Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Very Special Valentine's Day

Has this ever happened to you?

It's Valentine's Day, and a lovely bouquet of flowers is delivered to your door. The accompanying note says something uplifting like "Love, Joy, Health and Happiness" and is signed "Helen, John, and Old G.P."

After puzzling it over for a while, you realize that the Helen in question is your grandmother who passed away 11 years ago.  John, then, would be your deceased uncle, and "Old G.P." must be a brand-new moniker your (still living) grandfather has invented for himself (he's always gone by "Shay" or "Grandpa Bob") in an apparent effort to make it as difficult as possible to figure out who the flowers are from.

This probably hasn't ever happened to you.  Unless you're related to me.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Small-Town Fun

A few days of sun last week made me actually feel like getting out of the house for a change. The boys were in dire need of haircuts, so we decided to stop downtown at the barbershop after Nels was done with school.

Needing a coffee to fortify myself in case Willem went into snarling beast mode, we stopped in at Caffe Piccolo Paradiso.  A local blogger has posted some nice photos of it here. Nels kept saying in his very loud voice, "THIS IS THE SMALLEST COFFEE SHOP I'VE EVER BEEN IN.  IT'S SO SMALL!  I'VE NEVER BEEN IN A COFFEE SHOP SO SMALL." Yes, I'm ashamed to say that our errands usually lead us to coffee breaks in strip malls, not in places that have random bottles of wine with handwritten price tags scattered throughout the room and a oversized bumper sticker that says "I love my German Shepherd:  Pope Benedict XVI."

Coffee in hand, we headed to Carla's barbershop. You can see it on Google street view: View Larger Map  (You should "walk" up the street, too.  It's charming.)  At first I was a little disappointed not to have a crusty old guy cutting their hair, and then I was afraid I might be in a little over my head when Carla asked me to point to a giant chart of men's haircuts from the 80's to select a haircut for Willem, but it turned out OK.  We ended up having a very satisfying barbershop experience.

Adding to the old-school ambiance of the tiny shop were a hand-lettered sign that said "Cash Only--You Understand, Times are Hard" and yet another chart, this one with large photos illustrating the difference between benign moles and those that need to be checked out.

Both kids were much more well-behaved than I expected.  It could have had to do with Carla's promise of a quarter to put in the candy machine when she was done--if they were good. She talked with the boys a lot.  At one point the conversation went like this:

"What's your favorite color?"

"Orange.  I like shiny colors too."

"Oh.  Do  you have a gold or silver necklace or bracelet?"

(With a pained look) "NO."

"Do you have a bike?"


"What color is it?"


"But I thought your favorite color was orange.  Why don't you have an orange bike?"

"I don't care what color it is.  YA GIT WHAT YA GIT AND YA DON'T THROW A FIT."

Carla repeated this expression several times so she could remember it later.  

In one of those "only in a small town" moments, I left the boys watching inappropriate cartoons with Carla while I ran across the street to the ATM to get some cash.  At least Willem was distracted from his thoughtful looking-over of the naked Barbie in the toy box.

Flush with the success of the haircutting venture, I decided to push my luck and make a circuit through the nearby antique shop. Cases of Pez dispensers and collectible cars kept the boys occupied long enough for me to find a few affordable treasures. I'm sure the lady behind the counter cringed inside when she saw us coming, but by the time we left she was impressed by our good behavior. The boys were rewarded with yet more candy, which I know is a bad precedent to set...but if candy makes them agreeable to shopping with me, well, then, bring on the sugar.

All in all, it was a fine day out in our little corner of the world.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pardon Me While My Soul Recovers

Those of you who've read the Harry Potter books will of course be familiar with the Dementors, those soul-sucking wraiths who drain the joy and goodness right out of you.

Well, I took my kids to a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese on the Saturday before Valentine's Day, and the overall effect on my psyche was remarkably similar.  

It smelled bad.  It hurt my ears.  And not just mine--during the official "birthday celebration" part of the party, all of the hostesses yelled out a birthday song/cheer which the kids were supposed to learn.  The teaching of this cheer seemed interminable.  Once the other tables of revelers had been worked up to a Lord of the Flies level of fervor, we were all to do the routine, which culminated in frenzied screams.  At this point, our birthday girl covered her ears, rolled her eyes up in her head, and trembled violently from head to toe.  And our table of Christian school pre-schoolers just looked around in bewilderment.  Willem shot me a look that said, "Am I safe here?"  Nels's teacher leaned in and said to me, "We don't encourage this at school."

No.  And never again.  Next time we're invited to a party there, Shaun takes the kids or he sends our regrets.

Fortunately our Sunday was more on the restorative side.  We actually went to church, and the boys really liked it.  I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that they served pop in Nels's Sunday school class.  We spent the afternoon driving the back roads. The goal was to take a hike, but there was too much snow on the ground to even drive where we'd planned to go.  Plan B was to make various stops in places of interest for Shaun to take photos, ending up at B.J.'s for dinner. It's not the most exciting place, but it's family-friendly, and one can count on getting a good beer there. Sometimes that's all one needs.

The next weekend we were lucky enough to have some time to ourselves. Shaun's mom took the kids overnight.  We got a late start on Saturday, so we just walked around Portland a bit before heading to Toro Bravo to line up for dinner.  We got there just in time, which was about 15 minutes before they opened.  Those who came at 5 had a 1 1/2 -2 hour wait.

I'm including this not terribly flattering photo of me (my new haircut is actually less helmet-like than this) because I like the colors and it represents our fancy-free day pretty well.

We had a relaxing breakfast out on Sunday and enjoyed the quiet.  It was a nice contrast to the everyday boy noise.  (For example, right now Nels is yelling, "Willem, stop talking to me!  You keep talking and it's making me all sweaty!")

Our one misstep of the weekend was watching the movie The Dark Knight on Sunday afternoon. Now, I know I will bring a bucketful of grief down on my head for saying this, but I wish I could have the three hours of my life back that I spent watching that movie. Yes, Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker was amazing.  The movie was just too too dark for me.  I've heard a lot of talk that The Dark Knight was elevated beyond mere "action" status by virtue of its dealing with big moral issues.  But I felt that these issues were raised and dealt with in a shallow, formulaic way. It IS a comic book story, so I don't have a problem with that in and of itself.  I just felt that nothing about it was thought-provoking or redemptive enough to counteract the feeling that I had just spent three hours wallowing in yuck.  It just wasn't for me.  

OK, phew!  I'm feeling better already.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Way To Go, Mom

I was grocery shopping late at night last week, and I grabbed some Valentine's Day cards for Nels's party at school this week.

The selection wasn't great, but I figured I couldn't go wrong with Spiderman.

Today we finally got the Valentines out so Nels could address them.  When he finished, he got a slightly concerned look on his face and asked how many girls and how many boys were on the list. Then he looked again at the cards I'd provided him with.

"So, we're giving SPIDERMAN to the GIRLS?" he asked, rolling his eyes in disbelief.

Sorry, buddy.  Looks like wooing the ladies is going to have to wait until next year.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

My Kind Of Town

Yes, I am spoiled.  While it stinks that we had to leave behind dear friends in Boise, having the opportunity to meet up with Amanda in Seattle on occasion has been the cloud's silver lining.

Amanda is an art professor and artist (she's talented and fancy) who had a show at Seattle Pacific University.  I (ostensibly) went up to hear her lecture and attend the reception.  Also to hang out and have some kid-free, like-minded friend time.  It's good for the soul.

I was so glad that, in spite of a late start and getting a bit lost, I made it to SPU in time for the lecture.  When I got to the gallery, Amanda looked tired.  Ten minutes into the lecture her eyes were sparkling and her cheeks were rosy.  She was like a new person.  It is really fun to see someone who has a passion like that, and it's something I've always envied.  Fine art, elegant code, philosophy...people get excited about these things.  I always assumed that some day I would find my thing, and that I would have a job.  In a "field." Perhaps it's the exception, not the rule, for a person to be able to make a living doing something she cares about.  In any case, it was a real privilege to watch a good friend of mine do her thing.

It was a Thursday night, and the students cleared out quickly, as did we.  We loved Cafe Presse before, so we went back.  We were not disappointed.  We even had the chicken liver pate again. Then we shared a perfect plate of steak frites and, for the grand finale, shared a cup of "drinking" chocolate that was absolutely perfect.  It was thicker than soup, so we ate it with spoons. A Godfather cocktail was a tasty (if not very French) accompaniment.

We adjourned to our room at the Red Lion Inn on 5th Avenue. Upon being apprised of our status as harried mothers of young children in need of a getaway, the kind-hearted clerk had upgraded our room, so we had two queen beds and a view of the water.  It was a challenging place to drive around (many thanks to Amanda for bravely doing so), but the downtown location couldn't be beat.  Really, if you're within a few blocks of Nordstrom and Pike's Place Market, life is good.

On Friday morning, heaven smiled upon us.  I picked up the magazine provided by the hotel, looked for downtown places to eat, and found a French bakery called Belle Epicurean.  Of course it wasn't until we got there that I saw all the articles on the wall proclaiming its many accolades. It was like winning the lottery of pastry.  I love myself some baked goods, and these were better than anything I've ever had, even in Paris.  You must click upon the link and ogle the photos.  It's even better than it looks.  

After breakfast we headed off to Nordstrom (to make a return) and were slightly distracted by a stopover at Anthropologie.  I got a wool sweater I'd always liked that was marked down to $40 from much, much more.  A good deal makes me even happier than good pastry.  As does a good haircut, which is what I got next when we went to Rudy's.  I don't know that I'd recommend it wholeheartedly, though.  It's rather hit or miss, and Amanda's been on the "miss" end twice now.

We had lunch at the Seattle Art Museum's cafe before viewing the Edward Hopper exhibit. We shared a flatbread with smoked salmon, creme fraiche, capers, and fresh herbs, and we each had a dish of fennel and parsnip soup with pistou.  The soup was so good that it was actually my favorite savory dish of the trip.  As for the art, note to self for future reference:  preview everything before taking young children to a museum.  The last thing Nels needs is an early introduction to surrealism.

Stepping out the museum door, we saw that Fran's Chocolates was right across the street, so we did a little damage there.  Then we made our way the block or two to Pike's Place Market.  We visited the Left Bank Book Collective (a book shop that sells Nikki McClure prints and hoo boy smells like the unwashed masses) and then proceeded to the most excellent happy hour known to man at Cafe Campagne.  

We sat at the bar.  All of the servers were young, friendly, helpful, and extremely knowledgeable. It was brilliant.  Whereas most happy hours offer cheap food and hardly any breaks on wine, this happy hour offers cheap food and amazing deals on wine.  3 oz tastes run from $2 to $2.75, which means you can try all sorts of things (including sparkling wines) for a very reasonable price. Everything we tried was delicious, French, and not available at my local Fred Meyer.  We had food too.  Tiny lamb burgers on gougeres for $2.  Duck rillettes.  The best fries I think I've ever had, with a very garlicky aioli.  It was a magical time.

Perhaps too magical.  We still needed to go pick up my car where I'd left it at SPU the night before in order to avoid the outrageous parking fee at the hotel. And we foolishly stopped in at Nordstrom Rack on our way back. 

Thanks to the stress of the Friday night traffic and my inability to see very well out of my fogged up windshield, I ended up in the wrong turn lane on my way back to the freeway.  I'd given Amanda my map, and she didn't want to abandon me, so she followed.  Yes, she missed her flight by about 15 minutes.  It was the only flight to Boise that night, and she was supposed to be there to lead a field trip the next morning.

I was about half an hour past the airport when I got the call. Rather than have her spend all that money on staying in Seattle another night, I went and picked her up, and she re-booked her flight out of Portland for early the next morning. Normally a three hour drive at night (four with the backtracking) would have me nodding off, but there were a few factors that kept me awake. First was the pain in my knee which later morphed into an enormous tight knot under my shoulder blade.  Holy smokes, there's no sleeping with that kind of discomfort. Then there were the crazy patches of fog, which would go from negligible to pea soup in mere seconds.  Nothing gets the adrenalin going like realizing you're driving 65 mph and you can't see 10 feet in front of you.

We made it back to Camas alive, awake, and unharmed, and decided to make lemons out of lemonade by staying up and enjoying the kind of conversation that one can only have when polishing off a bottle of Calvados in the wee hours.

Two hours of sleep later, it was off to the Portland airport.  I dropped Amanda off and made my way home (through more dratted fog) and staggered into bed. Shaun got up with the boys and let me sleep a loooooooong time, despite his being miserably ill. That is why his crown in heaven will be so heavily encrusted with jewels.  And mine, despite my fondness for diamonds, will be lucky to have any sparkle at all.