Monday, December 28, 2009

We interrupt this vacation

For a short message from work. That message is: you're still employed (thankfully), so get in here.

After five days of Christmas break, full of food, family, fun, and inexplicably huge amounts of wine, I'm heading back in today and tomorrow. Part of me is sort of clutching my head and groaning (you want me to do whhhat?) Part of me is glad to get away from the struggles with the Wii and the Leapster. And the sensible, logical part of me is glad to get back to the desk and be reminded of things before I take another five days off and forget it all completely.

Here's where I would like to do a short meditation on the value and beauty of work, only it's before six a.m. and I'm too groggy for that. Instead I'll just wish everyone a happy day--especially those of you who don't have to sit at a desk today.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Holiday Meme

It's cute. Also, I happen to be a little tired. Did you know that coughing causes brain damage? I didn't google it or anything. I just happen to have discovered this from personal experience.

Eggnog or hot chocolate? Mmm, yes please. My yearly limit of eggnog, though, is about two glasses, whereas I can have hot chocolate every day.

Does Santa wrap the presents or leave them under the tree? Santa wraps the presents in a special unique-to-him wrapping paper. Because we're sneaky like that.

Colored lights on a tree or white? Colored.

Do you hang mistletoe? God no.

When do you put your decorations up? When we get our tree, which depends on the tree-cutting schedule of the Forest Service. I usually drag out the advent calendars by the 1st, though.

What is your favorite holiday dish? I like them all, although the one I can only have when my Mom makes it is pearl onions in a cheddar cheese sauce. Oof, that is good.

Snow: love it or hate it? I love it unless I have to drive in it.

Can you ice skate? Yes. When I was 13 I could do that thing where you glide on one foot with your other leg lifted behind you, but now I have to focus on just going around and around and around, and then my feet start to hurt and I give up.

What is your favorite holiday dessert? In my house we have three kinds of pie, which I like but I wouldn't say are my favorite. Plus you can get these other times of year. Maybe Christmas cookies, which people only make and distribute this time of year?

What is your favorite holiday tradition? Singing Christmas songs. Unfortunately this is often foiled by my newer Christmas tradition of getting a cold every December.

Candy canes: yum or yuck? It's just that they're so sticky. And stick-like. Plus I get sick of the flavor by halfway through.

Favorite Christmas show? Fanny and Alexander. Which we never, ever watch. Our family watches the Simpsons Christmas specials instead. Sometimes the Nutcracker.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Kitchen, bitchin, & other territorial struggles

So, like other people, I (belatedly) read Elizabeth Weil's NY Times article about her marriage with a mixture of fascination and sympathy; like many other people, it made me think about my own marriage a little differently. A lot of what I thought was, I must admit, "wow--you fight about THAT" and "whew--that's NEVER been a problem between us." Obviously, part of this is the nature of describing intimate fights to other people (would you feel a bit smug, for example, if I said that one of big simmering issues in my own marriage right now is whether the room currently housing our TV was designed to be, or was ever used as, a dining room?)--however, how a couple handles sensitive territorial issues, such as who does what in the kitchen, sits at the root of how they interact in all sorts of other ways. Hanna Rosin's passionate response (and associated comments) to Weil's article is an example of this. And for the most part, I think, Hubs and I play well with others when it comes to the kitchen.

It helps that we have fairly distinct spheres of duty, so we don't need to uh, instruct each other. Hubs handles pancakes, taco salads, and spicy salsa (I know, I know, it's straight from the 1950s mom-dad playbook); I do almost everything else, food-prep wise. We both do coffee and dishes, and we have come to an agreement about The Best Path for both activities. No "letting the dishes soak" except on special occasions; no undue uptightness about the blade cleanliness of our cheap knives. This means that either one of us can make the coffee or do the dishes without the other one silently steaming about how the other person Never Does It Right. Hubs tends to keep the refrigerator wiped down, too, something that for me is an all-day labor involving sorting through antique condiments and for him takes five minutes and leaves the food storage area much more appealing than it was.

As we run our kitchen, so we run our lives: neither one of us is especially finicky or slovenly. We don't tend to obsess; nor do we feel the need to impose "my way or the highway" rules on most activities (one exception: bedtimes. I have tend to think my life will disintegrate if I do not get to bed exactly eight hours before my alarm clock goes off, and I also worry about how many hours the kids sleep. To little avail, BTW.) We try to give each other reasonable amounts of space, both in terms of hobbies and in terms of, say, parenting strategies. As much as possible, we try to enjoy each other's company and that of our kids. We try to make things stable yet fun (in theory, anyway).

Now. If only I can figure out how to adopt this ability to nurture shared but respectful space in how I interact with my kids, I'll be all set.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Favorites

Last night we had dinner with my mother-in-law, who, after a brief holiday, once again lives in the same city as we do. In fact, she now lives closer to us than she did when we lived in Fort Collins. Those of you who have been privy to my mostly petty struggles with her over the years will understand when I say that if I'd known, two years ago, that we would move seventy miles away only to have her closer than ever, I might never have agreed to leave in the first place (I think that "moving away from MIL" might have been in my "pro" column when I was trying to get my mind around moving.)

Well, in the past two years, she has mellowed, I have mellowed, and I'm now basically glad to have her only a stone's throw away (a stone thrown by a seven-league giant, besides). Here are my favorite things about living near my MIL:

1. As she gets older, and more in need of help, it is SOOOO much easier to help her when she lives only fifteen minutes away.

2. Once again she can do random fun things with the kids--and now that she's so close, it doesn't have to be all three grandkids. The special, one-on-one relationship that she had with Silas in his first few years can rekindle a little, and maybe she can spend some special time with Helen as well, just the two of them.

3. When we drive her home after dark (she doesn't drive at night anymore), it's just the right distance: the car has time to warm up, I can listen to a decent chunk of a radio program, and yet it's never so far it feels burdensome.

4. Okay, I'll admit: free in-a-pinch babysitting.

5. For the first time in about ten years, she seems relaxed and happy. This is good. This is very good. When MIL's not happy, ain't nobody happy.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Minus three and falling

Got my balaclava out for my run tomorrow. Because I'll be running, dammit, even if it's 8 below.

Meanwhile, behold: You can't buy this patchiness in a store.

Stay warm!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Seasoning

Just in case I might have been worried, back in October, about getting into the Christmassy mood too soon, what with the 12 inches of snow and all, and then being sort of past the whole Christmas thing come mid-December, when chances were that the weather would be 60 degrees and dry...well, no more need to worry. Since the snow is still here, or was here and is here again, or is here and is coming tomorrow also and also the day after that...or something. We're in the Season. White on white, and cold, mama.

Yesterday we went up and cut a tree from Golden Gate State Park (by permit!), and by "we" I mean Hubs, Silas, and Sister-in-Law + Nephew, because Helen had a cough and I decided to prudently stay home with her. And also get some laundry done, and clean the house, and um, oh yeah, avoid driving sixty miles in a winter storm warning. I love being out in the snow and cold, but not if I'm in a vehicle. "Call when you get there!" I said cheerily, and put on the water for another pot of coffee. "Drive safe!"

It's a fine tree, a fir, 11 feet and 10 inches tall, so it fit in our living room with two inches to spare. It was also reported to be a fine hike, if we use Ernest Shackleton's definition of fine. That is, it was long, cold, windy, snowy, and cold, and while I actually think that would have been kind of fun, doing it with kids, especially "I hate hikes" Helen, would have started out notfun and proceeded straight to Death March.

The good news about staying home was that I managed to keep so busy that I didn't think once about the purchasing part of Christmas. Which means that we're still on square one: giftfail. Which means the chances of me being one of those poor souls running out to the Quickie Mart at 10 o'clock on December 24 just bumped a little higher.

So: happy holidays!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Favorites

On my lunch hour today I took a much-needed break and went for a hike. At one point I was walking through a fault-block valley with only the footprints of deer and coyote in the snow around me. Horizon to horizon, for several miles, what I could see was not much different from what Jesse James and his teenage buddies saw when they were running through this area a hundred years ago. For a few minutes I could even feel the wind blowing through my head, which maybe doesn't sound pleasant but which is the opposite of stressy-stress regular life (trust me).

Then I got back in my truck and returned to work, where I checked Facebook and noticed a common theme among all my old English-department cronies, most of whom now teach. For example:

"MR was just told by a colleague that has been keeping track of how many essays he's read and graded this semester and it was 379. That's more than one essay a day for an entire year. And this is ONE semester. The punch line? After all of that revision? Still bad essays."


and


"SS is staring at a stack of 50 essays to be graded by Monday at 8:00 a.m. But first, coffee. And maybe, if I can find a random leftover one around here, half a xanax so I don't have the desire to kill the students I know will ignore everything I've said all semester :D.
"

Etc. Since every so often I feel moody that I don't still teach, so these posts are a nice reminder of why I am so, so, so, so glad that I didn't go that route.

My top five reasons why I'm glad I don't teach:

1. Reading 379 essays (and counting!) a semester.
2. GRADING those 379 essays.
3. Absolutely having to be at work at a specific time several times a week.
4. Having to perform every day.
5. Ugh. MORE grading.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Holiday shopping

Last night, as I lay awake staring at the ceiling, I thought about gifts, and specifically how many of them we haven't bought yet, and how it's practically Christmas already and how come we do this every year even though waaay back in October I had the wonderful idea of dividing the fall into chunks and using each chunk to buy presents for groups of people--October was going to be Aunts and Uncle month, November was going to be Parents and Siblings month, and December would be Getting the Last Minute Gifts Especially for Kids month.

Well, yeah. That didn't work. We're still stuck on those Aunts and Uncle (totally unrelated: what if anything do you recommend as a gift for a person who is a) diabetic; b) doesn't cook or like healthy food, such as fruit; c) lives alone anyway; d) has a serious too-much-stuff problem; e) doesn't like bath-y self-pampering products? Because I'm stumped, again).

The main problem here is that I am just not a gift-y person. I think it's a personality flaw. I listen with awe and a sort of wistful envy as organized and creative gift-givers talk about what they're giving to everyone from their irritating father-in-law to their childrens' teachers, and I nod my head and think, Yes! What a wonderful idea! And then I get to Target and try to emulate it, and I walk up and down the aisles, looking at all the piles of gleaming stuff. At first I think I'm going to have success--slippers! I'll get everyone slippers this year! and what a great picture frame! And those piles of designer throws are so tempting!

But then the doubts start worming their way in. Does Dad even need slippers? If he doesn't have them, is that because he wishes someone would get him some, or because he isn't the kind of guy who wears slippers? And this soft fake-fur lining is nice, but is it $29-more-than-other-kinds nice? And isn't that the stuff that repels water in a weird way, so that if you put them on after the shower your feet stay wet for a long time? While we're at it, is $49 for a picture frame really worth it, plus isn't it kind of an expensive crap shoot to try to buy decorative items for another person? Finally, those throws look nice, but everyone knows they're too small and too thin to be anything but decorative clutter, and here we are, back at the "never buy decor" dictum again...and thirty minutes later I'm heading out to the car empty-handed except for a sinking feeling of defeat.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Don't call her Handsome

Last night the kids took a their weekly shower. Si got dibs on the first shower, which meant that I was busy with shampooing Miss Helen, giving her dry rags, complimenting her on her rinsing abilities, etc., while Si was naked and at loose ends. Never a good combination. Before I knew it, this:
Had become this:Also, the kid bathroom was kind of a mess. Also, the haircut actually didn't look as neat as it does here--I first clued in as I was ushering Helen, shivering and wet-haired, into her room, and Silas called out, "Mom? Can you come help me get this even?"

And then when I came in and gasped, etc., he added, "Because I can get the front even but I just can't get the back."

So Hubs had to make a late-night Target run for buzz clippers.

Meanwhile, while we covering a just-cleaned bathroom in hair, I decided to do Helen as well, since her bangs were starting to get into her eyes. The bangs were fine but she was unhappy about the rest of it:
"I look hansome," she sulked, "And I don't want to look hansome!"

"You look absolutely cute," I argued. "It's a perfect little bob."

"But I want LONG hair," she said. "Like yours."

"I hate my hair," I pointed out. "Also, you don't really like barrettes or pony tails."

"I don't want to look handsome."

Well. So we have fuzzhead, who cheerfully says, "I really look terrible!" And Miss Handsome.

Changing standards

In the past (pre-kid), I would have described the weekend just ended as "insanely busy." Broncos game! All-day chess tournament! Birthday party (attended, not hosted)! Playdate! Visits to the library and the playground! Dinner party (again, attended, not hosted)! All this in addition to regular weekend activities of cleaning, laundry, getting groceries, going running (10 miles! woot! in related news I am PLASTERED to my CHAIR), cooking dinner, getting the kids bathed, and, you know, remembering to pee.

However, all things considered, it wasn't so bad. I wasn't involved in every single activity--no sitting in the cold watching teeny tiny men do something with an invisible speck in the misty distance; also, no all-day chess tournament (score). We even got to watch a DVD (Talk to Her) and I finished a novel (Slip of the Knife by Denise Mina--shivvvver). I did a lot of sitting in the sun watching an intensely pink person against an intensely blue sky ("Mom! You're not watching! Watch me, Mom!")

Still: obviously my standards for "busy" have changed. I don't even know what I used to do on weekends--and they seemed so miserably short, too.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Favorites

(Sort of).

The only thing I like about my commute is getting to listen to books on tape. I imagined I would listen to all the same books I read, and that I could get back some of my precious reading time that has been lost to taking a job.

Well, that was wrong. There are certain things a book on tape needs in order for me to listen to it and not just tune out while some windbag drones on out of the speaker.

Here's what I need from a book on tape:

1. It has to sound like someone telling a story, not someone reading a story. UGH. I listened to When You Are Engulfed In Flames by David Sedaris first and it was wonderful and I giggled to myself all along the highway. Then I checked out Barrel Fever, which is an older book, in which David Sedaris hadn't perfected his reading style. I didn't finish that one. Although I see on Amazon that there's a newer edition--maybe I'll try that one instead.

2. Pretty much, it has to be funny. I'm sure there are some exceptions to this rule, but I haven't found them yet. Plus, it's harder to be conversational about, say, the apocalypse (A Brief History of the Dead--unfinished).

Okay, that's it. I'm also in need of some recommendations. How about you? Heard a good audiobook lately? Or have any ideas about a book that might make a good audiobook?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I want her life

On my commute this week I've been listening to Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck and I have come to the conclusion that if I could change places with someone in the world, it would be Nora Ephron. Oh really, you might say, especially those of you who know me in person. What is it about her, exactly? The perkiness? The obsession with things of the surface? Or, no--her enthusiastic acceptance of hair dyeing, manicures, and plastic surgery.

And, okay, I rolled my eyes a lot during the "On Maintenance" parts. When she asks, "When did a manicure become something you Have to Do?" I answer into the cab of the truck: "Uh, when you became super-rich and famous, I'd guess."

But! We all have different grooming routines, and I'm sure what she has works for her. What I love, besides her voice, which is awesome, and about as far from my wispy Midwestern mumble as it's possible to get and still be within the English language (see how I'm exaggerating, just like Nora?)--what I love is the way she throws herself into life. She buys a cookbook--and becomes a disciple of the author. She moves into a nice apartment, and adopts the neighborhood as a religion. I buy a cookbook, make a couple recipes, note glumly that the kids hated them, and go back to my regular cooking routine. I move into a new neighborhood, complain about its prevailing house style, and try to change my habits as little as possible.

If I were Nora, when I moved last year I would have immediately signed up for the school board, attended all PTA functions, and also done things like get a haircut and a manicure in order to match the basic Elementary School Mom Type of my area (which is WAAAAY higher maintenance than my "biology grad student" style). I would have thrown catered parties and become a devotee of the fancy-pants restaurants near my house (the wine list! so imaginative! and the seared watermelon [!] is to die for!). When I bought Flatbreads & Flavors (a great cookbook that combines stories of the married authors' backpacking trips through central and eastern Asia with authentic ethnic recipes), I would have a) actually read it, instead of just skimming it hopefully at dinnertime, looking for recipes that I could make with on-hand ingredients in less than an hour; b) run out and bought earthenware tiles for the oven, so my flatbreads could have the proper baked-on-clay taste; c) perhaps tried to build a wood-fired tandoor oven in my backyard. Eventually--a true devotee like Nora would invest years in a worthy project--I would myself backpack through Pakistan, Thailand, and Mongolia, waiting for hours by the famed naan bread stand near Khyber Pass, cooking with nomadic peasant women in the desert, trying to make naan bread myself in a community oven.

What I'm saying here is that part of me wishes these are things I did. I want to be someone who throws herself into projects with the energy and abandon of a fresh convert. Why haven't I built a tandoor oven, made all 58 of the recipes in this book that I love, and planned a two-month backpacking trip to Thailand?

Well, money, for one. It would be a lot easier to throw myself into things with abandon if I were making over $250K as a freelance script writer, OBV. Also, there's the family aspect: Nora Ephron has been married three times. I see making a stable, predictable, boring life for my kids as one of my basic duties as a mom, and I'm very sensitive to projects that will disrupt this life.

But: I also possess a certain tendency toward inertia. God, building a tandoor oven would involve so much work. I'd have to actually change my habits in order to do something like that. What a pain! Especially since I can't even muster the get-up-and-go to find an unglazed earthenware tile.

This inertia is what I'd like to change about myself. You know, someday. When I get around to it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Foul-Weather Runner

So, I've been trying to stick to the following running schedule: Tuesday through Friday I wake up at 5:30 and run for two or three miles. On Saturday I "rest" by dusting, vacuuming, scrubbing porcelain fixtures, and going to the store. On Sunday I go for my long run, which currently means about seven or eight miles, which I'm trying to push up to nine or ten. I seem to have settled into this pattern pretty solidly, and even when the week's evening activities force me to tweak it a bit (last week I went to Wicked with my MIL and SIL and it was unexpectedly AWESOME, but I didn't get into bed until midnight. So I gave myself a pass for Friday and ran on Saturday instead). However, the first real challenge came yesterday, when it snowed half a foot (for the THIRD TIME THIS SEASON I AM DYING HERE). I was determined--determined--to run nine miles, even though there were six inches of wet, sloppy snow on the ground.

And, ladies and gentlemen, I did it. Even though the bike path was unplowed, meaning that I ran nine miles in ankle-deep snow, with slippery chunks of snow ice trapped in my socks. Even though it was like trying to run on sand, slop-slop-slop. There were benefits, of course: I had to pee at one point, and since I had seen exactly one person during my entire run I decided to risk it and pee on the trail (the risk paid off, BTW, and I was not slapped with an indecent exposure citation). The world was beautiful, in a cold kind of way. The virtue--or something--poured off me in visible waves, which was helpful, as once I got home I was basically useless and lay about on the couch shivering and drinking hot chocolate while other people (= my spouse) did the child-wrangling. I was protected by my Virtue Force Field from feeling the need to help in any way. I'm sure Hubs appreciated it.

As I loafed about on the couch I was reminded of my pre-kid self--back when I had excessive free time, didn't know many people, and was frequently housed in a small apartment. I used to go out in all kinds of weather for hours--tromping through snow, through mud, through rain, through withering heat. It wasn't really exercise so much as restlessness; also, once I got past the discomfort, I kind of loved the bad weather. Snow is exhilarating, and fantastically quiet; rain has mystery and promotes encounters with unusual animals. It got to be that traipsing about in storms become sort of a personal trademark. I may have had a lackluster personality but boy, I could outhike the best of them, especially if precipitation was heavy.

I miss that life. My life now has so much more going for it, really--but still. I was so free.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

There's hope for me yet

A partial list of things that mystify*/intimidate me:

1. Fabric softener
2. Haircut places
3. Febreeze
4. Manicures/ pedicures
5. Carpet shampoo

A partial list of things which used to mystify me but which I'm now comfortable with:

1. Juice boxes
2. Mapquest
3. Massages
4. Ziplock bags


* I don't mean mystify as in "it mystifies me why anyone would buy styrofoam-wrapped chicken pieces from the store when they could just raise, feed, butcher, clean, and pluck their own chickens in the backyard."** I mean, these things confuse me. Like--how do you do them? How do they work? How do you...ask for what you need?

** "Butcher, clean and pluck" are three words which will intimidate me IN PERPETUITY.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Taste test

As I was saying, on Thursday I made two yummy fall recipes featured on Milk and Cookies: the pumpkin-cauliflower soup and the pumpkin pie ice cream.

Behold, the original cauliflower soup:





And mine:
Please ignore the heating-up stain.

The original pumpkin pie ice cream:


Aaaaand mine:

Although the original (here) obviously cheated. He used props. Perhaps otherwise his ice cream would also have looked like chunks of frozen slush chipped off the bottom of the car.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Favorites

So far, I've made three of the Halloween recipes posted by Sundry on Milk and Cookies and mm-mm, are they good (note: I did *not* make the hand), although I'll come right out and say that so far none of them quite delivered on my expectations. I.e., they didn't taste quite as good as they looked in the pictures. I wasn't organized enough to get a photo of my creations before I left the house, but I will try to post one later, because also? my creations don't look as good as they looked in the pictures on Milk and Cookies.

Anyhow, what I wanted to post today is my favorite things about cooking:

1. I can explore without leaving my kitchen.
2. It's crafty, yet doesn't lead to crap accumulation, unlike actual craftiness.
3. It offers immediate gratification (or, occasionally, immediate feedback on The Wrongitude).
4. It allows me to incorporate my love of lists and projects with my love of eating.
5. It involves FOOD. Mmmmm.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Better Late Than Never

A fairy and the hideous ghoul she loves. Not, perhaps, as cute as a bat and a ballerina would have been, but still cute. Also, easy.

You know what was cute, though? The kids we trick-or-treated with. Si's 3rd-grade friend from up the street went as a gangster, complete with machine gun and cigar, and his little sister was his little gangster moll (so cute you could DIE, with a little flapper hairpiece, shiny black shoes, and a pink feather boa as big as she was). The two of them were unbearably cute and the whole evening was enjoyable--if a leetle awkward. We went with Si's friend, as I mentioned, and his dad, who was nice enough but I'd only just met him, which made it that much more awkward when other parents assumed we were together and that the adorable gangster moll was mine.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Picture Yourself in a Mercury Now

I hate cars. HATE them. Hatey-hate-hate. I hate their smell, their look, their gas needs, their space needs, the way they dominate the whole world. I correspondingly hate roads, highways, parking lots, garages, car dealerships, "car toy" stores--if it was built for a car, I hate it (except bridges. I still have a toddler's love of things that go over water). I didn't get my driver's license until I turned 17, which in the town I grew up in was like saying I didn't learn how to drive until I was thirty. I didn't own a vehicle until I was 22, and then it was a gift for helping a graduate student watch sparrows (a surprisingly difficult job). I didn't BUY a vehicle until well after I was married (although I'm enhancing my carless status here by omitting the detail that I used Hubs's truck as a primary vehicle for several years). We didn't join the ranks of most American couples and buy a second car until Silas was three and Helen was well on her way--and even then we only bought it because the truck's extended cab could hold one car seat but not two.

So. That was then. Now our family has four people, two cars (a Toyota pickup and a Jetta), two jobs, two schools, and four sets of mutually incompatible activities. In other words, we drive. A lot. On a typical day I drive almost forty miles. ICK. Every so often I make a big flurried show of trying to get us to drive less, and whenever I can walk or bike to an activity, I do, and the weeping of the small ones be damned (my children regard being forced to use their legs as something akin to child abuse, and I only wish I were kidding). However, most of the time, not-driving is not an option, and in fact to even contemplate either biking or taking public transportation would be a huge indulgence on my part, one that would inconvenience pretty much everyone else in the family.

For example: I could bike to work. I figure it would take me about an hour and a half, so I'd have to leave the house six thirty in order to get to work by eight. This would mean that Hubs would have to do all of the kid prep, plus drive Helen to school. It would be, frankly, selfish of me to do this more than once or twice a month. Alternately, I could make EVERYONE get up at five thirty, and make my kids both ride their own bikes AND get dropped off at school an hour to an hour and a half early. And as much as I believe in this, as much as I believe in teaching my kids the importance of not relying solely on carbon-powered conveyances, the bike-centered lifestyle does start to sound a little like child abuse. Or at least like something Balloon Boy's dad might do. You know?

Yes, we could be the weird and slightly overauthoritarian family who makes the kids rise at five, eat a sugar-free breakfast and hop on their bikes, come rain, sleet, snow, or ice. And to tell you the truth, we HAVE been that family. Last year at this time I was still "encouraging" Hubs to bike Si to school on the way to the train station. Si was often the only one whose bike was parked in the school bike rack--a distinction he did not really appreciate. As recently as this summer (before I got the job) I was still biking Helen to school. But as they get older, and social pressures start to crystallize, I get hesitant about forcing them to be so obviously Different.

Getting to work using current public transportation options is not much better. So I'm stuck: on the one hand, this is something I really, really think is important. On the other hand, I don't even know how to make it work in my own life--so I REALLY can't expect anyone else to make it work. And it's more than just an abstract problem--these sorts of dilemmas are at the HEART of why we don't have better public transportation and a more bike-accustomed world.

I mean, it sucks. And it's not all about improving public transportation options--although shuttles passing every major intersection north & south every ten minutes would be helpful (RTD take note). It's about changing our attitude. Dropping the kids off by bike would be a hella easier if OTHER KIDS were doing it, too. The inevitable delays and waits built into a day based in public transportation are also easier when everyone's feeling the wait. Starting the day at nine and leaving by four--a schedule that makes slow transportation options a lot more feasible--only works if it's part of the office culture (and OH BOY is it not).

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Favorites

A break from my transportation kick to bring you my five favorite things about snow days:

1. Sleeping in.
2. That awesome, "and now we take a break from our regularly scheduled programming" feeling. Regular life is having some technical difficulties...so let's all sit around in our PJs and play Memory.
3. I'm often inspired to take up outlandish and totally uncharacteristic house projects. Like: I made a sock doll yesterday. People! A sock doll!
4. Hot chocolate and cookies are obviously medical necessities.
5. The snow.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Wheels on the Bus

I don't know anyone over the age of five who loves buses. If they do, they keep their passions to themselves, which is just as well, since buses are big, ugly, unglamorous, move in a cloud of diesel exhaust, and apparently are one of the top causes of death in the United States (as evidenced by the phrase, "I could get run over by a bus tomorrow and then where would you be" and variations thereof). They're also the public transportation option I've used most often in my life.

Every weekend during the winter of 1994-1995 I took an RTD bus from Boulder to Denver (free with my student ID), walked to the urine-y and exhaust-y Greyhound Bus Station on the ungentrified part of downtown, and then took a bus to Glenwood Springs. I made this trip in snow and ice and riotous game crowds and was delayed only a handful of times. I had my share of strange seat mates (the well-dressed giggling man in his forties who claimed to have a sports car and tried to leave me with his phone number; the earnest and lugubrious former truck driver who wanted to impress upon me the wisdom of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, which he claimed could have saved his marriage, if only he'd read it in time; the man who carried on an entire, merry, give-and-take conversation with himself during the course of the four-hour ride)--but mostly it wasn't too crowded, and I rode alone and worked on my physics homework. Once we were in an accident ("Bus driver! Somebody hit us!"); once we had to wait for an hour on a pass after a semi jackknifed and closed both lanes. Mostly, though, it was a sturdy, stodgy, reliable way to get to Glenwood, and most of my fellow passengers were regular folks who didn't want to risk driving the mountain passes in the winter.

So, when I took this job, one of the first things I did was look at possible bus schedules (especially, uh, for days like today. Holy TOLEDO is it snowing out there.) The Denver RTD site has a handy "route finder" function, where you can plug in your starting and destination intersections and get instructions on which buses to take and how long it should take to get from A to B. Being me, I wasn't satisfied to just plunk in my address and my work address, but had to try to game the system a bit and put in large, obvious intersections that I knew were serviced by bus. Even so, the route they suggested took ONE HOUR AND FORTY-FIVE MINUTES. I mean, WHAT? In what universe would a normal person opt to take an hour and forty-five minutes to go 13 miles? I could BIKE it in less time. I mean, not today, obviously. But STILL. That's RETARDED. No wonder ninety percent of the people who use the buses are clearly obligated to use them due to their unfitness to drive/ own cars (Note: that stereotype is based on my experience with buses in other midsize cities. Maybe here the buses are populated by young professionals. Who just happen to want to TRIPLE THEIR COMMUTE time by riding the bus.)

So. Buses don't work. Trains don't work. Bikes don't work. What's a girl to do? Drive, of course. And voila: global warming. Also Denver's brown cloud. Parking lots. Acidic runoff. A drive-thru culture. I want something DIFFERENT.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The F Line to Lincoln

We chose our neighborhood based in part on its proximity to Denver's light rail line. Specifically, we actually vetoed an entire region of the city, one which would have been in many other respects more congenial, because its light rail line is not due to be completed until 2012.

We don't regret this decision (at least not any more than I regret every single decision I have ever made, which is obviously a personality flaw, not a reliable indicator of that decision's worth). My husband's office is a five-minute walk from a light-rail station; he spends less on his (heavily employer-subsidized) transit pass than I do on gas in a given month. We both love using the light rail to go into the city, mostly because it unshackles us from the harness of I-25, which is my least favorite interstate EVER. Also, even though I'm 37 I still get a kick out of the fact that it feels like a ride. I can see the mountains when I ride! And the bison bas-relief along the light rail corridor! And that funky yellow Stacking Tower Game sculpture near the Santa Fe exit! Also, when I get bored of that, I can read: last winter, when I took the train in every day to an internship, I barreled through about three books in one month just during the time I spent on the train. Sometimes it felt like the apex of civilization, to ride along in the elevated train as I read about Medieval Europe.

However. The train is not perfect. For those of us without employer-subsidized passes, it's pricey--for my two-month internship, for which I was not getting paid, I estimate I spent over three hundred dollars on train fares, including all the times I "forgot" to validate the free passes my husband had gotten for filling out a survey. It's seven dollars round trip per adult--that's a lot, especially considering that skillful vetting of parking lots can get you an all-day parking spot for about five dollars in downtown Denver. It's relatively useless if you want to go somewhere not in the middle of downtown--even though I live less than a mile from a light rail station, it doesn't make sense for me to take the train to go to the zoo (two and a half miles from a station), the writer's institute in northern downtown where I sometimes like to take classes, or to any of the other major submetropolises--Littleton, Boulder, Golden, Arvada. Even once the light rail extends to all of these places it won't make sense--it will take twice as long and will probably cost upwards of fifteen dollars round trip.

In other words, except for the relatively limited number of people who live in specific suburbs and work directly on the train line, Denver's light rail is less of a public transportation option and more of an overpriced lark. I LIKE the light rail. I WANT the light rail. But even I don't use it very often. So, Regional Transportation District: we need more! For less!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why I Love My Bike

My favorite form of transportation is the bike. Yes, it has its limitations: it doesn't do snow, and rain is kind of unpleasant, too. Long distances are inconvenient. But overall, if I could ride my bike everywhere, I would.

I bought my current bike in 1993 for $500--a Specialized Rockhopper mountainbike. At the time that was a sizeable chunk of my savings, but I fell so instantly in love that I didn't regret a single one of those dollars. I rode it in snow, in ice, in rain, in the dark. I used it for actual mountain biking and also for commuting to various jobs, including one that was ten miles away from where I lived (by sheer coincidence, that job lasted only two weeks).

Sixteen years later, I've put more miles on my bike than on my first two cars combined. I've ridden well into my third trimester of pregnancy. I even rode during the months of my first pregnancy when I was both hugely pregnant and crippled and had to walk with a cane--it was the only form of locomotion that didn't hurt. I've hauled groceries, kids, biology-chemistry-physics textbooks, and small pets. I ride to school events, baseball games, and playgrounds. As late as last week I hauled Helen to her ballet class on the bike carrier she is much too big for, and even though work is thirteen miles from my house I'm still hoping to commute here by bike, at least occasionally.

I love starting the day by riding to work. I've had to defend this to my kids countless times over the past years, usually while hauling their complaining selves out the door to their own bikes. I like starting the day with taking deep breaths of the crisp clean morning air, with getting a feel for the weather and the temper of the day ahead, with seeing what's out there or catching a glimpse of a hawk or a fox. I like getting to work a little chilly or damp, pulling off all my gear, shaking out my hair, and settling in. Inclement weather is a challenge, one that I've overcome by the time I get to my desk. One of the hardest things about having kids has been that this pleasure is so often inconvenient, or involves massive struggle or argument (the kids do NOT feel like riding their bikes is a great way to start the day).

One of the challenges with my new job is that regular bike commuting really isn't an option. By the most direct yet still bike-friendly route, it's thirteen miles, which could take me as long as an hour and a half one way (I like biking, but I'm not a fast biker). Combine that with an eight-and-half-hour day, kids to pick up and feed, and a spouse with his own busy and stressful schedule, biking to work can only be a luxury that I indulge in a few times a year. I'm bound and determined to do it, though--I'll keep you posted.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Favorite things about fall

A Friday Favorites about the current season which is, WEATHER PLEASE TAKE NOTE, fall. Not winter. Not summer. FALLLLL.

1. The colors. Duh. But I like how the reds and oranges and yellows make the world seem three-dimensional again, instead of green-on-green flat. And how I suddenly notice little spots I hadn't before: the line of ethereal rose-petal bushes along Holly Road, the three blazing hawthorne trees at the edge of the park.

2. The holidays, starting with the heathen costume-and-candy one and moving, stuffed-tummy-like, all the way through to the religious one at the start of winter.

3. The closing-in cozy feeling at the end of the day. Pulling the curtains, turning up the heat, making some soup.

4. The crunch of all those leaves. (Please note: I do NOT so much like the juicy squinch of slimy wet leaves).

5. Cleaning shit out. Ripping the black tomato vines out of the garden. Cutting down on those messy, rangy flowers. Shaking off all those LEAVES. It's like cutting off your hair: one day, messy, shaggy, always-in-your-line-of-vision, and the next day, gone. Stark and pure.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Not that there's anything wrong with it, but...

has anyone ever worked at an office with a male boss and his wife where the wife was not in charge of office parties and birthdays and goodbye gifts?

It's like a semi-official expectation. It's also one of about 1 million reasons why I could never work for my husband: I lack the skills. (Luckily for his employees, and me, he possesses a rare y-sorted gift-giving gene.)

I can't say this observation makes me mad, exactly. It's not like End of Feminism. And all (two of) the wives I've known in this situation genuinely seem to enjoy the parties, decorations, being thoughtful, et cetera. But in both cases it did sometimes seem like she was enabling her husband's complete lack of interest in/ concern for his employees...or else just participating in the stereotype that the woman is the one who is caring and thoughtful, and the man is the One Who Gets Shit Done, and perpetuating the further and much more annoying cultural belief that these two things have to be separate.

Or maybe I'm just griping because I myself am so EVERLOVING POOR at the gift thing, and I'm jealous.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Anticipating

I have been totally impressing myself in my ability to wake up every single morning at 5:30 and go for a run. The runs are not long or even particularly aerobic, but they manage to get my wiggles out and allow me to sit in my chair for the next eight hours (plus another damn hour in the frigging car) without feeling like I am going to diiiiie.

In related news, however, I am REALLY ready for daylight savings time to be OVER. I know, I know, I'll be driving home in the dark from now on (ACK). But at least I will have begun the day in the twilight, instead of the pitch black dark. I am SO SICK of running in the dark. Yes, I can see the stars (such as they are over south metro Denver), and it's nice to be learning the constellations, et cetera, but folks, I RUN INTO stuff. Okay, once. But still. Sick of the dark.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Chores

I bribed Silas to rake the front lawn yesterday. Five bucks. That's big money in our house. And I tried to keep my expectations low: I remembered Swistle's excellent comment about when her two bigger kids help out: they are not very efficient or effective, and if they were a tool from Target she would totally ask for her money back, but the little bit that they can do is helpful. Plus, I reminded myself, there's the "building character" factor, although I've never been clear if this factor is negated if you pay the children. I vote no. Because as much as I wishity wish it, my kids aren't going to help out just from the sheer joy of contributing to the household.

But: he did it. The lawn actually looks raked this morning. Not, er, well-raked, but still: raked. Most of the grass is visible again. And there's an enormous pile of leaves in the back, covering up the half of the yard upon which grass does not grow. I haven't figured out a good way to measure Si's character, but I'm confident that it is bigger, or shinier, or whatever happens to it when it gets "built."

These are the kind of chore in which Si excels, anyway. Big, fun, messy, and--most important--limited. Bribery is like antibiotics to this kid: you can't prescribe it too often, or it loses its effectiveness. We tried paying him to mow the lawn (with a nonmotorized push mower, CPS people) last summer, and it worked great for about two times. Then he couldn't be bothered. Same with loading the dishwasher. "Again?" he wails, which I totally get, but still can't really sympathize. And of course we make both kids pick up their crap and put away their laundry. But overall, we're having less success with getting helping out around the house to become part of the daily routine. Chore charts are effective, but again only for about two weeks, and then we all start forgetting to fill them out. As much as I have always admired color-coordinated family chore calendars ("Joe washes the dishes on Tuesdays and Fridays, Ruth on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and Karin and Katey on Saturday and Sunday," etc.) I have never been able to actually write one out. It makes me feel a) controlling and b) like a total dork. And no matter what sort of chore arrangement we have as a family, "nagging" always seems to be my job.

What about you? How do you handle household chores?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Friday Favorites

So I'm not going to go on here about how I inexplicably keep thinking of this job as a prison term/ David Copperfield child labor gig, but in honor of my occasional feelings of claustrophobia (you: and HOW is it you've held down a job all these years?), a Friday Favorites of the things I fantasize about doing (and which may or may not be impossible now that I am EMPLOYED):

1. Doing a two-week family road trip. This might be one of those childhood memories best left un-relived, but still, I'd like to find out instead of just letting this dream sink into oblivion.

2. Doing a writer's residency. I haven't done one since 2007, folks. I'm starting to get itchy.

3. Taking time off whenever Si's school has a holiday, which is approximately every other day. I want to take him to do fun mom-n-son outings! That I couldn't do when I didn't work because we couldn't afford it! Now that I can I don't have any tiiime! I think this one qualifies as a Middle-Class Sob Story (TM Tess).

I could go on, but those are the main things right now.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Alone in the house

Last night I got home and the only one there to greet me was the dog. The others were all out picking up Hubs' replacement cell phone from the FedEx office (reason #54 not to work: so you can be at home that one time each year you have to sign for a damn package). In other words: I was ALONE IN THE HOUSE. It was wonderful, in its own way. I could proceed from task to task calmly, without getting interrupted or distracted. I could finish what I started without ever having to take a break to find something for somebody, or remind someone not to leave their shoes in the middle of hallway, or make somebody an emergency snack. There was a minimum of yelling.

So, what did I do during this miraculous break? Made dinner, of course. And loaded the dishwasher. Small pleasures, people.

After dinner was made I did get to sit for about ten minutes with a glass of wine and a book. And then when the kids did get home they were busy keeping a secret so they bustled away into the back room with a lot of whispering, so I got to keep reading. Until I got scared out of my pants from the ghoulish thing from Scream, with a giggling Silas inside. And then a fairy ballerina wearing a familiar heart-spotted T-shirt came out. I guess they stopped at Target, too, and picked up costumes. After I was done screaming and appreciating the Scariness of the costume, I did ask Si a little wistfully--"So, no bat?" Last week he said he wanted to be a bat for Halloween, and even though I'm not really a costume-making kind of person, I jumped up and offered to make him one, since I loved the idea so much. I'm not sad not to have to make a bat costume (because when was I going to do that, exactly?). But I do miss the bat.

"You can still make a bat costume," Si said helpfully. "For yourself."

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lunch hour

People: I went for a hike on my lunch hour yesterday. I KNOW! I couldn't believe it myself. It was just so beautiful driving in, and I am beginning to get a little tired of walking the neighborhood streets, so I looked up the nearest trail on MapMyRun when I got to my desk. The nearest trail is six minutes away, you guys. (By car. Vroom vroom). And it's a real trail, not a bike path in somebody's back yard. It's behind the hogback, so it doesn't require the suspension of audial disbelief that a lot of Denver area trails need ("I am in naturrre. It is so peacefulll. Just ignore the sound of that busy highway a tenth of a mile away.") The views are spectacular. I saw bear poop (which, PSA to any bears that are reading: please avoid the plums. Your system just can't handle them.) It was absolutely fantastic (and, okay, it didn't take the thirty minutes that I had optimistically allotted it, but still: I was back at my desk within an hour). Plus: it was something I could not have done while working at home. Time, gas cost, fretting: I just wouldn't have done it.

So. There. Reason fifty-three I am glad to be working here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Short List According to Helen

A Short List of Things That Taste Like Blood

By Helen

1. Sardines

2. Tunafish

3. Root beer

There you go. Now you can give yourself mind benders all night long trying to mentally combine the taste of root beer and sardines.

Mmmm.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday Favorites

In honor of Back to Work, a Friday Favorites list about job stuff:

1. My favorite function in Photoshop: the magic eraser. I mean, come on. Even if I didn't know what it did I would love it, just for the name. And there are few things (at my work) quite so satisfying as clicking on annoying ugly spots on my figures and having them just...disappear.

2. Favorite thing about my work climate: they provide free hot chocolate. I mean, at my last work, we had to pay for coffee.

3. Favorite thing about my work location: (and this is remembering that actually I wish desperately that they would move so that I didn't have to drive for an hour every fricking day) I like being so very close to the hogback. It rises up less than a mile away, a flat wide slope of mountain mahogany and rock. I mean, there's an interstate between my work and it, so it's not like I can run over there on my lunch hour, but I can look.

4. Favorite thing about working (besides getting paid): being busy. I mean, sometimes I am too busy, and that sucks. But sometimes, much of the time, I am just the right amount of busy, and I like it. I'd hoped to replicate that during the year I had "off" by making my own concerns a job--but it just wasn't the same.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fall season TV

Whoa, two posts in one day! Hold me back!

So, guys, I tried to watch some comedy pilots on the TV last night, and let me just say, it reminded me STRONGLY of why I no longer really watch TV. And it had nothing to do with what was on the screen.

For instance:

1. First I had to wait until the play was over in the baseball game "everyone" else was watching.
2. Then I had to cover the birds. Didn't work: they still yammered away. Turned up the volume on the TV.
3. Then I had to remind the kids (gently!) that for once I was watching a TV show, so they really needed to please not yell for approximately 27 minutes.
4. Yeah. So I turned up the volume some more.
5. This just made the kids talk louder.
6. Then the phone rang. Alumni fundraising. We let the machine get it.
7. Then there was a joke on the show that Si got so he repeated it several times, laughing.
8. Then Hubs said (perhaps in response to my irritated sigh), "Pause it. Pause it. You can just pause it, you know."
9. Then Costi the dog started making her hungry noises. We feed her, people. For real. Hubs and I both rolled our eyes and said, NO, Costi.
10. Then I had remind Helen again to whisper, please.
11. Then the show ended. I watched approximately ten percent of it. Did I like it? Was it any good? I couldn't really say. Will I watch it again? Probably not. It's not worth it.

And let me point out, here, that overall the odds were in my favor. I had the remote. I was sitting on the couch. Dinner was over. And still I can't cut the time out of the damn day to watch twenty minutes of scripted jokes. Apparently I will return to regular TV watching in 2024, when Helen graduates from high school. It better be good by then, Networks. If you still exist.

Mafia alligator

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know rewards and encouragement work better than threats to promote good behavior. I'm also tuned in to the magic of maintaining routine and parental good behavior.

There are still some days, though, when I'd like to keep an alligator to help keep the home ship in running order.

"You think that's so funny, huh? Maybe you need to go explain it to the alligator."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Running through a sprinkler

Last week, which was my first five-day week working full time in this millenium, practically, I was a little unsure if the whole "working" thing was going to last. Life just felt so unbearably busy, like I was holding my breath and running through a sprinkler every single second of every single goddamn day. I mean, this is my standard morning:

5:20 - alarm goes off. I get up and put on my running clothes in the dark.
5:25 - I stretch and do some push-ups, in the dark. If I'm running late I skip the stretching.
5:40 - I leave the house for a run. Sometimes I'll leave as late as 6. I run two and a half to three miles, with the dog, who's mostly on message but occasionally insists on a sniff stop mid-run. These feel like they take HALF AN HOUR.
6:30 - At the latest. I come in the door, strip off my running stuff, hang the "wear more than one day" items, try to get the rest into the laundry pile instead of on the floor.
6:35 - Shower. Shave legs. Comb hair. My hair takes forever to comb, so sometimes I'll read a magazine (propped on the sink) while I comb.
6:50 - Turn on Si's light, turn off his fan, say "Time to get up, sweetheart! What do you want for breakfast?" Start the water for coffee. Grind the coffee. While the water is boiling, empty the dishwasher. Load the assorted dirty dishes that have gathered since the dishwasher ran last night. Gather up a few lunch/snack items and put them in my lunch bag. When the water boils, pour it into the coffee maker. We do French press coffee, BTW. Best coffee ever.
7:02 - Return to Si's room, pull the blanket off him, get him some clean clothes to change into, say, "The bus will be here in fifteen minutes! You really need to get up now!"
7:05 - Return to kitchen and cut up a peach for Si's breakfast. Pour him some milk. Pour myself some OJ and take a vitamin. Pour out my cereal. If Si's made it to the table on his own steam, I'll start eating. If not, I go and tell him the bus will be here in ten minutes, or whatever lie I need to tell him to get him the hell out of bed. I try to read while I eat and usually make it through about one paragraph.
7:19 - Notice the time and panic. Tell Si he needs to be walking out the door this second. Go find his shoes for him and put them on his feet. Ask him if he has his homework. Remind him to brush his teeth. End up getting the toothbrush pasted and wetted for his majesty and bring it to him for his brushing pleasure. Answer complicated questions regarding plaque build-up. Tell much-told horror story involving root canals at age 25 and add "THIS is why you need to brush your teeth!" Open door and practically push Si out of it. Feel grateful he will take the bus this year. Check to make sure he gets to the bus on time.
7:27 - Turn on Helen's light, open her blinds, kiss her cheek and say, "It's time to get up, sweetheart! What do you want for breakfast?" Endure some nonverbal glaring abuse and/ or a brilliant smile. Turn off the light when she screams "I can't see!" but remind her it's time to get up anyway. Explain physics of eye adjustment. Ask if she wants cereal or toast.
7:31 - Feed the dog, who is barking with impatience.
7:32 - Put together Helen's breakfast.
7:40 - Uncover the birds and roll up the covers. Feed the cursed things. Change their water.
7:41 - Finally, finally, finally pour out some coffee. Drink while I assemble the rest of my lunch. Go carry Helen from her bed to the couch. Ask if she's ready for milk in her cereal yet. Remind her that I want to leave very soon.
7:50 - Wish I were leaving this second. While Helen eats her breakfast, and Hubs comes in and starts pouring out his own cereal, pull out three outfits for her to choose between. Also brush my own teeth.
8:00 - While Helen gets her clothes on, paste and wet her toothbrush. Also get the comb and comb her hair while she complains that she wanted to brush her teeth first. Load my things into the car. Put the Netflix movie out for pickup. Pee one last time.
8:03 - Tighten Helen's shoes, as per her request. Hurry her out the door to the car. Kiss Hubs goodbye.

God, right? Minus the run and the showering, this was pretty much what I did last year, when I wasn't working, only it always felt like there was a little more slack. Evenings and weekends are more or less the same; however, I DID notice that this week feels a little less pell-mell. Am I adjusting? Or is it because Hubs actually got up early, too, and helped at least with the reminding and the putting the children out of the door? Or is it because we spent the weekend at home, instead of up in the mountains? Probably all of the above. I'm rooting for number one, though. It's all about adjustment.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wait, Is This a Post About the Weather?!?

Well, yes. I happen to love weather and could happily talk about it all day long. I'll try to keep it short.

Because what I love most is weather like we're having today: misty- rainy, with occasional lapses into sleet. Sporadically the clouds lift long enough for me to get up from my desk and walk around the block. Weather like this makes me happy to be in an office, happy for once to have an indoors job, happy to have a job that makes me drive almost up to the foothills, so that when I do walk around the block I can catch glimpses of the snow-covered hills hiding behind the hogback. Standing on pavement in the rain and looking up at hillsides that are white with snow makes me feel like I'm gifted with second sight and can see into alternate worlds. That, up there, is the world I wish we'd moved to; this, down here, is the world where we actually live.

So. Happy last day of summer!

Edited to add: the sky just turned green and then it started to hail. All over the building, I can hear little exclamations of surprise and dismay.

And some people think weather is boring!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday Favorites

Since I got up at five-thirty a.m. and went on a run every single day this week (go me! even if some of the runs were more like "very aerobic walks" and also very short) (also, this schedule might be contributing to my feeling that there is not a single second in the day when I can just relax, dammit), another running-themed Friday favorites.

My top five favorite things about running:

1. Except for the shoes (and the clothes, if you want to get fancy), it's free.

2. It doubles as exploration. I LOVE scouting out new neighborhoods, checking up on peoples' gardens, and exploring new trails while I'm out supposedly exercising.

3. It gets me outside.

4. I can do it almost anywhere, in any weather. I've run in sixteen states, four countries, and three continents; I've run in snow, rain, sleet, and in 100-degree weather and below-zero weather (the latter is MUCH MORE PLEASANT).

5. It gives me great calves.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tink, tink, tink, tink

...tink, tink, tink, tink, tink...

So, Silas found a pick (an ice pick? a climber's pick?) within about an hour of hour arriving at the cabin on Friday night. He finally, and reluctantly, relinquished it at approximately 1 pm on Sunday, when we got in the car to go home (Word of WisdomTM: ice picks + children + car = no). For those of you that can do the math, that's, oh, about 132 straight hours of hammering. All of the rocks around the cabin we stayed in now have little white marks on them. Also all of the rocks along the creek at the bottom of the hill. That kid has persistence, and also, apparently, gold fever. That's what he was doing, by the way: mining for gold. (Only 149 years too late! Sorry, kiddo!)

But! It was a wonderful weekend, nevertheless. We stayed at one of the cabins around the Glen Isle resort, which is a moldering old marvel of a historical lodge, with cheap cabins, lots of roads and trails, and easy access to the north fork of the Platte (and easier access to the little creek that empties into the north fork, which was a load off for the lazy parents among our group, which was all of us.) Hubs worked, I read the old magazines laying about the cabin, and my sister-in-law slept. Helen colored like a madwoman, at least when she wasn't out monitoring Si's progress. Their cousin kept tabs on the comings and goings of all visitors.

Every so often Hubs and I wish we had the means to buy some property in the mountains--to get ourselves a real summer cabin, something we can return to again and again, and pass down to the kids, a tangible piece of what I sometimes call their Colorado Heritage (usually while dragging them up a glacier or down a canyon). When I was growing up, I spent a few weeks every summer at the summer house of a friend, swimming, boating, and running wild in the woods, and it breaks my heart, sometimes, that we don't have the time or the means to provide this kind of summer to our kids. So far we haven't had any luck finding them friends with summer cabins, and short of winning the lottery, there's no way we're ever going to own a cabin. (Damn real estate bubble hasn't burst enough).

Then we go have a weekend the one just passed, and I start to think: who needs a damn cabin, anyway? It would be nothing but work, all summer long (that's what my friend's parents were doing, after all, while we swam and boated and ran wild. They were scraping and painting and floating out docks and fixing outboard motors and digging out privies and cooking, cleaning, and fixing ALL SUMMER LONG). Meanwhile, for about a hundredth of the price, we can go rent a cabin on the weekends we actually have available, and give our kids the gift of the whole entire state.

So. I haven't totally given up on the dream of a mountain cabin, but given the circumstances, I'm thinking we may actually have found a workable alternative.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Friday Favorites

We're heading off to a cabin tonight in celebration of Husband's 40th (he's FORTY) birthday, which will raise all sorts of questions, such as, is it actually POSSIBLE to work full time all week and then do anything but drool on the weekends? We'll see. In the meantime:

My five favorite things about this house (which I am still, uh, learning to love):

1. It's one floor (with a basement).

2. The laundry room is literally two steps from our bedroom (this is the best set-up EVER and I HIGHLY recommend it).

3. The five floor-to-ceiling windows in the front room (esp. once these windows have been replaced and we no longer spend the winter heating the outdoors with our central air system).

4. The cavernous back porch, sunny and bright midday, shady and cool (yet open to the entire yard) in the afternoon. It's a perfect place to have a beer after work or eat dinner in the summer.

5. Our new master bathroom.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

If You Have a Boat or a Plane

Just a quick post this morning before I head off to work, but I simply had to share: an email request for auction donations for Si's elementary school noted that a "great hit" from auctions past included auctioning off a weekend in your vacation home...also, "if you have a boat or a plane," those make "very popular offerings."

I'm trying to imagine owning a Cessna, and then imagining letting someone else fly it around. "Just be sure to top off the tank when you bring it in! Oh, and be sure to pull up on the landing!" or whatever it is you have to do in order to land.

Or it's equally possible that they mean auctioning off a trip in your Lear jet. There are a sizable handful of parents for whom this isn't a joke. Sigh.

Perhaps we can auction off a chance to use our camping equipment ("bent forks and crappy knifes we stole from our college cafeteria included at no extra cost!").

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday Favorites

During this time of transition from summer break to school and from not working to working full-time, when we all wake up in the morning groaning "is it a school day aGAIN?", a Friday Favorites list showcasing transitions I like.

My five favorite transitions:

1. From night to day;

2. From week to weekend;

3. From non-talking toddler to talking toddler;

4. From dirty to clean;

5. From worrying about money all the time to not worrying about money too much at all.

But really. Transitions, they suck.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Joining the Family

Had my first day of work yesterday and it went well. I didn't get fired on my first day, for example, even though I had this sort of irrational fear that I would (not while there, of course. I wasn't getting "we're going to fire you as soon as we can" vibes or anything). I was pretty tired by the end of the day, and by tired I mean tired of sitting in a chair: one thing about those eight hour days is that it takes some serious sitting muscles. There was also the whole getting-up-at-five-am-and-meeting-thirty-people-before-lunch tired. But that's to be expected, and it's even kind of pleasant, or will be when I get along a little further and it is accompanied with a sense of having accomplished something.

The part about starting a new job that I'd forgotten, or that I have gotten more sensitive to, is the absorbing of a whole new body of information. This is something that gets harder as I get older, or is harder because I already have a lot of things I want to be doing with my day. At the start of a new job I always feel a little like I've stumbled into someone else's family reunion and suddenly I'm expected to become a permanent member of that family and also the family archivist. All while I'm still kind of scanning the horizon for my own family reunion. (The workforce: a vast park full of picnics, apparently.)

Well, I'm off to roast some hot dogs. For someone's else's family. Cheerio.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

When You Get Up at Five

It's hard to feel scintillatingly intelligent, or even basically competent. Nevertheless, here I am. Me and the distinguished-looking bags beneath my eyes. Because: guess what today is! Yes, it's Tuesday. Yes, also the first day of September. Ding-ding, time's up--it's my first day of work!

My boss (boss-to-be?) did call yesterday to uh, check in and make sure I was still coming (the number of times he's asked me if I'm still interested in this job, if I'm really coming, if I'm going to be there, etc., are beginning to make me a leeetle nervous--wait, what did I sign up for, again?) I was relieved to hear from him--my second interview was almost a month ago, and I hadn't really heard from them since. It was easy to start wondering if it was all a mirage--that I would show up today and people would politely ask me what I was doing there.

Nevertheless, I am looking forward to it. Not to the early mornings or the (*ack*) drive or the rushing around that will once again be part of my life, obviously. But I'm looking forward to more than my paycheck--I'm looking forward, boringly, to routine & having coworkers again.

So! Here's to work!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Summarizing Conclusions

So, what I learned from listing my favorite runs is that my two basic requirements for good runs are views and million-dollar homes. Hmm. Apparently, who needs bike paths? Natural areas? Quiet, car free spaces? Not me!

So I should clarify: all of my favorite runs DO involve bike paths, or at least parklike medians. Also, my key criteria seems to have been whether or not a run made me want to drag myself out of bed at 5:30 a.m. I'll point out that otherwise great runs that involved ANY stretch of running along a busy road or along a dank secluded river, even if I would do them in a second and have never had ANY safety problems, didn't make the cut. It's how the run looked in my mind, you see. It's easier to actually power through a poorly lit underpass, especially when I'm right there and can suss out potential hazards, than to imagine running there. Especially if I am in my safe warm bed.

In other words: I love ALL my runs. Except for the ones I don't.

Happy Monday.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Favorites: Best Short Runs, 4 miles or (usually much) less

1. Boulder, Colorado. From the 6-person condo I had a room in to the foothills and back. Best moment: crossing north Broadway at dawn, looking south and east over the whole city and the Flatirons. Best at dawn.

2. Greenwood Village, Colorado. My three-mile loop up through the million-dollar houses and down through Cattail Park. Great views of the foothills and the plains. Best at dawn.

3. Fort Collins, Colorado. From our rental on LaPorte over past the Cemetery and down Mountain Avenue, past all the cute little Old Town Victorians and uber-designed gardens. Best at dusk.

4. Near Belfast, Maine. Down the dirt road a friend lives on, out onto a gravel road to the dead end and back. Past a nineteenth-century cemetery, two-hundred-year-old farmhouses, and pine woods. Best midday.

5. Boulder, Colorado. From east Arapaho Road, south past the golf course into the open space and back through the leisurely 2-acre east Boulder suburbs. Best midday.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yellow: Should We Hate It?

Sources Say Yes.

So, I spent all last week painting the kitchen and TV room yellow, and I hate it. Also, I'm so tired from painting in the first place that I'm not sure what the best fix is anymore. Simply repaint it? No way. The yellow will STILL BE THERE. I'm thinking torch the house and start over.

So the deal is, I thought I liked yellow. Since we moved in I've had in mind to repaint the kitchen a pale, summery yellow, something to feel bright and good-morningish as the sun streams through the house and the water heats for coffee. I've even painted a few other rooms in the house yellow--the hall bathroom and the hall. That's where the trouble started. I liked that yellow, but in certain light it seemed a little cold. Not quite enough sunshine, a little too much overcast polar sky. So, I thought, let's still go with yellow. Let's just warm it up a bit.

Unfortunately, I didn't really process the mechanics of "warming up." You warm up a color by adding red, or, since we're dealing with yellow to begin with, you add orange. Technically, it seems, you warm up yellow by adding the cheese powder from boxed mac and cheese.

So the past week I've been painting the walls of my kitchen with the fake-cheddar sauce yellow of mac and cheese.

Grok.

It's gotten to the point where I can't look at any yellow anywhere without feeling slathered in butter. The yellow of the hall and bathroom? Looks like banana taffy. Yellow houses I used to like? Yech. Even Helen's pretty yellow dresses have something unbearably margarine-y about them.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Favorites, painting related

1. My favorite part of painting a room: pulling off the masking tape in long delicious strips.

2. My least favorite part of painting: finding that the paint leaked under the masking tape, or that the tape pulled paint off of the already-painted part.

3. Favorite paint color in our house: the pale olive green in the bedroom (name: emulsion. Not QUITE unsavory enough to nix my love of the color, but close). Favorite paint name: trailhead (a pale yellow).

4. Second favorite paint color: the bright reddish-orange wall in the TV room. Okay, going on it looked exactly like canned tomato soup, and I did have an "OMG is it too Seventies?" moment, but overall it works, and makes the space warm and cozy without seeming oppressive.

5. My actual real favorite part of painting? Being done. And I'm not there yet. So adios, amigos. Back to work.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Countdown Begins

Summer's almost over: the days are cooler, I'm starting to get emails and phone reminders from the elementary school, the school bus drove through the neighborhood today, checking its routes. By this time next week the kids will be in school and I will be frantically readying for work.

Here's what I want to finish up before I start work:

1. Painting the kitchen and laundry room. People, the hardest thing about painting walls is the prep, and these rooms, with their windows, cabinets, shelves, appliances, et cetera et cetera and so on, have MASSIVE amounts of prep. To the point where I stand in front of the wall that will definitely be prepped today and start to get headachey just thinking about it.

2. Trimming up the bushes on the sides of the house. The folks we bought the house from basically stopped trimming bushes about five years ago. The house is being smothered.

3. Organizing the basement. Right now it's just heaps and heaps of stuff that doesn't fit anywhere else. Kitchen stuff, camping stuff, fishing stuff, Christmas stuff, boxes of happy meal toys I had secreted away, hoping to stealthily dispose of, and which the kids have found and have strewn about.

4. A thorough house-clean.

I also want to go for a hike, laze about, finish some writing projects, and who knows, perhaps invent a cure for cancer. Also organize the tupperware cabinet. Part of me knows it's silly to think that life as I know it will end when I go back to work--but part of me doesn't think it's silly at all. The last time I felt like I had to organize the tupperware cabinet was just before Helen was born, and that's a lot what I feel like now: like I'm nesting. Life will still go on, with beautiful sunrises (of which I will get to see QUITE A FEW during my morning commute) and good meals and whiny evenings--I'll just have a lot less energy to spare for upkeep. Also, I sort of want to have a home space that is restful, vs one that is nagging me to do something about that empty suitcase in the middle of the bedroom floor or the pile of papers on the sideboard.

How about you? Last time you started a job, what did you have to finish up/ square away?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Favorites

1. Favorite pet: our dog (sorry, birdies. Also, sorry, Gerbie. If you're still alive.)

2. Favorite plastico crap toy now littering the house: the Playmobil Cabin. People, it comes with a tree, and on that tree is a woodpecker. With approximately the right markings. It warms my birdgeekophile heart.

3. Favorite boat: the sunfish. Not that given the chance to commandeer one, I'd be able to pilot it. I just like to see them, floating about on whatever body of water we happen to pass.

4. Favorite gross thing: baby poo. Specifically, nursing-baby poo. Which thing is made significantly less gross and more endearing in that I won't have to actually encounter it until such time as my kids have kids themselves. Or I get some more nieces and nephews. No pressure or anything, siblings.

5. Favorite kid's book: Mickey and the Night Kitchen.

6. Favorite child: whichever one will let me read them Mickey and the Night Kitchen again. Oh, it's on, kiddoes!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Random Conversations; Also, Bathroom Pix

Three random conversations around the house:

1. Me: Silas! Is there a more respectful way to ask Helen to stop talking to you than shouting STOP?
Silas: No!

2. Me (to unnamed child): Please, hon, if you want to wipe your boogies on your own bedroom wall, that's your business. But other places in the house it's not okay. Not the car, either.

3. Child: Mom! Mom! Mom?
Me: I'm back here, hon.
Child: Moooomm? MOM! MOM! MOM! MOOOOMMM!!!! MOMMMM!!!
Me: I'm here, hon.
Child: MOM! MOM! MOM! MOM! There you are. Why didn't you answer me when I called for you?
Me: What do you want, kiddo?
Child: What? Oh, I forget.

Siigh. I'm ready for school to start, and almost ready for the job to start. I'm frantically trying to get the house ready and my other affairs in order; I'm painting walls, cleaning windows, trimming bushes, organizing stubborn corners of messdom. What I am very glad for is that our bathrooms are completely done. Behold, our bathroom, a year ago:














With a bonus view of our basement crawlspace.

As of three weeks ago, we finally have this:

Monday, August 10, 2009

Life with an Eight-Year-Old

We celebrated the birthday of this guy over the weekend:















The party was at ten in the morning, and he was hoping to wake up at nine so he wouldn't have to wait more than about ten minutes between his wake-up routine (dragging himself to the couch, complaining that he's not hungry, reluctantly eating a bowl of Kix before starting on the morning's business of bossing around Helen) and the arrival of the first guests. Of course this didn't happen and by 8:02 he was flopping about on various chairs wondering WHEN the party would START.

But start the party did, and it was remarkably pleasant. We even led everybody down to the park at the bottom of the street for a game of baseball, and yes, it was a bit chaotic, reining in eight eight year olds and a four-year-old helper (still weepy at being locked first out of the treehouse and then out of Si's room)--two of the boys wanted to take the Long Way, one needed me to carry a complicated piece of home carpentry that he'd whipped up during the free play of the first hour of the party (!), another found a crawdad claw that had to be kept track of--but also, I'm kind of shocked to say, fun. Walking along with two of the cheerfulest little boys on the planet (I took the Long Way too), one of them trying to make sure I knew where the Family Fun Center was and how to get there (just in case, you know), the other telling me about his recent trip to Philadelphia--I can't think of many better ways to spend a pleasant weekend morning.

Because this is the thing about eight year olds, I'm learning: they are pleasant company. They can make themselves juice and sandwiches. They are starting to appreciate humor, even that which does not involve poop, knock knock jokes, or cartoon characters slipping on banana peels (not that any of these forms of humor are NEGLECTED, you understand). They can go off by themselves. They can process. Excitement doesn't totally unhinge them. They can have a birthday party, three fun-size snickers bars and a slice of cake in the morning and still be able to play peacefully with their new toys until bedtime. They remember to add "I had a really fun time at your house!" when writing to grandparents to ask for more stuff.

Thank goodness. We're entering the sweet spot (which will last until he's approximately 12 and then end abruptly, I'm fully aware) (although I'm still hoping this won't happen to us and he'll be a CHEERFUL and PLEASANT teenager) (ha ha ha ha).

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday Favorites

1. My favorite national ice cream brand is Breyer's.

2. My favorite temperature is 72 degrees Fahrenheit, with a slight breeze.

3. My favorite tree is the Limber pine.

4. My favorite state is Wyoming (siiiigh).

5. My favorite movie is Brazil.

6. My favorite child is...ha ha ha ha! Redacted! I love all of my children equally! (Just not the same in every single minute).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Exit Canyon City

We're back from our camping trip to Canyon City and I believe I have to retract a few statements. The weather, for example, was fine. Not too hot, just rainy enough to give us an excuse to go into town for late-afternoon margaritas, and nowhere near the Federal Supermax Prison. We got a very nice campsite, despite the fact that the campground had a pool, a game room, and evening kid movies. I may have turned up my nose at such accouterments in the past. I may even have been slightly annoyed at how these highlights essentially dictated Si's conversation for the entire 2-day trip ("What time is it? Is it 6:30 yet? How about now? I want to watch Finding Nemo" and "Can we go to the game room now? I'll go by myself. Why not? Will somebody go with me to the game room? I want to spend my quaaaarters. When can we go to the game room?") But the actual campsite location--at the top of a hill with 360 views, backing into pinyon-juniper woodland with plenty of room for exploring (and, thanks to the heated & fully plumbed bathrooms, pleasantly lacking in human feces)--made up for nearly all of this.

Photos:















The Royal Gorge: Biggest Tourist Trap In the West!

It's a big canyon:



















With a bridge!





(Note Helen's clenched fist. She wasn't totally convinced by the bridge's physics)









Under the bridge: the canyon. Yours for only $24 a person (children 4 and older $19)! (HACK)

We also petted the crabby goats, observed the mangy "wildlife" in pens, rode the train, the trolley, the incline railway, and the aerial tram. We had some "homemade" ice cream (cooked up on site from great tubs of ice cream syrup), watched people ride the skycoaster, and got thoroughly tired.

The next day, we did a little wine tasting at the Abbey in town and felt much better.

Monday, August 3, 2009

HOT (wither)


It's too hot to post. Not that my brain has proved fertile enough to produce two posts in two days before ANYWAY, but I had to get a mention of the heat in there somehow.


Ohio-cool and pleasant compared
to Canon City


Also, since it's so hot, we've decided to go camping this week. In the heat. Because we are idiots. There are hundreds--thousands--of magnificent campsites up in the cool mountains
mere hours to the west of us, but are we going there? No. No, we are not. We let ourselves get talked into camping in Canon City (of the Federal Supermax Prison fame).

Suck. Note to self: let's suggest that we camp on Long's Peak next. On January 3rd, perhaps. Because why use altitude gradients to your advantage when you can add extreme to extreme for maximum discomfort?

Okay, enough sarcasm. I promised photos:














Getting ready to let Painty go back to his business
















Painty. The Painted Turtle.














Nothing like a backpack to help move the day along.

That's all. Next time: bathroom photos! (Because our other news? After a year of misery and construction, we finally have three fully functional bathrooms again)