Saturday, July 22, 2017

Halfway Through Summer

Summer is a bit nutty.  It starts way before the actual season begins because I have to figure out the entire schedule for summer in March.  But, the actual summer itself is a bit insane.  My work doesn't let up in the summer but is thrown into chaos because every week is a new camp, with a different drop off time and pick up time.  Plus, the ridiculously hot weather makes us all a little cranky.  And, the long days make it difficult to get children to bed on time.  Throw in a few days of a broken air conditioner or a sewer line that decides to give out... and, it's just a lot of chaos.

There is also quite a bit of fun in summertime.  We all like spending time outdoors and it's fun to be adventuring together.  But, by this halfway point in the summer, I am always craving the routine of the school year. 

So, to recap some of our summer activities: 

Over the 4th of July, we took the week off and headed to MacKerricker State Park, which is on the ocean near Ft Bragg.  We went there last year, too, meeting up with two other families.  It's a blast for the kids because there are 7 of them and they have such fun playing in the woods together from dawn to dusk every day.  This year, they built an amazing fort -- improving upon it every day.  By the time we left, they really had built something magical, complete with an "intruder lookout post", entryway, and swings. It was fun to watch them work together and bring their vision to fruition.  And, they were very inclusive of each other -- even Alden, who is the youngest of the group by several years.  We also had a great time playing at the beach, playing in the sand dunes, riding bikes and making lots (lots!) of food together.

Last year we attempted to make a lemon meringue pie camping -- without a blender, it's pretty hard to whip meringue. But, we did it!  Our failure was in letting the pie cool sufficiently before digging in -- so, it was a bit of a mess (but, a tasty one).  This year, I saw a video online for bacon smores.  Basically, you weave bacon together, put brown sugar on it, cook it and then use the bacon weaves as the graham crackers -- each smore has about 4 pieces of bacon.  Weaving the bacon was a bit messy.  Cooking it was messier.  And, in the end, it didn't even taste that great.  Graham crackers are better for smores.  But, it was amusing to try to make them and we all had a good laugh in the process.

It was fun to get away for a few days with the kids -- they love camping.  Hopefully we'll get at least one more camping trip in before the summer is over.  We are supposed to go the last week of August, but Eric and I are both feeling like we have had to miss so much work with all the other summer activities that we may bag it. 

Last weekend, we braved the state fair in 108 degree heat.  Somehow it was fun despite how hot it was.  Alden and Will had a great time together on the rides.  Kai won a ginormous stuffed frog bursting balloons with darts (it cost us about $30!)  The kids loved watching the horse races (and Alden has been playing pretend ever since that he is the #3 horse and he races around the house while Eric plays a pretend trumpet tooting out the racetrack song).  They liked riding the ponies and seeing the farm animals.  We're going again tomorrow with some families from Alden's preschool.  

So, we've definitely been having fun... I love camping and I love the fair.  But, in between the fun, work has been insane and makes the breaks a bit stressful.  Since June 1st, I've traveled to Washington DC, Houston, Milwaukee, Eureka, and multiple trips to LA (I've traveled more this year than any other since joining the Alliance... partly because there is so much change happening in the LA office, partly because I'm hiring, partly because it's a year of training/implementing a new law, and partly because work at the federal level has picked up and requires me to be interfacing with folks beyond California a lot more)... but, it makes it hard to get other things done.  Eric is beyond over my travel schedule (as am I), but I'm not sure it's going to get better any time soon.  And, because I feel guilty about being gone a lot, when I'm home I try to do the lion's share of the child activities when I'm home -- drop offs, pick ups, cleaning, cooking, shopping... basically it has been non-stop.

Adding to the chaos, we're continuing to transition over to a vegan lifestyle, which has caused a lot of learning and some exasperation since the kids have the same resistance to eating vegan food that they have to ALL food.  But, both Eric and I have limited patience for complaints about food, especially from Kai, since we're all trying to switch what we eat because of her desire to not eat any animal products. We are on board with supporting her and making the switch -- but, not accompanied by a refusal to eat vegetables or complaints about the new diet!  I have to say, minus a few difficult nights, she has mostly been amazing.  She is trying new things, she made her own lunch all week for camp, and she is very committed.  We went to a pasta place for dinner last night and she ate all her dinner, without using any parmesan (which she used to love).  It's been impressive to watch her adopt and adapt to her new lifestyle and clear that she feels empowered by the choices she's making for herself.  Very cool.

On Tuesday, we drive to Oregon to spend a few days with Eric's mom, attend the salmon bake at IPNC (which we haven't done since Kai was 5!!) and then drop Kailey off at my parent's house for a week of fun.  It's not a great week for me to be missing work and the day I get back I have a new staff person starting, followed by a two-day trip to LA later that week, and then a 3-day trip to New Orleans the following week.  Eric has Paddle to the Capitol and a bunch of other training activities going on. And, Kai's soccer is starting up in August.  Practices are at 4:30 this year, which is a bit of a pain and is going to make work even more complicated to get done. 

I probably should not be writing a blog update today because I'm in a cranky and tired mood.  I just want one of those Saturday mornings from before kids where I am completely in charge of my own day and no one is demanding anything of me.  But, instead, Eric is on the river for the third weekend in a row and Alden has been up since 5:30.  Both kids have been asking non-stop for videos, food, water, snuggles, games... the list goes on . They are banging on the piano and drums and mauling me every few minutes.  Alden is at the age where he asks the same questions over and over again -- when are we going to the fair?  When will Nonnie and Papa be at our house?  And then he whines that "it takes soooo long" after I explain to him when these things are happening.  And, of course, they are squabbling and fighting with some frequency.   In short, they're being kids... but I need a break. 

When I was a kid, I remember feeling like summer break just dragged on and on.  I was so bored during big chunks of summer. Now, summer is this jam-packed, non-stop ordeal that leaves me completely frazzled.  I've lost the "break" part of summer.  But, I'm trying to hold onto the fun... just, today, I'd rather be napping. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017


I've written before about my struggles with dinner.  First, when Kai was little, just getting used to the dinner routine was a big adjustment.  It's hard to adjust to having to prep dinner at a set time every day and have dinner as a family.  After so many years of adulthood and eating whenever the mood struck -- often times a bowl of noodles at my desk while working late -- it was hard to think about meal prep and planning.  But, I mastered that long ago.  Not that I love it -- but, it's part of my routine now and I'm pretty good at meal planning.

Now, the struggle is getting the kids to eat and having dinner without listening to constant whining about the food in front of them.  Kai was a great eater when she was young, but has developed real resistance to many foods (many of which she once loved).  She picks at her food and moves it around on her plate, refusing to eat most of what's before her and claiming that she's not hungry (even when she just said moments before that she was hungry).  It's beyond frustrating.  And, Alden follows her lead.  So, when she starts picking at food, he picks at it and claims it's "too spicy". 

In one of my less stellar parenting moments, we finished a dinner the other night where they both ate very little and complained very loudly and I said, "you are both terrible people to spend a meal with.  And, I'm sick of it.  No more treats until you can go 5 nights of eating all your dinner with NO COMPLAINING."  So, we got out the sticker and they spent the next couple of weeks trying to earn 5 stickers.  Meals were somewhat less combative.  They eventually got through 5 that were less offensive to their delicate sensibilities. 

I think as a result of all of this, and the fact that Kai has always been fascinated about where her food comes from, Kai has been thinking a lot about food.  She came home from camp this week and said, "we had hamburgers for lunch but I couldn't eat it because I feel badly for the ground up cow."  Well, yes, when you put it like that, it's sort of gross.  She continued, "I think I want to be a vegetarian."

I thought Kai was going to insist on becoming a vegetarian when she was 4 and obsessed with where food came from and constantly asking if the red on her plate was the blood from an animal.  So, I've been expecting this day.  And, as I wrote 5 years ago, happy to support that decision if she was serious, could articulate the reason, and also be able to eat enough variety to be healthy.  So, we had that conversation.  I told her that eating vegetarian meant she was going to have to eat a whole range of fruits, vegetables and grains that she didn't often eat now.  I told her it wasn't a way to just get to eat pasta and rice every day.  She said, "well, I'm just THINKING about being a vegetarian." 

The next day, she told me she wanted to "just try it out."  So, I spent the evening researching various vegetarian options for meals for the coming week in an attempt to get a menu together that contained a large variety of different foods.  Yesterday, we went grocery shopping and loaded up on the items for the vegetarian meal plan.  Last night, I said to Kai, "how about we learn how to cook vegetarian together?"  She was all in.  So, we cooked our dinner together - with her doing at least half of the work.  We made sesame Soba and Zucchini noodles in a almond butter sauce and roasted cauliflower in a soy ginger sauce.  While we were cooking, Kai said, "I think I was born to be a vegetarian... and I'll be helping to save the world." 

I'm all about saving the world and figuring out how to be a social justice warrior in our day to day lives (and our work)... so, I was all in on this statement. Yes, let's be vegetarians and save the world!

She then said, "this smells delicious!" and once dinner was on the table, both kids sat down and ate with yums and thank yous.  Alden had seconds.  Kai ate all her cauliflower and asked for more.  Dinner was beyond pleasant and I was beside myself.  If this is what it took to get through a meal without complaints -- I was more than in!

So, it was one night.  And it was soba noodles.  So, we have a bit of a ways to go with this experiment.  But, Kai is interested in learning about how to be a vegetarian and I'm interested in supporting her.  I told her last night that she's old enough to start making her own choices about what she eats and how she approaches the world around her -- and deciding not to eat animals is one of those decisions.  Today, I'm going to show her a documentary about the food industry.  I like exploring these social justice issues with her and figuring out what that means both in our individual lives and in the larger political context. 

It may mean a bit more research for me in terms of meal planning -- at least in the short term -- but, I'm pretty good at recipe finding these days.  So, I'm not intimidated by the need to mix it up. I'm not sure I'm going to become a full-fledged vegetarian -- but, I'm willing to mostly adapt our dinners to vegetarianism and to make alternatives for Kai the nights we decide to have meat (ie veggie burgers when we have cheeseburgers, or alternative chicken sandwiches when we have real chicken... there are a lot of vegetarian alternatives to choose from).  And, she may not stick with it, of course.  But, it's fun to let her explore the options and figure out who she is and how she wants to approach her place in the world. 


Alden has a way with words and describing his experiences.  I wish I was better about writing down all the things he comes up with.  He has a great vocabulary and when he hits a wall with the words he knows, the things he comes up with to get you to the same conclusion, often blow me away.

The other night, I was putting him to bed and had finished his three stories and "talk about the day" (something we started with Kai when she was a toddler that she loved and, similarly, Alden loves to talk of the day.  Essentially, we just walk through exactly what happened in the day, recalling what we did together and, often, the things they did away from us.  I think it helps them to process the day, reflect, and also realize that even when we are not with them, we are aware of what they are doing and thinking of them.  Of course, they don't articulate their love of "talking of the day" as a result of those benefits -- but, that's my theory as to why they like it so much). 

Anyway... we had finished the stories and the talk of the day and I had turned out the light and turned to Alden and said, "now, close your eyes."  Alden said, "I don't want to close my eyes because I don't like the movies and pictures that come when I close my eyes."  I was stunned.  For two reasons.  One, that was such an apt way to describe dreams.  Two, because why didn't he like his dreams?  But, then I realized how it only really takes one bad dream to turn you off dreams for awhile -- and they can be scary.  So funny how that's true of so many things.  We, as people, remember all the negative comments we get and have to receive the same compliment 5 times before it sinks in.  We remember our nightmares and forget the wonderful dreams. I think that's another benefit to talking about the day -- it's an opportunity to just reflect on all the things that are otherwise forgotten about in the hum drum of living.  And to remind ourselves of all the good things that happened.  It's also why I love this blog.  It's a way of just remembering all those small, positive moments in raising little people -- because it's easy to focus on how much work it is and how busy and stressed I am all the time. But, the act of taking out my computer to tell one of the little stories of wonder and amazement that comes from raising kids keeps me focused on what an amazing (and fleeting) experience this is. 

But, I digress.  I turned to Alden and said, "do you mean you don't want to dream?" Alden said, "I don't want to close my eyes and see the movies."  I reminded him that he loves movies and he said, "not the movies when I close my eyes."  I rubbed his head and hugged him and said, "many of those videos are lovely.  And, mama and dada will always keep you safe.  And we love you.  Tonight, let's hope for sweet dreams."  He was sleepy and turned over and fell asleep.. hopefully to sweet dreams.

Another example of Alden's imagery -- we were watching a nature documentary and there was an avalanche in the documentary.  The footage of the avalanche went on for a couple of minutes and we really got to saw how massive and destructive big avalanches can be.  Then, the documentary went on and after several minutes, Alden turned to me and said, "where did the mountain wave go?" The mountain wave!  That's exactly what it was. 

Alden loves to play pretend these days.  He wants to pretend he's a dinosaur, a baby, a bird, a builder.... he asks us to play pretend multiple times a day.  He isn't into dress up -- but, he likes to have props and to make up stories as he goes along.

The other day, when I was trying to get Alden to come set the table for dinner he said, "one minute, Mama.  You have to be patient."  I cracked up.  How many time does he hear that same phrase, but it was funny to hear it coming out of his mouth.  Patience!

He is constantly recounting tales to us and, if it appears we're no listening, he grabs our face and says, "Mama.  Listen. I'm talking to you."  He also says to me at least twice a day, "Mama -- I want milk and snuggles with you!"  He loves to have his sippy cup of milk while we snuggle on the couch and he rubs my "nickel" (a mole on my neck that both he and Kai love to rub... weird, I know).  He just bounded over here and grabbed onto my neck and said, "Mama... I want milk and snuggles".  I told him to go get milk from Eric (who is in the kitchen) and before he bounded off he clarified that we had to lay lengthwise on the couch (since I'm sitting up at the moment).  I assured him that when he returned with the milk, we'd lay down and have a proper snuggle.  He'll be back in a moment. 

It's 7:45 AM.  I've been up with them for two hours already.  We've built a fort.  Made coffee.  And now will be doing "milk and snuggles" before diving into breakfast prep and then, clean up. Gone are the days of sleeping in late and eventually getting up and heading to brunch with friends.  The days are definitely long, but it is so true that the years are short (too short) -- and I'm excited to hear what images and phrases pop out of his mind today as he navigates his day. 

Happy Sunday in June!