Saturday, December 29, 2007

perceived obsolescence

If you haven't seen The Story of Stuff yet, I suggest you click on over and remedy that straight away. This isn't anything you don't know, but it's handy for passing along to those who don't think about these things already, and a good reminder for the rest of us. I'd like to think we can make a difference, and sometimes I feel very excited about the potential for change and betterment. And sometimes, I want to crawl under my bed and close my eyes and curl into a ball and wait for the world to implode. Both reactions are sparked by Mad, though. A lot of big, righteous MAD that our whole screwed up modern lifestyle amounts to a clever orchestration to keep rich people rich and happy. I wonder if they built an escape pod and a secret planet getaway into the plan, though, because all the money in the world won't be worth so much when our earth is a pit of toxic waste. (hmm. . . I guess I'm not disguising my state of mind so well, tonight, am I? my glass is half empty and I need to do something about that. like open another and fill it up, yeah.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

the way she sees me

the way she sees me

When I was pregnant with my boy, his gender still a mystery, I thought it incomprehensible that I could be carrying anything but a girl. Even admitting my faulty logic at the time, I couldn't move past the deduction that, well, I'm a girl. I have but one sister. My mother had three sisters, no brothers. I'd already made one girl. How could I possibly produce anything but? And what would I do with a boy, anyway? Well. And then he was born and I think I mumbled something like, "oh crap, what will we name him?" because even though our girl name had been long decided, boy choices weren't even narrowed down. He was nameless for a few days. But he was my son, my baby, he couldn't possibly have been anyone else, right from the start. What had I been so worried about? Indeed. Of course, just recently, the irrational doubt has crept around the edges of my thinking, reminding me that, hey, that little, scrunchy toddler boy with the long curly hair who still sleeps in your bed and nurses and dives into your legs with full contact hugs?? He'll be a grown man someday. And I know it's a little early to be freaked out about that, but it's just weird to think about being the mother to a big, broad grown up man person someday. And I wonder if he'll be one of those big men who pick up their short little mothers and swoop them around in circles upon greeting, or if he'll stay on the other side of the room and give a polite but shy head-ducking hello nod. I wonder.

In predicting my future relationship with my son, even though, sure, I'm laying some of that foundation now in how I mother him, it's all speculation. I have no clue how many ways our relationship will shift between now and then. There's some amount of blissful ignorance in parenting a toddler, in the 'future is wide open, yes, but you'll always be my dear little sidekick' way. Or, I should say, I look back on myself seven, eight years ago and I think, O! to be so blissfully ignorant again.

My relationship with my girl is already shifting. And she was my little sidekick. For seven years, until her brother came along, she was my precocious companion, we did everything together and it was so sweet. It's still sweet. But now we are three, home and out and about together, and she is older. I see more of an older kid in her than I do a toddler. She's more likely to groan when I start to sing, less likely to laugh at my jokes, and quicker, often, with witty retorts.

But this isn't about how I see my kids. My kids won't remember, even when they're big adults, the glory days of their toddlerhood. They'll have to take my word for it, piece together tiny shreds of foggy memory and feeling, and look for their perspective on our collected photos to write their own story of how they grew up. I'll always be able to see in them the grown-up and the baby, a visceral memory of who they were will always be a part of me, like bumpy scar-tissue I can't help but to run my thumb over. I'll remember everything and they'll only remember what they remember. This is about how my kids will see me.

I fall short in so many ways. I thought I had it all figured out when my girl was wee. She was intense and spirited, full of opinions and ideas so far beyond her years, but I was younger and more hopeful. I had all the years in the world to be the mother I wanted to be, my one kid was practically a baby and we could do anything. The years are closing in on me now. She'll be nine next month and I can't believe she's halfway to being a legal adult. When I make mistakes now, they do matter. When I'm unable to sleep and full of worry in the night, it's not because I'm worried about toilet training my toddler, it's because I hope I'm making the right decisions with my big girl. Will she resent me, later, for the lifestyle choices we've made? She seems so happy and, yet, so lonely sometimes. And my heart breaks. And I know I'm not the mother I wanted to be. Oh, I'm funny and silly and I hit the mark a lot. We have a lot of fun. I bake a lot more than I thought I would, I feed my family better than I thought I could. We crank up the music and dance so much and quietly sit together and watch the birds outside every day. But. . . I'm slower to break out the art supplies than I should be. I don't keep the house quite as orderly as I'd like. I find myself not always as patient as I ought to be. I leave cupboard doors open and I'm lazy about replacing toilet paper rolls. I'm not nitpicking. I'm just laying it all out there because I know it's all part of who I am to my children.

In clearing the table before dinner the other day, I found the above picture. I'd known she'd been drawing, she usually draws pertinent illustrations while I read. I pushed together a stack of paper (she's prolific and produces more than I can really examine closely) and almost missed it. I picked it up, recognizing myself right away and I bet you think I'm going to say I cried or at least I got all teary and stood there staring at my daughter's rendition of me and had myself an emotional little moment, but I did not. Oh no. I picked it up and ran it right down to our scanner and set it there to wait until I could find a memory card (which took a few days) so I could digitally save it so someday, even if the original gets misplaced or ruined, I can pull up the image and show them that, see, I was your mother and I read to you all the time and I must have done something right, don't you remember?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

christmas has left the building

I really do enjoy this time of year, this holiday: the choosing of deliberate little gifts for my children, the bringing out and remembering of favorite seasonal decorations, the music (okay, not all of the music, surely I've mentioned my dislike of all versions of Santa Baby and, well, nearly all santa songs make me groan, but I'm a sucker for a lot of the old traditional hymns; the "fall on your knees" line from O Holy Night gets me every time), but as much as I enjoy all of that, I like standing on the front steps and waving goodbye -see you next year!- even better.

Christmas can really overstay her welcome and has a tendency to linger around for days or weeks. I prefer that our farewells take place before we start resenting each other too much. Oh, there's a little of that already, even at the height of holiday joy, because, come on, she takes up a lot of space in my living room and instigates traffic jams, but I have my faults, too, and she mostly looks past them.

We had a lovely enough Christmas Day. Quiet, simple, sweet. The children were pleased with everything, the cinnamon rolls were perfect, I made our default favorite "spicy black bean pasta" for dinner. I couldn't have asked for a better day. Okay, so maybe if a curly-shoed fellow with pointy ears had stopped in with my elusive boots, that would have been better. Or if I could have produced a passel of other children for my children to play with, that would have been better. I'm not really serious about the boots, though, and my children have spent their whole lives (almost nine years and barely two, respectively) as the only kids more often than not (we are not close enough in distance and/or closeness to spend holidays, or hardly any days, with relatives and cousins and such. It's always just us) . It's just the way it is. And we have a comfortable little groove, we enjoy our easy days together. And even though I will admit that carrying the whole weight of tradition for my children is a heavy load, even though I let myself wonder sometimes what it would be like to hitch up my seasonal ennui* to the inertia created by other people's plans and considerations (because being busy can be a drag, but it can also be a darn swell distraction) and just coast along for a while, knowing that if i slub up and miss something, someone else will be there to pick up or add to or help out. Despite all of that, it was as good as it could have been.

So if you came to my house now you wouldn't see so much evidence of Christmas. After dinner we tackled the tree. The various and sundry other little decorative items, wrapped up and packed away. Everything is gone, save for the exterior lights, which the husband vows to take down tomorrow after work. I don't think we've ever gotten the house back to "normal" so quickly before. It wasn't my specific intention. But owing to the worst case of dry needles I've ever experienced with a cut tree (we suspect our radiant heat is the super-drying factor) and my refusal to sweep up or vacuum one more time, the only solution was to take the whole thing down. And once the tree goes, everything else follows easily. Gone.

The expecting is maybe the best part of Christmas, and once that's gone, once you take anticipation out of the equation, everything's a little less shiny, a little more dim, a lot less fun. It's a classic response to any special good time, the wistfulness of feeling like, gee, that was fast. Now what? In our case, we have no traditional precedence for the week between Christmas and New Year's. So it's business as usual (whatever that means) and we'll try again next year.

*oh dear, please add that word to my gossamer list. thanks. all future uses shall be irony-laden only

Friday, December 21, 2007

in the fog

I find the animation charming. My daughter said it was creepy and she never wants to see it again. My son clamors up on my lap almost every time I sit down at this laptop, asking for "ha-ha ow, ha-ha ow" (hedgehog, owl) and I have to search through youtube to find it. So I'm putting it here, so it's quick at the ready and then you can watch it, too.

aunt lola's brownies

aunt lola's brownies

Unlike most of my kitchen standards, this recipe has roots that delve much deeper than my own culinary creativity. I've tweaked the recipe here and there, but the original Aunt Lola's Brownies was given to my mother on one of those From The Kitchen Of. . . cards years and years ago by a woman at her church, let's call her Betty. So, presumably Betty had an aunt named Lola. Or Betty had a friend with an aunt named Lola. Or Betty got a little wild in the kitchen and would pretend to be some lacey-aproned vixen, twirling fudgy spatulas to the beat of salsa music, and called herself Lola. I don't know. But, the brownies, as prescribed by Aunt Lola, were a staple of my adolescence. I made them all the time. Eventually, I moved away and got married and gave my choco-lovin' husband the recipe, so he could make them his own darn self. And, chances are, if you came to our house in the first few years of our marriage: you'd be offered an Aunt Lola's Brownie. They became the punchline of a legendary family story; the one where the husband placed the glass baking dish, full of just-baked-hot-from-the-oven-brownies, on the stovetop to cool without realizing that the electric burner was still hot. He walked to another room, and several minutes later, we heard a frightening explosion and raced to the kitchen and found shards of glass and globs of, yes, Aunt Lola's Brownies everywhere. Skip forward a few more years and see our diet change. We stop eating brownies. I eliminate refined sugar and flour. We go vegan. We miss brownies. I love making recipes, the tasting, the satisfaction of noticing tiny changes when I add subtle dashes of certain ingredients. But I just wasn't happy with any of my so-called brownie creations. So, I turned to Aunt Lola and told her if she'd let me substitute ingredients in her recipe, I'd always give her the credit. So. Here you go.

The original recipe is in bold, but I've added in my common substitutions.

1 C melted margarine (no! hydrogenated oils = bad. I usually use earth balance buttery spread but tonight I used a cup of pumpkin puree, mmm. . . pumpkin and chocolate)
4 eggs (we aren't exactly vegan anymore, but I'm still in the habit of not baking with eggs. When/if we eat eggs, it's mostly for their own eggy sake. I have made these recently with eggs, but I think I still prefer my old standard egg substitute: 1 C flaxseed meal combined with 1 C cold water and set aside til gelatinous goo forms, i should say that one cup of flaxmeal makes four whole eggs worth, so for other recipes i use a quarter cup flax and a quarter cup cold water per egg )
2 C sugar
(lately i only use rapadura. thanks to that 25 pound bag i bought recently, i don't feel like i have to be stingy with my sweetener usage)
2 tsp vanilla (unless you're like me and you're flat out of vanilla, which i was tonight, until i sent the husband and children up to the store, but by the time they got back, the brownies were already done. next time!)
1 C flour (i use whole spelt almost exclusively for all my baking)
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
4 TBSP cocoa powder
(truth be told, to appease the chocolate lovers in the house, of which i am not really one, i eat it if it's around, but i don't miss it if it's been a while, i nearly double the cocoa powder)

Mix Together, Bake 350, Thirty Minutes, Don't cool on hot stove burner, la la la.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

pushed to the back of the drawer

it's not just you i'm neglecting

Despite a steady stream of packages arriving on my front stoop (making my mail carrier lady rather grumpy, I fear, because she doesn't simply ring the bell and leave, like the brown shorted fellows, no, she rings the bell and waits for me, sometimes for several minutes before I stop what I'm doing and get to the door. And I open the door, expecting to see a box, but always a little surprised to see her still standing there, holding it), I haven't mailed any of my own. I attempted the chore when I dropped my Christmas cards off at the post office, but the line was intimidating and I had both of the children with me and the youngest one was was already a crab. And I did not even try yesterday and today, well, today is clear and sunny and beautiful, a fine day to walk up with an armload of boxes, and probably the last day to send packages that should arrive by Christmas and yet, here I am. Not in line at the post office. I am pushing back my deadline and I'm going to call them New Year's Packages and expect that if any of my recipients grumble, I'll take them off the list all together for 2008.

Actually you know who's grumbling the most? Me. Because I expect the moon from myself and I never, ever deliver. Here's the thing: I've been giving myself such a hard time for not bouncing back from all the stresses this long year, arguing that *other people* (closely related, I'm sure to the elusive, mythical "they" who are always "saying" such-and-such) would be on top of everything, rocking routines and plans and not just slogging through the holidays, but making them the best holidays ever. I'm not at my best. And I need to be okay with that because giving myself guff, or assuming that furtive guff is covertly sneaking in from other directions, is like saying to someone with gluten intolerance, oh, but I can eat these flour tortillas and I feel just fine. What's your problem? Let's say that moving so much (plus at least one other big thing I haven't written about here) are the celiac version of flour tortillas. Or the fluffy persian cat equivalent of pet dander allergies. It's just been too much. For me.

I have to be okay with forgetting things, with letting other things slide, with expecting less from the start. Because that's just where I'm at this year.

So many things are getting away from me like old garlic. Does this happen to you, too? Do you dig in the back of a utensil drawer for that bottle opener or those tongs your rarely use, only to pull out a sprouting dried-up half-bulb of garlic? And you think, didn't I just buy that thing? And then you realize, no, no it's been weeks. Or longer.

The last time I found an old sprouting, garlic, my daughter declared it treasure and lovingly planted it in backyard soil tamped down into a cut off goat milk quart box, set it in the window and called it "Gloria."

Which sort of makes me think that even when things don't go "right" when I fall behind and don't do the scads of seasonal crafts I hoped I would, I don't help my girl acquire the supplies she needed to produce the certain handmade gifts she wanted to make, when I'm barely making reliable and healthy dinners, not to mention extra special Christmas baking, that somewhere in there, we'll still find some garlic shoots to call Gloria and something good can come out if it all.

Some good, so far this week:
-the unimitable word diva's soltice mix cd arriving in the mail
-a good friend's perfect gift of a whole case of my favorite condiment (this really deserves its own entry)
-my husband coming home for lunch and staying to finish putting our exterior lights on the house
-the sound of rain on my windows when I go to bed at night
-my son has taken to calling his Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever "the scary book" not, as you might assume, because of the author's name but simply because there are a lot of lions and elephant drawings and he thinks they're "scary"
-having had several excuses to wear my favorite coat, vintage a-line camel hair with the big, plastic buttons.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

it is finished

Or, rather, the components are finished. I still need to put them together. Christmas of 99, when my girl was 10 months old and provided an obvious reason for including an updated family picture within our holiday card, I decided to take the idea one step further (which is less a nod to my creative industriousness than a self-deprecating reference to my compulsive tendency to make things harder for myself) and turn the photo into a little magnet picture. That first year, there was much tiny hole punching and embroidery floss involved. And I was so inexperienced with crafty magnet projects that I affixed fat, button magnets onto the backs. It was a time consuming project and I regretted having taken it on, a little. But it was well received, especially from far flung relatives with whom we visit infrequently, and I knew I'd probably do it again. Since that first year, I've mostly just slapped flat, flexible magnets onto photos, but a few years I've added paper frames or embellishments. By the time we take and choose a suitable picture, I'm pretty much over any enthusiasm for the project. I skipped it all together a couple of years, citing cross country move or new baby for not having my act together enough to make it work. The truth is that I don't really have my act together this year, either, so consider yourself in on the wink-wink nudge-nudge secret that sending the card plus magnet out provides the illusion that I do.

When we visit my grandma, or other far away family, we often find a line-up of our family's faces over the years marching across the fridge. In a few photos, you can see our daughter grow up and my (and my husband's) hairstyles change dramatically. Of course, I could see the same progression, the same pictures, if I dug through albums (or, more recently, my extra hard drive) here at home, but it appeals to my vanity, a little, to indulge in such reminiscing while standing in someone else's kitchen. Something about that context provides a new perspective. We look like a happy family. We are a happy family. But I can see the pictures maybe as someone else sees them and without the wistfulness filter I'm usually looking through.

This year, I'm considering it a public service (albeit to a small, limited public) to send a picture minus my scowling face. Oh, I jest. Our 2007 offering excludes the grown-ups of our little family because it was just easier to take a picture of the kids only. I snapped the photos yesterday and the husband and I edited them together in the wee hours of the morning. The problem with editing photos after midnight is that when you look at the finished prints in the daylight, after a few hours of sleep, you realize that the text is off-center. My grandma won't notice that, though. And when I see it years from now, I won't either. And if I do, I'll smile and remember how sweet it was to have such dear young children to take pictures of. And that's the whole point.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

loves company

it's been foggy here lately

Northwest Winter weather doesn't make me dreary. Oh no, I do that so well all on my own. But it lets me be dreary. It doesn't mock my flagging moods by throwing too-bright sunlight at me every time I look out the window, something a little like interrupting some sad, sappy ballad with a boppy polka. Which is not to say that I am sad (exactly) nor sappy (very much). I just like having the option to be either. I'm well-suited, I suppose, to this climate. I appreciate the congruency. We understand each other. It's somehow a lot easier for me to be happy on a gray day than it ever is to be sad (or still or pensive or any other word that really fits better here) on a sunny one.

Today was not sunny. And for that I was very grateful.

It's good to feel like you can be quiet and still together or inspired and busy and productive together and it will be just as comfortable, just as familiar and true.

If my flowery references to the weather read a little like describing dear, old friends it is because I'm attempting, and not so much succeeding, to segue into a quick mention of our weekend of favorite house guests. We have had so much inconsistency in our little family's world, plenty of starts and stops and upheaval, that the things that last, the things that always work and grow along side (changing, but not falling away) are all the more appreciated. All the more needed. It's good to have friends who know you.

Do you know that not once, but twice, I have heard separate npr commentators pronounce segue as "segg"? Twice. It's already on my iffy list of words, words I use inadvertently but reconsider later. See, in the reconsidering of the previous paragraph, that immediate editing which occurs loosely on the fly, not so much editing as just speedily scanning to make sure I didn't lose my train of thought (as I'm prone to do while speaking. I should stop talking all together, too bad I can't seem to eek out enough time to write so often), I was blindsided by this tangent. Here we go. I won't change what I've written but I might tentatively shuffle segue from the inadvertent words list over to the so-called "Gossamer-Akimbo Category". This might have come up in wine-soaked conversation last night, which is certainly why it was floating around in my head just now and bumped smack into the memory of a mispronounced Segue. There are certain words I cannot abide by. These are not offensive words or ignorant words. These are words that, for reasons I cannot sufficiently articulate, I am unable to take seriously. Akimbo. Every time I read "arms akimbo" (because is anything else ever? legs, occasionally. but I hardly think we need a whole word for bent appendages) I groan. There might also be affected gagging noises. Gossamer. Of all the ways to describe wings and thin fabric and spider webs, so many other words could work together to paint a more accurate picture than that one. More groaning. Myriad. A legitimate word that has surely slipped by undetected plenty of times in years of reading, but probably not a myriad. Oh, you're groaning, too, now, admit it. There are better ways to say A Great Number. Those ways do not include Plethora. I much prefer Passel. A passel of anything sounds charming. Unless we're talking dark under eye circles, which we will be if I don't find my way to sleep soon.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

it's a longshot, but. . .

I'm feeling desperate. This is a trivial desperation, which is the best sort to have, but even trivial notions can bore under one's skin and itch like crazy. So, there are these boots I want to buy. And I can't find them. Less than a month ago, zappos still had them in stock. I did not buy them then because I always hem and haw and second guess myself anytime I consider buying something new. I'd estimate that at least 85% of my wardrobe is thrifted, 10% trickles in from the clearance rack or the unmentionables section of Target, and the remaining 5 are new purchases for things like shoes. Things like my brown dansko clogs I've worn several times a week for over eight years. I like to get my money's worth out of clothes, which is why I can justify spending a hundred bucks on shoes I'll have for a decade, but it doesn't make sense to pay more than goodwill prices for a pair of jeans. So, all that to say, I am lustily attracted to a pair of ridiculously expensive boots. I've been visiting them online occasionally for a couple of months, my cursor always just hovering over the "add to cart" button, but I always guilt myself out of it. Even now, I feel guilty. Devoting this writing space to fancy boots is such a waste of time and words, but, like I said, it's under my skin and it's an irritating distraction. I have an event to attend next week, a holiday party for my husband's work at which I will meet -for the first time- his employer and colleagues. And I want new boots, dangit! But the ones I covet seem to be last season's model and are no longer available anywhere. Have you seen them? Camper Industrials in Brown Leather with Orange Stitching (size 39!). They look a little like this (though this is a child's boot and the grown-up version is slightly different):


I emailed zappos and received a quick reply: they are sorry but they no longer carry the colorway I want. I'm quick to notice and mention poor customer service, so I'll be sure to state, for the record, that the zappos customer service rep mentioned that she'd also tried to find them elsewhere online. I appreciate the sincerity from such a big, anonymous online retailer but I'm still awfully bummed that they aren't for sale anywhere. I don't even have a number two choice.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

the passing of time


Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of the day I triumphantly pushed a ten pound three ounce baby out onto my bedroom floor. Which is an egocentric way of saying it was my boy's second birthday. But this is my bloggy space and I'm entitled to tweak everything so as to make it all about me. My children have an unintended seven year age gap because, as it turns out, fertility can be a real crapshoot. I'm not convinced that those not on the waiting, waiting side of things, those who don't know how painful it is to have a body inexplicably broken and unable to do the one thing humans have been doing successfully since the beginning of time -procreate- can appreciate how much not getting pregnant sucks. Oh we hear all the time about how much it sucks to get pregnant when you aren't planning it. We live under the societal assumption that fertility is a given; avoiding pregnancy seems to be the looming subject for all sexually active people under fifty. The big birth control method conversation is expected and practically scripted. But no one knows quite what to say from the other direction, when, despite everything, it's just not working. Infertility makes people uncomfortable. Secondary infertility is even more confusing. There seems to be this overarching question, something like, well, if you managed to get it right the first time, what are you doing wrong now? And then the advice rolls in. Just relax. Take more supplements. Eat a ripe mango under the full moon while wearing cotton underpants. Because apparently getting pregnant is like installing your own toilet, people who have done it successfully think that they must know something about the process that you don't that they can offer you to help you out. But getting knocked up sometimes takes more than a wax seal and a handyman's instruction book, it takes something even the most prolific procreater doesn't realize they're benefiting from: luck. Feel free to change 'luck' to 'God' as applicable, but the sentiment is the same: some supernatural force that, following the basic rules of biology, either cooperates or not. Sperm and egg. It's not that complicated. And yet every time it happens, it's a little miraculous. So we never really knew what the problem was. Identifying the problem would not have guaranteed a plan of action for fixing it anyway. Because even the best plan still leans heavily on that whole luck factor. And, just as I reached the end of my hope, just when I was ready to move forward to the next stage (because there's nothing like keeping you from moving ahead than trying and failing to get pregnant for years), we lucked out: I got pregnant. Surprise! The very best surprise. A blessing that is only, these years later, beginning to make sense to me.

Have you ever read Heidi? Oh, sure you know the story (orphan girl, grumpy grandfather, goats, the alps) but have you read it? When Heidi is sent to live with Klara and her family, she spends all of her time hoping and praying to go back to the mountain. She begins to lose hope and tells Klara's grandmother how angry she is that she hasn't been able to go back and the grandmother so wisely tells Heidi that sometimes if we get what we want when we ask for it, it wouldn't be half as good as what we'll get if we just wait. She did eventually go back to the mountain, but because it was so much later, she had cultivated a lasting friendship with Klara. She had learned to read and had soft rolls for Peter the goatherd's toothless grandmother. So, she got what she wanted -to go back to her grandfather and live on the mountain- but in having to wait, she brought with her all of these other, wonderful and useful things she wouldn't have had if she had gone back right away.

So now I have the sunniest, sweetest little chunk of baby boy love and his doting, helpful big sister and I enjoy perks from the wide age gap every day. It's a challenge, making sure I'm giving the best to two children with such wildly different interests and abilities, but seeing it from this direction, I don't think I'd really want it any other way. (of course, there's no perfect way to have a family and if thing had gone as we wanted them to, from the start, I'd be delighted with that family, too, no doubt). I love that just as the girl is pulling away and moving toward more big kid, independent things, the little one is a full fledged toddler, with all the enthusiasm for the world and his mama that implies. Seven years is long enough to give me the perspective that these things, these young years things that make me want to pull out my hair, the messes and the NO!s and the ear shattering cranky screeches, are not so endless as they seem. I'm so much more able this time around to enjoy the best parts completely, because I know how quickly it all disappears, how soon a pudgy dimpled toddler transforms into a lean kid with adult teeth and sarcasm. How even the the endearing moments you think you'll remember forever start to fade away. You can't ever remember anything well enough. You just have to live it and be there when it happens. Because how can you recall the way your heart leaps when your busy little boy wakes up next to you in the morning and sticks his chubby bear paw of a hand into your hair and says, "more nigh-nigh, mama" and closes his eyes and pretends to keep sleeping? I'll always remember that he was, as a little guy, so unbearably adorable, but I will, someday, forget the way it feels.

And so how did we celebrate such an auspicious occasion? Well, life being as it has been the better part of this year, we haven't had the time nor the opportunity to develop and grow friendships specifically for the little guy. So, the party, if it was a party at all, was a family affair. Just the four of us by the fire with a few gifts. And cake. Of course there was cake (a cinnamon applesauce cake which was similar to the one I made him a year ago for his first birthday, but now that he's a big old number TWO! I also made a lemon icing). He was very pleased with the whole simple effort. But mostly he was pleased with the Twos.


We have this tradition in our family of hanging construction paper numbers from the ceiling of the birthday child. It's something we started when the girl was two. It's tradition, if you will, for me to stay up entirely too late the night before my child's birthday, drawing and cutting construction paper numbers and it's tradition for me to rouse my sleeping husband, who usually spends the cutting portion of the activity zonked out on the couch, when the numbers are all threaded so he can assist me in the hanging. We've done this every year for the girl (save for last, owing to our five day birthday trip to disneyland, which, come on, totally trumps construction paper); this is the boy's first year for hanging numbers. Last week I was talking to my daughter and I said how exciting it was that we'd be hanging Twos for her brother soon and how now that she's older, she can pass the tradition on to him since, as I assumed, she wouldn't be interested in having 9s in her room next month. And her reaction was horrified shock. Of course she expects and wants 9s.

And because this entry isn't long enough (oh, it's Sunday evening and nobody's here reading anyway, and if you are, well, then maybe you want a whole novel and an excuse to sit and not do anything else for a while), I've dug up something I wrote about our paper numbers several years ago:

I have some giant internal ritual deficit that might have nothing at all to do with my own childhood but which I'm forever trying to fill. In myself and my girl. I think tradition -ritual- is the anchor that stills our discontent, giving us a tie to something bigger and greater and with more momentum than our little selves. We have little rituals, all of us, we perform every day, in the grooming and the housekeeping and the daily life. It's hard to look at the rote and see anything bigger than drudgery; I mostly fail at that. But for the big things, the milestones, the holidays and birthdays, it's easier to see how significant tradition is, how it becomes not just something to look forward to, but a measure to mark the passing of time by. . . Fragments of tradition lodge into our life like glass shards and we start to recognize ourselves by the things we do, the tasks we create for ourselves. We create the ritual and the ritual creates us; our lives have meaning. I did not anticipate my girl's birthday this year with much excitement. I wondered how I could offer her some sort of celebration that would validate her specialness, despite the crappy time we've had of it lately. Money is tight for us. She doesn't yet have any friends she feels close enough to that she'd want to invite them to a party. What, then? I was wracking my brain for something Fun! Exciting! Impressive! when I remembered that it's relationship, it's ritual that really matter. How could I have forgotten? When Freya turned two, her dad and I cut out a zillion construction paper 2s and strung them from the ceiling of her playroom while she slept. In the morning, when she toddled in, she was enraptured by a sky of colorful, twirling numbers -the first number she ever really recognized- and she spun around, pointing and laughing. At the time, I thought it was a good, tangible way for her to see how old she was, and we didn't intend to keep them up very long. But she became attached and they stayed up all year. A few days before she turned three, she said to me, "and when I wake up in the morning, all the twos will be gone and there will be threes hanging from the ceiling. Because, that's what we do." Because that's what we do. And so, that tradition was born. Some rituals, we create intentionally, some just become. So, last night, I stayed up too late and cut too many big, block 6's out of construction paper, pulled thread through the top of each one with a needle, and then passed the off to my long-armed husband to hang. It was after she had been up and awake a while this morning (while we were eating breakfast and long after she had first noticed the twirling, overlead digits), that F confided to me that she had been worried we'd forget. She said she hadn't wanted to say anything before, to remind us, because she didn't want us to feel forced into doing it. She told me she had already thought to herself that she wouldn't be sad if there were no sixes hanging from her ceiling, because things have been so different for us lately. But she said she hoped they'd be there. When she woke up, she felt loved, she felt special. It was a little thing. . . paper and thread. But it was a big deal. I'm glad I didn't screw it up.

And so it goes. He'll grow up with paper numbers and hopefully he'll feel such fondness for them as his sister does, that they'll signify to him, as they do her, that we care, that he's special, that we're glad that he's here with us. Because I am all of those things. So glad. So happy to know that wild-haired little boy, so relieved to have the waiting years behind me. So aware how quickly everything can change.

Friday, December 07, 2007

st. nicholas' little secret

new pajamas

When then girl was wee and it first occurred to me to observe St. Nicholas Day, we simply transferred the usual Christmas stocking tradition to the 6th of December. This worked quite well when she was younger, as our insular little family unit was even more insular than we are now. Which is to say, that a two or three or four year old isn't so much aware of traditions beyond her own home. But as she got older, there seemed need to explain that, no, not every kid wakes up on St. Nicholas day to a stocking full of little gifts. Also, as the years have progressed, I'm finding that I'm less enthusiastic and organized and not so likely to be right on top of things enough to even open up the Christmas box and find the stockings and get that going as early as the first week of December. It became apparent a few years ago that our newly made tradition was losing steam. So we moved the whole Stocking idea back up to the twenty-fifth and our St. Nicholas Day "celebrations" have consisted of baking cookies (mostly) and saying, "hey, it's St. Nicholas Day" (well, except that one year we forgot all together). We tried to make a point of having our tree up and decorated by that date, but our tree cutting trip we attempted last weekend was waylaid by a tired boy who insisted, despite my promise of fun and running and outside and all things he loves, that it was naptime. So we don't even have a tree yet. But yesterday I gave the children new pajamas, in honor of the kindness and warmth of the original St. Nick, and the reaction was so much better and more appreciative and glad than anything little we could have shoved down into a sock or anything sweet for our bellies. My kids love pajamas. Well, my girl loves pajamas and my boy loves what his big sister loves. Just over a year ago, I thrifted the most awesome pair of cotton percale classic-style pajamas for my girl, orange and red with tiny kitchen implements all over them. They were in great shape when I found them but she's worn them threadbare since. I've been on the lookout for similar pajamas, you know, button-down, collars, pockets, cuffs, piping. The thrift store favorites are French and too expensive to buy new. Do you know how hard it is to find classic cotton pajamas for children which are *not* treated with chemicals? Go ahead, give it a try. I won't wait for you. Thanks to the consumer product safety commission, unless kid pajamas are "snug-fitting" they have to be treated with slow igniting carcinogens. Which I think is awesome and comforts me every time I send them to bed with a lit candle. Geez. Somebody needs to let the cpsc know that children sleep in what is comfortable, with or without a designated "pajama" label. Oh, no, wait don't tell them or pretty soon all store-bought garments will be treated with flame retardant. In the meantime, I'll just wink and pretend that "loungewear" are only for lounging.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

do it yourself

I'm accustomed to getting odd reactions when referencing homebirthing or homeschooling. In my little world, neither are uncommon, though they both veer off track of the mainstream. But for every dopey comment some random grocery store checker has given me, for every pointed question an extended family member has posed, for every dropped jaw response from a passing acquaintance, I get all that and even more confused disbelief should I happen to mention home haircuts.

And what I always want to say (but don't because I'm not so confrontational in person), is Lighten Up, People! I take scissors and snip off my hair. I'm not talking a bathroom open heart surgery or some complicated medical procedure here (okay, so sometimes I have successfully closed a gaping cut with regular household super glue and avoided a trip to the emergency room), I'm talking hair. And you know what they say about hair: it'll grow back. What's the big deal?

i cut my own hair

I've been avoiding this task for months. I admit that making an appointment and having someone else cut my hair would be lots faster; it takes me the better part of an hour, usually, to do it myself. I start at the sides, the parts I can see easily, and just start cutting. I don't wet it first, I just grab and cut, grab and cut. And then I reach behind my head and do the bulk of the back by feel. When it's time for the fine trimming, I use a hand mirror to see what I've missed and do my best to even it all out.

In the last ten years, I've had only a few salon haircuts. Not many but enough to learn this: I am never as satisfied with my haircut as it cost me to have it done. No offense to any hair stylists out there, but I'm never thirty dollars (or forty or fifty, or, add some color and make it a whole hundred) dollars pleased. I usually come home and wince at my reflection, wishing I'd better articulated what I wanted. Or I come home and have to take off a little more, or even up the sides.

But when I do it myself, it can be a work in progress. Whoops, missed a spot. Unless I get a sudden urge to bring back the feminine rat tail, whenever I notice, I just grab the scissors and whack it off. Which is what I'd do if I found a tricky longer lock after a salon cut, but when I do it myself, I just shrug, I don't feel guilty about having paid someone else to do what I have to double check and fix at home.

And then, because I'm not paying someone else to do it, I'm not paying someone else to do it. I won't say that I'm forty dollars richer, because it's not like I'm building a tidy little nest egg out of my unspent haircut budget (which is to say, of all the things money is set aside for at our house, haircuts ain't it). It's a little like spending so much time at the goodwill and then getting sticker shock in a department store. It's hard to pay for brand spankin new retail when you're used to secondhand prices. Because I've cut my own hair for so long, even when I put it off and put it off and think wistfully how quick and convenient it would be to just walk in someplace and have it done for me, I can't do it.

You know that sinking feeling you get when you're sitting in a salon swivel chair, your arms tucked in your lap with that scratchy cape velcro'd around your neck, and you look down and see your hair all over the floor? And you think, what have I done? Do you get that feeling? I always did. But when I'm doing it myself, it's a little triumphant. Like, look at me being so bad ass I take the scissors to my own hair. Ha! Take that you straggley, neglected pieces. You've been weighing me down and aging me a decade with all your straggley, neglected straggley-ness and I've had enough. Snip.

snip snip

It takes decent scissors (though if I'd been writing about this a few years ago, I'd have told you my tool of choice was the handiest pair of dull craft scissors; it's been fairly recently that I invested in a pair of sharp haircutting shears from the salon supply store), a good chunk of time and a little moxie.

And then, just like that, I feel like my old self again. Only maybe even a little better, because cutting your own hair builds confidence. You're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, your hair looks terrific!

shorter and swingier

Monday, December 03, 2007

a place for fire

one last log

This past weekend, we procured some free, dry wood and embarked on an experiment to find out if we could keep our little house warm in case of a winter storm power outage. And we discovered that we can, indeed, keep it warm. Plenty warm. Maybe too warm, if the naked baby and tanktop-clad girl and discarded pants and sweaters by the hearth were any indication. I don't exactly wish for a power loss. Not all in my vicinity are so lucky to have an alternate heat source. But I must admit that every time the lights flickered, I got a little hopeful thrill. So my wish would be for a fifteen minute power loss. Just long enough to light candles and pile on blankets by the fire. Just long enough for the children to feel (and see and hear) that spooky wonderfulness that comes from a sudden and surprising lack of electricity. Just long enough for it to be exciting, without dealing with any of the logistics of meal prep or bathing. I mentioned all of this to the husband and he said, "so let's do it. we'll switch the breaker and black out the house and it'll be fun." And maybe we will. I told him to wait, maybe it'll happen on its own. The worst of the wind was still to come and it's been blowing strongly all day. Maybe some tenuous tree branch nearby will fall and we'll get a quick, dark thrill after all. Not so long that everything in the freezer would spoil, but just long enough that we'd need to slurp down all the ice cream.

I'm looking forward to another fire tonight, even if we don't lose any power. I like the way we all sort of congregate close by the flames. The way the children bring toys and projects and books onto the living room rug. The way you can hear the crackling from the other room. The way the tending process is this activity we all can get in on. The way the house gets so hot, it's a good excuse to break into that stock of chilled summer wine (ha!).

Two years ago, we lived in a house with a fireplace, but it was in the high seventies up through the whole month of December and a fire would have been ridiculous. Last year, we lived in a house with a fireplace (a different house), but we moved in two days before Christmas and it was enough to get the tree and decorations up, to make cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, to wrap presents in time. A fire was the least of our concerns. So this year, we're here and (mostly) unpacked and the fire isn't just a fire in the fireplace. It's a symbol that we have fewer stresses, more time to think about finding wood, chopping kindling, scrunching up balls of newspaper. The blazing fire makes it feel like Home. And that is the warmest feeling.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

well, that was disappointing

We woke up this morning just in time to see the last eleven wet snowflakes falling from the sky. Oh, there has been much snow anticipation around this house lately. Much planning of warm outfits (a certain fashion conscious not-quite nine year old loves a good excuse to play with her wardrobe - and raid her mother's closet for missing components. how have we reached this stage already?!), lengthy conversations about what waiting treats would be *just right* after a long play in the snow (hot cider and gingerbread, of course!), and premature consideration regarding whether or not we should assign a gender to our snowperson. It's been years since we've had snow to play in and, saving the littlest who only vaguely understands the concept (but still runs to the window asking, no? no? -"snow, snow"; it's all about the context), we're all quite anxious. There's really nothing like the quiet magic of a first snowfall. Is there anything else that transforms the world like snow? If there is, I don't want to know about it because it would probably be the end of the world or the post-apocalyptic remains of planetary destruction. The hush hush stillness of snowfall is a little eerie, but mostly magical and the same quiet in any other place would just be wrong. I knew before I even rolled out of bed this morning that all the snow hype in the local media over the last few days fell flat. It was too loud outside.

So we wait, impatiently. And slog around in the regular old rain, which isn't quite as endearing when SNOW was promised, however insincerely.

You know what else fell short today? My thrift store trip (St. Vincent de Paul again, this might be getting serious). I went looking for ready made items to embellish for gifts. I think I'm going to have to resort to sewing something, which was my idea in the first place. I enjoy sewing, but I'm so unskilled and my sewing area is a mess; it seems a shame to go to all the trouble to make something for faraway family who might not appreciate it anyway. But I can't think of a more frugal option.

I can say that it would sure help me get into the holiday spirit if I didn't think that every time, between now and the twenty-fifth, I stepped into any sort of store or retail establishment I'd be subjected to a rendition of Santa Baby. Or, maybe even worse, that Last Christmas song by Wham. I kept Sufjan Stevens' Christmas boxed set out until, oh, March of this year. I think it's time to dig it out again. Since fat flakes probably won't be falling any time soon, I can't think of anything else that would jumpstart my winter/holiday cheer.