28 February 2011


Kids come with a lot of questions. Most of them, I cannot answer, or at least not without research. Here are all the things to which I said "I don't know" this weekend:
  • How far does a bullet fly?
  • Why are white people called Caucasian? Why does it sound so much like Asian?
  • What does the 'A' stand for in double A batteries?
  • Is Hosni Mubarak a good person?
  • Would you wear a burka if it was part of your religion and you lived in a country where the president made it illegal to wear one?
  • What is the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian? Yeah, I thought I knew that one until I utterly failed to explain it coherently and ended up with an IDK.
  • When was the last time a volcano erupted?
  • Is Justin Timberlake nervous right now?
  • Why can African American people use the n-word but no one else can, and why would they want to?
  • How are you going to fix your computer? (This after the power cord prong thingy snapped off inside my laptop, rendering it un-power-up-able.)
  • Can I go to the skate park tomorrow?
  • Why do women always say other women are beautiful but men don't talk about how other men look? Actually, I did come up with a pretty decent answer for this one...but went with the IDK at first.
  • Can you make us some popcorn? I was so brain dead by the time this question came up that I literally answered: I don't know.

I pondered all of these questions, as well as the ones I was able to answer more fully, as the cold morning light shifted from grey to bright across my bedroom this morning. Pinned as I was between a four year old knee in my back and an eight year old arm across my chest, I considered how many questions these little warm breathing bodies have. They are quiet now, the only time they will be all day. This is my chance to recharge, to get ready for another day full of words and questions, endless chatter and conversation. And probably some yelling.

Morning is rich with promise and possibility. My overwhelming love for my children pours out of me as I watch their sleeping chests rise and fall, and listen to the small sucking noises and the murmurs and whimpers of slow waking. Can I freeze time for awhile just to watch them sleep, where they literally look like angels who miraculously grace my presence every day? I try. I want to stay in this warm and quiet little world, where love protects me like the heavy homemade quilt that covers us. I want to live here forever. But at my back I always hear, time's winged chariot drawing near, and I know that in a precious few moments, they will be awake and asking question after question, and they will at some point in the next few hours seem more like demons bent on breaking my spirit than the angels they are in the quiet early spaces of each day.

Will I live up to their expectations and their questions today?


* * *

27 February 2011

Words Do Indeed Make a Difference

Little T and I went to visit a friend today who just gave birth to a new baby. On the way, she asked me if a mommy has to be cut up to get a baby out of her belly.

During the conversation that ensued, I discovered that the word opening is much nicer than the word hole.

* * *

26 February 2011

Google This

While working on a garden design this morning, I googled the spelling of "Deschampsia caespitosa." I took a quick look at the results, got what I needed, and said "Yes! Thank you, Google!"

My 6 year old: "Mom (patronizing voice). Just because Google says it, doesn't necessarily mean it's true. You should really be more careful."

We raise 'em savvy around here.

* * *

24 February 2011

Blender Blunders


How I Know I Am Not Alone

Our afternoon snack today was a fruit smoothie, a favorite around here. Lola and I happily blended together OJ, yogurt, pineapple, bananas and blueberries. Frustratingly, I couldn't find the cover to the blender anywhere. No matter, I grabbed a small plate and put it over the top, and noisily blended away.

At a certain point, I decided the shake needed a little more pineapple, so I took the plate off, reached for the pineapple, and then watched in slow motion disbelief as my 10 year old stuck his finger out at that precise moment and pressed the 'on' button.

A fruit shake tsunami hit my kitchen. And my son. "Why on earth did you do that?" I gasped, incredulous. My spouse decided to pick that moment to channel me, in my sanctimonious moments: "Well I'm sure he didn't wake up this morning and decide he wanted to spray fruit shake all over the kitchen." Thanks for that bit of wisdom; in the future, when I want your input, I'll tell you what it is.

Anyway, the funny part comes later. While we were at Lola's futsal game this evening, I relayed the story to two other moms, both of whom also had blender mishaps with their kids within the past 24 hours. I found this to be amazing. Here I was, thinking inane things like "why doesn't my child have more sense than to turn on an open blender" and "how is he ever going to actually live somewhere on his own" and "does a sticky kitchen floor really mean that I am a loser?" when all the while, it turns out that children all over the place are making messes with blenders, even when they have really nice, normal parents who are raising functional, capable children! Who knew?

I've been surrounded by good news lately.

So go ahead, share a story of family ridiculousness with a friend. Chances are you'll find out what good company you are in.

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23 February 2011

Native Time

Each year, Rick and I participate in a tour of local native plant gardens: Rick showcases some of his work, usually including our own garden, and I exercise my design muscles by producing the booklet that each tour-goer receives. The tour is in early May, which means that our February, March and April are...nuts.

We are weeding. We are planting. We are ripping out whole sections of the garden because we have been inspired with some new fantastic vision that just has to be implemented. We are cursing ourselves for taking on too much. We are designing booklet pages. We are designing ads for the booklet. We are thinking of how to make Rick's gardens stand out. We are devising strategies to market our business to the 6000+ folks who register for the tour. We are handling ongoing garden projects that have nothing to do with the tour, for the sake of paying the bills.

Other things we are theoretically supposed to be doing during February, March, and April: Feeding children, bathing children, educating children, doing laundry, sweeping a floor every now and then, and sleeping. And showering. And eating. I think.

It's a truly crazy bats time of year around here.

If you are local (a wide net, inclusive of inland and bayside Contra Costa and Alameda counties), please check out the tour website and register to attend. There are 49 beautiful gardens featured this year (only two are ours), providing endless inspiration for other folks interested in native plants.

This year, we will have a tee-pee! And a lemonade stand, an art stand, and a cookie stand. Heck, I might even set up a Tallulah stand, and foist her off on some unsuspecting garden visitor.

* * *

19 February 2011

And the castle, it is the best castle...

A little over a year ago, I wrote in this post about how a bedtime plan backfired on me. Thirteen months later, that same plan finally bore fruit!

Little T was tough to put to bed last night, crying and carrying on, and claiming she could only sleep cuddled next to me. I was trying to think of a nice way to keep her butt in her bed, or barring that, at least in her own room. Lady E saved me.

Tallulah, one time, I had a hard time going to sleep, and Mommy told me I could just make up stories right in my own mind! And I did, and the stories were about princesses and stuff, and I can help you do the same thing!

Exit Mommy, fist pumping the air.

Enter Mommy an hour later to find two sleeping girls and the following story on the pillow next to one of them:

We lived in a castle, a very big castle. We loved it.
It was very awesome and it was covered with

flowers. It had a very pretty garden, very
very beautiful. I loved the garden.

And the castle, it is the best castle I have ever seen.

I guess creativity past bedtime is OK after all.

* * *

A Terrible Discovery

My children, with my unwitting help and to my horror, made a terrible discovery this week.

They discovered that stuffed animals are washable.

I provided them with all the proof they needed. When a particularly special stuffed animal got drenched in dog slobber, without thinking, the words just popped out of my mouth: "This will probably come clean in the wash!"

Before the words had faded away, I could see the light bulb flicking on in the girls' brains and wished in an instant I could grab those words and stuff them far, far down into the dark depths of never having been uttered.

These little critters?

Were this close to the landfill Goodwill truck. Look how clean and fun they look now? And no faking out the young ones for me! I had three pairs of eyes watching me like hawks, almost as if they know that I am capable of bold-faced lying to them and saying that I tried to wash them and they just didn't come out as well as Froggy had. Of the big pile they had agreed to part with mere days ago, these just had to come back out. I am still giving away two bags full of overly loved and fairly disgusting animals, but I weep to have to bring even one of them back.

Let this be a warning to mothers everywhere. Never, ever admit to your kids that stuffed animals will not disintegrate in the washing machine.

And also let me go on record as saying that at this point in my motherhood, I Hate Stuffed Animals.

And finally, every so often, will someone please remind me not to do kind things for these people? The results are terrible.

18 February 2011

7 Quick Sick Takes: Volume 28

I'm sick. My Friday sucks. Hope yours is better.


It's much easier to be sick if everyone in the house has clean socks in their dresser drawers. Which we do not.


I remember when getting a cold slowed me down for like a day. It's hard to deny my advancing years when a simple cold takes me entirely out of the game for 3 days and cuts into my otherwise mad mothering skilz for another 2 or 3.


If you need to get more sleep, and you put it off for too many nights in a row, your own body will stage a mutiny and make it impossible for you to do anything except sleep, even to blow your own nose, for 24 hours. If you try to do anything else, like raise your head from your pillow, the resulting pain will squash you like a bug and make you weep like a baby.


My children are kind and compassionate when mommy is sick. They give me little kisses, rub my hot forehead with their nice cool (sometimes sticky) hands, they check in on me every so often to see if I'm OK. This lasts for about 20 minutes, at which time they pretty much want me better immediately so I can find stuff for them.


On the other hand, my kids live the good life when I am sick, because Daddy takes them out. They were gone for about 6 hours yesterday, and today they are off to see Gnomeo and Juliet. Maybe I should get sick more often! Or perhaps just fake it.


My nose is raw. TMI?

What comforts you most when you are sick? Please, everyone who reads this, leave a response in the comments. I'd like to post a list somewhere Rick will see it.

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Please visit the original 7 quick takes and explore other 7QT-er's links.

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16 February 2011

Let's See...

...so here's what I've got today:

  • Cramps. Big and bad.
  • A head cold.
  • Not enough sleep, after going to bed at 1:30am.
  • Two kids with nasty head colds.
  • A body that is aching both from PMS and from tripping over a hula hoop and slamming down onto a slab of flagstone the other day.

Wow. Even I'm impressed by that list. If there were ever a day to be sequestered, this is it.

Failing that, and in an attempt to ignore everything that could have me weeping in a corner this morning, I will here list an equal number of things I am grateful for.

  • The Monarch team families. I love the families of my 8 year old daughter's soccer/futsal team. We all watched them get their butts handed to them on a silver platter last night...but the other parents make every game a playdate for me.
  • My husband and his flexible work schedule, because he will be taking the three healthy children to their dentist appointments this morning, relieving my crampy, snotty self from having to do it with two crabby, snotty young ones in tow.
  • My own dear mother, who is celebrating her birthday today. Mom, happy happy birthday to you and thank you for still taking care of me so well. You help me and us in a thousand ways, and I can't imagine raising this brood without you.
  • Steel cut oatmeal, with applesauce and almond slices mixed in, and Irish breakfast tea with just the right amount of milk and sugar.
  • Reading out loud to my kids, getting to the end of a chapter, and hearing "One more chapter, mom! Please just one more!" (They got three more out of me that way last night.)

I can't crawl back into bed this morning, so I'll just keep returning to this list -- and hopefully adding to it -- to get me through the day.

* * *

15 February 2011

Fire as Metaphor

Dad! The fire looks like a bad marriage!

My six year old's way of telling dad he needs to tend to the fire in the fireplace.

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14 February 2011

Seeking Instructor for Impulse Control 101

How do we teach our kids a little self-control? How do we teach them to corral their less-than-wonderful impulses?

Like the impulse that tells my son that it's a perfectly fine idea to attempt to choke his little sister for sticking her tongue out at him.

Like the one that tells my daughter that flinging shoes at me from her car seat is fun or that hurtling pencils across the living room is just what the situation calls for.

Like the force compelling them all to simply get louder in order to be heard above the din of other people who are being as loud as they can in order to be heard.

Like the urge to get my response right now to a critical question such as I-know-I-just-bought-an-Ipod-game-and-you-said-I-could-buy-a-song-in-a-few-days-but-can-I-buy-it-now-instead-cuz-i-really-really-want-it, even though, as you can clearly see, I am engaged in conversation with another adult and will (a) not respond in your favor if you interrupt me and (b) not respond in your favor because this question has been asked and answered several times already in a short few hours and (c) want to sell you to a gypsy train if you look at me with that desperate need-to-spend-money-in-order-to-feel-happy, meth-head looking for a fix, pitiful son with a shrew for a mother kind of way.

Like the old tried and profoundly untrue response to having to do daily chores. Really? Really? You are really going to stomp around the house bitching bitterly about how unfair it is that you have to fold laundry? After all these months, and after watching hot lava erupt from the top of your mother's head and sparks fly from her mouth during previous bouts of complaining about this very thing? Do you not remember where this same complaining landed you last time? In a world of misery and screeching, if I recall, so my question to you now is: Really?

What am I doing wrong? Expecting human behavior from un-fully formed people?

Parenting is a mystery shrouded by a veil behind closed doors and speaking in tongues.

* * *

Love and Math

I posted the following on Facebook this morning:
‎♥ ♥ ♥
...another gift homeschooling has given me: I love Valentine's Day again. I had the energy to do something nice for my own kids instead of coming up with 100+ cheapie valentines for them to give their classmates.
♥ ♥ ♥
It's true. Early this morning, I got up and cut out five big red and pink construction paper hearts. I wrote little love notes to each of my kids, attached a small box of chocolates and a small box of conversation hearts to each one, and put them on the dining room table.

I did not spend a minute of the past weekend helping five kids produce 20-30 valentines each for their classmates. I did not waste a bit of money on cheaply made crap. I did not have to purchase a single Disney product or participate in cross-promoting the latest drivel passing for children's entertainment. I did not waste an ounce of energy trying to convince two pre-teen boys to write the names of their friends on each card. I did not have to walk the pre-schooler and the 1st grader through spelling 20+ different names. I did not have to check and re-check five different class lists to make sure we remembered everyone. I didn't have to worry about having enough or about the littlest kid absconding with already labeled Valentines, hiding under a table and scribbling all over them with a sharpie.

Now, mid-morning, it's raining, and we have a fire in the fireplace. Daddy took the girls out for the morning, and the boys are sitting at the dining room table with their math tutor, learning pre-algebra from someone other than me, and I am sitting at the kitchen table, drinking tea and blogging.

My boys are laughing and chatting with their tutor. About math. I am listening to him (the tutor) tell them they are math geniuses and to them shouting out answers and questions. I am watching their experience of math transform before my very eyes.

Life and Valentine's Day are good.

Vincenzo made this dish at art class recently, and we pressed it into service today.

Construction paper + a black sharpie + some nice words + sugar = love.

With all of this love and math in the air, I may just run away with the math tutor.

* * *

12 February 2011

Saturday Morning

The day is before me. The sun is clear and bright. I haven't yet hit the wall...but it's only 9am.

This weekend holds the following for us:

Lola-berry-ding-dong has a soccer clinic today.
Sam is serving at a Funeral Mass today.
We need to buy shoes for Sam before the Funeral Mass.
Sam is serving at 7:30am Mass tomorrow.
Lola is going to an overnight with Grandma and Poppa.
Sam and I will go to his end of the season soccer party tomorrow.
Rick gets to go watch the Gaels beat the Dons in San Francisco tonight.
Sam wants to go a footy-soccer (soccer tennis) clinic tomorrow.
Vincenzo has a futsal game tomorrow.

Notably, Little T and Lady E are missing from that long list of activities. Apparently, they have no plans for the weekend. However, I have plans for them. Big plans.

They. Will. Bathe.

That way, while they are being carted hither and non, along for the ride while other people go to various functions, our minivan will not be attended by two little Pig Pen clouds and a bad smell.

You can dress up a filthy little toddler, but she's still a filthy little Lady Godiva toddler.

Have a good weekend everyone!

* * *

10 February 2011

Good News!

Ah, NPR! You have enriched my life beyond measure. You have expanded my horizons, Neal Conan; you have kindled my intellect, Michele Norris. You, Nina Totenberg, you have demystified the mighty Judicial Branch for me; and Ira Glass, your stories have touched my heart. (And yes, I am a member of local KQED, so do not call me. Peter Sagal, you can call me if you want.)

But Robert Siegel, you have outdone yourself this time. This past Monday on All Things Considered, you answered a prayer.

Here's an excerpt from an interview I heard on ATC between Mr. Siegel and Ralph Keyes, author of Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms.
It's well-known that some people who suffer certain kinds of stroke lose their ability to speak, but they don't lose their ability to curse. And this has led linguistic researchers to conclude that swearing comes from a very primitive part of our brain and almost as not language at all.
This is good news, people. This means that my inability to control my use of certain colorful words is not actually my fault. Swearing, apparently, is so far deep into our primal being that it's not even language, and cannot be governed as such.

So basically, I can stop worrying about my cursing! This falls under the purview of my oft-repeated Serenity Prayer. This bit of knowledge falls under "The Wisdom to Know the Difference" umbrella and places swearing in the "Things I Cannot Control" column. Thank you Mr. Siegel, thank you Mr. Keyes, and thank you NPR for being an answer to my prayer and for sanctioning my use of the F-word.

Give yourself a treat and go listen to the story. In addition to that kernel about cursing, there are many delightful anecdotes about language and how we use it–always a fun topic for word geeks like me. Maybe you, too?

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05 February 2011

Evidence That I Am Ineffectual

I just told Little T to go in her room and find her pink stripped shorts to wear under her black velvet party dress: she's going to a 5-year old's birthday party and there will be jump-house jumping. Shorts are standard issue for little girls who try to reach the ceiling of the Jumpy House.

So how do I know she is ignoring me?

Because as I type I can hear her bed squeaking rapidly and repeatedly under the weight of her jumping up and down. She must be getting warmed up for the party.

Further evidence?

I just reminded her to find her shorts. Now I'm listening to the bed springs catapulting her up and down AND a harmonica she is blowing with abandon.

She knows how to have a good time, and it doesn't involve listening to mom in the least.

(Also? When she selected a filthy dress to wear today, and I said we would find something clean, she p-shawed me away with her hand and said: "Mom, just go with it.")

* * *

An unrelated photo that captures the attitude.

04 February 2011

7 Quick Takes: Volume 27

The problem with Fridays is that you can't say "Well, it's Friday somewhere!" the way you can with 5 o'clock. That's unfortunate. But for today, at least and thank God, it is Friday, in many, many places.

And so, without futher ado, I give you 7 Quick Takes on Parenting.


If there is one thing to say 'never' about, with respect to parenting, it is this: Never compare yourself to any other parent. No two families are alike. Wishing you did things like so-and-so may start innocently enough, but will lead you down a dark, dark road from which it is very difficult to return. Just don't do it. Know what you want for your family and stick with that. You can get all kinds of good ideas from other parents; just don't assume anyone else has it all together, or is better at parenting than you are, based on the view from your own eyeballs. Take the good ideas and leave the comparisons at the curb.


Your children will not truly appreciate everything you do for years. They might say nice things like "thanks for making me a hamburger, mom; your burgers are the best" or "you are the nicest mommy in the whole wide world" or "I love you up to the moon and back twenty-eleventy-thousand times." As many times as they might thank you, they have no clue what they are talking about, and will not, until they are all grown up and wiping drool off your chin, and when they finally say a sincere, wise thank you, you will be too far gone to appreciate it. Well, maybe and hopefully not, but the point is, gratitude is like a fine wine: it takes years to cultivate and only the most patient people enjoy the very best.


The best gift you can give your children is a great relationship with your spouse. Get that right, and little else can go wrong.


You will automatically, against your will, and with no mercy, recognize all your worst qualities, and those of your spouse, in the most irritating, infuriating, hand-wringing, and crazy-making of your children's behavior. Try like hell to recognize your best qualities too, and those of your spouse. They're there, undoubtedly, but the human condition is such that the good stuff is much harder to see. Squint.


Always, always, always: say sorry to your kids when you should. And talk to them about anything and everything that either they or you want to talk about. Listen when you need to and talk as much as you need to. It's OK if they get sick of your voice. Your words, and the time you spend talking, will reverberate in their skulls and hearts for years and years. Now is your chance to fill their heads with all the good stuff you ever heard or ever wanted to. Tell them how smart and capable they are. Chances are, it's true, and chances are, hearing it over and over will make them behave like it's true.


Set firm boundaries. And be as flexible as Elasti-girl when required. Sorry, but that's the deal. Bend, don't break, when they slam into you with one more request, one more challenge, one more plea, one more test, one more assertion, one more self-determinant step. Bend, don't break. Be a soft place for them to land on the surface of your choosing.

Say a fervent prayer each and every day that you somehow find the wisdom to know when to stand firm and when to give a little. Parenting, after all, is an art; our children are our masterpieces.


Develop your own self-confidence. It will be contagious to your kids, and the second best gift you can give your kids is self-confidence.


Sleep. As much as you can, which will never be enough, but always strive for more. Laugh as much as you can too, and this one should be easy, because kids are natural born comedians.

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Yes, I know. That's 8 Quick Takes. Bask in the abundance.

Please visit our host; you can read her 7 Quick Takes for today and browse the links of other people who are participating this week.

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02 February 2011

Where Socks Go to Die

I realized today that I do not have a household. I have a househole. A hole. A pit. A cavity especially useful for burying things. That's what I've got.

Today is not my most positive day of domesticity. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

On the bright side, I am creating a treasure trove for future anthropologists. There is real cultural study to be gleaned around here, rife as we are with tools, papers, toys, clothing, books, and art projects. Based on this one test case, however, generations from now might believe that early 21st century people worshipped shoes and suffered from a phobia of closets and dresser drawers.

Time to tame the savages. Time to turn the nomads into agriculturalists. It's time to clean the house.

* * *