Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Different Kind of Good

It's been a while since I have posted, so consider this somewhat of a grateful recap, just in time for Thanksgiving. Not that I save my appreciation for one season necessarily, just that things have been good and when they are good, it's a smart idea to put that into one's focus.

A long time has passed since our old Gus Kitty passed-- he's still very near and dear to our hearts. Yet, life does move forward and in the past two months, we have adopted two wonderful and very different cats. First came Milton, a big gray guy similar to our old Gus in appearance and sometimes his sweetness, but also a very fighty fellow. There's nothing he likes to get at more than a hand on the computer mouse (I still favor those) and to attack with vigor. He's quite communicative with Kiddo about when too much attention is enough and loves to go after those feather-duster-type toys. His first few weeks with us meant a lot of coaxing him to eat and helping him feel secure and now he's got no problems in those regards. He's also been treated to a little kitty perch behind me; I exchanged a couple shelves so that he has a great view of the side yard where I sprinkle birdseed for the juncos and the chickadees. Kitty TV at its best.

Then along came Sally, who was christened Sally Louisa or Sally Lou. She's a ditzy black and orange tortie with food insecurity issues who eats like a preschooler during a permanent growth spurt, frantically mewing for food a lot. But this is okay because she is absolutely adorable. When she first came to us, she was a bit more of a love than she is now. Now the legendary "torti-tude" has come out. She's a bit of an independent spirit. Unlike Milton, who had come from a home who'd let him go due to the allergies of a new family member (blending families has its challenges and I'm grateful that family did what was right for its humans), Sally was a shelter cat, possible stray, with no prior information. She's talky, cute and very, very feisty. She and Milton have each other to chase around and play with and unlike Milty, she's far less likely to go after us humans or want a snuggle.

Milton, on the other hand, has fallen in love with my red poncho like its his woobie and will try to lick it and then fall asleep on me. I'm not sure what form of pica he has in regard to acrylic/cotton blends, but he thinks that poncho is the best thing ever. We love these cats and what they bring to our house-- their youth (they're both 2-ish) and energy and the inability to sit in one place for too long because someone is going to be expecting food, thank you very much.

Another thing which happened recently was that I had appendicitis and consequently, said appendix removed. While I think many would categorize this as 'an experience I never want to have, thanks', I've come away from the whole thing with a rather different perspective. The hospital staff in the ER was fantastic, I was a good patient, the damn thing didn't rupture, the nurses were wonderful, Joe did exactly what I needed him to do and the surgery team were exceptional people. What could have been a very scary incident ended up being rather non-traumatic. Who knows why? Maybe it was the morphine? Maybe it was the fact that we'd caught it before things got bad? Even on the way to meet me in the ER, Joe just knocked on our neighbor's door and they were happy to take Kiddo for the better part of the day. It was as if everything went as right as it could go. I truly felt cared for by the community and proud of myself for having this experience and not freaking out, just going about what I needed to do rather matter-of-fact about the whole thing.

This was two weeks ago and I have to say, those around me have been very gracious about allowing me time to recover. Joe is still not expecting me to be 100%. I sometimes push myself and then end up taking naps when things slow down. Like yesterday morning. Weekends are generally busier around here and a few days ago, Kiddo was home sick with a cough yet still bouncing off the walls... it was a long weekend, to say the least. I'm having to pace myself, which isn't terrible, just an adjustment. Healing seems like it should be easy, but it does take time.

These things make me think that there are very different kinds of good in this world. Where we don't always get 'pleasant', but the unpleasant things go as pleasantly as they can. We get a chance to see the good things that happened around the hard thing. I like to notice this; it's not an everyday occurrence, so it's important not to take it for granted. At least, to me it feels that way. Even if only I find all of this to be interesting, satisfying... the internal edification of considering what is good in the world-- that some experiences can be truly beautiful even when the unexpected, unfortunate occurs... it's nice. And that's enough for me.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Zombie Child

Halloween 2014. For Kiddo, this holiday can't come soon enough. Just yesterday one the Honorary Aunties walked him home from school, just because. "Hazel, he talked about Halloween all the way to your house." she remarked.

Well, of course he did. This is Kiddo. Last spring he insisted I read him the abridged version of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein". Every once in a while, he reminds me "Remember when Doctor Frankenstein was throwing the body parts out the window because he didn't want to make a woman monster?" This from the kid who makes me fast forward nearly every Star Wars scene with Darth Vader in it.(We only watch the original three, only the best for us.) Yet, the macabre, in some ways, doesn't seem to bother him.

"What do you like about all this creepy stuff?" I ask him now. He's cutting up a shirt for this year's zombie costume.  "I just like being creepy" he replies, as if that explains everything. He just likes being creepy they way I like being funny (when I can, that is). It's just a part of who we are and what makes us feel good.

Back to the costume. I looked online for manufactured costumes and realized that, if we bought a zombie costume, I'd be the pariah mom of the neighborhood. They were beyond creepy, they were scary. Creepy can be kinda fun. Like, Shawn of the Dead, for example, my favorite zombie movie of all time. Creepy can be funny, but scary isn't. And when most of the moms in the neighbhood don't like the ultra-scary decorations and complain that the over-the-top gruesome gores costumes are too frightening for their little ones, Kiddo has some rules to play by, whether he knows it or not.

I Google "diy zombie costume child" and as I scroll through the images, some cuter, less scary creations pop up. No bones sticking out, great suggestions for the whitish, wrinkled skin. We'll get some make-up crayons-- I like to let Kiddo do his own creating as much as possible, with a bit of guidance. Right now he's using a red marker on the shirt he's snipped holes in. He's lobbying hard for me to allow him to have pants with a 'giant cut on the butthole'. Um, no. Not happening. It's the seven year old mischievous mind, hard at work.. I comment aloud that maybe he should have been Captain Underpants and he wants me to see if I can find one online. Apparently a teacher with a sense of humor crafted his own. My hat is off to you, Teacher Mason.

As for me, this year, I'm borrowing Kiddo's dinosaur hat/mask and monster claws and going as a Mommasaurus. I'll look for some costume jewelry to wear, maybe find a frilly apron at the Goodwill, who knows? The nice thing with dinosaurs, you can be whatever sort of "saurus" you want to be. My sister recently sent me a picture of a Thesaurus, a dino with a book for a mouth. My favorite sort of  'saurus these days.

We're starting to gear up for Halloween, trying to keep it fun and safe for the little neighbor kids. Joe had suggested buying a costume, but I'm glad that we are still creating our own outfits at home. There's something sweet about it. No alarming bleeding faces or skull masks. Creepy the way a seven year old should be.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Fall Poem for You

Stopping at a Poetry Box on an Overcast Afternoon
(for Patricia)

Derek Walcott
Behind plexiglass
Mourns the end of summer and I am there
Air cool on my face
September bringing me to a place of gratitude
As I stand by the poem, reading richness

A woman stops, joins me
She reads a bit aloud and we marvel at a line or two
I have seen her before in the neighborhood
Taking pictures of seasons flowers
Rapt in Harlequin's Glorybower and the other
 lovely things that grow

We speak of children and of verse
 of our lives, in an immediate tense
We conjugate in the here and now
Our love for words, for teaching
For the life around us.

We walk slowly together
To the corner where we say goodbye
I take my leave and stroll on home
She is now a familiar stranger and we,
We both the better for that moment.

Hazel M. Wheeler

and the inspiring poem:

A Lesson for This Sunday

Derek Walcott, 1930
The growing idleness of summer grass
With its frail kites of furious butterflies
Requests the lemonade of simple praise
In scansion gentler than my hammock swings
And rituals no more upsetting than a
Black maid shaking linen as she sings
The plain notes of some Protestant hosanna—
Since I lie idling from the thought in things—

Or so they should, until I hear the cries
Of two small children hunting yellow wings,
Who break my Sabbath with the thought of sin.
Brother and sister, with a common pin,
Frowning like serious lepidopterists.
The little surgeon pierces the thin eyes.
Crouched on plump haunches, as a mantis prays
She shrieks to eviscerate its abdomen.
The lesson is the same. The maid removes
Both prodigies from their interest in science.
The girl, in lemon frock, begins to scream
As the maimed, teetering thing attempts its flight.
She is herself a thing of summery light,
Frail as a flower in this blue August air,
Not marked for some late grief that cannot speak.

The mind swings inward on itself in fear
Swayed towards nausea from each normal sign.
Heredity of cruelty everywhere,
And everywhere the frocks of summer torn,
The long look back to see where choice is born,
As summer grass sways to the scythe’s design.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Summer Sunday-- Peeking in our Window

Right now, a second cup of tea is brewing. The morning seems to call for it. Just in from picking blueberries with Kiddo and digging out lots of mallow~ their tiny pink flowers so cute but turning into those little green buttons which then become invading seeds. I used to have a pretty pink Lavatera plant, a member of the mallow family; loved it and killed it the way I have many plants, too much transplanting. Sadly, I was not always as kind and thoughtful toward the plants as I am now. (Although I killed a plant I moved at the wrong time in July, so my impatience still has its casualties.)

Inside now, Kiddo has a project going which involves Legos, Alene's Tacky Glue and a Sharpie marker. As these are his toys, I'm fine with it. We've had a lot of fun going on these days: found objects constructions; forts with multiple chambers, a library and a glowing 'bone pit'; trips to the Children's Museum; outdoor romps. Joe has just come in, jarring me from the writing as he tells me that the plums on our tree are being attacked by some sort of critter. We'll have to put bird block over the tree... work in the garden is rarely ever complete. I still have raspberry canes to prune (the old ones from spring) and others to brace up, so the fruit stays off the ground. It seems like only yesterday the summer batch of these golden berries were just winding up and now more are ready to pop.

Its been a while since my last post and this summer has most certainly clicked along at a quick pace. What about that book I mentioned in my last post "All Joy, No Fun"? I stopped reading it, mainly because when Kiddo wanted to know what it was about, it sort of hit me that reading that sort of book in front of him was a bit like saying "Eff You for Making My Life Hard" in a passive-aggressive sort of way. I mean, this might seem silly but he didn't ask to be born; if being a parent isn't easy, that's my problem. Somehow, it seemed akin to reading "Dealing with your Overbearing Mother" in front of that overbearing mother-- to put it politely, just a bit much.

So, ditched the book. Also decided to stop reading anything heavy in the fiction section; after two books about cancer (both written by funny lady authors, but still, again, two? A bit much.) Switched over the Carl Hiassen novel, one of those 'reporter finds himself in a debacle with gonzo characters in Florida because don't you know, Florida is chock-full of crazy?" that I love so much. It's total brain candy.

Unlike the other reading I've been doing, which is focused on parent infant psychoanalysis. (I'm sure I'm botching this up as I write this...) A very kind woman invited me to explore this in a discussion group, which I was hep for as I think this is interesting to study... and then I did a really stupid thing last weekend which I'm actively regretting: I messed up my ear. See, went swimming, had a bunch of water in the ear, went after it with a q-tip (that's the big no no right there, please learn from my mistake and use one of these methods for clearing your ear instead) and then tried one of the recommended methods of using a hair dryer to get the water out. When that didn't work, Mama called the doctor and the doctor looked and said "That's what you get for using a Q-Tip in your head".... namely, the problem was that I had pushed a gob of earwax into my inner ear and then, with the hair dryer (remember that hairdryer from two rows up?)  I effectively hot glue-gunned my eardrum in a lovely wax casing. Doctor sent me off with prescriptions for an antibiotic ear drop, Sudafed for the pressure in my ear (because it does cause discomfort) and instructions to buy Debrox to loosen the wax up. Which is funny to me because that's what we used for Gus Kitty's ears when they got gross. I have a follow up in three weeks when the doctor will then use water to release the eardrum from its amber casing.

In case you were wondering... yes, I feel like an idiot. And in conjunction with feeling like an idiot, it is hard to read abstract stuff right now. So, the psychoanalysis readings are fascinating, but I am moving through them at at pace of a distracted, narcoleptic tortoise. It's embarrassing. The medication seems to have two effects: either my brain feels dull (esp with the white noise coming from inside the encased eardrum, it's a bit like living with a seashell cupped to one ear constantly) or the Sudafed makes it hard for me to just sit and concentrate, because oooh, shiny object over there! and I'm pulled away for fort makings or a frustrated moment or housework or dealing with playdate conflict even though having friends over is supposed to be easier for us (one of those words might qualify for air quotes, as it were, not sure if it's the 'supposed' or the 'easier').

"Doubly idiotic, sometimes we are." That's my inner Yoda talking. Days have swept by with bike rides, friends, more bike rides, more Legos, a few scrapes and bumps, and then, making new friendships as well. This summer I'm enjoying other moms more and finding new women I have a lot in common with. I've found that going to the park with other teacher moms is wonderful: there is no having to explain sight-lines, we keep all of the kids in our attention and are still able to chat. Problem-solving is simpler because we all have similar backgrounds and are on the same page when it comes to social coaching. Expectations are fairly similar as well. It makes things so much easier. I am truly enjoying the ladies in my life these days.

Well, that's the short update. We have had a great summer, Kiddo's made huge strides in getting comfortable in water; we'll still continue swimming lessons, and now he's able to shampoo his head and shower independently, which is huge for us. I think the judo lessons are giving him confidence in so many areas and this is one which we are seeing significant growth in. We are proud of him and proud of ourselves for having faith, waiting, giving him the time he needs. Next year we'll likely put him into a week-long parks and rec fishing camp. I see his mind just blossoming with ideas, more interests outside the scope of what he liked even a few months ago. He's taking more chances (and pressing boundaries, which comes with that development, so we're having to be thoughtful as parents in this area) and I think, as a whole, we are doing well~ aside from my repeated entreaties to 'talk into my good ear'.

The inconveniences are temporary. We keep learning and growing and I have to say, even on the hard days, I do like this family thing. Even when the guys are being a bit much, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Some Joy, Some Fun

Yesterday I dropped Kiddo off at his Judo club dojo and did what I do nearly every time he goes to play there:

I went to a nearby deli, ordered a pint of beer (Great Divide's "Hercules", if you must know) and a pretzel bagel and set to work on relaxing myself for forty minutes.

On the way, I stopped in at the Thurman library and picked up a book "All Joy and No Fun" by Jennifer Senior. Even before opening it, as I walked to the deli, I wondered if this would be a book of hyperbole, much as many parenting books which have come before tend to be. Tiger Mom, French Mom, Nature Mom, Progressive Mom, Christian Homeschooling Mom.... all of these books, telling us what sort of mom to be. Their examples are polarized, drastic, and tout one philosophy of parenting practice as superior to the others.

I'm going to guess that, while our kids do contribute to some of the 'no fun' the author is suggesting in the title, we also do ourselves in as parents by saddling ourselves to the 'supposed tos' of parenting. Maybe, even doing what might not be best for our kids because it's what other parents expect of us.

My afternoon was a case in point: dropping Kiddo off at the dojo and leaving seems a bit, well, sad, to some of the moms I've met there. Kiddo gets distracted with Joe and I there, and we agreed as a family that we'd honor Kiddo's request to for us to leave so long as he was doing fine in the group. The Sensei felt this was fine and assures us that Kiddo is doing well. How much is he progressing? I don't know. See, I like taking him to judo and I like that he's learning this different way of doing and thinking, that he's getting comfortable with his body....

... but I don't have to witness every second of this to know he's okay. I don't need a regular progress report because he's in judo for himself, not me.

Maybe it's this letting go of my son-- leaving him in the care and under the instruction of a Sensei I spent a considerable amount of time researching and choosing-- that helps me to enjoy my parenting more. That it's not apathy, it's also not over-involvement. Letting Kiddo have his own experiences, away from me, is important for both of us. I experience more comfort and satisfaction as a parent because I am finding good people for him to be with and he gets time to navigate his own relationships in a very age-appropriate way, a way in which the adult is friendly and authoritative and helps him to know there are other good grown-ups in the world.

As a parent, my goal has always been to create a community around our son which feels safe, warm, welcoming, and which offers reasonable guidance to him. When Kiddo was four, he had three great preschool teachers and an after-preschool caregiver-- a nice neighborhood dad who became a sort of uncle to him. Perhaps this is because of my own background in child care: I know that kids who have more adults they can trust may be more likely to experience the world as a safer place. Knowing that other people besides mom and dad can help you meet your needs is really important.

I never felt guilt about sending Kiddo to preschool, nor, when everyone recommended full-day kindergarten, did I feel he was missing something because we decided to go with half-day. Sure, I'd read lots of articles about the benefits of full-day K, and I knew that he wasn't quite there yet. So we got to go to the zoo when hardly anyone else was there, go on adventures in the afternoons, walks, library trips... these were far more satisfying to both of us. Had I put him in full-day, chances are we would have missed some very sweet moments.

So, back to the book and the break from the afternoon... perhaps this is the key to happiness: just doing what best works for our own family and letting go of the idea that there is a better, superior way to do this parenting thing. There are all these new ideas, that we have to focus on our babies immediately. We must shape them up, and right away! Mold them properly with Mommy and Me music and movement classes or Gymboree tumbling and take them to the library story times so they can sit and listen and oh, we've gotta make sure they are getting enough proper socializing, so you'd better find a Mom's group too.

Sorry, but if I hear one more Music Together cd, I will barf, on the spot. Being THAT mom, the one described above-- if it works for some women, that is awesome for them. I mean it sincerely. Some parents love these things, immerse themselves in the child-centered activities and then go home and make mildly-gourmet healthy meals before giving baby a body massage for bedtime. And I'm so glad that there are people that love this. But that wasn't me-- and I would have suffered under that sort of expectation. My baby slept as babies do, quite often and unpredictably and so we coslept and were fine until we weren't, right? I spent so many years working with little ones, I know how incredibly child-rearing can consume our attention.  And I mean consume... hours can be swallowed whole and it is still not enough at times.

This is where my own parenting philosophy comes into play: everything in balance. Yesterday afternoon, I walked a tired, complaining kid to the bus stop, took a 40 minute bus ride across town to his dojo and then, holy shit, it was time for a break. Because, even though I made as much of dinner in advance as I could (his class gets us home later than our usual dinnertime), I know that once I go to pick him up and we get home, I get to hit the ground running again until 8 or so. That is, if there isn't laundry waiting for me too, which there often is.

So, I'll be interested to find out what in "All Joy and No Fun" rings true for me. These days, parenting books are more like cookbooks for me: I find a few good ideas and can leave the rest for another day. After years of studying how children learn, how to help keep them happy an secure, I'm starting to also focus on what keeps myself and my husband on track and in balance as well. Unlike some parenting philosophies which advocate being everything to our kids, I just want to be one person. I want to be me. Happy to escape, some joy and some fun, taking a few minutes to chew on a pretzel, sip a beer and read the local rag without being interrupted. I am a woman of simple pleasures. So what if I'm not doing it like the magazines and the French or anyone else says? Trusting our own selves as parents is probably the greatest feeling we can have in the midst of the chaos that is raising a family up. That's when we make our best, most authentic decisions for our family.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Drama of the Lego-Gifted Child

There is a battle raging, silently, in my tub. Rather, in a salsa container full of water in the tub.
Scuba Mini-Figure guy is holding a purple crystal, and holding onto a yellow Rock Monster, who has an enormous sword, the size one should not be able to yield in real life. Another giant sword floats in the water nearby, always out of reach of Scuba Guy... and they float like this all night, grappling each other in a mortal combat which Kiddo contrived out of his cool, freaky little head.

"Honey, why are there Legos in the bathtub?" I ask my husband this. Kiddo doesn't like baths, so I know it wasn't just a toy migration for some water play. Joe answers that this was the better option; the salsa container of water was originally on a shelf in Kiddos room. I'm glad there was some logic involved,and glad that we have one of those drain-strainers in the shower, because Kiddo loves to make Lego creations which have to do with water.

The only real problem with this is that Legos neither sink, nor are they entirely buoyant. Which means that Lego boats take on water but Lego Forts full of trapdoors also don't stay righted at the bottom of the sink or tub, but haphazardly float along.

That's not the only place they float. Legos are migrating all over my house. We joke that our parenting style can be, at times, one of benevolent dictatorship, and I have repeatedly banned Legos from the kitchen. I work there, dammit, and if you can't eat it or eat off of it, get out of my kitchen. Really, they are like an invading army. They have the living room, they have spread out to the dining area, which is really just like the living room extended, because our house is a small bungalow and the archway between the two is just a suggestion of separation and who are we kidding anyway?

It has occurred to me, on more than one occasion, that Legos are plastic and plastic is forever and that the Legos may very well outlast me in this house if all goes well and we pass it along to Kiddo.
Let's hope HIS kids are then playing with them and it's not just him at a huge table in the basement, all by his lonesome. (I'll lower the bar and say that if he's part of an adult Lego club, that's cool too. Just so long as he's getting out, right?) I get the feeling that hundreds of years from now, if we haven't plasticized and dumbed-down the human race out of existence, that someone is going to find the artifacts of this activity in the very ground my house currently sits on.

Just because Kiddo is enthralled with All Things Lego and has sung "Everything Is Awesome" in every vocal style possible (including mumble-mouthed and slurred), it doesn't mean we share every Lego moment with him. There was a recent Lego version episode of The Simpsons and my husband asked if I'd let Kiddo watch it. Uh, no. Legos don't make it a kid's show... but I'll bet Legos are a fun indulgence of some of their staff and many of their regular adult viewers. I'm a bit geeky that way, which is why I love the show; where else do you get such literary tips of the animation hat as spoofs of Robert Frost's "The Road Less Traveled" which somehow morphs into Marge reading "The Rug Less Vacuumed" (a tome meant for my house as vacuums inevitably mean that some sort of Black Hole is existent in the Lego Universe)?

There are some lines I draw in regard to Legos. Like the Lego magazine? Not the Kid's Club, which is already pretty promotional, but the actual catalogs. That publication is not allowed in our house at present, lest we hear the endless strains of "I Want...." It's bad enough that there are the published LEGO Encyclopedias , which are nothing more than really cool, simplistic catalogs as it is. At least those are finite; once printed, they stay the same for at least a while. We don't leave out toy catalogs anyway, lest Kiddo is infected with a bad case of the Gimmes over toys he doesn't even really want.

We have thousands of Legos here in this house. I've spent what feels like hundreds of hours focusing on Legos, building next to him, helping him build structures, even having to restart and reformat the old laptop I had when some Lego building instructions came with a new browser, surprise surprise. (WTH!) But by far and away, I've spent the majority of my contact with the plastic bricks in clean-up mode. I have found them far away behind the couch. I do my best to do a clean sweep before getting out the Kirby, but sometimes there's that telltale "clackety-click-clack" as it is inducted into the vac bag full of dust, hair and other crap. No, I won't open up the vacuum bag for that Lego. Don't even ask.

Add to this, the emotional clean-ups I must regularly attend to when the Legos aren't coming together correctly, when the project isn't going to plan -- mainly because there was no plan to begin with, just an idea. When the lack of engineering experience becomes evident, there can be Exploding Legos, Legos hurled down in disgust at the self and faulty inexperience; the short temper, lack of knowledge and  desperate frustration all hallmarks of childhood in any case. It's hard, then, to reason with someone that their dream structure may not be a reality because, see, over here instead of that one cool brick? you need more support under that next level if the top is to stay on. The architecture of the Lego structures is bound to the same rules most earthly structures are and defying those rules can result in Ice Monster Cave Collapse or Horrible Haunted House Hassles or Variations on Vehicular Vexation.... or, in short, tears.

I remind Kiddo that sometimes, his ideas are just too advanced for his abilities as yet, and that, as he learns more math and geometry, he's going to become a better Lego builder. For all the rhetoric in The Lego Movie about everyone being awesome and special and important, I think what we forget is that to be good at most anything, you have to bring more than creativity and imagination to the game: you have to know the basics of building, period. There's value in knowing the basics, understanding the fundamentals, in being able to translate an idea into an actual physical manifestation of what one wants to make. Just as dreaming aloud does not translate into someone's fantasy home (we take those ideas to an architect, so our dream house doesn't fall down around our ears), creativity alone needs the partnership of  knowledge for ideas to thrive. I'm hopeful that this will happen, but do not expect it too soon.

It's going to be a Lego Summer. I can feel it in my bones. And under my toes! Ouch! 
With steady hands, Kiddo carries his watery creation into the kitchen, Scuba Mini-Guy and Rock Monster. "Mom! See? They are in the biggest battle ever." Holding back the "not in the kitchen!" I bite my tongue and smile. And move the computer off the table, lest the water spill, adding more spice to my life than necessary.  Drama of the Legos indeed!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Almond Cherry Cobbler

I'm in heaven.... or at least my nose is. Just a minute ago I was standing over a big glass pan steaming with cobbler from the oven, still baking itself off and turning golden brown in spots right before my eyes, and breathing in that wonderful scent, heavy with butter, almonds, vanilla, cinnamon and a slight tangy whiff of cherry. The air is delicious in here and since I'm in such a great mood, I thought I'd share the recipe.

Giving credit where credit is due, I found this on AllRecipes and as usual, I skimmed through the most helpful reviews. That's my favorite place to find tweaks worth considering. I followed Chef Jayne's idea of using more cherries and adding the cinnamon and vanilla into the original recipe. And I also bought some slivered raw almonds because they pair so nicely with cherries. Any excuse to add a bit of almond, right? I should also mention that the batter makes something very much like a pancakey-sort of cobbler, so expect that sort of a texture, less of a cakey or crumbly one.

So, while this Almond Cherry Cobbler is cooling, I'll share the recipe:

You'll need:
1/2 cup butter

1 cup flour
3/4 cup white or turbinado sugar
 1 tsp baking powder
1 cup milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla

3-4 cups pitted cherries
3/4 cups sugar (less if cherries are sweeter, full amount for sour cherries)
1 Tblsp flour
1 Tblsp kirsch or brandy

Handful or so raw sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place butter in a glass 9x13 pan, and melt in oven, about five minutes.
Remove when melted.

In a bowl, stir together dry ingredients for the batter: flour, sugar and baking powder, then mix in the milk, vanilla and cinnamon and stir until batter is smooth. You are now going to pour this batter into the baking pan, over the butter.

 Please note: Do not pour in the batter until the butter has cooled a bit, or it will start cooking the batter as it's poured in. If this does happen, very gently use a spatula to draw the batter toward the edges of the pan-- it's not going to get there by itself. Trust me on this one.

You can use the same bowl again, just give it a rinse and it's time to get your cherries ready. Put them in the bowl, toss to coat with the sugar, flour, and brandy, and then spoon them onto the batter. You won't want to just pour it on; part of the charm of this dish is the cherries peeking out from the depressions in the pastry, so no stirring them together.

Last, take out your raw almonds and gently scatter them according to your taste. I like a lot, I'm also now wondering how to make a marzipan to marble through the cobbler. Wouldn't that be something?

Cook in the oven for about 50-60 minutes and test with a toothpick; when it draws out clean from the pastry, it's done. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Fresh Lemon and Rosemary Roasted Veggie Salad

There is nothing that quite says summer like a great potato salad. I love it, but so often the tasty ones from the deli have a lot of raw onions, which isn't the best for many of us. This combination of red potatoes, carrots and red bell peppers is roasted in a covered dish has a great texture which lends it to absorbing the flavors of an easy lemon mayonnaise dressing.

Here's what to do:

This serves two (generous helpings):

Place in a bowl~
4 small-med red potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1-1.5 carrots, cut into coins, half the thickness of the potatoes
1/2-3/4 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2 dice

Drizzle with olive oil, season with thyme, salt, pepper and some rosemary sprigs and toss thoroughly to coat. Place in a covered backing dish and cook for about 20 minutes, check for tenderness, stir and then cook until done. Remove from oven and let cool, uncovered, for a few minutes.

Wash and pat dry a handful of fresh Italian parsley, finely chop leaves.

In a non-reactive bowl, add the juice of half a lemon, strained, whisk with a big spoonful of mayonnaise of your choice. Add some salt to taste, some pepper, and stir in with the vegetables and parsley all together. Let sit for flavors to absorb and move to the refrigerator or serve warm immediately. Both versions are delicious.

I tend to eat on the more tame side, so you can also add in capers or roast up some garlic cloves to spice up your version of this. I believe the best dishes are suited to our own taste and pushing our flavors toward things which our own palates enjoy most is very satisfying. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Microwave Mysteries! Oooooh!

Here's a question for you:

How does the inside of a microwave get dusty?

Any ideas?
I encountered this phenomenon about five minutes ago and frankly, this fascinates me a bit. Sure, I am not the best housekeeper. The memory of the last time I cleaned it, and when, is utterly nonexistent. My brain is full of the information I need to have present and under my nose: playdates, school late starts, afterschool activities, grocery store lists, the garden and what needs to be planted, pending summer plans... memories of cleaning a microwave are pretty low in their level of importance.

And, maybe, too, it has been a while...because when I'm opening the microwave, I'm usually thinking about something or talking to someone or paying attention somewhere else-- that's why I haven't usually been up close and personal with this thing.  So today, reheating a tomato "spaghetti" mac salad (think mushrooms, Italian Field Meats veg sausage in a tomato sauce with feta, yeah, yum, right?) ... anyway, the pasta spattered some sauce which was noticable and I did what you do... started cleaning and then started wondering "how did this get so messy and gross?"

The food-- I could understand food spatter. But lint? Dust? How long had it been that this much could accumulate for me to notice it? It wasn't much, a fine dusting if you will, but still... weird.

I also had that moment of 'does this really fall on me?" followed by "why yes, girl, it totally does. It's your job." And then I felt really, really grateful for all the stuff Joe takes on because he has the same attitude I do. You would not be reading this blog if it weren't for him. I wouldn't even have a computer, likely, because it's just a PITA to deal with if you are a tech idiot like I am. We all have our skills. I excel at keeping us fed, clothed, and keeping our family going in the day to day practical sense. Joe is a lot better at big picture stuff; he has a head for numbers (which I do not) and likes doing the finances, planning the bigger projects like last year's renovations... these are his skills. He works hard and I ensure that he has everything he needs to do his job and have a life he more or less is happy with. He does the same for me; this is a very good partnership.

Yesterday while we took the bus to Kiddo's Judo class, he asked me what I wanted to build with Legos. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I tried to explain to him that I use a lot of my creativity and problem-solving in the work I do at home. That it can be a puzzle sometimes, to think of one's day, all of the things which must get done, and how to manage that time, those discrete tasks, in a way which facilitates the best result. ( Okay, I didn't use those exact words with him, but I do with you because you are not seven and I CAN say them, which is nice. They get lonely all bottled up in my brain with the other big words.)

Let's be clear, I'm not saying at all that the work of running a household is onerous --okay, occasionally laundry can feel that way, but still--it's more that it can be creatively engaging if you want it to be. For example, on days when I know the afternoon will be busy, I make dinner in advance. I know that I won't have the brainspace to engage in creative thinking around dinner when I'm rushed and being pulled in three different directions and we are all hungry. Making food, if we do it well, does require us to think about what we are doing to some degree. Of course, there are nights when a dressed-up frozen pizza will suffice, heck, salad shrimp and red bell peppers can do wonders on a whole variety of foods. But most nights, I want to eat something that nourishes more than just our bodies, but our palates as well. Good dinners are important to me.

In any case, I've gotten a little off track, but, back to that microwave. Even this task of cleaning it pushes me to wonder how many tricks are there for easy cleaning. Google Search, let's see: the WikiHow offers four methods: microwave vinegar and water; microwave sliced lemon halves; microwave dish soap and water; lastly, using window cleaner. Hmmm. For some reason, after the lemony fresh option, window cleaner sounds like the most toxic thing you could possibly put in that food-cookin'-box-thingy. Just because it has a window... well,you know what I'm saying.

By now you should know that four hours have since passed and the microwave still didn't get cleaned. I got happy in the garden planting zinnias and then needed a shower and then had to pick up Kiddo and a friend from school. And then we had to have a protracted, nearly-hour long snacktime with lots of fun conversations. But now, now, I'm really going to do it. I promise. As long as there's not a shiny object to distract me between here and the white vinegar, I'm going to go for it.

Well, two shiny objects and a half-hour later (because that's how life is with a kid) I got the microwave going with the vinegar water method. First, let me say this: the whole 'steaming it off' thing seems rather hypothetical. Sure, some of the stuff wiped off easily, but the steam dissipates quickly, so unless you are super-fast, the steam is only halfway helpful. Oh, and no one tells you how fun it is to get a face full of vinegar-scent as you clean. Enter old fashioned elbow grease, of which I have a bottomless can. If I'd had a lemon handy, that would have been my first choice. But now it's devolved to a washcloth and dish soap... and I would have been done five minutes sooner, maybe, if I hadn't been microwaving stuff. Hmmm....

There is still a layer of used-to-be-grease-now-it-just-feels-slightly-sticky going on, though. No matter how hard I scrub and wipe, it's not budging (so just how is it getting on my hands and washcloth if it's not going away!?). Remember that scene in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back when he wipes the tub ring out, onto Mother's New Dress and then shakes the dress stain out onto the snow? At least that stain was removed from the original item, but I'm not having much luck here.

Joe comes home and I tell him of my saga. The vinegar, the elbow grease, the regular grease. And then he tells me how well the microwave is still working considering he's had it "since 1988 or something like that". Really?! Maybe I should have named that thing Methuselah-- I mean, it's been nearly thirty years! Why am I getting early AARP membership mail and this microwave,nothing?

But it also explains the invisible, immovable layer of stickiness too. Suddenly, I feel rather better about the whole thing. I'm off the hook, sort of, right? I mean, I didn't come on the scene with this microwave until it was already 23 or so, and much like my husband was a fully-formed human being way before I met him at 38, I take zero responsibility for past treatment or damages in their lives. Heck, this microwave has probably been greasy from a long, long time ago... right? Just in a way that I didn't notice because before, I was working full time and then I had a little one full time and oh, yeah, it's been a long time since I cleaned this microwave. But I know one thing...

...next time, I'm doing it with industrial strength degreaser and a hazmat suit.
Screw the lemons.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Breaker, Breaker: Messages from the Universe?

There are times when I think that the universe is trying to teach me something. Not me, personally, but you know, I'm one of the human creatures and tend to do what many other humans do, which is to feel that something out there bigger than themselves might think they are the teensiest bit special, at least special enough that when challenging times come to us, we ask "what does God/Yahweh/Allah/The Universe want to teach me? What is it I am supposed to be learning here?" I do it probably for the same reason that you might do it: because we want to make some sense of the crap being flung our way. If there's lesson in it, it is a consolation prize of sorts, a silver lining. You don't get this, over here- but we do have a lovely parting gift of Wisdom for you. Sometimes, we get a specially-selected-just-for-us side helping of regret, and sometimes we really can use the wisdom to greater purpose.

And sometimes, there is no rhyme or reason, nothing one is able to control about the situation. The universe or your deity of choice really doesn't have a purpose for this situation, so they shrug their shoulders, Well, you've stumped me on this one. It does seem pretty pointless. Sorry 'bout that. Actually, being a secular humanist, the universe doesn't apologize because that would imply an anthropomorphic ability of intention which the universe doesn't have. But that's beside the point. The hard truth of the matter is that no matter what you do, some things in life are beyond our control.

This morning was a prime example of every sort of opportunity for learning.Ha. Unfortunately, sometimes one crappy thing seems to coalesce to another one and the next.... and since there's that rule of threes, at least the universe was playing fair.

We have had 90 degree days this week, which wears me out quick. We won't even factor the pre-menopausal heat fluctuations which originate from within, just assume that I'm a bit wilty when it gets too warm. So, getting dressed to volunteer at the library, shorts and a light dress seemed a reasonable choice. The morning was going well until I got into  the shower, began shaving my legs, and right there, on the inside mid-thigh... the razor slipped sideways, scratching a six-inch thin surface abrasion in my leg.  Drying off, I dabbed at it with tissue several times, but my leg was auditioning for a horror movie~ "Keep bleeding! The camera's rolling! More blood!"  I contemplated the contents of the medicine cabinet, chose the gauze and adhesive medical tape, and tried to affix a rectangle of gauze to my thigh. But for some reason, thighs move, and when I stood up, the tape came off. Okayyy.... new plan. Band-Aids. We have boxes of them and I was going to now cash in on the bounty. Pulling the lid off the garbage can, because I was going to be working in bulk here--and did I mention that we are pressed for time,even though we've done everything right? -- I drew a line with neosporin over the scratch and pasted myself with five of the fattest bandages I could find. Over that went some dreaded leggings which I knew would be swelteringly hot before the morning was over, but the shorts would have rubbed too much on the bandages for them to stay on.

While all of this was going on, Kiddo had been doing a great job of getting himself ready to go. As I flew around upstairs for the pants, downstairs to brush my teeth and powder my face, he'd put on his shoes and walked back to his room for a few more minutes of Lego play. Going out to the living room, I hollered for him to come on and join me, then noticed the small piles and chunks of dirt on the hardwoods. My stomach sank, because I knew what I would find when I went to turn off the light in Kiddo's bedroom... filthy dirt on the carpet in several places... the only places of carpet that weren't covered with Legos. Now this?! Really?  I told Kiddo that after school, he'd need to clean everything off his floor so we could vacuum. The exchange that followed... well, for the sake of both parties involved, I won't go into details, but neither of us were at our most lovely. I grabbed my purse, phone and keys and hurried out the door, creating a new edict: thou shalt leave thy shoes on the back porch before coming in, forever and ever, amen. We would learn from this.

Hitting the sidewalk, the trifecta was made complete: The Breaker had, once again, broken a branch of my witch hazel plant. To explain: The Breaker is an unknown mental defective who walks around at night, breaking plants along their path. They only did this occasionally, maybe once or twice a year our garden would be struck, but over the past month we've had about four or five visits, one the night before Mother's Day and one just last night. Some of the plants weren't as precious to me and they  could accommodate a hard pruning every now and then. But the witch hazel is one of the plants I have a relationship with. I've had it for 8 years now and only just this year have I been able to get some nice blooms on it. This plant had been in the wrong spot, then moved, then over-watered and only just this January did its pretty yellow flowers with those magenta centers come back. I was elated. At this point, though, the last year or so of growth and new buds are broken off some of the main branches.

And this last one, this utter lack of control of the situation with The Breaker-- it's caused me anxiety in the past few days. Seeing the poor hanging broken end of the witch hazel just lit a fire of fury in my belly. So, when Kiddo defiantly told me that "it's my room and I can do what I want", I rather tersely informed him that he was not an owner, he was under the rules and auspices of those who were gracious enough to give him a bedroom in the first place and if he didn't think he needed to follow them, he might try not having a room and just having the living room instead.

And then, because tenacity is usually a good thing, he tried to come up with a 'deal', if I would pick up his Legos for him, then... and I don't remember what the offer was because the blood apparently decided to move away from my leg and into my ears. The response was a stern "Be Quiet" and I found I was willing myself to do the same, literally biting my tongue to keep from talking and making us both feel any worse. We got to the school and I headed over to the library, sweating up a storm in my leggings. After nearly an hour there, I headed to Kiddo's classroom to help for a while. It's my usual gig, every other week, and I like being there, seeing what the children are learning, getting to know the different kids. Kiddo was unusually clingy when I left, and I realized that it was likely the fallout from the morning's stresses.We'll do better next time.

It's 1:42 in the afternoon now and I have the luxury of better objectivity. So many things happened today, some of which I could control in some way, one which I most certainly cannot. The Breaker makes me feel vulnerable in a way that causes adrenaline and fear. It's that helplessness, that you can't stop something you know is so adamant and destructive. Perhaps there is a lesson of compassion and a small start of empathy for all of the people in the world who live, daily, with situations which are dramatically out of control. I won't depress you or myself by making a laundry list of bad political and social situations around the globe, but all that to say that I have only experienced one iota, one tiny sliver, of what other may deal with on a daily basis. I am grateful that the biggest problem in my world right now, personally, is that some troll is breaking my plants. We are all in good health, (mostly) sound mind, and we have a place to live, rooms to dirty up, and I live in a culture which doesn't find it scandalous for a woman to wear shorts on a hot day. Life is pretty damn good. Yep, maybe that's what the universe was trying to whap me upside the head with. Life is good.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Where We've Been

This morning on the way to school, we found a robin's egg on the ground. It lay in the wet grass, looking sturdy and delicate all at once.

"The egg is a really pretty blue." Kiddo noticed. I told him that this blue was so special that it was known as 'robin's egg blue'. We walked to the school and he meandered around the wet playground, talking to a little friendly face we knew who was chatting it up near the monkey bars. Kiddo lamented that there wasn't much to do; the wet play structure doesn't have much to offer other than injury. We went inside, went our separate ways: Kiddo to his locker and I, to chat with his teacher for a moment, and just as quickly we said goodbye in the doorway.

Kiddo is seven now, and growing in leaps and bounds. The other day, he mentioned that we distract him in his judo class. This is likely true-- he looks to us often to see what's going on, what our feedback is, what he's supposed to be doing. I point back to the instructor and look away, at the instructor. Even making an effort on my part to only partially pay attention to him-- I'm watching other kids, the instructors, making grocery lists or reading-- this is not enough for him. It's hard to honor those requests for growth which exclude us, but I'm also thrilled that he feels confident and comfortable there without us, so Joe and I plan on using that time as 'date time' at the nearby bakery/cafe.

Myself, however, I find myself doing the opposite, not quite stuck, just a little preoccupied. Progress has been quiet for me in some ways.... I have felt less like writing about things, less reflective and more focused in the moment in a new way, a doing way rather than a rehashing, rethinking way. I've been tackling more projects around the house, starting to gain some sort of vision for how we are using space. It's hard. In my past life, I moved about once every two years on average, if not more frequently. So, I spent time culling through stuff once every two years. Now, I have lived here in this sweet house for 12 years and have had that much time to accumulate far too much. I'm waiting for a clear weekend for a good garage sale/Goodwill haul.

It feels like a time of clearing out things, simplifying. One thing I did at the beginning of this year was to start up an alternate blog, which was supposed to be about finding the satisfaction of being a stay at home parent. About finding peace with this role which seems to be portrayed as an extreme in the media: either the SAHM is a saint or she's not living to her full potential. (Yes, we know, fuck that thinking.) In any case, a few months in and no one knew where I'd gone. "You haven't posted in a long time. Everything okay?" one friend asked. Another was more blunt: "Should I even bother checking your blog any more?" Um, yes, please. So, perhaps it's a hat in hand moment to say that I can't sustain two blogs and will likely be importing some of the posts on Blog of the Blessed Mother from earlier this year on over this way.

In the meantime, it feels like a time of movement after a quiet time of stillness. After our cat Gus died, I needed to have some quiet, some space, not start anything else new right away. Between our geriatric cat and a season of Kiddo getting picked on and hurt at school, I had a lot to process. Things have improved at school. We are starting to come out of the cooler quiet of winter and into springtime. Even on this rainy day, I know I'll be sweating on the way back from the school because it's so warm and raincoats don't breathe well...

So, this is where we've been. Our heads busy, taking in the new season, moving forward into what I feel has the potential to be a very positive time for slow, steady growth. Kind of like the pea shoots in the back yard, they are taking their time but gaining ground, soon they will be tall enough to train up some twine and will eventually make some cool, green satiny pods. It's fun to watch them grow~

May your spring be productive as well.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Trike On A Stick

I wrote this in 2008, but some things are worth re-visiting:

So, the onset of spring. What does that mean to you? For myself, spring brings with it many welcome sights: the fresh flowers turning my dumpy front yard into something I can revel in; the clear-looking sky, even on cold days, which beckons me out; garage sale signs and the hope of a great deal on that something I didn't know I needed but now couldn't possibly say "no" to; and let's hear it for iced coffee or sitting outdoors at Belmont Station, sipping a beer. Ah, spring! A delight in every way! Right?

Um, hold on a minute...what did I see just go by my house? Oh, dear, it couldn't possibly be-- but wait, there it is again-- A Trike-On-A-Stick.

This is what I'm not so thrilled about. Apparently, the weather gets nice, and parents lose their minds. Actually, that's not a fair statement. Here it is, more nicely: The blue sky dazzles well-meaning parents into not thinking clearly.

What could I possibly have against parents pushing their children around town on pseudo-tricycles? More than you could ever guess, my friend. And, as I will so carefully explain, it's not a matter of personal asthetics, which I am well known for amongst my friends and family. (Hey, I'm not picky, I'm "particular". There's a big difference.) No, my aversion to the Push Bar Trike has more to do with a child's actual development, and my steadfast common sense. As in other posts, this may not be a popular opinion, but it's an educated one.

Let's start with the target tike. The Kettrike ads suggest their trike for ages 1-5. A question...what child is the same size at age one as they are at age five? The differentiation from being 12 months and 60 months is huge. How can this bike fit correctly? The ad also states that the bike can support 200lbs. Um...200 pounds?! You have got to be kidding. If I have a 200 pound child, I am not pushing them anywhere. They will need to seriously start moving their body. Especially a 200lb five year old. Sheesh!

Height and weight issues aside, what concerns me more is that tricycles are not really appropriate for very young children such as infants and early toddlers. In fact, a rule of thumb with tricycles is that children are able to use a tricycle at about the same time that they are able to develop the muscles for potty training. It has to do with physiological development. Before that point, tots are better served having a scooter to push themselves around on. They can practice steering themselves, developing their leg muscles and their coordination as they navigate the terrain around them. Learning to steer a smaller scooter is much easier for a child than a larger trike that, when oversteered, tends to fall over. This saves on the tears, band-aids, and overall, the frustration of both the parent and child.

The Kettrike also comes with a footrest for children whose feet don't reach the petals. Maybe, just maybe, if your kid's feet don't reach, they are on something entirely too large for them to be on.

But there's something else that bugs me about it, and it's this that offends the good ol' Common Sense: 20 years ago, if you were caught with a trike like this, you would have your ass laughed off the block. I can't put it any more simply. What kind of trike comes with a seatbelt, for heaven's sake? And what would motivate parents to push their kid around on something that's far more taxing on their own bodies than a more conventional kid-transport, say, a stroller? I mean, is anyone really doing their kid a favor by putting them on a trike if the child has to be strapped on for fear of falling off? It makes one wonder why a parent would be that desperate to see their kid on a trike that they can't wait a few years, until the kid can do it themselves?

I remember my tricycle as a kid. It was green and white and I rode the wheels off the thing. And no one pushed me. I did it myself. I flew on that thing, and loved it to the point that I wouldn't give it up and my younger sister got the nicer, shinier new trike. Even after every last streamer was picked out of the handlebars, it was fantastic.

I think there's something to be said for kids learning how to do things themselves, when they are ready. That's one of the really sad things about the Trike-On-A-Stick, the sight of all those kids who are trying really hard to pedal, and can't. They are so frustrated. Their parents push them around, but the kids know they aren't really doing it themselves. In the words of Aretha Franklin, "Who's Zoomin' Who?". A parent's review loves the feature that, when the child is being pushed, they can't pedal. How exactly is this helping the child develop trike skills they can be proud of?

Here's an idea: let your kid scoot around until they're two and a half or three. Then, get them a trike the right size for their little body. And a box of Band-Aids and a tube of Neosporin-- and you're set. Now, take your kiddo outside and let them practice where it's relatively flat. Just a small area at first, then up and down your block. Then around the block. Keep the trips short, so you can carry the trike home if need be without breaking your back. Use your stroller for longer trips, but feel free to take the trike by car to a park or better yet, a school playground on the weekend, where there's lots of room to ride.

May your spring be a time of warmth, outside time, and a sense of dignity.