Friday, June 29, 2012

Good Things, June 2012

Almost every day at some point, I sigh a happy sigh and say, "I love summer." (Often I say it to nobody in particular, and often I have also said other various things at different points during the day, including, "Out! of the hot tub!" and, "How many times a day do you think someone says 'mommy'? A hundred? Two hundred?" and, "Wow, it's hot.") But looking back on this month in photos confirms it: summer is my favorite season, and we've had an exceptionally good start to this one.

Good things:

reading (cozy morning reading, reading standing up, reading with sister, beach reading, ambitious vacation reading material);

Annie playing "Long, Long Ago" at her piano recital;

last day of school;

sisters spontaneously snuggling at the pool (not-as-good: children who get cold and need to snuggle under towels to get warm on hot summer days at the pool);

the constant state of the playroom (breathes deeply, averts eyes);

morning soaks in the hot tub;

the annual making of strawberry jam with my mom;

Jason's happiness at his large, smoked-all-day brisket on Father's Day;

New York City;

the girls successfully buying their first pool treat after amassing enough quarters by doing chores;

celebrating 13 lucky years together a couple nights late with a long ride and dinner at Honey Creek Inn;

one precious quart of Michigan cherries, most of which were gobbled greedily by yours truly, a few of which made it into these smitten kitchen browned butter cherry shortbread bars;

family bike ride to the Reed's Lake Run packet pick-up, which turned into biking to Harmony Brewing, which turned into being filmed for a PBS craft brew documentary ("Hi, I'm Stephanie, and I take my children to bars!"), which turned into eating dinner there, which turned into . . .

Jersey Junction;

 Annie, upside-down:

this conversation today in the car, passing a fireworks stand:

Jason: Did you hear that there have been all kinds of problems with people lighting fireworks lately?
Stephanie: Yes, there was an article about it on Mlive.
J: Sweet.
S: Who are these people who need to celebrate holidays by blowing stuff up, not only on the actual holiday itself, but beginning fully two weeks in advance?
J: Well, people buy the fireworks for the 4th of July, but they are just so excited to have them that they can't wait, so they use some early.
S: And by 'people,' you mean 'boys.'
J: Yes. Want me to stop and get some?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Brief Respite

The girls unexpectedly spent a couple of nights up north with the grandparents this week, squeezing in one last up-there play session and sleepover with the cousins before the cousins move downstate, so naturally yesterday afternoon found me bleaching rags in the laundry sink and scrubbing the shower tile grout with a toothbrush.

It's strange: when the girls are here with me, everysingleminute-allthetime-always, I occasionally have elaborate fantasies about what I'd do if I suddenly had a day completely free. I'll take the train to Chicago! I'll go to the beach and just sit in a chair with a million magazines! I'll take hours-long naps in the middle of the day! I'll stay in bed until noon with a book!

And then I DO sometimes get a day or two to myself, and I become schizophrenic from the guilt. I decide not to go to the beach (because it really is more fun to go with them) and I remember a million errands that'd be easier without them, and then I get sucked into the Target/grocery/gift-getting vacuum, and then I get out the REAL vacuum, and suddenly it's noon and I eat two hunks of cheese and a handful of almonds.

At this point, I'm annoyed that I've frittered away a whole morning doing mundane things I could very well do while the girls are in town, so I get in bed with a book, read for twenty minutes, sleep for twenty more, and jolt awake when the dryer plays its adorable song because the clothes are dry. I jump up, feel vaguely guilty that I was sleeping at all, and go right to folding laundry, cleaning out drawers, organizing Jemma's closet, and scrubbing things with a toothbrush.

So as to not be totally pathetic, Jason and I did take full advantage of our evenings together. We biked downtown and rode around a bit before heading to Founders for drinks and dinner one night, and another night I picked him up at his office before driving to Salt of the Earth for an awesome dinner and walking along the shore at Pier Cove beach after. I got to see a few friends and log some marathon phone calls with Connie, too. And so while there has been eating, drinking, and general relaxing, it turns out that what I most value on those rare days when the girls are gone is the self-directed solitude - the knowledge that the time is mine to spend in any way that I want, and the confidence that I will be able to finish a project without being interrupted.

In any case, the girls returned this afternoon after a very long car ride and behaved exactly the way I thought they would after a few days of grandparent-style indulgence, which is to say: NOT WELL. There was much crying and circular conversations and nonsense, and I attempted to move the whole operation outside in the hopes that fresh air and sprinklers would cheer us all up, and then I texted Jason: Come Home! And thankfully he did.

Just now they're in their beds, all freshly-showered and jammied and fast asleep. I read them extra books tonight so we could snuggle on the couch a little longer, so I could smell their damp little heads wedged up against my shoulders as I turned the pages. I was grateful for the time alone, but I'm even happier to have them home again.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The One About Justin Bieber

Where to begin?

Exactly a week ago this very minute, I was standing in the middle of Times Square with Sarah and Meg. We took photos and did the 360-degree turn in place, our necks craned up to see the lit signs in every direction. We had arrived that day, checked into our lovely hotel on the Upper West Side, eaten dinner and split a bottle of wine at Bin 71, and taken a cab to the West Village for dessert and (more) drinks at Sweet Revenge. We laughed almost every minute of the time we were together, from the moment that we saw our driver (we had a driver!) holding the sign with Sarah's name on it to the moment when Sarah drew the curtains in the hotel room, looked out at the view of the city, and said, "All because I made fun of Target."

We left Times Square eventually, stopping to pet several adorable dogs and - oops! - have one last, pricey glass of wine on a sidewalk cafe. We walked back to the hotel happily, navigating down side streets and being about 1/100th as intimidated by the city as I thought I would be. People were, to a person, nice. The waitress, for example, who took the time to quiz us when we asked for dessert recommendations: "You want chocolate?" Affirmative. "F&$@ yeah, you want chocolate!" she said, and proceeded to rattle off three or four places where we could get it. The stranger on the street who, when Meg asked him, "Is this Carrie Bradshaw's street?" smiled and said, "Sure. Yes," and did not roll his eyes at the tourists from Michigan. Justin Bieber's grandpa, who hung out with us for half an hour in the hallway and talked about garage sales in Canada before Sarah did a live, 90-second stand-up comedy routine on The View.

There were so many absurd things about the scenario that I can't even list them all. But, here:

  • Getting ready in the morning and finally having the phone ring: "Ms. Cavanaugh? This is ABC. There is a white Escalade waiting out front to take you to the studio."
  • The super-nice, super-kind makeup artist who "did" Sarah before her show casually revealing that he was also a drag queen.
  • The video Meg made of Sarah demonstrating how close (5 feet) Justin Bieber's dressing room was from "equally as popular" Sarah Cavanaugh's dressing room.
  • Running into Whoopi Goldberg in the bathroom, watching Barbara Walters walk down the hall from makeup to her dressing room with a towel over her head, talking Target dollar bins with Elizabeth Hasselbeck, photo ops with Joy Behar in the green room, and chatting Michigan winter weather with Mario Cantone in the elevator.
  • Justin Bieber himself waltzing into our dressing room and singing, Broadway-style: "Does anybody have a full-length miiiiiiirooooor?" (We said, "No, Justin we do not. But would you like to sign memorabilia with your own face on it for our children?" He did not.)
  • Hearing Sarah peek out of our dressing room to say, "Hey! I know you! You're Justin's swagger coach!" (She may or may not have watched Never Say Never a few too many times with her kids . . .)
  • Sitting in the front row of the studio with just the producers and the sound guys as Justin Bieber and his dancers rehearsed not 20 feet in front of us.
  • Sitting on a couch in the green room and watching as my friend walked right out on stage and rocked her routine to rave reviews without even seeming nervous.

Absurd, I say again. Also exiting, fun, surreal, hilarious, exhausting, and once-in-a-lifetime, I'm sure. I got the tiniest taste of NYC - enough to immediately want to go back with Jason for a long weekend to eat and drink our way through the neighborhoods, picnic in Central Park, and catch a Broadway show. But for this one time, it was enough - more than enough - to go along for the ride as my brave, funny friend chased her dream and gave the stand-up performance of a lifetime. Turns out she didn't win the contest (though the producer tells her it was oh-so-close), but I remain in awe of a person who can have that much fun in the face of that much pressure. I mean, she practically shared a stage with Justin Bieber! I think that makes her a winner, period. I think big things are still ahead, too.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Starts and Fits

It is no coincidence, I think, that I have posted exactly once since school got out. Aside from a piddly one-hour art class here and a couple hours of babysitting there, the children are with me all of the time. (Why do I seem surprised at this development?)

The first few full days of summer found me lying prone on the couch by 6:00 p.m., welcoming Jason home from work with very little to show in the way of dinner, and sending frantic emails to friends: "It gets better, right? I think I remember from last summer . . . it gets better."

And it has. Summer, in all its messy, hot, sweaty, bright, busy glory is here, and the children fight, and the children get in bed with me in the morning and lie on my stomach and ask for blueberries, and the children shriek with joy, and it is better. Fun, even.

Fun, especially when I throw my virtual hands up in the air sometimes and let the girls eat cookies in a tree

or order pool food for dinner (yes, those are Doritos)

or make a huge mess in the playroom and leave it there, untouched, for days. (I give myself huge mom points when I let them do that.)

The house is finally, finally, almost totally and completely done. And just in time, too, because while I had been quite Zen-like in my acceptance of the timeline and the endless parade of people in and out of my house, my Zen-like qualities are (very) limited, and it turns out that two and half months is my limit for a construction project. Behold, the backyard:

out the back door - before
side view - before

out the back door - after

side view - after

We have clearly not created acres of park-like space, but we have managed to make our little area useable, and it's so much better than it was when it was concrete and pea gravel. The girls love the hot tub (especially since they get cold at the pool on a 93-degree day in the sunshine) and can usually be found squealing at the jets or creating elaborate arrangements of Polly Pockets in the water.

The laundry room is done, too, though I haven't taken many after shots yet. Look at this

then imagine them full of baskets and backpacks and coats, and then imagine how pleased I am that behind those lockers is a little room containing main floor laundry and a new washer and dryer. (I am very pleased.) My neighbor was outside when the delivery guys took my old washer and dryer out from the basement and she now regards me as having been living like a pioneer woman, what with my dryer from 1904 and my washing machine that required a pliers to start it.

All in all, we're chumming along just fine here in summer 2012. Jason and I celebrated 13 happy years of marriage on Tuesday, and I took a whirlwind and surreal trip to NYC early this week, too, which included car service, six hours on the town with two good friends, national television, and sharing a green room with Justin Bieber. More on that next time.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hello, Summer

This morning, Annie got ready for school for the last time until September. Considering that the last two mornings have abruptly brought epic bouts of dressing drama, obsession with changing earrings and donning a million Silly Bandz, and actual dragging out of the house five minutes after our usual leaving time, this is sort of a relief. (Sort of.) (Some people in our house do not do well with transitions.)

And thus ends second grade, the last time I'll confidently feel that I "know" what sort of standards and curriculum my child is working with. Annie brought home her writing journal from the year this week. A few choice excerpts:

In September: "On my birthday I love to open Presents because I like to see what People gave me who came to my Party. I also like to eat cake because somtimes it is cheesecake and I love cheesecake."

On November 28, 2011: "On Thanksgiving I went to my grandma and grandpa's house and saw my cousins. At lunch we had turkey, cranberry sauce, macht potatos, stuffing, and gravy. And rolls. It was fun. We also had grape juice. I have a lot more to say but that would take forever."

On January 6, 2012: "If I could fly, I would make friends with birds and build a nest. If I was a robin my favorite season would be spring."

On January 19, 2012: "When I got my ears pirst I was a little nerves. I was so happy and excited to show my grandpa and my dad! My sister covered her eyes. After that, I had a Petacire. I tried to pick the same color of my earrings. It wasn't the exact same color."

On February 6, 2012: "On Saturday my mom and dad went to a wedding and my grandma and grandpa took care of me and my sister. My grandpa is pretty silly."

"On spring break I went to my grandma's house for Easter. I decided to wash my moms car in fifty-one degree whether and I was so cold I sat in the bucket of hot water! I went to my cousins house on wednsday and had lots of fun. I went to a park and got cookies while we were at the park because there was a shop called toms moms cookies. My cousins names are Berit and Marta. We sometimes call Berit B and Marta Mart. They are both girls. My sister went too. One day I got into a fight with Berit. My sisters name is Jemma. Me and Jemma stayed for two and a half days. My Aunts name is Lisa and my uncles name is Trever. He is my dads brother. They are very silly together. Me and Jemma had so much fun! P.S. I am the oldest kid in the family.


Right now, I'm full of ambitious plans to do a small amount of daily "school" stuff with the girls this summer. We all do better with a little structure in our days, so I've stocked up on journals and flashcards, workbooks and crayons, and I'm hoping to start each morning with an hour or so of fun-yet-educational activities. I'm picturing me with my coffee and the girls with their heads bent happily over a sheet of paper, or perhaps a mini writing lesson on our chalkboard easel, or maybe one girl doing the yoga DVD while I do math flashcards with the other one. I'm sure this little fantasy of mine is far from reality, but I'm going to give it the old college try anyway. I'm going to loosely organize our learning by theme (switching it up every week or two) and I've asked the girls to brainstorm topics they'd like to learn more about. Here's Annie's list:

the human body
Laura Ingalls Wilder book study
Susan B. Anthony
Vincent Van Gogh
car engines
race and skin color

Sooooooooo . . . that's a nice, broad cross-section, huh?


Just this minute there are exactly zero construction workers in or around my house, a state that has been a rarity since the Monday in early April when the blamming began. We have plants, mulch and sod in our backyard, a fence around the hot tub, tile in the laundry room, and a washer and dryer coming on Monday. I'm sure it will be weeks before it all truly feels finished (trim to paint! table backordered! nothing on the walls! rugs! planters!), but it is nearly so, and I could not be more ready to have my house back. Just in time, it'll be the three of us girls most days for the next three months. I intend to make it good, or at least as good as it can be.

Hello, summer.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

At Your First Sleepover

Dear Annie,

Last night, for the first time ever, you slept somewhere other than at our house or the house of a family member. You slept at a sleepover - a bunch of giggly, silly 7- and 8-year-olds - two blocks away.

We packed your bag together yesterday afternoon. You wanted to bring your pillow pet instead of a real pillow, two Ivy and Bean books, a flashlight, a watch, a water bottle, a brush and toothbrush, and "cozy clothes" to change into this morning. You were equal parts nervous and excited. I told you that, if you wanted, you could call me any time and I'd walk over and pick you up. "That would be embarrassing," you said, and I was pretty sure you'd opt to stay the whole night. I slept with my phone next to the bed, just in case.

This morning, we woke up with a house full of family (Mimi and Grandpa are here to help build the fence, and Uncle Trevor slept over, too) but you weren't at the breakfast table, and you aren't watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with Jemma right now, either. I bet you're eating pancakes with your friends or maybe - miracles happen! - you slept in and you'll be groggy and sleepy-eyed when I go to get you in an hour.

I don't specifically remember my first sleepover, but I do remember sleepovers per se: lots of late-night basement dancing, popcorn everywhere, watching the movie Mannequin (and a fight with my mom over whether I'd be allowed to watch Dirty Dancing) (I wasn't), talking until our eyes were shut and whole minutes would pass between conversations, waking up with crazy hair and having other people's moms cook breakfast in their bathrobes.

I can't believe (and isn't this the theme of parenting?) that I have a little girl who is old enough to experience these things for herself, but there it is. You did. You are. And later today, when I will probably be putting up with an overtired daughter, I should do two things: call my mom and thank her for putting up with sleepovers for years, and be grateful for the budding friendships you are building now that will hopefully carry you through years of your life.