29 December 2010

You know you are a blogger with a big family when...

...you load five kids, two dogs, the mother in law, two skateboards, one scooter, one tricycle, one soccer ball and a bag of snacks into the car on a chilly wind-swept day to go to the park, where you negotiate rambunctious children, under-exercised dogs who keep wrapping their leashes around your legs and little ones who keep going momentarily missing, where you respond to "Look Mommy!" 13 times in a row in the space of 60 seconds, where you hold your breath while watching newly minted skateboarders try out their new skilz, where you brave the wind and the threatening rain to infuse cabin-feverish kids with fresh air, where you deftly handle the one kid who wants to call a taxi to take him home because it's too cold, where you carry cast away sweaters and hats and wheeled-conveyances, and where, when it's finally time to leave, you load everyone and everything back in the car EXCEPT the four year old and her tricycle because she stubbornly remains smack in the middle of the great big lawn refusing to budge while you close up the car and actually begin to drive away rather than let her call the shots -- which works and she finally comes on her own -- and where your mother-in-law suggests that you should write a blog post about the whole experience, to which you respond:

"But this is such an ordinary outing; how would I make it interesting?"

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24 December 2010


Two things unequivocally confirm for me that all will be well this Christmas.

First, my husband put a lock on our bathroom door.

And second, my neighbor brought me a gift awhile back that has been hiding in my cupboard for just such an occasion as Christmas Eve, the day before I host 18 people on a rainy day in my small house:

Peace on Earth.

21 December 2010

An Unexamined Life is Not Worth Facebooking

We've all got that Facebook friend who makes us wonder: "Does he do anything all day long except post status updates? How does he have that much time to be online? And does he really think we care that much?"

Is he simply oversharing? Suffering from a little narcissism? Afflicted with an inflated notion of how much his friends care about his morning hot yoga class or the fact that he loves thunderstorms?

Maybe. But now that I've been using Facebook for awhile–and I was an extremely reluctant joiner–I understand the impulse. I am guilty of posting some pretty silly stuff, which is no great crime, but definitely a waste of time, mine and my fb friends'. We're all guilty of that, probably. I think Facebook is getting under our skin. It's getting into our psyches and starting to be something like second nature. It's changing the way we think: we now think in the structure of The Status Update.

Instead of enjoying a gorgeous sunset alone or with people we can actually touch, we rush to a screen interface and wax eloquent about how blessed we are to live where colors this beautiful grace our evenings.

Instead of thinking (and keeping) to ourselves that we're not sure what the heck we're feeding the family for dinner tonight, we think in pithy little phrases meant to amuse others: "Will have to feed natives again tonight, hope they like gruel."

Then, we wait. We wait for someone to tell us what they're making for dinner, or for an "LOL!", or at the very least for a 'like' or two. And then we feel validated. If we get no response, we fight the urge to delete the update, wiping away any evidence that our social network is ignoring us.

A life worth living makes a status update with a long and lively post thread.

But today, rather than risk being ignored by my social network, I decided to fight the urge to overshare on FB. Instead, I'm just going to channel all my would be status updates into today's blog post. Should be fascinating.

8:21 Remote controlled Christmas lights + unsuspecting children = hours of entertainment.

9:15 Is it impossible for a kid to open a box of cereal without shredding the top and annihilating the interior bag?

9:29 It only took until 9:28am for me to hear the first "OH MY GOD YOU ARE SO MEAN!" of the day.

10:07 My daughter just wrote the cutest note to "the elf" who is responsible for the Christmas lights going on and off: "To Elf, Please let us have more time to do magic." I am dying of cuteness.

11:46 ...is swearing at a rented rug doctor upholstery cleaning contraption.

11:47 ...is holding on to dwindling hopes of making biscotti today.

11:48 ...is eating chocolate. Still swearing.

12:29 ...is now swearing at the person who rented her this $@&#*!# machine.

12:36 It's official. I am physically, mentally and emotionally unable to remain or appear calm and neutral in the face of picky eaters.

2:05 ...thinks she could leap tall buildings in a single bound if she only had two children.

3:10 ...is returning the piece of $*#&! machine after discovering a crack in the hose.

3:12 ...needs a drink. Will have to wait.

3:14 ...yells too much. Is it a bad sign if your kid offers you a drink?

5:43 ...just got back from dropping a kid off at soccer, going to Costco for gas, making a bank deposit, returning the stupid machine, and appeasing the young ones with hot chocolate from Starbuck's. Whew! Just enough energy left for some hot yoga!

5:56 ...ok, for realz, I gotta feed the natives. Mac-n-cheese ready at our house in 45 minutes -- come on over! This ain't comin' out of a kraft box...

5:57 ...first: a beer.

6:45 Earlier today, my 6 year old said: "All I want for Christmas is a playdate!" So we're having her friend over this evening. Can I write DONE next to her name on the Christmas list?

6:47 ...another beer.

7:47 ...every hour on the 47th minute! Beer me!

8:03 What a day! Food, family, and fun! And lots of suds all over the living room from the broken rug doctor. Oh well: Christmas Day guests don't really need a clean place to sit, do they?

9:45 Time for bed! Nighty-night everyone!

When I started this post, I planned on only posting real stuff. I came close, except for the fact that I've never done hot yoga in my life and I didn't drink that many beers tonight. Oh, and the last time I when to bed before 11:30 was...I can't actually remember going to bed before 11:30. But it's all mostly true. And anyway, how can I be sure that that dude I went to high school with really did just return from a 10 mile run in the snow and is now sitting down with the twins for a game of Boogle while his perky wife serves him a protein shake?

There's a reason it's called virtual, people.

Now, before I actually do go to bed, I think I'll go share with the flesh and blood folks who live here. Maybe I'll even make them LOL.

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15 December 2010

Tomato Soup for the Tortured Soul

There is a bright side to one's minivan being ankle deep in discarded jackets and sweaters. When your daughter up ends her bowl of tomato rice soup on to the floor, very little car clean-up is required. All you gotta do is scoop up the clothes and drop them in the wash.

So I did recover from today's tomato soup spill. But not before I blew a gasket upon hearing the bowl clatter to the floor.

Let me set the scene for you: I had failed to feed the children in a timely manner, and had just spent the last 10 minutes trying to rush everyone through a late lunch in order to herd them all into the car and get Cenzo to his soccer practice. Everyone, more or less, finished, but Tallulah did not and she was having a love affair with this soup. She couldn't bear the thought of leaving it behind. I could have put my foot down, but I was in one of those situations where you have to choose your battles. I chose unwisely. I let her bring the bowl of soup.

Before we had been in the car for even one minute, I heard the clatter and roared: "DID THAT SOUP JUST SPILL?" Meek little voice from the back seat: "ye-es..." Here, I let fly my trademark mother-growl: "ARRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHH!" I've actually passed this growl on to my kids, and I cringe whenever I hear them do it. I don't cringe when I do it; usually I'm too busy throwing something. And then, I swore. "SHIT!" (I did not yet know that the jackets caught most of the soup at this point. I was imagining ropes of creamy soup and globs of reddish rice sliding down the back of the seat in front of her.)

Lola immediately reacted to my shenanigans: "Mom! Don't do that! Please, Mom!"

I told her: "Lola, when you have kids one day, and you are in a hurry, and it's freezing cold and raining, and you have to shuffle everyone into your van to get somewhere on time, and your daughter fights with you over bringing her soup, and you give in and let her, and then the soup spills, creating a much bigger problem for you to take care of and you are still running late, if you manage NOT to lose your temper and say something you should not say, call me at that moment and tell me all about it, and I will give you $100."

Cenzo warned me that I should not make that bet, that I was sure to lose it one day.

"In that case, I consider it an investment in the happiness of my grandchildren."

I hope I lose that bet.

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14 December 2010

Family Time

We put up our Christmas tree last night. Simultaneously, we were finishing up a bit of painting in our dining room, installing some shelving on a dining room wall, and re-hanging doors on my kitchen cupboards.

I think it's safe to say we were attempting to do a few too many things all at once. That's how we roll.

So that could be the reason. The reason our Christmas Tree Decorating Family Time was a bit wonky. Family time around here is always a layered, complicated affair. We've got the children happily diving into ornament boxes, emerging with old favorites and happy memories. We've got the dizzying range of Christmas music filling the house, from the Messiah to Bob Dylan. We've got kids coming up with lovely ways to decorate their own rooms with left over tree branches and lights. We've got children dancing around the tree with sheer, unadulterated glee.

We've also got the bickering, the hurt feelings, the jockeying for prominent position for favored ornaments. We've got: "Her ornament is so ugly -- if we put it in front of the window, people will be able to see it! Can't we hide it?" We've got tears of disappointment when it turns out to be too late to start watching It's a Wonderful Life. We've got grumpy parents and ungrateful offspring.

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

And I think that's the point: to shed any notion of what perfect family time is supposed to look like and take each other where we are. The oldest and the 4th born? They feel animosity towards each other for the other 11 months of the year, so they aren't going to miraculously be good to each other just because it's Advent. The youngest? She has no design sense. Her contributions to the tree are sort of an anti-Martha anthem. The middle one? The one over there weeping in the corner? Maybe she's over tired, or her head hurts, or she's pissed that there's no hot chocolate. And the one who can't quite believe that even though we brought a tree home tonight, I still made him do his evening chore of washing the dinner dishes, well, I have to believe he will get over it.

In the end, a tree imperfectly purchased, lugged home, put up, lit and decorated is still a Christmas tree. The messy house still smells like pine needles. The ornaments still invite us to reminisce about Christmases past. In the end, before they trundle off to bed, some grumpy, some not, they still got to stand in front of the house oo-ing and ah-ing over the pretty white lights.

Family time, like my house, is messy. As are love, Christmas, children, marriage and life. In other words, everything good.

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10 December 2010

7 Quick Takes: Volume 22

Friday, Friday...so good to me,
Friday, Friday...will you be all I hope you can be?

Welcome to 7 Quick Takes at And I'll Raise You 5. Please visit our lovely host at Conversion Diary for the original 7 Quick Takes. Take a moment to congratulate her on expecting Baby #5! And check out the links to other Quick Takers playing along this week.

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Today's recommended reading: The Epic of Gilgamesh. One of the oldest stories in the world, Gilgamesh tells the story of a cruel king and the friendship that teaches him to be kind. Rick used to teach this story in his English classes, and it has always been a favorite of his. The kids and I are listening to The Story of the World these days, and this week we heard a retelling of this ancient story that comes to us from 3000 (ish) BC Mesopotamia.

Before Gilgamesh meets Enkidu, he is a cruel and tyrannical king, enslaving his people and taking anything he wants for himself. Everyone fears him. Enkidu is the first to stand up to him by fighting him ferociously when Gilgamesh attempts to steal a bride right from her wedding banquet. They fight almost to the death, but just before they annihilate each other, Gilgamesh realizes that he has met his match. He recognizes that this half man/half animal has saved him from his own viciousness and decides they should be friends. Power and weakness, justice and cruelty, life and death: Gilgamesh has it all. Go forth and read.

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Today's evidence that I am a bad mother: On this cold, dreary, wet morning, I made everyone a piping hot oatmeal breakfast, generously mixed with applesauce and amply smothered with cinnamon sugar. It's like eating warm apple pie in a bowl, and it was received with animosity.

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Hmmm, what to do for homeschooling today...that's right, I have no plan. I do believe Netflix's "Watch Instantly" feature was created just for me! Today's educative activity will be to watch George C. Scott in A Christmas Carol. Thank you, Netflix! (Note: I am not paid to promote Netflix.)

~ 4 ~

Today's real evidence that I am a bad mother: I'm trying to force my 4 year old to watch TV instead of saying yes to her repeated requests that I read to her. Too much to do!

Think I'll regret this in 10 years when I get a call from the police department, telling me that my distraught 14 year old girl has just set off a bomb in her school library, screaming about how her mommy won't read any books to her and all books suck and her mommy sucks and WORDS ARE EVIL?

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I am being defeated by the paper piles in my home. Any suggestions for getting the upper hand in this area will be greatly appreciated. Probably ultimately ignored, but appreciated in the short term at least.

~ 6 ~

Today's confession: Just like Jen at Conversion Diary, I have not purchased one, single, solitary Christmas gift yet. Nothing. Nada. Nilch. The next two weeks are going to be a bumpy ride.

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Instead of getting out there and shopping, I've been doing a whole lot of Advent-ish waiting* and getting ready. We are using Christmas dinner as our excuse to fix things up around here, painting some rooms, conquering paper piles, and re-purposing our mish-mash of shelves in more efficient and aesthetically pleasing ways. The house doesn't look incredibly Christmas-y yet, but in our own way, we are celebrating Advent by preparing our home for Christmas guests, the ones we will feed and the One who will feed us. And I'm thinking about how to be a sign of hope in the world. Because that's what this season is truly about, HOPE.

"Advent is the spiritual season of hope par excellence, and in this season the whole Church is called to be hope, for itself and for the world. The whole spiritual organism of the mystical body assumes, as it were, the 'color' of hope."

~ Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily at the celebration of first vespers in St. Peter's Basilica, on Saturday, November 28, 2008

So you're not Christian or Catholic? No matter! Perhaps you can still agree that the world could use "hope par excellence" today. For us, we are trying to infuse our home with the color of hope, and perhaps we can take that color out into the world and fling it around a little bit. I've never seen hope on a retail shop shelf, so regardless of the shopping I have not done, I'm happy with how we are getting ready for Christmas this year.

*thank you, KP, for this phrase, which I stole from your FB status. :)

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09 December 2010

You know you have a big family when...

...the cashier who rings up your weekly grocery haul asks you if you are having a great big party.

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08 December 2010

30 or So Tales To Tell

There is just something about sitting in Peet's Coffee on a rainy afternoon. Lovely classical notes waft through the thick, confident smell of coffee, every seat is crowded with people talking or working or reading, rain falls through the plentiful North Berkeley trees outside the corner window. Right now, this place is the center of the world, buzzing with life, people, relationships, ideas, and caffeine.

And there is so much more here than meets the eye.

A young guy at the next table, knit cap pulled down over his ears, skinny jeans half holding him on the wooden chair, clicks earnestly away at his iPhone thingamajiggy, looking for all the world like a dude connected, to people, movements, important events. He is intent, focused, thumbs working purposefully.

I spy his screen. He is playing solitaire.

The older gent sitting across the way is reading a thick paperback with a Moe's bookmark clutched in one hand. I strain to catch the title (I am forever trying to spy on what people are reading) but cannot see it. Head bowed, he reads and reads and reads. Strange, but he does not turn any pages.

He is sound asleep, chin to chest, book rising and falling on his protruding belly. It doesn't much matter what he's reading, apparently.

Another man, looking dapper, or Berkeley's version thereof, holds court on one of the benches, chatting with the other regulars. He would appear to be the picture of community, the keeper of a good story for a rainy day. I catch snippets of his conversation, and realize he is a few bolts shy of stable.

Actually, he's homeless, and discussing at length the best places to stay dry in rainy weather. I look closer and see the tell tale signs of someone who has been on the streets for a long, long time. Leathery skin, slack mouth, unfocused eyes. But he's here, in this little space, sipping the best coffee known to man and sharing conversation with people who are clearly friends of his.

An older man sits down next to me and takes out two notebooks filled with copious, pencil written notes. He hoists a large hard bound book out of his satchel and thunks it on the table; the phrase Homeric Translation is in the title. Even the Greeks are alive and well here at Vine and Walnut.

Everywhere I look, things are so much more interesting than they might seem at first glance, so much more complex. A warm cafe on a cold day, with 30 or so patrons, with 30 or so tales to tell.

Life is a mystery. I sip my own best coffee known to man and make up little stories in my mind about the patrons. That couple over there is in the middle of a huge, silent, chip on their shoulders fight and they are trying desperately to ignore each other. That young mother is in a sleep-deprived haze, waiting in line for what will surely be the highlight of her long, caring-for-others day: a medium, non-fat latte. She is hoping the elixir will stave off the afternoon blues. The server behind the counter, the cheerful one who helps people with their whole bean orders, has recently fallen head over heels in love and is riding a wave of exhilaration through his work day until he can get to her again.

I feel a tug and hear a small gasp of joy. I turn and at my sleeve, I see my very own tale to tell. My four year old has arrived with her daddy, singing Matchmaker Matchmaker from Fiddler on the Roof and telling me her good news: Rozie (from preschool, whence she has just come) is her friend.

Friends are indeed good news, little one. Look around you: there is good news everywhere.

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05 December 2010

In Which I Start to Think I May Be Worrying About the Wrong Things

My kids have those chocolate Advent calendars from Trader Joe's, thanks to my generous friend Laura. We also have a cloth one, where we add one item per day to the manger scene, the last one, of course, being Jesus. This one is sweet and fun. But the chocolate ones stress me out.

First of all, there are FIVE of them. They take up too much space in my already too small house.

Second, my kids go rabid at the mere mention of chocolate. That's a lot of froth on a daily basis.

And third, the kids trash them with overzealous window ripping.

Last year, instead of having nice Advent calendars sitting neatly on the kitchen shelf, we had beaten up and bent cardboard shells, with the little cardboard windows ripped out and strewn all over the house. The kids were so rough with them that the chocolates ended up popping out of their holes and sliding around inside the cardboard, inducing panic and indignation in the opener. It was not a peaceful, pleasant part of the holiday season.

So this year, every time the kids go for their chocolates, I can be heard shouting things like: "BE GENTLE WITH THOSE! DON'T LEAVE THE CARDBOARD WINDOWS ALL OVER THE FLOOR! DON'T SHAKE THEM! KEEP THEM NICE!"

I told them I might stop saying that by December 15th, if they're lucky.

But really, what the heck is my problem? Why do I care if they destroy their candy calendars? I'll get them to clean up the little cardboard windows, but why am I obsessing about all the rest of it?

There are so many more worthy ways to spend my time during this season. I could use that energy wondering if I'll get Christmas cards out this year, or trying to glue back together all the broken tree ornaments, or figuring out where to stow all of the books and toys and crap we have piling up around here and that we want to get rid of or hide to make room for the guests we are hosting for Christmas dinner. I could be getting ready to pretend we have a pleasant, comfortable, organized, efficient home and instead, I'm wasting time trying to keep cardboard calendars in tip top shape. Ridiculous.

So henceforth, the Advent calendars are on their own. I'll be turning my attention to some other neurosis of mine.

* * *

03 December 2010

Daybook, 3 December 2010

Outside my window...it is grey, damp and cold.

I am thinking...about how to keep myself motivated and heartened for the things I find most daunting.

I am thankful for...carmel popcorn at timely moments.

From the kitchen...eggs in baskets for lunch, fried in real butter. Deelishous.

I am wearing...black sweats, grey T, red polartec jacket.

I am creating...clean walls.

I am going...to enjoy an evening out with friends.

I am reading...Half Broke Horses, by Jeanette Walls

I am hoping...for courage.

I am hearing...my dryer running...Toy Story 3 from the living room...children munching on carmel popcorn.

Around the house...messes, messes everywhere.

One of my favorite things...paella.

A few plans for the rest of the week: finish prepping the living room walls for a new paint job.

Here is picture for thought I am sharing...

Thanks Nicole for the Daybook idea; play along at the simple woman's daybook.

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7 Quick Takes: Volume 21, The What Was I Thinking Edition

Gimme a F, gimme a R, gimme a I and a DAY! As long as it comes with a glass of wine, I'll take it.

Please visit Jen at Conversion Diary for the original 7 Quick Takes and links to other people playing along.

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