Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Piles and Piles

It was a day of dealing with piles.
There was the dish pile.
It was a happy dish pile. Yesterday we celebrated Evelyn's birthday early because her grandparents were in town.

For her birthday dinner she chose a Cheese Souffle and salad, followed by pot roast and potato gratin. Ev made her beloved souffle with some help.

The pot roast was my job, but Greta peeled the carrots and Ev peeled the pearl onions. Clementine took charge of her specialty, the gratin.

It was wonderful to cook together again, but boy did we make a mess! It was a funny menu for July, but perfect for the funny blustery, cold, foggy day.
We even lit the fire.

I did not tackle the dish pile first, though. I pulled my capuccino and escaped to the office where I confronted this:
Another happy pile. It is my novel about teenage aliens. Seriously. It is 250 pages long right now. And it isn't finished. Even though it frustrates the hell out of me, I feel happy to have written 103,884 words.

I need to fill it out here and there, figure out some plot problems, get rid of all the inconsistencies, and cut, cut, cut. My hope is to get this draft done by Halloween. Then I can start another novel on Nov. 1 for Nanowrimo.

In December I'll return to my extraterrestrials for a final draft. And maybe at the beginning of next year I can move this pile of papers from my desk into the slush piles of agents.

The final pile is a happy pile, too. Because a big pile of stinky dirt that blows into your eyes is so happy making. Well, it is if you've spent a month constructing a raised vegetable garden and it is your soil/compost/manure mix. And a huge truck dumped it on our driveway, which is always exciting.

I made a little dent in my story.

A larger dent in the dish pile.

And look at this!

We filled it.

Gridded it.

And put back the deer-proof wire. It is all set for planting.
Each girl gets 6 squares to plant in.

Here's hoping we harvest a big pile of veggies.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Honey Flow

The nectar filled flowers are a-blooming the sun is a-shining and the bees are a-gathering. It's the honey flow. When frames fill up fast.

I found this formula for how much nectar the bees can gather during the honey flow.

7000 forager bees X (10 trips/day) X (70 mg of nectar/bee trip)X (1kg/1,000,000 mg) = 5kg nectar/day

Our girls aren't making honey that fast.
But we still had plenty of full frames like this one...

Full and capped for storage.
Friends and family help us uncap the comb.

And get the honey flowing again...
With a little help from centrifugal force...
It goes from the frames into the sieve and into jars.

Of course, some of the honey never made it into jars. Our guests arrived laden with homemade scones and bread, crumpets and greek yogurt, and brie and fig jam.

Some honey made it onto these goodies...
And some got eaten straight...
There may be a formula for calculating the theoretical yield of a hive during the honey flow, but the joy of sharing the fun and bounty with family and friends is incalculable.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Country Club: Vietnam

There are lots of way to travel. We're globetrotting at home with our homeschool co-op. We've created a Country Club.

No golf or tennis at this Country Club.

Instead we all put the names of countries we were interested in studying in a hat and drew several out. We do one country per week. Everyone learns a fact about the country to share with the group.

A fact-hunting trip to the Asian Art Museum turned up more information on Japan than Vietnam.

Everyone is invited to bring food or fun. It is pretty casual. After sharing our facts we read and acted out Vietnamese folk tales and the kids illustrated the folk tale The Man in the Moon. And we ate noodles and tropical fruit.

The idea is not to learn a whole lot, but just to bang a peg into our heads, so to speak. A peg to hang new information on, so that the next time Vietnam comes up, what is being said doesn't whiz in one ear and out the other, but instead gets snagged on that hook of familiarity and bounces around in there a few times.

I put together the kids and moms sharing their facts with a bit of music from the Sing 'n' Learn Vietnamese CD. Click the box to listen. You'll hear counting in Vietnamese first.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Restaurant of Resourcefulness

Do your kids love to play those alphabet games like:

A my name is Allison and my husband's name is Arthur. We live in Alabama and we sell antiques?

Mine don't. At least, we usually peter out before P my name is Pam and my husband's name is Peter.

But today while waiting for our burgers and Belgian fries (sure, Eccolo has the best burgers in the East Bay, but Luka's Tap Room gives the best total experience, best fries, best game room) we came up with a more captivating alphabet game: names of terrible places.

I'll list them all below, but Crevasse of Certain Calamity is among my favorites, as is the Maw of Monsters, and Zoo of Zombies. We hit silly notes at times with Igloo of Indignity, Orifice of Olfactory Offensiveness and Underwear of Uncomfortableness.

If you try our alphabet game, tell me favorites you come up with. Or you'll be sent to the Netherlands of Nothingness!

Axis of Attack
Barrel of Badness
Crevasse of Certain Calamity
Dungeon of Doom
Entrance to Eternal Exile
Funnel of Furious Fortune
Gallows of Gloom
House of Harm
Igloo of Indignity
Jail of Jealousy
Kingdom of Killing
Land of Languishment
Maw of Monsters
Netherlands of Nothingness
Orifice of Olfactory Offensiveness
Place of Peril
Quay of Queasiness
Room of Rampage
Salon of Sorrows
Trail of Terror
Underwear of Uncomfortableness
Vortex of Viciousness
Whirlpool of Whipping Winter Wind
Xray of X-acto knives
Yurt of Yearning
Zoo of Zombies

Friday, July 17, 2009

Tunnel Vision

Ev has visions of tunnels in sand, in snow. Her tunnels tend to be mischievous in intent. She likes to make a network of tunnels under undisturbed sand and cackle when unsuspecting strollers find the ground giving way beneath them.

One day she tunneled under the back legs of my beach chair so that I toppled over backwards when the sand gave way.

On a recent trip to the beach her tunnel vision captured the imagination of 10 friends. They collaborated on the grandest vision yet: a tunnel big enough to crawl through. At last she saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and it was not a train, but the lit up face of a friend.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Sunshine Parent

Reasons to Travel #3:
The Summer Soldier Has More Fun

These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it Now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. -Thomas Paine

Morale was rock bottom when George Washington ordered these words read to the troops in the winter of 1776. Enlisted men were barefoot, hungry and cold. One third were too sick to fight and the others were sick of losing and retreating. Their terms of service were up on December 31. They'd be free to go home New Year's Day unless they were killed in Washington's risk everything and everyone scheme to cross the Delaware on Christmas Eve and attack mercenaries encamped at Trenton.

But they were winter soldiers, not sunshine patriots, and they went and won and the rest is history.

On Thursday, when Clem's 104 fever refused to budge with tylenol, I took three kids on a hairraising dash to urgent care (it was closing in 50 minutes) located 40 minutes away in heavy traffic on low gas and returned victorious with antibiotics, for which I have pinned a mothering medal of honor to my chest. Ouch.

Yesterday Mike took Ev and Clem to make claymation movies at Zeum while I held back Greta's hair as she vomited into a bowl and changed the sheets when she missed the bowl.

I am the winter soldier of parenting.

I am not the parent who, in the time of vomiting, will shrink from the service of her children. To be fair, Mike isn't either. He has changed plenty a chunky sheet. He is, probably like many dads, more the sunshine parent because because I have staked out the bitter winter of parenting as my territory. If I had asked him to stay home with sick Greta, he would have, happily.

By my choice in some cases, necessity in others, I do the homeschooling, the medicating, the taking to the doctor, dentist, optometrist, the ferrying to classes, the scheduling, the home cooking. When I am brushing Greta's teeth I recount all the things she has eaten and brush them away. It makes her happy and I count the servings of fruits and vegetables so I can see if I need to do better the next day.

Mike does the reading stories at bedtime and the going to museums/hikes/parks. He takes them to Eccolo for gourmet burgers, and then across the street to Sketch for ice cream. By the way, when he says Eccolo has the best burgers in the East Bay, and Sketch the best ice cream, you can take his word. He's done the research. Of course, we do fun things all together, and I take the kids on field trips, though I try to pack nutritious and balanced lunches.

Winter parents feel compelled to make sure that a kid's every meal is square, that food is served on dishes not paper, that everyone gets to where they are supposed to be. Summer parents are a bit more casual.

Mike chose to take the kids fun places instead of their Saturday piano classes (a supplement to their weekly lessons) so often that the kids weren't allowed to play in the recital, which, since it takes up a whole weekend, he viewed as a victory on par with Washington capturing 1000 drunk Hessians.

When I took the kids on the road for nearly 6 weeks I thought it was going to be hard. But it wasn't. I was forced to be the summer soldier. Hotels and road food make their own demands. (And I did have my mom with me for a good part of the trip. Thanks, mom!)

We went to historical sites, museums and parks and zoos. We stayed in hotels and someone else cleaned our rooms and washed the sheets and towels. We ate in restaurants and someone else did the dishes. Our meals were completely imbalanced. Sometimes we even had ice cream for lunch.

Thomas Paine said that the winter soldier "deserves the love and thanks of man and woman" and so, of course, does the winter parent deserves the love and thanks of son and daughter. But do they get it?

Or do the kids just remember who was more fun? I was thinking about that tonight as I did the dinner dishes and looked out the kitchen window to see Mike playing frisbee with Ev on the court while Clementine rode the wagon down the hill and Greta, apparently completely recovered from her vomiting, ate raspberry sorbet on the curb.

I put down the sponge and went out, on a beautiful July evening, to be a summer parent.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Reasons to Travel #2

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” - G. K. Chesterton

When we landed in Oakland it might as well have been the moon. From the plane I had looked down on the brown California hills and after the lush greenness that threatens to overcome every road in the East they appeared to me, like the moon to Buzz Aldrin, a magnificent desolation.

On the drive home West Oakland's decrepit buildings leaped out at me. At home I could smell our home's smell, and see the high cobwebs, and Greta's pencil marks on the wall. It seemed to me that someone had moved the center island in the kitchen.

But also my morning cappuccino was delicious beyond all hope or memory. Before we even had time to get used to home we were off to camp on the coast just an hour's drive north. A friend who has been going there many years invited us. We almost did not go. But I thought about my resolve to cast off the bowlines and sail into the unknown.

I've lived in the Bay Area so long, 24 years, and yet this place was terra incognita for me. How could I have let it remain so for so long?

I suppose I just started to think that everywhere here was like everywhere else.

On our trip many of the people we met and stayed with said we were going places that they had never been. Of course. We all develop channels we flow in, habits we're comfortable with. It is hard to see them as ruts when we are flowing in them happily.

So despite being tired from our journey we set off to camp at a place so close we had overlooked it and there we found many things strange and wondrous to behold. The scrubby hills that seemed so desolate were teeming with life. Bunnies and gopher snakes and swallows that swooped along the paths to the campsites so that we surprised each other.

And though we made friends with the rocks and earth...
...I hope to preserve the feeling that all around us is terra incognita.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Flag Cake

Everyone helped put the berries on our flag cake. It is cake, if not of the people then, at least, by the people and for the people. Like democracy it is messy and imperfect. And worth fighting for (especially the parts that have both blueberries and raspberries).
Happy Independence Day!