March 31, 2007

Spring Yard Work

Last Saturday Mom and I went to the huge plant sale at Leu Gardens. Seriously huge - as in it took us four hours to walk through and select our plants. I didn't go too terribly overboard, though, mostly buying plants that met a need I had already identified in my garden. I bought bright, cheerful geraniums for out front where Alex has commented repeatedly that we could use some color. Variegated geraniums for the back, where I need to break up the green when things aren't blooming. And a deep burgundy hibiscus that has red in the leaves and will bloom all summer came home for the same reason. A black-eyed susan vine for the front, since going up works well in a tiny yard where space is at a premium. My only real 'just for me even though it meets no actual need' splurge was the orchid at the top of this post. Only it will bloom for months and the long, long (long) roots are an interesting talking point, and I put it out by the front door where it will jazz up the entry. So, it met a need too... Though mostly my unexplainable need for orchids, if I'm being honest.

Needless to say, after all the plant shopping Saturday, I came home from church Sunday and almost immediately got out in the yard - plotting and planting. Alex was inspired to help, and he decided to prune the crepe myrtles out front while I was in the back. (We aren't discussing the big to prune or not to prune debate. Or what our trees look like now. So, don't even bother to ask.) This left wood all over the driveway, so we spent the next two nights cleaning it up. Lots and lots of cleaning. This picture is only about half the cleaned up debris.

But once it was finally done, there was lots of sitting in the front yard to enjoy the fact that we could use it again. This was Monday night, when we didn't even change out of the clothes we'd worn for the yardwork before grabbing a bottle of wine and sitting down at our front table to enjoy the view. (Don't worry, we drank lots of water while cutting and carting all the limbs.) We've actually been sitting in the front yard alot in the early evening. Gwen loves to watch the tennis players across the street, intently following the ball back and forth. And we like to be able to meet/visit with the neighbors as they walk their dogs, come home, stop by to say hello. And we're starting to have a fairly respectable yard out front, since I tend to only garden where I see it. (I apparently don't see our front yard each and every time I come or go from the house.)

March 30, 2007


I have a red nose. To go with the red on the pollen charts. And watery eyes. And itchy ears. And a sore throat. And a cough.

These are the nights I wish I was a movie watcher. I made it through a full day of work - eleven hours, actually. And now that I'm home I want to just lie down and zone out. Only I'm not actually sick, so I can't seem to sit still. On the other hand, I don't have the energy to actually do anything or the attention span to read. Alex suggested a movie marathon, but since I'm not much of a movie watcher I haven't been able to think of anything I want to watch. (He brought me my favorite soup and a bouquet of bright flowers, before fleeing to the safety of his friends. Not that I was cranky with him. He just knew enough to flee before I could get cranky. And he knew it was coming to that when I couldn't figure out what I wanted to do but every suggestion he made was met with a noncommittal sound.)

Except it's almost 10:30 now, and I'm getting tired. (I'd probably be asleep if I wasn't taking decongestants in addition to the antihistamine. Decongestants mean I'll be half asleep and half awake all night.) I think I'll take my knitting to the bed and put in The Matrix. I'll probably be (mostly) asleep by 10:45.

(How Type A is it that I looked at this post after publishing and saw I had written "lay" instead of lie, and I actually had to come back and edit it?)

March 28, 2007


One of my major "if I could change the world" issues is adoption. Well, not adoption, but the stigma that adoption creates in our society. There is absolutely, without a doubt still a significant stigma for biological parents who choose adoption. I hear it all the time. "How could you give your child up?" and "I could never do that. I could never give my child away." The social workers, Judges and posters might say all the right things about making the choice to give the child a better life and how that is true love (a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with by the way), but our society most definitely does not send that message as a whole. After five years of working with teen parents and then in dependency, I am convinced there are communities in which abortion is more socially acceptable than adoption. Really. And how can we let that be?

I do think the stigma has decreased a great deal for the child, and I don't think I've ever met anyone who thought less of a child or didn't fully include the child in a family because he or she was adopted. (And I've met alot of families created by adoption in my work.) But, I am very clear that this stigma still harms the child. As they reach an age where they are aware of the significance of adoption, many kids begin to struggle with the idea. They ask "why didn't my Mom want me?" or "How could she just give me up?" Not every kid asks these questions, but most do. And I'm not talking about the teenage angst where you look for any reason to have drama in your life. Honest questions and honest pain. They all seem to come out the other side of it fully intact, but they are hurt by the idea. And why? Because we, as a society, have told them that their biological parent did something unthinkable and "gave them up." It is eventually outweighed by the adoptive family and the caring people who tell them that their parent wasn't able to give them what they needed, so they decided to let them be raised by a family that could. But, that's what we should be telling them every day with all of our words and attitudes, not just when confronted head on with the situation and their pain.

And even the people who have chosen to work for the disenfranchised for no benefit other than the satisfaction of doing the right thing, the people who say all those "right things" to the biological family when faced with it, even they contribute to the social stigma without being aware of it. Don't get me wrong. They believe in adoption, and they believe it is an amazing and beautiful gift. Its our language that does us in. My colleague, who does not practice children's law, called me the other week for referrals to give a client who happens to be a teen parent kicked out of the house by her mother. I asked her a couple of days ago whether her client had any luck at the places I suggested. She says "Well. She's decided she's just going to give the baby away. She said she would give the baby to her Mom, but when her Mom wouldn't do that she decided to give the baby up for adoption and asked me to help. I told her I wasn't going to do anything until she talked to BETA."

Now mind you, the content of her reaction is right. The teen Mom is staying with friends, caring for a two month old, has no money, and is generally overwhelmed and scared. Telling her to call BETA, a full service social service center for teen parents and poor families that will help her look at her options, is right. Pushing her to do it and refusing to talk about how to do anything else until she does is right. (Or at least in my opinion all of that is right.) If she's going to decide not to raise the child herself, she should decide that while the baby is still an infant. But, she needs to get the counseling and information to make that decision with full knowledge of what her choices are. None of that is wrong, but I couldn't help but think "How is this poor girl going to make a right decision when everyone is using the term 'give up'? Even the way my colleague described the girl's choices made me feel that something was wrong with this.

This is a colleague I can speak freely with, so I said just that. That I agreed with her, but I cringed at the phrases "giving away" and "giving up." She could hear it when I said it, and while she hadn't thought about how much stigma was still associated with adoption (not being so immersed in that world) she agreed with me. And in talking about it, I realized I couldn't think of a positive word associated with what a biological parent does in the adoption. The colloquialism is "give up" and the legal word is "surrender." We do use "place" sometimes, though usually the State or adoption agency is the one placing, not the biological parent. But place didn't really seem positive either, that seemed to imply a disregard for the fact that this was a human, not a knick knack. On rare occasions, I have heard the term "free the child for adoption" used, and while that's better it still doesn't feel positive to me. It brings for me images of slavery or imprisonment.

So, my colleague and I (and another poor colleague who wandered in and got caught in our quasi-philosophical discussion) decided that we are going to change our language around adoption. We are going to use the word 'release', at least until we come up with something better. It still has some of those same connotations that 'free' has, but it didn't seem to have so many to us. "Release" made us think of butterflies or birds or animals released back in to the wild. It made us think of letting our children go out in to the world to find their way or letting a sick loved one go to find their way from a painful life to heaven or peace. Sometimes you have to let go to let the people (animals) you love find a better way, or their own way. And all of that seems to apply here. Biological parents release the child for adoption, so that the children can have more than they would have had with them. For me, at least, it's a positive word.

And maybe, just maybe, if my colleagues and I start being more thoughtful and positive about our language around adoption, someone else will hear and be more thoughtful about their language. And maybe, one person at a time, the stigma will be broken down. And then more children can be released, rather than raised in homes that aren't truly able to raise them. And the ones that aren't won't suffer for knowing it. And the biological parents will be recognized for giving a gift - the gift of a better life to the child, the gift of a fully functioning citizen to society. It can happen, if we are conscious in our words and attitudes.

March 22, 2007

Everglades Trip

We had a great trip down to Chokoloskee for Grandma's birthday. It was short - arriving Friday evening and leaving Sunday evening - but I packed a great deal in to it.

We had fun decorating the RV and throwing Grandma a birthday party. Aunt Kathy bought pounds of crabs, that we ate in the dark and cold on the deck since they are so messy. It was really too cold that night for the wimpy among us (me) to eat many of them before retreating inside to eat salad in the warmth. But we had the leftovers the next night, so it worked out well. We also had key lime pie for birthday cake, and of course the presents. Grandma really liked the bag I was so proud of, so that worked out well.

We also went for a wonderful boardwalk nature walk in to a refuge, and we were able to see all kinds of birds. They came up amazingly close to the boardwalk and didn't seem to be at all afraid of the people. I swear they know noone can harm them there. This is a Great Egret and a Great Blue Heron just hanging out in the marsh at the end of the boardwalk. They were sort of fishing, sort of just sitting around. And not at all intimidated by the people milling about excited to see them - or the Momma Gator and her babies also swimming there.

Actually, none of the birds appeared afraid of the gators. I'm thinking they must be able to feed well on the fish, because the clearly aren't threatening to the birds. Not that this sleepy face, right off the boardwalk where the heron and egret were, was terribly threatening. But, it grows in to THIS face. This monster was in the drainage ditch, beside the road, right at the start of the trail. As a Florida girl, I observed him carefully from a good distance and only once it was clear he was resting and uninterested in the humans - or the birds nearby, for that matter - did I move closer for a picture. And not that close, mind you. This picture was taken with a powerful telephoto lens extended all the way. But, I do know that gators won't bother you as long as you treat them with a healthy respect. If they haven't been fed by humans and so taught to associate humans with food, that is. That last fact had me treating this guy with even greater caution, since we were in a tourist spot. Unfortunately, long-distance tourists are often either terrified by the gators (usually ones like this big guy) or think they are cute Disney creations (usually the little ones like the one above). Neither reaction is a particularly good thing - you NEVER want to run it to a gator who associates humans with food (take it from someone who has), but neither do you want a big commotion scaring the gator in to thinking he needs to protect himself. Fortunately, the Everglades seems to attract responsible tourists. I noticed that noone was trying to feed any of the animals on the trail, whether the birds or the tiny gators. (The ones still being protected by their Momma were even smaller than the one I got a good shot of.) But, I've digressed in to an unneeded lecture.

Moving on - this trail also had a Bald Eagles nest. Not so close to the trail, but clearly visible as little bobbing colors to the naked eye. Much more visible to the binoculars or telephoto lens. I still had to crop this photo way down to get an identifiable shot, mind you. Eagle nests are huge. And high. The refuge reports two parent eagles and two eaglets, but I was only able to see this fella (lady?). An incredibly impressive bird - no wonder our founding fathers chose this symbol of might to represent our nation.

I, however, wanted to see a red-shouldered hawk. We could hear one calling, or at least my aunt (who would know) told me that was what we heard. I said to my Mom "Oh, I'd love to see a red-shouldered hawk. I haven't seen one in years." A few minutes later Mom pointed one out to me... flying about three miles up. Literally, this was a speck of a profile in the sky and Mom says "There, Cara. There's your hawk." Uhm. Yeah. So, I mentioned that I had in mind seeing one just a bit closer. We continue down the trail, literally just two or three minutes later, and a red shouldered hawk swoops down beside the boardwalk and starts trying to wrestle something (a snake? baby gators? fish? definitely prey) out from under a pile of brush. He pays no mind to the crowd on the boardwalk and continues his hunting. When he gives up, he just perches there and does a bit of grooming. (And I swear he shot me a dirty look when I took a picture of him preening his feathers. My sister agrees; his look definitely said 'personal hygiene is not appropriate subject matter for photographs.') He then swoops over the board walk, within inches of my little cousin's head, and proceeds to pose on a pretty branch. And he is a handsome boy. Wouldn't you agree?

When not celebrating birthdays or on nature walks, we explored the area around Chokoloskee. Mom and I found two old graveyards on our walk. One was pretty sad, but this one was definitely a sweet remembrance to well loved people. Even graves from the late 1800s had recent flowers and mementos. Many of the graves had plantings around them, others had windchimes, bells or other special memorabilia and one had a full out memory garden with plants, decorations, chimes and a poster telling you about the person. It was a beautiful graveyard. And only the Hallmons (me, Mom and Meg - not so much Dad) would want to take pictures of a graveyard. At least when those buried there have no connection to them. But meaningful graveyards tell you so much about the people buried there, and the people who loved them. And isn't that the point?

It was a great weekend. Filled with family, nature and a near immersion in old Florida. It was much too short, but it was refreshing, revitalizing and (though just barely) worth through five hour drive each way. And it reminded me that I need to get out - out of the city, out of my routine - more. I'll be looking for an opportunity to drag Alex camping in the near future. (Maybe not too near, as its taken me a full week to complete this one post, saying something about all the things we find to do as it is!)

March 15, 2007

Grandma's Birthday Tote

Look - a three dimensional project that I finished with no tears and a minimal amount of swearing. I'm very proud. Not to mention I essentially finished this in an evening, a definite sign of developing skills. I may learn to really sew yet.

The picture in the middle is a photo I took at Leu Gardens this weekend. I printed it on fabric, and then made a tote bag around it. It was kind of fun to work this way. I just kind of made it up as I went along, lopping off fabric to make a side even. That great fabric is red courdory. Yummy!

As much as I love this tote, it's for Grandma. She uses little plastic bags to hang off her walker so she can get stuff around. I'm hoping I can convince her to replace at least one of those bags with this tote. She is known for deciding things we've made her are 'just too pretty to use' which kind of defeats the point.

But, it's almost 10:00 and I really have to go pack. I leave straight from work tomorrow, a little early in fact, to head down to the everglades with my family. We're all spending the weekend down there, and Grandma's going on an airboat ride for her 85th birthday. She's a wild woman that one. See ya Monday!

(Wow blogger and I have had a fight over publishing this post!)

March 12, 2007

Work Day Chicken Parmesan

We had Work Day Chicken Parmesan for dinner tonight, and as I was pulling it out of the oven 25 minutes after starting dinner it smelled and looked so good I thought "I should share this." I was going to call this Cheater's Chicken Parmesan, but when I told Alex that he said it rated a better name. So, I settled on Work Day Chicken Parmesan because I always think it's such an easy dinner to toss together after work. And we actually like it better than traditional Chicken Parmigiana.

So, since I said I was sharing, here's what you do:
Shopping list: aluminum foil, chicken breasts, good quality spaghetti sauce, sliced mozzarella cheese, bag salad, and salad dressing.

(1) Set oven to Broil on High.
(2) Line pan with aluminum foil (for ease of cleaning) and place chicken breasts in the pan.
I usually add Seasonall, oregano and basil to each side of the breasts at this step, but not always. You DO NOT need to beat the breasts thin, dip them in egg and bread or otherwise mess with them. Just toss them in the pan, sprinkle on some spices and call it ready for the oven.
(3) Broil on one side for ten minutes or so, until chicken is about half done.
(4) Flip breasts over and broil for another eight to ten minutes.
Meanwhile, set the table.
(5) Cover in spaghetti sauce, being generous, and then cover each breast with mozzarella slices. (I usually need two slices to cover a typical breast.)
(6) Put the covered chicken back under the broiler while you open the bag of salad and put out the dressing. By the time you've "made" the salad, the cheese will likely be browned and bubbly.
(7) Serve.
(8) Accept the compliments gracefully.

I do get compliments from Alex on this meal, almost every time I think to make it. (I don't make it that often, for reasons that elude me.) Tonight he told me it smelled really good, and then told me he was afraid to tell me my dinner was good because I'd blog about it. Hee hee. Actually, I'd already thought about posting my technique (certainly not recipe) here before he said anything. No, really.

March 11, 2007


I was definitely feeling spring in the beautiful blue skies and warm weather this week, and this jaunty Dahlia bloom in my kitchen window was just the thing to bring a little bit of it inside. It makes me smile every time I see it, making doing the dishes just a bit more cheerful a project. (Not that I offered to do Alex's share for him, mind you!)

The weather just kept getting better and better, so we spent a lot of time outside this weekend. Alex's brother and sister-in-law visited, and they specifically asked if we could go canoeing on the run while they were here. Could you ask for better house guests? So, we spent a good chunk of yesterday outside on the river, and then this morning we took them to Leu Gardens where we wandered around in the beauty. Both mornings I had a little time to work in the yard before anyone was ready to get moving, and this morning I took a walk through the neighborhood a Mead Gardens - our local park.

I've particularly enjoyed my own yard, though I haven't taken many photos. I usually don't do my spring clean up until I'm too late to get a good start for the season, but I was right on it this year for whatever reason. So, I get to go to the nursery after work this week - the one good thing about this early daylight savings time. My garden is finally really established, so the plants are already have are looking...boisterous comes to mind.

So, for your viewing pleasure, a (small) selection of photos from my garden, the morning neighborhood walk, and the botanical gardens. Happy Spring!

From top left: Lake front at Leu Gardens, berries in Mead Gardens, my neighbor's Iris, Leu Garden's balloon plant (is that right?), Leu Gardens rose, Leu Gardens camellia, Butterfly garden at Leu Gardens, a patch of my volunteer clover, my begonia (started from Grandma's).

The Secret We've Learned

Need to convince your dog to take a pill without a fight? We know how to do it now. Stick it in the middle of some liverwurst. No need to mold it, to hide it from her, to hold her jaws shut while you force her to swallow without eating off all the good stuff and spitting out the pill. It's so easy!

Thank goodness we had left over bratwurst in the deli drawer when I went looking for some cheese the day after Gwen's surgery. Not that the cheese has ever made much difference, but at least we didn't feel quite as guilty about holding her mouth shut and massaging her throat while she struggled. The liverwurst has worked like a dream, no struggle, no fuss.

March 08, 2007

The Littlest Patient

How is that for a sad face? Poor Gwen can not get comfortable in her body today. Yesterday she had a mastectomy (yes, that's what they called it) and was spayed. She looked pretty chipper and comfortable when we picked her up this morning, but I think now that either (a) they had given her better pain meds that have worn off or (b) she was just happy to be outside of the clinic. We walked out the front door and she immediately took several deep breaths, filling her nose with smells. Now that we've been home a couple of hours, the exhiliration has worn off and she can't figure out what to do. She wants me to hold her, but then she gets up off my lap and just lies next to me. She starts to shiver and gets in her blanket, but that's not right either. It hurts to get up on the couch, but it isn't much better when I lift her up. Nothing is right today.

She's been beside me on the couch, on top of one blanket and under another, shivering. There's finally one little patch of sun in our backyard, so I put her pillow out there for her to sunbathe. As you can see, she's still not a happy camper. She isn't shivering anymore at least. I think at this point she's just not comfortable, and that I can't change. My next move, if she continues to act chilled, is to bring her pillow up to the office and turn the heater on in here. I don't get hot as quickly as Alex, so I can make the office fairly warm without being uncomfortable. And I can sew while she rests.

Yes, it's Thursday and I'm at home. Yes, it's because my dog is recovering from surgery. Yes, I'm checking on her every few minutes and searching for ways to make her more comfortable. Are you surprised? I didn't think so.

P.S. - The tumor has gone to pathology for testing, so we won't know for 3 to 5 days whether it's cancer or not. Even if it is, we caught it early. The vet will take a chest x-ray to make sure there's no cause for concern there, but they anticipate having removed the tumor and mammory gland will take care of it. Posted by Picasa