30 August 2010

The Perfect Writing Lesson

OK, so see? Right here! This is perfect. Let's talk about what writing can really do. Now, you could say the following:

I slipped and hit my face on the couch and my tooth fell out. I bled a lot. It was gross.

There's nothing really wrong with that. It communicates information. It gets the idea across. But oh, the picture you could paint instead:

I was minding my own business, not bothering anyone, just going about my day. Little did I know what awaited me in my own living room. Two steps into the room and my foot met up with a sheet of paper carelessly (and typically) left there by my good-for-nothing brother, who never thinks of anyone but himself. My legs shot out from under me and WHAM! I slammed face first into the back of the couch. My first thought was, "That's funny, I didn't think I was eating anything just now" and my second thought was "Holy Moly, that's not food roiling around in my mouth, that's my TOOTH!"

My third thought was "Wow, I didn't know a mouth could generate that much blood." And that third thought stayed with me for a good long time, as did the spurting blood soaking through tissues my semi-panicky mother kept shoving in my mouth. I did, in fact, knock one of my baby feet clean out of my mouth, but the real blood was coming from my gums, where two other adult teeth have been making their glacial-like way into their front and center position. Adult teeth. You know, the ones I'm really going to USE, if I want to keep eating all that meat I enjoy so much? Yay, those adult teeth. That are now gushing blood down the front of my face and freaking out my younger siblings.

That little one keeps trying to hug me. She's so annoying. You'd think my blood-curdling screams would keep her away, but she seems strangely fascinated in a can't-look-away-from-the-car-crash kind of way.

Anyway, what I'd really like to do right now is relax and enjoy my first full day of being a homeschooled homegirl, but instead it looks like I'll be taking a little trip to the ER to see what they know about bloody gums. Let's hope the rest of this year turns out to be a little less exciting.

And that, dear daughter, is a lesson in writing, brought to you by life.

Welcome to homeschooling. Now please stop marking big occasions with a trip to the hospital. You are starting to get predictable.

* * *

Good first day, until the bloody part. Will write about it later. Maybe by the time I get them all into Ivy League colleges. Because that's why I'm doing this, right?

* * *

29 August 2010

Eight Year Old Wishes and Dreams

My eight year old daughter and I were enjoying a rare moment with just the two of us, being lazy and lying on my bed in the middle of the afternoon. She, with dreamy look in her eye, said: "Mom, wouldn't it be fun if you and me, just the two of us, were drifting in the ocean on a great big comfortable bed?"

I agreed with her that that sounded delightful. We had fun imagining the sun warming our faces, a sweet breeze moving us gently along. Then, she added the perfect final touch, eyes glowing:

"Wouldn't it be great if the bed had a mini fridge? And it was filled with meat?"

She meant the grass-fed, humanely raised, beyond organic kind, of course.

* * *

27 August 2010

7 Quick Takes Friday: Volume 11, the Homeschool Edition

It's FRYYYYYYYYYYY-Day! Welcome to my seven quick takes for today. Please visit Jen at Conversion Diary, the lovely hostess of the original 7QT.

1. My facebook mom friends have been abuzz about their Back to School nights this week. We will miss that time-honored tradition this year, so I've decided to have one just for Rick and me tonight. It will include paella and adult beverages. That beats bad decaf coffee and stale cookies, dudn't it?

* * *

2. Speaking of facebook, I had a moment of pure panic the other day, when I read my friend Karen's status update in which she gleefully shared that after 12 years of having kids at home she finally has all four of her boys in all day public school. Pure. Unadulterated. Panic. What have I done? See why I need adult beverages at my Back to School night?

* * *

3. We are going to the Academy of Sciences -- the only place on the planet with an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, and a 4-story rainforest all under one living roof -- on our third day of school! How cool is that? I will report on that trip, to be certain. We'll be there with other homeschooling families from all over the Bay Area. I will be on the look out for all those ill-socialized children out there, and will report them forthwith.

Folks, this place is pricey. $25 to get in the door, usually. They are hosting a homeschool day, which brings that hefty price down to $5 each. Otherwise? We'd be studying the rainforest in the boys' bedroom that day. But if you get a chance to go, or can save your pennies for a special occasion, do it. A. May. Zing.

* * *

4. Life is giving us all kinds of chances to create learning opportunities. Take for example the recent heat wave we had (and which is now a distant memory, seen through the haze and chill of gray, thick fog). As soon as the heat hit on Monday, the ants headed indoors. All week, I've been doing battle against those little menaces.

So now, I am going to send the kids on a little investigative journey. Follow every single ant trail back to its source. Remove the offending attraction: the girls have already reported finding the stub of a carrot behind Little T's bed covered in ants. Block up holes with cinnamon. Do a little google research on why ants refuse to cross a cinnamon barrier. And then, for the big fun: figure out the most effective way to kill them. Is it Simple Green? Bleach? The organic earth-friendly ant spray Nicole gave us? Stomping? High-powered water gun laced with battery acid? Compare and contrast the most effective method with the most fun.

Throw in a little math: count how many ants you see in a one inch line. Measure the long line of ants between the dining room window and the kitchen sink. Multiple the number of inches by the number of ants to estimate how many of the bastards you have to kill.

Language Arts? Write a poem using this prompt as your first line: "How can I kill thee? Let me count the ways." Or maybe haiku is more your game. Here's a sample:

Small, many, marching.
Prepare for your anty-God.
Can we hear you scream?

* * *

5. A picture of my classroom. Yay!

* * *

6. And now, for the gratitude portion of our day. I'd like to extend a very large THANK YOU to all of the people who have expressed their support for our new homeschooling endeavor. I know there are a few (hundred) people out there who think we are completely bonkers, and I'd like to thank them too, for not sharing that opinion with us. But to all those of you who have encouraged, congratulated, and high-fived us, thank you from the bottom of my family's collective heart. We take your good wishes with us as we begin the year.

* * *

7. From St. Theresa of Avila, a good prayer for a homeschooling mom. Or for a mom whose kids go to school. Or for a person who is not a mom. For a truck driver. A bank executive. A pilates instructor. A construction worker. An elected official. A teacher. A computer engineer. A fast food line worker. A human being.

"Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God never changes. Patience obtains all things. Nothing is wanting to the one who possesses God. God alone suffices.

Found in America Magazine.

* * *

26 August 2010

Me Me Me Me Me Me Me

I have been tagged by Teacher Mommy to participate in a meme. Can someone tell me what "meme" means? Where it comes from? I've never googled it. If you have, please share!

So, I answer 10 questions and then I tag 6 people to answer the same 10 questions.

1. If you blog anonymously, are you happy doing it that way; if you are not anonymous do you wish you had started out anonymously so you could be anonymous now?

I do not blog anonymously. Sometimes, I wish I did, because it seems like it might be easier to express myself without upsetting people. But then, writing is not for the feint of heart. If I'm not comfortable writing about it, then I'm either not ready to or I'm being a wuss and should get over myself. Usually, I think I need to work harder to write in way that is true to what I am thinking but respectful to those who might be upset or disagree. Whether or not someone might get upset or might disagree with me should not be a reason to write or not to write. Sadly, for me, it sometimes is. So I'm not anonymous, I sometimes wish I were, but in the end I think it's better this way.

I'm not very good at the courageous writing stuff, but I aspire to be. Baby steps, Bob.

2. Describe one incident that shows your inner stubborn side.

Wow, can it be that I'm not actually stubborn? Because I can't think of anything. Unless you count my ability to ignore my daughters' repeated pleas to "check on" them at night after I've put them to bed. I can listen to wailing and gnashing of teeth without stirring from my comfy chair for a good long time.

Is that stubborn? Or just too exhausted to move? They look an awful lot alike at 9:30 at night.

3. What do you see when you really look at yourself in the face in the mirror?

The best mirror in my house is my 8 year old daughter, whom everyone says is the spittin' image of me. So, when I look at my face reflected in hers, I see beauty, joy, and love. And a heaping helping of silliness. Lucky me!

I try to avoid all other mirrors.

4. What is your favorite summer cold drink?

Homemade sun tea. My kids made some two days ago, on the first decently hot day of the entire summer, and it tasted just like my own childhood. I found myself impatient for it to be ready, and also slightly uncomfortable with the way my kids kept saying "Is the tea ready yet?" They don't have to wait for much in their lives: everything is instantaneous. Sun tea is a delicious antidote.

5. When you take time for yourself, what do you do?

When I finally figure out how to do this, I'll let you know. I suspect I might spend 70% of the time weeping.

6. Is there something you still want to accomplish in your life? What is it?

Seriously? Still something I want to accomplish? Well, that particular list is long and ever-growing. I'll give you a handful. I would like to get more involved, in some meaningful way, with the Slow Food Movement. I would also like to figure out how to get my laundry put away when it's folded. I would like to write more.

Mostly, someday I would like to sit with my husband someplace beautiful, with a glass of red wine, assured in the knowledge that our five children are happy, peaceful, joyful adults. And to enjoy that glass of wine without talking about a single one of them.

7. When you attended school, were you the class clown, the class overachiever, the class shy person, or always ditching school?

I was a weird amalgam of smart student, borderline nerd, drama geek, social butterfly, and clueless happy person. But I was blessed with amazing friends, the kind that stay with you for your entire life, and they got me through the good, the bad, the awkward and the socially deadly.

8. If you close your eyes and want to visualize a very poignant moment in your life, what do you see?

I see an orange and white VW van pulling away from a curb, with my family inside of it and a very tall dormitory building rising up behind me. Having just been deposited at UC Santa Barbara for my freshman year of college and watching the family van trundle away, I was suspended smack dab between childhood and adulthood, and I knew it. I remember walking back into my dorm, excited, nervous, young, naive, confident and terrified at the same time. It was awesome.

I then proceeded to have the hands down worst year of my entire life, which I can now say, from the comfortable distance of 20+ years in the future, means that I am one incredibly lucky person.

9. Is it easy for you to share your true self in your blog or are you more comfortable writing posts about other people or events?

I do not find it easy at all to share my true self on my blog, and I often root around in my brain for topics that have to do with other things going on in the world. I am rarely successful because I usually end up thinking that I don't know what the hell I'm talking about. Sometimes, when I read my own blog, I am a little sickened by the endless focus on me and my family. Like memes for example. Does anyone really care what my favorite summer drink is? I don't even care what my favorite summer drink is.

But at this point in my life, my family is what takes up all my time and all the space in my brain...so my family is what I'm mainly writing about for now.

10. If you had the choice to sit and read or talk on the phone, which would you do and why?

I loathe talking on the phone and am not good at it. For starters, there's the fact that a mother on a phone sends an undeniable signal to her children that they can behave horribly. Second, being on the phone always makes me think of all the stuff I'm trying to get done and can't until I am done talking. Third, I never know how to end a conversation, and am usually trying to. I can't count the number of times I hung up the phone and thought "Well, THAT was awkward." Why would I enjoy an activity that highlights my social ineptitude?

So I'll take a book any day of the week.

* * *

And now for the tagging part, the part of a meme that usually keeps me from participating. Feels like a chain letter, and I don't do those either. But I do enjoy reading memes (memi?) when other people do them, and I did participate in this one, so I need to somehow comply with this part, right?

If you have a blog, consider yourself tagged and do this meme. *times 6*

I can't bring myself to tag anyone individually. Please don't revoke my blogging license.

* * *

23 August 2010

If You Give a Kid a Cookie

If you give a kid a cookie, she's probably going to ask you for another one.

You'll think she's cute, so you won't see the harm in giving it to her and you'll say yes. When you give her the second cookie, she'll start to get that crazed look in her eye.

When you see that crazed look, you'll decide it's time to divert her attention, so you'll ask her if she wants to ride her bicycle in the back yard.

When she says yes, her older sister will want to come too, but first they'll both need to change their entire outfits, probably into something that includes a boa, and they both will need shoes.

You won't be able to find their godforsaken flip flops, so you'll have to take the time for socks and shoes that tie. Your own lunch will grow cold while all of this shoe business is happening.

When their shoes are finally on, they will change their minds and want to take a bath instead. They will want to wear their bathing suits in the bathtub.

When you squash this request like a rolled up New Yorker on a fat mosquito, they will both start wailing. You will respond by forcing them to go outside and play.

While they are outside playing, they will decide to climb the Magnolia tree. They will fight over who gets to go up first. You will spend a few minutes pondering just how much your neighbors curse you every time they hear screams wafting from your backyard.

Your older kids will hear the commotion and run outside to take over the tree-climbing. They will knock over smaller children on their way up. More screaming will ensue.

You will hide inside for awhile, until you are sure your neighbors are about to call CPS. Just in time to stop the neighbors mid-dial, you will storm outside with a couple of cans of whoop ass and look around for a few likely recipients, who will have scattered and are now hiding. At least they are quiet.

You will go back inside and discover that in the very short time you have abandoned your Kitchen Command Post, the kids have helped themselves to the cereal, with most of it landing on the floor. You will crunch your way over to the broom, cursing short people all the way.

You will ask a kid to sweep up the floor, and he will respond as if you have asked him to chop off, deep fry, and eat one of his fingers. You will not take kindly to this, and will give him a piece of your mind.

When the kitchen floor is clean, you will serve lunch. The youngest will be full of cookies and will leave her plate entirely untouched. The older kids will each object to a different item on the menu. You will deliver the When I Was a Kid We Ate What We Were Given speech, prompting you to marvel that they can all roll their eyes at the same exact time and with the same degree of disgust. You will spend their lunchtime trying to get them to stay in their seats, eat their food, and not fight. You will fail.

You will wonder if lunch is a contact sport in other people's houses too. You will become momentarily overwhelmed by just how ineffectual your parenting is. You will step into the hallway and bang your head repeatedly against the wall, until five little voices announce that someone is at the door. They will stampede to the front door, fling it open so that it crashes into the book case, and pour out of the house, like clowns out of a VW bug, looking for the non-existent visitor. It will take you a long time to corral them back into the house and back to their lunch plates.

When they are finally finished eating, they will disperse to create five different disaster zones in various parts of the house. They will be intensely focused on the task at hand for 7 minutes, long enough for you to go to the bathroom and take one bite of your long-cold lunch.

All five of your swarming children will now decide that they deserve to watch a movie. You will say yes, sweet Jesus, yes, but you will have them clean up the day's activities first.

You will expect them to object and you will not be disappointed. It will not matter that the house rule is to tidy up bedrooms and common areas before turning on the television -- they will stall and complain and bitch and moan and resist and will not comply until faced with the usual ultimatum: if things aren't cleaned up in ten minutes, there will be no movie at all.

At some point in the next ten minutes, the youngest will mess her pants, the oldest will tease and torment the fourth born, reducing her to tears and causing you to wonder if he (the oldest) will someday land in jail, and the other two will pick this moment to color-categorize the entire lego set in one small corner of the house. A nice impulse, but a time-consuming one that doesn't actually fall into the Clean Up Your Room and the Common Areas in Ten Minutes column. They will not understand when you thank them politely through clenched teeth and re-direct them to the 8,632 crayons on the dining room floor.

When the rooms are finally...well...clean is maybe a stretch, but at least less hazardous than before, they will fight over which movie to watch, until they notice steam coming out of your ears and wisely decide to shut their pie holes and settle on a movie. There will be a few more scuffles over who gets to sit where, and finally, an exhausted air of inactivity will settle over the living room.

After about 13 minutes, a kid will come in and ask for a cookie.

And if you give a kid a cookie, you better be sure there is plenty of red wine in the house.

* * *

Thank you, Laura Numeroff, for the wonderful series that inspired this post. Your books are treasures in this house.

* * *

21 August 2010

You Won't Convince Me Otherwise

I have a kid who is not a hugger. He regularly eschews anything touchy-feely. He says "OK" when I tell him I love him, which is often. His father, one very affectionate and demonstrative dude, tells him: "We're Alatorres. We hug. Get over here." This kid resists.

But guess what? Lately, he has been letting me hug him. I've actually gotten to tickle him this summer. He's more and more playful. Just now, I sent him off to bed with an I Love You, and I got one back in return. I almost fell over, and not because I've had a few glasses of red wine.

I attribute this new found state of relaxation to the fact that he is not returning to school this year. This is the kid who, upon learning that we would be home schooling him and his siblings for 2010-11, sullenly responded "Why didn't you do this a year ago?" That was back before he was letting me hug him. Now, in his new, more-huggable state, he seems like a kid more comfortable in his own skin, happy, funny, playful. He seems like the kid he was back before he started going to school.

I could weep from joy. This is why we are home schooling.

Tonight, he asked me if we could have a morning this winter, while we are homeschooling, where they get up and I make them hot chocolate and they can bring their blankets down to the living room and sit in front of the fire and drink hot chocolate and then later we can go to the library. He wants to check out comic books. Whatever, I totally said YES.

Bring on my new life. I can't wait to see how it unfolds.

* * *

20 August 2010

Saved By Fingerpaint

The sun was shining.

You were both under my feet, in my hair, on my arms and driving me mad.

Thank God for fingers and for paint and for the combination of the two.

Thank God for sunny days, when fingers and paint can come together out of doors and make a mess far from my dining room floor.

Thank God for bright colors, the yellow sun, the blue flowers and the orange hat.

All converged to ensure that I survived another day without losing my precious mind. I have lived to scream another day. But not today, because today the sun was shining, and there were fingers and paint in lovely motion.

* * *

19 August 2010

Why We Are Homeschooling Our Kids

It came down to this: one afternoon in early Spring, after picking up the kids from school and having yet another miserable ride home, it struck me as virtually inevitable and unavoidable that we would have to take them out of this school and begin teaching them ourselves. Thus began my reluctant path to homeschooling.

We made this decision going on five months ago and in that time, I’ve talked to many people about why we are doing this. The first thing I tell people, always, is that we’ve thought about it for years, since before our oldest child started Kindergarten. The next thing I tell people is that our boys were not fitting into the box of a classroom…that the cost of our private school was getting prohibitive for us…that our public school is not an option…that it’s not possible or practical to hope they could all get transferred to the same better public school…that we love our school community, but just couldn’t stay. I had the whole speech down.

The other day, I unexpectedly deviated from the script, and out came the simplest, barest truth about why we are going to homeschool our kids. A friend asked me why, and here’s what I said, much to my surprise:

“I’m done trying to make something work that isn’t, and done pretending it’s OK that it isn’t working.”

That’s the real reason we are doing this. What is the “something” that is not working? Two main things:

(1) Our kids are not growing in curiosity or confidence. Their reaction to school and education has been increasingly negative with each passing year. We want them to know what their brains are capable of and be excited by new possibilities. None of that has happened for our kids as they get older; in fact, we have been alarmed and distressed to watch the exact opposite unfold in front us.

(2) There is a reason lots of big families homeschool: It’s hard to keep up when you’ve got a lot of players. Keeping up with the demands of a school and school community – and I’m not talking about actual school work – became more and more burdensome and more and more intrusive on our family time. The class parties, the magazine sales, the pizza nights, the potlucks, the cookie dough sales, the volunteer hours, the special requests from teachers, and the list goes on, all combined to create a treadmill that was going to be my undoing.

There are many other reasons as well.

(1) Finances. That part was hard.

(2) No viable public school option. Literally. None.

(3) Then there’s something about the social scene at school, among the kids, that I don’t know how to put into words without sounding like a conservative whacko. Which I’m not. But I do have some boundaries. Which I think is a good thing. I guess one way to describe it is to say that at least 2 or 3 times a week, I was driving home with a kid in tears because of something that happened with a classmate. It became the norm to find myself irritated, annoyed, or even angry about some behavior from another kid. There are only so many times you can encourage your kids to face a bully, handle an idiot, stand up for themselves, be kind but don’t be a pushover, ignore mean people – and we tried it all -- before you finally say to yourself: “Why should they have to put up with this crap?” And at least 2 or 3 times a week, I had to talk with my kids about why they can’t play Halo, can’t have cell phones yet, can’t watch the Rated R movie du jour, can’t have unlimited video game and TV time, can’t eat at fast food restaurants, and why our family is so lame. I found myself spending too much time fighting culture wars and not enough time enjoying my family.

(4) I’m sure we can do a great job. I know it will not be easy, but then, having them in a school has not been easy. Sure they were “out of my hair” for 7 hours a day, but the hours of 3:00 to bedtime were often so extremely difficult, burdened with questionable homework assignments, processing whatever crap happened that day at school, handling reactionary behavior, and preparing for tomorrow, that the majority of the time we spent together as a family was a struggle.

I know this is a radical step, a completely counter-cultural decision. But heck – we already have 2.5 times as many children as most folks, so clearly, going against the grain is a familiar path for us.

Here are my hopes:

(1) That my family can slow down, even if only a little bit, and that we will have a little more control over how we spend our time.

(2) That my children will recapture (or hold on to, for the younger ones) the love and joy of learning, and that they will discover what they are capable of; that they will gain and strengthen confidence in themselves.

(3) That they will read and write every day, and that doing so will lead them to topics and interests we can help them pursue in depth.

I know this is not for everyone. But I am happy for us and hopeful for the future. And so, so thrilled that I am not prowling the aisles of Target with four different school supply lists.

Oh, and our youngest? Off to preschool for her! Let those teachers handle her defiant little self three days a week, thank you very much. Here’s hoping she meets a kid who's meaner than she is.

* * *

18 August 2010

The Week That Guilt Ate

Ever get close to the end of summer and realize you haven't done all those great things with the kids you thought you were going to do? Or are you one of those people who annoys me who does everything she says she is going to do?

I'm the former.

So we're packing it in this week. Monday we took a cruise around the San Francisco Bay, and got to see sea lions and dolphins. Tuesday we played at a lake all day, complete with pedal boats and frog catching (and releasing). Today, we're hitting a swimming pool with some friends. I am comatose, but my kids are happy, and doesn't that make me a good mother?

Goodness, there's quite a bit wrong with that last sentence.

Anyway, I've been away from the blog because I've been busy assuaging my summer guilt. I have also been crafting a post that addresses our decision to begin homeschooling our children. It's time to stop revising that one, so I hope it will be up tomorrow. For now, I will say that I am very excited about beginning this new part of our lives. I've been talking to all kinds of people about how they homeschool and why it was the right choice for their family. No two answers are the same, but I am beginning to see an amazing array of possibilities and benefits. And the interesting thing is that as summer winds down, I do not find myself going crazy having the kids around, the way I always have in the past as the first day of school approaches. I have officially switched into a different life, one that will include a whole lot more time with my kids.

Guess it's time to figure out how to be a mom, then.

14 August 2010


I awoke this morning determined to make space.

Our home has evolved in a rather haphazard fashion, so that book shelves and hutches and suches occupy spots that can only be called random. Our living room, a very big, light-filled, potentially lovely room, looks more like a parking lot for used furniture than anything else. Our dining room is less a dining room and more a Kids Do Art And Make A Mess Every Single Damn Day room. Our kitchen is where the mail goes to die, and so, apparently, does a hell of a lot of other stuff.

And we're about to spend more time than ever in this space, what with our new homeschooling adventure beginning soon.

So today was my day to transform all of our downstairs common areas into inspired spaces where children will grow ever more brilliant. And spaces where, after a hard day of molding young minds, I can enjoy a cold beer without worrying that my beverage will be knocked over by piles of mail and magazines.

The first 30 minutes were spent walking from room to room with my coffee cup in hand, eyeballing the furniture and mulling over the possibilities. The next 5 were spent giving myself a little reality check. One cannot organize clutter. Here's a glimpse into what I and my coffee cup faced:

Fast forward to the end of the day, and here's what I have accomplished:

First, at about minute 42 of my endeavor, I put in a call to my good friend D'Bee, who has an eye for arranging things. I asked her to come help me figure out where to put stuff, and she'll be coming in the next few days.

Second, I attacked one room. Not quite the three I intended, but look what a difference an entire day of sorting, tossing, feeding children, managing time-outs, clearing, mopping up spills, organizing, and mopping up tears can do:

Before I had kids, an entire day's worth of effort would have resulted in astronomically more productivity. I am wistful for those days, even as I am surrounded by the beauty and love of children.

That other Haz Mat zone up there? Looks remarkably untouched as I type.

And finally, third, I had a nice cold beer (one home-brewed by Nicole's talented spouse - YUM!) at my nice clean table, and no paper piles got in the way.

Space. Victory. Miles to go before I can mold young minds in a chaos-free environment, but miles traveled in that direction too.

* * *

Lest you think I am more super than I truly am, 3 of my 5 were "farmed out" today, thanks to their friends' generous parents. That freed me up enormously. I ♥ the awesome parents of my children's friends.

* * *

How was your Saturday?

* * *

12 August 2010

Do You Hear What I Hear?

It's early in the morning, in a mostly sleeping house. My three year old is dozing on the couch next to me, while I watch the one and only Oprah episode I have ever recorded, the one featuring Michael Pollan and the documentary Food, Inc. If I don't watch it now, at 6:30am, I won't have another chance to watch it all day. My daughter stirs, wakes, looks up at me and says: "I can hear a song playing in my ears!"

At this moment, during a commercial, the TV is on mute. No, I don't know why I don't just fast forward through the commercial, perhaps because it's very early in the morning and my brain hasn't soaked up enough coffee yet. The point is, there is no music playing. She's got a song stuck in her head.

She sits there enjoying the music only she can hear. "Do you want to hear the song in my ears, mommy?"

Of course I do, dear!

She scoots up to me. I think she means to sing to me, so I try to get my ear as close to her little lips as possible. Her head doesn't seem to be in the right position -- she keeps moving back. I attempt to bring my ear and her mouth together a few more times, until she finally grabs my head, holds it steady, and puts our ears right next to each other. We sit for a few moments, ear to ear. "Can you hear it, mommy? Isn't it great?"

Completely great, Little T.

* * *

11 August 2010

I Wish It Were Monday Morning

Most people dread Monday morning, and the work week that comes with it. Most people live for the weekend. I enjoy weekends, yes, but I bet there are a few parents out there who might agree with me that all that Family Time carries its own brand of stress and angst.

But that's not why I like Monday mornings. I like Monday mornings for the possibilities they represent. Every Sunday night, I get myself ready for the week. I make a pretty list. I strategize. I ooze organization and preparedness. And Monday morning brings with it optimism, energy, and the belief that I can do it all. Mondays usually go very well for me, the momentum of a good list carrying me through the day.

With each subsequent day, I lose a little heart. By Wednesday, I'm slumping. By Thursday, I'm hoping to survive five minute increments of time. Fighting children, greeted with detachment and clarity on Monday morning, elicit a growing rage response as the week progresses. Repetitive tasks, like serving three squares a day and cleaning the kitchen, provide order and peace on a Monday but become increasingly oppressive and impossible with each passing day. Faith in my abilities wanes...doubt increases...The Critic gets mouthy.

So here I am, midway through my Wednesday, trying to figure out how to break the pattern and how to beat the week to Friday with my self-respect intact. My cable receiver box has a reset button; I think I need one of those.

I'm about as likely to find one as I am to find the off button on my three year old.

* * *

10 August 2010

I Hope They Don't End Up Slicing Off Parts of Their Bodies...

...but I do like having artists in the family.

Vincenzo Van Gogh's work:

Lola O'Keefe's work:

Nicole, don't we have talented youngsters?

* * *

09 August 2010

I Can Fool Some of Them Some of the Time

My "twins" spent two nights at my mom and dad's house this past weekend. No, I don't actually have twins, but we've started referring to Child Born 2nd and Child Born 3rd as The Twins because they are interested in the same activities, can play together for hours, and have similar temperaments. They have this sympatico thing going on.

So "The Twins" spent the weekend with my folks, where they learned a few things:

  • If you compliment Poppa's BBQ-ed chicken, Grandma will decide to have him make some for dinner.

  • The creek running along the property is just as much fun as Mom says it is.

  • If you say how much you like going to the pub for lunch, Grandma will bring you there.

  • Poppa looked like a little girl when he was a small child; there is photographic proof of this hanging in the upstairs bedroom.

But I learned something too. After they'd been back for a few hours, "The Twins" were talking about the Giants games they watched during their visit.

Lola: "I bet they lost today, too. They were losing when we left."

Cenzo: "Yeah, they lost when we watched last night! There were a lot of 's' words in the house during that game."

Me: "Oh, so Poppa was saying the 's' word a lot? Well, there were a lot of 's' words around when I was growing up, too."

Cenzo: "Then how come YOU don't use the 's' word now? And other letter words?"

BINGO! There is the kernel of truth I learned today. I hide my 's' words, and all my other letter words, well. Hallelujah!

Although it could be that he just can't hear me above the cacophony that is my household. Either way works for me.

* * *

05 August 2010

The What is Beautiful

I am finally reading What is the What, and am completely taken with it. This line, in particular, made me stop and reflect on the beauty and power of this book.
"The musty smell of the cattle warmed me and
I rested my hand on their haunches as we walked."

Taken out of their context, those words seem lovely but not significant. But in their context?Beautiful. Evocative. Perfect.

Immediately, I could see the scene in my mind like a photograph, and the very image brought the story even more vividly into my mind's eye.

Thank you, Dave Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng. This story is captivating and I am so grateful that you both have told it. You are, however, responsible for the neglect my children are suffering from while I cannot stop reading.

If you have not, read this book.

* * *

04 August 2010


I made this cake for my friend Debra's housewarming party. See, we call her D'Bee for fun. Hence, a bumblebee cake.

I heart decorating cakes. It's the only Martha Stewart thing I do. Trust me, it's out of character.

I got the idea from a picture of another bumblebee cake I found on the internet, and adapted it to suit the tools and stuff I have. It was easy and FUN!

If I ever do this again, which is about as likely as my getting a PhD in astrophysics, like Brian May of Queen, I will shape the whole cake and the wings differently, to avoid the butterfly similarity. One of my daughters said: "That's not a bee, that's a butterfly, mom." She was a little disgusted with me.

No matter. I loved it. D'Bee loved it. That's enough.

* * *

Time to Change the Game Plan

My very nearly 12 year old son is grudgingly helping me pick a few tomatoes. I told him to go get a colander to put them in. He asked me: "A colander? What the heck is a colander?"

I am so ashamed.

And I'm furiously rewriting my Parenting Manual as we speak.

* * *

03 August 2010

She's 100% Organic

I put Little T to bed tonight, after her long day of playing dollies.

My day included cleaning out my linen closet, which meant thinning through 5 babies worth of baby blankets. We probably got 3-5 blankets each time we had a kid, so...lots of cute blankeys around here. But I don't got no more babies! So the thinning begins.

It's hard to get rid of stuff with the kids around. I'm sure some of you know what I mean. Half of the cute blankets in the give away pile ended up in the You Can Keep Them If They Stay in Your Room Pile. So after unearthing a stray farm veggie box from the garage, Little T spent most of the day making comfy beds for her baby dolls.

I guess the box bed just looked too comfy to her. This is what I found when I went in her room to check on the girls after they were asleep:

That doesn't even look comfortable.

Just goes to show that not everything in a box labeled organic is trustworthy.

* * *

02 August 2010

In Spite of Me: A Garden Story

This is not a post about what an awesome gardener I am.

This past Spring, when we were planning our first real vegetable garden, my husband said to me: “I’m leaving the vegetables to you: you pick what we plant and where they go. You buy the seeds or plants. You put ‘em in the ground. You tend ‘em.” Etcetera.

This makes sense, because he takes care of pretty much every other square foot of garden space around here, of which there are many, and works hard to do it.

So I began my research on how to have a vegetable garden. Books are good right? So I started with a great one, Golden Gate Gardening. I leisurely (read randomly) flipped through pages and pretended I knew even what I was looking for. I made a ridiculously long list of what veggies I wanted to plant, and then felt my eyes glaze over while reading detailed care instructions. The more I read, the less inspired I got. So I did what any reasonable procrastinator would do: I stuck the list and the book next to my bed and left them there. I wallowed in feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared for a good three or four weeks.

Finally, in late April, I ventured out to a couple of nurseries, ridiculous list in hand, where I tried to mask my complete ignorance by tossing random plants onto the cart. I consulted that stupid list of desired veggies a few times before stuffing it in my backpack and deciding to use the scientific looks-OK-to-me approach to vegetable selection. I kept my eyes from glazing over by not letting them rest on anything for very long. And really, why do they make so many types of tomatoes? Just to make me feel stupid? I bet that’s it. They are evil that way.

I did get up enough nerve to ask a Nursery staff person something barely coherent about zucchini. She could have stamped NOVICE on my forehead and sent me packing, but she nicely referred me to the seed packet rack, and explained that most people start zucchini from seeds because they grow so quickly and easily. So I spent a few minutes spinning the rack around too fast to actually see what the seeds were, grabbed a few, paid my money and got out of there.

I even managed to get my zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, tomatoes, radishes, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, lettuce, and beets (2 kinds!) in the ground. Oh, and strawberries. And bell peppers.

Why start small? Why make it easier on myself, when I can set myself up to fail on a grand scale? This must be what I was thinking.

As the summer has progressed, here is how things have gone:

  • I did not properly stake the tomatoes – all 18 vines of them – when I planted them, so after procrastinating for weeks, I spent several hours over two days thinning through massively overgrown plants and throwing together a staking system. I ended up tossing out a huge pile of greenery. That made me want to weep a little bit.

  • I did something wrong with at least half of the green beans, which withered and died rather quickly. Good thing I overdid it on them too: I still have four great vines and 2 wimpy ones.

  • The broccoli? Mostly a failed experience. Mostly because I ignored that bed.

  • The leaf lettuce? Worked out pretty well, but I didn’t keep up with harvesting, so now they are the tallest lettuce plants you’ve ever seen and probably bitter, if I could bring myself to go out there and trim some.

  • The radishes? Pretty good – got some yummy, spicy veggies – but again, I didn’t harvest fast enough and most of them went to flower before I pulled them. Lots went to waste.

  • The beets? Didn’t even notice they were ready until waaaaaaaay too late. Perhaps this was subconsciously intentional, since I cannot stand beets and had only included them for my spouse. Total waste.

  • The cucumbers? Jury is still out. I can’t actually see any fruit and no one told me the plant is prickly.

I am a neglectful gardener, grudgingly checking on my plants and lazily watching the lettuce get away from me. If not for the 11th hour resentment-filled tomato staking, I would have lost them completely.

When I think of people who keep vegetable gardens, I think of industrious, tidy, organized people who have the right sun hat, the right gloves, and peaceful relationships with their plants. I am none of these and have none of these. I am haphazard and occasional in my vegetable tending. I am usually wearing the wrong shoes for gardening, and cursing when dirt falls between my flip-flopped toes. I wear gloves when I can find them. The primary emotion I feel toward my vegetables is guilt.

But here’s what else has happened.

  • My zucchini plants are doing marvelously well. They took over a large bed and they affirm me every time I look at them. I didn't even know a vegetable could do that, let alone a squash.

  • My tomatoes, slow to turn red, are arriving in droves and the smell is heavenly, the very smell of summer.

  • My green beans, although irresistible to small children who eat them as fast as they grow making it impossible for me to serve beans for dinner, are fat, sweet and pleasing.

  • My carrots! Pulling a homegrown carrot out of the ground is a singular experience.

And so it seems that my garden, much like my family, is growing and thriving in spite of me. Clueless, reluctant, novice me has happily served salad and zucchini (bbq’d, sautéed, steamed and latke-ed) to my family for at least a month, carrots and green beans for a couple of weeks. We can't wait for all those tomatoes to burden us with their plenty. My kids have enjoyed checking on the plants and watching the progress, which is good, given that whole laziness thing I’ve got goin’ on.

So this is a post about not having a perfect garden and about making tons of mistakes along the way, and still harvesting pictures like this from my efforts:

Shred potatoes and zucchini; I used a cheese grater.
Mix in some flour and egg to bind the shredded stuff together.
Spoon the mixture into hot olive oil and fry the heck out of it.
Enjoy. Everyone in my family who was brave enough to try it liked it.
Those who weren't that brave missed out,
and had to settle for regular old zucchini sauteed in garlic and lemon.

* * *

Butter: A Dilemma

I love real butter. Nothing beats a slice of fresh sour dough bread, lightly toasted, and touched by real, creamy butter.

Due to health concerns in my family, I buy fake butter, the Smart Choice brand after trying several. (Actually, I don't call it fake butter anymore, after my husband asked me to use the term healthy butter instead. More appetizing, I suppose.)

So my kids have grown up on the healthy butter, pulling the Costco size vat out of the fridge for their bagels, toast and what-have-you.

I also always keep real butter in the house, because I personally do not (currently) have any health issues preventing me from enjoying its creamy goodness. I also prefer to bake with real butter.

The other day, I made my son some toast, and used the real butter -- no particular reason except that's how I make it for myself. He was in heaven, and kept asking me why his toast tasted so good. How did I do that? When he makes it, it doesn't taste that good!

So. The Dilemma. Do I disclose the delicious secret about real butter? Or do I keep that little tidbit to myself so I don't have to share?

So far, I'm being selfish. But it's only a matter of time before they figure it out. If I'd known how hard it would be for me to share my butter, I might have had fewer children.

What secrets do you keep from your kids? Hiding the whiskey does not count.

* * *

01 August 2010

The Moment I Needed

A few nights ago, Rick and I watched the White House tribute to Paul McCartney, during which Dave Grohl delivered an impressive cover of Band on the Run. It was incredible, even if I could barely resist the urge to reach up to the TV screen and brush the hair out of Dave's face so we could all see his eyes. Yes, I am a mother.

(You can watch a YouTube clip of Grohl's performance here; Band on the Run starts around minute 3.)

The event was in celebration of Sir Paul receiving America’s highest award for popular music − the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song − back in early June. All kinds of performers and musicians paid tribute, including Stevie Wonder, EmmyLou Harris and Elvis Costello. It was a little surreal to see all that rockin' going on in the East Room of the White House, with large portraits of George and Martha Washington gazing down at the proceedings. And it was touch disturbing to see the Jonas Brothers among the guests; I don't know if they performed since we started watching it about half way through, but they just don't seem to be in the same league as so many of the other artists who were there.

But cover after cover was amazing. The artists' took those songs, so many of which are now part of our collective soul, and rendered them beautifully, proving once again what a gift McCartney is and how his songs continue to give us more and more.

The entire show was inspirational. I am always inspired by listening to great musicians play powerful music; I tend to get a little wistful, wishing I had kept up with my piano, and wishing that I had some kind of talent like that to express myself and move people.

Music can suspend us in a world where things matter, where what we feel passionately about is given expression. Musicians get to give voice to what the rest of us feel and hope for. Sometimes, it's music that reminds us who we are. At least, it did for me while I was watching the McCartney tribute. It reminded me that music is important to me, and that I should fill my home with music more than I do.

I was wondering if I had missed a cover of Hey Jude, my favorite Beatles song if you backed me into a corner and said I had to pick one or you'd chop off one of my fingers, when at the very end, of course, Sir Paul played it himself.

And ever since then, I've been going through my days with Sir Paul crooning to me: "The moment you need is on your shoulder." Given that I am constantly searching for motivation to raise my kids, organize my life, color my parachute, etc., that little morsel of wisdom has been a warm and welcome refrain, a prayer really.

Music can do that. It can wake us up and get us moving in the direction we really want to go. I needed that little emotional push, and found it in Hey Jude.

Where do you find yours?

Thank you, Paul. My heart was long ago promised to George, but there's always room for one more.

* * *