Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Brown Paper Packages

Oh, what a glorious day.

It was nearly 80 here today, and sunny, and there were Easter packages from godparents and grandparents. There was the park all afternoon; there was a solo run right when Jason got home (during which I counted other runners/bikers/walkers on the path around the lake and stopped when I hit 100!); there was the Fancy Surprise Bath the girls created for me upon my return (complete with yard-picked violets floating in the water and lit candles surrounded by Cinderella figurines; what could be fancier?); there was another night of reading Ramona Quimby, Age 8 to Annie, and her reading her 16-page actual book about a girl who doesn't like peas to me just before bedtime; there is the pizza I'm eating right now, made from Wealthy Street Bakery dough and topped with chicken, sundried tomatoes, and lots of cheese; there is the Red's Rye P.A. I drank sitting in a chair on the lawn while I was waiting for the pizza to be done.

But most of all, there was Jemma wearing her One Sweet Chick t-shirt (a gift from her godparents), and there was Lik-M-Aid, (a gift from Annie's godparents). Because nothing says Eastertime like packages full of sparkly shirts and sugar.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


There were some "diggers" doing some sort of work around the corner from our house today, and one side effect of that was our house (and the houses around us) not having any water from about 11:00 a.m. until it came sputtering back on around 2:30. I heard it come back on because, not being informed of this multi-hour water shut-off which occurred right during lunch time, I had a load of laundry going, and at 2:30 I heard the machine start emptying into our basement drain again.

The girls literally could not get it through their heads that there was no water to be had at our house. I turned on the kitchen faucet to wash hands when we came in from getting Annie at school, and nothing came out. A neighbor across the street confirmed that theirs was out, too, so I got out the stuff for PB&Js and let the girls make their own after dousing them with hand sanitizer. As they spread the peanut butter messily on the bread, the conversation went like this:

"So, is there water in the bathroom faucet?"

"Nope. No water anywhere in our whole house."

"If we went outside and turned on the outside faucet, would water come out?"

"Nope. No water."

"If we tried to flush the toilet, would water go into it?"

"Nope. No water in the whole house, remember?"

Pause. Spreading peanut butter.

"How about if we tried to turn on the faucet in the upstairs bathroom?"

I raised my eyebrows and forced a smile. "Nope. NO WATER. ANYWHERE." There was much angst about this, as both their water bottles were perilously low, and the hand sanitizer left Annie's hands both smelling and tasting bad, a fact she mentioned, oh, 43 times. Where WAS the water? When would it come back ON? What if we had not yet brushed our teeth for the day? What then? Sigh.

Post-2:30, the girls were delighted to use the water normally again, and I think, seeing as we inadvertently missed Earth Hour earlier this week, it was a good lesson, and one I hope they remember the next time I bust out with the "Some people don't have enough food to eat or a house or clean water" routine.

This afternoon, I built them an obstacle course which involved skipping down the sidewalk, sprinting up the driveway, detouring to sing a favorite song, hopscotch, jumping jacks, somersaults down the lawn, and bouncing a ball while counting to ten. It was a hit with the neighborhood children. I also snuck in a trip to Jersey Junction with them, partly because I very much wanted a vanilla malt and partly because I wanted them to accompany me on a couple annoying errands with no whining. Those chocolate shakes in the backseat did the trick.

Jason's off riding his new mountain bike into the sunset, and I'm off to fold that load of laundry and be particularly grateful for another sunny day and water that works again.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Easy Like Saturday Morning

I was getting ready for my run with Sarah on Saturday morning, pulling on tights and gloves because it was sort of freezing, and Annie was watching me. She was eating her Kashi Cinnamon Harvest Wheat cereal and mixing in dried cherries, slurping up milk.

"I want to go running with you, Mama," she said. And I said that when I got back, she and I could run together wherever she wanted to go. When I got back 45 minutes later, she was indeed waiting for me, wearing leggings and a big hooded sweatshirt plus a knit hat and gloves. We ran around the block a couple times, the sunshine on our faces, and then she said she wanted to go longer. So we went back home, put Jemma in the jogging stroller, and set off for Starbucks, still running. Her little feet pounded the ground, her little arms pumped back and forth. She smiled. "This is fun," she said.

We stopped to get two vanilla milks and a hazelnut latte, then spent the rest of the morning at the playground. Nobody else was there. We pushed each other on swings, chased each other around on the grass, slid down slides, and drank our drinks. We got home just as Jason was making grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch, and I love that this - run, coffee, park, sunshine - is all we need to be completely happy on a Saturday morning.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Things I Want to Bite

Cheddar, bacon, and fresh chive biscuits;

Mark Bittman's famous no-knead bread,

warm from the oven and smeared with a little roasted garlic;

The entire contents of the website, my new favorite recipe site, but most especially this cake, which I intend to make for no reason later this week;

my girls at their dance recital on Saturday, all tights and costumes and gleeful smiles.

Not Cool

You know what isn't cool? Being unable to fall asleep until after 3:00 a.m. for no good reason. Last night, I had writing to do, so I checked e-mail and read blogs and hunted for recipes and then finally got down to writing the article around 9:00. I was finished by 11:00. I e-mailed the article to my editor, finished the tail end of the book I was reading, and then laid wide awake in bed for about four more hours.


I blame the subject of the article, which, when it comes out (this Thursday, I think), I want you to read with a few pieces of information in mind. The man whom I interviewed was, I am fairly sure, high. I don't know much of anything about this first-hand (D.A.R.E. worked for me!), but I don't think it's normal for a person to be talking along, completely appropriately, and then, mid-sentence, stop, cover his face with his hands, pause for a good ten seconds (long enough for me to rip my eyes away from my laptop screen and ask, "Are you OK?"), and then resume speaking as though nothing odd had happened. Repeatedly.

The first time it happened, I was concerned for his well-being. After the fourth time or so, I was more concerned for my well-being. It was at this point that the "urban grittiness" of the neighborhood and the "quirkiness" of the local color started to leak into the edges of my subconscious, so that even as I was merrily asking questions and typing the answers, I was also calmly thinking, Jason's car is going to be stolen while I'm in this store. I'm going to have to call someone to come and get me. I wonder what he'll get to replace it.

All's well that ends well, I suppose, and of course I made it home safe and sound. I had never been in any actual danger, either - just a slightly off-beat store in a down-on-its-luck neighborhood on a sunny Friday afternoon. But I don't think my subconscious has completely recovered, and thus, I ran on less than four hours of sleep today.

Unrelatedly, you know what else isn't cool? The way Jemma pretends to be a dog (or a baby, or a cat, or a horse, or today, a rabbit) 75% of her waking hours, complete with constant, repetitive animal/baby noises and Annie believes that she is starring in a musical version of her own life which must be constantly narrated with song and stage direction ("Iiiiiiii . . . . am getting ready for daaaaaaance classsssss . . . . Jemmaaaaaa, pretend you are my baaaaaby and you are crying because I'm going to leeeeeeeave"). At 4:45 this afternoon, after they had sung/ribbited/high-pitch-squealed their way through destroying the living room by dismantling all the furniture for "lily pads" while I started dinner, I stopped them, looked them calmly in the eyes, and said, "I need you to stop making that kind of noise. You are making me crazy. In my brain."

We went outside. That was better.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

St. Patrick's Day

"LAPRKAN"s apparently visited Annie's classroom yesterday while her class was in library, tracked mud all around the room, turned the toilet water green, and left gold coins scattered around. Annie ate one chocolate coin at school and saved another one, which she carried home in her hot little hand and presented to Jemma. Then I ruined lunch by taking them to get shamrock shakes after school, and while we were gone, leprechauns scattered jelly beans around the hallway and turned the toilet water green at our house, too.

This was literally all that Annie could speak of for the entire day. She wore green from head to toe, except that she wore one green sock (for St. Patrick's Day) and one pink sock (for Easter, OBVIOUSLY). She drew the above picture just before dinner and just after she'd insisted on calling and leaving a detailed message on Jason's cell phone about all the things that the LAPRKANs had done that day. Jason, it seems, had mistakenly told Annie in the morning that leprechauns "weren't real." When he got home last night just before the girls' bedtime, she accosted him in the kitchen: "Daddy! Leprechauns really ARE real! Why did you say they weren't?"

"Yeah, seriously, why?" I added, eyebrows raised as Annie went flouncing off to read a book with Miss Kelly.

Jason's eyes were wide. "I didn't know this was A Thing!" he protested. Neither did I. So we snuck out the back door and walked to our local Irish pub for pints of Guinness, fish and chips, and a couple hours of celebrating, sans green toilet water. Jemma's rendition below:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ode to Spring

It's nearly 8:00 as I sit in the living room writing this. The windows in the house are still open, the light is just fading in the west over the houses across the street, and birds are chirping constantly. A few minutes ago, I heard geese honking as they flew overhead, back from the south for the spring.

Spring has never been my favorite season. I love summer: all the heat and light; the long, lazy days; the beach and campfires and lemonade stands and grills. I love fall even more for its smells, its beauty, its flavors and coziness. But spring has always been just above winter on my list. It's fine, yes, but along with the budding and blooming always came so much rain and mud and gloom. There was always the sense that it SHOULD be warmer than this, by now, and the disappointment that it wasn't.

Not this spring. We're halfway through an unseasonably warm March, and I am loving it like never before. The last traces of snow have completely disappeared, and I just went running in shorts and a t-shirt. The girls wore flip-flops and short sleeves outside this afternoon. The streets in our town look a Chamber of Commerce brochure for Active Community! - everywhere you look, people are walking to get ice cream, walking the dog, running, biking, getting out the grills and the gardening tools. The daffodil leaves are poking through the dirt. The crocuses are blooming. And we just want to spend every sunny minute outside.

Being outside all day is wonderful, of course, except that nothing gets done inside the house. I mean, maybe I dash in to switch a load of laundry here and there, or maybe a sneak in a Target run first thing in the morning, but mostly we're sidewalk chalking and riding bikes to the park and cavorting with the neighbors in our yard.

Last week, when it rained a little, I had an ambitious dinner plan for each night of the week. We had pasta with turkey sausage and vegetables, falafel with hummus, chicken noodle soup, biscuits, salad, grilled tenderloin, risotto. I cooked. I loved it. This week? Zero. I have absolutely no interest in what people around here eat for dinner, but I do know that I want it to be ready in about 3 minutes and require no effort on my part.

Just before Jason was due home for dinner tonight, a wise friend called. "Oh, hi, I'm just photographing gold sticks," I answered, and explained our spontaneous art project that was inspired by yesterday's visit to Meijer Gardens, where the current exhibition features an artist who built sculptures out of found wood and sticks, some of it glazed with gold leaf. The girls and I promptly came home, gathered all the sticks in our yard yesterday, and painted them today.

My friend laughed, and I admitted that I felt like a bad wife, an irresponsible mom. It was after 6:00, and the girls were watching a movie on the couch, all tuckered out after their afternoon at the park, while nothing cooked on the stove, nothing sat in freshly-laundered piles in a hamper. "Jason's going to walk in the door," I laughed, "and he's going to ask what we did today, and I'm going to have to say 'We painted sticks gold.'"

"That's what you're going to remember about today. That's what's important, not dinner, not a clean house," she said.

Next week, maybe, the cooking inspiration will strike again, and I'll get to that spring cleaning project this weekend sometime. For today, we biked. We ran. We pushed each other on the swings. We opened all the windows. We painted sticks.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Attempting to Imitate Kelly Corrigan

Dear Annie,

You turned five-and-a-half on Thursday. Half birthdays are occasions that previously went unnoticed in our house, but this one somehow became a big deal. I think you are becoming more conscious of the world, and your place in it, and because some of the other kindergartners are starting to turn six, you wanted to feel like you were keeping up with them.

Anyway, it was a pretty great day in spite of the fact that I woke up at 3:14 a.m. for no reason at all and never got back to sleep. When my boot camp carpool arrived at 5:40, I was sitting in the quiet dark in the living room, just waiting, having had two cups of coffee already. And when I returned to the house a little after 7:00, you and Jemma were already sitting, disheveled, at the breakfast table.

I walked you to school. You ran ahead to walk with Mia, laughing and skipping. You had a field trip to the symphony for school, and then you went home with Kate, a happy coincidence that let me sneak in a 20-minute nap while Jemma slept after lunch. I woke up, stretched, and then opened my new book, Lift by Kelly Corrigan, devouring it whole until Jemma woke.

The next I saw you was around 3:00, when I came to pick you up from your dance rehearsal. You and your class were up on stage, tapping, hands on hips, to "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." When you were done, I took you and Jemma to Jersey Junction for a half-birthday treat, caramel ice cream and Skittles on a rainy Thursday afternoon. And when we got home from that, you and Jemma decided to "make dinner fancy" as a surprise for Daddy and set about cleaning up the house, making place cards, setting the table, and bringing me candles to light as I cooked the chicken. When we heard his car in the driveway, you gathered me and Jemma in the dining room, where we hid until you gave the signal to jump out and yell "Surprise!" Some days go magically like this. Some don't.

In Lift, Kelly Corrigan writes about how few memories people have from their childhood outside of the stories they are told and the photographs they see. I think she's right. I barely remember anything before being in pre-school at age 4, and even those memories are murky and involve mundane details like the song "Where is Thumbkin" and drinking apple juice out of small, waxy Dixie cups. I can remember my kindergarten classroom, but I can't remember much of anything that happened inside it except for the moment in the spring when my friend Carrie's dad arrived at the classroom door to tell her that she had a new baby sister.

So I doubt you'll remember turning five and a half. You probably won't remember the next day either, when you stood stubbornly on the sidewalk, unmoving, and waged a small battle after school about walking home by yourself "like a big kid" that ended with me gritting my teeth in anger and pushing you down into the jogging stroller, strapping you in while you kicked the bar below your feet and hoped aloud that it would break. You won't remember the walk our family took last night, wearing rain boots but not coats - you and Jemma singing on the path and stopping at each puddle to fish in it with long sticks - or the 80's dance party we had during dinner, Queen and Night Ranger and Wham! blasting in the kitchen and Jemma standing up on her chair, giggling.

I am trying to remember it all, though: the way you earnestly asked last week, "How do you get FOUR babies?"; the way all your play with your sister involves first choosing new names for yourselves (Ella, Elizabeth, Isabella, Izzika (?), Emily); the way you loved how your hair crimped after I let you go to bed with it wet and braided on Monday night; the way you look when you're wearing tap shoes and a leotard up on a stage under a spotlight; the way your tongue pokes out the side of your mouth from the effort when you help me peel carrots into the kitchen sink.

Kelly Corrigan writes, "I don't know when you'll read this. Maybe when you're a teenager? No, probably later, when you're on the verge of parenthood and it occurs to you for the first time that someone has been loving you that long."

I've been loving you for five and a half years now, Annie. I love you.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Read Elsewhere

I have often described the frustration of trying to get the girls to do very simple things as "trying to herd kittens" and have recently noticed myself actually boxing out my own children, middle-school-basketball-style, in the kitchen as I try to get them out the door (shuffling feet back and forth, "No! Once you have your boots on, don't walk around the rest of the house! We're going out the door!"). But leave it to my favorite blogger, Linda at All and Sundry, to explain it even better. I have re-read this about 17 times now, and it's not getting any less funny to me, so, here:

Everyone knows children’s brains are formed of large chunks of Silly Putty and clouds of easily-distracted bees, but man, sometimes I can’t believe the effort it takes just to get someone to carry out ONE directive. I feel like a deranged border collie, nipping and nagging at the heels of my kids in order to herd them towards the thing I’ve asked them to do: “Brush (yap!) your (bark bark!) teeth! Walk to the bathroom (yip!) NOW, and pick UP your toothbrush (nip nip) and—PUT DOWN THE TOY, and (yap!) GO BRUSH YOUR—WHY ARE YOU SITTING THERE AAARRGGGH (bark bark bark *overwhelmed piddle*)”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


At Sunday dinner

Jason, looking at calendar: "So, Good Friday is . . . when . . . I think the office is closed . . ."

Annie, solemnly: "Good Friday is when JESUS DIED." Silence.

Me, casually: "Did you talk about that at Sunday School today?"

Annie, launching into a long, non-sensical interpretation of Easter-related events, ending with, " . . . and then he was alive again on Easter!"

Jemma: "And then he turned into Father Jim!"


At my yoga class today

Instructor: "So, what did you think?"

Burly, manly athlete-type who had actually whimpered at one point during a pose: "They lied."

Instructor: "Who lied?"

Burly, manly athlete-type: "The people who said Pilates was harder than yoga."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Friday, March 5, 2010

Good Things, March 2010

a la Martha Stewart, but minus the absurdity:

  • Sunshine! Every day this week! And there is a 50 in the five-day forecast! And in the mornings I hear BIRDS!
  • Annie had a very successful playdate yesterday, marking perhaps the first time I have not wanted to bang my head against the wall regarding her behavior when she has a friend over. They ate lunch, dressed up, played with Jemma, did a puzzle, did paper dolls, rocked out with the keyboard and electric guitar, made a huge mess upstairs, and required zero interventions from me. I baked cookies. I was thrilled.
  • Last night's haircut/Gap Outlet browsing/visit with Gina. Some nice "me" time at the end of a busy week.
  • This morning's visit to Annie's classroom, where she was the featured student this week. Jason, Jemma, and I were her show-and-tell today, and we answered questions from the class like, "Do Annie and Jemma ever fight?" and "Does your . . . . giggle . . . . Pass." We showed the class part of Annie's baby video, and the class fell on the floor laughing at a shirtless, diapered six-month-old blowing raspberries at the camera while I gazed at our big girl, five-and-a-half next week, who signs her name "Anna" and takes ski lessons.
  • My yoga class this morning: seventeen sun salutations in honor of the days until the spring solstice.
  • New post at Bodies in Motivation about our culinary adventures as of late.
  • My last Rapid Growth article, from a week or two ago. While I was at the farm for the interview, I was lucky enough to hang out with Rapid Growth's photographer, Brian Kelly, and I asked him if he knew what kind of readership Rapid Growth currently has. Because of the fact that, when I call to set up interviews, people seem to rarely know about the publication, I assumed he'd put the number at around 10,00o or less. But guess what? Rapid Growth has 40,000 weekly subscribers, plus an additional 120,000 unique website hits per issue. Good thing, indeed.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

New Beginnings

Exhibit A: Annie's new refrigerator chart. I guess I could say that my goal is to give her ownership, or to foster independence, but really, it's to avoid any more meltdowns of epic proportions like the one we had on Monday morning. Even though we've been following the same routine every single school morning since September, Jason and I still find ourselves nagging her to do the usual things, while Annie continues to be shocked and appalled that mornings do not contain enough time for dress-up, playing with Molly, dancing, reading a magazine, or sitting on the heat vent with a blanket while looking at the American Girl catalog.
Today, then, was the first morning of the new chart, which I made in a fit of What Else Might Possibly Work Here after she left the house in a rage on Monday morning. See the clothespin attached to the right side? This morning, Annie merrily moved the clothespin down the side of the chart as she completed the items and got to the last task with twenty whole minutes to spare. She was so proud of herself, and I hope this makes the rest of our school mornings happier.

Exhibit B: Day two of playing outside in the balmy (okay, 40-degree) sunshine from 3:30 - 5:00. Scooters! Bikes! Sidewalk chalk! Neighbors! Yay!

In other new adventures, I went ahead and actually Got In The Pool at the hotel in Chicago this weekend. I've been half-claiming since New Year's that I'm going to do a triathlon this year, so I thought it might be time to see if I can still swim. I mean, I can swim. I take the girls to the pool, we swim in Lake Michigan, I tread water in Walloon a few times a summer while Jason does cannonballs off the boat, but it's literally been since high school that I've gotten in a pool with the sole intent of swimming from A to B using some type of regular stroke. And even then, it was never my strong suit. (Suit! Ha!)

So I put on my (five-year-oldish) one-piece bathing suit. I showered. I got in the pool. It was cold. Jason showed off by racing ahead of me each lap. But for twenty minutes or so (with some breaks in there, for sure) I swam laps, alternating breaststroke, backstroke, and freestyle. I might really be able to do this thing! I definitely need the six months to train, though. (Also, a swim coach, goggles, swim cap, road bike, and surely many other things that I haven't even thought of yet.)

Exhibit C: the white bean dip I made for part of this week's Meatless Monday dinner. It's basically hummus, but with white beans and italian flavors instead of middle eastern. It looked disturbingly like paste, but tasted pretty good. As an extra bonus, Jemma ate one of the sugar snap peas and declared it "kinda" good.

Monday, March 1, 2010

In the Air

Early Spring by Rainer Maria Rilke
Harshness vanished. A sudden softness
has replaced the meadows' wintry grey.
Little rivulets of water changed
their singing accents. Tendernesses,

hesitantly, reach toward the earth
from space, and country lanes are showing
these unexpected subtle risings
that find expression in the empty trees.

Today was the kind of day you'd cast as March first in a movie, all bold sunshine and dripping icicles and forty degrees of hopefulness. This afternoon, we strapped on bike helmets and scooted across the bare sidewalks, biked around the block, left our snowpants inside for once. The girls "planted a garden," digging in the quickly-melting snow with plastic rakes and shovels, telling me all about the flowers and vegetables they would grow, while Heidi and I talked garden strategy for this spring (fewer peppers, more tomatoes, maybe pumpkins). We burst back in the door after five o'clock and scrambled to get dinner going. Our faces smelled like fresh air. Our boots left muddy prints on the steps. Back from a wonderful weekend in Chicago full of art, shopping, beer, cousins, friends, and food, it felt just right.