30 October 2008

Beautiful Game, Beautiful Girl

We are a "wee bit" soccer mad in the house.

Rick coaches our two boys' teams, and Lola is on a team too. We go to three soccer games each Saturday. We have five practices per week. The boys -- meaning dad + sons -- play in an adults/kids pick-up game on Sunday evenings. Rick often takes the kids to various soccer clinics offered by our league. We watch lots of soccer on TV (international soccer being the one and only reason we have cable). I endure quite a bit of soccer in my living room.

We have an unfathomable amount of soccer cleats piled up in our garage. It looks like we could outfit Manchester United, if they all had small feet.

These kids got moves, man. Even Elizabeth and Tallulah move the ball around the house with their feet.

Lola is emerging as quite a little player, dazzling us with her step overs and her dribbling and her dancing with the ball. When we tell her she's got a game the next day, she makes fists of both her hands, pulls her elbows backwards, and yells "YES!" She's been scoring like a mad woman, once scoring 4 goals in one game. She loves that ball. She wanted a Mia Hamm cake for her birthday this year.

She's a beautiful girl, playing The Beautiful Game:



Look for her in the Women's World Cup of 2019!

29 October 2008

Note To Self

Tonight, as Vincenzo was doing his homework, he asked me if I would do it for him.

He was being funny.

So I said "Nope! But nice try, buddy," as I walked back into the kitchen and the dish-washing extravaganza that was my evening.

He hollered into the kitchen: "See, this is why I think parents should drink more beer."

Apparently, if I drink more beer, I will forget silly rules like do your own homework and will gleefully fill in the blanks and look up kangaroo rat in the index and read Chapter 5, Lesson 2.

Note to self: stay away from the children's homework when enjoying the drink.

28 October 2008

May I Have Another?

Right now, I am enjoying a delicious, organic free trade banana ...

... from Peru.

Imagine the fossil fuel needed to get this banana into my kitchen. I'm pretty sure that cancels out the organic free trade deal.

Good God, this is a screwy world.

Pass the oil soaked bananas, please! I sure hope there are enough for everyone!

27 October 2008

So Exciting

The election is only a week and a day away. This is the most exciting election I've ever paid attention to. This past weekend, we took the kids to a Bake Sale for Obama, held by a friend of ours in Berkeley. Spending a little money on yummy goodies for the kids was a very small act indeed, in the pantheon of political action, but in my crazy life it's about all I could manage.

And I must say, I am quite proud of us, and really do feel like we have done a little something to further the cause. The bake sale raised $350 for Obama -- maybe small potatoes, but potatoes nonetheless. And the thought of hundreds or thousands of people around the country doing the same? Goose-pimply, I say. Inspiring and goose-pimply.

I am excited and scared for the election: scared if he wins and scared if he loses, because the racism that exists in this country will not sleep through the next few weeks, and we know from experience that anything can happen. I'm excited, though, to stand up in a country that will elect Barack Obama.

We are on the brink of history!

23 October 2008

Now Where Did I Put My Xanthum Gum?

The take home message from a great evening with Michael Pollan: Use some freakin' common sense, people!

He’s a whole lot more eloquent than that. Here are a few of his “rules” for eating:

  • Don’t eat something that has more than five ingredients on the label, or whose ingredients cannot be pronounced by your fifth grader.
  • Don’t eat anything that won’t rot.
  • If a product has lots of health claims on the label, don’t buy it. (The claims or the product!)
  • Don’t eat something your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.


Your grandmother didn’t have high fructose corn syrup in her pantry, or lecithin, or Xanthum Gum. She didn’t need to put Xanthum Gum on her grocery list in order to feed her family, and there was no HFCS in her bread.

If you’ve read Pollan’s book In Defense Of Food, you’ll remember that he related the story of how then Senator George McGovern tried, in 1977, to develop food guidelines that would address the growing public health concern over saturated fat. After a couple of days of hearings, he came up with language that said, in nice plain English: Eat less red meat.

Seems like good advice. Seems reasonable.

Unless you are the beef industry, in which case it seems like the worst advice ever. So, enter an interested third party into the public policy process and viola! We end up with: Choose meats that will reduce your intake of saturated fats. Blah-de-blah-de-blah-de-blah. That’s not advice that people can easily incorporate into their lives, and this was especially so in 1977, when folks didn’t really know what saturated fats were, or which meats would reduce their intake of them. But Big Food got involved and protected their own special interests, sacrificing common sense and public health in the process. Right on for the almighty dollar.

Michael Pollan made me mad. Well, not him so much as what he is uncovering about food policy, production, and consumption. The way that the food industry has mucked around with public policy in order to protect – and boost – their profits…the way the US has dictated how developing nations feed their poor by buying wheat from us instead of from their own farmers…the way even milk is problematic because of the high levels of hormones now found in it. It’s all fairly overwhelming and depressing. So thanks, Michael, for a lovely evening.

I am trying to inch my way towards a Slow Food lifestyle. We are planning a garden for the spring time, we are learning all we can about the food around us, and we are talking about how to carve out the time and space to cook with whole foods more than we already do. We are trying to go local.

It’s baby steps, though, people. As recently as a few weeks ago, I fed my kids Foster Farms corn dogs – which probably epitomize everything that is wrong with food in this country – and I was relieved to have something quick and easy in the freezer to shove down their throats. Too bad it wasn’t actually food, but let’s not quibble.

One of the more compelling ideas in Pollan’s work is the notion that Slow Food is really about traditional culture, and that the loss of knowing how to produce, prepare and eat food in a sustainable, holistic, healthy way is really a loss – or at least a separation from – the traditions and cultures we have come from. As Pollan points out, people used to know what to eat and didn’t spend much time worrying about food. I have a lot to learn to bring that culture back into my own family and kitchen, but that’s the picture of family I have in my head: people who enjoy preparing and sharing food that is delicious and varied and savored. I want food and eating to be a celebration in this house, not a chore or a utilitarian endeavor.

Okay, so Rick may find that hard to believe, given how much I grumble about feeding people. Even so, it really is true.

And yet, the reality is that I have five kids, one part time job, a few freelance gigs, and one business to help Rick run; Rick has his business to run, gardens to install, two soccer teams to coach, and yes, the five kids as well. We are running from the minute we get up in the morning – always later than we had planned – to the minute we collapse at night, which occurs when we just can’t push ourselves one minute longer. I have no idea how to fit Slow Food into our lives right now; I just know that I want this, I want to learn how to do this.

My next book? Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver. More inspiration for my quest!

22 October 2008

Steve Martin: Source of Hope

Steve Martin was on Fresh Air today. I adore Steve Martin. I hated his humor when I was younger -- his goofy 70's stuff -- but now I appreciate it, and I adore everything he's done since his stand up days. The interview was about those days, because his autobiography called Born Standing Up, about that part of his career, just came out in paperback.

Although he was speaking about his 18 years of doing stand up comedy, and my life is anything but stand up funny, I still found a great source of hope in one thing he said: "One can have affection, it turns out, for the war years." Or something to that effect.

So in other words, I may someday look back in affection at the years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds I am spending wiping butts, cleaning spills, stepping on corn flakes, laundering socks, cooking for ingrates, soothing tears, brokering peace deals, shopping for groceries, answering questions, serving as a jungle gym, craving silence, hoping for the best, washing dishes, flying in the dark, making beds, finding shoes, tying shoes, packing lunches, pretending I know what I'm doing, and generally creating people.

Oh yes, of course I knew this, but it was fun to be reminded of such an essential truth by Steve Martin, one of the great sages of our time.

I wonder why Steve Martin never had kids...he would've been a great dad, don't you think?

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Tune in tomorrow: I'll be posting about Michael Pollan after I go see him speak tonight! My guru!

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And for those of you with blogs of your own or really for ANYONE who writes down anything at all about her life, here's a gem to read from a blog I visit whenever I have the courage. Enjoy, and go back for more: she's wonderful.

18 October 2008

Barefoot

I've already been pregnant several times, but tonight, I asked my husband to keep me barefoot.

I adore red wine. I can't sing its praises enough. I pray fervently that "In vino veritas" is true, because life is better with red wine, and if red wine = truth, then my life is both better and more truthful than it seems when I have no red wine trickling through my veins.

So thank you Rick, for keeping me in Barefoot. And thank you, Raley's, for putting Barefoot on sale.

15 October 2008

A Squat With a View

We took care of our favorite golden retriever this weekend. I was pregnant with Elizabeth when our own beloved golden girl went on to Dog Heaven (fire hydrants plentiful…tennis balls for the asking…humans on call to scratch a furry belly…no leashes…puppy paradise). Elizabeth adores the dog we are lucky enough to care for a few times a year, and is beside herself with excitement when Silka comes to stay; equally distraught when she leaves.

But she didn’t know until this last visit just how much there is to discover with a dog around.

We were all in the kitchen, living through the usual dinnertime mayhem. Rick and I were trying to make dinner while simultaneously shepherding folks through homework, changing poopy daughters, talking about business tasks, catching up on the day, and keeping sharp objects from the 2-year old. It was noisy and fun and not fun and exhausting and full.

Then Rick says, “Mon, look at Elizabeth.” I look down, and there she is, crouching right behind Silka, gingerly pinching the dog’s tail between her thumb and forefinger and holding it high above her head. Head cocked to one side, her brow furrowed in concentration and study, she gazed intently at one specific spot underneath the poor pup’s tail, fascinated for a good 30 seconds. We watched as she, of furrowed brow, studied the hole she spied and pondered its depths. She looked like someone lost in time and space: siblings swirling around, chaos reigning, and in that moment, time slowed to a halt; all that existed for her was in full view: Silka’s asshole.

Then, “I’m going to cover that up.” And she dropped the tail, a look of disgust and disturbance on her face, and moved on to her next activity.

I failed to get a photo, so here’s a sketch:



30+ seconds of gazing in wonder at a dog’s anus. This is the kind of discovery reserved for children. Thank God.

13 October 2008

12 October 2008

Rockin'

Proof that there's a little bit of Martha lurking in us all:


I made this cake for Samuel, for his 10th birthday party, which we celebrated today at the local pool. I took a big chance, having an October party at a swimming pool, but it worked excellently! First, the weather was great, and second, the rest of the world is on to other activities at this point in the Fall, and we had almost the entire place to ourselves.

He chose a Rock and Roll theme; in a few weeks, he is going to be Brian Setzer for Halloween. (Well, if I can find a blond pompadour wig, he is. Any suggestions? Send them my way.) Last week, he decided he wanted to give his friends a song book, filled with lyrics from some of his favorite songs. So he spent lots of this past week typing the lyrics on the computer. Play, listen, pause, type. Next line: Play, listen, pause, type. It took him a long time, but it was definitely a labor of love for him. He came up with some pretty creative lyrics, too! My favorite was the line from Stray Cat Strut: "I wish I could be as caffiene wild..." (For anyone not familiar, the line is actually "I wish I could be as carefree and wild.")

He also burned CDs with some of his favorite songs, and gave these to his friends as party favors. (This was his dad's fabulous idea: why didn't I think of that?) His taste casts a wide net on the music world. His CD featured Bob Dylan (not a word, family members, not a word!), Alvin and the Chipmunks, The Stray Cats, Alicia Keys, U2, and John Fogarty (local boy!). He designed a cover for the CD case, and included a play list on the inside. It was an inexpensive, easy and fun way to give his guests a "goody" that was way more interesting than the usual cheap chotchsky crap that no one wants, no one needs, was probably produced with slave labor and gross chemicals, will end up in the landfill sooner rather than later, and may in fact be part of the reason our trade deficit is so high and our banking system is collapsing.

But I digress.

In true family tradition (my side), Sam's cake did get a little something extra added to it: Lola dropped the neck of the guitar on the sidewalk right in front of the Swimming pool. I don't think much grit got in there, but I just plopped the thing right back on the tray and pretended nothing happened. Family tradition, because we Murphy's have been known to eat patio lasagna and kitchen floor cake in our day. (If your child slaves away for an afternoon, making lasagna the slow way, and then drops it on the patio as she is delivering it to a waiting family, you scoop it up, pick out the trumpet vine, and eat the damn thing, right Katy?)

And tomorrow, our fourth child turns four. We have four birthdays in six weeks at our house, and that six weeks comes to a thundering close tomorrow. Well, not really, since we will have a little party for Elizabeth in a week or two. As the last child to celebrate her birthday in 2008, she may have to settle for one pooped out mommy who is plumb done with creative birthday party ideas. (I will be frosting another cake tomorrow...if it's "Martha-worthy" maybe I will post it.)

And I close a long day with these questions: Is it possible to have a birthday party for a child that does not render one utterly spent and useless by the end of the day? Can one throw a birthday party without losing one's mind? I really must know what is possible, so I know whether to keep on fighting the good fight...

**edited on October 13th, to add a photo of the birthday boy**


11 October 2008

Why Not?

Rick found an essay on the New York Times website tonight, by Verlyn Klinkenborg. (In much the same way I would like to be Nina Totenberg, Rick would like to be Verlyn Klinkenborg.) Klinkenborg is an essayist who writes about The Rural Life for the Op Ed page. He is thoughtful and observant.

The essay Rick found is from October of 2007, and it has gotten me thinking. I love writing this blog. I love having this outlet to write about funny things my kids do, or about days that would make me cry if I didn't find a way to laugh , or about ideas that percolate in my head.

Even though I love it so much, I recently stopped posting for almost three weeks. This was a particularly stressful time for us, with work and school and work and soccer and work and feeding people taking up most of our time and energy. But other weeks have been as full, and I've still managed to post. So why the break?

Well, I think it has something to do with Politeness and Authority. In this essay, Klinkenborg explores the idea that women writers tend to apologize for their own ideas, to avoid offending others. I have a million ideas a day to write about, most of which end up in one of the trash bins of my mind labeled: NO ONE CARES or YOU CAN'T SAY THAT or THAT'S JUST PLAIN STUPID. When pressed, I can admit that I do not actually believe this. I really do believe that I have something to say. I do not, however, behave this way.

I took a break from blogging because blogging was starting to scare me. Reading Klinkenborg's essay tonight took the questions roiling around in my head and placed them squarely on the page where I had to face them:

Why not, I asked, be as smart and perceptive as you really are? Why not accept what you’re capable of? Why not believe that what you notice matters?


I enjoy making people laugh with my posts -- and lots of people have told me how much fun it is to read about my children's shenanigans. But I've got more to say than that my daughter didn't wear underwear to Mass or that my laundry pile is threatening to stage a coup. And I shy away from those interesting ideas. Blog guidelines suggest that you find a voice for your blog, a niche, a "persona" of sorts. I don't think mine has one. But I do know that it's hard to swing back and forth between silly little anecdotes about my kids and more weighty topics like what I really think of Sarah Palin, the fears I harbor about my parenting, or the spiritual side of living a chaotic, messy, stressful life. I want to write about both. I need a little courage to do so.

Women everywhere should read Klinkenborg's essay. And then answer that question for themselves: Why not believe that what I notice matters?

10 October 2008

How Sad

The highlight of my day was this:

Driving to the store to buy coffee. It's the only thing I bought, and I was gone for about 20 minutes.

I was by myself. It was quiet. It was a little slice of heaven.

How sad.

08 October 2008

Crime and Shoelaces

I don’t even know how to begin to process this day.

Let me start by saying that the reason women should stay home and not work outside the home is that kids need shoelaces in their shoes and someone to comfort them when they are traumatized. And I really needed to be that person today. Yes, daddies can re-lace shoes and provide comfort, but what if I want to be the one who does that? After all, I got to carry them around for nine months (OK, more like 45 months, plus another month for their combined lateness) and I got to bring them forth into this world…and I AM THE MOMMY.

There is an episode of Mad About You that takes place right before Jamie gives birth. She and Paul are arguing about who is going to do what after the baby is born, and she basically has this moment of realization where she says, and then says repeatedly as it starts to sink in: “I’m the mommy!” She travels the spectrum from indignation to trepidation to abject fear, as the full scope of those three words sinks in and she realizes how much her life is going to change. I love that scene, because it captures, with a light touch, what I couldn’t have known the first time I saw it: That the privilege and responsibility of being a mother is alternately a blessing and burden, a joy and a hardship. The children themselves are not the hardship; it’s the attendant chaos and complication and challenges that really get ya’ down.

So what happened today? Well, it’s a nearly impossible task to paint the full picture, but the highlights are that we started off the day fighting about homework. Then, that fight was interrupted by a full blown crime scene unfolding out our front window. No one was hurt, thankfully, but a would-be robber attempted to steal items out of a school bus, traumatizing the kids on the bus, the mother who was getting her child on the bus, the bus driver, and finally, my children, who witnessed Act II of the unfolding drama – suspect running away and mother screaming for help – right out our front window.

Did I mention that the bus was one for special needs kids? Yes, that’s another lovely detail of the whole story. The guy actually pulled over in his own car in order to rob the school bus, which was idling in front of our neighbor’s house while she was helping her son into his seat. He stepped into the bus, said he had a gun (which he probably did not), and tried to take a few children’s backpacks before grabbing the bus driver's briefcase and running back to his car. This is when our neighbor, started screaming for the Police, which is what brought us all to our front window.

Rick ran outside to help the mom, our neighbor, and I ran to the phone to call the police. Our kids were left to get an eyeful of the commotion outside. They saw the guy running to his car, confronting their dad and exchanging a few words, flinging the bag he had stolen and driving away. They saw the poor mom screaming after the guy, clearly shaken to her core. They saw neighbors come streaming out of their houses. They could hear me, shaky myself, talking to the 911 dispatcher and telling her what little I could. It was an intensified few minutes. It was very upsetting to the kids.

One of our kids, in particular, was extremely upset. He wanted to know:

"Why would someone do that? Don’t people like that care that there are children in the world, and things like that scare them? I hate all this grown-up stuff, why did this have to happen, what is going on…”

And on and on and on. We had quite the ride to school, culminating with the child in question saying:

"I can’t get the pictures out of my head! I feel like it happened to me; I feel like something precious was taken from me."

I reassured him that nothing of his was taken, that he was safe, that he would be safe for the entire day, blah de blah de blah. But of course, I was thinking how something precious was indeed taken from him: the ability to believe that bad things don’t happen right outside his front door.

And the shoelaces. Vincenzo’s school shoes got so messed up last night that Rick cut the laces out of them. Today was a free dress day at school, and knowing this, I figured he would wear other shoes and give me a day to get new laces. I forgot that the kid is down to two pairs of shoes, not counting sandles. And we couldn’t find the second pair. In all of the excitement over the school bus incident, I didn’t even realize he was shoe-less until very late in the game. The shoe drama unfolded like this. Keep in mind that in the background, we have upset kids still processing the crime scene, so to speak. Maybe his shoes are in the truck? Oh wait, Rick is down the street giving a police report, and I don’t have a key to his truck. Call Rick, he can’t come back to the house yet, he really is talking to the police. Finally a neighbor brings me Rick’s keys, I check the truck, the shoes aren’t there. OK, where else? The soccer bag! Into the garage to try to find the soccer bag. And yes! The shoes are there. But they are SOAKED and muddy from the soccer game on Saturday, and they’ve been sitting in that bag for four days. They’re gross. Back to square one. No extra laces in the all-purpose kitchen drawer. No other shoes in his room I can take laces out of. Head to girls’ room, where I finally find a pair with plain white laces I can use. Rip them out of Lola’s shoes, string them into Vincenzo’s. Great, now he will go to school with his feet inside of shoes. Hallelujah.

I was handling all of this while keeping in mind that I had to get to work on time. Not because I work for ogres, but because I really need to get some work done, and the to-do list there is ever increasing. I was handling all of this while packing 5 lunches, remembering to sign and return 3 progress reports, finding $5 for the donation to the homeless shelter the school is doing, trying to calm the fears and anxieties of the masses, trying to explain how evil exists in the world, trying to be a rock of calm and steady perseverance for my children, as we rocked in a sea of chaos.

And it upset me, that I couldn’t just stop the world and give all of us the time and space we needed in order to enter the day peacefully. The racing and rushing is tough most days, but today, it nearly did me in. I had one of those moments when I wished with all my heart that I wasn’t working outside the home, that I could be one of those moms who has five packets of shoe laces in her all-purpose kitchen drawer, who can take as much time as necessary to calm fears and soothe worries.

And the day closes with chaos still swirling about. Boys still awake and not settling down. Noodles all over one corner of the dining room (thank you, 2-year old). Dirty dishes on every inch of countertop. Laundry threatening to achieve world domination. Legos everywhere. Truly everywhere. Work to do. Miles to go. Children to love.

I know we will make; I just don’t have a clue how.

05 October 2008

Hide and Seek, Revisited

Today has been a looooooooooooong afternoon at home. Rick and I went into cleaning frenzy mode this morning, and then he had to leave for a meeting and had to take the van to drive other people as well. Which left me here with my offspring and no vehicle. It's been great! They watched a Star Wars movie, they drew and colored for a long while, and then a raucous game of Hide and Seek ensued.

Lola got bonked -- hard -- right before her turn to be the seeker, reducing her to tears and almost causing her to quit in 6-year old frustration. To make her feel better, Vincenzo told her that he would leave a clue near where he was hiding: he would hang up his stuffed monkey close by. He is the best hider of the bunch and is always the last to be found. So pretty soon, the three players were running around looking for him together.

Imagine listening to your tribe of children running through the house shouting: "LOOK FOR THE HUNG MONKEY! LOOK FOR THE HUNG MONKEY!"

These are the afternoons they will remember. Me too. Probably for different reasons!

01 October 2008

A Milestone Event

10 years. He's been in my life for 10 years. I've been a mother for a decade. Happy Birthday to my absolutely wonderful and amazing son Samuel. When he arrived on the scene, I hadn't a clue in the world what I was doing: he has taught me everything I know about being a mother.

His laughter lights up a room. His questions fire up my imagination and my thoughtfulness. His love of music has rekindled my own. His love of books reminds me of myself at 10 years old. His legs and feet have a way of catching on the smallest item imaginable, and dumping him in a clunky heap on the floor. His sensitivity is a constant reminder to me that all children hear, see, and absorb what happens around them. His love for his baby sister is palpable. His disgust at his other sisters is almost as equally palpable. His tenacity rivals only that of his father's. Actually, he might have his dad beat on that front. His highs and lows bring me right along with him, for every elated discovery and every crushing disappointment. His gift to me is this adventure called family.

And the milestone? Not that he is ten. No, the milestone is this: As I sat at my pathetic excuse for a desk, working late into the night, he came stumbling down the stairs because he could hear me in the kitchen. Sleepy and newly 10, he climbed into my lap with a mumbled, "I know I'm getting too big for this..." I didn't mind. But what's this? A new experience! My son stinks! His armpits stink!!! HE HAS B. O.! Time for deodorant!

What a way to ring in a new decade, don't you think?

I gave him an ice cream sandwich at 1:00am to celebrate his birthday. I tried to take his picture, but he was so sleepy that his attempts at smiling looked much more like miserable grimmaces. Shortly after the ice cream, my great big little tiny boy hugged me, kissed me, and crawled back to bed.

Thank God for middle of the night visits from children. Really.