When Nels started Kindergarten, I was surprised to find that a lot of feelings about my own school experience bubbled up.
I was all but guaranteed to have mixed emotions about school, thanks to some seriously conflicting personality traits. I expected myself to get good grades, but by the 6th grade I was already an inveterate procrastinator. I was a goody-goody who followed rules with an almost superstitious rigor, yet I often resented the authority of my teachers.
Socially, I'm sure I had some fine years when I was younger, but what I mostly remember is feeling anxious about how and where I fit in. I wanted to be cool and knew I wasn't. I didn't know who I was wellenough to feel good about myself.
None of that is terribly bad or unusual, and I certainly had some wonderful experiences and friends throughout my education. But my overall assessment of my school years could be summed up in the immortal words of Facebook: It's complicated.
That must have been part of why I was dreading volunteering in my kids' classrooms. And once Willem started Kindergarten, I no longer had an excuse not to do it. Baby steps, I told myself, and committed to one morning a month in each boy's classroom.
Like so many other things I waste energy fretting over, it has turned out to be completely worthwhile, and quite a revelation. I can't believe the breakneck speed at which the Kindergarten class has to move to get through their material in less than three hours. I enjoy watching Willem's teacher lovingly put the hammer down on her squirrelly pupils. And how else would I get to know Sophie, who provides Willem's primary motivation for going to school every day by chasing him around the playground?
"Promise you won't laugh, mom..."
"I won't laugh."
"There's a girl at school who wants to...do something to me."
The first time I helped in Nels's class, I arrived just as recess ended. As the students lined up to go into their classrooms (all four 2nd grade rooms open onto a common area), the kids noticed me hanging around. And all these little boys, classmates of Nels's from years past, or just from around the neighborhood, said hi and smiled and waved to me. Even though I haven't spent much time with any of these boys, I know that one of them lost his very elderly father last year. One boy is being raised by his young, unmarried aunt because his mother is unfit. One boy's mom is in jail.
And somehow it made me hopeful for them, that even though these kids had been through tough things, and though they hardly knew me, they were eager and happy to greet me. I was Nels's mom, and I was welcome. It was so freeing to be at school in that role and not worried about all the things I used to worry about when I was in school.
The next time I helped in Nels's class, his best friend walked over to me and gave me one of those awkward, triangle-shaped, stiff-armed, pat-on-the back hugs. I treasure this time in life when my boys and their friends are proud to own me. I don't imagine it will always be so.
My favorite in-class assignment to date has been manning the cranberry sauce station at Willem's "Native American Celebration." Approximately 45 Kindergartners came through and dropped 20 cranberries at a time into an electric pot. My job was to periodically add water and sugar, stir, and to prevent any students from being injured by the hot pan or the exploding cranberries. I was just thankful not to have macaroni necklace duty.
The most entertaining part of the event was the trading time: each student brought 7-9 little unwanted items from home, and then both morning Kindergarten classes were turned loose in one room to exchange their junk.
Two of the other moms helping out were originally from South Africa and Romania, which elevated "getting-to-know-you" small talk to pretty darn interesting.
Here is Willem at the Thanksgiving program performance, where the Kindergartners reprised their outfits. He was particularly proud of the star and diamond pattern he made on his headband.
It is a real luxury to be at home and available to participate in school-day activities. I plan to enjoy it until the day my kids beg me to stay away. And maybe even after.
When my friend Amanda mentioned that she would be staying at the Ezra Pound House in the Sun Valley area to work on a video project, I was jealous. We had some big adventures there last year. When Amanda suggested that I fly out to Boise and join her on the trip, I dismissed the idea as too expensive and impractical. But then I found an airfare cheap enough that generous birthday gifts from my family would just cover it, and Shaun agreed to take a Friday off work to be with the boys. So after much dithering and hand-wringing about doing something so fun without the rest of my family, I found myself getting up at 4am to catch a 6:30 flight to Boise.
There are times when everything that can go wrong does, but this trip was the opposite of that. I didn't even have anyone sitting in the seat next to me on the plane, a luxury I appreciated even more when we hit several patches of turbulence and I held onto my armrests with a white-knuckled death grip. I don't enjoy bumpy plane rides the way I used to when I was a kid.
We had beautiful weather for our drive.
We stopped along the road at one point so Amanda could get some video of the crazy sparkle landscape. We put the hazards on so we'd be more visible. Two kind-hearted souls stopped to make sure we were OK. I hope we didn't induce any pangs of conscience in all the other folks who drove on by.
It was supposed to snow all weekend, but it didn't. Here's the view from the living-room window of our place.
where I found this vintage wool rug at the thrift store. According to the tag, it was imported via New York from Poland. We had spectacular success at the thrift stores in Hailey and Ketchum and acquired an embarrassment of affordable riches.
We gathered our strength here, at Grumpy's. I'd give you the link to the website, but they don't have one. They don't even have a phone.
They do have good hamburgers. And $5 32-oz. schooners of beer at happy hour, which it just happened to be when we arrived. I didn't finish it, if you were wondering.
We shopped, we ate, we read, we drank tea, we watched The Bourne Supremacy on cable while Amanda made a necklace, and of course we worked on our various projects (I brought along an essay I've been working on sporadically since the summer.) It was the best birthday present ever.
Shaun told me to shop for a house while we were there, but I didn't get to that.
I thought nothing could be more beautiful than the drive there, but I was wrong.
It was a while ago now, on November 1st. In discussing my birthday plans with Shaun I was acting princessy, grouchy that the day wouldn't feel extra special because we weren't going out to dinner to celebrate until some time later. By the actual day, I was thoroughly ashamed of my selfish attitude and lack of perspective. I realized that every day of my everyday life is so stinking good that it's pretty hard to make one day stand out even more. But still, Shaun managed it.
Shaun's folks joined us for dinner. Linda brought bulbs as part of my gift, and braved the mud and drizzle to plant them. She is hardy and kind. Then she hung the packages on the tree to festive effect. Some naughty critters must have come in the night and dug up the snowdrop bulbs, because the next morning I found them all on the ground resting neatly next to the holes they'd been planted in. I guess the bulbs smelled better than they tasted. I re-buried them all and they've been left alone since.
Here's where Shaun working in the same building as Olympic Provisions comes in handy. He brought home charcuterie and cheese plates and mixed me a martini and I was the happiest princess in all the land. Here's what's on the plates: very spicy pickled vegetables, a salcichon salami with paprika, clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg (it tasted like Thanksgiving in a sausage), sopressata with oregano, garlic and chili flake, pork liver mousse, pork and pistachio terrine, and, our favorite, pork rillete. The cheeses are Mt. Townsend Creamery Seastack, Casatica di Bufala, Cypress Grove Midnight Moon, Idiazabal, and Valdeon blue. Ridiculous, I know.
I could have made a dinner just of that, but we also had BLT's jazzed up with a spicy remoulade. Linda brought corn from her garden, but I was so distracted by all my treats that I forgot to serve it.
I chose simple BLT's for dinner (which Shaun fixed) so we could spend all our energy on the dessert I'd been planning for months. I first saw the Swedish pre-Lenten pastries called semla or semlor on this blog, and the pictures were so beautiful that I'd been dying to try it ever since. Happily I found a recipe.
We made it a team project...I baked the yeasted cardamom buns while Shaun was at work, and when he got home he did the laborious work of scooping out the insides, mixing the milk-soaked crumbs with marzipan, refilling the buns, and topping them with whipped cream.
O happy birthday. I cannot believe that I am 39.
I went to bed counting my blessings, with more birthday fun to look forward to. Shaun and I waited until the boys had a weekend with the grandmartins and then used a Groupon-type deal for a dinner at Gracie's at the Hotel de Luxe in downtown Portland. The food gets mixed reviews, mostly good, but it is a romantic spot. Also, the restaurant serves drinks from the hotel bar, the rightly renowned Driftwood Room. And it was a really screaming deal.
Here I am, dark and blurry, about to tuck into the best steak I have had in at least five years. Maybe ten. It was everything I want a steak to be.
We had fun wining and dining. Shaun felt compassion for our waiter because he was waiting tables rather than being a movie star. He looked like a cross between Clive Owen and Jon Hamm. He was even named Kai, which I think would do nicely for a movie star these days.
We tried a lot of cocktails with ingredients that were unfamiliar to us. I started with an Old Tom, which had Ransom gin, agwa, Krogstad aquavit, fresh lime juice and barrel-aged bitters, served on the rocks. It was subtle and balanced and unlike any drink I'd had before. Shaun and I both gave it a thumbs up. I also had a drink with pine liquor and a rosemary sprig, and Shaun had a variation on a Sazerac that was very nicely done.
It was slow and almost empty in the restaurant: the mayor's deadline for OWS Portland to clear out of the parks happened to be that night, and the hostess told us that a lot of folks had gotten nervous and canceled their reservations. So the bartender had plenty of time on his hands, and after we'd ordered several of the more adventurous cocktails, he wandered in to chat with us and see how we were enjoying our drinks.
Later he brought us a complimentary dessert-y cocktail. It wasn't something we'd ever order, but a free drink is a gesture that never fails to give me a happy glow.
Shaun's co-worker brought his pet spider into the office on Halloween, which was of course documented and shown to our little arachnophile, Willem. And that's why Willem's stuffed tarantula just doesn't cut it anymore.
The boys love to carve pumpkins. They can mostly do it themselves now, thanks to those little pumpkin-carving kits they sell everywhere. Did they have those when we were kids? I seem to remember that we used big knives from the kitchen, and that the very real dread of severing a digit (pumpkin guts are so slippery) added a macabre note to the otherwise festive carving proceedings.
The pumpkins came from Grandma's garden. We didn't get enough sun this fall for them to get good and orange, but the boys didn't care at all. I don't know if I've ever seen a pumpkin with flesh as thick as the one Nels has here.
Being obsessed with all things Halloween, Willem had drawn up a sketch of his jack o'lantern's face well ahead of time.
Pretty impressive execution of his concept, I'd say. He realized pretty quickly he'd have to forego the bloodshot eyes.
Trick-or-treating was a lot more fun this year than it has been in the past. It wasn't raining and it wasn't freezing, and the boys have acquired enough social graces to manage a "trick or treat" and then a "thank you" without too much prompting. Best of all, they then turn to go. This is a vast improvement over last year, when, after getting their candy, they would just stand agog and stare into the stranger's home like they were wishing to be adopted.
This was the first year I really felt like we were in "our" neighborhood. We've been here long enough that it doesn't seem like we're just passing through, and it was fun to recognize neighbors and schoolmates of the boys. People really did things up for Halloween, but everything was warm and welcoming rather than evil and creepy. I couldn't believe how many fun, creative carved pumpkins we saw. This one was a favorite:
And here are ours.
I should have put our bowl of candy out on the porch, because we only got two trick-or-treaters while we were home. I bought less than I have in years past, but with what the boys gathered (some people were giving out full-size candy bars) we have enough to keep us in sugar until next year. Anybody want a Butterfinger?
I never go to the bank anymore. Anyone who's ever written me a check knows it can take me a long time to deposit it. (Which is rude, I know. I mean to improve.) We've had our paychecks directly deposited since I was working, which is a long time ago. And when we lived in Germany and had to keep paying our bills back in the US, we discovered the joys of automatic bill pay and never looked back.
Of course when I do have a check to deposit, I make use of the ATM. Which is what I was doing last Friday, only to discover that my debit card had expired the week before. Fortunately for me, the strip mall with the closest ATM also happens to house a branch of my bank. It's a humble little branch in an even humbler strip mall whose anchor store is a Grocery Outlet. There's also a McDonald's, a Dollar Store, a DMV licensing office, and a medical clinic. Across the street is a giant feed store and several "restaurants" with no windows. It's not the most cheery part of town, but it certainly serves its purpose.
I pulled away from the drive-through ATM and told the boys we would have to go into the bank. We walked in to a tiny unremarkable institutional space. There were no marble surfaces and nothing gleamed. There were some beige cubicles and a counter, and that was about it.
"I've never been in a bank before," said Willem, looking around with wonder. "It makes me feel like I'm in a movie."
On the morning of his sixth birthday, Willem said "I wish for a pet tarantula," and blew out the candle on his doughnut. Then he opened his present.
While Willem was completely in love with his new friend at first, he has become increasingly discontent with the fact that the spider is not real. He's taken to moping around the house and sighing, "I'll never get a real spider for a pet." Being thus reminded (by himself) that his will has been thwarted, Willem adopts a mood I like to call "Belligerent Eeyore." Belligerent Eeyore is a very trying mood.
Once we had the house all decorated and the Happy Birthday sign up on the party day, Willem told his brother to sit by the fireplace for a picture. Then he disappeared down the stairs for five minutes. When he returned, he seated himself at the other end of the fireplace. And held up the word bubble he'd just made. Quite the director.
Willem picked out a craft for his monster-themed party: the boys made little monster hand puppets from kits. It was pretty awesome, but it would have been even better if it had taken them more than 10 minutes to finish. And if we had planned some games. It was basically 10 minutes of calm followed by 1 hour and 50 minutes of mayhem.
This is Willem's best buddy from pre-school last year. I love his "more is more" approach. He basically piled every sticker he could get his hands on onto that sucker.
"Everybody take one step back. Everybody take one step back. Everybody take one step back." That was the mantra of the gift-opening time. Any closer and Willem would have been in the fireplace. Here he's just opened one of his favorite books, Ghostopolis. I blame his word-bubble preoccupation on an early introduction to graphic novels.
I love that the boys raided the costume bin in Willem's room and wore various guises throughout the party. Here they are oohing and aahing over glow-in-the-dark eyeballs from Grandpa Scott and Grandma Juli.
And one of Willem's two favorite gifts, glow-in-the-dark fangs.
We had fun drawing monster faces on all the balloons, which you really can't see. You can, however, read Willem's word bubble on the balloon in the foreground. Give me cake.
The cake was obviously Shaun's doing. He went off-theme (but equally beloved) with a spider.
There was one other favorite present, but I'm having technical difficulties with the video of it. (If you're my friend on Facebook, you saw it.) I'll put that up in another post if I can get it figured out.
I am super glad to have the birthday parties behind us, but it was fun to celebrate our birthday boy.
Nels turned eight last month. Shaun had deemed eight to be the official pocketknife birthday, and the knife was the one present Nels opened on his actual birthday. What has he done with his knife so far? Well, he has used it to whittle several other knives out of pieces of wood.
For dinner we went to our local fancy pizza joint. The joint is not fancy, but the pizza is. And delicious. I am including this dark, blurry picture because in it I can totally see that Nels is related to me. Very few such pictures exist.
In this one he just looks very handsome.
I dread the coming of the boys' birthdays every year. Birthday party planning is one of many parenting skills that I suffer a dearth of. Nels wanted a robot-themed party, so I ordered some robot "piggy" banks from Oriental Trading Company. I thought the boys could paint them as an activity and then take them home as party favors, killing two birds with one stone.
I wasn't sure how that would go over with a bunch of active boys, so it was a huge relief when they all sat down and got absorbed in the project. It was hilarious to sit in the next room and listen to their conversation as they worked. First they discussed their relatives who had served in the military in various wars (uncles, grandpas, etc.), and then they moved on to trying to one-up each other in the sharing of obscure and gross biological facts: Some snakes have babies that come right out of their stomachs!
Yep. Definitely made of puppy-dogs' tails.
A Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots game was the hit of the party.
In the middle of opening his presents, Nels remembered that he had a gift for Willem. He'd gone to his friend's birthday party at an arcade/bowling alley the day before, and he'd used half of his prize tickets to buy Willem these teeth. Yes, glow-in-the-dark fangs did happen to be on Willem's birthday wish list.
Here's why Shaun makes the cake and I don't:
A thousand years from now, kids will still be licking the frosting off the birthday candles.
Once we got the kids all hopped up on cake and ice cream, it was inevitable that a heated Rock 'Em Sock 'Em tournament would break out.