Saturday, December 25, 2010

Duuunnn (insert Irish accent)

I'm not hearing any noises coming from the various rooms in my house where children are supposedly sleeping. For all intensive purposes, that signals the end of 14 hours of Christmasing. And no bah humbugs here, we all had a great day, but wow, it's nice to collapse.

This was the first year I had the kids - last year they went to their Grandma and Grandpa's in California with Matt. And it's interesting - somewhere a day or two ago, something snapped in me. All of a sudden, that perfectionist in me that I've been trying hard to corrupt over the past year rose up with great gusto. All of a sudden, I found myself standing in line for 10 minutes at Ulmer's to get the perfect stocking stuffer tube of lip gloss for Théa that I had forgotten in the first round. And before I knew what was happening, the house had to be spotless, and relatively organized, and the pile of laundry had to be put away, and and and... madness.

It was also admittedly an interesting experiment to try a joint Christmas with Matt. It seemed to work for the kids for the most part, especially Liam, but it did make for an interesting day. We had stockings and gifts for each other with Chris in the early morning (early, really early, what a cliché), then Matt came by with a literal truckload of presents for the kids - whoa. As usual, they made out like bandits. Liam's favorite gift was the Millennium Falcon Star Wars ship that is literally the same size as the small trampoline the kids got from our friend Mike. Théa's favorite gift was a baby and a bottle and binkie. Good grief. But they got everything kids could ever want. Liam got an original Red Rider BB Gun from Chris, and went out for his first lessons this evening, just as my peace-loving parents and I were Skyping, which I'm sure left an impression. (On a side note, just in case they read this, though Chris does own more guns than anyone I've ever met, he speaks French and he did vote for Obama.) Théa got sparkly stuff and puzzles, and a barn with animals in it. They also got a Wii. I don't know how I feel about all the screen time, but Liam for one was thrilled.

What I found about this Christmas was that while lots of the details had changed, the main themes remained the same. The holiday bread didn't rise until midnight, just like usual. There wasn't nearly enough sleep, way too much stuff, and even more candy. But what's not to love about wading through a house covered from one end to the other with wrapping paper and the voices of joyful children.

We finished up the night with a dinner of home-grown roast chicken with all the trimmings, and Chris joined us for the evening. The kids were fruitcakes by then, but kept it together enough to clean up a bit before bedtime stories. Now it's quiet. It's so cold outside - single digits of brrr. The wood stove is going gangbusters and it's still more comfy with a blanket on. And I am completely and totally at peace with it all. I hope it lasts for a little bit.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


It has been my general experience that the things you think will be a good idea for activities to do with kids... aren't. Take the annual getting of the tree, for example. Tears. Every time there are tears. Who cries when they get a tree?? That is not how it looks in the pictures, nor the movies. People are happy. Smiling. It's all good. Not my clan. Someone has cold fingers. This year, there was also a scuffle over who was going to hold the saw. Sadness.

But last night was the exception to that rule. Last night was winter solstice - the longest night of the year - and the full moon - and, to top it all off, there was a lunar eclipse. I tried not to hype it many things could get in the way. But as it turned out, it was a perfectly clear night and the moon was high in the sky. We went over to Chris' house around 7 and ate some dinner. The kids played without incident for a couple hours, then outside we all tromped and lit a big bonfire (not without a lot of artificial substances and a few rule-breaking incidents, mind you) and gazed upward. I didn't know how long the kids would last, given the late hour and the single-digit temperatures. But as it turned out, they did just fine. The eclipse started, the kids noticed, even wowed at it, and chased sparks like puppies chasing butterflies. Snowball fights erupted. There was much throwing of sticks into the fire. Neighbors stopped by with binoculars. The eclipse got more intense, covering half, then almost all of the moon. The moon turned rosy red. The stars came out. It was beautiful. There were periodic shouts of "look at it NOW". At the very end, Thea pooped out and went inside, but that was maybe 11 p.m. so all in all we all managed very well. And I think, maybe, just maybe, it will be one of those memorable moments in Liam's life. I still remember a solar eclipse from when I was maybe six or seven. It's an amazing thing. But nothing like this. This was beyond that. It was a night to remember.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Holiday humm

Liam's Christmas --- err --- holiday concert was tonight. As per usual, he takes his performances very seriously, wearing a stoic expression I've seen before in some photos from the early ’80s. When the music started, he performed his heart out. Then came the part when the class had to wait a bit before relaunching into the next verse of the song. One kid started to launch in too early. Liam, like a traffic cop, raised his hand and stopped him. Then, a second or two later, another spot came up. Again, Liam stopped the erroneous singers. My friend Mo above me said that when they were rehearsing this had happened and Liam had hollered out, "STOP." Thank goodness he tamed it down this time. Sheesh. But the performance was, as always, sweet and fun. Théa and Matt sat on the sidelines because Théa couldn't sit still for the whole thing. Well, to be honest, Théa couldn't even make it through the introduction. That girl has a lot of energy. Yikes.

It's been a busy month for the kids. Winter has come on strong, and both Liam and Théa have tried their hand at skating. Liam, after not too long, was zipping around the rink. Théa needed a bit more help, but insisted she did not. They have also been doing lots of swimming, with they both love, though Liam tried and opted out of a great swim club for reasons including locker room chaos and perhaps chilly water? A bit befuddling as a parent to unravel the inner workings of that kid's head, but I'm optimistic he will get lots of water time, now that he has even more family living on Maui.

School has also been interesting these days for Liam. The other day, his teacher pulled me aside because of an incident the previous day. Apparently, he had asked to see the principal. When asked why, he had said something benign, like he hadn't had a chance to see him recently. But after the visit, his teacher pressed him for more information. "I don't want to tell you because I don't want to hurt your feelings," he said. His teacher said perhaps he should tell her anyway. And Liam did. Apparently he had gone to talk to his principal because he wasn't happy with the amount of yelling in the classroom these days. Wait. What?? Here is a child who will take care of his own problems. He never even mentioned it to me - he just went and did it. Matt and I were flabbergasted, if a bit concerned about the implications and the issue. But ultimately, I think it's safe to say we were proud as can be. Independence is huge.

We're a bit late getting in the holiday spirit, but this weekend, I plan to launch in with both feet - Christmas Tree, holiday festivities, etc. I'm looking forward to a chunk of time with my family, launching a few new traditions, reworking some others. The world is looking pretty peaceful these days, and for that I am very, very thankful.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Christmas is coming

I went to the big city this weekend sans kiddos and found myself at times wandering the aisles of a few of the big stores in town, which were already in mock-speed holiday promotion. After that and a conversation with my friends' children about their LIST - a long list of items they wanted which in this case included diamond studs for their ears - I got a little frustrated and baffled. Christmas, it seems, has been boiled down to a single experience for children: greed.

I love my children. I want them to have the things they need and things that will make them happy. But there is a point at which it really gets gross. And I think we are there. So this year, I'm trying to figure out how to do it differently. How do we re-create the concept of Christmas so no one is disappointed, but there isn't a glut of plastic (both toys and the debt from purchasing them) left on the 26th. I don't know how, really.

I was thinking that I might try to line out a week of activities with the kids - give them my time as my primary present - create memories, as well as a few home-made gifts. Snow flakes for the windows one day, holiday cookies for friends another.

I have a few ideas for home-made gifts for Thea - she loves dressing dolls, so I think I will hit the local second hand store and look for doll clothes this weekend. And maybe a larger dollhouse? And Liam is loving skiing and outdoor pursuits, so I'm going to make sure he has a good set of skis and also thinking about getting him a telescope. Can't make it, but his interests are a little more sophisticated. Still, a telescope without someone to look through it with him is practically useless. So books and charts and time. Like the keyboard, where we sit together, plunking away at simple songs.

It's hard to imagine completely separating the commercialized version from our lives - others have ideas of what it is all about, too. But there has got to be a way to tone it down a little. There just has to be a way to bring expectations down and build the celebration of giving up so that in the end, the good feeling these little people in my lives have in their hearts has more to do with lessons of substance than lessons of greed and want versus need.

We'll see how it goes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Liam turns 7 and other events of the past MONTH

Can it be that I really haven't had time to post in over a month??? Is that possible? And yet, I believe it. Amid the chaos of harvest and winter encroaching, we have, among other things, "finished" the house project, thrown a big party, acquired a itty-bitty puppy with enough energy to power a small community, helped Liam celebrate his seventh birthday, built a root cellar, stocked said root cellar, attended a French opera, visited with friends, weathered awkward and not-at-all-awkward introductions, and endless other projects and efforts.

The hoop house got frosted by a deep freeze weeks ago, wiping out all the tomatoes and squash, etc. It was a shock to see - walking into the hoop house and finding all the plants frosted was a surprise. But it got so cold one night - mid-20s, I'd guess - it just couldn't keep out the cold. We had a big salad of my own lettuce tonight, though, and last night dined on bok choy from the hoop house, so it's still doing some producing. I need yet to harvest the rosemary and lavender. The rest needs to be cleaned out and the beds readied for next year. Hard to believe the season is over so quickly. It truly feels like I just started.

Yesterday, Liam and Christopher's daughter, Nora, harvested the cabbages all by themselves. That was the last veggie left in the outdoor garden. Turnips, beets and carrots were pulled a few weeks ago, and good thing, as the ground is pretty frozen now. If it snowed, it would stay at this point, I think. I should till the soil, and if things warm up at all, I'll try to at least clean up the beds. But right now, I'm going to need some serious warming trend.

Yesterday afternoon, Liam and I went for a ride up Crossman Ridge to visit my friend Craig. Liam had never been up there, and since he had a new bicycle, it seemed like a perfect fit. But the road was so muddy that we couldn't ride, and in fact, abandoned even pushing our bikes at a certain point due to the conditions. On the way back, we actually had to leave the bikes and sprint to the car because the tires were so clogged with mud that it was impossible to even push them. This morning, while everything was still frozen, we rescued the bikes in the truck. What an adventure! But it was still a great time. Craig let Liam drive the wood truck back up the hill with a full load of wood in the back - I had to sit on my hands the whole time to keep from grabbing the wheel - and what a glow of pride on that boy's face. My goodness. Glad we captured some of that beautiful, sunny day, because while the mud was a pain, it might have been the last day of temps warm enough to produce mud.

On Oct. 2, I threw a Giving of Thanks party for all the people who helped me in the past year. It's been a crazy year, and so many people have helped Liam, Théa and I during these months of chaos and overactivity. People stepped in and helped out and lifted me up and listened to my endless anxieties. I am so grateful. The party was wonderful - cooked up one of my bigbirds, salmon, halibut, crab... lots of food. And there were so many kids there - it was crazy! We used to have dogs, and every party was a mosh pit of canines. Now, it is kids. We have, without a doubt, done our part to repopulate the world. But being surrounded by these wonderful people I call my friends was humbling. I can tell you for sure that it was not lost on me that this is absolutely why I live here, and why I am so lucky that my children get to be raised among people who love them.

Liam's seventh birthday celebrations were equally wild - we celebrated his actual birthday by a dinner at Land's End with Frida's family. Liam got a bicycle ( a real one with gears and hand brakes,) a jackknife and a piano. Pretty good stuff, I'd say. On Saturday, he rallied a bowling party with his buddies. Fun stuff. Liam has a certain flare with the bowling ball - he slides up to the line on one knee, free arm out behind him... it is hilarious. Where did he get this stuff??? Not from my side of the family tree, that's for sure! Liam's a good kid. He's funny. He's sensitive. He's wonderfully precocious. He made spaghetti and meatballs all by himself the other night. Wow. Good stuff.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Truth and honesty

OK, so I think the last few posts have been a tad - ummm - positive. Let me tell you about yesterday. Yesterday, before the first cup of coffee was even consumed, Théa informed us that she had painted her lips with lipstick. OK, I thought groggily, except... I don't own lipstick. I went to the bathroom and immediately caught the scent - nail polish. Yup, she had painted purple nail polish all over her face, and the top of the toilet, too. I stood there, so bewildered by the questions - what do I do? Laugh? Cry? How do I get it off? Do I use more toxic stuff on that delicate skin or just leave it there? I pondered.
What I did was lecture her. Then, as it turned out, her face was already so greasy from breakfast that the polish came off pretty easily. Awesome. Except, she's been doing stuff like that pretty consistently for several days now. We were over at my friend Dave's house Friday night shelling a motherload of crab - ohhh so good - and Liam was off collecting raspberries and Théa was playing happily, and quiet ... too quiet. I looked over and she had found Dave's flour container and was happily white-washing the kitchen. Marvelous.
On the other hand, I also noticed that night that these children are finally getting to the point where they are comfortable in a wide variety of settings with new faces and experiences. Liam hadn't been to Dave's yurt before, though they had met, but quite happily stayed and picked berries and helped him make a pie while I went and got Théa from daycare. And even Théa, who is shy at first, quite quickly makes herself at home plenty of places. I love that. Consistency is good and important, and more often than not we eat seated around the same table with the same grace chant and the same candle routine, but it's also great to have kids who are flexible. Probably owe quite a bit of that to more communal dinners with my friends Jennifer and Mike at their homes this summer, but there are just so many new experiences happening all around those two - and I think it's to their benefit.
We had an amazing weekend on the social front. Thursday was dinner at Mike's, Friday was Dave's thanks to a big haul on the boat that day, and Saturday, after a morning cutting wood with Jennifer and Indigo, we had a party to attend for Sam Banks, Liam's buddy, which was held at the bowling alley. Liam, as it turns out, from the reports of parents who were not chasing a 2-year-old from bowline lanes, was actually very good at it - exhibiting flourishing form, they said. Hmm.
That night, Liam went to Sam's for the night, and Théa and I went home for a night of relative rest. But the next day, it was another bout of chaos - out to Sam's to pick up Liam, then home for lunch, then back into town for the second party - a skating party. Théa hadn't gotten a very good nap and was nutty from moment one, and Liam was grumpy about it all, but I dug out all our winter stuff (had to be done, anyway) and threw it all in a laundry basket and a blanket or two and off we went. Liam had never skated before (there was an incident with the zamboni years ago and he wasn't too enthusiastic after he saw it gobbling the ice....), so I wasn't sure how it was all going to go, but you never know until you try, and that was never more clear than Sunday. I put Théa in the basket all bundled up, and gave her some gum (bribes) and headed to the ice. Liam was so sure he was going to be a rock star on the ice, and I was afraid he'd be disappointed by the reality of how challenging it was, but he really surprised me. First he was all over the place, but Théa was really content in her basket and Liam started to notice the other kids whizzing around him and he got that gleam in his eye. Every time he'd fall down he'd spring back up off the ice like an electric poker was under him, and off he went. So pretty soon he was trying a few steps on his own, and splat, and he'd get right back up and go. And then a friend started working with him and a few other people came by and gave him some tips and before I knew it, he was doing better not holding on to me. Amazing. So I took Thea on a few laps, then pawned her off on a few friends in the warm dressing room and got in a few laps on my own, which felt, quite frankly, like flying. Oh the glee - I can go skating with my kid this winter.
Good stuff. Proud. Hugely proud.
no pics. sorry. maybe someone has some???

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Indian summer

The sunshine started several days ago - blazing sunshine, and the forecast calls for nothing but more and more and more. It's crazy not to be rushing to mow the lawn or weed the garden before the next wave of moisture hits. It's crazy that I'm actually doing things like finishing the insulation and sealing of the crawl space (a dark, damp, cool place if there ever was one) while this sunshine is blazing outside.

Also crazy in all of this is that I only have the kids five of the first fifteen days of September because Matt is out of town for a week and a half at the end. And at the same time, my best friend is in a new relationship (read, off the radar for the most part) and my significant other is moose hunting with his son for a week. What's a girl to do? Weatherize! Insulate! Drywall! Even have ambitious plans of cleaning up the gigantic pile O' construction crap that's been in the front yard since, oh, March. Need to get the rest of the siding and sticker it and then start staining the siding that's already been stickered. So much to do. Oh, and I'm reading a new book. That should take care of all the free time I've got until Thursday, when the children return to the mothership and the great hunters return from the northlands.

Meanwhile, big developments have occurred since the last post. Théa is completely potty trained. She has the occasional No. 2 accident when she's busy doing something else, but generally, she has it in the bag, stays dry at night, deals with the mornings OK, too. What a joy. Pretty painless transition, actually. Bribery is a wonderful thing. Now I just have to wean her off the treats. Too funny.

Liam had pinkeye last week, so was home for three days - two with me. Derailed my work schedule a bit, but c'est la vie. He's a pretty cool kid and awfully fun to hang out with. We went for walks and gathered berries and made jam. Good stuff.

A couple of weeks ago, some friends took Liam for the afternoon and when I went to pick him up, they were at a friend's house, where acre upon acre of raspberries grow. I got permission to return and picked three or four gallons of berries last week. After freezing two bags, I endeavored to make jam for the first time. Jam making proved to be one of those situations where reading the recipe was necessary. The first time I made it, it didn't set up at all - a thick syrup. I tried to follow the joy of cooking, but would have had to add 8 apples to meet their standards, and that seemed like a bit much, so I did a container of pectin and two apples. Not enough. So on the second round, I added another thing of pectin (syrup, which I've since learned you aren't supposed to cook, but add at the end of the cooking process - sigh...) and some rhubarb. It all came together into a loose jam, but so much better than the store stuff that it is still totally worth it. I hope to go back for more tomorrow and make another batch.

Another new development has been the creation of a root cellar in my crawl space. Before enclosing the entire crawl space in plastic and insulation, I cordoned off a 5x8 foot section that I built a subwall around and insulated inside. The floor is dirt, but I laid weedblocker fabric down so the cool moist air could come up, but one wouldn't have slimy sneakers to contend with every time they went down there. I still need to build a proper door-like entrance, but otherwise, it is ready to go. Which is good, because I predict frost may soon be coming. These clear nights are a little chilly, if you ask me. So if and when that happens, we are ready. Bring it on. Bushels of potatoes and beets and turnips and carrots now will have a home, and I plan to store much of the canned goods down there as well. I need to do another batch of pickled squash and a batch of pickled peas and beans. And more jam. I really like the jam. I'll read the recipe, even.

The greenhouse is still chugging along - several of my tomato plants, including one of the heirloom tomato varieties, are producing some fruit that is ripening. My pumpkin plant continues to try in vain to produce a pumpkin that won't mold - so far no dice, and cucumbers are coming in pretty well. The second planting of lettuce is coming in and so is the bok choy - yummm. I need to get in there and plant a third round of lettuce, which is already started thanks to wonderful woofers.

AND - big news! I found three eggs today! All were hidden in the back of the little straw-filled house that was part of the original coop. So now I have to figure out how to make a more attractive coop somewhere less difficult to get to. But hey, it's great to have chickens that do something other than run around and cluck - though they do that marvelously well. I gave them a huge pile of chickweed and some compost as a reward. Good girls.

Liam's been doing pretty well in school, when not sidelined by eye ailments. He still says he's bored, and I really should try to spice things up with some challenges. I have aspirations of buying him a keyboard for his birthday and am hoping to somehow arrange lessons. Or maybe we can learn together for a bit. We'll see.

Théa has made leaps and bounds, it seems, since the diaper doffing. She has started dressing herself regularly - frustrated tantrums exploding over uncooperative shirts, etc. She continues to exhibit a wildly humorous side - a bit of a mischief-loving nature that drives her brother mad on occasion. But she's not without her shy moments, either. And that's lovely, too.

This week, I meet with the energy rater to talk over what I've done on the house and what rating I can get (read-what level of a rebate I can get). I'm hoping it is a pretty easy process, but either way, I'm eager to get the ball rolling. A little more drywall, a day with a caulking gun, and it's a done deal. Good stuff. Then, I just need to get wood - aaaaaahhhhh.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What more to say?

Need I say more? Fingers crossed that this time it sticks.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Liam's first day Post-K

my first pickles

Jennifer cutting the wall between the "re-addition" and the main house - with a chainsaw.

Mike, Ella & Liam checking the set-net.

First day back get-up.

Liam started grade 1 today. It's amazing how mellow he was about the whole thing. When pressed, he described subtle differences, but said his teacher was wonderful, played some game where the boys all ran away from the girls, learned that Grade 1 was pretty much like Kindergarten, only not as much playing, but in general, my impression is that he was thrilled to be back because it 1. gave him something structured to do and 2. gave him a break from his sister.

Looking back a year ago at what a big deal his first day was, it is amazing to think of how far both kids have come. The complexity of the car-ride conversation this time around, well, it was pretty interesting. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed that time in the car driving to McNeil. It takes about 40 minutes to get there, which is a lot of time to discuss whatever comes up. This morning, it was mostly pre-school jitters, but Thea launched into a refresher on the higher points of the previous evening, which included blueberry picking, swinging on a buoy, and eating noodles.

It's also funny how much more relaxed I've gotten about this parenting thing. Where before I would have been adamant about getting home and getting everyone in bed early, last night Jennifer and the kids and I went over to our friend Mike's house, and his daughter Ella and Liam got to go pick his set net together. We didn't get out of there until 8:30 or so, didn't get home until 9, didn't get in bed till 9:30, and Thea was still thrashing about at 10. Needless to say, no one woke voluntarily this morning, and Liam had that puffy-eyed look of a lad who could have stayed in bed a good bit longer. Sure was easy to put them to bed tonight, though!

Today was one of those beautiful Alaska days. 65 degrees, sunshine blasting, daybreeze keeping the bugs at bay - sort of. After school, we all hit the garden with gusto - weeding for two hours solid. Liam enjoyed harvesting the broccoli, cauliflower, some carrots (the sweetest ever, we decided), a couple of turnips, and some lettuce. He's allowed to use a sharp knife now, under supervision, which certainly adds to the allure. And Thea had fun digging for worms and cutting down fireweed with scissors. Good stuff. To me, watching them enjoying the garden, sampling the wares, and just being comfortable in this space of earth and green, is huge. They are part of their own self-sufficiency. It's magic.