Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sometimes I remember things

Like to look up when the Mayor's tree lighting ceremony will be held in our town. I haven't missed it -- it's next Saturday! That reminded me of the free "ice" skating the City sponsors -- a synthetic rink and much silliness. But you have to sign up for time slots, of all things.

So now we're registered -- and between the skating and the tree lighting I bet I could be persuaded to buy my kids hot cocoa at Peet's (since we will have an hour and a half to wait. I wasn't organized enough to sign us up early enough to get it done right before the tree lighting). Eric will probably be really happy to skip it, as crowds of people feeling very happy that they live in a small town isn't his thing.

Hopefully I'll have just as good luck when I sign on tomorrow to get the homeschoolers a camping site for next spring. I don' think I'm really responsible enough for these things.

Friday, November 28, 2008

All that Tryptophan

What a lovely day we had. Clean house, bouncy family (literally -- the kids spent time next door on the killer trampoline), and delicious food.

At least that's what I heard. Apparently having one's head full of snot makes tasting a wee bit more challenging. As we were preparing the final dishes, I said, "This stuffing is bland! I can't smell the apple pie! Aha! This fresh sage has no smell at all!" (Yes. I did speak in exclamations.)

I was assured that the sage did, in fact, smell strongly of sage, that the stuffing had flavor, and the apple pie did not, in fact, have much smell. There was even a more-generous-than-expected spinach salad when I discovered that unless I use floating row cover, the ubiquitous leaf miners are going to ruin any spinach, chard, or beet crop I attempt. Grrr. The turkey was celebrated, thanked, actually called "The most moist turkey I have ever eaten," and even Thing 2, who had spent slaughter day in tears and declarations that she would never ever kill anything, came back to the platter for thirds. There was enough and more than enough (he'd dressed out to about 11 pounds) for everyone to eat and then be made into the start of a gallon and a half of turkey soup in the evening. Maybe eating that would clear my nose?

I ate and ate, but only tasted the big outlines of flavor, I think. So I got "sweet," instead of "chocolate pecan pie," and "meat" instead of "brined in a number of different flavors turkey," and "buttery, bready" instead of "cornbread, butter, pine nuts, raisins" for stuffing.

No pictures, because the neighbor borrowed the camera to capture all the scary bouncing next door. Besides, I didn't take many eating pictures. Any taken of me feature me blowing my nose, more than likely. But I did knit some, and already have found errors in my Kauni sweater -- I have the attention span of a flatworm, apparently. Have already made resolutions to check my patterning every 20 stitches or so -- they're easier to fix then.

Other highlights of the day? Eric finished the shelves for Thing 2's room -- they fit perfectly and already have her library books plus her birthday books arrayed on them. He's been tasked by Thing 3 to make a set for him, and I've contributed my usual Complicating Design Aesthetic -- often expressed by a casual comment like "Can we put an arch here? What about angling the sides? Do you think beveled edges would work?" He's busily drawing plans and muttering about the woman who hates right angles.

Denise and her partner went mushroom hunting and came back with a blanket full of lovely oysters. Kevin said, with shining eyes, "Here, smell these," and I dutifully did, and said, "I only smell 'cold.'" Apparently I was missing out on something wonderful, so he scooted into the kitchen and sauteed up a batch with garlic, and told me how to do it, and then left some for me to cook and freeze for later. Hopefully for when I get my smelling powers back.

I got to take an adults-only walk with my nephew's dad, and we had a nice talk and saw pelicans and just enjoyed each others' company. We played board games with the kids and I talked to my oldest sister, down in Los Angeles.

When I took some pictures (before handing the camera over) of the children, mine and my sister's, lying on the floor playing Stratego, a jolt of deja vu hit. I've seen those pictures before, only they were in black and white and the boys had crew cuts and were wearing Levis with belts and plaid shirts, buttoned up, the girls in little dresses with crew socks and Mary Janes. Bad haircuts everywhere. Those kids were the few years-older cousins and siblings I grew up watching. I bet they didn't have a clue, when the black and white pictures were taken, that they would, really and truly, be the adults later on, adults with their shares of adventures, heartbreak, and joy. So I snapped picture after picture of the children playing, and decided to have some of them printed in black and white, so someday, when that particular game is lost to time and memory, they might get to see their pictures in a line up of old family pictures and have the photographic equivalent of looking into paired mirrors. Children, adults, families, echoing back over the years and forward into the future.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Do madder what I till can't breade

Some blog posts just about write themselves. Often that's when I only have one subject to cover, except, I'm not having much of a One-Subject life these days. Sometimes I write well when I don't have the World's Longest Cold. My sinuses feel as though I have spackling paste piped into my head. So. Much. Fun.

What was fun was going to Alcatraz, a touristy thing I've never done, despite living within ferry distance for the past 9 years. We rousted the children early and packed them and some food into the car, then we waited at the ferry terminal. We tried to get the kids into the proper mind frame by reminding them of some realities (click to make bigger):

The ride over was big fun, because, face it, riding a ferry across the bay is usually big fun. Thing 3 did some careful standing. Fortunately, there is a little electric tram for folks who can't make the mile or so steep hike up to the prison once on the island. I took him and the littlest one that way, while the others hiked. It was a good thing.

Especially since, after that, Thing 3 saw (and heard; the audio tour is excellent) everything from his dad's back. I carried supplies and a three year old, but Eric did the really heavy lifting.

It was really just fun. I learned a lot and the two older girls have already read their way through a book about escape attempts. I hope Thing 2 doesn't ever try to make a replacement head out of toothpaste, cement, and whatever else they used so she can leap out the window, but if she does, I'll know where she got the idea.

Today was less of a vacation, although Eric stayed home again. My ever-dearer fellow farmer, Esperanza came over to help and brought her terrific mother, Patricia. Eric and I did the holding, Esperanza did the chopping, and most of us helped pluck and clean. I felt a little like Macbeth, in that, "I am in blood/Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more,/Returning were as tedious as go o'er." I'm not a fan of killing animals, even though I obtained these turkeys for just this end. There comes a point when you just have to do what is in front of you, fun or not. I wasn't planning to keep them as pets, and I didn't want to drag the killing out over months, so we did them all.

My sister came to watch and help, and she got lots of pictures and was just. . . there. It helps. I probably won't do turkeys again, and won't raise birds just for meat again ever. The economics just don't work out. Old hens, well, I'll probably do them, but quietly, on my own. And not the first four, as they have been promised an old age home forever, no matter what I think about it.

We thanked the birds for their lives, and thanked the people for their help. I posted an offer to Freecycle for some bits that are edible, but I don't want to eat. No takers yet. What am I going to do with these? I could always make stock, I suppose. I probably won't try any recipe that calls for eating the feet as they are. Stock it is. I'll put them on to boil tonight, I guess. Something to do while I'm grading papers. Never, ever boring.

After the hubbub died down, my sister and I sat and chatted and watched the kids. Eric was busy building yet another set of bookshelves. Although we are assiduous about getting rid of outgrown or unused things, books hold a special place in my family. So he's making a special place for Thing 2 to put her books. It's kind of a neat acknowledgement of her growing personhood. She has more of her own room, only shared with one sibling, and she has her own books, fresh from a birthday. I can only assume she'll have more, so she'll appreciate a nice bookcase.

As Denise and I talked, she worked on developing her new skill. Today, she purled! And ribbed! I cast on some of my homespun for her to take home and turn into something lovely for someone else. I can't wait to see what she does. She swears she'll stop after this one, but her children have suggested that they wouldn't take it amiss if she were to produce knitwear for them, too. We'll see if she continues her path of resistance after finishing this first thing.

I could spend more happy time with her (and our little furry pals) doing this, no problemo.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bouncy, Trouncy, Flouncy

When your beloved neighbors put up one of these, many things could happen.

There are the usual rules, and reassurances that they were never hurt, and my parental worries, and she's a trampoline instructor, and well. . . today the kids went over there, supervised by their dad, and followed the rules, except that Thing 1 and Thing 3 are very different sizes. She went up, he came down, and now. . .

Let's just say that our plans to go to Alcatraz tomorrow and do the tourist thing as a family -- our vacation for the year, pretty much -- are quite different now. Anyone want some nonrefundable tickets?

Lots and lots of work around the house this weekend, and I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I hope our new arrangements suit our growing up family well.

I have many thoughts, but somehow they're all like moths around a porch light. Not exactly willing to fly in formation, just flitting. I've been knitting. I had planned, nay, promised, to finish the second Norwegian Snail Mitten before casting on anything else, but I copied the chart wrong and after ripping back and not getting the book from the library again, I snapped.

Not one but two new works on the needles.

Deep breath, although I'm afraid that the color is a little Kermit on Acid for me. If it still looks shocking to me in the spring, I'll overdye it.

And finally, and with much pleasure so far, even though garter stitch in the round sort of bites, my Ruth Sorenson Kauni cardigan. Honest, "sticky" wool, tiny needles, colorwork, it pushes all my buttons. I may cut the yarn after the border and wind my hanks differently, making certain that I can start the colors far apart in the rainbow repeat, or I might just merrily knit along and deal with it as it comes. What sounds most like me?

Monday, November 17, 2008

So cute it makes my teeth ache

I tell you, the amount of cute in the house is absolutely staggering.

Not just Thing 4, who, bless MY heart, while cute, never, ever ever ever stops talking. Yes, I should count my blessings, yes, they are healthy and happy and creative and active, ye gods are they active, but really, all I want to do now is put my head under a pillow for about a week.

But when I put my head under my pillow (sleeping with an elaborate System of Pillows is a holdover from my very first days at college), I'm not getting lots of sleep. Not because of talking children, but because of this:

He looks pretty quiet there, doesn't he? But a five month old cat is still enough kitten that tearing around in the night after the other two, temptingly adult, cats, is more than he can resist. Fortunately he has orange eyelashes (orange eyelashes!) and I find him endearing.

How did I end up with three cats? Am I really trying to go the Crazy Lady route? My hair is increasingly gray and curly; I'm still skinny enough that my clothes are falling off, so yes, the evidence is pretty strong that I'm just a few shopping bags shy of muttering to myself.

We got the Elusive Gray Cat, named Grebo, from the pound after our black kitten/cat ran off and was eventually presumed dead. We loved the gray cat -- big, bowling ball head and very affectionate. But when we got him home, it became quickly apparent that 1) the resident, lovely Burmese hated him and 2) he was going to pretty much stay under Thing 1's bed. He's a cat we more or less just support, rather than engaging with. It's been about four months, and he's still extremely shy.

Eventually, I discovered that another Russian Blue was at the shelter, and I thought, "We'll get another gray cat and there will be at least one where I can see it." So we went, and looked, and she was, well, boring. But. . .

There was a little orange cat, and we let him out just to say hi, and he rocketed around, batting at things, and then climbed the cages to a cubbyhole over our heads and by the time we pulled a bench over there and hauled him down and finally stopped laughing, we thought, "Well, why not?"

And that is how I moved from a relatively sane Two Cat Household to a Really Pushing It Three Cat one, but I'm not scooping, so I'm free to love the new one as much as I want to.

There's enough angst, real horrible sorrow, hurt feelings, bad job situations, financial crises, political misfortune, and pain to go around. For tonight, I'm going to celebrate Fred Weasley, our small clown cat.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Old plumbing

No, not mine.

For a few years, now, I've felt badly that I couldn't get our commode really clean. We've been planning to replace it for some time, and this week it was finally time. We looked up how to qualify for the low-flow rebate, and headed off to find a new one.

But first -- to get the old one out. The rusty bolts holding the tank to the wall might have been a problem:

But they weren't; they were just funny-looking.

This made me feel a lot better about trying to scrub an 81-year old toilet bowl clean and failing spectacularly.

Even the floor bolts weren't pretty. They came loose easily, though, and now we have a new, clean, low-flow toilet. Of course, given the vagaries of our house, it's 6" away from the wall in back, and long enough that I can rest my forehead on the sink if I should feel the need.

I really didn't do anything except hang out and help a little bit during installation. It was all Eric. In my defense, it would have been a little difficult to fit us both in there in any active way, and I did replace my sister's toilet mostly alone. And I'll keep it clean.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Family Matters

I don't often talk about my extended family here. It's just not what's on my radar. Anyhow, while I'm sad that my cousins and aunts and uncles, etc. live far away from me, it's partly easier that way. We're of fairly different positions politically and religiously, and it can be uncomfortable to have conversations on either topic in a family group.

My cousin sent this letter around to our family email loop, and I received her permission to spread it more widely. I don't think it's going to be something that many people around me physically would need to read, but it's a good reminder to me that I'm always modeling things by how I speak. Also I was so impressed by her graciousness and loving spirit that it made me miss those folks "back there" just a little bit more:

"Over the past few months, I have gotten to hear many people's thoughts and feelings about the recent Presidential election and why one candidate or another was the better choice. Even more often, I've gotten to hear why one candidate or another was the worst choice. Having the freedom to hold and voice our opinions and then vote based on those opinions is one of the many things that I believe makes America great.

I’ve also thought a lot about how my children and I fit into all of this.

Yesterday, my almost 12 year old daughter came home and told me that she was scared and worried because of the things kids at school were saying about Obama winning the presidential nomination. Among other things:

  • He’s for abortion and wants all babies killed
  • He’s going to pull all of the troops out of Iraq immediately and America will then be invaded by those our troops are fighting.
  • He belongs to some weird, scary religion and wasn’t even born in America. Where’s his birth certificate?

  • I tried to assuage her fears, but I’m not sure how effective I was since right now her peers are her most valuable source of information. Yes, these are just kids talking, but they’ve gotten this information from hearing the adults around them.

    Since neither of my girls was born in the US, they can’t at this time run for President, but what if one of them ran for another office. Think about some of the kinds of things that could be said which have been said recently about Obama:

    • Even though she is a citizen, she wasn’t born in America, so she’s not a real American.
    • She was born in China which is a communist country; therefore, she’s likely really loyal to China and communism. She also still has family members in China, whether she knows them or not, which is suspicious.
    • Part of her name is Chinese, so that also proves her loyalty to China.
    It makes me so sad to think that I can’t protect my children from hearing a lot of the things they are hearing right now and from personalizing some of it, but I really can’t.

    I know you all love my children and all of the other children in our family. I just hope that you love them enough to think before you speak. Eight years ago, my sister asked me to be respectful of our President and not to call him Shrub and I have honored that request. Now I ask the same. I don’t know if the right decision was made on Tuesday or not. For my children’s and all our children’s sakes, I hope so.

    Tuesday, November 4, 2008

    Hoo Boy

    It's 8:02 pm here, Pacific Time, and and some other sites have just called the presidential race for Barack Obama. Some chatter from talking heads about what this means for future generations, and I got to thinking about my own kids.

    My children have almost all spent their entire lives under the presidency of George W. Bush. No more can they have the perception that the presidency means "white guys." I don't think they did, but they didn't have a different example. Just like they don't quite get why people object to folks loving people of different colors or the same sex, they didn't think twice about why someone who looked differently from them shouldn't be president.

    Some day, they'll see a woman, possibly a woman of color, as president, and they won't bat an eyelash either.

    And they'll wonder why their mother is in tears again.

    Berry season again

    A week ago, my sister and I went out with some of the kids to a local huckleberry spot and picked huckleberries. They're apparently a relative of blueberries, and the name "huckleberry" is a corruption of "whortleberry." Go figure.

    What they are is tiny. Like their blueberry cousins, they grow on nice, thornless bushes, in little clusters that are relatively easy to pick. And until you eat them, that's the last easy thing. First you have to pick out the leaves that you inadvertently picked, and then you have to sort through the berries, one at a time, and pick off the little stems.

    Once you've done that, and have a cup or so of the wee gems, you can make pancakes or muffins or just eat them out of hand. I don't have enough for jam, and even if I did, it would feel like solid gold, given the work involved. I think I'll freeze them and sprinkle them into baked goods.

    I wish I were planning to watch election returns on television tonight; picking over berries would be a perfect, sort of mindless accompaniment.
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    Monday, November 3, 2008

    It might work if I live

    After straightening the house, finishing the laundry, helping kids do math, making breakfast, and doing my work, then I got to do the directed clean/sort/purge. The woman I hired and I did four hours of getting rid of and moving things, mostly in the basement, as that's going to be the storage area for the rest of the house.

    Also, I had no clue what I wanted to do with the kitchen or bedrooms.

    By the time we were done, I was pretty sure I wasn't cooking tonight, as I hadn't managed to get to the store. I was also feeling a bit poorly. So I drove to the local Indian place. By the time dinner came along, I couldn't enjoy it so much -- my throat hurt.

    Now, lying on the couch grading Robinson Crusoe papers, I think I'm getting Round 2 (3?) of the throat-centric cold.

    Just peachy. I may clear the clean laundry off of the bed without actually folding it and crawl in for an early night. Poor Eric has a late meeting; I hope he's feeling better than this.

    Sunday, November 2, 2008

    An Easy Run

    I hadn't run for a couple of days, since it was raining so much. Pause here to say a huge "Thank you!" since my state is in such desperate need of water. We probably don't need it here, but up in the mountains, where the reserves are kept.

    Still, for a couple of days I've been draining the bath because adding more water on top of an already-soaked garden (and standing in the rain with a hose to do it) was more than I thought necessary. I also didn't really want to take myself out for a run if it was more than a drizzle, although I have fond memories -- at least I think they're mine -- of running in the rain.

    When I woke up today and was the only one really really awake, and the "extra" hour was just sitting there, all full of promise, and it wasn't raining, well. I dressed and took off. If I had run in the rain, also, my shoes would have been wet still. Suzee had been very inspiring about longer distances, so I figured out how long I should run to hit about five miles, and took off. It was lovely. The sky was tones of pewter, and the clouds were doing that ballet where they mass and roil slowly. Empty streets, and just the sound of my little shoes flap-flapping.

    I noticed some time ago that I breathe on a 4/4 beat, so songs that follow that beat tend to get lots of play on Stefani Radio while I run. But after about a mile and a half, even the mind monkeys get tired of talking, so I just ran. I was doing great -- I planned not to look at my watch until the halfway point, and I didn't until then. When I made my turnaround at the ferry terminal, I was right on time. So back I went, along a tiny section of the Bay Trail -- it's all patchwork, really -- and was doing fine.

    Until my hip started making lots of noise, with a backup ensemble featuring Ms. Thigh and Ms. Knee. I bargained with them -- "Just let me make it to the corner, okay?" -- and I tried slowing then stopping and stretching. No dice. My run was over, no matter what I wanted.

    So I walked home from the Starbucks, approximately, and checked the distance. Four good miles until everything went to pot, and a lovely walk home. Even with the walk, they were still in bed, actually.

    But one thing hit me as I ran. I'd been telling myself that I'd do "an easy five mile run." And for many people, it would have been. And for some people it would have been impossible, and for others, every possible permutation in between.

    Then I realized that my definition of "easy" is "Things that I do." So the fact that I got a Master's degree in English (thesis-free, as Eric is happy to point out)? Easy. Homeschooling four children, some of whom are a challenge? Easy. Soft and squishy homemade bread (apologies to Mrs. Peters)? Easy. Working while full time doing the kids? Easy. Making time for exercise before anyone wakes up? Easy.

    I shortchange myself in ways that I would never ever do for other people. Just because I can do it doesn't make it dismissable.

    So I've been thinking about ways to make some things less not-easy for me. I'm going to start working with a housekeeper tomorrow -- she has lots of ideas about how to make this household more welcoming and nurturing for us. And I'm 90% certain that the two middle Things are going to start going to school down the street, possibly this month.

    These aren't easy decisions, but I'm hoping they're going to help increase the positive experiences around here. I'll keep thinking and evaluating, except for the blissful half hours on my run that I get to turn off my brain.

    Saturday, November 1, 2008

    Seasonal Fun

    It's, according to my eldest, the near highlight of the whole kid year! And I do love Halloween, if only because one night of the year, nearly all homes are available and welcoming to my children, even if they're welcomed with corn syrup and artificial flavors, mostly.

    I love the pre-ritual pictures, especially since it's so much fun trying to get four children to all perform the proper face at once.

    "Can you make your mouth smile?" I said:

    I miss getting to see my eldest in costume. Nowadays, three years out of four, I get pictures of her emailed from the household that she actually launched her evening from. I didn't even run into her and her band of compatriots all night, even though the rain kept down the crowds somewhat.

    We finally got the littlest one to pose nicely for the camera. By then everyone else had moved on. I wonder how many times in her life it's going to feel like this.

    No trick-or-treaters were harmed in the making of the following pumpkin. At least, I don't think so.

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