Friday, May 28, 2010

Good Things, May 2010

More 30-Day Shred with Jemma;

sprinkler pool time;

Jemma's last, triumphant day of gymnastics;


much-loved Miss Shannon;

popsicles in the afternoon;

these perfect salted caramels;

going for a fast run around the lake at twilight, coming home to this sky, and drinking beer in the driveway with neighbors until it was completely dark last night;

bathing suits on doorknobs; two days this week at the beach with the girls; one last, sunny beach weekend at the cottage before our renter takes it over for the summer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Kicking Off Summer

Sometimes, when the forecast is for 88 degrees and sunshine, it would be insane not to pack the kids up in the car and drive directly to the nearest large body of water.

So today we did. Jemma ta-da'ed her way through her last, victorious gymnastics class (complete with medal), and then we grabbed some new sand toys at Target (because ours are still in South Haven and, well, you can never have too many sand toys). We stopped home to make picnic lunches and pack a beach bag, picked up Annie from school, and we were off.

The girls ate their pb&js and bananas on the way there, finishing just as we pulled into the parking lot. Sunscreen-slathering, beach-gear-carrying, perfect-spot-picking, and we were there, at water's edge. For three hours, we dug holes, caught ladybugs, swam in the freezing cold water, ate fruity snacks, buried our legs, made sandcastles, and generally felt lucky to have a whole Tuesday afternoon to waste away in the sunshine.

The girls slowly - sloooooowly! - helped me drag everything back to the car. We got in, sandy and sticky, blasted the AC and turned on a movie, and drove through Starbucks for frappuccinos for the ride home. Perfection.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What's New, List-Style

  • In-laws were here for the weekend. Projects we accomplished included: installing a new ceiling fan, wiring and installing new outdoor sconces, putting up shelves in the garage, building and staining a new windowbox, and putting the rest of the garden in. And by "we," I actually mean "my father-in-law," who did all but the garden work.
  • About the garden: our efforts this year include lettuce, spinach, two types of cherry tomatoes, some romas, red and yellow peppers, eggplant, green beans, carrots, snap peas, shallots, and a windowbox full of herbs. We ate some of the lettuce in a salad for dinner tonight.
  • Our second year as members of the Trillium Haven CSA began yesterday with the open house. We went, we brought pulled pork, we drummed, we ate, we played, we looked at fields, we sweated, we watched Jemma refuse to eat a single thing other than fruit, we left. Bring on the kale!
  • We are going to Jamaica! In nine months! After two years in a row of February vacations in Florida that involved frost and wind and very little beach or pool time, we are stepping it up a notch and going a little farther south. There are nannies there. They do your laundry. I think it is going to be fairly awesome (in nine months).
  • We turned our air conditioning on for the first time this year, and today it was so hot that we were playing in the sprinkler pool/running through a sprinkler/eating meals outside except for 1.5 hours in the middle of the day for quiet time. As long as it continues to be 88 and sunny, I'm determined to make it to the beach at least once this week!
  • I fell last week while I was running (not ON anything, just tripped on my own self while running around the lake on the paved path I run at least three times a week) and got a horrible "bleeding boo-boo" on my knee. I put a hole in my new favorite running capris, and now I have a giant scab on my left knee, which Jemma must touch several times a day while asking, "Is it still crusty?"
  • Jemma has her last Gymco class of the year tomorrow morning. I am sad! Gymnastics (first the parent-child participation class, then the three-year-old class that she transitioned into and cried about for the first few weeks) was really the very first activity that she and I did together outside of the house, and I can't believe that it's over, that she's moving on to preschool in the fall. Tomorrow, I get to go in the gym and watch her do all her "tricky moves" and take her picture and watch. She has already requested that I wear my hair in a ponytail.
That's it around here on May 24, 2010. Now I'm off to read The Book Thief in my air-conditioned bed and await my husband, who has promised to bring me something cold from Jersey Junction when he returns home tonight.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cocktail Hour

I call this "Thank Goodness My Kids Are Briefly at Other People's Houses So I Can Make Dinner Without Anyone Talking to Me."

It's been one of those days. Cheers!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Say Yes to the Cake

For no reason at all that I know, Annie and Jemma conspired early yesterday morning to ask me if we could bake a cake. It was even before Annie went to school that she asked, "Mom? When I get home from school today, can we make a cake? Pleeeeeeassssseeee?" They gathered around my legs as I poured milk and packed snacks in a backpack, beseeching.

Making a cake was not really in the plans for yesterday. Plans included: unpacking from our weekend in South Haven, laundry, groceries, 30-Day Shred, Meatless Monday dinner-making, and multiple phone calls and e-mails to try to figure out when our school district's February break will be in 2011 plus the accompanying research and decision-making about where we might go. But. My New Year's resolution was to say "yes" more, so I agreed.

They really did make the cake with very little guidance from me. Of course, it takes about twenty times longer with them "helping" - Jemma perched on the counter, dumping in measuring cups full of flour or sugar or spoonfuls of vanilla, Annie standing on a chair to zest the orange and crack the eggs into a bowl - but their pride makes it worth the extra effort. They love to watch the mixer spin around and churn their ingredients into batter; they love to stand and peer into the oven to watch the cakes rise and brown. I hope they have memories of this - of simple May afternoons when we played freeze tag outside and the house smelled like cake cooling on the counter when we came back in.

Just before dinnertime, Annie supervised the whipping of the cream for the frosting, Jemma washed the strawberries, and I put on the finishing touches just as Jason walked in the door. (If that isn't as 1950's housewife as it gets, I don't know what is.) We ate big, thick slices of it after dinner, then carried a big hunk to a neighbor and another chunk to welcome friends to town, and this is all that's left.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Three Conversations with Annie

Me: What's stinky in here?
Annie: NOTHING. (Giggle.)
Me: Did you toot?
Me: (skeptical look)
Annie: Well, I tooted way over there, but it maybe flew after me and now it's in here with me.


Annie: God could do anything.
Me: Yep.
Annie: Like, anything he wants to do.
Me: Yep.
Annie: I mean, God could turn that car into a big mud puddle! Or make it so he could bite someone's finger off but it wouldn't hurt them.
Me: Um, . . . . ?


Annie: Did you see that flag at that house? Was it halfway down?
Me: I didn't see it.
Annie: Daddy said if a flag is halfway down, it means someone is dying. Is someone dying at their house? Did someone die there? Daddy said that, one time when we were at the pretty place by the sea monster.
Me: I actually have no idea what you are talking about.
Annie: You KNOW, The Pretty Place.
Me: Where is The Pretty Place?
Annie: Where we go with the fountains and the coffee shop and the sea monster in the river.
Me: The Amway Grand Plaza?
Annie: Yes! So, did someone DIE?

In the News

I am not going to lie, I worked damn hard on this article - going on location two separate times, interviewing about 87,000 sources, whittling seven-plus pages of single-spaced typed interview notes down to 1400 words, getting quotes approved, proofreading and re-proofreading - all within four days. And at the end of that hard work, there are a few things in it for me. There's the paycheck, of course. The addition of one more little scrap of work to my "I Wrote This" pile. The little high I get when I've spent a couple hours doing something challenging and doing it well. The experience of learning about a subject I knew zero about a few days before. And the pride in contributing to a publication that is all about the positive potential of the city in which we're raising our family.

And, because I don't think I linked to it at the time, here's the feature I did last month, too:

(Sigh of relief.)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Annie started acting up while she and Jemma were in the tub last night, so I opened my mouth to remind her nicely to use her Inside Voice. She saw me start to speak and did this THING she is doing lately that drives me crazy: she let out a loud, long shriek to block out my words because she knew she wasn't going to want to hear what I had to say. (When she does this and I reprimand her for screaming, she looks all innocent and goes, "You SCARED me!")

Things deteriorated and when I told her it was time to get out of the tub, she started flailing her arms and legs around, splashing water everywhere, Making Things Worse, so I calmly helped her dry off and then sent her to her room to calm down and put on her pajamas by herself. She slammed the bathroom door, still talking back to me as she marched away, and as I kneeled down to finish rinsing the bubbles out of Jemma's hair, she paused a moment in her tirade, then yelled,

"And your underwear is stupid, too!"

Monday, May 10, 2010


In addition to being awakened by giggling little girls carrying me my breakfast in bed (Cheerios, dried cherries, and a latte Jason made me), I celebrated Mother's Day by making fresh-squeezed orange juice with my Mother's Day gift from Jason: juicer, crate of oranges, big bag of lemons.

It was good. I haven't had fresh-squeezed orange juice much since we frequented Cafe Zola on the weekends when we lived in Ann Arbor. Looks like that's going to change.

Annie drew me several pictures over the last few days, many of them wishing me a HaPPy MoTHeRs DaY, and she made me a flower pen at school. Jemma made me a card with a flower on the front, too.

We tend to spend Mother's Day with either Jason's family (last year), or my family (the two years before), but this year, somehow, it was just the four of us, and I like that, too, from time to time. We were just going to go to Rose's for a low-key brunch mid-morning, but the girls begged to do something "fancy." Nothing says fancy around here like the lobby of the Amway Grand Plaza, so we went. They love to just walk around, eyes big, and gape at the crystal chandeliers and the high ceilings.

They made wishes and threw pennies in the fountain.

We had coffee at the Starbucks and watched traffic go by outside and a rock star hide behind his sunglasses at the next table.

We wandered to the art museum, then read books at the bookstore - two of my very favorite places in the city.

When we were finally hungry, we slipped into a new-to-us restaurant for an indulgent brunch: crepes with pear and nutella; scrambled eggs with bacon, cheddar, and asparagus; baked french toast with pecans and raisins; hangar steak with chipotle and diced potatoes.

Honestly, I think it would be wrong to ask for anything more.

Friday, May 7, 2010


"Trapped mainly by wanting things to be exactly as they are, only better." - Brian Andreas

By Thursday evenings, my tank is on empty. Jason walks in the door and the week's injustices pile up to meet him: a playdate gone wrong, Jemma throwing her shoes, Annie's post-school meltdown, the noise, the laundry, always the laundry. He props me up the best he can and we get the kids to bed, then cook a late dinner together and fall on the couch, exhausted, to split a bottle of wine and eat slender asparagus.

But Fridays are sort of my day - at least they are supposed to be, when there are no staff meetings or houseguests or weekend trips or doctor's appointments or special school events. We bundle Annie off to school in the morning, and then I say a breezy good-bye to Jason and Jemma, who are usually playing a good game of Memory or packing up to run errands.

I go to yoga, unroll my mat, take one hour to pay attention to my breath and my muscles. My yoga teacher says things like "sparkle upwards!" during cobra pose and I actually love it. She talks about the pace of life, the value of breath, the strength of self. I run errands alone, the car quiet. I schedule interviews, banish e-mails to the trash, write in coffee shops, make phone calls. The crazy of the week falls away and I feel myself coming to center again, welcoming back a mental sharpness and emotional calm that gets chipped away Monday through Thursday in the noise and the rushing and the chasing of children.

I always plan to be away for most of the day; I always find myself back at home sooner than I had planned. Because once I've reclaimed that space in my brain - in my life - I am ready to plunge back in, so much more grateful for the ordinaryness that I am blessed with, ready to take little girls to the pool, make them pizza, and read Corduroy in my bed while their damp, round heads and big, round eyes follow my every move. For that moment, I am present again, able to appreciate things exactly as they are.

Annie drew a picture of me yesterday. In it, I am lying in a bed, sleeping, and little bubbles lead from my head off to the side, where a larger bubble encloses pictures of flowers and food. "It's you, Mama, wearing your flower shirt and your striped pink jammie pants, dreaming of growing things and cooking." My sweet Annie, my little artist, yes. I am dreaming of Fridays, too, of time and space away from you, and of coming back.

"The point of a life, any life, is to figure out what you are good at, and what makes you happy, and, if you are very fortunate, spend your life doing those things." - Ayelet Waldman

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Day of Firsts

Any time I see someone walking down a busy road with a little gas can in their hand, I think, What sort of idiot runs out of gas? I mean, I admit to generally driving around until my gas light comes on, but then I also generally get myself to a gas station at some point that day.

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, that idiot walking down a busy road with a little gas can in their hand was me.

I had driven to Jason's office to swap cars with him when he finished work so he could drive the girls back home and do dinner and bedtime while I could continue on to Holland and get my hair cut. When I got in his car in Grandville, it said 40 miles until empty. I drove (the 15 miles or so) to Holland, stopped at the Gap Outlet to do a few returns, and then got in it again. Now, it said 20 miles until empty. I called my stylist's cell phone and left the following message:

Hey Amanda! I'm just going to get gas and go through the Starbucks drive thru, and then I'll be there right on time, so call me if you want me to bring you a beverage!
I hung up my phone, turned onto James Street, and the car coasted to a stop. For a minute, it didn't even occur to me that the car had run out of gas. (It still said 20 miles to go!) I pushed on the accelerator and wondered what was wrong with it. I put it in park, turned off the car, and tried to restart it. I said the f-word. And only then did I realize that I had become the idiot who runs out of gas.

I set off on foot for the nearest gas station - which was in sight but across a busy highway - and paid $8.00 for a little 2-gallon red gas can and filled it with gas. Then I lugged the gas can back across the highway, praying fervently the whole time that nobody I knew would see me. When I got back to the car, which I had left sitting in a lane of traffic on James Street with its hazards on, there was a friendly Ottawa County sheriff waiting for me. He was nice about it and all, asking me if I was a tourist in town for Tulip Time, but I was totally mortified because, again, who runs out of gas?????

Interestingly, after I filled the tank with the two gallons from my little gas can and went on my merry way, the car said 15 miles until empty. Something is not adding up there, Audi, and I am suspicious of you.


Also yesterday, I did Level 3 of The Shred workout for the first time. I've been alternating between levels 1 and 2 for the past few weeks, and I can finally (mostly) do them both the whole way through. I made it through Level 3, too, if by "made it though" we mean "did it with all the possible wuss modifications." I hate mountain-climbers; I hate doing jumping jacks with 5-lb. weights in my hands and feeling as though I am under water; I hate plyometrics and traveling push-ups and being in plank position for what feels like years. But I love how much stronger I feel than just a month ago and how much faster I can run when I really try.


I have these moments when I do something that feels incredibly mom-like and even as I'm doing the thing, a small part of my brain is watching from afar and going, I can't believe you're doing that mom-like thing. I remember touring a babysitter through our house for the first time - "Here are the diapers and wipes; the emergency numbers are on the fridge; help yourself to anything to eat . . ." - and I remember Annie's first preschool open house. When Jemma gets chocolate ice cream on a white shirt, I whip it off her head and run it under cold water. I prompt my children with the words, "What do you say?" when they forget a thank-you. I lick my thumb and use it to get peanut butter off Annie's cheek.

And I think a did another mom thing for the first time yesterday when I sat on our front steps and talked to Annie about why she can't get her ears pierced yet. I talked about how different families make different choices about money, chores, food, church, vacations, sports, clothes, manners, sleepovers, dating, bedtimes, and, yes, pierced ears. I said that we expected her to act a little bit more like a responsible girl - one who does her best to follow basic rules and takes good care of her things (the implied subtext being instead of spreading them around the house and never, ever putting things back where they belong, ahem). I said that some families get their daughter's ears pierced when they are babies and some girls have to wait until they are in high school and everywhere in between.

She sat quietly, if grumpily, and listened. Then I said that I had felt exactly the same way she does when I was a girl and Aunt Connie got to get her ears pierced a little sooner than my parents would allow me, and the look of disgust and annoyance that Annie gave me when I threw that bit of Mom Wisdom out there is pretty much what I'm going to be looking at for, oh, the next thirteen years or so.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Spring Weekend

Since Jason doesn't usually work on Fridays (yay!), our weekends sort of start on Thursdays at 5:00, and this Thursday we spent the afternoon in Holland. The girls and I had official dental appointments in the early afternoon, so we just continued on to Holland afterwards to see my parents, who have just returned from a few weeks in Florida.

Though it wasn't quite officially Tulip Time yet, we were there at the perfect time: no crowds, but lots of tulips and even dutch dancers around Centennial Park. We wandered around downtown, in and out of the bookstore and The Peanut Store, smelling tulips, and playing hopscotch on the bricked sidewalks until Jason met us after he finished with work. We went out for dinner and then sat on the curb around the park to watch the girls in old-fashioned costumes and wooden shoes clomp around to tinny music from a loudspeaker. Annie and Jemma were by turns fascinated, obsessed with obtaining their own Dutch costumes, and very sleepy.

The last two days have been a blur. I snuck away for yoga, a pedicure, and a little errand-running yesterday morning while Annie was at school and Jason took Jemma biking. We created a virtual water park in our front yard yesterday afternoon, complete with sprinkler pool, water table, slide, sprinkler, and snacks, and I sat, still unshowered, and drank a beer and read a magazine while the neighborhood kids yelped and giggled through the water. It was perfect Friday afternoon warm-weather fun, and we wrapped it up with a quick, fun visit from Chris, Sarah and kids to eat hot dogs and ice cream sundaes before bedtime.

This morning (once the rain stopped), Jason and Patrick tilled new compost into the garden and fixed the fence around it, so Year Two of our garden adventure has begun. I bought lettuce and spinach from our CSA farm at the farmer's market today, and they're in the ground already; we'll plant carrots, green beans, snap peas, and some flowers from seed next week, and then add in some tomato, pepper, and cucumber plants around Memorial Day. We potted the herbs that returned this spring (sage, chives, thyme, and oregano) and hope to build a new window box for the sunny side of the house that will contain most of our herbs for this summer so we have more space in the actual garden. I know it's early, but I'm already dreaming of the glorious days mid-summer when I can gather most of what I need for dinner just by walking outside and stepping over the fence to gather what's growing alongside the house!

We grilled a whole chicken for dinner while the girls tired themselves out playing incredibly happily and independently outside, and just now the windows are open and the house smells like lilacs and rain, which is maybe the best combination of smells ever.