Small Hands in the Big World

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My First's First Day of Kindergarten

Bright-eyed and bushy tailed at 6:30am, he brushed his teeth, got dressed in the outfit he chose carefully for this day, then rushed to my room and urged me to wake up so we could get his snack ready for school. That’s right, today was William’s first day of Kindergarten, the day I’ve been anxious about for months and dreading in so many ways. I thought I’d be a complete mess, crying and crumpled at the bus stop or worse yet, running after the big yellow bus screaming “No! No! No! This isn’t right, he’s my baby, he’ll always be my baby!” Well, I am proud (and more than a little surprised) to report that no such shenanigans occurred and I didn’t do anything to embarrass myself or my growing boy.

Daddy stayed home to walk to the bus stop with us on this momentous first day of school. Rob’s presence actually helped me keep it under control (and his reaction to Sara’s demand for a diaper change right as we were getting out the door didn’t hurt either—nothing like a prickly hubby to distract me from my feelings about William's departure). Anyhow, Rob stayed behind to clean Sara up while the boy and I headed bus-ward. Thankfully, they caught up before the bus came—nothing was slowing our boy down this morning.

The nervous energy at the bus stop was palpable. Parents were pretty quiet but the kids were giddy and eager. Before the bus came up our hill, I stole a kiss on the cheek from William and then we heard that unmistakable sound. The kids all stumbled into a loose line, the bus stopped and flashed its red lights, everyone piled on, and just like that a massive yellow school bus packed with children drove off with my sweet boy...
...the sweet boy that I’ve rarely let out of my sight for the past five years… on a school bus… driving away from me… and I didn’t drop to my knees and curse the day… amazing!

Undaunted by our remarkable morning and realizing William was out of the picture for a few hours, Sara asked “how ‘bout we have some play dates?” but she happily settled for quality quiet time with Mom. We read piles of books then decided to decorate for a surprise First Day of School lunch party for her dear brother, “EEE-Yum.”
He was downright exhausted when he stepped off the bus but mustered a smile for us
Balloons, ribbons, and his favorite "fancy" lunch helped restore his energy and keep him smiling
I'm still not sure why, but this really wasn't a terribly emotional day for me. The days leading up to it were much more tense. Perhaps it is that I really like his teacher and have had several opportunities to see her in action and visit the classroom, perhaps it is that we got lucky with a small class size of only 16 students, most likely it is simply because of William's enthusiasm and excitement about starting "real" school... he made this easy for me. Oh, and there is always the possibility that the sprig of pine tree clipped to our fridge has helped keep me calm.  William presented it to me a couple of weeks ago. He told his Dad, "this is for Momma for when I go to school. She can look at it when she misses me.” Dang, that boy breaks my heart with his sweetness sometimes.... uh oh, don't get me started.

Now for the really weird part:  we will get up tomorrow and do this again, and again the next day, then the following week, and so on, and so on. We've entered a whole new world. Pin It

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Farm School Finale

Temperatures spiked near 100 two summers ago and instead of the usual tractor-pulled hay ride and harvesting veggies during farm school, Farmers Erick and Wendy led us to the edge of the meandering Snoqualmie River. Nobody had swimsuits or towels and nobody cared. With 1 yr old Sara in my arms and 3 yr old William by my side we waded and splashed, cooled off, played and dug in the sand. It was beautiful.

I was reminded of that beautiful day last week when Farmer Erick showed us their irrigation system that pumps water from the river into their pipes and sprinkler system. “You don’t think we’d ever just turn these on for fun, do you?” he asked. The kids, having been taught all summer about how we don’t waste irrigation water when washing our hands off or getting a drink from the farm’s spigots, answered with a sober “no” but you could see a glimmer of hope in their eyes.  Farmer Erick did not disappoint.
A few tarps and one huge strip of plastic sheeting were placed on a hill, made secure with concrete bricks and then he let the irrigation pipes gush. The kids hesitated only for a few seconds before venturing into the flood but once they got started, the slipping and sliding was beyond fantastic.

William plunged in with all of his clothes on, didn’t even take off his hat... Sara did just the opposite

Photos were cropped and chosen carefully so Sara won’t despise me in her teen years (as if I can control such things).
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Friday, August 26, 2011

This Moment: In The Woods

A Friday ritual. A photo capturing a simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment that I want to pause, savor, and remember. Hosted by SouleMama. (If you're inspired to do the same, please leave a comment below with your link.)

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Magnificent Mint

“Smell dis, smell dis!” is often the first thing Sara says to visitors outside, followed by “you want some spicy flowers?” or “how 'bout we make a bouquet?” We may not have rich soil or a beautifully organized garden plot (at least not yet… never say never) but we do have vigorous garden mint (is there any other kind?), bright and spicy nasturtiums, and enough sweet peas to make a lovely little sweet-smelling bouquet from time to time.

Mint has been our garden hero this summer. Countless leaves have been plucked and sniffed for entertainment yet this hearty herb still thrives. Besides tossing bits into salads, making mint tea, mint soup, and mint sandwiches (made with real sand of course), and attempting to make vegan mint ice cream (more on that if I ever get it right), the kids also like to jazz up drinks they see sitting around with a sprig of mint.

Too bad I never have a mojito sitting around…
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Friday, August 19, 2011

This Moment: So Much Fun with Cousin Christen and Cuckoo Grandma (Happy Dog Too)

A Friday ritual (with a twist this week). A handful of photos capturing some simple, special, extraordinary moments. Moments that I want to pause, savor, and remember. Hosted by SouleMama. (If you're inspired to do the same, please leave a comment below with your link.)

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Family Soundtrack: Thank You, Mr. Babypants

As I scrambled around this morning making breakfast, assisting everyone eating it, emptying the dishwasher, washing dishes and countertops, and making my usual attempts to keep up, Sara suddenly decides it is time to work on her potty training. This is a very good thing, don’t get me wrong, it’s just that timing is always tricky with potty training, isn’t it? Soooo…. one successful attempt later (yay, Sara!), and lots of necessary cleaning of girl and bathroom, I’m back to the kitchen feeling like I’m spinning my wheels.

Pause.      Deep breath.     Lightbulb.    Music!

People may think I’m crazy (most likely my niece Christen and Mom who were visiting and witnessing my morning spaz-tastic routine do—thankfully, they love me nonetheless) but my music of choice these days is also my kids’ favorite. Specifically, I’m talking about the one, the only Caspar Babypants aka Chris Ballew. I liked this Presidents of the United States lead singer back when he was “movin’ to the country, and gonna eat a lotta peaches,” but it wasn’t until having children and discovering his new “kindiependent” genre that I began to appreciate him so wholeheartedly.

Cheer and pure fun oozes from his CDs (in a good, I-don’t-have-to-clean-that-ooze-up kind of way). The beat is fast enough to get you moving (and finally get me through the awful kitchen mess this morning) but not so intense that you feel like you’ve entered some surreal kiddie techno club. His lyrics, often variations on classic folksongs, are clever, funny, animal- and earth-friendly, and I think, downright exceptional. Laughing, smiling and dancing is what we most often do to Caspar Babypants’ CDs but then one of his ballads will come on and transport me back to the glider chair of new mommyhood and I’ll be in tears.  “I made up my mi-i-ind, I’m in love with you-oo-oo” and “You’re a bright little bug and I love you” get me every time.
Chillin' with the Babypants crew before the show
Except for possibly remembering me as the mother of the lovely young man who wouldn’t stop insisting that he sing “run, baby, run” with “go slow like a sloth, baby, go slow like a sloth,” inserted, Caspar Babypants doesn’t know us and I know we are just one of many who love him. But today, as I just received Sing Along!, the new album in the mail and am patiently waiting to get the first listen with the kids tomorrow, it feels like the right time to say thank you, Mr. Babypants. Your music keeps us happily dancing around and it has provided great happiness, humor, levity and joy over the years. Can’t wait to hear the new CD when the kids wake up tomorrow… it feels  a little bit like Christmas eve only I’ll be the one waking them up to come see the goodies.
For more information, go to the Caspar Babypants Website where you can order a CD for yourself (just say it's for the kids, wink wink) or find out where to see his next live show, an amazing rock-star-led playdate in itself.

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Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Wisdom of Daddy: A “Guy’s” Camping Trip

They hit the dusty trail Friday afternoon for their second annual Father/Son camping trip. “Hey, Mom,” William said with an impish grin first thing that morning, “Guess how many sleeps until I go camping with Dad,” no answer from Mommy…. “NONE!”  Yes, the boy was thrilled (and I was thrilled that he told a joke, sort of, without “underpants” as the punch line). But I digress…

Rob’s excursion with William reminded me of the importance of making the most of one-on-one time with each of our children rather than just viewing those one-child moments as opportunities to do more housekeeping or get errands out of the way. By slowing down, following her lead, and really focusing on my dear Sara Bear we had a relaxed, meaningful and truly delightful time together while the guys were gone. Nothing fancy, just reading mountains of books, playing a couple games, letting her pick what we’d have for dinner (pizza of course), an after-dinner pajama walk (just her, my pajamas aren’t nearly as cute as her new princess nightgown), throwing a Frisbee for the neighbor dog, then finally a big huge bubble bath. And all this without big brother around so she received 100% of Mommy’s attention (and I got 100% of hers)!     

I meant it when I said "big huge bubble bath," (but not pink as the photo suggests, I just tinted it that way because my exposure was awful and this made it look fun and girly, just like our time together)

Meanwhile, William was enjoying having Dad all to himself as well, setting up camp, eating gnocchi with pesto as the little gourmand requested, and experiencing an amazingly bright almost-full moon. Just as he did last year, Rob took William to Mirror Lake, arguably one of the most picturesque and tranquil wilderness destinations within easy driving and hiking distance from our home.  

They experienced a camera malfunction so the only pictures are the ones I took of them heading out but these are moments William (and Daddy for that matter) will hold in their memory forever. Here are a couple shots from last year.

Gnocchi was William's choice last year too

Happy Camper

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Picture-Perfect Tomatoes

Oh, how I wish I could say these came from my garden. Alas, a combination of persistent deer and cooling shade keeps me from even trying anything other than cherry tomatoes (and even those are pathetic this year).
See? I wasn't kidding when I said my own tomato-growing efforts were sad. Oh well, at least the kids still love popping these in their mouths.
Anyhow, back to the sexy tomatoes. These bountiful red, green, orange, yellow, and multi-hued heirloom beauties are from our beloved CSA, Jubilee Farm, and yes, they do taste as good as they look. In addition to the 5 pints of gorgeous tomatoes that I brought home with our family share, Jubilee sold me an extra 15 pounds for $25 which is a steal as anyone who buys heirloom tomatoes at farmer's markets can testify. They are almost too pretty to eat but knowing their good looks will only take them so far, I made a tasty yellow waxy bean and tomato salad to go with dinner tonight (recipe below). Now I just need to figure out what to do with the rest of them besides having them pose for my camera. Smile, you sexy tomato!

Isn't she gorgeous?

The green pattern on this charming little fellow is one of my favorites.
My own little "tomato rainbow" arranged by color/variety. I know, stop playing with my food...
Finally, piled into my basket so the deer didn't come devour them while we were out. I had to stop at this point, the kids were getting jealous of having to compete with tomatoes for my attention.

I love cookbooks organized by the dominant vegetable in the dish and I even more than that, I love recipes that feature three or more items in our weekly CSA bounty. This is a tasty find from Alice Waters'  Chez Panisse Vegetables that made delicious use of our yellow wax beans, shallot and you guessed it, the sexy tomatoes.

Green (or Yellow or Purple) Bean and Cherry Tomato Salad
adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters

1 pound green beans (I used yellow)
1 pound cherry tomatoes (or sexy heirloom tomatoes if you got ‘em)
1 large shallot
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Basil or other herb (optional) – I actually added about 3 tablespoons of pesto to the dressing in place of an herb and this helped it become more kid-friendly since my kids love pesto
1/2 cup edamame I added these to increase the protein and make it more hearty (Alice suggests this in her book and says any shelled bean should work fine)

Top and tail the beans then parboil in salted water until just tender, about five minutes (add the edamame in this step also). Drain and immediately spread them out to cool. Cut cherry tomatoes in half or slice larger ones however you’d like.

Peel and mince the shallot and put it in a bowl with the vinegar and salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil. Taste and adjust vinegar, oil, or salt, as needed. Toss the cherry tomatoes in with the vinaigrette; this can sit for a while. Do not add the green beans until just before serving or they will discolor from the acid in the vinaigrette.

Here is how mine turned out. Come to think of it, these beans are pretty sexy too, aren't they? Maybe I need to get out more...

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Friday, August 12, 2011

This Moment: Beach Time

A Friday ritual. A single photo capturing a simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment that I want to pause, savor, and remember. Hosted by SouleMama(If you're inspired to do the same, please leave a comment below with your link.)

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Countdown to Kindergarten

Only 20 days until the first day of Kindergarten. “How many more sleeps?” William keeps asking.  He is eager beyond words, excited beyond belief and just plain ready. All of the things children are often nervous about (riding the bus, making new friends, a new classroom and playground, and learning about new things) seem to have my self-assured boy completely enthused.

This morning we went to “Kinder Roundup,” a day when all of the incoming Kindergarteners in our school district come to ride the school bus and learn about bus safety, rules, and etiquette. Big-kid William looked disappointed when I told him that his sister and I were coming along. After thinking it over (more like brooding), he asked “Can I ride by myself, Momma?” I told him that he may have to share his seat with someone but Sara and I won’t sit by him if that’s what he wanted. And yes (gulp, whimper, Mommy choking back tears), that is what he wanted.

Because of our difficulties getting out of the door on time, we boarded the last bus with about 8 other stragglers, leaving William plenty of room to sit far far away from his kinfolk. His desired distance was about a half a bus length but I chair-hopped closer to get some photos without undermining his independence.  I’d like to blame the caffeine coursing through my system but nerves are probably the more honest explanation of my numerous questions for the bus driver ranging from asking her to please explain the emergency door since William was sitting by it and its enticing big red handle, finding out what they do if a parent isn’t there to walk a child home from the bus stop, inquiring about what the driver does about behavioral problems and/or bullying, and a few more not worth repeating… (Gee, I wonder why William didn’t want to sit by his Mommy).

Anyhow, about 17 questions and half way through the ride, our bus broke down! It wasn’t quite that dramatic, just an engine warning light but wow, what a way to enhance the experience for a bus load of curious kids. Another school bus came right along to pick us up and we squeezed in to the back of this very crowded bus. I was secretly happy that we all had to sit together because there were no other seats. William was not amused. Thankfully, his pout quickly dissolved once we started speculating about what kind of truck the school bus mechanic would drive out there and what he might have to do to fix the other bus.

When in doubt, talk trucks with a 5-year-old boy and it’s bound to make them smile. Now if only I could think of the ways to keep me smiling during this major transition... Ideas? Anyone?

At least I have a couple more years before Sara is off to school five days a week but I think I better brace myself, she really enjoyed this school bus ride too!

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mountain Man and Ocean Girl: A Love Story

Many years ago, when I was single and such activities were my idea of frivolous entertainment, a street fair psychic predicted I would marry a mountain man. Great, I thought, Grizzly Adams is my future soul mate. Well, not too long after her forecast, I met my dear husband Rob and discovered that sometimes psychics are right! No, Rob is not an unshaven, lumberjack type of mountain man; rather he is a trail running, fresh air, and forest solitude-loving kind of mountain man. He is happiest listening for a raven’s call, surrounded by tall trees and for that (among many other reasons) I love him.

I’m pretty sure Rob has never consulted a psychic, tarot card reader, astrologist or anything of the sort but if he had, maybe he would have heard that he’d marry an ocean girl.  I love the sea. I am happiest with my toes in the sand, listening to waves lap along the shore, searching for shells and beach treasures, paddling along in a kayak and hoping to glimpse any kind of marine life. My favorite vacations always include water and I’m grateful that we live close enough to the mighty Pacific to enjoy it pretty regularly.
Most recently, we were up in the San Juan Islands, Orcas Island specifically, and all of my ocean-urges were satisfied. Beach combing, kayaking, ferry rides, island-hopping, whale watching, beach campfires, lots of playing, and ice cream on hot, sunny days… it was truly idyllic.

The only bad news is that we have officially outgrown Spring Bay Cabin which has been a favorite for many years. I stayed there multiple times in the '90s when I was travel writing for The Best Places to Kiss in the Northwest, and Rob and I enjoyed several romantic getaways there before having kids -- I was actually pregnant with William on our last trip there and we were waiting to hear back whether our offer on this house was accepted... sigh, over 5 years ago... how time flies. Anyhow, since having kids this little cabin has been lovely. One queen bed and a twin worked great last year since the kids could share the twin and sleep at opposite ends. So much for that now... our tall kids don't even come close to fitting and the sleeping bag and pad we brought for William didn't turn out to be so fun for him after all (he originally was thrilled to use his camping gear).  Daddy ended up sleeping on the floor 3 nights while William occupied the twin bed and Sara and I luxuriated in the queen.

Apart from this one small (for everyone except poor Rob) detail, the cabin was still wonderful. Set on forested acres that the owners, Sandy and Carl, are devoted to protecting, the cabin is located right on a quiet bay. The pebble and rock beach is crawling with little crabbies at low tide, bald eagles, great blue herons, and kingfishers are regulars, and the shore is littered with beach glass, sculpted driftwood, kelp, seaweed, and other interesting treasures. Kayaks and a little rowboat are available for use at any time but if you're lucky, you can get Sandy or Carl to take you out or tag along with one of the many kayak tours they lead from the property. It was Sara's first time kayaking and only William's second (his first was at Spring Bay last year) and they both absolutely loved it. At first we had to be careful that their enthusiasm didn't translate into a tipping kayak but they quickly settled down into the relaxing flow of paddling along.

There is plenty to keep a family happy and busy on Orcas Island but we decided to hop on the ferry just to enjoy the ride and get over to San Juan Island where there is a good chance to see Orca Whales. We left our car on Orcas and walked onto the ferry, got off and wandered around Friday Harbor, walked up to the Whale Museum, grabbed lunch, then rode the bus up to Lime Kiln State Park, also known as Whale Watch Park for obvious reasons. All summer long the resident Orca Whale pods traverse the stretch of water west of San Juan Island and we were lucky enough to be there when at least one or two pods were feeding and passing very close to shore. The waiting part was hard on the kids (I don’t think they had a very good idea of what in the heck we were waiting for, even as we pointed at the black dorsal fins appearing intermittently far from shore) and the jagged rocky shoreline made me a little nervous but it was so worth it. We could hear their exhales as groups of these magnificent creatures broke the surface of the water, incredibly close to where we were standing. A few whales even peeked out of the water doing “spy hops” and noisy water-slapping “tail lobs” as if to entertain the spectators. But witnessing a full body-splashing breach when an Orca rockets out of the water, you know they are making these movements purely for themselves (even the scientists aren't sure why the whales do this, I'm convinced it's just for fun).

There are plenty of things I’ll never forget from this trip. Besides what I’ve already shared, here are a few more of my favorites:
The kids' sudden fascination with cards. On the ferry, in the cabin, on the beach, in bed... cards, everywhere.
William's first time having bright blue bubble gum ice cream (made locally right on Lopez Island, by the way). "Dad, there is real bubble gum in there! Look!"
Sara savoring, I mean REALLY savoring her chocolate gelato. She ate practically the whole thing with eyes closed and a serious look of appreciation on her face. My little chocolate connoisseur.
Roasting marshmallows on the beach.
Nothing better than smores and a beautiful sunset with the people you adore most in the world.

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