Saturday, August 30, 2008

Chez Bud

"Here's your menu. What would you like?" Waiter Bud asked.

"Grilled cheese and ham," ordered customer Sis.

"Grilled cheese and ham it is."

"I want to keep my menu. This is a menu-keeping place."

"Sure."

Mama and I order, all at different tables.

"Here's your peppers. And soup."

"Restauranter [could she possibly have meant "restaurateur?"], where is my grilled cheese and ham?"

"Goodbye, I'm going to the store. We're closed. Here's the check."

I don't think Chez Bud is still in business . . . .

The Art of Museums

"I didn't know that art museums could be fun," Bud announced as we entered the Yale University Art Gallery recently. We had already reviewed all the rules--no touching, quiet voices, stay together--and explained we would see paintings and sculpture, but I think Bud thought it would be a children's museum, the only kind he can remember going to.

We went first to European painting and, after searching for paintings of food or animals, we alighted in front of a painting of bugs. Perfect. There we commenced a game of "I Spy" to the apparent delight (I hope) of other gallery goers. We spied caterpillars, dragonflies, butterflies, and a frog, among others in the still life (I didn't catch the artist or title, bad art historian that I've become) and loudly identified colors and counted things. I think that was enough for Bud though, because again in a stage whisper said that he was ready to go.

So we went to Asian art, where there promised to be three-dimensional works. He was fascinated with a Chinese Han tower, with several stories, people on the different levels, and even a dog in the entryway. He noticed a bird on the roof and flowers at the corners. Sis meanwhile was entranced with a relief of Buddha's giant footprints and a statue of Guanyin. And then they took turns telling the other about their favorite works. "Do you see the dog, Sis?" "Look at the feet!"

But across this gallery were African masks. We should have known better, but with Halloween approaching we took the costume approach. No go. Immediately, using one of his new favorite phrases, Bud said "That's not a good idea." And we made a hasty departure back to the lobby, where we exited to the outdoor sculpture garden for a change of scenery.

When asked their favorite part, did they remember the tower or footprints or even enormous cubes? Nope. "The big elevator," they both said. And Bud spent the rest of the day saying he didn't like the scary masks.

Lest I get discouraged, I should focus on what happened at home a few days later. Sis had found the coloring sheets from Mama and pulled out her mini markers (for the anti-coloring sheet among us--I know, I know. Not creative. But great fine motor practice and good in a pinch. We do plenty of other art). Both she and Bud spent a good amount of time coloring images of airplanes, animals, and trains. Then, Bud wanted to hang his completed work up and so he ran to the magnetic chalkboard and affixed it there. Others followed. "It's a museum," he said. And then he played "I spy." He has since then given tours to me and Mama of the gallery. I almost feel like I should write up some labels. Met, here we come!

In and Out

I've written at length about my time out practices but I've been trying something new, inspired by an article in . . . Mothering? Brain,Child? I really can't recall. But the article rejected timeouts in favor of "time in." It's basically a dialogue between the parties involved to resolve any existing and escalating conflict. For instance, if Bud and Sis are really beginning to argue, to the point that a timeout for one or both looks inevitable, I call a "time in." They now know that means to stop what they are doing and come over so we can sit together. Then we talk. Each side gets a turn, with me just acting as facilitator. Usually, I start with "what's going on?" And then I ask the other kid the same question. Eventually, we discuss "how to fix it" and "what we can do better next time," with a focus on sharing, taking turns, and using words. Nowadays, having gotten the book Hands Are Not For Hitting, I usually reiterate its themes. They like the sound and cadence of the saying. Usually, just talking seems to diffuse the situation and so far we've agreed to take turns to resolve the conflict.

But there is one conflict we are having a lot of trouble fixing: what they say to each other. Bud loves to tell Sis that she has "disappeared," sometimes going so far as to "abracadabra" her. Sis, on the other hand, drives Bud to distraction (and even fear) by roaring or acting like a monster. Neither likes to stop and I don't, as yet, put them into time out for this. And time ins haven't worked for long periods of time. How do you get preschoolers to ignore one another, especially when we as adults don't even do it that well?

Regardless, the new technique must be working, or at least in their consciousness: I've seen them play time in alone!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Rising Star

My star is in the ascendancy. In fact, for the first time ever, I was a happy thought--#4--for Sis a few days ago. And last night, I was #1! She even wants to sing the bedtime song with me. She made me a picture at Mystic Seaport, working very hard and including my favorite color purple, and then she gave it to me and told me to keep it forever. She just gave me a playdough creation and again told me it was for me and that I should keep it forever. I will (at least the picture) forever.

Mind you, I've been waiting a long time not to be mama non grata (which I think would be a great name for a blog!). I've been her least favorite immediate family member for weeks now, maybe even the whole summer. I haven't taken it (too) personally but I am happy, relieved, excited to be back in favor.

Mama says to enjoy it while it lasts. I am.

-=-=-=-=

Just now Sis said she didn't want to go to preschool: she wants to stay home with me.

Smooth Sailing

We made smoothies today. I was having one of my WW ones (with tons of calcium and protein, perfect for my still veg diet) and the kids wanted their own, having liked the ones at the hotel in Austin. So I threw together some vanilla yogurt, frozen cherries, and a fresh banana and BAM! our first smoothie. Officially, because Sis wanted it to have a name, "Our Very Cherry Banana Smoothie." And they liked it, well enough. Not bad for a first try. Which means the food processor, which had recently been relegated to the basement to make room for the toaster, might get to come back upstairs, especially because no one but me seems to like toast. (And, as a peanut butter addict, I try not to have any more reasons to eat PB than occur normally. I can eat a jar in 2 days.)

-=-=-=-=-

Our Very Cherry Banana Smoothie (because I believe you can write a recipe for anything, and I actually looked up how to make smoothies on the net and in a magazine)

1 1/2 cups vanilla yogurt (this was lowfat)
15 frozen sweet cherries
1 banana, fresh

Combine in food processor/blender. Let kids watch. Server immediately.

Favorites, Do-Over

On the occasion of the recent birthdays:

Sis's List
Tv Show: Caillou
Song: she sings the "Mama loves me" bedtime song with me every night.
Color: pink
Number: 3 (she insists on 3 kisses at bedtime)
Food: chocolate anything; crunchy anything; chicken
Flavor: chocolate
Day of the Week: Saturday, when Mama is home
Ice Cream: chocolate
Restaurant: Mexican "chip" restaurant
Toy/Thing: Shirt, of course; her beloved stuffed bunny Amy; her little plastic animals; her stuffed orca
Thing to Do: paint; play "school"
Place to Go: Mystic Seaport, Seaworld

Buddy's List
Book: The Philharmonic Gets Dressed; Good Night, Chicago; Zchock's book on NYC; Animal Orchestra
Tv Show: not sure really, but he'll watch Caillous with Sis
Song: loves singing the "family song" at dinner
CD: Chanteens CD of sea shanteys from Mystic Seaprt Sea Music Festival
Color: green
Number: 2 (he gets 2 kisses at night)
Food: berries!!!!
Flavor: strawberry
Ice Cream: strawberry (decorated as clowns or in ice cream sandwiches)
Restaurant: probably Friendly's!
Toy/Thing: stuffed orca; sporting goods--baseball, soccer, football
Thing to Do: play baseball; play band/parade
Place to Go: Mystic Seaport


Mommy's List

Book: Pausch's Last Lecture; Radical Hospitality; and just about done with Eliot bio
Movie: Waitress has really stuck with me
Tv Show: Olympics; Shear Genius (until Top Chef comes back)
Song:
CD: my Hildegarde von Bingen (chants) recording
Color: purple
Number: 12
Food: lentil soup (for now)
Flavor: chocolate; tamarind (candy, ices, chutney)
Day of the Week: weekends
Ice Cream: Tamarind ice (both here in town and in San Antonio)
Magazine: Penzey's One for good, simple recipes
Restaurant: I've been craving Indian, and, as always, Bertucci's rolls
Toy/Thing: stamp set; arts and crafts
Thing to Do: nap, read, blog, make cards
Place to Go: church
Saying/Words: much of The Last Lecture has stuck with me, but I regularly remember my WW leader saying, "Forgive yourself. It's what you do next that matters." And that's not just a diet thing.

(Mama is still working on her list, mainly because she humors me and my blog).

Raising the Bar

We were going to make Penzey's "Elfie" cake with apples and raisins yesterday for playgroup, but Miss T was making apple bread pudding (YUM!) and so Sis asked for chocolate. We didn't have enough time for dozens of cookies from my grandmother's recipe, nor the right ingredients for an indulgent chocolate cake (or more manageable cupcakes). So, I thought: bar cookie. Instead of consulting any of my zillion of cookbooks and clipped recipes, I searched the net (really, why do I bother with paper these days?). I kept coming across the Nestle cookie bar recipe and so, in a flash of inspiration, flipped over the bag of chocolate chips I had and used that. It was easier to make the cookies than to find the recipe! And they are all gone, having been very popular. Especially with Sis.

-=-=-=-=-

Nestle's Chocolate Chip Pan Cookie Recipe
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs1 (12 ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips (we used milk chocolate)
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a 15x10-inch jelly roll pan (I used a plain 9 x 13" glass baking dish, increasing the baking time about 5 minutes). Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, both sugars and vanilla in large mixer bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Gradually beat flour mixture into butter mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts. Spread into prepared pan. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

back of Nestle Chocolate Chips bag

Picture Perfect

If you drive by our house, you will notice some changes. No, not a new roof, yet; that's coming (we might get the date today). We have decorated some of our windows with window paint markers. On the side window of the front porch, we painted a rocket ship, astronaut, and planet, plus stars painted by the kiddos and a Milky Way suggested by Bud. If you go around back, to our patio doors, you will see a montage of night and day, with a sun, moon, clouds, stars, bat, and rain drops. Painting the house windows was great fun (the kids are so proud and point them out to everyone), even with only red, black, blue, and white. While we used markers I bought at the store, I'll be tempted to create my own paints next time, by adding dishwasher liquid to regular kids' paints. I'll let you know how it goes.

Go in Peace

Lesbian activist, and California newleywed, Del Martin, age 87, has recently passed away. She is survived by her wife, Phyllis Lyon, 83, with whom she formalized her vows, for a second time, in the first marriage in San Francisco this summer. They had been together more than half a century.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

New New Yorkers

An article in the NYTimes recently had me thinking about my first days and months as a New Yorker. Almost exactly 15 years ago, when I left Texas for graduate school in the city. Oh, how terrified and excited and proud I was. Most of my friends and family had never been to NYC, much less lived there. Of course, the majority of them thought I was nuts, but I think my mom, while also terrified (apparently she cried all the way back to Texas), understood.

But oh, those first few days. I'd read a number of guides to NYC, though all tourist guides, not for living there. Someone really needs to write a guide to living in NY for newbies. Somewhere I read not to look at anyone. And if, goddess forbid, you did make eye contact: Don't. Ever. Smile. Practice looking pissed, maybe even slightly crazy, for the best protection. Also, don't chitchat, which means no making pleasant conversation about the weather in the elevator or in line at the store or with any service person (waitress, check out guy, whomever). Always, always keep moving on the sidewalk. Only tourists stop in the middle of a sidewalk. And never look up. Only tourists look up. And never ever ever ever consult any kind of map when you are trying to find your way. Just keep walking. Even against the light. Real New Yorkers don't wait for the crossing light. Only tourists cross when told. Obviously, not being a tourist was the main definition for being a real New Yorker.

Besides these behavioral modifications, many of which I found intimidating and even difficult (like no small talk), there was the sound. And the smell. And the feel that I remember. Oh, how dirty my hands felt all the time those first few weeks. And this was before Purell. I wish I'd known to buy baby wipes. I just felt grimy. Mind you, this was August and so it was hot--the city is skanky in August. That first night we slept in my grad housing, we tried to sleep with the fan in the window to keep us moderately cool but it was so noisy from traffic and sirens that we closed the windows and then sweltered all night.

Navigating the subway was never that much of a problem for me, mainly because I mapped out my route and memorized it before I left. Also, I only ever took the (then) 1/9 or the M104. This was before Google or much internet usage (I didn't even have a computer!!!) so I kept maps of the city stuck everywhere--my room, my backback, my purse--in all sizes from business card (bought near Central Park), to small fold out, to Streetwise NY (from Barnes and Noble). Of course, in the beginning, I was only venturing to well-known tourist places anyway. (Even though that quickly qualified me as not a real New Yorker, but about this one thing, I didn't care. I preferred riding the bus--better view, easier to cope with a delay--but always, always stressed about getting off at the right stop or through a crowded bus. I still stand up too soon.)

And when we walked into the Met for the first time, I cried. And immediately bought a membership. I loved it and it is always, along with Times Square and Grand Central, one of the first places I return to in NYC. It was also a convenient bathroom stop on the way downtown, if need be, I kid you not. Because of my IBS, I know the tricks of finding bathrooms and the best ones to go to. And this was before Starbucks.

Going to grad school provided me an instant network and sense of place in the bustling city, something the youngsters in the article have trouble connecting with. It would have been much harder on my own. And I was never interested in being hip or part of the "real" NY scene, so finding the right club or restaurant didn't bother me. This was before Sex and the City, too, more in the days of that show with Kerri Russell, what was that called? Besides, I was a serious grad student.

The article talks about how new New Yorkers feel when going "home" to their land of origin the first few times. I remember thinking my hands weren't as dirty. And that people walked--when they ever walked!--slowly. And that everyone moved through lines slowly. Especially with all that extra chitchat. And that non-urban grocery stores were soooo much nicer than the urban marts.

Other things I learned:
  • Never buy more than you can carry.
  • Always have cash for a cab.
  • When tipping a cabbie, it's easier to tell them exactly how much you want back (instead of getting all the change and then having to pass the tip back over).
  • Don't rely on finding a cab between 5-9 p.m. in Midtown.
  • Avoid Times Square 15-30 minutes before curtain.
  • Know what you want when you get to the front of the line.
  • Don't hang back if there is not an obvious line. And beware of the one line feeds all registers vs. one line for each register. And of course, New Yorkers stand online. Which sounds even sillier now in the internet age.

That's all I can think of now, especially because I don't live there anymore. It was a wonderful run--off and on across 8 years. But, when I go back, I fall into my old habits: I still won't smile at anyone, even if I chitchat more than when I lived there. I think, once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker, even if an "ex-pat" in the suburbs. Where I and the other ex-pats still refer to it as "THE City."

I Scream, You Scream

We had our first experience with a real ice cream truck on Saturday, in the city.

Mind you, we've played ice cream truck before. We have the one that Mama played with as a child, that her parents kept all this time, a real Good Humor truck with all the ice cream bars and coins still intact. And we've ridden and played with the pretend motorized one at the mall. What's not to love with these? You get to pretend to give people ice cream. I've even seen Bud and Sis play ice cream truck with megablocks and wooden nuts and bolts. And they make up fabulous flavors, some real, some absolutely imaginary.

But on Saturday, at Ar-Ma and Ar-Gong's house, as we were loading the car in the late afternoon to come home, I heard that familiar jingle. And, being a huge fan of the ice cream truck myself, from warm days after elementary school to hot summer days on our cul-de-sac, with rainbow snow cones and red/white/blue lemony rocket pops and creamsicle bars to candy offerings such as jawbreakers and gobstoppers, I knew we had to get some.

"I hear the ice cream truck!" And the kids came running down the driveway, never having seen the real thing (which is illegal in our town after a fatality a decade or so ago, I hear).

It stopped far away at the end of the block and we decided to wait til it passed us, giving us ample time to prep the kids and decide. In the excitement, Sis slipped off the sidewalk and scraped her elbow, a nasty boo-boo needing ointment and bandaids. But ice cream made it all better.

It was our turn. And the kids couldn't decide. Bud wanted strawberry, which they didn't have. He got a cherry dip cone, this electric pink-red monstrosity as big as his face. Which was soon covered in pink and red and white. Sis went for a regular chocolate cone, which she licked slowly and meticulously. I had a chocolate dip cone, with memories of Dairy Queen flooding back. Only Goo was game among the others, and he got a cherry dip too. Bud thought it was cool that they matched and insisted on sitting together.

So, having had a delightful day at the beach, then swimming in the kiddie pool at home where we played catch with water balloons (then later, how can we burst a water balloon?), and a BBQ chicken lunch (plus noodles and other good things), we finished the day with ice cream. A real ice cream truck. The stuff memories are made of.

Time After Time

"What time is it?"

"Six twenty-five."

"I don't see a five."

How do you explain a clockface to kids who don't even have a grasp of the length of a minute, an hour, a day, a week, or a year? Much less the esoteric way a six can be a six or mean "thirty minutes." I had trouble reading non-digital clocks for years and am still slow; at least I have my fives multiplication table down. But every night at dinner, we stare at the clock over the patio door and talk about the time.

"What time is it now?"

"It's still six twenty-five."

"But when it gets to the top, what will it be?"

They know that when the second hand reaches the top, the time will change.

"Six twenty-six."

"I see the six."

The same thing happens when I tell them we're going to do something in an hour, the next day, or next week. Mind you, if it's not about an hour away, I try not to mention it at all because they have no idea how long it will be. They just keep asking. Most of the time, I say later. "Later" must seem like an eternity.

Now, the challenge is holidays. They keep asking about Halloween. "After school starts," I say. But when is that, exactly? Next week. Right. And then, when is Easter? And birthday? They at least seem to get the progression from summer to fall to winter to spring, so we try to go with seasons. That's in the spring, after it's been really cold. But then, when it's chilly in the morning, it's winter. Just like when it's dark at night, it must be Halloween.

They are so interested in the passage of time, just as I'm trying to slow it down.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Zoo Animal Toob

First, it was big puffy plastic Fisher Price animals, A-Z and others. Then it was soft little stuffed animals that we bought at various science museums in thematic packs like woodland and jungle. Now, we have a veritable menagerie of little plastic (phthalate-free) animals, again from thematic packages (called "toobs") like sealife and arctic, that we use for everything. We even gave out some for birthday party favors. We build them block houses, take them on model train rides, let them party in our Rescue Center, hide them so we can go exploring and "discover" them, and Sis even puts a few treasured ones in a spare sock to sleep with. Sis is partial right now to the whales and dolphin set, turtle and frog set, panda bear set, and a few woodland critters; she likes to classify them into groups (sometimes sophisticated habitat groupings, sometimes just by color). She particularly likes if there is a mommy and baby (there are "baby toobs" but oddly, some of the babies don't have mommies in the other toob, i.e. we have a baby manatee and otter but no big ones); otherwise, she'll say the baby or mommy is lost and the remaining one is sad. I've taken to buying bigger animals from Schleich just to make families! Bud is all bugs all the time, looking at them through his magnifying jar. The farm set is sadly and routinely ignored. I like the odd little animals: the panda with the bamboo, the otter with the rock, the skunk, the raccoon.

Actually, the animals take me back to my childhood. I had a shoebox filled with plastic animals, mainly the grocery store variety, with 20 farm animals and a fence, definitely not phthalate free. One set of farmyard animals, I know, came from my grandmother's neighbor Mrs. Swanson, whose house I would visit when we went to my grandma's. I don't know where I acquired the rest, probably the traditional shopping trip bribe. My favorite ones were my sea animals--strange and exotic aquatic life that I could set up to make an ocean on my carpet. On other occasions, I would carry them outside or over to my nextdoor neighbor's house and we'd play together. I wonder where the box is now, probably tossed long ago or lost in the fire at my parents' house. But happily, some 30+ years later, I can revisit my childhood games and make an ocean on my carpet, a jungle on my coffee table, and a forest on my couch.

Name Calling and Other Funny Things

"I'm a cereal head!"

"And I'm a yogurt head!"

"And you're a blueberry head!"

This is our new game: if a preference is shown for anything, that person becomes a "head." I'm a "coffee head," a "cereal head," and a "bar [as in Lara or Luna] head." And then yesterday, as we ate at Claire's in New Haven, we noticed that the art on the walls literally showed "coffee cup heads." And so we spent the meal coming up with hilarious "heads." And discussing what it would be like to, say, spill your head or eat what your head was. What if you were a "soccer head?" Would people kick you? What if you had a "soccer head" but "football hands?" Gommie has her own version of this game. She calls Sis "Gigglebox" and Bud "Chatterbox," which has become "giggle head" and "chatter head." And then, related, but not exactly, the kids love to make up their own non-sensical words and names. Apparently, I used to do the same and my parents always say they wished they'd written them down. Well, I'm smack-dab in the middle of the humor and I'm not sure how I would spell any of these names, if I can remember the crazy, multi-syllabled things.

All told, a sense of humor seems to have kicked in over here. The kiddos tell knock-knock jokes. Sort of. They don't really understand the specifics of the humor, or even the structure of the joke:

"Knock, knock. Who's there?"

"Orange."

Hilarious laughter from both sides. Sometimes it's "Boo." Sometimes it's "Goo." I had told them some knock-knock jokes earlier--I forget why--and this is the version of it they remember. I'm sure it's just the beginning. But it's okay, laughing each day keeps the doctor away.

e(vil)Bay

I should know better than to go on internet auction sites. Even when I have a very specific item in mind, I end up either a). finding something else or b). spending more than I decided I would. Both of these happened this weekend.

See, I needed a specific stamp set for a project I'm planning. But it had been retired from the catalogue. I had been told that I might be able to find it on eBay. And I did. So I bid and was immediately outbid. Harumphf.

I was bitten. I bid for another offering of the same set and was looking around. Lo, and behold! Another stamp set that would work with the one I wanted. So I bid. Yesterday, one of the stamp sets auction time came up (pretty sure that's not the right lingo, but I don't know it. I really try not to spend any time there). And about 10 minutes before time was up, someone over bid me. Ooh, that riled me up. I wanted, no, I needed, that stamp set. And so I upped my bid a few dollars, so did they. Just a minute or two left. Then 19 seconds. Should I up again? Was I going to win? Would my computer refresh in time? Confirm bid! Confirm bid!

I won. I was elated. I was jubilant. I was violent. I had crushed the other bidder, who had put in 7 bids in 10 minutes. I had spent $2 more than I had mentally projected (which is peanuts on this site, I know). I was the winner. Ooh, it felt so good. The stamps themselves almost became secondary for a little while. It was all evil.

And so, Mama took the computer away from me.

But she's not here now . . . .

Friday, August 22, 2008

We've Got Mail

There is a small, flip top stationery box on our piano that we check everyday. It is our family mailbox. And almost everyday, Mama has left postcards for the kiddos inside. Always decorated with stickers, these cards have one line questions or comments. Depending on the day, Sis got a "get well soon" and a "can you match the animals?" (there were two of each barnyard stickers on the card). Buddy has gotten "let's sing 'Old MacDonald' tonight" or "what did you see at the zoo today?" The messages are often relevant and look forward to Mama coming home in the evening. There is no mail on weekends.

Sis has started making cards to put in the mailbox for Mama. In fact, we're decorating cards with new glitter glue after lunch. Just in time for evening delivery.

Gold Medal

While the kiddos aren't watching as much of the Olympics now, Olympic fever is still high here, especially for Buddy. Everything is a race: when I drive, we are racing the other cars wherever we are going. When we walk up the stairs, we are racing. Same with any transition from A to B. And it's not that he speeding around, he just likes to say it's a race and then cross a finish line.

And now he's taken up weightlifting. Yesterday, on the porch, he knelt down, picked up his wooden hobby horse (you know, horse head on a stick) with both hands, stood up with it at his chest, then raised it over his head while stepping one leg back. The perfect clean and jerk. Did he even see that competition? Maybe a few attempts. And now he'll weightlift anyting; this morning it was throw pillows.

He had already been practicing the volleyball bump and "put up your dukes" boxing maneuvers. And he loves shouting goal, after we watched a soccer game with a few. He also "calls" swimming, with "jump in, go, touch the wall, YAY!" He was entranced by archery but hasn't figured out how to mimic it.

What's next BMX trike?

Quips and Quotes

"Tea-are-one-in-one-tea what is that?"

"Why."

Buddy had read almost all the letters on my t-shirt: T-R-I-N-I-T-Y.

-=-=-=-=-

"How did Gommie and Pop make you?" asked Sis yesterday.

"Um, love." I said.

And luckily, that sufficed.

-=-=-=-=-

"Why is the sky blue?" asked Bud yesterday.

Um, do you know?

Good things there are websites for these sorts of questions.

But we were in the car.

-=-=-=-=-

We went to the bookstore yesterday. And the kids decided to navigate their own way to the children's section and went running ahead. Other customers looked at me as they scurried off and I walked behind.

"I have it all under control," I deadpanned.

When I caught up, they were playing happily. And the lady already sitting there said that Sis had politely asked to play.

"May I have a turn, please?" she had said.

Wow.

-=-=-=-=-

A less impressive quote at the bookstore, from Sis as well, "I only want a book I can see on tv."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Man with the Little Penis

Well, at least I assume his penis must be small, because he is driving like a maniac to overcompensate.

A youngish (30 something?) man driving on the highway almost just killed me and the children. I was signaling to move into the left lane and had him clear in my rear view mirror and had checked to see that there was enough space by turning my head around and then moved into the left lane. Instead of letting me into the space that was clearly there, he sped up and then tried to pass me on the shoulder, honking and gesturing, both him and his friend, the whole time. I had to swerve back into the right lane to avoid an accident, despite already having been 3/4 in the left lane.

So, I can only assume he has a small penis. Maybe some incontinence which occasioned his huge rush`and need to pass me.

And in case anyone ever needs to know who this little dick was: Black Range Rover, Connecticut License Plate # 944 WGJ.

Prick.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Happy Halloween

I know, early right? But hey, they already have the candy and costumes in stores, so why not?

My kids have been planning for weeks. I think it must be their favorite holiday. They love being out at night, getting all the candy, and dressing up. It's the latter that has occupied all the recent attention. They are definitely deciding what they want to be. Last year, they decided on Baby and Mama Jaguar this early and stuck with it. But not this year. Jaguar was in the running early on, but Sis alone has considered vet and dentist and pirate since then. Buddy considered dentist too but baseball player is at the top of his list. And I'm sure there will be others before I actually have to make the costumes.

I wonder what I'll be.

Happy Anniversary to Me!

Today, I have been blogging for one year.

I've looked back at that original post and some things have changed. For the most part, my posts have become longer, less refined, more philosophical, less about food, more social (in that I actually have readers and some blogger buddies). I'm still on Weight Watchers, though Flex, not Core, and am trying to lose the weight I gained after I lost it. The story of my life. And my kids don't have any allergies that we know of, though we're totally off nuts and shellfish until the doctor gives us the green light.

In many ways, today was emblematic of my blogging year. We had a playgroup outing in the morning, at the zoo, to see the bird show. The kids napped in the car. I finished The Last Lecture, having thoroughly enjoyed it and picked up some inspiration. Then Buddy woke up hungry and Sis woke up with a fever of 101.4. To the doctor we went, with expectations of strep--first test negative but all signs are there (including red throat). Mama met us at the doctor's and then escorted us to the bookstore and out to dinner. For Mexican. The "chip restaurant." The only place we knew Sis would be tempted to eat. And she did. Bath, stories, happy thoughts, bed. And now we're going to watch the Olympics.

I picked up an anniversary present for Mama at the bookstore--we celebrate 11 years later this week--a book on how to draw cats. Cats and drawing, two of her favorite things. And she then handed me a present--the complete first volume of "Mommy, Hungry!" All 595 pages of it! That's longer than my dissertation, more than double (but this has a bigger font, and I wasn't counting images or bibli). I flipped through it--recipes, pictures, diatribes, poetic ramblings, quotes, and all--and just marvel at all that has happened this year. Two Laurie Berkner concerts. The loss of naps. The trip to Chicago and the death of our friend. My sister's wedding. Physical therapy. Mama's new job. Chinese class. Ni-hao, Kai Lan. Bud's dislocated elbow. Salt dough ornaments. My sermons at church. Not to mention all my ramblings about death, dreams, rituals and traditions, legacies.

It was a wonderful year. And I have a record of it all. I can't wait to keep going!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

To Live Perchance to Dream

  • Seeing the Parthenon
  • Learning ancient Greek
  • Learning fencing
  • Participating in an archaeological dig
  • Learning to play the piano
  • Learning ASL
  • Working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Election to Phi Beta Kappa
  • Acquiring my Ph.D.

I'm still reading The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch, and have been struck by his discussion of childhood dreams. Those are some of mine above, and in one way or another, I've achieved all of them. Some are more complete than others--I'm not great at any of the things I've learned, but I have taken classes in each--I can still strike the basic fender's pose, can hold a conversation in ASL with a patient person, can chant part of the Iliad in Greek, and can pick out any song in C major. I was on a dig in Tunisia, at an old Roman bathhouse. I was elected to PBK in college. I was an intern at the Met. I have my Ph.D.

But there are other dreams that still need work. I want to take Italian. I want to be able to speak some Mandarin. I want to see the Forbidden City. I want to go back to Italy, with Mama and the kids. I'd love to go to Ireland or Scotland, after seeing London yet again. I want to become an expert bread baker and pie crust maker. I want to be a better gardener. And I want to work at the Met again. These are more recent dreams. Some just take money and time, others require actual skill and mastery. All are, I believe, attainable.

These last ones aren't my childhood dreams, but I think they are no less important, no less lofty, for not having been dreamt of when I was younger. I think the fact that I am still dreaming, still planning, is a good thing. If I stuck only to my childhood dreams, I wouldn't have children. Or be "married." Neither of those were on my original list, but they are what really make my life complete. I try to embrace new dreams and ideas as they occur to me.

Many days, though, my dreams are small. Not really dreams at all: an organized basement, a neater house, thinner thighs. Those are goals. Dreams are somewhat bigger, somewhat out of the realm of my ordinary life, somewhat less attainable, more enriching. But I get bogged down in these smaller goals and forget to dream big, or at least, bigger. What can I do each day, or week, or in the near future to achieve my dreams? For instance, what is the best way to get to work at the Met? Do I need to publish more articles now? Volunteer at a local museum? Work part-time as a collegiate lecturer to stay in education? Get my alternative route to teacher certification and teach history for awhile? What will get me what I want later, while still fitting into what I want now, which is to be a loving, present, active mom?

I daydream about my kids but don't have specific dreams for them. In other words, I'm not planning that they become doctors or astronauts. I want to give them the imagination and creativity to come up with their own dreams and the tools to achieve them. And along the way, maybe we can fulfill our dreams together, like we'll be taking Chinese together this fall. I wonder where they will take me . . . and my dreams. I know that one of my dreams took my mom to Greece to see the Parthenon and that she encouraged me to fulfill others alone, as when I went off by myself as a 19 year old to Tunisia (at that time, polticially suspect because of the connections with the PLO). I think that enabling and helping your children to fulfill their dreams is one of the greatest gifts you can give them, something that Randy Pausch mentions too. And not just with cash, either, but with skills that will lead them on to other achievements as well.

It's not just for your own children, actually, this gift of dreams. Mama and I help each other, with encouragment, support, inspiration, practical advice, time, money, and love. And we dream dreams together. The gift of dreams--to loved ones, friends, even strangers--is one of the greatest gifts of all.

I have a friend, Lambeth, who is I-forget-exactly-how-old-but-older-than-my-parents. He is one of the most active and well-travelled friends I have. And right now, he is walking the Thames. I don't know how long he has dreamed of doing that--I hope he talks about his inspiration on his blog someday--but he is doing it. And so many other things (a recent trip to the Balkans, tracking down obscure and long-lost relatives, wasn't there a mountain in Scotland you climbed recently, Lambeth?). He is a constant source of inspiration to me that dreams are achievable. As Dara Torres recently said, on winning in her 5th Olympics at age 41, "There are no age limits on dreams."

What are yours?

Everything's Better with Cheddar

The other day, my friend, a mother of three (including a relative newborn), made us lunch. It was turkey hot dogs (veggie burger for me) with vegetables in a cheese sauce. And there, with an almost 6 year old, an almost 4 year old, and an almost 3 month old (apologies if I have the ages off), she was cooking. Cooking lunch. I sometimes barely cook dinner. And she was making a cheese sauce, from scratch. I was impressed.

I'm always impressed. This woman, a trained early childhood educator now SAHM, is always calm in the middle of chaos, comforting when there are tears, clever when there are challenges, patience with trouble, fun, happy, creative. Eagerly watching for new ideas and approaches, I learn something new each visit. For instance, last Friday, I picked up two great ideas, besides the cheese sauce. When one child wanted to tattle on the other, she suggested they go to the person who could fix it, not to her. In other words, if Sis was complaining that Bud took her toy, she should tell him what she wants first, not me. If only adults, if only I, could be that direct with my needs. It's a great lesson. She also had a frank talk with the eldest about exclusion, as she wanted a "no boys allowed space." There my friend was explaining prejudice in clear terms to an almost (homeschooled) first grader. I used the same talk two days ago, when Sis mimicked her friend's game. These things might see pretty straightforward to others, but oftentimes it's the idea or even just the wording that turns on the lightbulb in my head.

Her husband, a child psychologist, is equally as amazing, mainly because he is a big kid himself. The kids, especially Sis, respond to him on a gut, intuitive level. But he also maintains rules and boundaries and is so calm, so patient, so clear in explaining what behaviors are and aren't acceptable. I remember several months ago one of his daughters disappearing and not answering when she was called. Instead of flying off the handle when he found her (they never fly off the handle), he explained to her about questions and calls that must be answered and meted out the appropriate discipline, a modified time-out (they count to 20), after a one-on-one discussion about the issue at hand. And then he goes back, instantly, to being fun. That is so much harder than it looks, for me, anyway.

When I hear myself talking to the kids, especially if I'm on the verge of not being patient or calm, I often think "WWSD"? When I feel tired, I remember that I don't have a newborn whose breastfeeding on demand. When I don't feel creative, I remember that they can make fun out of almost anything or even nothing at all. Now, I know they're not perfect, no parents are, but they inspire me to take my parenting to the next level.

And that's even better with cheese sauce on it.

-=-=-=-=-=-

"Church" Miss L's Magic Cheese Sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup water (or you could use milk)
1 packet stock base (she used Trader Joe's liquid vegetable stock base)
2 cups grated cheese (approximately)
2 cups pureed vegetables (approximately)

Make a roux with butter and flour, until flour is cooked. Add water/milk and stock base. Heat through. Add cheese and vegetables. Cook until heated through. Serve over warmed vegetables (she basically microwaved a 2 lb bag of veggies, pureed some, and then served the sauce over the rest), mashed potatoes, pasta, or anything. Freezes well. She said she has even added eggs and made it a quiche!

Fingers and Toes

Recently, a friend mentioned that doing the laundry was always bittersweet, as it reminded her of how big her boys were getting.

For me, it's cutting finger and toenails. I've always been in charge of the cutting, except for a short stint after nipping one of Sis's fingers when she was just weeks old. The crying, and blood, had us calling the pediatrician at 8 pm on a Friday. Oh, new parents! Now they fall off playsets and I just dust them off.

But it's easy to cut their nails now. In fact, it often takes me two nips at each nail, when I used to need one (or even a half)--mercy, I could've chewed or filed them off back then! But now I have to cut them, usually with the tv on for a distraction since they want to help. And they have dirt and food and paint under them, or the toenails are ragged from running. These are the nails and hands and feet of bigger kids. I'm glad I have their itty bitty prints preserved in ink, in marker, in paint, even in clay. But you can't see the nails in any of those, the nails I know by heart.

And, one day, I won't be in charge of cutting them at all.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Clowning Around

In my continued attempts to be the "best mommy ever," before summer ends, we painted all over the patio glass doors today with window paint. One panel is a sun with clouds, the other panel is the moon with stars and a bat (Bud's addition). There are lots of other dots and swirls. I think more paint ended up on hands, clothes, and hair than on windows.

Then, at Sis's request, we decided to make clown ice cream sundaes (something she saw on Caillou). We went to the store (with the kiddos wearing their "My Mom Can Fix Anything" red t-shirts) and got ingredients and came home and had ice cream for lunch. I bought neapolitan because she wanted chocolate and he wanted strawberry. I scooped the ice cream into a cone, then turned it upside down into a bowl. There we decorated the face with M&Ms and decorated the clown hat (the cone) with either canned whipped cream or chocolate syrup (guess which was whose). They ended up bagging the cone and having seconds of the clown head.

Later, after our successful dentist appointment (which was successful because we don't always have ice cream for dinner), we went to the store for treats (I know, I know, this runs counter to my parenting ideals about not rewarding things that you should do that are good for you but they were so good and, well, I'm the "best mommy ever."). Bud picked up some race cars for his track (which turned out to be too wide. Oh, well). And Sis bought four elephants: a mommy, a mama, a sister, and a brother.

But of course, when Mama came home and asked what we did today, all Sis could say, erroneously, was that we bought kolaches at the Starbucks.

Oh, well, does "best mommy ever" count if they don't remember?

The Birds and the Bees

With preschool approaching, we've started to weave certain topics into our interactions with the kiddos. One: no one touches your private parts, which are the areas covered by your swimsuit. Two: only talk to people you don't know if a mommy is nearby. But I didn't think I'd have to add three: where babies come from.

But repeatedly over the last two weeks, I've been asked directly, always by Sis, "Mommy, how did you make me?"

Um. Well. Let's see.

"Mama and I made you. At the doctor's office."

"Why?"

"Because we wanted children."

"Why?"

Um. Well. Let's see.

"Because we thought it would be fun. And we love you."

Same question about Bud.

Then, later, "Mommy, how did you make the cats?"

Easy. "We got them from the rescue people."

Then, "Mommy, how did you make Real Shirt?"

And so, at OSV this weekend, we showed her a loom and told her about weaving fabric and sewing. And she beamed from ear to ear as she hugged Shirt close and sniffed him hard.

At least we didn't need visuals for question number one.

On the Rocks

Sis loves hockey. We're not sure how nor why, but we do not question. So, trying to interest her in the Olympics, which she doesn't like as much as her brother, we DVR'd field hockey. I excitedly showed it to her.

"Mommy, that's not hockey. There's no ice."

I tried to explain that it could be hockey without ice. But she's a purist.

And we didn't watch it.

Call Me Crazy

As if I weren't having enough separation anxiety, I picked up a copy of The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch at the warehouse store this weekend, you know, the professor who recently died of pancreatic cancer who created a national phenomenon by talking about "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" in an effort to leave a legacy for his young kids. It certainly puts my issues with preschool in perspective but is making me cry. Just what I need. George Eliot is a much safer read.

Overdrive

We said we were going to take it easy this weekend.

Instead, we went to Old Sturbridge Village on Saturday and Mystic Seaport on Sunday. We had our usual wonderful trips to both places, with stick candy and horse-drawn carriage rides at each place. Plus crafts for mommies and kids, music, and children's playspaces. A good lunch, a nap in the car for 3/4 of us on the way home. A pretty good weekend.

While going to OSV on Saturday was not a surprise, going anywhere on Sunday, especially after being out the day before, was. But it was a beautiful day. And we knew that one of our favorite parts of the seaport, the Charles W. Morgan, would soon be in dry-dock for 3-4 years. Not being sure if we'd get to see it again before it was off-view--our fall weekends are already booking up--I suggested we try it.

That, and I wasn't sure I could play "teacher" to their school day yet again. It's good practice, for all of us, but some days it's harder than others. We've gotten the game down: put the new lunchkits in their "cubbies" on the piano bench, have writing/art time, the read a story in circle time, snack, recess, go home. Ad infinitem. But at least it makes them happy, right?

Of course, going to both Sturbridge and the Seaport (which was Sis's suggestion Sunday morning) was another way of making these "last" weeks before school as fun as possible. I think I'm establishing a dangerous habit. By college, I'll have to take them to the moon!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Prom Queen

Mama recently heard a piece on NPR and immediately thought of me. The essayist spoke of his internet addiction, not because he is unusual in needing to check his email, IMs, and such (I wonder if he has Facebook.), but because he was analyzing the source of his need. He mentioned that he repeatedly checks his email, "but I noticed recently that once I've received an e-mail, text message or comment, I feel a certain letdown. Before it arrives, it could be anything: a new opportunity, an old friend emerging from the past, a summons to the palace, because the king has decided that only I can save the kingdom. Once the messages arrive, they seem so mundane: friends I already have, requests that ask nothing of my special crime-fighting abilities, entreaties from Nigerians to whom I've already sent checks." He's Batman, looking for the Bat Signal.

Mama came home and giddily played the piece for me. You see, she thinks, well, knows, that I have an email addiction too. I'm embarrassed to admit that I've sat on our free evenings checking my email bemoaning the fact that no one has written me and that I don't have much adult interaction (hell, I'm doing it now!). No, she's not chopped liver. But she doesn't send me email either.

But I don't want to be Batman. I want to be Prom Queen. I want to be at the center of a circle of friends, in touch with what they're doing, sharing what I'm doing. Often. No, constantly. Not because I'm vain or needy (though, I am a little bit of both, more of the latter, I think, unless the vanity is academics), specifically, but because I am isolated during the day and like to connect with people, even briefly or superficially (some would say artificially), through the internet.

But isn't that the stereotype of the Prom Queen? Popular but not really friends with anyone?

Hmmmm, maybe I don't want to be the virtual Prom Queen, but I was nominated Most Friendly in school, though not chosen. I'll settle for internet runner-up friend. But I'll still be checking my email.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Reaction Time

I have realized that we have our roughest days when I am just a reactive parent, instead of a proactive one. Somedays, I just don't plan in advance--we do things but usually activities and games we've done before (which, to my credit, used to be novel and interesting--like baking and art--but have become too familiar). I need to plan new and different activities in advance. Not just "let's play with trains" or "let's dress Baby." Today we finger painted outside on the deck table. Bud and Sis loved it, and, though we only painted for 15 minutes, it jump-started almost 3 hours of playing outside. I need to plan activities like I (ideally) plan meals: getting supplies together, checking what I have, varying the offerings, trying new things, etc.

It's funny, but I feel like, with preschool starting, that my role as entertainment director, even as teacher, is decreasing, if not disappearing. As the summer wanes and school approaches, I feel like I have just two more weeks to make my last impression/my final difference before I "lose" them to school and I don't matter as much anymore. It's crazy, irrational, untrue, but it's this unshakable feeling nonetheless. Which is probably why I have been racking my brain to figure out how to make these "last" days not just good but great.

I guess it's no wonder I'm so upset about school starting.

Home Alone

My mom recently balked at being reminded that she had let me spend entire summer weekends by myself when I was 15. She swore she would never have let me do it, but she did. I remember that as soon as I had my driver's license, I had already done it a few times and it wasn't that big a deal (to me, or, apparently, to her). Of course, looking back at the 1980s from the 21st century, I cannot imagine leaving a teenager home alone either and swear I would never do it. Even when I'm home and nearby, things happen. I read recently that most tragic swimming accidents happen in the first five minutes that an adult is not paying attention. This five-minute rule applies to most mischief, injury, and aggression in our house. If I go to the bathroom, leave the room to check email, take a phone call, in the next room or even with my back turned, something ALWAYS happens.

And so, today's article in the NYTimes about when you can leave children home alone had me thinking forward to the late 2010s and my own children. The article addresses leaving 9-, 10-, and 11+ year olds home alone for hours at a time, particularly by lower income families with few childcare options. There are not laws addressing the practice, perhaps because then governments would have to address affordable childcare. Apparently, Connecticut actually suggests that children be 12 before they are left alone, and 15 before they can watch younger siblings. Before that, children do not recognize nor appropriately respond to risk or danger. But it's not a law. There is a law, however, mentioned in another article in Brain, Child, that children in Connecticut cannot be left alone in a car until they are . . . what was it? . . . 7 or 8. I wish our local Starbucks had put in a drive-thru. Five years is a long time to wait for coffee.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

THE Storm in Words

I have been considering for days how best to approach my post about the storm that felled a tree on our house and cars. In the end, I've had to consider why I blog: to relay information to family and friends, to entertain, to express myself, to clarify (for myself) my thoughts and ideas, to record my experiences, impressions, and emotions as they happen. And so how do I relate an experience that encompassed all of my childhood fears of storms that still haunt me in adult nightmares as well as threatened my family and home, even though now it is more of an expensive inconvenience than a real crisis, while at the same time being one of the most profound experiences of friendship I have ever encountered? I have a draft that tells the tale in prose, but I am forced to reconsider that structure, and now, therefore, give it to you in a list, entitled "Things I Learned in THE Storm":
  • When the sky turns green and the hail pummels the house, take cover even if you feel like you are overreacting. It's cliche, but better safe than sorry. Because sometimes, Texas storms happen in Connecticut.
  • A storm doesn't have to be a tornado to cause damage. Microbursts and straight line winds of 70 mph (hurricanes start at 75 mph) are dangerous too. Friends did see rotating clouds, but there was officially no tornado.
  • Mythbusting: According to NOAA, "Forget about the old notion of opening windows to equalize pressure; the tornado will blast open the windows for you!" But it is true that a tornado sounds like a train engine.
  • Know where your flashlights are and, once you retrieve them, don't put them down because you won't be able to find them when you need them. And the kids will cry until you do.
  • When in doubt, call 911. Especially if there are power lines down. And stay in the house.
  • Then call your parents.
  • And the insurance company.
  • Sure, PDAs are great, as are speed dial and memory in your phone, but keep a hardcopy list of important phone numbers--friends, relatives, doctors, insurance adjustors (including policy numbers), local hotels--for when modern technology and your memory fail. I keep mine over the phone but will also now put a copy in a plastic zipper bag in our emergency tub downstairs.
  • Decisions you fret about in advance (i.e. if the cat gets away during an emergency, what would you do?) become simple in reality (let the cat go and get to the basement). Vice versa, though: things you didn't consider in advance will be a challenge (when, when, when do you go to the basement?). Don't worry, both of the cats are fine now (because, in the end, Mama left the basement and fetched the other cat from the second floor. It was, as she calls it, "my stupid hero moment.")
  • Centering myself in the moment made it easier to stay calm and reassure the children, but it was hard to stay centered with thoughts swirling in my head about what could have happened and what would have to happen next. And so Buddy and I drew pictures on our chalkboard once we were back upstairs; it made us both feel better.
  • When we knew we had to leave the house, I wrote up a list of things to take for Mama to pack and we handed each child a bag to take a few toys to the hotel. The kids took predictable things. Bud had his banjo, trains, and cars. Sis took books and several small plastic toy animals. They both took their Sea World orcas. Our list, besides including clothes, toiletries, and special papers, included our wedding picture, our two baby's first year frames, our computer (and several backup harddrives--this includes all of our pictures, my 3 cookbooks, my dissertation, etc.), and the urn of Morgan's ashes. Everything else in the house was secondary at that point. Since then, it has been a lot easier to clean out the clutter. I might change the list a little but in essence very few things matter.
  • If you have pets, know where the pet-friendly hotels are (like Homewood Suites). Not that you'll get any sleep; stiff hotel curtains are great for climbing.
  • Friends. I don't even know how to summarize what I learned about friendship, generosity, kindness, support, and love. We have been buoyed by our friends at a time of crisis. Knowing we were not alone, either literally (because several friends and neighbors came by in the hours after the storm, especially two who stayed with us for several hours that night) or figuratively gave us the strength (and car seats and dinner) we needed to get through the night. It was the epitome of radical hospitality and a lesson to us in love and friendship. Yin and yang, with the darkness there is light.
  • Frozen pizza, salad, and Girl Scout cookies are real comfort food for me (Chinese take out the next day for Mama).
  • Everything really does look better in the morning.
  • But take lots of pictures anyway.
  • When dealing with insurance companies and contractors, keep one notebook so you have everything you need in one place. If possible, let one person (i.e. Mama) be in charge of all of it.
  • Repack your emergency tub when the emergency is over. Ours (kept in the basement next to the tub with all my entertaining stuff) is in disarray, but will finally include juice boxes, water, nonperishable foods, first aid kit, blanket, flashlights, batteries, radio, kitty food/little litter box, copies of special papers, diapers (for now), a change of clothes for all, a little emergency cash, and a few toys. I've heard that used cell phones can still dial 911, if the battery is charged; if we had one, I'd put that in too.
  • Even several days after the actual event, we are all still reeling and healing. Be gentle with yourself and others. It's okay to be upset, even if everything did turn out okay.
  • The continued "how are you doing?" and "are you okay?" and "what can I do?" are wonderful, even several days out.
  • But don't talk too much about it in front of the kids as they will get unnecessarily nervous. I made this mistake today at playgroup and Sis ended up quiet, with Shirt very nearby. We do talk about it, when it's relevant or they bring it up, but mostly in postive "we're okay" kind of ways.

Because, in the end, we're okay.

I'm a Big Girl Now

. . . because I went to the dentist all by myself today. I don't like going to the dentist, positively hated and avoided it for years. But I have children now and needed to grow up. So we have a family dentist. And we've all been and like it (as much as you possibly can--did you know the urban myth that dentists have high suicide rates because no one likes their profession?). And I went for my check-up today and everything went well. See, as a child, I had numerous cavities and remember several trips to have them filled. I can still see me in that dentist's chair, in a tiny closet of a room, surrounded by techs and the dentist, the pain of the shot, the sound and smell of the drilling, my absolute terror at the repeated experiences. And once I was old enough that I was responsible for going on my own, I quit going. For years. And years. No harm done, though, because I floss daily and brush and use Listerine. And now, like the big girl I am, I can go to the dentist all by myself. And I didn't have any cavities.

Disloyal

I ordered Chinese food from a new place tonight. And I feel so disloyal. We like the old place--the food is good, quick ("10 minutes"), and the people are nice enough (even though, after 6 years, they only sort of recognize us). But they don't deliver. When we were at the hotel this weekend, we tried a new place with Ar-Ma. The service in the restaurant was slow and grumpy but the food was good. And they deliver. So tonight, with hungry kids not wanting the chicken I have in the house, I decided to order take out because they would fall asleep in the car if I went to go get the other Chinese food. The owner's wife/co-owner brought the food, remembered us, and was glad we'd ordered. I mentioned I had switched places and asked her, laughingly, not to tell. She asked who else we ordered from and was surprised they didn't deliver. But told me that they themselves had been in business 19 years. Good enough for me. And they deliver. But don't tell the other Chinese food place, please.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Little Bits

I'm having a version of writer's block and am completely unable to put all the emotions and experiences of the storm into complete and coherent prose yet. But, other thoughts are piling up--I told a friend it was something like, pardon the simile, mental constipation--so I'm going to write about those things.

Caillou: This is Sis's favorite television show right now. The first thing that strikes me is that we seem to prefer, with the exception of Dora and Diego, Canadian television from the Nelvana company--Little Bear, Franklin, and now this show about a bald-headed four-year old from some French Canadian storybooks. All of our favorite shows, again with the exception of Dora and Diego, are strongly narrative with storylines addressing the typical problems of preschoolers, their friends, and families. They don't really like problem-solving shows, yet again with the aforementioned exception, like Backyardigans and Little Einsteins and Blue's Clues. Which is fine with me because I really like these quaint little stories of bears and turtles etc. Watching Caillou, you can totally tell that this is a Canadian show with a Canadian family: they have a backyard garden, they bike places (I think they might only have 1 car), instead of buying things at stores they make them at home (like when they created a birthday party for Dad or made a cup for Mom--Boris and Doris!!), and they picnic everywhere all the time. I know, stereotypical Canadian things, but still Canadian--there is no American stereotype about picnics or biking, unless maybe in Seattle.

Local Store: our local store has closed. Just when we had made it a weekly habit to walk down there, buy lunch, and come home to picnic (are we Canadians?? No, T, I'm not making fun), the owners sold the store. And the kids are bereft. First, they asked about the owners--how do you own something, what does it mean to sell it, how do you work there. Then they wanted to know if everyone was sad. Bud keeps walking around saying he's sad and Sis asks if all of our friends are sad--"Is Mommy Goose sad? Is T sad? Is Miss B sad?"--of course. Everytime we drive past it, which is almost daily, they notice it and ask when it will (thankfully) reopen. Will they have skittles? Will there be M&Ms? Can we picnic? We'll be their most loyal customers.

Dinosaur Races: we were watching a new--gasp--Ni Hao, Kai Lan the other day entitled "Sports Day" just in time for the Olympics. Kai Lan and her friends had little races and competitions outside and so we did too. I chalked up the sidewalk with a starting and finish line for hula hoop races and ball rolling races, we did obstacles courses in the yard, and then kicked and threw balls through hoops. Now, everytime we go outside, Bud looks for the chalklines in the sidewalk so that we can play again. I think we will.

Olympics: we are watching a lot of Olympics, just to get the kids jazzed about other sports and to avoid all of the aforementioned typical tv shows. You know, a change. Sis likes boxing and keeps looking for hockey, so we're going to show her some field hockey. She also likes Dressage/Equestrian Eventing and weight-lifting. Bud has been fascinated with archery, swimming relay racing ("they jump in, swim, touch the wall, YAY!"), rowing (all the different sculling etc), and beach volleyball (we even bounced the ball back and forth). He will faux "put up your dukes" and knock fists together but wasn't that jazzed about watching boxing. The both put on worker goggles today (and Sis put on the white mask--on her head!--and called it a swim cap) at a playdate and pretended to swim around the living room. And there is lots to come.

English: they say it's a hard language to learn because of the odd phonetics and numerous homynyms. It's starting to trip Sis up. She was playing her cymbals yesterday and then referred to them as "Yankee cymbals," mainly because we often talk about the "Yankee symbol" or logo of our favorite teams. Cymbals-symbols. Sure. Same thing happened with crane and crane--the bird and the machine. We had been reading Paper Crane but had changed topics to Thomas and she said something about Cranky the Crane and how she'd never seen one . . . in the water, and we realized that she was confusing the two. There was a third one but I can't remember it.

Birthday Remembrances

Today was the birthday of our friend who died of breast cancer in February. It was about a year ago that we learned that she was losing her battle with the disease and so made plans to visit her and her partner in Chicago. Today, at home, we're listening to choral music in honor of her love of singing. And we'll hang the "Fight the Patriarchy" poster bequeathed to us.

Monday, August 11, 2008

THE Storm in Pictures







Walk the Labyrinth

Labyrinths: my classical studies lead me to think immediately of Theseus and the minotaur; archaeology brings up thoughts of Sir Arthur Evans and the excavations at Knossos, which revealed (art historical thoughts of) frescos of bull jumpers. As a lesbian, I know that the labrys, or doubled-headed axe, is a symbol of lesbians, strong women, the non-well-behaved women who make history.

But this was a labyrinth that you walk, the kind of the floor of Chartres cathedral, the kind cut into gardens and floors all over the world, the kind that UU churches have created temporarily and permanently all over the country. This one was on the kind of huge blue and silver tarp that you can buy at Costco, made of red duct tape, with concentric circles, starting at a cross, creating a winding path.

I walked the path, first, by myself, desperately needing some calm reflection after days of harried chaos and disorder. Soon, I was joined by Mama, who walked with me a bit but then had to referree snacking children. The kids joined me soon, running where I walked, crossing the lines, where I carefully followed the prescribed path. But all ways to walk the labyrinth are welcome. Reaching the center, I walked back through, nodding at other friends who had joined the path. It's odd, while you can follow the path as you walk it, I found it almost impossible to predict where I would be next, which circle would be my next. Even from the center, I couldn't exactly discern the path I had tread, nor the way I would get out, except for the first few steps I would take. It all looks so regular but it is a little--what's the word that means throwing you a little off-balance--unbalancing? Except that the exercise itself was so centering, made me so present, even in just a few steps and minutes. Standing in the center, I did have some thoughts about "man as the measure of all things" as I stood at the center of all of those walking around me; but it wasn't a feeling of power or control or superiority encompassed by that humanist concept but a much more Zen (to borrow from precisely the wrong religious tradition) thought of "well, I got here first and now it's time to go on." And that's what I did, took the path--the same path, though it didn't feel familiar or the same--around and around, and exited the labyrinth, not dizzy at all but balanced and calm. Exactly what I needed.


Love will guide us , Peace has tried us
Hope inside us will lead the way
On the road from greed to giving
Love will guide us through the dark night.

If you cannot sing like angels
If you cannot speak before thousands
You can give from deep within you
You can change the world with your love.

You are like no other being,
What you can give no other can give
To the future of our precious children,
To the future of the world where we live.

Hear the song of peace within you
Heed the song of peace in your heart
Spring's new beginning shall lead to the harvest
Love will guide us on our way.

Sally Rogers' "Love Will Guide Us"

Saturday, August 9, 2008

We're Home

The power was turned back on around 4 a.m. (when we called to check, it was in the record). And so we came home. Picked up the cats, cleaned out the refrigerator by throwing away so much food and washing everything down, and tried to control the chaos created by our hasty departure and the neglect while we were away. We had lunch at a restaurant, napped the kids in the car, and then came home for good.

It's great to be home, even if I was nervous standing in the spot where I watched the sky turn green and the hail pummel the house. More on the whole experience soon . . . . first, we need to spend some good, quality family time at home together.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Let the Games Begin

We have all been watching the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Bejing, here on 8/8/8 at 8. Its been an amazing show thus far, in its epic historical reach, brilliant visual dramatics, and incredible performance technologies. I loved the opening ceremonies for the Athens games four years ago, particularly the history of art with the Greek black figure vases, but the Chinese LED screen scrolls are just fantastic. The kids stayed up to watch but fell asleep when the Parade of Nations began, can't blame them, especially as it's not in alphabetical order--there being no Chinese alphabet--but organized by the number of strokes in the character representing the name of the country (all Chinese words are organized this way in their dictionaries); apparently, the U.S. is still towards the end. I'll try to hang in so I can see all the great stuff that usually happens after all the athletes enter. Oddly, I have this strange sense of pride for China, even as the only non-Chinese person in the room. But my children are Chinese and my pride in them extends to their ancestral culture. Besides, all my Chinese lessons have paid off--I could count backwards with the drummers from 5 in Mandarin to kick off the ceremonies!

Update

The power lines have been cut, the 40' tree removed, the cars towed. Now we are looking for an electrician to repair our electrical conduit before we can have the electric company reconnect our power. We gave away as much food as we could; we'll clean out the rest of it tomorrow. The cats have been boarded. We can get a rental car this afternoon. Ar-Ma is here and doing her best, but the kids are tired and stressed and are cycling up and down (so am I. I just keep thinking about what could have happened and worrying about whether I did all I could to keep things as calm as possible. And I have this overwhelming desire for us all to be home. But blogging and email help. Mama is busy with all the details; it'll be her turn next.). Sis awoke crying for home early. No one really got any sleep. The cats, who were with us in the hotel, had a field day.

Several friends and neighbors are keeping tabs on us. We are doing pretty well under the circumstances.

Newsflash

A major storm hit our area this (Thursday) evening at the kiddos' bedtime--rain, wind, hail, tornadic winds. We took the children and cats to the basement and promptly lost power. A tree fell, shearing our house (piercing the siding, ripping off shingles, breaking a basement window) and landing on our cars, both of them--you can't even see mine--while also snaring the power lines. We are all okay. But there is some property damage.

After much help from friends (and you know who you are, eternal thanks to you), we are all safe in a hotel, starting to sift through insurance, quotes, claims, etc etc. We have family coming up from the city tomorrow to help keep the kids in good spirits.

More later. If you need to reach us, send email or call our cell phones.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Perfect Pitch

Yesterday, Sis demonstrated that she has perfect pitch. They were in the bathtub and I had let the water out. Before all of the tub confetti had dissolved. She uttered a perfect "m-o-m": it had three syllables and three different notes and the very clear meaning of frustration and exasperation.

I think I'll be hearing that "song" for years to come.

Get Well Soon

Our thoughts go out to the "Little Prince" family, which has been hit with both strep and Coxsackie. Get well soon!

Jet Lagged

It's been exactly two weeks since we got home from Texas and no one has slept through the night since. Last night, Sis was awake from 1-4 a.m., just ready to talk, specifically to Mama. I had gone in to help once but Sis freaked out upon seeing me, making matters worse. Numerous times, Sis asked Mama what her favorite book was, what her favorite sport was, and Mama tried and tried not to engage, just to pat and leave. Apparently, Sis is pretty fast, even in the wee hours, because she would often beat Mama to the door as she tried to make a hasty retreat. It wasn't pretty.

It hasn't been pretty in a long time.

Master and Mama Malaprop

Yesterday, on hearing his favorite sea chanteys come on the CD player, Bud said, "It's the music from Mystic Sea World."

Kinda made me think of Shamu as some kind of prophet!

-=-=-=-=

Exhausted during bedtime the other night, Mama misread our favorite Sandra Boynton book, saying "Puggle Snuppy." This sent all of us into hysterics. "Mama, you're silly," said Sis.

And then the cat walked in, and "Kuggle Snitty" had us--at least the adults, anyway,--on the floor in tears.

I think you had to be there.

Radical Hospitality

I'm still reading my book on radical hospitality, and am not quite prepared to digest it here (especially as I haven't finished it), but it occurred to me last night, after reading a few snippets, that children are the ultimate practitioners: until a certain age, they have open hearts, don't judge others, imagine the impossible, and welcome everyone, even absolute and possibly dangerous strangers, while, however, respecting their own boundaries. Of course, part of my job as a parent is to downsize those radical impulses--no, the minister doesn't want a drink from your cup; no, the stranger can't come home with us for lunch; no, the entire playgroup can't spend the night; no, I guess you don't have to share the couch with me today; and, one from actual experience, no we don't need to give that man (who is yelling at no one while waiting at the bus stop--"Mom, what is he doing? Why is he yelling?") a ride. I read recently, I think in the NYTimes during the whole codependent camps brouhaha, that it used to be the parent's job to introduce the child to the world, now it is our job to protect the child from the world. Sad state, I supposed, but really nothing new. Perhaps, as the authors maintain, that is why radical hospitality is so important.

4 Weeks and Counting

Just in case you aren't keeping track, the kiddos start preschool in exactly four weeks today. Sure, that first day is only an hour of visiting, with us in tow, but it counts because we'll have all of our new clothes, shoes, haircuts, and supplies, including snack/lunch box and waterbottle. Then they go a half day (1 1/2 hours) the next time, I think, and then, exactly five weeks from today, we all fly solo for 2 hours and 45 minutes.

And just in case I was actually successful in forgetting for awhile that it is coming, every magazine I subscribe to is touting "back-to-school" articles--food, clothes, crafts, rituals. Today alone, I got two! Of course, I'll read them . . .

. . . and weep.

Catch of the Day

I've been fishing. In the backyard. With a stick. From my lawn chair.

I was amazingly successful, catching numerous Sis and Bud fish. They weren't "keepers," but were returned to the water every time to "be with their families" or "go back to school" so they could "grow up" and "get big."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Food . . .

. . . the "Food Detective" Ted Allen will try to answer on his new show on Food Network. It's kinda like science guy Harold McGee-light. Besides, he was always my favorite "Queer Guy."

And we did learn something useful from his piece on baking soda, which does reduce fridge odors. But, activated charcoal does a better job--and you can buy it at the pet store in the fish section. We have a little net baggy of it in our fridge now and you can't smell a thing in there. We joked that we might leave Chinese food in there forever, just to see if the charcoal can keep up. For me, with the sensitive nose, the charcoal--and by extension, the show--have been a great boon.

Food in a Day

I'm amazed at what the kiddos ate today. This is not a total list, but what impressed me the most:
  • 1 1/2 cantaloupes for breakfast and first snack
  • 12 pieces of ham in sandwiches for lunch
  • 1/4 a very large, heavy watermelon (with a little help form me) during snacks
  • 4 1/2 chicken thighs for dinner
  • 1 large bag of steamed vegetables (snap peas, broccoli, carrots, and waterchestnuts; again, with some help from me)
  • approximately 10 plates of Puffin cereal throughout the day

Wow.

Circle Time

We played school today.

(Yep, rip my heart out and stomp all over it).

Sis, guiding Bud, pulled most of the books off one of the shelves, lined them up on the sofa table, and proceeded to read from What is a Rainbow? Bud sat at her feet on the floor. Then they switched. And switched again. When the switching got a little harried/hairy, I got to be teacher. Sis kept standing up and then whispering to me to tell them to sit down for circle time. Where does she get this? They also whispered to each other instead of talking outloud; I think this is a first. And then, between stories, we sang a get-the-wiggles-out song and the "hokey pokey."

Then, when school was out, we all went upstairs and played my other favorite game, this one purely fantastical, "go to sleep for nap." Yep, lots of tucking in for nap and then quickly waking up. Somehow, Sis became "Big Sis" and Bud became "The Baby" and the baby started sneezing and needed special attention. But then they would all settle down to sleep again, serenely tucked under the covers. Until nap was over. Again.

Then it became a lot of jumping on the bed in my folded clothes so that we came downstairs. I might be glad these games are done for today.

Favorite Cookbooks

The NYTimes blog, "The Moment," has a list of favorite, well-loved cookbooks of famous chefs, writers, and foodies. It's a great list (actually, several little lists), judging by the titles I do recognize, but I would say it isn't a list for the average (non-foodie) home cook, especially if you just go with, say, Wylie Dufresne's list. Interestingly, several of the commenters to the post have listed their local Junior League cookbooks, something I wouldn't really expect from, say, Danny Meyer or Rick Bayless. But, having just compiled a cookbook for our church, as well as growing up eating recipes from America Cooks, the compilation of Junior League cookbooks, I really like home recipes as well as professional/restaurant ones. But while I just read the latter, I actually cook from the former.

And my favorites (these are mainly the ones I cook from), in no particular order, are:
  • Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and More Home Cooking
  • Better Homes and Garden Cookbook
  • Bloodroot Restaurant's various Political Palate Cookbooks
  • Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock's The Gift of Southern Cooking (or anything by Edna Lewis)
  • Julia Child's The Way to Cook
  • Rose Dunnington's The Greatest Cookie Ever
  • the whole series of Best Food Writing books
  • The Ultimate Ice Cream Book
  • Jyl Steinback's The Busy Mom's Slow Cooker Cookbook
  • 50 Ways to Cook Most Everything

I have lots of other cookbooks--Gourment, Martha Stewart Living, The New York Times Cookbook, Cook's Illustrated, Frugal Gourmet, Maida Heatter, Alton Brown, Madhur Jaffey, King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion, Cooking Light--but I'm still breaking those in. The above are the ones I go to in a pinch. But I think I'll be checking out a few new ones from the chefs' lists (and the commenters, too) to add to this list.

Autumnal Prelude

It's darker in the mornings, have you noticed? And light is fading faster in the evenings. And yesterday, with the breeze blowing and the humidity low, I could almost feel fall coming. Especially because the wind knocked loose some leaves that then fell gently to the ground, though still bright summer green. We went for a walk with our scooters and played in the backyard. There, we found a giant spider web and talked for awhile about how and why spiders make webs, while admiring the glimmering web dancing in the breeze. Sure, there are still several weeks to the official (and even unofficial) end of summer, and it will certainly be hot again. But fall is coming.

Monday, August 4, 2008

I'm BACK!

Well, the tech arrived 34 minutes after the allotted 2-hour window but we now have cable and internet again.

It's good to be back!

The Ones That Got Away

Just like a fisherman (woman/person?) returning to shore, I will say that the best posts I have dreamed up in the last three days got away. I had a fun motif to tie in the three parties we went to this weekend, but can’t recall the title that clinched the humor. Suffice it to say, we had a great time at the three, definitely different, all delightful, get-togethers. Good food, good friends, good opportunities to post . . . c’est la vie.

Trans

We’ve got a bit of a trans-species thing going on over here. Last night, Mama played fetch with our cat. Yep, the cat thinks he’s a dog. At first, Mama didn’t know how the little toy mouse ended up at her feet in the kitchen. Then she saw Albus circling her. She picked up the mouse, threw it, and . . . he brought it back! Not just once but several times.
Of course, we support his right to be a dog but I’m not paying for . . . tail surgery?

How Does Your Garden Grow?

The less said about our “garden,” the better. I think, perhaps, vegetables don’t really work well in containers. We’ve lost everything but an extremely ambitious cucumber plant (or was it the squash?) and two tomato plants, which are so small there is no way they will bear fruit before the first frost. Oh, my basil and parsley are okay, but that doesn’t really count, right?
I know we didn’t help the situation along. Pretty much put them in the ground and expected nature to take over, you know, their being plants and all. But it turns out that we have vegetables so domesticated that they can’t survive a mild Connecticut summer on their own. Sure, I always hear that gardeners put a lot of work into their gardens, but people but lots of work into their homes too—I didn’t quite realize it was a do-or-die situation.
Live and learn, you know. So, for those of you who took better care of your plants, if you have extra vegetables, you can give them to me.

The Long Road Home

So, last week was the kiddos’ three-year checkup. All is well. The pediatrician, whom we adore, did suggest that we get the kids tricycles so they can learn to pedal. Good for the gross motor skills, I guess. We have several scooters and big wheels, even a Crazy Coupe, but they are neglected toys—just too frustrating to get them to move. And then I have to push. So, really, no one wants me to pull them out.
But today, with the doc’s voice in my ear, we pulled out a few of them and went for a little parade down the sidewalk. Bud was in the Coupe, having a lot of trouble staying on the sidewalk. Sis was on a trike-like scooter without pedals which was a few sizes too small for her but had a great basket for Shirt. We weren’t getting very far –we’d made it the length of our yard and were in front of our next door neighbor’s-- I had strong images of myself carrying both the trike and the coupe back while the kids dragged behind me.
Anyway, a neighbor, seeing us process, stopped to chat and suggested we come to her house. She lives about the equivalent of a block away.
I said, “Only if you want us to stay the night!”

Rainbow Connection

At said birthday party with the incredibly (inconvenient) impressive thunderstorm, even before rain threatened, I noticed we were creating our own little rainbow coalition. There were 4 interracial couples (two African-American/Caucasian and two Asian/Caucasian) and their biracial offspring, at least one non-practicing Jew, a Canadian, us lesbians, “the lovers, the dreamers, and me.” All of us . . . .

Serenity Now

There was an incredible thunderstorm on Saturday morning, that I would recall with fond thoughts of its power and beauty, if it weren’t for the facts that a). we were at an outdoor birthday party at the time and b). my cable tv and internet services have been out since then and they’ve been unable to send a tech until this afternoon.
I’m having withdrawl. I really noticed how much I missed it when I started asking Mama if her Blackberry could check my email. And then, this morning when she got to work, I had her read me snippets from various emails I had gotten. Though, she didn’t log into my Evite—so I still don’t know why I’m “saving the date” for a friend—wedding or 40th birthday or something else entirely? Mama can only see the title of the email.
Another friend did notice I was offline, surprised that in just a 24 hour period that she hadn’t seen a post or an email from me. I’m on it that much, I guess. And yesterday, when Mama slept in and I was downstairs with the kids, my inability to check email, read blogs, or look at the NYTimes, made me a little stressful.
Yet another friend, a psychiatric nurse, when asked how I should handle this withdrawl, suggested the Serenity Prayer. Great, the first thing I wanted to do when she said that was to forward her the article about the questioning of the attribution of that to Reinhold Neibuhr. ERRRRGH. I’m typing this in Word as we speak and can’t include the hyperlink. Or even Google his name to see if I’ve spelled it correctly.
It’s going to be a long afternoon until that tech arrives.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Key Ingredients, Part 2

I couldn't sleep last night because I kept thinking of other recipes I should have included in my list of family favorites. So, for the sake of completeness, and because I'm apparently neurotic, I'm including them here:
  • Aunt J's hush puppies, from summer fish fries
  • Cousin S's taco soup
  • Mom's pot roast, which I had on every break from college and beyond
  • Mom's chicken and dumplings, one of my favorites
  • Ar-Ma's mango sticky rice
  • Mom's black eyed peas for New Year's--eat them all for good luck!
And I know I'll remember more!