Thursday, April 29, 2010

Now and Then

Five years ago, when Jack was just a few months old, Aaron asked me if I'd like to go to Oregon for the weekend. "When?" I asked. "Tomorrow," he replied. The next day, we packed up the car and drove down the coast, stopping in Long Beach for a night before heading into Oregon the next day. We had some beautiful weather for our trip, and we got ice cream cones at this little corner shop in Long Beach. Just before hitting the beach, Aaron took this picture of me and Jack.
Five years later, things look a little different. I'm really pleased that even though there is an additional child in this picture and I'm five years older, I'm thinner and have better hair now than I did back then. Also, I no longer appear to be 12 years-old, something I did until I was about 24 or so. This picture is actually one lamp post closer to the boardwalk than the picture above, but I couldn't remember at the time which lamp post we'd stopped at on that first trip. I'm not sure how I even remembered having my picture taken in front of a lamp post at all, seeing as how it was, well, a lamp post, and I can think of more memorable landmarks. Anyway, before we left Long Beach yesterday Aaron took this picture of the boys and I. It's one of the only pictures of me from our trip because I was in bed a lot of the time, which was a total pisser. We arrived Sunday evening and had a great dinner and a lovely beach walk before bed, but on Monday I came down with the stomach flu or food poisoning or something which caused me to vomit profusely for a six hour period. Tuesday morning found me feeling much better but a little on the weak side, and by Wednesday we had to check out and head home. The timing couldn't have been worse. I suppose it would have been worse to be sick on the drive, but the fact that I had a lovely bathroom and a king size bed all to myself was small consolation compared to the fact that I was missing vacation with my family. We'd all been looking forward to the trip, and after a whirlwind social month filled with visits from friends and birthday parties it sounded so good to take a few steps back and focus on just being a family. Aaron made sure the boys still had a fantastic time, but I feel kind of robbed. On Tuesday evening when I staggered out of my room for some gingerale, Aaron and the boys came in from one of the many exciting expeditions they went on.
"Hi Mom! Are you feeling better?" asked Jack, bounding over to hug me.
"Hi, love; yes I am feeling better, thanks. Sorry I got sick on our vacation."
"Oh that's okay, Dad and Matteas and I have been having a great time!"
The good news is, our little vacation did serve to inspire me with a new project. Our rental condo came fully furnished, including a full kitchen complete with dishes and silverware. We didn't bring much with us: clothes, food, one bag of books, a small box of markers and one gallon Ziploc full of matchbox cars. It was totally great. The boys, not having much to play with but each other, got along better than they typically do at home. Of course, that probably had something to do with the fact that Aaron and I were both there(well, mostly Aaron) but I feel pretty sure it also had a lot to do with something I'm determined to make a guiding principle in my life: there was just enough, nothing extra. The condo was modestly furnished and minimally decorated; most of the decoration was incorporated into the furniture itself, a bright red armchair bringing some color to the living room and the striped carpet providing some structure but also a bit of visual interest to the background. At home, we have way too much stuff. I've always known it, but at a time in our lives when we are very busy and time to relax is hard to come by, I feel convicted anew about simplifying our lives, weeding out all the extra and focusing on having and better-enjoying "just enough." I'm going to start with the toys, then systematically go through everything in the house and keep paring down until all departments can be easily managed.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Birthdays, Boys, and a Big Bowl of Disgusting

I turned 27 on the 19th. There was a lovely party. I am now a firm believer, after throwing lots of parties the wrong way, that the right way to throw a party is to divide and conquer. Anna offered to make me a birthday dinner, and since we couldn't get a babysitter she brought the party to us. I spent the afternoon cleaning up in a rather relaxed fashion, since the house was already in pretty good shape from Tristan's party the week before(which deserves its own post). It was remarkably un-stressful to clean and set the table, then saunter off to my room to put on earrings and a skirt. I wore a shirt too, but I do that everyday so the skirt was really the remarkable bit. Anyway, the point is that in short order Albert and Anna arrived with an impressive array of food and wine and quickly got to work cooking in my nice clean kitchen. We drank some wine and ate some cheese, and eventually sat down in my nice clean dining room and ate an absolutely beautiful meal. So the lesson is this: have parties often to ride the "clean house" wave; have one person clean and someone else cook. So fanatastic.
I busted out my Williams-Sonoma hemstitched linen tablecloth for the occasion. You can't really tell from this picture, but it's the perfect shade of Tirzah-esque orangish-red. It went beautifully with my vintage linen hemstitched napkins I picked up on Whidbey Island over Easter.
This chicken was phenomenal. I trust Anna's food sensibilities enough to trust her to make my birthday dinner without so much as inquiring what's on the menu. I wish I was polite enough not to ask, but I didn't do it out of politeness, I did it out of solid trust. Anna did not disappoint. Just like its maker, the dinner was a parade of rich and wonderful flavors, with the perfect balance of sweet and savory. The chicken was roasted with green olives and whole dried prunes, bay leaves, herbs and garlic. It was an amazing combination, the prunes sweet and syrupy in a dark, earthy way and the bright tang of the olives singing out clear and briny.
Being fully aware of and sharing in my love of lettuce, Anna made a deliciously tart salad of red bib lettuce and radishes. She tossed it with red wine vinaigrette spiked with fresh garlic and finished it off with grated parmesan. It was a perfect salad all on its own, made even more so by providing such great balance to the rest of the meal. The binder was roasted red potatoes, which were so warm and comforting with the chicken.
Dessert was an apple tart and whipped cream, which was pretty much to die for. Anna made her own puff pastry. I had some for breakfast the next day with a pot of very strong French press. And now for something completely different....
Every couple of days, the boys and I got outside and hunt around under logs and rocks. If it's a good hunt, we come back inside with something like this. It's for the chicks, who act as if they've died and gone to heaven. Well, if heaven had bowls full of worms and termites. Which, in chicken heaven, it probably does. If anyone had told me ten years ago that I would be doing this sort of thing, I doubt I would have believed it. But I kind of love it; I get incredible satisfaction out of putting revolting-looking bugs to good use. I give the worms a little begrudgingly though, since I feel like I'm robbing my garden of them. I supposed our next project should be a worm bin....I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to the day when our chicks are big enough to go outside and do their own hunting. It's getting warmer, but they still don't have enough adult feathers to keep themselves warm enough. Soon.
The boys, on the other hand, stay plenty warm. I've changed all the flannel sheets for lighter-weight cotton, pants are rarely seen on the legs around here, and watermelon features prominently in our diet. I find that giving it to them in the bath saves me(and the dining room floor) a lot of grief. I prefer to eat mine with a drizzle of lime juice, but the boys are purists.
While Anna's birthday dinner was outstanding, Aaron still felt the need to take me on a date. My actual birthday fell on a Monday which is a terrible day for a party, so we partied on Friday and then Aaron took me out last night. We went to Purple. I ordered duck. I did not regret it. We also ordered tenderloin skewers and bacon-wrapped scallops. And creme brulee and sea salt caramels. We took a walk along Lake Washington and Aaron tried to talk me into going skinny dipping off the end of the dock. It was a lovely, mild spring evening and we were standing in the shadows. I briefly entertained the idea, but then I dipped my hand in the water and thought better of it; it may have reached 70 degrees that afternoon, but no one told the lake water.
Seeing as how it was early and we were already in Kirkland, we couldn't go home without making a stop at Trellis. I asked if they had tea, and the waiter brought me a black velvet case full of glass vials of tea for me to smell. I went with Earl Grey.
They scored major bonus points by bringing me a piping-hot mug. Aaron had a Manhattan, which was very tasty. We shared some lovely cheeses, and talked about fighting and making up. Aaron teased me about taking pictures of everything I eat. We talked about how happy we both are that we still like each other so much. Aaron gave me the cutest, tiniest mp3 player complete with fancy ear buds and an arm band so I can listen to music when I go running. I felt very loved and celebrated. And then we went home and slept really, really well.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Easter 2010

We continued our Easter tradition of going to Whidbey Island with my cousin Kayleigh's family. A good time was had by all, despite a brief power outage which occurred just before putting dinner into the oven. Luckily we were having fish, so Aaron started the grill and we lit some candles and all was not lost. For the boys' baskets this year I tried a new project: felted wool eggs. I'm in love. Aaron doesn't find them quite as charming as I do, but Kayleigh liked them so much that she asked me if she could have the green one. Of course I said yes. I experimented with little treasures to go in the eggs, but in the end I decided the miniature rubber duck was more satisfying. Jack and Matteas were quite appreciative of their mama's crafty efforts. I got the instructions here and they worked perfectly, though I took the added step of tossing the eggs into a hot dryer. And then we had an egg hunt in the wind. No one seemed to mind although it did result in some eggs finding rather unusual hiding spots, having been blown way off course by surprise. I'm a huge fan of Jack's budding fashion sense. It's really more about practicality than anything else; if he wears pants or long sleeves, he complains that he's too hot. Also, he is constantly losing his socks so the boots come in handy a lot. I know I know, we're quickly becoming "that" homeschool family(next fall, anyway): organic vegetables, homemade hummus, chicks in the house and galoshes on the kids. We're going to do our best to stay hip. Matteas doesn't really remember Easter eggs from last year. Once he got wise to the fact that they were filled with candy, he quickly decided he was more than content with the eggs that were already in his basket and abandoned the field of possibility in favor of a Sure Thing. I put most of their candy away for later, but allowed them each a few small pieces. As always, I deeply regretted it. Sugar is like poison for Jack, and he quickly transforms into a completely different child than his usual self. Things got ugly. There were tears and, thankfully, an early bedtime. Next year I'll get more creative with the egg filling and avoid the jelly beans and the sugar crash. Now I must away to my filthy house which I'm trying to resurrect in time for a dinner party Friday night, and crossing my fingers that no one catches the stomach flu we were exposed to yesterday.

Friday, April 2, 2010

This is Getting Out of Control

Aaron had a few things to take care of early this morning. When he came home, he came walking up the stairs with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. The loud peeping which accompanied him soon made it apparent why. "I told you I wanted six," he grinned. His new hobby is cruising feed stores to see what kind of chicks they have in. These are Delawares. They're younger than our Wyandottes so we have to keep them in separate crates for now, since older chicks will sometimes pick on younger ones. I love our dark chicks, but there is something extra cute about blond fuzziness. Both varieties are beautiful when they're full-grown, the Wyandottes being black with gray flecks and bright red combs, the Delawares white with black collars and red combs.
This is the smallest of our chicks. We'd be lucky not to lose any of our chicks before they reach adulthood, but I really dread the thought of having to bury one of these tiny balls of fluff. We're going to take excellent care of them and keep their crates clean, and cross our fingers that we get to keep them all.
Matteas is quite in love. He tells me stories about the chicks, the most common of which is "I will keep my baby chicks safe from monsters," and "I think dey want to go home," to which I respond that this is their new home, and then he says "Oh." We have this exchange several times a day.
The boys were downstairs when Aaron got home, so we took the new arrivals down to show them. Jack grinned from ear to ear and did some quiet calculating, then announced "That means we'll get six eggs a day!"
Next we're getting a goat.
Just kidding.
But maybe not. These days I can't be too sure what Aaron will come home with.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

It Was Only a Matter of Time...

I didn't think we were ready. Actually, I didn't think I was ready. But it's been so long since we had a newborn around here that I should have seen this coming. Maybe it's Spring, maybe it's my biological clock; I wanted something cute and fuzzy and small. Matteas will be three by the end of Summer, so I figured we could handle a little addition to our family. This is not an April Fool's post where I pretend to be pregnant. This is a post that just happens to be on April Fool's where I am not pretending to be pregnant, but I am excited to announce that we do, in fact, have some new arrivals in our house. Small, cute, chirpy new arrivals.
Matteas has to be coached while holding the chicks because they are so small yet so compelling to squeeze; even I have to restrain myself from loving them to death. We got three chicks to start and we already want more. They are not the smartest animals I've ever seen, but they're so cute that it only makes their cluelessness all the more endearing. They act as one flock, always eating, drinking and sleeping at the same time.
The best is when we feed them worms. Our book on keeping backyard chickens said that if you give chicks worms they will "act as if they are about to die of ecstasy." In my experience, this is true. The trick is to make sure that you deliver a worm for each chick at the same time, lest they tug-o'-war each other to death. When they each have a worm they're so excited they're not sure what to do first, so to be on the safe side they start running around in a frenzy. Next they turn circles at a very rapid pace, then, to make sure all their bases are covered, they poop in their water bowl. Once they've gone through that ritual, they usually retreat to separate corners of their crate to devour their respective worms in peace. I actually videotaped the worm frenzy yesterday but it's kind of a long video for blogger, so we'll see if it uploads successfully.
Right now they are busily pecking the bottom of their crate. They do this often, sometimes for long periods of time even though it never gets them anywhere. Like I said, not too bright. But so, so cute. I think they have a crush on Aaron. When he gets home from work and calls out to the boys, the chicks scurry over to the side of their crate nearest Aaron and crane their necks hopefully. I told Aaron I thought he made a cute Chicken Daddy, but then he forbade me from calling him that. Still, I think he likes them as much as I do. He changes their wood chips and cleans out their water dish attentively, and he had a distinct sparkle in his eye when he asked if they were old enough for us to let them out in the yard for a bit. We haven't yet, mostly because it's been muddy and a little on the chilly side for young chicks; they prefer sleeping in a huddled pile under the heat lamp Aaron got them. They boys are all excited for eggs, but they understand that we have to be patient and let our chicks grow up first.
I once saw a report on laying houses for industrial chickens, where most supermarket eggs come from. The chickens are never let out of their cages, which are small, crammed six hens to a cage. The chickens live off a corn diet and never have the joy(or health benefits) of being able to scratch in the dirt for bugs and worms. After having our own chicks for only a few days, I don't understand how egg farmers can stand to keep their chickens in such awful conditions. I get that they need to make a profit and that they probably don't think they're being cruel to their chickens, but after seeing how happy our chicks get over a few worms and some space to run around, commercial eggs make me sad. I'm not sure if our chicks will be mature enough to lay eggs before Fall(when they molt and stop laying for a while), but our first egg is bound to be a very exciting day indeed. Matteas will probably explode.