Texas.

(Won’t his new nursery school teacher be surprised…)

The day before my family left to go home, Max and my mother were looking at a plant. He told her that the leaves were yellow, and the flowers green.

“Max,” she asked, “are you being backwards?”

He replied, “Yes. Backwards like Aunt Kimberly.”

At least he didn’t mean what most Texans do when they refer to someone as backwards.