Sunday, August 31, 2008

Guest post: Loneliness

One doesn't realise in early life that the price of freedom is loneliness. To be happy one must be tied.

-Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III, p. 1169

My wife has been gone backpacking for four days now with no cell reception. The kids and I are doing fine really. I'm very glad that she gets back tonight.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Guest post: Beef & Guinness Stew

Since, the Misses is away, I thought I'd cook up something yummy. Well, something that I think is yummy, but that wifey would never eat. I really enjoy a good stew or soup. She won't have anything to do with them though. Oh well! So I went looking for recipes and I found a beef stew that called for Guinness stout beer as the base instead of water. It's originally from a cookbook called The Complete Book of Irish Country Cooking. I'd never had anything like this before, so I decided to give it a shot:

The recipe called for 2 pounds of stew beef, but no taters. What the heck? I only had one pound of beef, so I supplemented with some Yukon gold taters.




Then onions:




Carrots:




Fresh pressed garlic cloves:




Before browing the stew meat, you flour and season it with salt and pepper.






Now it's time to add the garlic, onions, and little bit of watered down tomato puree for about 5 minutes:



Once that is done, you scoop the mixture into your stew pot. Now it's time for the beer! Luckily, where I am, the Food Co-op sells these by the can or bottle for about $1.50. In a typical grocery store, you'd have to buy an entire six-pack.



One of the thing that makes Guinness good is that it's made fizzy not by carbon-dioxide (like in most beers or soda pop), but with nitrogen. It's what gives the drink it's distinct foamy head. The bubbles are must smaller and not as bitey. For years, you could only get Guiness on tap, but now they have developed a special nitrogen releasing device that floats around in the can and triggers when you open it. It sounds like the ball rolling around in a rattle-can of paint.



Anyway, this is a cup a a half of fluid. We pour half of it in with the remaining carmelized beef on the bottom of the pan and bring it to boil.




Then we add that mixture to our pot, along with some thyme and more salt.



Now add the potatoes, carrots, and the rest of the beer.



Let it simmer for 3 hours...



Salt to taste and it's ready to serve! This yielded 4 good-sized bowls.



It has an interesting malty flavor. Pretty good, though not super. I'm set for lunches now until Whistler gets back though! Daughter informed me she wanted nothing to do with my "spicy soup". Of course.

Here is the original precipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds lean stewing beef
  • 3 Tablespoons oil
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper and a pinch of cayenne
  • 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, crushed (optional)
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato puree, dissolved in 4 tablespoons water
  • 1-1/4 cups Guinness stout beer
  • 2 cups carrots, cut into chunks
  • Sprig of thyme
Trim the beef of any fat or gristle, cut into cubes of 2 inches (5cm) and toss them in a bowl with 1 tablespoon oil. Season the flour with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch or two of cayenne. Toss the meat in the mixture.

Heat the remaining oil in a wide frying pan over a high heat. Brown the meat on all sides. Add the onions, crushed garlic, and tomato puree to the pan, cover and cook gently for about 5 minutes.

Transfer the contents of the pan to a casserole, and pour some of the Guinness beer into the frying pan. Bring to a boil and stir to dissolve the caramelized meat juices on the pan.

Pour onto the meat with the remaining Guinness; add the carrots and the thyme. Stir, taste, and add a little more salt if necessary.

Cover with the lid of the casserole and simmer very gently until the meat is tender -- 2 to 3 hours. The stew may be cooked on top of the stove or in a low oven at 300 degrees F. Taste and correct the seasoning. Scatter with lots of chopped parsley.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Guest post: When the mom is away, the mice will...

Hi there. Whistler's hubby here one the first whole day with the adventurous hiker away. Let's see what kind of trouble we can get into:



He is being pretty goofy. Nothing new there.



She is working on literary analysis and film studies. We're studying the hero's journey. Right now, we're on bad guys. To explore this angle, we got a new Chick Hicks car. She has all his lines memorized: "Ka-chigga! Ka-chigga! Say it with me now! Bring out the Piston Cup. That's what I'm talkin' about!"



I have him working on his bar chords. He's getting those extended harmonies down pretty well. Here he is working on Dm9b5 (D minor 9 flat 5). Groovy.



She, on the other hand, insists on rocking out. I'm teaching her the opening to Barracuda.

That's all for now. Stay tuned for cooking zaniness tomorrow...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Here I Go!

Don't worry, faithful readers, hubby promised to get on here and at least post some pictures of the kids while I am gone. It will be interesting to see what he digs up.

For me, here is what I will be doing this weekend. At three o'clock I'll meet up with the group of ten other women, do a quick gear check then climb into a 15-passenger van where I'll spend the next three or four hours getting extremely carsick on the Enterprise highway.

Once at the trailhead we'll enjoy sandwiches donated by Wheatberries and several of us are bringing wine and treats, enough for a good party. Then we'll "car camp" at the trailhead. Next morning those of us without hangovers and stomachaches will break camp and load up our packs. (You know I am kidding about the hangovers, right? C'mon!) We'll hike 5.6 miles on Friday uphill and then camp next to a pristine, rippling, giardia-laden mountain stream. Along the way we'll have writing assignments during camps and breaks and at night around the campfire we'll read selections aloud to one another.

Saturday we'll hike another 3.6 miles to Swamp Lake, hopefully nicer than the name implies. There we'll camp for all of Sunday, exploring, resting, writing, eating copious amounts of instant oatmeal and playing Hearts. I am told we'll have to cross a snowfield to reach our campsite meaning that this year July will be the only month that I did not experience snow in some form for this entire year. With the way the weather is going I have no doubt it will snow in September as well as every remaining month until 2009. But I digress.

The last day, Monday, we'll break camp and hike the entire nine miles back downhill and out. Then we'll all pile back into our van, play the carsick tape in reverse and end up home in Moscow smelling like... well... not going there. Use your imagination. I'm sure my Hubby and kids will be thrilled to see me and overjoyed to know I am soon getting into the shower.

All in all I'm expecting to have a marvelous time being homesick, mosquito-bit, aching, sunburned and sleep-deprived. I will be ten miles from civilization, in the middle of one of the most beautiful wilderness areas in existence. Surrounded by stimulating adult conversation, I will not be obliged to wipe any noses, change any diapers, observe any tantrums (I hope) or watch any Thomas the Train. This is going to be one heck of a weekend!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hubby Cracks Me Up

Okay, if this is not downright hilarious...

How many of us children of the 80's would sit around for hours at a sleepover playing Mad Libs? I know I did.

I truly am sorry about the plight of Cambodians, but I am not apologizing for laughing at the antics of the internet headline writers. Sometimes the way they present the "news" is absolutely ludicrous.

Fall Shopping

Because I dislike shopping I decided to try to get my kids' fall wardrobes all in one day and have it done. The rainy, chilly weather brought the fact that they have few cold-weather clothes that actually fit to my immediate attention. So ten o'clock saw us loading up in the brown car and heading downtown. Finally after almost four years of children I have hit upon a system that seems to work. I start at the cheapest thrift shop and get anything I like in the right size. On to the next one. Then I fill in the edges with stuff from Wal-Mart. Lastly I go to the mall and get a couple of new, nice things so each kid gets something new. In this way they get an entire fall wardrobe but I don't have to spend hundreds of dollars.

With this in mind, I stopped first at Salvation Army. They are by far the cheapest; each item there is only $0.99. (Don't tell Wholarmor, she might picket.) The kids found enough toys there, thoughtfully stored under the clothing racks to entertain them for hours. Curly Miss found a MegaBloks fire engine that she decided she couldn't live without, so that was added to our pile. She kept leaving her Nap (blankie) around the store and I had to tell her repeatedly not to forget it.

Next we went to Goodwill, clear across town where Curly discovered she was missing her Nap. This was the point where I just about had a meltdown. We scrounged for kids' clothes in Goodwill, where they are not organized in any sensible fashion at all, so it is next to impossible to find the correct sizes. My kids rode tricycles around the store, while I prayed that they wouldn't ride into the racks of glassware. Needless to say I spent as little time there as I could and soon we were buckling back into the car.

We picked up Mom for lunch then we all went back across town to Salvation Army for the Nap. once it was retrieved, we met Hubby at the Mall and ate lunch. Having so much of my family around me for lunch was wonderful, since I am leaving tomorrow afternoon. Even though four days is not technically that long, I know I will miss everyone immensely.

After Hubby headed back to work, Mom and I decided she would be in charge of buying the kids' shoes. My mother has something of a shoe fetish; ever since watching a fantasy miniseries called the Tenth Kingdom she jokes that she is one of the trolls who loves shoes. At any rate she was tickled to be asked to buy shoes for the kids and we headed to Famous Footwear. Once there Curly Miss insisted that she needed shoes with Thomas the Train on them. Although there were shoes with Dora, Princesses, Spiderman and even Lightning McQueen, there were no Thomas shoes. Out we trooped, stopping in a Payless Shoes where an apologetic sales clerk informed us that they too had no Thomas.

Next we went to Ross where the kids each picked out a new outfit. Curly chose a cute High School Musical top with stars down the sleeve and Seth picked a shirt with a basketball on it. But we were once again disappointed when it came to the shoes. For a minute our hopes ran high as we spotted some size 8 Thomas shoes. Would they also have size 11? We searched high and low. Unfortunately the largest size they carried was 9. Curly, almost in tears, pleaded that a size 9 would work, but when we put it on her foot, her toes were so crunched that she agreed she needed a bigger shoe.

Our last stop was Wal-Mart where (hooray!) they carried Thomas shoes in every conceivable size. We purchased 11's for Curly and Little Mister amazingly needed a size 8 to give him growing room. My tall children need surprisingly large clothes and shoes. Mister isn't even two years old yet and is in kindergarten-sized shoes.

Mom reminded me to grab some Cheerios and we headed back out into the brisk Moscow wind. Being the doting Grandmother that she is, she put the new shoes on the kids right away, then we merrily headed back to drop her off and go home to nap.

Once home, I laid my purchases out on the table. I had done well, I thought. There were four outfits for Mister, four for Missie, several warm jammies each and a darling little blue and white pleated skirt/jacket dress for Curly Miss to wear to church. Along with that they had new tennis shoes and new slippers. Now I need to go through their drawers to pull all of the too-small clothes and put them in storage. It seems that keeping up with growing children is a never ending job. Now Curly can start Preschool in style and Little Mister won't have to wear pink sleepers unless the laundry gets really backed up.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pre-Trip Meeting

In my head I held the image of a map of Moscow, a red star on the farm-like buildings that housed the Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute. Squinting at the blurry white street signs, I drove north along Polk Street, looking for Rodeo Drive, a Hollywood-sounding name for a very rural-looking place. To my immense relief I found it on the first try and pulled into a gravel drive. As I emerged from my car, I took a deep breath of fresh, rain-washed air, my face bathed in mellow light from the setting sun. Next to me, a red Subaru Outback stopped and a smiling, gray-haired woman unfolded herself from it, walking purposefully toward the open door of one of the nearby buildings. I followed, somewhat nervously. Inside the shadowy doorway I found a long table surrounded by chairs and topped with platters of cheese, hummus, bread and sliced peaches. Several women of various ages sat around the table, looking at a presentation screen on a wall.

I pushed past a shelf of stuffed owls to find my own seat. Almost immediately I was greeted by Caroline, the group's leader, a young twenty-something AmeriCorps member who had organized this trip as her civic project. Slowly the other women trickled in, greeting each other and chatting amiably. Most were middle aged; of the attendees, I was one of the youngest. We took turns around the table introducing ourselves and reciting the litany of our previous backpacking or camping adventures and talking about our favorite books. I gazed in turn at the women that would share my weekend, people who were strangers now but who, at the end of this trip would know each other better than many friends do. We would share food, tents, steep climbs and most all our writing, our inner thoughts and hopes and wishes and dreams poured out onto wrinkled notebook paper along a steep mountain trail.

Caroline took us through our itinerary, food list, packing list and all the myriad of other details we would need to know. The ten of us would split the load of group gear such as stoves and food. In addition we would carry tiny tents, layers of synthetic-fibered clothing designed to keep our body heat in even after it got wet from perspiration or rain. We would carry trail mix and extra socks. I planned to bring my tin whistle to play around the campfire.

When Caroline had finished her backpacking presentation, the two English professors took over and handed out sheet after sheet of book excerpts for us to peruse in the coming days. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of reading material, I was glad to learn that we did not have to get it all read before the trip. Glancing through the titles I saw a lot of outdoor themes, appropriate, I thought, for a wilderness trip.

My new packet in hand, I finished the last of my peaches and prepared to leave. My head was swimming with a caffeine headache (I hadn't had any coffee earlier, but over the weekend I'd had too much) and I still felt shy of my chattering trip-mates. Following one lady named Susan out the door, I made an attempt at a smile and a cheery "See you Thursday." Part of me bubbled with anticipation to hike with these other women, strong, independent women like myself who also loved to read and who weren't afraid to share their thoughts on paper. The quieter half of me was suddenly struck by the realization that this trip was far, far beyond my comfort zone. For someone who likes the familiar assurance of routine everything would be different. From food I probably wouldn't like, to the discomfort of sleeping on the ground to unfamiliar clothes and unknown companions, along with the homesick ache of missing my family, this would be a definite growing time for me. Still, the inner strength that forms the core of who I am felt sure and solid. I would be all right. I would rise to the challenge to push myself beyond what was safe and familiar into the exhilarating world of the unknown and there, on the top of the mountain, I would see the views that I had never seen before, the vistas that can change perspective on life forever.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Scenes From Parks

Last night we attended a Potluck/Going Away Party for a family from church. The impromptu gathering was quite well attended and a good time was had by all. My hubby, bless his heart, watched the kids on the playground so I could talk with the other moms sitting around long food-laden picnic tables. Since I had not talked to another adult since Tuesday (except Hubby), my extrovert-meter was sadly low. I chatted my heart out with other attention-starved moms while Hubby and the kids expended all their excess energy.



Curly, too, needed some extrovert-time so she played hard with all of her friends. This little gal is one of her best buds; she sees her every week at Small Group.



Daddy has put in quite a bit of time on the swings lately. He seems to really enjoy time with his son, the more so now that Little Mister is developing personality and language.



Saturday saw us up at Kamiak again. Here is my family eating lunch. Not only is Mommy the photographer, I am avoiding the bench because of the bees. I am slightly allergic and I hate, hate, hate bee stings. Hubby on the other hand is a bee-charmer (see Fried Green Tomatoes) so he and the kids don't seem to mind them.

I love this picture; I think I'll print it out and take it hiking. I am going to miss these guys SO much over the four-day trip.

Continuing the Journey

Hubby and I made the decision to apply to be foster/adoptive parents again. Three years ago when we lived in Pullman and Curly was a baby, we went through the entire licensing process. We filled out reams of paperwork. We attended a PRIDE training class where we learned about real foster children, the kinds of kids who need care, the families, the way the system works. After a thorough cleaning and stocking with the essentials such as plug covers, baby gates and a lock-box for our meds, we had our home inspected. We talked with other foster parents, social workers and even attended a support group event. It was February that we finally received our license and soon after got a call that a two-year-old boy needed a home.

I said no. I had just found out I was pregnant again and suddenly I got so sick I could hardly stay out of bed. I couldn't keep anything down and the fatigue and pain lasted the entire nine months. I was in no condition to take in foster kids; I could not even care for my own 18-month-old daughter. So we put the adoption process on hold. We also moved which means the homestudy would have to be repeated.

Then Little Mister was born and we moved to Idaho. Now that we're in an entirely different state, we have to start from scratch. Still the idea refuses to leave my heart. It would be so easy to stop with the two beautiful kiddos that we have, to save ourselves the trouble of the paperwork, the invasion and inspection of our home, the time and hassle of classes and First Aid and CPR and endless meetings. But my heart won't be silenced. There are babies out there who have no one to love them. Lost babies like the lamb in the Bible story. The tug in my heart will not go away.

Hubby contacted the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare last week to get the ball rolling. I don't know how long it will take for us to get the entire process completed yet again. Then waiting for the right kiddo to come to our family will be more waiting. It may be years down the road. In my mind that is okay. I'll wait as long as I need to wait. But someday, someday I will hold my Baby Bear in my arms, my special child, the one my heart longs for.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

More Produce Than I Know What To Do With

Like everyone else who has the misfortune of owning a garden, I have entered into the season of harvest. My little barrel gardens have produced faithfully for the most part. I have to admit I'm a little disappointed in my Swiss Chard. Apparently it sustained an entire population of bugs, judging by the holes in the leaves. Oh well, no matter. They have to live too.



The lettuce has been our favorite crop. About once or twice a week we get enough for a salad with dinner, which is exactly the amount we need. Any more than that and we would have to inflict our neighbors with the kind of produce-forcing kindness that most people reserve for mountains of spare zucchini. So far I have only done this with the plums in the front yard. I threaten neighbors with physical violence if they do not accept my offers of free plums. They beg and plead but I simply laugh maniacally and give them more buckets of ripe plums. They had better be glad I don't grow zucchini.



Natalie's favorite garden inhabitants are the two tomato plants. We bought these back in June at the Farmer's Market, brought them home and planted them in the middle of a full barrel without regard to organization. Fortunately whatever I had planted next to them died so there ended up being plenty of room. Now by their good fruit we know them and Natalie is enchanted by the ripening tomatoes. Great was her delight the other day when one was actually deemed ripe enough to eat. As the only soul in our house who likes tomatoes it automatically fell to her to try it. She held it by the stem and ate it like a strawberry.



Next year I plan to refine my barrel gardens somewhat but the basic idea worked great! I did not have to weed them, tend to them, worry about them or actually do anything to them except daily untangle the dog from around one. For that kind of neglect they presented me with a weekly salad. My kind of deal.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Real Men Wear Pink



Oh yeah, they also eat chocolate.

Putting Together a Gig

For years, Hubby and I have been playing Celtic Tunes together on various instruments, guitar, harp, whistle and flute. We have talked on and off about putting together enough music to play a gig in a coffee shop. It seems a daunting task since a coffee shop gig requires several hours of music and one Irish jig or reel is usually about 45 seconds long.

This week we sat down and wrote down all the Irish tunes we have ever played together. We organized them into sets of two or three tunes that go together with similar keys and tempi. We decided how each tune would sound best, whether whistle, flute, duet, guitar...

We discovered that over the years we have learned more than 50 different tunes which organized nicely into eighteen sets. Done correctly they should take almost two hours before we'll need to begin repeating material. Now we're in the detail stage of making sure everything has chords, copying music and deciding final instrumentation on each piece. We have plenty of sheet music when we want to expand our repertoire but for now we'll stick with tunes we know.

The work on this excites me. I've wanted to do this for a long time but I was too ill and the babies were small. Now we should have time (when we make time, usually after the kids are in bed) to practice. Once we feel confident we'll talk to Pat, the owner of Bucer's and set up a time to play.

We had hoped to expand the group to include an Irish drummer and a fiddler. Right now we don't know of anyone who wants to fill those spots. I was joking with Hubby that we'll teach Natta the violin and Seth the Bodhrán (drum) and we'll grow a band. Until then, maybe Hubby's brother will come up and fiddle for us.

Stay tuned. We still have weeks of intense work to get our "show" ready but soon I hope we'll be performing live in downtown Moscow. Talk about your big venue!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Hiking In Circles

This afternoon went so much better than the morning. While the kids slept, I donned my hiking boots and once again strapped on the frame pack loaded with dictionaries. I have discovered that the easiest way to simulate a 40-pound pack was to put in the Medical Dictionary, Good ol' Webster's and two calculus books. Then I set off around the block and back up the alley. If I walk a figure-eight around one side of the block, up the alley and around the other side, the distance is about half a mile and I can check on the kids twice.

Listening to Michael Card on my iPod, I walked that distance six times. Boring, but effective. I toted that heavy pack three miles. By now the stiff hiking boots feel terrific and my argumentative back has become resigned to an ever-increasingly heavy pack.

When the trip leader heard that I have scoliosis and asthma, she was ready to drop me from the trip. But I pleaded my case, telling her about my recent hikes and the training with the full-weight pack. She heard that and relaxed. Sometimes I wish I could just pick up 40 pounds and trot off down the road like other people seem to be able to do. Then it hits me how thankful I am to be able to do this at all. I will gladly spend three weeks building up the distance and weight if it means I get a chance to go backpacking, something I have always longed to do but never thought I would be able to handle.

Years ago, I read a book called Blind Courage about the only blind man to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. His story fascinated me and his descriptions of backpacking the rugged trail awakened a hunger in me to experience the wilderness, away from ease and comfort and automobiles and coffee shops. His willingness to get out there and hike day after day when other people thought it was something beyond his ability inspired me to push beyond what I assumed my limits were. Not to do something stupid, but to do something new, something out of my comfort zone, both physically and socially.

Such were the thoughts that chased through my head as I trudged around our block today, sweating in the afternoon sun. My hike is less than a week away, the longest "vacation" I've had since becoming a mom. I'm excited, nervous and thrilled for the chance to go. I will leave my family, join ten other women, all complete strangers for a four-day hike in a wilderness I have never seen. It sounds daunting, yet the challenge draws me, thrills me, pulls me along day after day, mile after weary mile.

Venting, Pure and Simple

As Natalie grows more mature, she has been growing more sweet and having more good days where she is polite, pleasant and helpful. Today was not one of them.

She got up as usual and came into my room to watch cartoons until her brother was finished sleeping in. That was okay, but once we got downstairs, the whining began. She wanted to watch a movie. No, she did not want to watch the movie that was in the player, she wanted a different movie, which meant I had to drop whatever I was doing to go change the DVD. As soon as I went back to my own dressing/washing chores, she was back.

This time she wanted yogurt. Well, we were out of yogurt. Sigh. I needed other groceries anyway so I promised we'd get some later that morning at the store. Meanwhile Seth had leaked out all over his jammies and bed, a smell which Natalie was quick to point out, repeating over and over how stinky he was.

In the middle of changing him, she demanded Cheerios and milk, repeating her request at intervals although I could not leave my naked, slimy baby to go fix them for her. Now I don't know about you, but this kind of thing drives me crazy. Finally Seth and I were dressed and Natta had permission to wear her shabby sweat suit, her "Lightning McQueen jammies" to the store. She wanted to sit in the seat of the shopping cart rather than the basket although it was Seth's turn, she crushed the grapes, she wanted to look in the eggs like I did, checking for cracks. She whined and complained about how cold she was through the meat and dairy section of the store (I sympathize with this, I hate the dairy section at WinCo, which feels like a walk-in freezer). She needed a doughnut, a chocolate one, but when we got there she changed her mind and wanted a brown one. She must needs put the groceries on the belt, nearly falling out of the cart in the process. There was a fun incident when I taught her how to push the button on the U-bag belt to advance the groceries down to where the bags were. She delighted in using this and also helping me put our groceries into the green canvas bags.

Later, back at home I worked on opening her the much coveted yogurt, a banana and some milk, which she refused to drink. While I was opening the yogurt she asked me for yogurt over and over until I wanted to throw it at her! After breakfast, she picked a fight with her brother over a new toy from the grocery store. I sent her to her room where she sat in time-out for several minutes before being restored to her toys in the living room.

Then, since the kids had spent most of yesterday in the stroller we went to the park. She insisted on wearing flip-flops but screamed when she stubbed her toe. She complained to me about how hungry she was but did not want to go home to eat. She slipped at the park, biting her tongue and you would have thought the world had ended. Although there was no blood and her tongue looked fine, she continued to wail at top volume all the way home, her shrieks carrying for blocks and drawing the curious stares of everyone on busy Third Street. Only when I promised her a piece of ice did she stop and begin asking me over and over for the ice although it was obvious I was busy unloading Seth from the stroller and unlocking the door. When she got the ice, she did not want it. Once inside and with a nice lunch in front of her, what did she want but a glass of milk, right after I had thrown the one from the morning away.

Soon it will be nap-time and I will be a thankful Mama (once Seth quits screaming, that is!!!). I have no idea why she picks certain days to push every single one of my buttons. She seldom actually means to be naughty, she is just three and as such, she is demanding and immature and annoying. Sometimes like today, she manages to get on my last nerve! But I am happy to report that with consistent training she has been less and less obnoxious and more polite. She just sometimes forgets and reverts. Thankfully she still takes a nap, so I can get a few hours today free of constant questions, whining and demanding requests.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Willpower

In exactly two months, Little Mister will add another year to his age. For me, it's not just the calendar that heralds the approaching milestone; it's the onset of that delightful ongoing world of conflict and tantrums which marks the passage from babyhood. All of a sudden, Little Mister has new thoughts entering his little round gourd, thoughts that he has never had before. New ideas come to him, new urges entice him. No longer is he content to do things Mommy's way, or even Sister's way, no, now Mister himself has an opinion. And a voice. And the ability to kick and scream and flail and stamp and otherwise let the world know that he, Mister, will be heard.

Right now the issue that he has picked is bed time. At the best of times, Mister hates his bed. Now let me first start by explaining that I completely do not understand his thinking behind this. I, his doting mother, LOVE my bed and would get in it far, far more often than I am allowed right now. Bed is soft, it's warm and quiet and I get to sleep there for sometimes up to twenty minutes before I am obliged to leave it and go attend to a family member.

So I cannot understand why he hates going to bed in such a vigorous, vocal, consistent manner. We have a routine involving a bottle of milk and a story with Daddy. We have lovely, soft jammies with Nemo on them, which he calls "Mo-mo". We have Lightning McQueen sheets and a stuffed moon to snuggle. We have a CD of lullabies. What more could a small boy need to drift off to dreamland?

One immediate problem is that Mister is by nature a night-owl. God help me when he is a teenager because he would happily stay up until the wee hours of the morning rather than go to bed. I blame his father for this aberration as my husband too possesses this unnatural gene to a well-developed degree. So it is not in Mister's nature to actually desire being in bed. Nor is it in his nature to desire to do anything which I, his loving, caring mother deems it expedient for him to do. Going to bed is not his idea, it's mine. Therefore it's wrong, he has recently discovered.

So as soon as he is loved and cuddled and kissed and then placed oh-so-gently in his soft, wonderful bed, the heavens open and angels sing ... no, wait, I was fantasizing there for a minute. No, his little body stiffens and his feet begin kicking; the tears stream, big, fat crocodile tears to show mean ol' Mommy how heartless and cruel she is to inflict this kind of torment on innocent small boys. He screams and shrieks and hollers and yells. He is determined to push this one through, to make Mommy change her mind and let him stay up instead of going to sleep.

One night it actually worked. He was poopy and I got him up to change him then could not resist his cute cuddliness so I let him stay up and watch an hour of TV with me. Long have I rued that day with bitter tears and gnashing of teeth. For it fueled the fires of victory and since then the storm has descended in fury at every subsequent bed-time.

So I wearily pull out my parenting toolbox again and drag out some well-used tools from Curly's two-year-old days. Some nights I grit my teeth and ignore the small, miserable, howling banshee in the side bedroom. Some nights I soothe and make extra milk. Some nights when his attitude seems in especial needs of boundary-making, I actually administer discipline. Every night I pray for wisdom and patience. I pray for my son to have peace and to learn how to submit his ferocious will, to choose to obey when everything in him wants the opposite. I pray for him to learn security from a mother who loves him enough to keep him safe and give him boundaries.

Although I dislike the conflict inherent in living with a two-year-old, watching him grow and change more than makes up for the hours of misery, most of which are brought on by himself. These first days of discovering that actions bring consequences are both frightening and exhilarating as his pudgy feet take those first steps into a larger world. Part of me wishes I had naturally mellower children so that I could allow them a wider tether, but at the same time I delight in their lack of fear, their strength. I would rather take a strong will now and teach it to have a measure of self-control to save the owner of that will from the larger, more painful lessons later on in life if he has no self-discipline.

And so these days of two-year-old battles to me are the training ground for Mister's future life, the time when he begins learning that actions mean something, that love sometimes has to say no and that a strong will harnessed by self-control is capable of infinitely greater things than the will of a person who knows nothing more than giving in to whatever pleasure is close at hand. To me, teaching this while at the same time cherishing without bruising the sweet gentle spirit inside him is the trickiest aspect of parenting. Every day I approach it with the utmost caution and tenderness, to love enough to hug and to love enough to say no and hold fast to that no. God help me have the self-control and willpower I need to do well this hardest of jobs.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Dude With The Dog

I'll start this post with a disclaimer. I would never in a million years do something I feel would put my kids in danger or myself for that matter. I felt that helping this guy today was something I could do safely and I would not recommend helping someone or picking up a hitchhiker-type if it would put you any danger.

I guess I really am my father's daughter. This afternoon as my children and I walked wearily back along Third Street in the pouring rain, we met a man with a hiking pack, a cooler and a gorgeous Alsatian dog. I figured he was homeless since Third Street isn't necessarily a popular hiking trail and he confirmed his out-of-town status by asking me as I passed where Lilly Street was. He was after the Community Action Center and the lady on the phone had said "corner of Third and Lilly." The man had the weary look in his eyes that I had come to recognize in many of my neighbors in the trailer park, the look of a man who just can't seem to make life work for him, who keeps getting himself in trouble through one venue and another and who is simply tired but since today is another day he just keeps on walking. He was missing some lower teeth. Still, his hiking pack was nice and in good shape and his dog looked well-cared-for and alert.

I could not remember which cross-street was Lilly nor could I remember which building houses the CAC. We parted and went our separate ways, me toward home and he into the furniture store to look in the phone book, presumably.

Two blocks later I saw the CAC sign and suddenly realized that I could save the guy a lot of trouble by simply telling him where the CAC was. I had no doubt he'd find it eventually on his own, but maybe I could give him a better day. I felt a sense of kinship with him since I had been walking through the rain with my plastic-draped stroller for the better part of the day myself and was soaked through. Only for me it was a choice and I had somewhere dry to go when I was done.

I turned around and headed back, breathing a quick prayer for the safety of myself and my children. For some reason I knew I had the green light to talk to this man; he had been so polite and took such care of his dog I felt little fear although I knew enough to know that it is not necessarily an indication of trustworthiness.

Sure enough, I saw his dog waiting patiently by the door of Columbia Paint and I pushed inside the glass door where he stood at the counter with a phone book and a map of Moscow spread out in front of him.

"Sir?" I said. "I found the CAC. I'll show you where it is."

"And you came back to tell me?" His voice held such incredulous disbelief that I knew he was not a stranger to homelessness and the touch-me-not stigma that accompanied it. He handed the phone book back to the young man behind the counter whose eyes held an expression of profound relief to be rid of the responsibility of helping the guy.

I had been standing in the doorway, one eye on my blue stroller with its precious cargo and one foot inside the door. Now I exited and waited while the Dude strapped on his pack, cleaned up a pile his dog had created on the step of Columbia Paint and picked up his cooler.

Cars whizzed past us as I led him the one block to the CAC building. The street it sat on, presumably Lilly, was conspicuously missing a sign, but I had my doubts about the Dude's reading ability anyway since he'd struggled with Line Street and hadn't seemed to comprehend much of the phone book either. My kids saw the toys just inside the door of the CAC and immediately wanted to stop. I acquiesced, mostly to go in myself and talk to the lady behind the counter. I hoped that the guy at church who ran the halfway house would have a bunk for this Dude for the night since every motel in town was full due to the arriving students.

In this I was unsuccessful, however, as the halfway house was full and the elder from church said that Coeur d'Alene was the closest place to have resources to help the Dude. I bid him good luck and headed for home, knowing that sooner or later he'd arrive in Spokane or Coeur d'Alene with his dog. My kids and I finally got home out of the rain and I hung up my drenched clothes to dry and went about putting them down for a nap.

All growing up my Dad would help people who were down on their luck (Lord knows Lewiston has enough of those!) and occasionally brought them home. One Thanksgiving we took an entire Thanksgiving Dinner to this homeless family in this old motel... Anyway, I think that and living in dumpy trailer parks for the last five years has taken away my fear of "those" people. It seems I end up rubbing shoulders with them a lot, from our down-and-out tenant in Pullman, to the disabled people I worked with at OUI to the parents of foster children and the children I taught in the public school. They're just people and they'll often tell you a sob story (with varying degrees of truthfulness; this Dude's was that his wife had kicked him out) and they likely won't change, but Jesus still loves them.

I know that there are not a lot of resources here in Moscow for homeless people and that is okay. Encouraging them to stay here is tough on a small town's economy and safety too. But sometimes a friendly word is enough to turn someone's day around, just a nudge in the right direction, a seed planted. So it was today.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Up Close and Too Personal

Because I promised my daughter yesterday that we would go to the Friendship Square Park, after dinner the whole family set out, me in my hiking boots, which are just beginning to feel comfortable, and the kids in the big blue stroller. The air felt close and heavy but the cloudy sky still looked high and light and a fresh breeze had sprung up that ruffled our hair and cooled our sweaty backs. Downtown we stopped at the park for quite a while. The kids enjoyed the play structure and their friends from church who showed up also. Hubby and I read a book aloud while we watched them play. The capricious breeze picked up swirling handfuls of slender leaves, making me think of fall though I wished summer to last a while longer since it was so late in arriving.

At last it was time to go but instead of going home I really, really wanted to put some miles in before going to bed. So we headed west rather than towards home in spite of the increasing wind and darkening skies. The previous few days had been so unbearably hot that the cool breeze felt good although the gusts blew dust and grit into our faces. It seemed that the air was full of dust from the harvest in the surrounding fields. I had already felt my asthma grow worse through the day, a normal occurrence in the fall as the dust gets replaced by burning fields. (So far Little Mister's breathing has been normal although I watch him closely because soon the air will be full of smoke.)

We walked along the Chipman Trail which skirts the UI campus. At the kids' request we stopped for a few minutes at an elementary school playground but moved hurriedly on as the electricity in the air began to make us feel anxious. As we moved briskly along under the trees by the rec center we still felt mostly unconcerned, however, and we chatted amiably as we strode along.

It was after we had turned back toward home that the drama began. I had suggested we head back along the city street rather than the walking trail and it turned out to be a good thing we did although I did not know it at the time. As we passed Arby's and Wendy's the wind began gusting harder and harder; suddenly after crossing the next street it became a gale, driving bits of dirt into the backs of our legs and arms with sandpaper force. Spattering raindrops crashed into us like some kind of bizarre power-washer and the kids started to scream as sand flew into their eyes and hair along the side of the stroller. All around us trees began dropping limbs and had we been on the path we just vacated, we would have been in serious danger.

As it was, we were caught in the worst of the storm just outside of Jack-in-the-Box and it was there we fled for shelter. Hubby ran ahead with the stroller as fast as he could while I followed awkwardly in my stiff hiking boots. Within minutes we had reached the safety of the building where the kids calmed down although Curly Miss's eyes were red-rimmed from the irritating grit in the air.

Stranded in the brightly fluorescent restaurant, we consulted with each other on what to do. Since Hubby had on running shoes, it was decided that he would brave the storm to go home and get the car. It was over a mile to the house so I thought it was gallant of him. He left at a dead run while the storm raged and more tree limbs crashed to the ground. The rain began in earnest just as he returned with our car and began loading our children. Unsettled by the strange events, Curly was having trouble obeying but Mister was his usual unflappable self. As long as Mommy and Daddy were there, he was secure.

By now night had fallen completely and the sky looked inky black. We loaded the stroller in the driving wind and rain then drove home in the sanctuary of our Subaru. Our first priority once there was to bathe the sand out of children's hair and eyes and every body crevice where it had lodged. Finally they were clean again, pajama-clad and given their nightcap of milk. After they had been bedded and prayed over, Hubby and I sat in the darkened living room watching the lightning and listening to the rain lash against the closed front windows. Seldom have I been aware of the basic human need for shelter and never have I been caught in a dust storm of the magnitude that sand-blasts the skin directly from my body in the way that this one did. Even Jack-in-the-Box can become a haven if the storm is bad enough.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Betty Toes

When she was younger, Curly Miss wanted "pretty toes" like Mommy only she called them "Betty toes" and the phrase stuck in my mind as this afternoon I gave her a pedicure. I have to confess here that I am the worst parent in the world when it comes to cutting my children's nails. I put it off and avoid it until they are long claws, or worse, broken, ragged and torn. There was this incident when I was young and my sister was a baby where a tiny toenail was cut too short and the ensuing blood has indelibly imprinted itself on my poor brain, making me cringe away from cutting my own babies' nails until they are simply ghastly.



Today Curly saw my nice red nails and she decided it was time for hers to be in a little better shape. So, sighing, I put down my laptop and retrieved the polish, clippers and cotton balls.



To her great amusement, I put cotton between her toes, remembering the disasters of red polish last time we tried to make "Betty toes". Little Mister was immediately entranced, wanting cotton and polish on his own toes and to have at least as much attention as his sister was getting.



My husband is not going to be happy when he sees his son this afternoon.



Because of his gender inhibitions, however, my son was delighted with his mani/pedi and set to his play with renewed vigor. Although I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, I have a feeling that the polish remover will soon make an appearance.



I think I'll wait till Hubby gets home. Just for the shock factor.



Meanwhile, my children are immensely enjoying their "Betty toes". And I am enjoying the fact that I had an excuse to actually clip each one of twenty tiny nails and moreover I did it successfully with no injuries or mishaps. Now we're good for at least another six months!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hammy's Big Adventure

Last night Hamilton did not come home. We worried and fretted and promised to go look for him as soon as possible the next day. So after church I began combing the neighborhood. Our neighbor to the west had not seen him.

I walked up the alley, meeting and talking to the neighbor two houses to the east. This twenty-something guy had what looked like a wild animal horn through his earlobe but he expressed concern over our kitten. Alas, he had not seen Hammy either.

By this time I felt a little desperate. We did live on a busy street. Had Hammy...? I kept my eyes on the curb just in case...

I knocked at the M's door. Their back door looked out on the alley across from our garage. After two knocks, Mr. M came to the door and reflected that yes, he had in fact seen our little Siamese playing with their orange tabby kitten all day Saturday. He gave me permission to search his back yard playhouse.

While I was poking round in his back yard, I distinctly heard a drawn-out Siamese yowl. It was faint but recognizable. Had I not heard that same demanding cry every morning at feeding time? I called more urgently and heard the yowl again, this time from a high fence to my left. I followed the sound, feeling rather like I was playing Hot and Cold. I kept calling and the kitten continued to cry piteously. At last I found a gate to the high fence surrounding the blue house on the corner. Opening it released a very thankful gray Siamese. I have no idea how he managed to climb into that yard, but once there he was quite trapped.

Triumphantly I carried him home to my worried husband. Hammy, true to form, made a beeline for his food dish then insisted on a good long massage. At last he fell asleep on my lap, a grateful cat for his freedom from an undeserved incarceration.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Seven Miles

At the risk of sounding repetitive and therefore boring, I have to admit that this post is once again about Kamiak. Only this time it includes this:



And this:



At the Day Use area, they have a really nice play structure so Patient Hubby and the Goombas (doesn't that sound like the name of a band? A ska band maybe, or funk) stayed in the shade there all morning while I hiked the trail. Twice. Yep, I did it twice, like two times around, a total of seven miles. When I got back and saw that the temperature was 103 degrees I wondered where my sanity had gone.



After viewing the temperature, I locked myself in my bathroom and took pictures of my blisters. For about 2.6 seconds I contemplated posting them on my blog but then I snapped out of it and realized that you all would far, far rather see pictures of this instead:






All morning while I was gaining and losing an elevation of 1,600 feet and listening to my iPod, Hubby was supervising our children playing with numerous other children (two other families were having a picnic and they seemed to have a combined total of about 68 children running around but I really didn't count) and getting incredibly sweaty and dirty. In other words they had a blast.



Hiking up the shaded back side, I did the loop in reverse, opting for the steeper climb because it was cooler. In the Backpacker's Field Guide, I had read about the "rest step" a hiking trick for making long steep uphill climbs more bearable. You take small steps, locking your knee each time and letting your weight rest for a moment on your skeleton rather than your muscles. It really worked! I was able to plug my way to the top with only one rest to get a drink instead of stopping every two minutes like before. I definitely see a difference in my body's response to the intense exercise to which I am subjecting it daily.

Walking on a dusty trail in the broiling sun, I looked out across the tawny expanse of wheat fields below me, glimmering like suede in the afternoon heat. Here and there in great corduroy circles I could see harvest going on. Combines crawled like so many flies along the outer circle of the striped stubble, a minuscule cloud of dust marking their presence.

Once again I was reminded of my total ignorance of the sport of backpacking while reading the Field Guide. It also reminded me that I don't have any of the correct clothing for an outdoor backpacking trip, so I made a visit to Goodwill a couple of days ago. Since Moscow is such an outdoor-loving community, I found plenty of non-cotton clothing to layer on during my hike. What was even better, the price came to only $35. I love secondhand shops! At the sporting goods store, one pair of shorts costs more than my entire hiking wardrobe.

Monday night is our informational meeting where I'll find out the details of the trip. Obviously, I'm totally excited. Hubby and I were talking yesterday about the fact that I have been so ill for the past six years that this is the first time I have had something like this to get excited about so he is as thrilled for me as I am to get to do it. Even if the trip is a dud, getting ready for it has been delightful!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Blackberries in a Pie

As mentioned in my previous post, we picked blackberries today. To tantalize and inspire you, I am going to post pictures of what we made with them.



We started with these. Because it was 97 degrees, I only ended up with 2 1/2 cups but they were enough for a small pie.



Hubby, in his current baking infatuation, decided he needed to learn how to make pie. So with my coaching, he did most of the work. I didn't mind.



Spoon the mess into the crust and spread it around. Easy as pie. (Whoever said that was crazy. Pies aren't easy! Hubby just about hit me with the rolling pin when he couldn't pick up his crust to get it in the pan. I, the EXTREMELY patient teacher was GRACIOUSLY trying to HELP him get the crust into the pan. Eventually it got there in one piece, I have no idea how.)



Once baked and cooled, it comes out looking like this. Are you drooling on your keyboard yet?



What pie is complete without a good sized scoop of this?



Then this is what you get. I think I am inspired to sing, dance and write poetry. Pardon me while I put down my camera and laptop to go get another piece. Wait, I'm watching my girlish figure. Good thing I walked another three miles before dinner. My workout website calculated that I burned 216 calories while doing it, so that exactly balances out a piece of pie and ice cream, right? Right? Please, please say yes.