Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Our Neck of the Woods

...is pretty woodsy. We have deer and all. Our across-the-street neighbors, who are right next to some actual woods, have seen coyotes and even (so they say) a cougar.

But for all our woodsiness, we have nuthin' on Shaun's folks. They appear to have a bear roaming their woods. He's been sighted in the neighborhood, and the Grandmartins have found a pile of corroborating evidence on their property. Therefore Grandma has been packing heat when out and about on the land. It certainly adds an extra element of excitement to the prospect of sending the boys out there for a visit. ("Be good, boys, and try not to get mauled.")

We've been busy since school started. We met our charming new niece, Heidi Mack (how cute is that?), and Nels turned six last Sunday. I've been thinking he's six ever since he turned five, so that doesn't seem too crazy. And honestly, it feels like I've been his mom for an eternity. I will put up some photos of these special doings very soon, but for now our home network is a little troubled and awaits some wrangling from Shaun. That's the price we pay for being fancy.

Nels is less grouchy about school these days, although our well-oiled morning routine seems to have gone down the toilet this week for no good reason. Nels's teacher, Mrs. Michener ("like the author" she always says) is a local celebrity, having taught in the district for 37 years. She even attended Kindergarten at Helen Baller.

Well, that mostly gets you caught up.

-We had glorious weather this weekend.
-I got a haircut in Portland.
-The fellow in the French bakery by the salon (inspired, I believe, by the fine weather) gave me free butterfly cookies.
-Shaun baked an apple pie.
-We've been reading The Adventures of Tintin to Nels (thanks to Danica.) He has duly incorporated the exclamation "Blistering barnacles!" into his vocabulary. The only surprise there is that he didn't say it before.

I'm feeling scattered these days. Hopefully I'll get adjusted to the new routine pretty soon. Or maybe it's just all downhill from here. Time will tell.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Transition to Fall

Willem's first day of pre-school
It's been different than I expected. I realized that it only takes small changes in my routine to make me feel like I'm living a whole different life.

Last year, Nels was a champion foot-dragger when it came to getting ready for school. I needled, I pleaded, I nagged; we were late every day. I DREADED having to have him ready by 8:15 to catch the school bus this year. But it turns out that he is deathly afraid of missing the bus (after a few tales about me doing so in my youth), and he now gets ready promptly and without complaint. He is a new child. I feel a little guilty about using fear as a motivator, but it gets results.

Willem's dream of going to school has finally been realized. He goes for three hours, three days a week. He loves it as much as I thought he would (a lot), but he has definitely been out of sorts for the past several weeks. I'm hoping he's just in the final throes of his ornery threes.

I can't vouch for Shaun, but the rest of us have a touch of fall malaise. Willem cries in the middle of the night and I find him standing in the corner of his toddler bed with bad dreams about being chased by a pumpkin. Nels realizes that he can't feel his heart beating and worries about having a heart attack. And I feel totally unmotivated to write, now that I have a few free hours a week in which to do so. I think once we get adjusted to our new places and routines, it will be just fine.

And for all Nels would prefer not to go to school, I know there's plenty he likes about it. He came home from his first full week to tell me, "Guess what, Mom? They have an ACTUAL LIBRARY at SCHOOL!" Made my day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Settling the Matter

"Maybe when I was bigger I saw this movie one time," suggests Willem.

"You've never seen it. You've never been big like ME," replies Nels with disdain.



Willem runs over and punches Nels in the stomach.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Love You Like Walmart Employees Love Always Low Prices

This note was taped to the post of the street light nearest to our house. It was there for a few weeks; I just noticed this morning that it's gone.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Obligatory First Day of Kindergarten Post

I felt like a cheeseball for getting excited about Nels's first day of Kindergarten. After all, it's a fairly inevitable and universal experience in the developed world. (I know there are exceptions, but it's still a very common thing.) It seems kind of like making a big deal about your baby's first poopy diaper or your toddler's first tantrum.

But, hey, it's one of the world's big Hallmark moments for a reason. Starting formal schooling is a major life change. Nels is a really sensitive kid; judging from his expression here, I'm pretty sure he knows what he's in for:

I never realized how many preconceived notions I had about the first day of school until the day actually arrived and nothing happened the way I thought it would. In my imagination, we would take pictures of Nels smiling in the sunshine in his spiffy new school outfit. We'd walk to the bus stop from whence would arise an excited murmur as we mingled with neighborhood parents and checked out all the kids' backpacks. Then the bus would pull up and a line of adorable children would form. We would snap Nels's picture as he stood framed in the doorway of the bus with his head turned back to smile at us as he embarked upon his new adventure.

The reality was quite different. Nels was cantankerous about having his picture taken. He'd insisted on wearing the new Star Wars Lego t-shirt I'd bought him that had turned out to be too short, so his outfit left something to be desired.

We were the only people at the bus stop. It was a little depressing. And it was foggy. I'm all for fog and solitude and gloom in general, but in this case, when the bus pulled up, I felt like I was sending Nels off to Hogwarts.

Now, the bus did not pull over to the curb at all, but stopped right in the middle of the street. Without a boisterous crowd of fellow students to join in with, the distance to the bus became a vast chasm which would be unspeakably sad for Nels to cross alone.

I was faced with a dilemma. Of all the first-day-of-school photos I'd imagined looking back on some day, not a one of them contained my backside. Walking Nels to the bus would ruin all the shots. But maternal instinct (I was relieved to find I have some, actually) won out over vanity, and I walked Nels to the bus.

He marched up the steps and never looked back. The kindly bus driver took one look at my face and said, "First day?" Of course Shaun's work garb and camera with its huge lens were a bit of a giveaway too. That bus driver was majorly comforting. I wanted to hug him.

I cried a little at this point.

And a little more here.

And that's what it was like sending Nels off for his first day of Kindergarten. Which he liked just about as much as his face at the beginning of the day might indicate.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

August's Last Hurrah

It was just a week and a half ago that we all went to visit my dad and stepmom up in Bellingham. The one thing we ALWAYS do on such occasions is take a trip to Larrabee State Park. That's where my dad always took me and Annalaura when we were little, and in a family with darned few traditions it's important to hang on to the ones you've got.

In this case we took two trips to Larrabee, because the tide was not cooperative on our first attempt. We poked around a little on Saturday evening, but we came back on Sunday morning to get a gander at the starfish and anemones. Did you know that I've been mispronouncing the word anemone for my entire life? And I grew up next to the ocean. I collected shells and I KNEW ALL THEIR NAMES, but I had anemone wrong. Very humbling.

Below, see my dad in his natural habitat. Do not fail to notice his amazingly glossy brown hair.

Well, our boys plopped themselves right down on the beach and made rock angels. They are strange.

How many gazillions of kids do you think have had their pictures taken in this very spot?

There's a reason Larrabee became a tradition. It's purdy.

Willem has a heart-to heart with Grandpa Scott.

Dad and Juli's neighbor Sheila is one of the nicest people on earth. (The rest of her family is lovely as well.) Sheila invited all ten of us over for brunch on Sunday morning. Then her cat, who has been ailing for several years, decided it was high time to commence its death throes. Did Sheila cancel the brunch? No. She fired up her fryer (which she and her husband have been using to make and sell doughnuts at events) and cooked us THE MOST AMAZING BREAKFAST EVER and dropped it all off at Dad's and went back home to be with her dying cat.

I know, it seems crass to talk about the food with the dying pet and all. But this amazing basket of goodness cannot go unremarked-upon.

There were at least eight each of four kinds of doughnuts: beignets with lemon zest in the batter, apricot filled, spiced plum filled (best filling ever), and PERFECTLY fried plain doughnuts, which, in their crunch and grease (in a good way) were the best of all. I'm going into a reverie just thinking about those doughnuts again.

She also brought thick, spicy bacon, sausages, and a baked egg dish. And yes, I believe she picked those blueberries herself. Recounting this reminds me that a condolences card/thank you note is in order and overdue.

Now, my stepmom (feels goofy to keep calling her that, but if you don't know her you'd wonder who she is if I just called her by name) Juli is no slouch in the kitchen herself. She used to make us doughnuts when we visited when we were little and less polished (ahem) than we are now. As I mentioned in an earlier post (which I'm too lazy to track down right now), Juli is partly responsible (or to blame) for my interest in cooking and (mostly) eating good food. I think the following photo of the spanakopita she made for us should help explain why. It was so good. And so big. We got to take home leftovers, which I ate for several days.

I love Juli's kitchen. It looks like a place where someone cooks. Here I am fixing a tomato-basil salad fresh from the garden to go with our spanakopita. In culinary matters I usually defer to the other cooks in the house, but Juli doesn't eat the tomatoes she grows, so they were all mine.

One never leaves the Montgomery house empty handed. I got some amazing mid-century Franciscan plates, the boys got hand-made backpacks containing toys, and Shaun got some wings, which he ate with proper appreciation once we were home, and a summer's worth of fun was done.

Yup. More About August. (Updated)

Yes, indeed, there's more!

My sister and her family came to visit! This may not seem like a big deal, but it was for us. The Chuangs live in the Boston area, and they don't have room to cram in our family of four for a visit. WE have room for THEM, but we also have a cat, to which Cliff is terribly allergic. So it came to be that we hadn't seen each other for ages. They had never met Willem (3 1/2) and we had never met John-Luke (2 1/2). The time had come to change that.

So we shipped our cat off to the country (THANK YOU, GRANDMARTINS!) and I did my best to round up the cat hair. I also sprayed all over with an anti-allergen spray. Cliff did a fantastic job of making me feel like my efforts had been worthwhile, even though he did have to surreptitiously resort to his asthma inhaler a few times. It could have been worse.

And, goodness, it was worth it. It was so much fun to see the cousins all together. They acted like they'd known each other their whole lives. Nels and Helen (who also goes by Yo-Yo) really hit it off. They all played and schemed and yelled and just had an overall grand old time. The day they left Nels said, "They just left this morning and I'm missin' 'em already!"

Because a West-Coast Chuang stay is such a rare event, all our local family had to take advantage of it, of course. My dad and stepmom came down from Bellingham, and my mom came from Bend. Everyone was so easy-going and helpful...I am very fortunate to have a low-maintenance family. I think I actually did the least amount of work of anyone.

On Saturday night Shaun's folks came out too, so there were 13 of us for dinner! Shaun was really sick with a cold, so he staggered out of our room to grill some chicken and then staggered back in after we ate. I was glad he improved enough over the next few days to be out and about. We stuck close to home; with a park within walking distance, and beautiful trails and a (river) beach within five miles, there was no need to travel.

Playing at Crown Park. John-Luke is a VERY early riser, so he spent a lot of morning time there with his dad!

Me-Ma (my mom) joined us for a trip to Cottonwood Beach.

Annalaura fixed us pork glazed in balsamic vinegar. Yum. And again I say, yum.

Nice day for a walk.

Nels was fussy about this excursion until Shaun had the bright idea of telling him he could ride his bike. Brilliant.

Hunting for wild blackberries was a fun novelty. The promise of berries to eat was a useful inducement for moving John-Luke along.

Like I said, everyone else did most of the work. Even the kids were helpful.

Cliff and Annalaura fixed us fried rice for breakfast before they left. You'd better believe our house smelled soooo good.

It really was a treat in so many ways for our families to get to spend time together. And at the end of their stay, we only had to say a temporary good-bye...they were going to see Cliff's family in Seattle and then we were all to meet up again the following weekend at my dad's in Bellingham. Which we did! And took a lot more pictures! I bet you can hardly wait!

Update: I forgot to mention that all of this good cooking gave Shaun a serious hankerin' for some authentic Chinese food. Annalaura recommended Mrs. Chiang's Szechwan Cookbook: Szechwan Home Cooking. Shaun has already ordered it, received it, and cooked from it. Win!