Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Cool Mom

There are a few things in life that make me really crazy. Giraffes are one. Pie crust is another. But! We had a dinner invitation and in the spirit of bringing something summery, I threw caution to the wind and made a rhubarb pie. I say threw caution to the wind because it's really a challenge for me to roll out a pie crust without having a nervous breakdown. But! I did it! Hallelujah!

Dinner with friends who have the backyard of our dreams. Grown up grilled cheese sandwiches. Naked kids and garden broccoli. Heck yes, it's summertime!

Wizard camp graduation.The first of many graduation pictures for these two.

The terrible thing about being a third baby in a busy house with rambunctious boys and a hyperactive dog is that you never get set down on the floor. Clementine is almost always in someone's lap, but she's starting to get some roll around time and I think she'll be crawling soon.

Brent and I say over and over again that we wish she could stay a baby. I'm not sure if it's because she's our last or because she is so sweet, but I do wish I could at least slow time down a bit to enjoy her being like this for even longer.

Third babies definitely grow up faster than first or second ones do.

I went on a major decluttering mission this week. The toy situation in the playroom was spiraling out of control and clean up time was becoming a real hassle. It was all just kind of stressing me out. I hate not being able to find things. I hate my kids flopping around the house and complaining of boredom when a mountain of toys sits ignored. And furthermore, I hate having an entire room of our house devoted exclusively to Legos.  

So I began collecting toys that never get played with and soon I had the whole back of the car filled with bags of toys, clothes, books, and various odds and ends from around the house. And then the next day I did the same thing. And the next. The kids did not seem to care that I was hauling out so many toys, they even joined in acknowledging that they rarely play with anything other than Legos.

In typical give-a-mouse-a-cookie fashion, once I cleared out the playroom I decided it needed a new coat of paint. I decided to thin out my massive collection of fabric. Let's paint the kitchen stool while we are at it! I'll just touch up the paint in the boys' room, too! I had to remind Brent that these sorts of projects always get a lot worse before they get better. I pleased him by clearing out some major garage flotillas while I was at it. It's all been quite exhausting and cathartic.

We always paint in our underwear, don't you?

A big problem for me is getting rid of anything with sentimental value. I have tons of my mom's stuff, but hoarding it serves no purpose except to stress me out. It's time to let go of some things that I'll never use. It's time to be okay with that. There are, of course, many things that I'll never part with because they mean too much to me: the diamond in my wedding ring that I remember my dad showing to me before he gave to her. We wrapped it up with a frying pan so that she'd never suspect what it was on Christmas morning. The quilt that she made me for my high school graduation that I only wish I could have appreciated more at the time. The sewing machine that she used to sew and create in the same way that I do today. But the rest are just things and it's time to move them along. I'll keep the memories with me forever.

The house feels lighter, clean up time is a breeze for the kids, we now have space to make a bedroom for Clementine, and we can actually walk through the garage. So this would be a neat and tidy place to end this.

But that's not really my style.

All these donation trips to the thrift store meant that I knew when it was 50% off all clothing day. And since the boys have requested their Halloween costumes early this year so they can wear them to a birthday party, I had an excuse to sneak off with Jack to the thrift store later that night after dinner. Turns out it was 50% off all toys, too, and after we found the shirt we were looking for Jack begged and begged me to go take a quick look. I totally panicked for a moment thinking he was about to find all of his own castoff toys in the mix, but that's not what happened.

Instead he spied a prehistoric video game system called "My Sports Challenge" which was marked down to $3.50. And I can tell you in that moment that there was no earthly way to say no to those big blue-green eyes. I am not sure how it happened, but every memory of my own childhood toy longing came flooding back and I could not help but become putty in his six-year-old hands. Usually I have no problem saying no to my kids, but this time was the exception. I warned him that it might not work with our TV. I warned him that it might be totally lame. I warned him that Dad might demand that we return it to the thrift store. And then we paid for it and went home.

Brent raised a dubious eyebrow at me as we walked in the door. "This just doesn't seem like something you would buy," he said while setting the game up for two very eager little players. Once he got it going, the pixels were huge and the set was missing a controller. Nevertheless, Jack and Sawyer spent the next hour taking turns bowling, golfing, and playing virtual baseball.

"This is so awesome!" Jack exclaimed. "I can't wait to have my friends come over and play this!"

Brent again raised a dubious eyebrow at me. "You realize this is totally lame, right?" he whispered to me in the kitchen. And as time went on, Jack and Sawyer began to notice that having only one controller really limited what they could play. Jack supposed that when his friends came over they could just take turns, though he was starting to see that it really wasn't much fun to play the games by yourself. Sawyer was starting to see that it really wasn't much fun to watch your brother playing.

And so after they went to bed, I suggested to Brent that we buy a Wii. He nearly choked on his beer. I tried to explain to him something that I really didn't understand myself. That it made me sad to see my kid feel disappointed in something that he wanted so badly. That sometimes I feel bad that my kids have never been to Disneyland or on an airplane, for that matter. That there's a part of me that remembers what it's like to have parents who do things differently than other parents. My mom gave me a quilt for my high school graduation, for god's sake.

And that for once, just once, I wanted to be the cool mom. So we hopped on Craigslist and the deal was quickly done.
And when I'm long gone and it's time to sort through my stuff, I hope my kids will have an easy time sending my things off for donation. I hope they will hang on to a few of the things that mean the most and just let the rest go. One thing is for sure, Jack and Sawyer will always remember the night their mom and dad shocked the hell out of them by buying a Wii.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Homemade Baby Swing and a Happy Father's Day

Remember what it was like before kids? Back when you were sipping wine on your white shag carpet? Back when your stereo/DVD player/martini glass collection sat serenely exposed among your knickknacks and sharp cornered end tables?

Then one day BAM! You have a baby shower and suddenly you are surrounded by pastels and plastic and giraffes (MY GOD THE GIRAFFES!). You put locks on your kitchen cabinets. You put locks on your toilets. You move everything important at least three feet off the ground. You live without a coffee table FOR THE NEXT SIX YEARS because practically every adult you know has a forehead scar from an encounter with a coffee table when he/she was a toddler. You learn to hold your beer between your feet while reading bedtime stories (you gave up on martinis long ago). You special order a deluxe flame-retardant padded hearth cover for your fireplace and then watch two head injuries occur before your very eyes because BOYS WILL BE BOYS and boys will always find a way to hurt themselves.

By the time you have your third baby, you have given up on any sense of home decor. You have resigned yourself to the fact that all gender neutral baby items will be covered with giraffes. You have practically decorated your home in giraffe at this point, so what's one more zoo themed baby item going to hurt?

And yet, there is a part of you who screams out I FUCKING HATE GIRAFFES! 

(Or maybe that's just me.)

At any rate, Clementine needed a swing and I was not about to bring ONE SINGLE MORE pastel/plastic/FUCKING GIRAFFE piece of baby gear into my house. Period.

(My students always wonder why I won't be Facebook friends with them until after they graduate from high school. Newly friended former students, THIS IS WHY. FUCKING GIRAFFES, MAN!)

Anyway. Here's the tutorial Brent and I used for the swing. I wish I would have scaled it down quite a bit. The instructions call for 16 inch long dowels and I think I'd try 14 or 15 next time. Also, I found some of her sewing instructions to be a bit confusing, but that could just be me. I blame the giraffes.

And then there was Father's Day. Before I post millions of pictures from our day at Agrarian Ales (again!), I feel the need to clear up a misconception that I've inadvertently been perpetuating with this blog. People often wonder how I "do it all." The answer to this is simple: I don't.

I mean sure, I cook and sew and get crafty (baby swing!), and photograph and blog and run and WORK A FULL-TIME JOB. But I certainly don't do it all. Not even close.

This guy right here? He does way more than I do.

Some of you don't know that Brent quit his day job four years ago to be a DAD. Yup, that's right. He traded in his messenger bag for a diaper bag. He swapped coffee dates for play dates. This man changes diapers, returns library books, and drives kids to school and soccer for a living.

While I am at work, Brent's at home slinging peanut butter sandwiches, balancing a baby on his hip, tying a shoe with one hand and signing a reading log with the other. He builds sandboxes and playhouses and blanket forts. He fixes bike tires and puts bandaids on skinned knees. He bakes cookies and plays Pokemon Monopoly on rainy days. (Note: Pokemon Monopoly=worst $2 ever spent at thrift store. EVER.)

So don't give me the credit here.

(Jack, 2009)

(Sawyer, 2009)

(Jack, 2010)

(Jack and Sawyer, 2011)

(Clementine, 2013)

So happy Father's Day to the best dad I know. Back in 2004 when we were drinking martinis and enjoying the supreme luxury of a coffee table, I had no idea. No idea.

(My brother said he wanted to be in more pictures with the kids. Be careful what you wish for, Nick.)

And happy Father's Day to my dad, Doug, who is the second best dad I know. This coming from "the second prettiest little girl in the whole world."

Friday, June 7, 2013


I see bright blue sky reflected in Clementine's eyes.

The laundry is so much faster to sort and fold because no one is wearing socks these days.

I think I almost like these next few days that we'll tick off on our countdown to freedom more than summer itself, because I enjoy the anticipation of all things summery so very much.

We picked strawberries over the weekend at Lost Creek Farm, where Brent has worked for the past four summers. We walked among the endless rows of chard, marveled at the millions of tiny lettuce starts, and inhaled the pungent aroma of sweet basil wafting from the humid greenhouses.

Brent and the kids got ahead of me as we made our way across the farm to the strawberry patch. In solitude I found myself feeling reverent and grateful. This farm has fed my family for the past four years. For the past four years I have eagerly awaited the weekly totes of leftover fruits and veggies. In the past four years I have learned to eat carrots like candy. I have become a total tomato snob. I have tried and failed to love beets.

Saturday is Brent's last day at Lost Creek. He's taken a summer job with the Department of Fish and Wildlife which will be more relevant and fulfilling for him, I'm sure. But there won't be any free green beans, and that makes me more than a little sad.

"Tonight when you close your eyes, you will see strawberries," I said to Jack. He looked incredulous and I saw his little face working through his thoughts and his doubt that strawberries would actually be in his bedroom at bedtime.

And I remembered the summer when I saw red, juicy beets dance across my eyelids every night as I tried to sleep. I worked for Agripac one season and they put me on the beet harvest. It was miserable work standing for eight hours a day in a humid warehouse, stuffing earplugs in to drown out the roar of machinery, the heavy scent of beets hanging in the air. I'd leave for the day and discover my hands stained purple from handling the beets. On really bad days I'd find beet juice stains up to my elbows and peel off wet, purple socks. I had a variety of jobs on the beet canning line. They promoted me because I spoke fluent English and could usually tell the difference between fresh and rotting beets.

My first day I spent stuck on the conveyer belt. It was an elevated platform and we stood for hours at a time and watched the moving belt bring bouncing beet after beet after beet for our inspection. The task was simple- discard the visibly rotting beets into tubs at our feet. There were eight of us and we had one stool to share so we passed it around quickly, no one wanting to seem greedy with his/her seat time. While it's very obvious which beets to keep and which to toss, I can assure you that after eight hours of beet watching, your eyes begin to play tricks on you. After eight hours of beet watching you truly cannot tell the difference between fresh and rotting beets. Eight hours on the beet conveyer belt will seriously mess with your mind.

An old woman in a hairnet would climb the ladder to our platform every few hours to check on us. You could always feel her coming. She would inspect our discard pile. Then she would grab two handfuls of beets, one from the tub and one from the belt. "GOOD BEETS!" she would shriek over the warehouse noise while thrusting one handful in our faces. "BAD BEETS!" came the other hand. By the end of the day each option looked exactly the same. I think this is when I learned the valuable workplace technique known as "smile and nod."

By the end of the summer I had worked my way through diced beets, shredded beets, and pickled beets. For the month of August I ran the J line, which was diced and pickled beets. I commanded the big red emergency stop button. I got to pull cans at random from my line to inspect them for quality, weighing them and checking the brine levels. It was all very Laverne and Shirley.

(I think I was making less than $5 an hour.)

We came home from Lost Creek and spent the afternoon making strawberry jam in our hot and sticky kitchen. Kids and dog were underfoot at all times. I burned myself on the canning pot. None of our jars were properly sterilized. Enthusiastic mashing resulted in a spray of strawberry juice across the ceiling.

And it was delicious.

So here's to summer. Summer jobs. Summer foods. Summer memories. And of course, to summer strawberries.

(But never to the beets. Blech.)