Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Good Things, July 2013

I . . . what . . . where . . . . what happened to this month? I'm just sneaking this edition of "Good Things" in under the wire, and feeling sad that another summer month is over so soon. I'm stiff-arming any mentions of school supplies, soccer practice schedules, or fall clothing and hoping for a solid month of sunshine, adventures, and sleeping in.

I MUST stop making these (I blame Smitten Kitchen, of course).

A festive 4th of July!

Lake Michigan love

Jemma playing "Cuckoo" after a shower

 . . . and burning through The Boxcar Children series.

Green beans from my grandpa's garden (also: bacon).

Memory out on the side porch

The way the play room has become the music room



More (healthier?) Smitten Kitchen: The Wedge Salad
A scorcher of a day, spent at the pool

Catching crickets at nature camp

Late-night sushi

Happy girl at family happy hour


Jemma-made peach-blueberry crisp

an afternoon at the park

underwater "talking"

My talented pianist with her fabulous teacher

An incredible concert

Morning faces like these

Funny Steve Martin at Meijer Gardens

Monday, July 22, 2013

For Katie

We had a good weekend: my sister-in-law's 30th birthday, which merited a cozy dinner at The Chop House; my brother and sister-in-law's backyard wedding reception, which involved two big white tents and lots of casual, yummy food with family; blueberry pancakes; a family bike ride and playground stop; hot tub baths last night before the thunderstorm; farmers' market; morning runs; burgers on the grill; a quick visit to Lake Michigan on Sunday afternoon.

And then today was back to normal: dentist appointments, groceries, errands, laundry. (Am I the only one who feels like a hero when I wash all the sheets and re-make the beds? I feel like that implies that I don't do it that often, which I'll neither confirm nor deny.) Tonight, Jason and Annie were taping a segment about the upcoming piano concert at a local TV station (I'll try to say that casually, as though my eight-year-old being on TV is no big deal). Jemma and I decided to bake something (I voted for this; she overruled me with this), so we were in the kitchen together - aprons on, little chair pulled up to the counter by the sink, flour and butter and measuring cups everywhere.

As I was peeling peaches, she stuck her little face close to the bowl to smell them and I could see the sun-freckles on her nose. I fed her a slice of peach and we talked about getting more tomorrow from the market, then putting on old clothes and eating them outside, letting the juice run down our chins and get all over our shirts.

"Did you ever do that?" she asked.

"Yep," I said. "Peaches only taste like this for a few weeks. You have to eat them as much as you can."

I sunk the paring knife into the skin of the last peach and slowly pulled the skin off the flesh in a big chunk. I was thinking about how some moments are extraordinary, like watching the moon rise over the Swiss Alps or under the Eiffel Tower, and some are ordinary, like teaching your daughter how to peel a peach. I showed her how I tugged the skin away slowly, pulling off a wide swath before starting again at the top. I told her how, in a few years, I'd let her practice doing it herself with the knife, and a few years after that, she'd be doing it all by herself.

"And someday, maybe you'll have a little boy or girl, and you'll teach them how to peel peaches in your kitchen," I said, thinking about baking with my mom and feeling all Circle of Life about this cinnamon-scented baking moment. "Who do you think taught me how to peel peaches?" I asked.

"I don't know," said Jemma.

"Guess," I said.

And she said, "Mrs. McIntosh?" Her kindergarten teacher.

And though my friend Katie did not, in fact, teach me how to peel peaches, I love that Jemma thought she might have. Because in Jemma's little almost-first-grade mind, her beloved kindergarten teacher can teach us all anything she wants to. Because in reality, that idea is actually pretty true in its own special way, especially this summer. This summer, Mrs. McIntosh is teaching me to treasure the moments - both extraordinary and ordinary - that make up a life, including a Monday night making peach and blueberry crumbles with my Jemma.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Nightly News

It's the third or fourth ninety-something-degree day in a row this morning, so I quit trying to do anything productive (press releases, piano concert promotion, articles due, email) and declare that we're going to the pool. On the way there, Annie, per usual, is both looking at a library book and chatting up a storm.

" . . . And then in book 22 of Cam Jansen, the teacher gets arrested!"

Me: "Hmmm."

Annie: "But then I bet they find out that someone else is the thief."

Me: "Mmmmm-hmmmmmm."

Annie: "Because a teacher wouldn't ever do anything bad like that, right?"

Me, stalling: "Hmmm?"

Annie: "RIGHT?"

Me, brightly: "Not any teacher that I've ever known!"


When Jason and I were gone last month, I left behind a four-page, single-spaced Microsoft Word document to instruct the grandparents on how to live our life at our house. It included exciting details such as how much to feed the cats, library card pin numbers, pediatrician phone numbers, when to put out the trash, how to get to tennis camp, how to leave the washing machine door ajar so as to avoid mildew on the seal, and where to find spare toilet paper (in the "Costco pantry" in the basement, obviously). It also included a paragraph that went something like:

"The girls may watch cartoons on PBS or Nick Jr. on demand, usually for no more than an hour at a time. They both know how to get to math and typing games on the computer, but no computers in bedrooms. Please don't have the news on while they're awake or around; we don't watch the news around them."

My parents came over for the afternoon a week or so before we were scheduled to leave, so they could look over the instructions and get familiar with the various machines and procedures, and my mom stopped abruptly when she read this section of the document.

"You don't let them see the news?" she asked.

"Nope. Not really," I said.

"Well, why not?" she said.

"Well, we actually don't watch it, anyway - never really have - and there's a lot of stuff on there that we don't especially want to explain to them yet, at ages six and eight," I said.

My mom made a face. "Well, they have to learn about the world eventually," she said, and it was clear that she disagreed with our policy.

The reason I gave her is partially true: Jason and I really don't watch the news, nightly, cable, morning or otherwise. I remember watching CNN in college during the Clinton scandal, and I actually like to catch the occasional "Meet the Press" or newsy roundtable on the treadmill from time to time, but most news these days seems like sensationalistic fear-mongering and incomplete sound-bytes. It raises my anxiety level and makes me feel helpless and depressed, and we don't turn it on. So our television-news-free house would probably be television-news-free even if we were also child-free.

I do, however, consume news. I read it online, and I listen to it on NPR. I like the longer, nuanced, in-depth perspectives that those formats provide, and sometimes I'll even take the time to read the comments on an article (though never, ever on MLive, where the commenters make you lose your faith in humanity), because they can poke holes in or confirm the conclusion of an article. And even when I do those things, I still shield the kids from it. I minimize the website when they come in the room. I turn off NPR when they're in the car on the way to the pool, asking their mostly-innocent questions about teachers and morality.

Why? I suppose I want to tell them the truth ("No teacher I've ever known!") but not the whole truth ("Some teachers would."). I suppose I want them to just BE KIDS for a bit longer, to let them make fairy houses and read mysteries and cannonball into the pool without letting them worry about a Florida teenager shot by a neighborhood watch patrol, without explaining bankruptcy or celebrity drug use or armed robbery or protests in Egypt.

Later, after we returned from our trip, I surveyed a few friends: Did they let their kids watch the news? The answer, resoundingly, was no. They didn't. Why, asked one mom, give them information that they can't do anything about? Why, asked another, fuel an anxiety-prone child by providing video footage of real-life nightmares? I decidedly don't want to shelter my girls from the reality of the world. But I don't want to push them too quickly into it, either, and I don't think I'm alone.

I can't remember, exactly, when I learned about the world and all the events on the nightly news. Based on my mom's reaction, I think I'm correct in remembering that the 6:00 news was always on in our living room after dinner, though I don't have any concrete memories of it beyond being shushed during the weather report. I remember watching The Challenger explode at takeoff in third or fourth grade, and then I remember watching the first Gulf War begin at some point during middle school. Between those two events, it's static, nothing.

Rationally, I know that there's a time, just around the proverbial corner, when Annie - and, later, Jemma - will deserve to know what's happening, and will need my help in interpreting it all. I just can't quite find the conviction that it needs to happen yet. Maybe next year, I think as we pull into the pool parking lot. Or the next.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Instagram Feed: Returned to Normal

One thing about being gone for much of June is that it took forever for me to feel like it was really, truly summer. In Paris, it was cool and cloudy, and the Michigan spring had been so cold and gloomy before we left. Up until last weekend, our family hadn't spent any time at Lake Michigan, hadn't been covered in sunscreen and sand, hadn't eaten inappropriate amounts of ice cream or stayed up to watch the sun set over the water or fallen asleep in the car, exhausted from a day of swimming in a pool with a diving board.

We've remedied that since we've been home, with a family reunion in Grand Haven (pool, lawn games, the same homemade vanilla ice cream we've been having there since I was a little girl), a trip to South Haven and Saugatuck (sandcastles, dinner out at Wally's, frisbee in the sand, and more ice cream), and a Sunday afternoon at the beach in Holland (with a stop for ice cream on the way home). We've caught fireflies, made blueberry pancakes for breakfast, instituted happy hour on the side porch as much as possible, dragged the sprinkler out, and spent at least one night in the hot tub looking at the stars way past our bedtime.

Then, this past weekend, we had two wonderful nights with good friends at their cottage. It meant paddle boarding, sandy hands reaching for snacks on the beach, hikes in the dunes, morning coffee and nighttime guitar on the deck, five very blond little heads at the dinner table (Luke's prayer: "Dear God, please help everyone to get more and more healthier and awesome, Amen") and reading bedtime stories, grown-up mishaps after the kids were in bed, holding other peoples' babies, water balloon launchers, great food, tons of laughter. Summer is here, indeed, and I've never been more glad and grateful for all the normal things.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dream a Little Dream: Paris and Other Places

Two weeks ago tonight, Jason and I were fresh off a long flight home and mere hours into our abrupt return to normal after two weeks jaunting around Europe together. Both going there and coming home were their own little culture shocks, of course, and these past two weeks at home have been nothing - NOTHING - like the two weeks that preceded them.


They've been so much the opposite of a European vacation that I haven't been able to find the time to write about the European vacation. But I also, crazily, haven't wanted to put our trip into words because, in some sort of magical thinking, I felt as though, if I wrote about it, it'd really be over. (Note to self: it is over.) And I think I was avoiding writing about it for another reason, too: namely, who leaves their kids and takes a two-week trip to Europe for no real reason in their mid-thirties? Isn't that what you do when you're retired empty-nesters who join a bus tour of the Netherlands?

So I'm disoriented and nostalgic and a little sheepish, I guess, is what I'm trying to say. But even though I kept a little journal while we were gone (where we ate, what we saw, what we did, etc.), I want to collect a few memories here, too.

Here's the thing: back in January of 2011, I published a fun Life List on this blog, as a culmination of some of the ideas and goals I'd been toying with as I thought about which direction I wanted my life to take. Maybe this is a normal thing to do in your mid-thirties, maybe not, but somewhere along the line, I had the realization that there was not going to be an infinite amount of time. There might be a lot of years, sure, but there might not, and I became far more aware of how I used my time and far more intentional about going to those places and doing those things that had always been hazy "someday" dreams. (I've since accomplished a bunch of things on that list, some of which I crossed off and some of which I still need to cross off, and I actually hadn't looked at it in quite a while and may want to change it. For example, the six-minute mile is possibly no longer in reach. Which is fine. It's MY list. I can change it.)

One of those dreams( though it's not exactly on the list) was to return to Vienna, Austria with Jason. We'd both gone during a college summer program, though not the same summer, and on one long road trip to Baltimore when I was pregnant with Annie, we talked about how, someday, we'd establish a scholarship fund for the Vienna Summer School program and we'd go back together. A couple years ago, we started the fund, and last summer we started planning this trip. We hoped to go back while the same dear professor was still running the program, and we weren't sure how much longer he'd be doing it. We met him for dinner. We started reading travel blogs. We checked out books from the library. We talked to grandparents about child care. We hoarded credit card points for flights. Jason spent an inordinate amount of time on Google Earth. And I started dreaming about Paris, not because I'd taken French, or had friends tell me I had to go, or seen a specific movie, but just because I have always sort of felt like I'd be sad if I didn't go to Paris with Jason at some point in my life. Seize the day, and all that.

Well, we seized it. My Life List should be proud. There was spontaneous stopping to smell the roses in a beautiful garden in Vienna. There was a run through Luxembourg Gardens in the rain in Paris. There was a picnic in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. There was a hike through cows wearing cowbells and fields of wildflowers up to snow-capped mountain peaks (we snuck in a few days in Switzerland between the two cities). There were absurd meals followed by more absurd meals. There was ice cream and croissants and curried prawns and homemade pasta and fondue and gelato and veal and foie gras and croquettes and wine and lobster and cafe creme and cheese and olives and chocolate mousse and duck and champagne and pate and olive oil and truffle salt and caramels. (What I am saying is that we did not lose weight on this trip, despite the hiking and biking and walking miles every day through the cobblestone streets.)

We had so many wonderful moments, so many unforgettable experiences. We rode bikes along the Danube in the 90-degree heat and sunshine, then finally collapsed at a little Italian cafe and drank all the beverages. We hiked up and down gorgeous mountain paths, then drank Swiss beer on a balcony overlooking a waterfall. We celebrated our fourteenth anniversary with a meal just steps from our hotel, looking out at the garden where the salad lettuce had just been picked and watching the moon rise above the mountains. We spent a night with our old professor and this year's group of Vienna Summer School students, sat in on a fascinating lecture, and toasted the group with schnapps on a picnic table in the Austrian Alps. We got on a train in Vienna, went to sleep, and woke up the next morning in Switzerland. We had dinner at the same outdoor biergarten where Jason loved to go almost twenty years ago. We took the Metro to Montmarte and tried French microbrews at a tiny bar with a bartender named Francois. We saw the Mona Lisa, the Thinker, and so many Van Goghs and Monets and Renoirs and Cezannes that we could hardly keep track. We ate three meals at restaurants where you sat down and ate whatever they brought you (ahem, razor clams, pork rilette . . .), and one meal of incredible Spanish tapas at a standing-room-only zinc bar where the chef stood just a few feet away. We watched the sun set along the Seine.

We had two weeks to get up every morning, get out the map, and wander around a gorgeous city together - eating, drinking, talking, getting a little lost, being in awe of the architecture or the natural beauty, depending. We had two weeks to miss the girls fiercely and talk about how soon we could bring them back with us. We had two weeks to be outsiders, with Jason's poor French and our train schedules and indecipherable menus and streets that change names every few blocks.

We took over a thousand pictures. We took a nap almost every day. We took trains and wore backpacks. We took home striped shirts and baby gifts, chocolates and scarves. We took one last look at Paris as our plane rose high in the sky, and I knew that the planning, saving, worrying, and spending had been worth it. It was a literally a dream come true.

It's like a distant memory now, of course. After two weeks crammed into tiny train compartments and petite hotel rooms, our house felt huge. The girls welcomed us home with cake, hugs, and much smelling of faces and stroking of arms. We piled into our bed together, opened gifts, and read books in a pre-bedtime tangle of arms and legs that night two weeks ago, and it's been non-stop togetherness ever since. The quiet conversations at cafes and the leisurely 9:00 p.m. dinners are a thing of the past, and now it's piano practice and "Mom, look!" and settling arguments and chasing fireflies and bathing suits. Which is good, too, in its own way, but also louder. Less charming. More "real."

Tucked away, though, I'll always have this trip. This absurd, impractical, romantic, magical, dreamy trip. And I'm so very glad.