Friday, May 28, 2010

School's out for...

"Summer" has officially begun at our house. We ended the school year well, with a sweet kindergarten graduation ceremony and the celebration of terrific report cards for both my big boys. We had a fantastic 9 months, and now summer lies before us—vast, uncharted, and as inviting as a mile of blank sidewalk to a kid with a bucket of colorful chalk. Or at least it seemed that inviting a couple of days ago. School was dismissed on Wednesday morning, and the boys are now spending their time at home. With me. All. Day. Long.

I really do love having all my kids together again, and their brotherly interaction is something I really miss during the rest of the year. But yesterday, on the first glorious day of our summer vacation, unbroken gray skies drained chilly rain onto our muddy yard. All. Day. Long. That's right. Summer's here! Pull out the sweaters and raincoats! As one of our local store's jingles puts it, "We live in North Idaho...and it shows." School's out for summer. Which, if this weather lasts long, just might make it seem like school's out forever.

So what's a mom to do with four busy-busy, high-energy boys who are stuck indoors with nowhere to go and nothing planned? Well, let me tell you about all my great ideas for how we're going to spend those rainy days during the next three months:

And there you have it. I'm at a loss.

O.K. I may not be quite that helpless, but I confess that I am utterly terrible at coming up with rainy day activities. I've checked out a number of books with imaginative titles like Rainy Day Activities, and they are almost entirely filled with girly crafts. I'm sorry, but my kids do not want to make paper beads to string into colorful necklaces. They're not interested in assembling sweet little clothespin dolls. Tissue paper flowers stuck on green, sparkly pipe cleaner "stems" are not their cup of tea. And speaking of tea, tea parties—and all the lacy whatnots that they entail—are out. What we want around here is warcraft. And loud sound effects. And full contact sports. Sitting quietly around the table with markers and glue sticks does keep everyone occupied for a short while, but it often backfires by simply getting my children to hold in their excess energy for just that much longer. They build up pressure like a pack of agitated soda cans, and then when they are released, they explode.

So, I'm trying to get creative here in order to prevent Cat-In-The-Hat-style disaster. Thankfully, my kids are far more inventive than I am, and in the last three days, they have used up nearly an entire ream of scratch paper in the construction of all sorts of paper airplanes (some more air-worthy than others). They have made super hero masks. They have cut out paper money. They have hosted NBA-inspired bedroom-door-basketball games. I have even, in a moment of weakness, resorted to getting out the play dough for them. They have, of course, colored and colored and colored and colored until our crayons are mere shadows of their former selves.  They've built forts. They've played piano. They've read stories. They've sung songs. And yes, they have already watched more than the FDA's, the FBI's, the CIA's, the NSA's, and the Surgeon General's recommended daily allowance of DVD minutes for children ages 2-8. (I seem to remember that I was never going to allow that day to come.) And today's only the second day of vacation. Oh boy. Times four.

I'd be thrilled if Little Orphan Annie showed up on tonight's forecast, singing cheery reassurances that  "the sun'll come out tomorrow...".  But in case she doesn't, I'd be equally thrilled to collect some rainy-day ideas from all y'all. If you have thoughts on fun and profitable ways for my boys (keeping in mind that they are, in fact, boys) to spend their time indoors—as long as the activities are only mildly destructive to body and belongings—I'd love to hear them!

Oh, and since this is my blog, I reserve the right to end this post with a couple of proud mama photos:

Jonah receiving a medal for getting all A's all year

Jude with his Kindergarten diploma. Yea!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

An Inconvenient Truth or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the "Nuke"

Our microwave died this weekend. And in the few days since its demise, I've already reached for it multiple times, only to realize—with a bit of frustration—that I must instead use the stove to reheat a bowl of soup or a plate of spaghetti. How truly inconvenient. And, as if the loss of the microwave weren't traumatic enough, last night's windstorm knocked out our power for almost an hour. Really now. What's a twenty-first century housewife to do? First leftovers on the stove and then dishes by candlelight? How positively medieval.

Actually, the medieval experience was kind of fun—in a historical theme-park sort of way. Candles and flashlights are exciting precisely because they are out of the ordinary. But every theme park vacation must come to an end, and I, for one, prefer having light and heat instantly available at the press of a button.  So I've been shopping around, hoping to find a reasonable price on an appliance that will adequately meet our microwave needs. Yes, our microwave needs.

Somehow, every convenient new gadget or service that begins as a luxury ends up, in a few short years, as a need.

I distinctly remember the day that my parents bought their first microwave. We were living in a rental house on Monroe St. in Spokane, Washington, when we welcomed into our home the boxy appliance that would take over our counter space and light up the kitchen at night with its glowing-blue digital clock. It had an attractive wood grain pattern printed on its sides. And it changed our lives. It changed American life.

With the advent of the microwave came a whole new array of convenience foods: bags of pre-buttered popcorn, single servings of soup and oatmeal, and complete four-course meals, to name a few. The microwave turned leftovers into a time-saving, eat-at-your desk lunch option. And what the microwave did for college cuisine is probably incalculable. There are apartment-dwelling undergrads who manage to complete a four-year degree without ever turning on a stove. True story. Why spend valuable hours slicing and dicing and boiling and sautéeing, when you can heat and ingest a tray of Lean Cuisine in less time than it takes to preheat an oven? And, as an added bonus, there are no dishes to contend with when you're done. It's truly a triumph of American efficiency. But it can, unfortunately, also be triumph of American insipidity and impatience.

The microwave seems to me to be the perfect metaphor for this American life: easy, high-tech instant gratification. We live in a microwave culture. Let's face it: deep down, every American is pro-nuke. We like everything to be cheap, simple, and immediate; we want everything to be microwavable: work, education, religion, politics, health care, entertainment, sex, and, of course, food. So naturally, when my microwave breaks, I'm off in search of a new one before the old one has cooled.

I guess I could be making an argument right now for how much richer life would be if I just went back to the days before microwaves entered my life. I could eschew the nuke-it culture by kissing my microwave goodbye for good, and I might even find my argument convincing. After all, I'm fully in favor of putting the brakes on in lots of areas of life. I don't expect a newly elected politician to press a button and eliminate all the nation's problems the day after he takes office. I don't want my kids to learn piano "in 5 easy lessons." I would rather not get a master's degree with a few clicks of the mouse. I believe that most of what's valuable comes through hard work, patience, and sacrifice, and that includes food.

I like to cook. Honestly, I do. And gardening is another wonderful way to learn delayed gratification when it comes to bringing dinner to the table. I'm a huge fan of homegrown tomatoes. I like a slow-roasted brisket as much as anyone. But at the same time, I miss my microwave. There does seem to be a legitimate place for time-saving devices, and reheating the leftovers, to my mind, is one of them. With a microwave, I've lost nothing but extra dishes to clean, and I've gained precious minutes at the table with my family. Sometimes, instant gratification is, well, gratifying. And, and as fun as cooking by candlelight can be, when it comes to yesterday's chicken soup, I still believe that the best option is to just "nuke" it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Gym of Eden

Whew! My muscles and my back are very sore as I write this. I wish I could say that it was because I performed some great athletic feat, but no. I merely spent a couple of hours digging in the flower beds yesterday. In my defense, I did go beyond the ordinary weeding and instead hauled out the big shovel to excavate an inexcusable amount of invasive grass that had woven itself underground into a dense tangle of roots, some of which were as thick as my thumb and wrapping their evil tentacles around my tulip bulbs. It was hard work. But still, I feel like a sissy being this wiped out by a little spring weeding. (Oh to be able to take ibuprofen again!) Nevertheless, this is the good kind of sore, and my hands are the good kind of dirty.

I suppose that, after my last post, I should mention that the sunshine is definitely back. I'm pleased to report that the thermometer has been peeking its little head above the 70° line for a few days now. It's been lovely. And getting my vitamin D from the sky instead of from a bottle is, quite literally, priceless. I love spring—almost as much as I love summer.

A day this fine should not be spent indoors. This is perfect gardening weather and park weather and strolling-around-the-neighborhood weather. I'd be crazy to sit at a computer typing a blog post right now. Heh.

Having never been a member of a gym, I may not be qualified to say this, but I honestly cannot understand how gyms stay in business during weather like this. Physical therapy, of course, makes sense to me. And winter gym time make a little bit of sense to me. But when it's 73°, the sun is shining, a light breeze is blowing, the yard needs attention, and the birds are singing, getting your exercise inside of a big, boxy room lit with fluorescent tubes while plugging yourself into a pair of earbuds makes absolutely no sense to me.

Yesterday, as I did my squats and lunges with the help of a shovel, my soundtrack was a chickadee and a woodpecker. My workout partner was an enthusiastic two-year-old who could hardly contain his joy as I unearthed two fat beetle larvae, a snail, a beetle, a handful of worms, and an army of ants.  I got to chat with my next door neighbor. I said hello to passersby who stopped to admire the tulips. I had the satisfaction of separating the weeds from the flowers and preparing the ground for planting.

I was dive bombed by a hummingbird. No really. I was.

Is there anything so metaphorically rich as gardening? Is there anything so unpoetic as a treadmill? Is there any air so invigorating as this lilac-scented breeze? Is there any air so uninviting as the sweaty aroma of the locker room? Will somebody please explain to me how anyone of sound body and mind could opt for the latter?

Even if you don't have a garden—which we didn't for years—just running around at the nearest park seems far superior to anything I could be doing with a gym membership. And if you've got kids, I guarantee that they are dying to run around outside anyway, so we might as well include them in the fun.

It's spring! So get some sun. Get some dirt under your fingernails. Get some fresh air. And get some exercise where the lilacs smell stronger than the gym socks.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Hey, ho, the wind and the rain

"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily.
"So it is."
"And freezing."
"Is it?"
"Yes," said Eeyore. "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately."

This year, winter and spring seem to have shaken hands and reached some sort of compromise, granting each other the authority to intermittently take charge over one another's appointed months. Winter was unusually mild and green, but this week, spring is doing its best to pose as winter.

Freezing temperatures and a forecast of "possible snow flurries" greeted us this morning as an unwelcome finale to yesterday's trunk-snapping, flower-stripping winds—winds that turned the sky a sickly brown for most of the afternoon. Our yard is littered with the debris of Monday's gales, and the tulips are staring pathetically up at me with a uniform expression of exhaustion and defeat. In the glass of the living room window, I can see that my own expression reflects theirs.

Only in recent years have I discovered how much the weather affects my mood. It's hard to put a spring in my step when there is no spring in the air. If I let them, these blustery days can turn me into a real Eeyore— Eeyore living in a house full of Tiggers.

Dreams of a green, sprouting vegetable garden are not going to be realized anytime this week. Or next, judging by the forecast. The seed packets sitting on my counter all say, in their matter-of-fact way, "Plant in the ground after all danger of frost is past." All danger? That would give us, let's see, the last two weeks in August. Maybe. If it's a good year. I've seen frost on the Fourth of July.

So here I sit near a bright window, warming my hands against a mug of very hot tea, letting the steam rise into my face to clear my stuffy head and ease the disappointment of hope deferred.

The truth is that, living in northern Idaho, gardening is really a matter of playing the odds. It takes a gaming spirit and a sense of humor. What are the chances of snow in May? Are you willing to bet your crop on it? Ante up. And keep a spare ace up your sleeve. Wear your poker face. Don't let the sunshine fool you.

Sunny skies may have replaced yesterday's brown, but the cheery blue, like a squirting trick corsage, is nothing but a cheap practical joke; it lures us with all the illusion of springtime friendliness and then douses the unsuspecting optimist with a blast of chilly reality. Haha. Very funny. Where's my coat?

Truthfully, I do know that spring is already here and that these cold days are nothing extraordinary. I have no doubt that warmer weather will be on its way here again soon. And in the meantime, I have a fire. And a warm mug. And guileless sunny faces all around me. The tulips are even beginning to look like they'll recover.

Oh, and we haven't had an earthquake lately.

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