Friday, July 30, 2010

Adventures in Camping

After literally days of packing (our dining room looked like a staging area for some type of Red Cross operation, with tents and sleeping bags and bags and bags of food and clothing), we are embarking on the inaugural family camping trip with the girls. Cross your fingers for no rain, poison ivy, bug bites, sunburn, crack-of-dawn wake-ups, or sand in difficult places; send all good thoughts about cooking over an open fire, catching fireflies, biking in the pines, and sleeping snug together in one big tent to our family, c/0 A Campground In the Woods.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Budding Artists

"A picture is a picture.

It can be whatever it wants to be.

It doesn't have to make sense.

It doesn't have to look like a waterfall,

not if it doesn't want to.

A picture can be whatever.

Why of course it can."

from the book Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude is Gertrude by Jonah Winter

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

These are the Good Old Days

Is it possible to be nostalgic for a time that hasn't yet passed? Because I think I am already nostalgic for summer 2010.

Today, for example. Today I woke up to a little blonde girl in my face, telling me her dreams and asking for oatmeal. I showered. I made coffee, made oatmeal, started the dishwasher, then sat on the kitchen floor while both girls took turns leaving their breakfast to crawl all over my legs and cuddle. I put my bathing suit on, first thing, right under my clothes.

I dropped the girls off at gymnastics, got groceries, came home to put them away. I started laundry, edited an article, packed lunch to bring to the pool. I went to the pool when it opened and spent 45 glorious minutes sitting in the grown-up section in the sunshine, reading my book and drinking a venti iced tea lemonade that I didn't have to share with anyone.

I picked the girls up from gymnastics and went straight back to the pool. We ate lunch sitting on towels on the pool deck. Annie did a million somersaults. Jemma was brave and got her new boo-boo wet. We ran out of sunscreen for about the fifth time this summer. We sat and talked to friends.

We came home. The girls had quiet time and I folded laundry and marinated the flank steak. When they got up, we had snacks, watched a show, watered the garden, picked peas and tomatoes, and drew all over the sidewalk with chalk.

Jason came home and grilled the steak while I picked up our CSA share, then we all ate together, the girls mowing on ears of corn dripping with butter and salt. We walked to town and got shakes, then took them to the concert in the park. The girls found their friends and danced near the stage with the lake behind us. They went together to get balloons while we just watched from afar. We walked home, me still wearing my bathing suit under my clothes, for baths and bedtime stories. I rode my bike around the lake twice and ran a little afterwards, planned meals for our weekend camping trip, put laundry away, showered again.

Just now, the sun has set and I can hear the crickets chirping outside the living room window. There is peach-blueberry crisp on my kitchen counter. Bathing suits hang from the chairs in the kitchen and from the bathroom doorknob. There are check-marks next to at least three-quarters of the things on our summer list, and I think we'll check off "go camping," "go hiking," and "catch fireflies" this weekend.

I don't want summer 2010 to end.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Things They Say

Jemma: "Mommy, can you inside-out my jammies?"


Annie, while playing this morning, wherein she is the mom who has just had a baby (Mallory) and I am the grandmother who has agreed to watch the baby for a few hours: "Now, if she cries, don't forget to feed her, change her, and put her down for a nap." Pause for emphasis. "She needs a lot of naps."


Annie, while in the car listening to the ever-present Mamma Mia! soundtrack, specifically the song "Money, Money, Money": "Mom, are we rich?"

Jemma in Action

Friday, July 23, 2010

Just to Be Clear:

"All other mommies and daddies are nice, but YOU are MEAN! You are The Meanest!"

This is what Annie shouted at me from her time-out yesterday (technically, her third time-out in the span of about half an hour). The yelling was interspersed with a lot of banging on her door, random screams of "No!" and various moments of marching out of her room and venturing down the hallway long before the timer had gone off to end the time-out.

You can imagine this makes it easy to finish cooking dinner so it can be ready to eat in the twenty-minute interval between when Jason walks in the door from work and when I need to head out for my long bike ride.

You can imagine this makes a day of at-home parenting feel really fun, fulfilling, worthwhile, and rewarding.

You can imagine that, when time-outs aren't working - when they actually make the child more furious and defiant and not-sorry and uninterested in listening than before! - it's hard to figure out what type of consequence would make an impression, would inspire some type of remorse and determination to try harder to be decent.

You can imagine that you'd be quite tired of having to interrupt your fun art project with your other daughter and your dinner-making to be hit, kicked, and yelled at.

You can imagine that, in the midst of the third time-out fit, you might get a burst of inspiration, based loosely on a story your father-in-law once told about how he had pretended to call Santa and tell the big jolly fellow all about how terribly a certain child was acting (a story that moderately horrified you at the time, because The Lying! The Pretending to a Child! and why would you not just Reason With Them and Give Calm Rational Consequences so the child could Learn A Happy Lesson?? and you would Never resort to Such Trickery!). You can imagine that you're pretty sure the racket coming from the bedroom would preclude the phone actually having to ring for your trick to work. You can imagine going to stand in the hallway, phone pressed to ear, and loudly beginning this conversation:

"Hello? Oh, hi Sarah!"

"Oh, Annie probably WOULD love to play with Lucy this afternoon. You know, though, she's been having a really rough afternoon. She's having a hard time listening and being kind, so I think having a friend in the mix would be a bad idea right now."

"Um-hmmm. Yeah, that DOES sound like fun. We'll have to do it another time."

"OK, thanks for calling! I'll talk to you later!"

Aaaaaaaaaand you can imagine your five-year-old-turned-sassy-thirteen-year-old coming running out of her room, flinging herself at your body, weeping, "Sorry! Mommy, Sorry! I'm sorry!"

You can imagine it, I'm sure.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Saturday, July 17, 2010

This Week in List Form

Workouts: Monday swim, Tuesday run, Wednesday swim, Thursday run and bike, Friday yoga and swim, Saturday run. Whew!

Days wearing a bathing suit for recreational purposes: 4

Favorite quote by Jemma: "But I don't want just three wishes! I want to wish everything!"

Favorite read: this New York Magazine article on parenting.

Favorite meal: burgers on the grill topped with bacon and smoked gouda, green beans from our garden, corn on the cob, coleslaw, cherries, and blueberries eaten outside last night with a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Most-quoted movie line: "Eat your food, Tina!" from Napoleon Dynamite, directed to Jemma while at the dinner table.

Approximate number of hours spent in Lake Michigan jumping waves with Annie today: 3

New GAP Outlet record: 12 minutes, 2 pairs of pants, 1 pair of shorts, 1 bathing suit, 1 shirt, 1 pair of underwear, $54.00.

Soundtrack while in the car: ABBA songs on the Mamma Mia! soundtrack

Suggestion (inspired by Jemma's rare but potent fits of rage) for a new SNL skit to replace "I Threw it on the Ground": "I Threw it at Your Face!"

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Houston, We Have a Problem

Here's the thing. I can run for an hour or more without stopping, easily. I can bike for an hour or more without stopping, easily. I can swim for twenty minutes, tops, and that includes a lot of breaks for hanging on walls and panting.

It's been a week since the triathlon training officially kicked off with a moderately humiliating group swim last Wednesday. Our swim instructor is perky and young. Her name is Anna. "Get in the pool," she said, "and just warm up with an easy 100." Easy. Ha! We did that, we did drills where we just kicked on our side, we did things called Zippers and Catch-ups and 50s of stroking with just one arm all the way down and back. Since then, I've gotten in the pool two other times, once to swim 10 laps, alternating freestyle and breaststroke, once to use a pull buoy to try to work on my arm strength and a kickboard to work on kicking from my hips.

The second time, I got to the lane just as another swimmer was getting there. He was tall and muscled and be-goggled and looked like A Real Swimmer.

"Want to share the lane?" he asked.

"Sure!" I said. I actually wanted to rip my swim cap off and go hide in a corner, but it was a cheerful lie.

"Do you want to split the lane or circle swim?" he asked.

By the grace of God, I had done enough Googling to know what those terms meant. "I'm the slowest ever," I said, "so we should probably split the lane so you don't have to pass me 85 times." I laughed. He didn't laugh. I was mortified.

Afterwards (again: AFTER TWENTY MINUTES), I am shaky and exhausted. I am ravenous. I feel like I could pass out if I get up too quickly. I have to sit down in the gym lobby and pretend to be making a list or looking at something on my phone before I go collect the girls from the kid's area.

I keep asking - begging! - people for help. I instant message people on Facebook (people who swam competitively in college) and ask them for advice. I march out to a friend standing on the pool deck watching his daughter's swim practice (an Ironman, no less) and ask him to be my swim coach. I Google things during quiet time, things like "beginning swim for triathletes," "swimming for exercise" and "adult swimming tips." People think I am exaggerating my feebleness. I'm not.

I know I'm only a single week in to this 10-week training process, but I'm still truly unsure if I can swim 1/2 mile AND THEN do the other two things. It's humbling. It's scary. My right shoulder hurts, the swimming has turned my legs into mush when I try to do my usual runs, and I'm thirsty all the time. The upside so far has been discovering that I love the biking, and I'm seriously considering getting (or borrowing) a road bike to see if I can push myself even faster there. Best-case scenario, I don't come in completely last because I can rock the bike and the run. Worst-case scenario, I take longer than the alloted 35 minutes to complete the swim and I'm disqualified.

Tomorrow night, back in the pool.

The Most Fun, Photos

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Most Fun

And then there are days like today. Jason lets me sleep in (let's be honest: Jason ALWAYS lets me sleep in, and by sleeping in, I mean 7:30, but still, I am grateful) and he's made coffee and fed the girls. We sit on the couch and watch the girls dance to the music from Somewhere in Time while we drink our coffee and decide not to go to church for no reason other than the sunshine and our lack of cleanliness. I go to the grocery store in my bathing suit and a cover-up to buy beach treats: Capri Suns, sugared almonds, kettle chips with sea salt, blueberries, Cheetos. We make our favorite sandwiches (deli turkey, cream cheese, sour cherry preserves, celery, lettuce, dill havarti on wheat) and pack a cooler. We load up the beach toys, the towels, the magical green chairs from Costco that we can carry like backpacks. We remember the camera, the hats, the sunscreen. We drive.

We go to my uncle's beach and nobody else is there. The water is rumored to be 78 degrees. Lake Michigan! 78 degrees! Annie straps on her goggles and we don't see her face for half an hour, just her butt sticking up towards the sunshine while she kicks kicks kicks out into the waves. Jemma finds a teeny tiny ladybug which she carries around on her forearm and names Ladybug Twilight. We dig deep holes and bury each other. We eat our lunch on the striped sheet that used to be on my parents' bed circa 1982. I swim out with Annie and teach her how to float up and over the waves. She does a billion somersaults underwater. I hold Jemma's hands closer to shore and whip her up into the air over the crest of every wave.

My parents come and they swim with the girls and we squirt each other and stand out in the water, just talking. We eat animal crackers and chips and almonds. Heidi and Jonathan come find us from down the beach and the kids cover each other with sand, stand at the water's edge and let themselves be knocked over by every wave, chase each other through the beach grass.

We dry off and drive to Grand Haven. We eat outside at Snug Harbor. We still have sand on our ankles. The girls drink Shirley Temples and watch the boats go by and tell us long, pointless stories. They share bites of food with each other. They giggle. We walk to get ice cream and ring the Coast Guard bell and pet the dogs walking by. We hold hands.

I say, You know what's the most fun? What, they say. I say, Having two little girls who are five and three in the summertime. I say, Today. Today is the most fun.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

On Being the Not-Fun Parent

We are driving to the pool yesterday afternoon, just the girls and I because Jason's staying home to get some work done, and the two of them are bickering in the car as usual. Lately, unless they are eating something or watching something (only allowed on long car trips, like up north), they are fighting and arguing when we're in the car.

They fight and they argue and they go back and forth with "Annie looked at me mean!" and "You're not saying 'sunscreen' right; you're saying 'skunscreen' and that's not even a word" and "I want my window down!" and "I need a drink and she took my water bottle!" I ignore it as long as I can, and then I say as calmly as possible, "Girls, please stop using your energy to bother each other. Please just be kind." But it continues, the ridiculous bickering, and so I say, maybe a little less calmly, "No THANK you!" the next time somebody says something rude, and immediately Jemma says, "I wish DADDY was here."


This morning, I went in Jemma's room and tried to cuddle with her before I left for my run and she started kicking at my torso. Jason came in to see what was going on, and she looked right at him and said, "I don't LIKE Mommy!"


At the pool this afternoon, after we had gone down the water slide together, another little girl accidentally jumped into the pool and practically landed on Annie. She climbed from the water, unhurt but badly scared, and I scooped her up and sat down in a chair, cuddling her with a towel and soothing her. I felt bad for her at first. The crying, though. Ten minutes later - unhurt, remember? - she's still sobbing in my arms, and I can see that she's essentially trying to cry as loudly as possible and resisting any attempts to calm her down. "She didn't even say SORRY!" she yells, even though the little girl did, and so did her dad, and still I sit and I try to reason with her softly and dry her face off and salvage the afternoon but she doesn't stop. So we pack up and leave the pool, Annie trailing loudly behind us, and when I try to hold her hand and kiss her head as we cross the parking lot, she jerks her hand away and runs ahead to Jason.


We tumble into the house, damp and grumpy, and I ask the girls to take off their wet bathing suits and get in dry clothes for dinner. Annie drops her wet suit on the wood floor, then runs away when I ask her to pick it up. Runs away again when I ask her to get some clothes on and wash up for dinner. I follow her as she yells "Mommy's always mean!" and Jason shrugs at me and turns to plate the salmon.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Good Things, July 2010

Staying hydrated in the 90-degree days;

afternoon naps in the cozy coolness of the house;

Saturday morning pancake-flipping lessons;

afternoons at the pool wearing matching polka-dot swimsuits;

sister love;

Vietnamese coffee popsicles, waiting in the freezer for a grown-up post-dinner treat tonight after our alfresco dinner with friends; last night's 10-mile ride out and back on Grand River Drive, full of rolling hills and the smell of grilling burgers and newfound confidence on a bicycle; and this new non-toxic nail polish I'm writing about for this week's Rapid Growth, and which is already right at home on Annie and Jemma's nails.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Re-Entry into Regular Life

It's 9:00 p.m., and it's still 89 degrees here, which clearly made it a hot one today, which clearly made it a great day for:

  • Rolling right out of bed and going running first thing in the morning.
  • Dropping the girls off at Gymco and using the time to get groceries and a pedicure.
  • Packing lunches and heading straight from Gymco pick-up to the pool for two hours of splashing and swimming and catching up with friends.
  • Taking naps in the air-conditioned house.
  • Making Ziploc-baggie ice cream for an afternoon snack.
  • Washing the car with the girls, then spraying each other and running through the sprinkler afterwards.
  • Eating the very first green beans of the summer from our garden for dinner.
  • Reading lots of books on the couch before bed.
I usually think it's tough to get back into the swing of regular life after a few days away. But this time? Seamless. Maybe that's because summer is awesome any way you slice it; maybe it's because I'm still ignoring the giant piles of laundry on the bedroom floor . . .

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Five Days of the 4th of July

I actually like this photo of me, which is rare. I probably look so calm because this is on the first day of our crazy five-day camping/biking/hiking/fireworks/parade/houseful of family fourth of July "vacation." Here, it was Wednesday, early evening. I had gone to yoga while Jason was at work, packed the car up and hitched the bikes on the back. Jason and I had just driven up to Glen Arbor, gotten the second-to-last camping spot at DH Day Campground for two nights, and were driving around Glen Lake on our way to dinner at Funistrada.

It was glorious: plenty of wine, Anniversary Chicken, pasta, and adult conversation. We caught the sunset on our way back to the campground.

The next morning, we were awakened bright and early by two loudly screaming children a few sites over at 6:40 a.m., (and you can bet I rolled right out of the tent and went to have a friendly chat with the mom on my way to brush my teeth, ahem) and biked into town to have breakfast at Art's. Then, we biked around Big Glen Lake, which was beautiful if a little hilly in one particular spot (I may or may not have gotten off my bike and walked a teency bit of that hill) and had us swooping down dirt driveways with For Sale signs in their yards, wishing and dreaming and wondering if.

We stopped to catch the view at Inspiration Point . . .

did a little photo op at the beach near the end . . .

then parked our bikes and rented kayaks for the Crystal River for the afternoon. We didn't bring the camera since we didn't have a dry bag for it, but it was such a clear, shallow, wandering river and we hardly saw any other people the whole trip, just soaked up the silence and listened to the sound of our paddles dipping into the water.

We spent the rest of the afternoon reading on the beach before heading to Empire for beer and awesome burgers at Joe's Friendly Tavern. The sky clouded over as we skipped stones afterwards.

We drove up to the big overlook at Pierce Stocking Drive to watch the sunset. Nobody else was there, and we felt like the only two people on the edge of the planet.

The next morning, we slept in a little bit later, got coffee, and hiked to the top of the dune climb all by ourselves. It was the perfect spot for a few sun salutations.

We packed up camp, stunned that our two nights was over so quickly, and drove the rest of the way up to Petoskey for the second, less-quiet-but-just-as-Norman-Rockwell half of the holiday weekend.

The girls (FOUR of them, because Trevor and Lisa and their girls are living with the in-laws for the summer while they renovate their new house) besieged us when we arrived, clamoring for TREATS! and LOOK AT MY TOENAILS! and LET'S GO SWIMMING! We took the three big girls down to the dock to swim.

Annie got to drive the boat.

And of course there were popsicles and red-and-blue-painted toenails.

Saturday morning, we played at the waterfront park before walking to Bay View for brunch. The girls did so well playing together and were thrilled with their pancakes.

That night, we ate dinner at home before doing baths and getting jammies on to watch Bay Harbor's fireworks from the field above the bay.

We forgot Jemma's sunglasses, so she wore Jason's.

There was plenty of time for pre-firework silliness . . .

Then: Sunday! The actual fourth! By then, the ten (ten!) people in the house (plus one half-paralyzed dog who we took turns carrying around with a sheet for a sling . . . poor Mosey) were bordering on slap-happy exhaustion, but we powered on for the biggest day yet. This year, for the first time, the up-north contingent of the family decided to have their family business be in both the Harbor Springs and the Petoskey parades, so our day was packed with getting in the lineup and packing a picnic in addition to the usual amounts of Tom's Mom's cookies and wading in the bay and taking in all the red, white, and blue.

Here's the very sweet playhouse my father-in-law built for the float. The girls loved riding in it, waving to the onlookers (one of whom was Annie's kindergarten teacher, much to her delight), and drawing smiles of admiration.

It was around 90 degrees as we made our way down the parade route, and so the best part of the day was perhaps when we arrived back home, changed directly into bathing suits, and ran and jumped off the dock right into the aqua blue waters of Walloon Lake. We swam and splashed and started teaching Annie to dive, and nobody wanted to get out for at least an hour.

Anyone who knows me well knows that ten people together in a house with a lot of planned group activities is not the easiest thing for me to take after a couple of days, even when those people are without exception people who I love and who I love to be with. So the chaos got to me from time to time, and the girls each took their turn being a little difficult, and we forgot to take pictures of the float actually going down the road, and Jemma had a fit about her outfit (OF COURSE SHE DID) and the girls stayed up talking when they should have been sleeping, and none of that really mattered. Because there was a moment when I was rummaging around in Annie's bed (the one she shared with Berit for a few nights, then with Jemma for a few nights) and found a pile of clothes she'd discarded - some hers, some Berit's, some dress-up thrown in with some pajamas and a borrowed headband - and it suddenly seemed like she had three little sisters instead of just the one. It seemed like we'd given all the girls the gift of a big, happy family where people share clothes and toys and fall asleep wherever they find themselves at night; where the grown-ups stay up later than they should drinking good beer out on the deck and watching the fireworks over the lake; where people pitch in to calm a child or make a sandwich or paint toenails or ride in a parade or push a stroller.

Jason's been spending this particular holiday up north for as long as he can remember, and even though I'd be lying if I didn't say the first half of the trip was the more relaxing and effortless half, the second half was full of so much energy and laughter than the noisy chaos almost didn't matter. It's tradition, and you can't fight tradition.

And over here, the unpacking continues . . .