27 June 2011

What We Do

My husband and I own and operate Alatorre Garden Design, here in the lovely East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. Lots of people look at me blankly when I say this, so I thought I'd provide a little sample of what it is that we do.

We meet with folks who want to create "native paradises" in their gardens: gardens that feature California native plants, encourage wildlife, and conserve natural resources. Rick is a walking encyclopedia of California native plants: his knowledge is impressive. He uses that knowledge, as well as his aesthetic sense and his love of Fibonacci numbers to create beautiful spaces for our clients.

Where do I come in? Having zero native plant knowledge but possessing some killer penmanship skillz, I render his ideas neatly on paper. He draws a rough draft of his designs, and then I come along and ink the drawing, adding all the features and notes he has crawled in his barely legible chicken scratch. Here's a sample of one of our designs in process. This one is quite simple -- some are more elaborate -- but it conveys the general idea of what we do:

And here are pictures of our own garden, our "showroom" if you will, where people can see Rick's beautiful ideas executed.

And that, my friends, is what we do. Aren't we lucky?

* * *

25 June 2011

Broccoli Wars

Him: "Mom, how many pieces of broccoli do I need to have?"

Me: "Five."

Him: "How about four?"

Me: "How about six?"

Him: "How about five?"

Me: "Sounds good to me."

I win.

* * *

24 June 2011

Thank You Ben Greenman!

Ben Greenman of the New Yorker has enhanced the celebration of my wedding anniversary!

Well, Ben Greenman and John McEnroe. In the New Yorker blog The Sporting Scene, Greenman has proposed that June 22 be henceforth known as You Cannot Be Serious day, in honor of McEnroe's response to the umpire in his Wimbledon match on June 22, 1981. Read more about it, and Greenman's proposal, in the Sporting Scene blog, here. And on June 22, 1996, Rick and I got hitched.

That is just perfect. Perfect for the ridiculous life we lead, with all these kids, socks, spoons, books, art projects, and bagels. Perfect for the way my kitchen looks three times a day. Perfect for the frequency with which stuff breaks around here. Perfect for the way whenever we have just a little bit of extra money, one of our cars needs major repairs. Perfect for capturing my response to learning that I would be having a fifth child. Perfect for being married to a guy who brings home giant paella pans, huge plastic light-up nativity scenes, broken garden chairs, and manual typewriters on a regular basis. Perfect for reminding myself to laugh, laugh, and keep on laughing at the impossible.

Perfect for a seriously hilarious life, with some seriously fabulous children and one seriously devoted husband.

Greenman encourages us: "Use the phrase liberally every year, for one day: with your spouse, with your boss, in the car, even to yourself." Sounds good to me! Although, I have a feeling I'll be using it a touch more frequently than once a year.

* * *

22 June 2011

Sing It, Girl

Little T. The youngest. The fearless one. The pain in my backside. The force. The absolute cuteness.

I am a youngest child, as is my husband. Side note: as a general rule, I would advice youngests against marrying each other: we both expect to get our way all the time, so one of us is usually shocked and disappointed.

There is no better place to be in a family than bringing up the rear. Being the youngest, especially of a large brood, means you benefit from just the right amount of benign neglect. Parents are experienced enough to let 60% of your antics slide and exhausted enough to completely miss the other 40%. My youngest has cartloads of confidence, gathered from being minimally supervised and able to try pretty much anything she wants to. She sees the world as her oyster, and the world complies. She doesn't offend easily (except when her siblings imitate her little lispy cartoon character voice: that seriously pisses her off) and she hurtles through life with abandon and joy.

She's hard to parent and utterly delightful to watch, especially when I catch glimpses of just how robust her self-image is. Take last night, for example. I was taking a shower, and had locked the bathroom door to keep her out. She, not to be deterred, set up camp right on the other side of the bathroom door -- complete with pillows and blankets -- and commenced serenading me with every preschool song she knows. Wheels on the Bus...Five Green and Speckled Frogs...I'm a Little Teapot...Hit Me Baby One More Time...

I mostly just kept my eyes closed, let the warm water wash over me, and counted myself lucky that the sound was slightly muffled by the shower flow and the closed door.

Then she sang Matchmaker Matchmaker, and I commented: "Oooo, one of my favorites!"

The singing stopped abruptly.

"You mean, this isn't annoying you?" Giggles and smiles, both of which I could hear through the door.

No honey, you are not annoying me.

"You mean, you're actually listening to me???" Outright joyful laughter this time.

Yes honey, I'm actually listening to you. Although apparently, that's not a necessary part of this equation.

She sings, she entertains, she puts her little bit of energy out into the world, and clearly, her enjoyment is not predicated on whether or not anyone at all is paying attention.

I want some of that.

* * *

21 June 2011

Bad Attitude: Discuss

On this bright, warm, gorgeous summer morning, on this summer solstice celebration, I am all by myself.

Three kids at art camp. 10-1.
One kid at Vacation Bible Schoool, 9-12:30.
One kid at Vacation Bible School, 9-5.

Which gives me from approximately 10:15-12:15 by myself.

I find myself utterly unable to enjoy it. I am too overwhelmed by the messes, the stresses, the little failures (like the monumental task of finding people shorts this morning), the looming chores, the tasks that I never have time for when the kids are around but which are far too numerous to be tackled in two small hours.

So. Two hours to myself, and all I'm doing is feeling sorry for myself. I can't kick my brain over into that a positive frame of mind, can't see the silver lining, can't enjoy the respite from "Mommy Mommy Mommy."

I am, in short, a fun sucker. (The older kids watched Freaky Friday yesterday after we hiked at Alvarado Park in the brutal heat.) I'm sucking the fun out of my own morning with my grumpy grumpous attitude.

Someone give me a swift kick in the rear: maybe I'll land someplace cheerful.

* * *

19 June 2011

Gifts My Father Gave Me

It's Father's Day, the day to give gifts to our dads that express our love and gratitude for everything they have given us. I do not get a passing grade in this department: I didn't get mine anything. Nothing. Squat. Nada.

I am using, as my excuse, the fact that he is out of the state right now. Maybe I'll get my act together by the time he gets back. (Want to extend that vacation, dad??) But I have thought about him all day long, as I've helped my own kids do things for their dad to mark the day. I've thought about what I might give him to show him how much I love him, but I'm coming up empty. Instead, all I keep thinking about is what he has given me, which far exceeds anything I could purchase or anything I could imagine.

He gave me Angel Band, and an appreciation for bluegrass music that surprises me, since as a kid, the sound of a banjo made me want to quadruple pierce my ears, vote Republican, and watch mindless television just to piss him off. As an adult, I actually adore and often choose bluegrass. That's some serious dad love right there.

He gave me Mystery Theater. One of my all time favorite childhood memories is of lying on the chaise lounge in daddy's pottery studio late at night while he worked, listening to the creeeeeeeeeeaak of a door and the voice of E. G. Marshall bringing a thrilling story to our cozy corner of the world. I'm sure this is one of the reasons why today I love radio and narration.

He gave me hook and eye locks on the bathroom doors in my childhood home, a story that goes along with the amazing wedding and reception he and my mother gave to Rick and me 15 years ago this coming week. It's still the best party I have ever been to.

He gave me art, the making of art and an appreciation for people who make art. Now my kids are amazing examples of this legacy, as they spent part of the day outside, painting pictures for their dad on their easels. (The other day, after hearing that my kids have artistic grandparents on both sides of the family, Lola's friend asked me: "Is that where your kids got their art talent? Is this one of those skips a generation things?" Ha!)

He gave me Guinness. Lots and lots of Guinness. When I moved back home as a 24 year old, after spending two years on the East Coast after college, mom and dad had bought an Irish pub. Is there a better way to show your children that good exists in the world and that love shall prevail? I think not.

He gave me sarcasm. A double edged sword, to be sure, but one that has proven to be a primary tool in my own parenting. I am now the victim of sarcastic children too, so this gift is truly dubious, but on the whole, sarcasm and humor have vastly enriched my life and helped me to appreciate the crazy, whacky, impossible experience of life, especially life with children.

He gave me a living, breathing daily example of a person who stands up for what he believes in and stands with the underdog, the nerd, the less privileged, the ignored, the poor, the needy, the unfortunate. He and my mom gave me this together. I hope I'm giving the same gift to their grandchildren...and I think I have a long way to go in this endeavor.

How do you give someone a gift to thank them for all of that? A CD collection of Mystery Theater? A bluegrass album? Doesn't quite get there. I got nothin'.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. I love you more than words can express, but I can say, with certainty, that I will never, ever vote Republican.

* * *

15 June 2011

Summer 2011

I created a new page over there in my right hand side bar, called SUMMER 2011: THE LIST. This page will chronicle the Best. Summer. Ever. hosted by the Best. Mom. Ever.

I decided I needed something visual to help me plan and enjoy summer. My usual pattern is to vow that Summer will be awesome and to spend the next several weeks yelling at short people and basking in failure. Maybe, if I have a list, things will be different. If nothing else, I am a hopeful person.

And speaking of hope, I hope you will visit this new page and give me suggestions for fun summer activities.

Happy Summer everyone!

* * *

Planning Ahead

Little T is wearing my flip flops around the house this morning. They are pink. They are cute. Apparently, she really likes them:

"Mama, when you die, can I have your flip flops?"

* * *

And once on the topic, she continues:

"Mama, when you die and turn into a angel, can I still come be with you? Can we both be angels together? Can we be a whole family of angels?????"

* * *

I love her. She gives me whiplash.

* * *

13 June 2011

She Drives a Hard Bargain

My tude-ridden six year old has developed a shrieking habit. When she is mad, when she perceives some injustice done to her, when she is overly tired or hungry, the littlest provocation sets her shrieking. It sucketh.

(I've tried to stop the kids from saying "that sucks," since it sounds trashy and rude. Somehow, adding -eth to the end makes it less so. Right?)

Tonight, in a fit of anger, she decide to combine shrieking with drawing hateful pictures of her sister. She was promptly and decisively placed in a time out.

After sufficient time had passed, I told her she could come out. She did not. A few minutes later, this came from her room:


Looks like I will be enjoying a nice, shriek-less evening.

* * *

09 June 2011

Practice Makes...Me Tired

I always thought that the more you do something, the better you get at it. Practice makes perfect, right? Well, it seems this truism applies everywhere except parenting.

Or is it just me?

* * *

"Mama, does Leila have a faster car than we do?"

"I don't know, honey; why?"

"Because she always gets to preschool before we do."

Yes dear; we are chronically late. Yes dear, I've now been taking short people to preschool three days a week for eight years. No dear, I haven't figured out how to arrive on time. Actually, I got your brother there on time or early when I was a newly minted preschool parent. I've gotten worse over time.

* * *

And grocery shopping with short people. I'm getting worse at that too. I had four of them in Trader Joe's the other day, and I felt like a complete rookie. Along with fruit and bread, I got mayhem, whining, pleading for treats, and a complete lack of control: it wasn't pretty. I purchased half of what I needed and left a few days of my life flopping around on the floor of the frozen food aisle. Why am I not better at this than I used to be?

* * *

Providing balanced meals? Used to be, I had nice well-rounded lunches and dinners for everyone. Now, that bag of snap peas is seeing a whole lot more drive-time play. When facing the question What's For Dinner? my mind is increasingly a total blank. It's like I've never cooked before. It's like when I open the fridge I am a traveler in a strange land and I do not speak the language. What is a chicken and what does one do with it? And can one do the same thing with it five nights in a row without hearing short people complain? What exactly is this thing called making dinner, and why do I seem to have lost the ability to do it?

* * *

And location skills! Eight years ago, if someone said: "Mom, have you seen my red lego piece with the hinge?" I would have said something like: "It's on the third shelf down, between the Cat in the Hat and the phone book, underneath a half completed puzzle."

Now, someone asks me for socks and I just stare blankly. I don't know where anything is. At all. Least of all my keys and my wallet. It's a miracle I arrive anywhere, ever, even remotely on time.

* * *

Parenting: the only occupation in which the more experienced you are, the worse your skills become.

Or is that just me?

* * *

05 June 2011

Finding the Silver Lining

Cleaning is a drag. No one actually enjoys cleaning, right? My kids are no exception. But they have figured out that cleaning has a few upsides. Here are the positive discoveries they made tonight:

(1) If you are on dish washing duty, you can spray your siblings with water and create an impressive amount of chaos.

(2) If the living room floor is clear of socks, shoes, books, drawing stuff and jigsaw puzzle pieces, you can have a dance party to Michael Franti's Say Hey, even though Mom says the job isn't done until the dining room and kitchen are clean too.

(3) If you have to put away a long sheer white curtain (and no, no one knows how it got underneath the dining room table, Mom), you can wrap it around your head and shoulders like a shepherdess and sing Mary Had A Little Lamb in an operatic voice. The singing is fun, but the real benefits are annoying the hell out of your siblings, delaying any actual cleaning, and watching Mom do her imitation of Linda Blair because you are ignoring her completely.

(4) Cleaning can unearth buried treasures, especially if you decide to "clean" the bag of stuff mom set aside for Goodwill. All kinds of great stuff can be put back into the household mix, since Mom doesn't recognize real value when she sees it. She was going to give away those purple rain boots that haven't fit anyone in 2 years! She was going to toss a super dingy trashy- looking pink sequined purse with a broken zipper!

(5) If there enough people cleaning at the same time, Mom can't really keep track of all of them, so you can sneak off and draw a picture. She'll never notice you are gone, but she'll get a big kick out of this:

(6) And if your job is to straighten up the couch and neaten the blanket that hides all the cushion stains, you can tuck that blanket in between two cushions and make it look like the couch has a butt crack.

Sometimes, cleaning is just plain wonderful.

* * *

03 June 2011

7 Quick Morning Takes: Volume 29

Friday morning and this is what I got: cloudy light flickering around my window panes, To Kill a Mockingbird dialogue swirling around in my head, and french toast going down easily with farm fresh peaches. I've also got a super messy house, a desperate need for a shower, and children playing with that darn sound barrier again. Here are some quick takes from my morning:

~ 1 ~

This morning, my son was playing The Black Eyed Peas from his room way too loudly for my tastes. The sound pitched me into that place where I fear my children are growing up on the wrong path. Now, thankfully, he has moved on to Bob Dylan (Tombstone Blues), and rightness has been restored to the world.

~ 2 ~

This morning, my daughter said to me: "Mama, remember when you were all mad at us, and you sent us to bed when I was trying to tell you something? Well, all I wanted to say was that I wanted some pizza." And a little later: "Mama, remember when you were all mad at us, and you sent us to bed and said you would check on us? Well, you didn't."

That was last night. And I did check on them, but she fell asleep so fast she was already snoozing when I got there. She makes me sound like a real piece of work.

~ 3 ~

This morning, I tried to go to the store to buy milk. It took an hour and 15 minutes to complete the job, beginning with three girls who couldn't find shoes, including time spent explaining why I was not going to be buying any gum, and ending with me cajoling, threatening, and pleading with a four year old to get into her booster seat. It would be easier to buy IV equipment, so I can inject the coffee straight into my veins when I find myself out of whole milk.

~ 4 ~

This morning, I realized that the baby and toddler years were a complete and total cake walk. The teenage years, all 14 of them stretching out in front of me, are going to kill me. Anyone have a guide to the Proper Care and Feeding of Teenagers?

~ 5 ~

This morning, my 6 year old is wearing a spaghetti strap t-shirt underneath a regular t-shirt, and the spaghetti straps keep sliding down onto her upper arms. Sliding on their own or deliberately placed, I'm not sure which. But I do know that the very sight of those straps has me working overtime to control my tongue and not use the word "trashy" every time I see her in this state.

~ 6 ~

This morning, my front garden looks like this:

~ 7 ~

And yesterday (no, not this morning), The Writer's Almanac included this quote from birthday boy Thomas Hardy: "The business of the poet and the novelist is to show the sorriness underlying the grandest things and the grandeur underlying the sorriest thing." I love that. And I would add that the business of the parent is to teach her children to see both.

* * *

Visit our host, Jen at Conversion Diary, for the original 7 Quick Takes, and links to other bloggers playing along.

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02 June 2011


OK, people, I just looked at some of the searches that have landed people on this blog, and apparently, one of you got here by googling "homeschooling" and "go topless."

And I'm left saying Goodness Gracious for the second time today.

For the record, we keep our clothes on while we are learning stuff.

* * *

How Embarrassing

OMG, I just read my previous post and found many egregious grammar and spelling errors. Goodness gracious. As someone who complains publicly about bad grammar, I find this mortifying.

I fixed 'em. Not sure I got 'em all, but I did my best. Feel free to alert me to anything I missed.

Once again, I am living proof that editors are actually angels, and everybody needs one.

* * *

For the Sake of the Squirrels

"Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
- the character of Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird

When I was in high school, my friends and I went up to a cabin near Tahoe for some fun and relaxation. It was awesome.

This could be a post about how while we were there we read great literature, such as Harper Lee's masterpiece, but actually, it's about how we shot all the bluejays we could find, in a manner of speaking.

The quote above, which the kids and I came across the other day since we're reading that book outloud, put me in mind of bluejays and how annoying they can be, which reminded me a story from our Tahoe vacation over 20 years ago.

The cabin had a back deck, which looked out on gorgeous woods, full of deer, birds, and squirrels. Among our provisions, we had a large bag of peanuts in their shells, and we thought it would be fun to share those peanuts with the squirrels. (We are much more ecologically-minded now, and wouldn't dream of feeding animals in the wild. Those were reckless days, indeed.)

We scattered a few peanuts along the bannister of the deck, and sat back to watch the little creatures come to feast. A few tried. But the mean and selfish bluejays always beat them to it. Horrified, we watched as the furry little grey guys got beaten back time and again by a flurry of winged blueness. Come to think of it, it was not unlike watching the boys beat out their younger sisters when a bowl of popcorn is on the line.

We, being the social justice minded people that we were, thought this was unfair and unacceptable, and we decided to teach those bluejays a lesson. So we found some thin string, cut several lengths of it, and spent precious time tying one end to the peanuts and the other to the banister. Again, we sat back and watched. This time, a bluejay swooped in ahead of the squirrels, grabbed a peanut, and flew away, only to reach the end of the string length and have the peanut pop back out of its beak and fall away. All we had to do was pull the string up and replace it on the banister, and the scene would be repeated. Many tried; all were thwarted.

We entertained ourselves for hours. And we really pissed off those bluejays. It was beautiful retribution. Who knew that confused birds could provide such hilarity? (Had I known what a luxury it was to have that kind of time to waste, good God, I hope I would have put it to better use.)

I don't think the squirrels ever did get to eat. But we had a great time, and I like to think that by thwarting those grabby birds, we were in some small way taking a stand against their ugliness and greed.

We didn't shoot them. But we did what we could.

* * *