Monday, March 28, 2011

Confessions of an Amateur Photographer and Adventures in Pest Control. Alternatively Titled: The Final Days of Spring Break 2011

How about that rain?

I don't think there has ever been a sunny spring break here in Eugene during my lifetime. I'm pretty sure if there had been, people would still be talking about it, because it would have been a VERY BIG DEAL and probably broken some meteorological record or something and maybe there would be a state holiday or at least a commemorative plaque somewhere because it always rains here during spring break.

(On a loosely related note, one of my coworkers recently asked me if I remembered the Big Snowstorm of '69. '69?! As in 1969?WTF??!! And here I had been all bent out of shape because teenagers think I'm a soccer mom. Sheesh.)

I think I have mentioned before that I am actually one of those weird people who likes the rain. I know it's strange and I can understand why the weather gets to other people, but me? I am okay with some rain. I like being all cozied up by the roaring fire and wearing my hooded sweatshirt and yoga pants like some official Domestic Army uniform. Also, I like to crank up that oven and do some serious baking and you just can't do that when it's 90 degrees in your kitchen. Or at least you shouldn't. (Sometimes I do. Sometimes I just need me some cookies.)

(On another loosely related note, if Brent ever leaves me it will probably be because I asked him to chop kindling for the fifty billionth time too many... Yeah, yeah equal rights. Blah blah blah. The reality is that me chopping firewood is a scary thing. Just ask my neighbors.)

So a good portion of this spring break has been spent in the kitchen baking breads, muffins, cookies, and brownies. Also, I've spent a good amount of time attempting to coax fires in our wood stove, since Brent has been out and about working hard to bring home some cash money this week. Our crazy flip flop seasonal employment thing works pretty well most of the time, but in December, January and February when we are down to one meager income, things can get more than a little tight. As in beans and rice for dinner again? Brent has been a handyman jack-of-all-trades type this week and I've had the house and kids all to myself. Which means that I stoke up that wood stove and bake my heart out and pretty soon the kids are sweating and asking if I'll open a window.

But there are time when you just have to suck it up and head out in the rain for a hike at Mount Pisgah. It doesn't matter if everyone's rain boots are still wet from playing in the rain the day before. You just go.

Some disclosure here: I really don't know much about photography. I am a trial and error photographer, and I use that p word loosely. I shoot with a Canon Rebel and most often use the no flash mode. I typically end up with about five million pictures each week and then I wade through them until I find a few decent ones to post on this blog. So I think many of you have been assuming that I know what I am doing- ha ha. Fooled you. I am a total amateur.

Brent has patiently tried to explain the basics to me, but his version of being patient and my ability to understand these concepts does not, shall we say, mesh well. Aperture? Shutter speed? Huh?

If there is one thing I learned in grad school... and, well, come to think of it, it might just be the one thing I learned in grad school, it's all about the metacognition. Metacog what? Understanding how you learn best. So my metacognition told me long ago that I was never ever ever ever going to be able to learn how to use my camera either by reading the manual or by listening to Brent's rapid-fire-information-overload-blah-blah-technical-terms-over-my-head very informative and helpful photography lectures. And so I came to rely on those handy automatic settings.

Yet I knew, in my heart of hearts, that there was a real photographer (again, loose term) trapped somewhere inside of me cringing whenever I turned that dial to no flash mode and laughing as I cursed my blurring action pictures and out-of-focus portraits. And so fairly recently I started venturing into the world of manual settings and sometimes my shots look pretty sweet. And often it's a total disaster. And most of the time I'm not sure what I did to achieve either of those results.

But then my friend Erin (hi Erin!) introduced me to the wonderful world of PHOTOSHOP and ACTIONS and MY GOD! LOOK AT MY PICTURES! THEY LOOK ALL OLD TIMEY AND YET HIP AT THE SAME TIME!

And many of you are like duh, Photoshop has been around for like ever and all this time you could have been photoshopping out your wrinkles and whitening your teeth like everyone else does.

Sometimes I am a bit behind in the times. I bought music from iTunes for the first time this weekend. FOR THE FIRST TIME!

Don't worry, I'm not going to go all out Photoshop crazy or anything, but if I can jazz up some dreary hiking in the rain pictures from time to time, you bet I'm down. Because when I'm messing around on the computer eating cookies in my yoga pants I like to feel like I'm on the cutting edge of something other than the couch.

Now that I have confessed my newfound love for Photoshop, I want to commit the following pledge. I won’t be photoshopping our lives on this blog, oh no. I intend to continue recording our lives authentically; even if that means that I talk about poop a lot. Or throw up. Or simultaneous throw up and poop.

(Jack calls diarrhea “throw up poop”- I find that hilariously accurate. Further proof that my child is, in fact, a genius.)

But today’s story has nothing to do with poop. Well, mostly nothing to do with poop. There’s some poop involved in the back story, but I’ll go ahead and start with the poop-free part. Confused yet?

We have a live animal trap in our backyard. You might be wondering why we would have such a contraption in our possession and in order to answer that I’d have to launch into an epic tirade that would take waaaaaay too much of my time (and yours too) and it does have something to do with poop… and… well… let’s just say we have R.O.U.S.s. That’s right. Rodents of Unusual Size. Yep, we have a problem that only a live animal trap can fix. And that’s all I’m going to say about that because, well, it just is.

So there I was, at home with the kids, baking cookies because… of course I was baking cookies, and minding my own business when I looked out the kitchen window and saw that the trap door had shut. This meant only one thing: an R.O.U.S had been captured! But some foliage blocked my view, so I couldn’t see exactly who our victim was and I sent Jack to the sliding glass door to investigate. Whatever he saw caused him to collapse into a fit of hysterics and fat tears rolled down his chubby red cheeks as he struggled to explain just what was so funny. I hurried to scrub cookie dough from my hands and ran to the door, dreading what I might see.

One of our chickens, Hazel, was stuck in the trap!

You might think that is the punch line of the story. Sadly, it is not. I still had to get the damn chicken out of the trap and if you’ve ever operated a live animal trap or attempted to move a chicken against its will, you will have some sympathy for me in this endeavor.

Also, it was pouring. Because… OF COURSE IT WAS POURING!

And so I ventured out from the cozy warmth of my kitchen into the downpour to perform the chicken rescue. My first thought was that if I could just get the door open, Hazel would just obediently walk out.

Ha ha.

Those doors are tricky because they’re all, like, animal proof and stuff. Eventually I managed to get one side of the thing open and hoist it up into the air so that I could shake the chicken out. Except Hazel had other ideas. She was clinging onto that cage for dear life with her creepy chicken fingers and feathers were flying and I was shaking and shaking and shaking. And then bits of tuna (the bait) start flying around and feathers are in my face and FOR THE LOVE OF GOD! CALGON TAKE ME AWAY! Out she came with a ceremonious plop and she ran off cackling about it to her friends. I stood there in the rain while my children pressed their faces up against the sliding glass door laughing their asses off at me.

And there’s just no way Photoshop can make this story look any better. So see? I’m keepin’ it real here, y’all. Even if I did Photoshop some soft edges onto that trillium picture.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What a Picture is Worth

I saw a picture of a dog on the beach that made me feel sentimental and impulsive and suddenly I am in the car with both kids strapped tight in the backseat cruising 126 with a backpack full of extra clothes and a picnic lunch and Lauryn Hill is serenading us as I try really hard to obey the speed limit.

And I've driven 126 west so many times that I'm on autopilot and Ken Kesey interrupts my thoughts and I remember sitting in the sun on our deck and telling Brent I was pregnant, while a tattered copy of Sometimes a Great Notion sat on my lap. I will never forget the last lines of that book and how it all spoke to me in some weird and inexplicable way and how I held back tears, though the end is mostly happy and I didn't understand why the hairs on my neck stood up and I felt like crying. And a tiny Jack grew and cells divided and I sat in the warm sun and marveled at the strangeness of this life. Later I learned that Sometimes a Great Notion was my mom's favorite book. So now the tears make sense.

I hold two small hands as we explore the beach and I see things through a different lens. We chase the waves and laugh and get soaking wet and we all start shivering but nobody seems to care.

I wipe salty faces and try to get everyone's hands at least somewhat clean before lunch. And then I stop caring about that and we eat our peanut butter and jellies on a sandy picnic table and no one complains.

When the drizzle turns to a downpour we seek refuge in Sea Lion Caves and I don't even blink when they charge us a small fortune to get in the door. Because I am feeling impulsive, and these days being impulsive maybe means spending outside of the budget on something frivolous. Like sea lions.

I stand in line with a group of teenagers behind me and I can hear them laughing and carrying on the way only teenagers can and I wonder if they see me as a middle aged lady in a raincoat. I want to turn around and ask them to share the joke, because I don't feel like a middle aged lady in a raincoat. I feel like someone who would get it.

We end up at the dock and wander among the aging ships and I wonder who owns them. Where do they sail to? Jack does not understand why we can't go aboard. I consider trespassing for a moment, and then reality comes back to whack me over the head. I'm too old and responsible to do something like that.

I am almost thirty five years old and if I live as long as my mom did, that means I have ten years left. And I know as I hold small hands and look into the eyes of those small people who call me mama that it's not enough. I try to push that thought to the dark and cobwebby parts of my mind, but it is always there.

And so I focus instead on ice cream and smile as grandmotherly types comment about the adorable and sticky mess that Sawyer becomes and I know that I made the right choice when I saw the picture of the dog on the beach.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring Break Continued, My New Philosophy on Parenting, and an Open Invitation

I've never really read a parenting book. I'm sure I skimmed a couple of websites way back when I was newly pregnant and had time to sit around musing about the behavior of my unborn children. I seem to remember something about Dr. Sears and embracing the notion that I'd be wearing my kids around for the first year of their lives, picking them up every time they cried, and nursing them whenever they were hungry or needed the kind of comfort only mama's milk can bring.

But these days I am just winging it. One of my friends who is VERY VERY pregnant (we'll talk more about her later) was telling me about a parenting book she read that emphasized the idea of raising your kids in a family centered rather than child centered house. Hmmm. I had to think on that one for a minute. I've always thought that the kids should be the focus of the household and well, actually they are kind of the center of the universe around here and we do seem to bow down to their every command... and wait one second here! She's right! Screw the kids, let's focus on the whole family for a change! And also, MEEEEE!

But just what does that look like? I had to ask. Her explanation was simple: kids need to see that adults have their own lives, too. As in there are other things we do that don't involve wiping noses, building lego fire trucks, and reading bedtime stories. We even have... wait for it... our own RELATIONSHIPS and FRIENDSHIPS!

Again with the hmmm. I like the sound of this parenting book.

And so as parents we should model for our children the relationships we would like them to one day have. We should have people over for dinner and carry on a conversation without catering to EVERY SINGLE INTERRUPTION from the kids. We should make time for our partners to do things that do not include the kids. And finally, we should make plans with our friends and let the kids come along for the ride.

And the more I thought about it, I realized that this was exactly how I had approached my weekend with my friend, Melanie.

Sure, there was coloring to do.

And plenty of new and exciting toys to be played with.

But there was also Movie Time, which is parenting code for Drinking and Ignoring the Children Time.

Melanie and I ate cold sandwiches for dinner and then snacked on approximately five pounds of pistachios while polishing off the top shelf wine from Plaid Pantry. Don't worry all you mandatory reporters out there, the kids were in bed long before the bottle was through.

And the next day when the sun broke through the clouds for an hour or so, we frolicked in the backyard with juice boxes and popcorn and Ninkasi Double Believer Red. Melanie declared it was the best beer she has ever tasted. And that means a lot when you consider she is from Bend and must therefore claim Deschutes Pride.

However, when the weather resumed its oppressively cold and rainy punk attitude, it became difficult to keep four small children from climbing the walls and destroying the house. So we took them all to the Portland Children's Museum and let them climb the walls and wreak their pent up havoc there.

Giant Litebrite? Oh yeah! It was like Vegas for toddlers.

I am about to sound like a total jerk here. Prepare yourselves. I'm going to go all out MOMMYBLOGGER on you and gush about how my kid is a genius. I've tried reeeeaaaaalllllly hard not to tell you this already because I know what a dumbass many of you will think I am, but seriously you guys? Jack is FREAKISHLY smart. I should get his IQ tested. He is headed for TAG camp for sure. I could go on, but I'll stop because I think you get the point: MY KID IS A GENIUS!

Okay, so being a child genius sometimes means that you do things, well, differently from other kids your age. Case in point, the oversized Lincoln Logs museum exhibit. Most of the kids were using them as weapons of mass destruction. A few had halfheartedly stood the logs up on their ends and watched them topple over. But not Jack. He got right down to business and planned out an elaborate cabin which included windows (do you remember how hard it is to get your windows right with Lincoln Logs? Do you recognize the complex spacial thinking involved in this process? We are talking the HIGHEST LEVEL OF BLOOM'S TAXONOMY here people!). A small crowd of adults soon gathered around Jack, who remained oblivious to their presence and continued to construct the cabin. I crept up behind them and overheard murmurs of "How old is that boy?" and "Whose kid is he?" and as I tried to discreetly redirect him to another activity I was peppered with all kinds of questions about Jack as his apparently amazing building skills. Smiling sigh. My kid- the Lincoln Log genius.

The genius who still puts his underwear on backwards and can't tie his own shoes.

Okay okay, so now that I have totally dorked out about my smart kid, let me tell you a dirty little secret about myself which will hopefully negate any feeling of animosity you are feeling toward me for declaring that my kid is a genius.

I abhor fast food. I am a total freakishly healthy eater. I obsess about organic produce and nutritional values and added salt and preservatives and food dye and blah blah blah. But! I am a total hypocrite when it comes to two things: cookies and Burgerville. We almost always have cookies in our house. I bake cookies on a weekly basis, sometimes more frequently if we are feeling extra snacky. I have cookies baking in the oven RIGHT THIS MINUTE. I love cookies. And I also love Burgerville. The fries! The milkshakes! The veggie burgers! There is no Burgerville in Eugene (this is fortunate, I think) and so every time I go to Portland I must indulge my Burgerville demons. But Burgerville is kind of expensive and so the kids had french fries and milk shakes for lunch. Yikes. Oops.

And then we headed home and had our friends Kate and Aaron over for a dinner of pizza and Buttermilk Blueberry Cake, of course. I served the kids some extra peas that night too, you know, to make up for the whole fries and shakes lunch thing. Kate is days away from birthing a baby girl and Sawyer was visibly fixated by her round tummy.

Oh who am I trying to fool? Clearly my world does revolve around these kids. Just look how excited I get about my kid putting some damn Lincoln Logs together. But that doesn't mean that I don't do my fair share of sitting around sipping a drink or two with some friends. Isn't it all about finding that elusive balance anyway?

And so, on that note, cheers to the home stretch of Spring Break 2011. Anyone want to come have a celebratory beer with me?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Taking a Break

First let's start with a brief photo recap from our last trip to Bounce Gymnastics. At five bucks per kid, I'd say we get more than our money's worth with each visit.

And now on to Spring Break 2011!

Being at home this week means I get to indulge in certain pleasures like taking Jack to his soccer class. Wow. I totally need to figure out Coach Andrew's secret for mesmerizing and commanding small children. This guy needs to quit his day job and sell that juju. Or at least give me a couple of pointers. Again, wow.

It's rare that I get to see Jack in a group dynamic where another adult is in charge. I am always surprised at how well he listens and how eager he is to please, since we don't always see the cooperative and amenable side of him at home. It's clear that Jack takes his budding soccer career very seriously.

Sawyer puts his entire body into each kick. As I have said before, he is a daily crack up.

Staying home also means I can lay claim to the breakfast table. I have a total love/hate relationship with breakfast. I LOVE LOVE LOVE to stay home in my pjs and sip countless cups of coffee while flipping blueberry pancakes, but that kind of luxury is usually reserved for the weekend. That pesky job of mine often interferes with my lounging and breakfasting and there are many mornings when pouring a few bowls of cereal is the best I can do. But I really hate cereal and the cold, hollow emptiness that inevitably follows you throughout the morning. I want my kids (and me, too!) to be satiated, satisfied and ready to start the day and a soggy old bowl of flakes just isn't going to cut it. Also, the insane packaging! Now before you go disparaging me for being a dirty Eugene hippy (which I would totally own except that I'm actually quite neat and tidy), just look at a box of cereal! It's so much packaging for such little product. Yes, yes, I know, the freshness, you say. Bah! It's a racket. I loathe breakfast cereal. Anyway. Back to the love. The kids and I have been loving up some Puffy Oven Pancakes (check your Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook- it's in there) because not only can you whip it up in a snap, it's also quite fun to stand transfixed in front of the oven as the pancake puffs up and out of the pie plate. Perhaps the kids and I are just easily amused? Brent doesn't like the puffies because he says they're "too eggy". More for the rest of us, I say.

Jack spends some quality time with Beatrice Potter while digesting the pancakes.

And speaking of eggs, it turns out that the best way to get your non-laying chickens to restart their egg production is to buy new chicks. Eggs a plenty is this house right now, and by summer we'll be getting four a day. Brent really should give the Puffy Oven Pancake another try.

The kids spend a lot of time cooking with me and I recently realized that they can actually be somewhat helpful in the kitchen. I was making carrot cake cupcakes the other day and Jack ceremoniously announced that he would be grating the carrots. Hmmmkay. I had all sorts of visions of grated fingers and bloody cupcakes but it turns out that he's actually a pretty decent prep cook. Sawyer arrived wearing his fleece cap and no pants and proceeded to throw carrots on the floor. He is lucky that I love him so much.

I think our new go to dinner is Golden Tofu with Peanut Sauce from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Seriously, how did I live without this book for so long?

Ninkasi just started selling their beers in twelve ounce bottles. Life could not get much better around here.

One of my goals for the break was to clean out the playroom. All playrooms have the unfortunate tendency to turn into pits of despair and ours was no exception. Although we've tried to keep the kids' consumerism to a minimum they still end up with heaps and heaps of toys. I seriously wonder if they multiply in the night when no one is watching. I'd planted the idea in Jack's head that we'd be doing some spring cleaning and that we'd be donating some of his old toys to charity. Jack jumped right on board with this idea and began feeding me lines about giving toys away to kids who don't have toys and how he and Sawyer have too much stuff and how it feels good to give your things to others. I was both surprised and impressed by his newfound philanthropic attitude. Maybe all of this quality parenting mumbo jumbo had its merit! It was all sinking in! Things were starting to pay off! My son was becoming a thoughtful and generous human being! My heart swelled with pride.

And then it deflated once again when he went on to say that all of this empty space in the playroom would be just perfect for ALL OF HIS NEW TOYS! Wha? Yeah, he totally thought we were clearing out shelves for a shopping spree. Greedy little...

Compromise. It's certainly the key to marriage and it just might be the golden ticket for parenting as well. I told Jack that if he wanted new toys he would have to cash in his piggy bank. A bit of history here, Jack has been hoarding pennies and stealing change out of my purse for years now to deposit into his piggy. He often talks about taking us all to Disneyland with his money and so it was clear to me that the kid has no real concept of currency, inflation, or the economic recession. But he has been holding this piggy full of riches near and dear to his heart for years now and so I was surprised when he quickly agreed to spend it. I thought this might be a teachable moment about the value of money/a family outing with a bonus lesson in economics and so we loaded into the car and heading for the nearest coin counting machine. Jack soon learned he had $29. He awkwardly stuffed the bills into his pocket and then had a mini meltdown when I reminded him that we had to drop off the old toys at the donation site before we even thought about new toys. When we finally arrived at Toys R Us, Brent and I knew we were in for the long haul. Jack has a very hard time making decisions and when you are about to spend your entire life savings on new toys, you just don't mess around. He thoroughly inspected about fifty different options before settling on a knights/castle/dragon set that is actually pretty cool. Jack handed over his cash without a moment's hesitation and then spent the entire afternoon lost in a world of swords, armor, and chivalry. So I guess it was a pretty good day.

Did he learn anything? I don't know. I'm not sure that any lesson on charitable donation and/or monetary value could have possibly be gleaned from this experience. Sigh. This parenting thing is hard sometimes, but at least now the playroom is less of a pit. And that means I have more room for sewing. Who is the greedy one now?

Uncle Nick and Aunt Mishaun paid us an impromptu visit. Jack commented, "It's like Christmas when they come!"

And how will we be spending the rest of the break? Today the kids and I head up north to visit my friend Melanie and her kids who now live in Portland. And if you read anything about my summer trip to visit her in Bend, you'll know why I ask you to cross your fingers for us.