Friday, December 24, 2010

God With Us

I read this from The Anchoress today:

It’s what we’re called to, not merely as Christians, but as human beings. To be willing to ENTER INTO the pain, or the fear, or the tumult and whirlwind of another person’s life and say, “ssssshhhh, it’s alright, I’ll keep you company for a little while…” It is humanity at its finest.

And while it is, as I say, neither the exclusive calling or the exclusive virtue of the Christian (in fact in too many Christians it is all-too-lacking), I cannot help – in these final days of Advent – to think about what God did, in a lonely cave on the outskirts of Bethlehem, when He condescended to enter into the pain and fear, the tumult and whirlwind of the world…when he “set his tent among us,” not merely “dwelling” among us as lofty king, but literally “with” us, with hunger, the capacity for injury and doubt…

God entered in, not with a cacophany of noise and a display of raw power, but as the humblest and most dependent of creatures: a baby, lying in a manger, a place for the feeding of animals. He, who became Food for the World, entered with silence, as though he had put his finger to the quivering mouth of a troubled, sobbing world and said…”ssshhhh…it is alright, I’ll keep you company…”

Of all things, this made me think of an experience at Ikea I had a few months ago. I did a little shopping with the boys, and then we headed to the cafeteria for lunch. As the boys, eager for meatballs, walked a few steps ahead of me, I passed an elderly man. His head (not his face, but his bald skull) had something very wrong with it. It brought to mind a piece of fruit that had gone bad and then been dropped on the floor.

At first I was just shocked. Then I thought, Thank God the boys didn't see that. Then I felt terrible for my reaction. I imagined how hard it must be for that man to live in a world with people like me who don't know how to graciously respond to people with squishy-looking heads.

Still mulling over The Anchoress's words, another time came to mind. Shaun's Grandpa Chick was dying, and we went to see him for the last time. As far as we knew, he could not tell we were there; his eyes were closed, his body was agitated. And I felt ashamed at how uncomfortable I was, of how hard it was for me to be there.

There are so many things I don't want to think about. Orphaned kids; hungry kids; kids whose parents tell them they're stupid. I can hardly stand it. There is so much that is difficult and painful, and ugly in this world, and I often feel that if I don't avoid it, if I know too much about it, then sadness will overwhelm me.

Not Jesus, though. He came to live among us. He sees the diseased bodies. He sees the child soldiers. He sees the mass graves and the underground cities. He sees, and, unlike me, He does not turn away.

His name is Emanuel; He is God with us. Praise God for that. May He grant me the courage to follow His example.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Off To A Good Start

Today was the first day of vacation for the boys. They slept later than usual, so I did too. They did get up before me, though, and, after Shaun left for work, I could hear them talking in Nels's room, deciding what to do.

"I'll go get my stuffed animals!" said Willem, racing off to gather them up. He returned to Nels's room and climbed up on the bed.

"OK, but I don't want to play stuffed animals," said Nels.

"OK. We can just snuggle and look at some books," suggested Willem. It was agreed.

Though their quiet reading time quickly devolved into squabbling, the original impulse was a good one, and set the tone for the day.

After breakfast the boys and I went through all their toys together for the first time. (Usually I make things disappear when the kids are sleeping, but I suspected that I wasn't being ruthless enough.) We looked at every toy, one by one, and passed judgement: keep, toss, give.

My intuition turned out to be correct; the boys quite willingly (cheerfully, even!) got rid of a ton of stuff, and we all feel a lot better now. Ah.

Pleased with a job well done, I went to check my email and almost fell on the floor. My inbox contained an email from Breadline Press, telling me they'd accepted my submission to their first West Coast Anthology.

I was so excited that I couldn't even remember what I'd sent them. (Turned out to be a short memoir piece.)

I'm not much of a goal-setter, but this year I had decided that I would work toward being published in print for the first time by the time I turn forty. Maybe that doesn't sound like setting the bar very high, but it seemed plenty ambitious (bordering on presumptuous) to me! I'm thrilled to be two years ahead of schedule.

It's a good thing I had a productive morning, because I was worthless for the rest of the day. I did manage to order some bagels and lox from Russ and Daughters for my grandpa's Christmas present.

I also got to the vet's office before they closed so I could buy our cat the solid gold food that she barfs up less frequently than any other kind. (Hmm...just like that crazy expensive formula we used to buy when the boys were babies, imagining that perhaps they seemed slightly less miserable than they were with the cheaper stuff. I sense a theme.)

It just so happens that our fridge in the garage is fully stocked with chilled sparkling wine for a New Year's Eve party, and I was very happy to have an excuse to break into the stash.

To recap: the first day of Christmas break started with my boys reading in bed and ended with a celebratory toast. Now that's a good day.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What He Lacks In Self-Control, He Makes Up For In Self-Awareness

When I went to pick up Willem from preschool on Tuesday, I could only conclude that he'd been working on a Christmas present for me and Shaun.

I could see his lips moving as his teacher brought him out to the car. She slid the door open.

"Try not to tell. Try not to tell. Try not to tell," Willem repeated to himself fiercely as he climbed up into his seat and buckled himself in.

"Try not to tell." That was all he said until we'd made it out of the parking lot.

"I don't want to talk about anything because I might accidentally say," he told me.


I hope he doesn't slip up--it would be a shame to waste such a monumental effort. So far so good.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Very Bellingham Thanksgiving

Our plans to drive up to Bellingham for the Thanksgiving holiday were threatened by a spot of weather, but we checked the road conditions, said a prayer, and drove up on Wednesday afternoon. At one point rain was freezing to the windshield, but the moment passed, and the rest of the drive went smoothly. Thanks, for the most part, to these three magic words: BOOKS. ON. TAPE.

Yes, we've reached that magical age. The boys sat still in rapt silence for FOUR HOURS. That's the good news. The bad news is that the book we were listening to was The BFG (it sounds profane, especially when Willem says it, but it stands for Big Friendly Giant) by Roald Dahl.

I am a huge Roald Dahl fan, but my love does not extend to that book. It revels in disgusting details while lacking an appealing hero or even any truly witty wordplay. The voice and the dialog of the BFG himself were so very unpleasant that I wanted to throw myself out the door every time he spoke. And the BFG had a lot to say. Next time we'll choose our book more carefully.

Next time I'll pack more carefully as well. On Thanksgiving morning Shaun and the boys had to wear rain boots on their walk in the snow. They are hardy fellows.

The snow was short-lived, which made me feel better about neglecting to bring the proper gear. Big rain and wind followed on the day after Thanksgiving. A walk down to the water presented a sight we don't see every day.

I've been trying to figure out what color Willem's eyes are for a few years now. I think "rock" should be an option.

As always, Juli and Dad went above and beyond in readying their house for a boy visit. Appropriate toys were purchased:

Themed cookies were baked:

And Juli single-handedly turned out a delicious Thanksgiving feast (along with many other meals and desserts.) All I did was snap a few green beans.

I may have mentioned before that my dad and Juli have a lot of birds. They have a whole nook off their living room devoted to birds. An aviary nook.

When the birds get fed, they are set loose from their cages for a bit. This time the boys were braver around the birds than they had been two years ago. Though they still weren't entirely comfortable, there was significantly less cringing and flinching this year.

I finally got a chance to make myself useful. Before we were even tired of turkey, Juli made crab bisque. Crab bisque is a party in a pot.

By Saturday morning the beached boat was back in action.

And, again, something we don't see every day: a man walking his goats. Actually, he was only walking one of the goats. His dog was walking the other goat. The dog wore a harness and walked alongside his owner, pulling the goat along behind. ("That goat's stubborn," explained the man.) They attracted quite a crowd.

Willem picked up a pine cone on our walk to bring home to Juli. I thought he took it very well when she gently declined his suggestion that they glue googly eyes to it.

On Saturday afternoon my dad took us around to the museums in town. At Whatcom Museum's new Lightcatcher building we saw some beautiful historical photos of Bellingham bungalows (a few of them were on my dad's street!) and a very nice exhibition of WPA works. The children's area had a corresponding play shantytown, which struck me as funny, though it probably shouldn't.

At the Old City Hall building we saw some interesting historical artifacts, including a complete dentist's suite that was truly terrifying. We also got to see some giant prints of some great old photographs that my dad had worked on.

The Mindport interactive art gallery downtown was the big crowd-pleaser of the day. It is a very playful yet very serious (in a good way) place. Juli was busy in our absence; we came home to a dinner of turkey tetrazzini, which I declare a very fine use of leftover turkey. She made apple pie for dessert. It was the third pie of our four-day trip.

We headed home on Sunday morning. By that point, I'm sure their cat Freddy was starting to wonder if life was still worth living.

We made good time on the drive home, though it was less peaceful than it could have been. For all the tearful and persistent begging, Shaun and I just couldn't bring ourselves to listen to The BFG again. No way.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back to October

Well, looky here, it's pictures from October, fresh off the camera.

We carved pumpkins and they turned out really cute, but I don't seem to have a picture beyond this stage, so you'll have to trust me on that. I actually roasted some pumpkin seeds this year. The boys didn't care for them, so more for me.

Here's Nels having his bedtime snack (or second dinner as we call it) and doing some subtraction just for the heck of it. Is it weird for a kid to write Wow! and 100% all over his own papers? To do recreational math? I thought it was hilarious when Nels's classmate Ben wanted to be called Bruce last year, but now that Nels is writing his name on his schoolwork in a secret code that looks like runes straight out of Tolkien, I guess the joke's on me.

Willem likes to keep busy too, though arithmetic is not his hobby of choice. He likes to make things, usually out of paper. For example, in preparation for Halloween, he produced several buck-toothed paper jack-o'lanterns and taped them all over the house, along with a smattering of bats and ghosts. He taped up a paper saying "Et Es Fall" (that's "It Is Fall"--he refuses to consult on the spelling) on our office wall, and he even posted a sign by the downstairs bathroom indicating that it is for the use of adults only. (In case you're wondering, it depicts a baby in the universal "no" circle with a line across it alongside a drawing of a grown-up and the word "yes.")

Willem branched out, though, with this bird feeder. I was impressed with the way he took it from concept to execution, entirely on his own. His idea was to make a table; he found a piece of scrap wood and pounded in four nails for the legs. (Doesn't every kid get a hammer, a tree stump, and a bucket of nails for his fourth Christmas?) I provided the bread, but we didn't have any takers. Even after Willem added the sign clarifying whom it was meant for.

Willem's birthday is ten days before Halloween, and he dearly loves all things Halloween-y, so he always gets a "pumpkin party." I'm going to enjoy how easy that is while it lasts. Willem had outgrown his tiny bike, so Shaun got him a new one as a present. We surprised him and gave it to him right before his party. Because even though it was cheap and he needed it, nothing makes a kid look spoiled like a new bike and a big pile of presents.

We took advantage of the occasion to invite my friend Christine and her family over. Christine and I were friends in college, and her family has recently moved from Texas to Oregon. Sam and Nels were kindred spirits, and the two of them arm wrestling was about the cutest thing I've ever seen.

I put this picture in so you can be as freaked out by Nels's bulging neck veins as I was.

So cute.

This year I wised up and made pumpkin cupcakes instead of trying to make an entire cake that looked like a pumpkin.

Somebody was excited.

It's hard to believe that two years ago this little Transformer had his heart fixed up. It gives me a little something extra to be thankful for every Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving. That's the next post.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

"Inclement Weather" Day

School was canceled today, but there's no snow to speak of to play in, so the boys have had to find other ways to amuse themselves.

After two hands of Uno, the game deteriorated into card-throwing, so they moved on to something else. I was getting tonight's dinner into the crock pot, and from my spot in the kitchen I could hear their conversation. They were sitting on the couch, poring over a huge book on the history of science that their grandpa recently brought them.

"Where's Edison?" demanded Willem.

"I just wanted to look through the book," said poor put-upon Nels as he carefully turned the pages.


Leave it to Willem to bring bullying to nerd-dom.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Fine Fall Day

I was looking forward to church this morning, because the little kids were going to share what they were thankful for. They did not disappoint.

First up was our six year-old friend Kaden. "I'm thankful for my friends Nels and Willem," he said in his sweet mumbly drawl. He passed the microphone to Nels, who was standing next to him.

"I'm thankful for my family and friends," said Nels. He handed the microphone to Willem.

"I'm thankful for God," said Willem.

The whole church went AWWWWWWW.

Willem handed the microphone to the next boy.

"I'm thankful for my new scooter," he said.

Then the whole church laughed. But not in a mean way.

After church we went to the Lakeside Chalet to have breakfast for lunch. It's amazing how happy it can make me to eat eggs, toast, bacon, and hash browns if I don't have to fix it myself.

We thought about going home, but instead we took a family trip to the bookstore. Shaun selected The Mouse and the Motorcycle books to read to the boys and Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses for himself. Whom we bought Treasure Island and White Fang for is open to debate.

When we entered the bookstore, there was slushy rain falling from the sky. When we left, genuine snow was falling, though it wasn't sticking. The closer we got to home, the more snow we saw on the ground. By the time we pulled into the driveway, it was a winter wonderland. The boys all but leapt out of the car and ran to put their snow clothes on.

They threw snowballs. They built a snowman. They were giddy. They came in and had warm cider. Then they snuggled into the couch with Shaun by the fire and met Ralph the mouse for the first time. Shaun read to them for a good long while.

Then it was back to church for a Thanksgiving soup potluck. I hadn't planned anything, but about 45 minutes before it was time to be there I figured I really should make some soup. I remembered a recipe for Escarole and Little Meatball soup I'd been wanting to try. Shaun helped me form all the tiny meatballs and then ran out to get some spinach to substitute for the escarole at the last minute. It ended up turning out great and it was really easy. Well, apart from the fact that doubling the recipe called for an entire cup of finely minced onion. There were tears a'plenty.

But not for long. Not when I had much to be thankful for on a fine fall day.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Small World

The boys and I took advantage of a day off on Veteran's Day to go visit Shaun's Grandma Laurel at Friendsview Manor in Newberg. We always love to spend time with Grandma Laurel, because she is a great lady and a kick in the pants to boot.

Had we been able to visit a day earlier, we could have heard one of the Manor's residents give a holiday-related talk that I was sad to miss.

When Shaun's Grandpa Chick was alive and the subject of WWII came up, I mentioned that my Grandma Toni and her sister (we called her Aunt Chequela) had been in an internment camp in the Philippines. He told me that there was a woman at the Manor who had been in one of the camps as a girl.

I always wondered if they could have been at the same camp, but I never followed up on it. It wasn't until last year, when Shaun and I were watching a documentary made by a George Fox student about WWII vets living at Friendsview, that I got my answer.

The woman's name was Pat Landis, and in the film she talked about being in the camp with her family. She said that the calm, united front her parents presented, along with their faith in God, ensured that she and her brothers always felt safe.

The film featured several people, so I didn't get to hear as much from Pat as I would have liked. When she described the twice-a-day roll call procedure I got excited; the camp roll call figures prominently in one of my family's (very few) stories. It still wasn't enough, though, to make a determination.

Pat never mentioned being scared, even when U.S. forces flew overhead one morning just as they were about to assemble for roll call. Paratroopers dropped in and a massive raid was launched. With the help of Philippine guerrillas, the 11th Airborne successfully liberated those in the camp from their Japanese captors. Later an unverified story went around that the Japanese guards had intended to retreat and abandon the camp that morning; the prisoners were to be shot as they stood in line for roll call.

Well, now. That was my grandma's story. In fact, one of the soldiers in on the rescue effort ended up becoming known to me as Uncle Bill. His wedding to Aunt Chequela was mentioned in Life magazine, newsworthy because it was the first marriage of an internee to a liberator. Or so I'm told.

Grandma Toni and Aunt Chequela never talked to us about their time in the camp, which of course I found exasperating as a kid. To add insult to injury, if they did want to talk amongst themselves about it, they did so in the Spanish they'd learned from their mother. None of their children were allowed to learn Spanish; it was reserved for use as their own private language.

So I'm so thankful to have a recording (thanks, Grandma Laurel!) of the talk that Pat Landis gave about her time at the camp. I can't wait to learn more. I think it worked out best to miss hearing it in person, though, because the boys and I filled our time quite nicely eating lunch in the dining room with Grandma Laurel, hanging out for a while in her apartment, and then getting the grand tour of the Manor.

While the patchwork view of the residents' personal garden plots was beautiful from the top floor, we had the most fun in the basement. As soon as we stepped off the elevator, we smelled popcorn. But we had some sights to see before snack time. First we stopped by the second-hand/consignment space that Grandma Laurel works in. A woman after my own heart. Nels went to town pedaling a vintage Schwinn stationary bike. That thing was a hipster's dream. It wasn't cheap, either.

Next we checked out the storage spaces. They were framed by boards and had chicken-wire walls, and it was rather poignant to walk by and see everyone's things. It made me think about my own things and the way I live now and the way I might live one day.

Then we were on to the gym, where a class was in progress. There were five or six folks cheerfully moving (I'm not really sure what else to call was a little too slow to be called aerobics) and they didn't mind in the least when we walked around for a look. We let the boys check out the resistance machines, took a gander at the therapy pool, and then walked over to an area with some games and a ping-pong table.

The boys quickly became engrossed in a puzzle, which gave me the opportunity to observe more of the class. They did a few balance challenges and then had free time. The instructor (I must note that she was an amazing lady, and very fit) suggested a game of ping-pong. The residents were reluctant at first, but the play soon became so spirited and entertaining that I felt I had been dropped into a shoot for a third Cocoon sequel.

Finally we were on to the popcorn, the smell of which had permeated our basement adventures up to this point. The exercise/rec room opened up into a lobby, and off of that was a hallway that had a distinctly more institutional feel than the rest of the Manor.

"That's where the people live who need more help."

A popcorn machine stood in the corner of the lobby; a big one, like you might see at Target or an ice cream parlour. A stack of small red-and-white striped bags rested on the table beside it, giving the whole thing a very festive air.

"Let's see if I remember the combination," said Laurel, reaching for a small black padlock that held the two glass doors closed. Hmm. Locked-up popcorn seems less fun.

"They keep it locked?" I asked.

Grandma Laurel looked around the lobby and then glanced down the hall to make sure no one was there.

"Well, there's this lady...and she doesn't really need any more to eat..."

"They keep the popcorn locked up from a resident?"

She nodded, got the lock open, and began scooping popcorn into the little bags.

"Just so you know," I said, "you're probably going to read about this on my blog."

And then we both laughed our heads off.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas

When I set up household for myself, I was happy to acquire my grandmother's set of enamel cookware. I think the story was that she'd bought it in Spain in the 70's, when she took a trip there to reconnect with her mother's homeland. I definitely have a leather coat from that trip. And the pots, with their brownish background and orange-y flowers, are unquestionably of a 70's vintage.

I really loved these homely pots--they were just the right size for everything I needed, they cleaned up easily, and, best of all, I felt connected to my Grandma Toni whenever I used them, despite the fact that my culinary projects were significantly less ambitious than hers. (I never assembled a group of family and friends to make 500 egg rolls and 300 won tons in a single day in my home kitchen, for instance.)

But the pots died. It's unfortunate (and occasionally dangerous) for a person who likes to cook to be as absentminded and easily distracted as I am. Repeated scorching breached the enamel coating; I needed new pots and pans.

Enter my mom, who had seen the sad state of my cookware first-hand. She offered to make a generous contribution towards buying something new as my birthday and Christmas presents. Super exciting. Until I hopped online and saw that buying a new set of the best-reviewed cookware would cost only slightly less than a used car.

I persevered in my research, however, and found out about Tramontina; their stainless tri-ply pans are rated a best value by Cook's Illustrated, come with a lifetime warranty, are comparable to (but way cheaper than) All-Clad, and receive great reviews from the folks who, as I ended up doing, ordered them through Walmart. (Yes, I get nerdy about this stuff.)

I wasted no time putting my pans through their paces once I got them. A birthday dinner party provided the perfect opportunity. Shaun offered to cook, but willingly cleaned when I asked him to do that instead. He even ironed the napkins and tablecloth. I never would have done that. Though I was about halfway through a killer cold, I happily cooked for two days straight.

The dinner was so fun. As I finished up things up in the kitchen, we milled about with cocktails, Warm Artichoke-Olive Dip, and Pancetta Crisps With Goat Cheese and Figs. Then we sat down to the table and got serious.

To start, we had Sweet Potato and Green Apple Soup. If you love winter vegetable soups, but have maxed out on butternut squash and pumpkin (and aren't afraid of butter and cream), you must check out this recipe. The tart apple and bitter rutabaga balance the sweetness of the roasted sweet potato and maple syrup. It's ridiculously good.

Next up were Pork Medallions with Almond-Fig Cream with Carrots and Brussels Sprouts. That was all pretty good too.

Mixed greens with vinaigrette and a cheese plate followed. Then we cleared the table and adjourned to the living room for dessert. It was the only dish of the night that I've made before, my go-to company dessert that never disappoints: Chocolate-Chip Bread Pudding with Cinnamon-Rum Sauce.

Our guests were two couples from our church who also have young kids and really appreciate the chance to get out. I couldn't ask for a better birthday present than to enjoy good food and good conversation with good people.

And while I may have forgotten a finishing touch to a dish or two, I consider it a major success that I didn't scorch a single thing.

Monday, November 1, 2010

True Story*

It's not unusual for strangers to engage me in conversation when I'm out and about in the world. In the past month alone:

A croaky-voiced woman with lanky black hair approached me in the dishwares aisle at the Salvation Army. She started out pleasantly enough, talking about her daughter and her son-in-law. But all I did was blink and suddenly her monologue had become a vigorous harangue of President Obama. What surprised me was that she absolutely took my sympathy with her views for granted. It’s not like I was wearing my elephant sweater. She wasn't downright crazy, but she was definitely guilty of oversharing.

An elderly man at Trader Joe's stopped to say hi and chat with my boys. I was relieved when Nels answered his questions politely. I’ve been coaching my kids for just such a situation, because their natural inclination is to stare at the ground, feign deafness, and treat the unsuspecting stranger like a leper. I considered it a great success when the man told us about his happy memories of shopping with his mom and his own brother when he was a boy.

A harried woman in her late 60's (from Portland, she said, and Camas has changed since she used to come here all the time) stopped me on my way into the downtown Camas post office. She all but pleaded for directions to a particularly tricky-to-get-to local highway.

"I have an even older lady in the car with me," she said, "and she won't stop talking. It makes it very hard..." I wrote down the directions for her. She told me I'd done my good deed for the day.

A young grocery checker went on at length to me about his disapproval of another customer's use of food stamps to buy macaroons and a $15.00 piece of smoked salmon.

"Can I vent to you?" was how he started, and he proceeded to do so, though I’d rather he didn’t. There were no flashing glances of sympathy from the customer in line behind me; on the contrary, the longer he went on, the stonier her face got. She stood perfectly still, as though he might pounce on her next if she gave any indication of sentience. "I'm sorry, that's just my pet peeve," was how he finished, after what seemed like an awkward eternity.

Just today a grandfatherly man in line in front of me at Whole Foods was taking forever to return a $12.00 2-ounce bottle of organic hand sanitizer. He told me (among other things) how much he liked the fall colors I was wearing, and that he'd bought his wife a sweater almost exactly like the one I had on.

I guess I just look approachable. And for the most part, I'm glad that people feel comfortable talking to me. Because if they didn't, this wouldn't have happened at Fred Meyer today:

I had just picked up some ketchup when a young woman with a grocery list in her hand stopped me in the aisle next to the fancy vinegar and deplorable "cooking wine."

"Excuse me," she said, clutching her list, waving it for emphasis as she spoke.

"Do you have any idea what dry red and white wine for cooking are? Because I've looked at all these" –and she swept her arm toward the rows of bottles on the shelves— “and they're all the wet kind."

*With recent minor revisions.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Neighborly (or Feeling Sappy About Being a Mom to Boys)

Shaun and the boys are out having an adventure in the rain. Well, first they went to get new rain boots at Fred Meyer. Wet adventures are a lot more fun when one is properly equipped.

I should have gone along, because I could use some boots (and an adventure as well) but I am starting to come down with something. Staying home in the warm dry quiet sounded positively restorative.

Camas High School had their homecoming football game last night (which we can hear from our house if we leave our windows open) and it got me to thinking about the days when our kids will be that big. I thought about Nels graduating and Willem still being here without his brother, and that just about did me in.

Then I heard a knock at the door. I peeked out the kitchen window and saw a tall teenage boy in basketball shorts with his sweatshirt hood up against the rain.

I opened the door.

"Is your husband home?"

"Oh, no...he's not here right now."

I figured it must the boy from next door, but I have no idea when he got all tall and thin. He looked super disappointed when I said Shaun wasn't around. He turned to go.

"Is there anything I can help you with?"

"Well, it's my homecoming tonight. My dad's out of town and I need help with my tie." His dad is a co-pilot for Alaska Airlines.

"I think I might know how to do it..."

"Yeah, that's what my mom and my sister said, too. I thought someone who does it all the time..."

He tilted his head towards the house across the street.

"He's a business guy. I'll ask him."

"OK. Come back if nothing else works. Have fun tonight."

"Thanks." And he very bravely headed to the neighbor's house.

I say bravely because the neighbor has had a visitor outside on the driveway working on a car project all day, in addition to a landscaping crew doing something in the yard. I know I'm a wimp, but I would have had to summon a lot of courage to go ask an acquaintance to tie my tie with all of those other people around. And while this neighbor is always always polite and as kind as he knows how to be, he's not exactly the warm and fuzzy type.

I am, though.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Happy Five!

Earlier this week I found a few clean shirts tossed onto Willem's floor.

"What's this about?" I asked him. "Did they come from your drawer?"

"Those are the ones with 4's on them. I threw 'em out."

Willem's dearest wish is to somehow catch up with his older brother. There has never been a kid more excited to turn five than this one is.

Monday, October 18, 2010

An Unexpectedly Sweet Fall

Fall this year has truly felt like a new, unique season.

The routine imposed by school has proved to be more relaxing than the haphazard nature of our summer activities. We've had the most perfectly sunny and crisp fall weather, the kind that makes you smile even while bracing for the meteorological bummer that will inevitably follow.

I've been thankful for how beautiful it is where we live, and for the fun I'm having with Shaun as we get to know our increasingly odd and delightful children. This quietly busy time feels like a real gift, and I feel gratitude to God for the undeserved goodness in my life even on the days when I think my ears will start to bleed if Willem asks me one more question.

We recently took advantage of the fine fall weather, taking a hike at Beacon Rock State Park. We'd already hiked up Beacon Rock itself before, so this time we opted for the less harrowing trek to the (more poetically named) Rodney Falls Pool of Winds.

Our kids seemed the only kids on the trail that day, and nearly everyone we saw greeted us. It was the friendliest bunch of outdoorspeople I have ever encountered.

This part of the trail has a spectacular view of Bonneville Dam. We did stop to take in the view after powering up this little stretch.

It's so pretty that sometimes I feel like I'm getting away with something by living here.

The damp smell and feel of this little hollow were exactly those of the Log Ride at Knott's Berry Farm. I had a total flashback to my childhood and almost cried.

Looking down from the Pool of Winds.

Time for a trail mix break. The boys were tired...

And loopy. Per usual.

Yep, it's still beautiful.

And, yep, we are the kind of people who take pictures of bathroom doors if the hardware takes our fancy.

All of the original buildings at the state park are just beautiful. I am ready to move in to this picnic shelter.

It even has an oven.

We've been enjoying ourselves right at home, too. I don't know how it started, but Willem likes to ask Nels if he wants to "have a chat," and it is a definite thing. Nels sits in a chair, and Willem pulls up a bucket or a stool, or whatever is handy. Shirts are optional, but leaning on the elbows is obligatory. Extra authenticity points if you have a beverage that looks like a glass of whiskey.

Willem took this picture of Nels in his yard-sale helmet. And astronaut suit.

Wow. Who knew that a Clone Trooper outfit cinched at the waist with a leather belt would be soooo creepy? Way to bring the weird, Nels.

Happy fall, all.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Birthday

Nels wanted a Star Wars party for his birthday. What you see below is as elaborate as the themed decorations got. Yes, the "word bubble" and its contents were Nels's idea. And no, we did not follow through; no attempts were made to recreate the interior of the Death Star. Unless some lesser-publicized corner of the Death Star was festooned with balloons and brightly colored crepe paper streamers.

Tough crowd.

How much personal space do seven year-old boys need?

Not much.

I'm no fool; I knew just the man to leave in charge of the cake.

Nels got an assist (or two) blowing out the candles.

Clone trooper Nels.

From this:

to this:

in seven years. I can hardly wait to see what's next.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Something New

I had all sorts of expectations about what this school year would be like, and most of them were wrong.

I thought it would be a big hassle not to get to send Nels to school on the bus (a privilege we lost due to budget cuts and the fact that we live less than a mile from the school.) It turns out that there are all sorts of good things about taking him myself:

-We don't have to be out the door quite as early (15 minutes is an eternity in getting-ready-for school time.)

-I can do someone else a favor. Willem's pre-school teacher has a son who attends Nels's school, so when I drop Willem off, I exchange him for Isaac and then take the big boys to school.

-I can meet the families we live near! When school gets out, all of the kids who don't ride the bus funnel through one little gate past Mr. Cleary, the librarian. All of the parents of the "walkers" stand around and wait for their kids. I haven't branched out much yet, but I've chatted with the mom of one of Nels's friends and I am glad to get to know her.

-We can walk! Isn't life better when you can walk to the places you need to go? Friday garage sales are an added bonus. Willem is one remote-control car richer and Nels now owns a motocross helmet thanks to our decision to walk home one fine Friday afternoon.

Another misperception I had about this year is that it would be just like last year for Nels, only with longer days. But the difference between Kindergarten and first grade extends beyond the obvious quantitative one.

From birth through Kindergarten, I have held Nels's hand. His movements have been accounted for, his waking hours supervised. And now, this year, he is independent in a way he's never been before. When he walks out that school gate at 3:30, he's a free agent. It's nobody's job to keep track of him but his own. And it's been an unexpected thrill as a parent to watch him rise to the occasion.

For instance, Nels wanted to invite some friends from last year's class to his birthday party, but I had no contact information for any of them. So we put together the invitations and I sent them to school with Nels to pass out at recess, trusting him to get it done.

I thought it would be asking too much to put names on the invitations and have Nels match them to the right kid, so I left the envelopes blank, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. And it worked! (Well, mostly. I was very surprised to get a call from a girl's dad saying she could come to the party, because not only was she not on the invite list, but Nels was quite certain that he did not invite any girls.)

Another time, Nels came home without the water bottle from his lunch box. We told him to try to get it back the next day. To our delight, he came home with the water bottle. Whoop-de-do, right? But it was a big deal to me, because he handled it.

First, Nels went and checked the lost and found. The bottle wasn't there, so at lunch time he asked the principal (who apparently has lunch duty) for help. The principal didn't know about it, but he pointed Nels to the custodian, who helped him find it.

Initiative! Follow-through! The emergence of these grown-up qualities has taken me by surprise. It's a welcome development, but bittersweet. I am less inclined these days to roll my eyes at the folks (you parents get this all the time, don't you?) who stop me in the grocery store when I'm with the boys and tell me to enjoy it, because it all goes by so fast.

Because it does. It all goes by so fast.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Perhaps I Don't Bake Enough

Willem: "I know how to make bread, Mom."

Me: "Oh yeah?"

Willem: "Yeah. You get some wheat..."

Me: "Yes."

Willem: "You get some wheat, and then you weave it. Right?"

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

That's It For Summer

I thought I was way behind, but it turns out that today is the last day of summer. So this last post on our summer adventures is perfectly timed.

We decided to squeeze a quick trip to Boise in and be back in time to celebrate Labor Day with Shaun's extended family. Which meant that on the Thursday before school started, we went to meet Nels's teacher and saw his new classroom for about two minutes before we hopped in the van and drove to Boise.

I hadn't realized that we were supposed to read the papers the teacher had handed us while we were still at school. So we didn't find Nels's cubby, we didn't show him how to get from his classroom to the playground, and, most importantly, we didn't show him where the bathroom was. As an over-preparer, this worried me, but Shaun assured me that Nels would be fine. (And indeed he was fine, though he did get lost on his first trip from the bathroom back to class.)

We arrived chez Hamilton in the wee hours. Very wee. Our weekend was full of the usual: eating and hanging out. Also thrown in were some bike rides, a walk to the park, and a bit of shopping. It would have been the epitome of relaxation had we not displaced our kind hosts from their bedroom. They are very good sports.

And their house is LOVELY. Here are the kids rotting their brains before breakfast. Because brain-rotting is a very quiet activity.

Never fear! Amanda set the kids up in her studio and let them go to town. Inactivity crisis averted.

I love the pose Willem is working here. I also love the alien he's painting.

One of the highlights of the trip was watching Esly drive Willem crazy. He sooooo deserves a taste of his own medicine.

"Mwah ha ha! Look at me, Dad! I'm torturing Willem!"

Here's Nels showing off his loose tooth shortly before Willem knocked it out (yet again.) Friend Kylee is in the background.

Impish Nels. Everyone else is trés serious.

Cheers to summer and good friends.