Friday, September 28, 2007

The Clarinet Has Arrived

Our good friend Jenn brought over her clarient. She used to be first chair in her middle school band, but hasn't played in quite a while, so she is loaning it to us.

My 5th grader is going to start learning to play it at school this year. His goal is to get good enough on it to move to playing the saxophone. The saxophone, of course, carries the universal appeal to boys of cool rock bands. Somehow they inherently know that many girls find boys who play the saxophone incredibly cool. The music teacher at school has recommended playing the flute and/or clarinet before trying the sax. So we are borrowing several different instruments so all the boys can have a try and see what they might like.

He's pretty excited about having an instrument to play. His brothers all had to try it out. It sounds like we have group of very excitable migrating geese trapped inside our house. Maybe the neighbors won't figure out that the mysterious sound they are hearing is actually the beginning of what I'm sure are many strange loud noises wafting from our house.

At least we don't have a drum set. Yet.

Tough Question 1

Had one of those tough questions last night from my seven year old.

"Mom, why do only women wear makeup?"

Hmm . . . so many ways to answer the question.

What is he really asking?
Why does my mom wear makeup? Why do some other women wear it? Do men wear it? Is there a gender issue I'm trying to figure out (see female impersonator below)? Can I wear makeup? All the possibilities start rolling through my head.

Luckily, as often happens when I pause long enough after a question is asked, he answered it himself.

"Oh, I know it is to make girls look better. But mom, you don't need it to look better. Most people don't look better. Mom, you look good anyway. Pretty good!"

I gave him a big kiss and told him he was exactly right!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

French Women, Teenage Boys, and A Flat Sandwich

Right now I am reading French Women Never Get Fat. I am also reading How to Feed a Teenage Boy.

You might think these two books are really quite different. They are.

French Women is written by Mireille Guiliano (, a glamorous woman who is a spokesperson for Veuve Clicquot and a senior executive at the world's leading luxury goods company LVMH. In her book, she recommends bread, Champagne, chocolate and romance as key ingredients to a balanced diet and lifestyle. She cites her favorite pastimes as breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There is no mention of children.

After visiting France and seeing that in fact the women there are generally quite thin, I thought this would be an interesting read, and it did not disappoint.

How to Feed a Teenage Boy is written by Georgia Orcutt, the mother of two tall and hungry teenage boys and author of many cookbooks. She is not as successful at self marketing as Mireille because I cannot find much other information about her. But if you think about it, she has all the qualifications she needs to write this book. (

As the mother of three boys who I know will soon be consuming scary quantities of food, I thought this would be an interesting read, and it did not disappoint.

You might guess that Mireille and Georgia would not get along. Mireille started drinking champagne and wine (or at least tasting it) before she was ten. Neither wine nor champagne appear in Georgia's index at all. Mireille extolls the virtues of small portions food, consumed with enjoyment. Georgia speaks frankly about how many calories your teenage athlete will need to eat on a daily basis. I can tell you this does not mean small portions. Georgia's book contains a recipe for a sandwich that actually calls for two teenage boys to SIT on it for at least 20 minutes. Mireille I don't think would touch such a sandwich.

Believe it or not, though, these books do have quite a few things in common. Yes, they both have recipes. They also both emphasize fresh foods, simply prepared. Both books advise staying far away from processed foods and synthetic ingredients. Both authors emphasize the importance of eating three hearty meals a day. (OK, Mireille says French women never snack, and Georgia says teenage boys can and must snack.)

Mireille does mention that her favorite pastime; breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I know she has at least that in common with teenage boys.

The poached pears I made from the recipe in French Women Never Get Fat was heartily enjoyed by all the boys in my house the other night for dessert. The Slow-Cooker Sloppy Joes from How to Feed a Teenage Boy I made later in the week were a huge hit too.

By far the biggest hit has been the sandwich. I had to alter the recipe by cutting it in thirds so each boy could sit on his own section. It was quite flat at the end of 20 minutes. Those 20 minutes were pretty peaceful too. One son was thirsty and couldn't even bring himself to get up and get a drink of water.

As only mothers of sons can appreciate, my youngest thought it was SO FUNNY that he passed gas while sitting on his sandwich. Until a few minutes later when he got very concerned that it might affect the taste of his dinner. He was worried, but it turned out OK. I did not taste it.

And you can be damn sure that Mireille would not have tasted it either.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Facts of Life, and Variations on A Theme

Many parents dread it. Many put it off, or simply avoid it altogther. Yes, it's the Facts of Life discussion.

This was the weekend. My husband and I had been planning and reading and fretting and procrastinating all summer about talking to our two older children about the subject. We really didn't know how much they knew about it all. They haven't asked many questions.

Once, my oldest did ask me what sex was. He was in kindergarten, and his brothers were four and two. Of course we were all in the car, and the question came out of the blue. Perhaps there was a Viagra commercial on the radio. I remember I took a deep breath, trying to figure out how to answer. Then, after a pause, he answered his own question: "Oh, I know, it is the difference between boys and girls." He was quite satisfied with his answer, and frankly, so was I. But I knew that I had narrowly avoided The Talk, and the subject would have to be dealt with in a much more comprehensive way in the near future. Surprisingly, the subject did not come up again for several years.

This October, my 5th grader will be learning a lot about The Facts of Life at school, when a special educator comes in to talk with the kids. My husband and I thought, OK, it's time, we need to give him some information before he learns about it from a stranger at school.

I got out my Where Did I Come From? and What Is Happening to Me? books by Peter Mayle. The books were published in 1973 and are the very same ones that I read as a kid. The illustrations are still seared in my memory. (And yes, this is the same Peter Mayle that wrote one of my favorite books, A Year in Provence.) As I looked through the book, I realized that it is written for kids a bit younger than mine. However, it seemed like a good place to start, using straightforward language and humor to impart the basics.

My oldest read the books first. His reaction was somewhat incredulous and he said "Some of this stuff is gross!" To my surprise he really didn't know much. We talked quite a bit about the book on puberty, which he was most interested in, and how things will change when he gets a little older. Then he was done and wanted to go outside and throw a football around. My 4th grader was next. He read the books more quickly than his brother. I suspect he was skimming over some of the sections. Then we sat down and went through the books and talked about them. His reaction was "This stuff is weird." Interesting that he did not use the word gross. Then he wanted to go outside and throw a football around.

There was no drama, no giggling, no embarrassment (that I could tell), it was a very straightforward and basic discussion. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. We decided that our 2nd grader was a bit young for the same discussion and asked that the older two not share all of their new information with him. My main concern with him is that he would announce to all his friends at school exactly what he learned. I just don't want that "your son told my daughter" phone call from another 2nd grade parent.

I did, however, encourage my two older boys to talk to each other about what they learned. One of them is more open, one more reticent, and I figure that they should be able to support each other as they go through puberty at roughly the same time.

The end goal is that they have knowledge about their own bodies, how they work, and ultimately to be comfortable and secure in that body.

Hopefully someday, when they are presented with an unexpected variation on the theme, such as . . . oh, I don't know . . . female impersonators, they won't be shaken to the very core of their existence.

As a matter of fact, I was at a party this weekend where Sex Ed took an unexpected turn in the form of female impersonators. They were the live entertainment at the party, and some attending the party were having lots of fun and some were clearly uncomfortable. It was a wacky bending and twisting of gender roles, men as more glamorous and outgoing versions of the women at the party. The performers lip-synched, they danced and pranced, and they answered some of the most personal blunt questions posed to them. A policeman showed up, and was welcomed with an enthusiastic cheer by many women who assumed he was part of the entertainment. He was not. Slowly he took in the circumstance he was in; party full of women having fun, some women looking slightly suspicious, all of them thinking he was about to perform something himself. When that realization registered in his face, well, all I can say is I am still laughing. Soon after, one of the performers changed and came back out to the party as a man. It was an astonishing transformation. Without the make-up, wig, and Cher outfit, he looked just like a man! He had a t-shirt, baggy pants, work boots, close-cropped hair and the deportment of a guy.

This kind of Sex Ed is only for people studying for their advanced degree. My children are not ready for this yet. I guess I need to wait a few years before I let them watch one of my favorite movies, Priscilla Queen of the Desert.

Something tells me that my son's 5th grade teacher AND my 2nd grader's teacher are on exactly the same wavelength. I think we'd all agree that this was one fun party.

Cue the music: At first I was afraid, I was petrified, kept thinking I could never live without you by my side . . .

Friday, September 21, 2007

Best Excuse & Vocabulary

My fifth grader had the best excuse for running late today.

He claimed it took him a long time to get ready this morning because he had to "forage for socks."

The use of the word forage gave me a chuckle. Forage means to search widely for food or provisions. Synonyms include: hunt, search, look, rummage around, ferret, root about/around, nose around/about, scavenge.

So laundry is not one of my strong points. I have a lot to do, I don't enjoy it, and it is one of those jobs that is never done. I am hoping that my boys are just about old enough to significantly contribute to the effort to provide clean organized clothes. Maybe if they get frustrated over having to FORAGE for socks they will take sock matching more seriously.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Moving Up Day

My boys have a day at school right before they are out for the summer called Moving Up Day. They get to visit the classrooms and teachers of the grade they will be in the next year, getting a glimpse of what is in store for them. The day gets them excited for the new things that lie ahead, and helps the transition go a little smoother.

Today was a Moving Up Day of sorts in my family. We had our first orthodontist appointment and our first football practice.

There was bad news and good news at the orthodontist. The bad news: yes my nine year old needs braces.

The good news: he doesn't need the braces until he's in seventh grade.

Our orthodontist (that sounds weird, I never had braces myself) has the best implementation of technology in his office that I've ever seen in a medical office. The self check-in for the kids, the digital pictures, the large display with the x-ray image of my son's mouth, it was all kind of fun, and super efficient. ( I'm sure we'll be paying for that wow factor, but not for another three years!

Then my oldest son had his first football practice. There is bad news and good news here too. The good news (I think) is that he made the team (his school has a no-cut policy). I've been told that flag football is a non-contact sport. However, he was playing this non-contact sport in PE last year and chipped his permanent front tooth on another boy's tennis shoe. This is not the kid that needs braces either. The bad news is that our dinner table conversation as of tonight consists of all kinds of crazy-sounding mumbo jumbo that I can't understand. It's like everyone in our house except me learned pig latin over night. Then the schedule comes out of the backpack and I realize, I AM GOING TO HAVE TO GO TO A FOOTBALL GAME AND MY SON IS ACTUALLY GOING TO BE PLAYING IN IT. My faithful blog readers will remember my one experience at a football game. I thought that was going to be my last game for a good long time. Somehow I don't think I can get away with knitting during my son's game.

I am going to have to learn about football now. Having and raising children can push you in all sorts of unexpected and challenging ways. I wonder if this is how my athletic brother-in-law feels as he plays Barbies, listens to High School Musical, and paints his toenails with his two daughters.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Over Multi Tasking

What happens when you are cleaning up dinner dishes, helping three kids with homework, trying to serve dessert, thinking about conflicting soccer and football practice times, making sure everyone is showered, listening to a practice campaign speech for 5th grade class rep, catching up with your husband about the day, overseeing your seven year old trying to find a typing game on the internet, creating a library volunteer matrix for school, and also getting a head start on snacks for the week by boiling up some hard boiled eggs?

Something's got to give.

I forgot the eggs on the stove.

Ever wonder what happens if you really really HARD boil eggs so much that the water evaporates out of the pan? Let me tell you. They make an odd popping noise that is unidentifiable from across the house. They explode, sending bits of egg and shell around your just cleaned kitchen. And they stink. I mean really reek. I'm surprised the smell has not woken up my husband.

I think I'm going to throw the whole thing outside and call it a day.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tree House Sleepover

We hosted a big party this weekend and had to get rid or our kids. Our very dear friends, Emily and Jon, offered to take them for a sleepover. There were five boys in all, her eight and four year olds and mine. Emily, you might say, is a generous and brave soul.

All my kids came home saying what a fantastic time they had. Our friends have a 6 by 6 foot surface in their treehouse (built by Jon himself) and all five kids slept there. No one was cold, reports my oldest.

Emily reports that all five were up before dawn, 4:30 am to be exact. And she managed to return my boys with a smile on her face.

Now that is true friendship. Thanks Em!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

How to Save A Life

My fifth grader came home today with a great story about his teacher, who saved someone's life once. Actually she has saved two people. But the first time, she saved a kid who was choking on a hot dog. She gave him the "Heineken maneuver."

Now the funny part is that I'm not sure if the teacher actually said Heineken or Heimlich. Could have been either one. Next time she is eating a hot dog, I'm going to check out if she is drinking a beer.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Celebrating Mom's Birthday

I recently celebrated a big birthday. I organized a party for myself that was a bit extravagant, and I had a wonderful time surrounded by family and friends. My husband helped get ready for the party and made not one peep about the cost of it. At the expense of sounding like A Material Girl, I was expecting a card or small gift of some kind from my husband and boys. I made sure they all had plenty of advanced notice. Friends and family showered me with fun presents.

But from my husband and boys: nothing.

My husband doesn't like birthdays. It is a simple fact that he is uncomfortable with celebrations of any kind, particularly birthdays, but not exculding major holidays. I think it must come from a rebellious streak, bucking against expectation. He does not like to give gifts. If he does give a gift, he likes to make sure it is not expected, either in timing or content. He is similarly uncomfortable about receiving a gift, usually forgetting to be gracious.

I, on the other hand, like presents. I don't mean something expensive or complicated. I mean a token of affection, a small thing that has meaning, shows care and thought toward the recipient. A small physical representation of the phrase "I care about you." Although it might sound shallow, I was disappointed that no gift or handmade card appeared. Of course I know that my family cares about me. But still.

OK, so I probably can't retrain my husband, but what about my boys? Does gift-giving (and receiving) reflect some sort of gender bias? Can my boys be taught how to be good gift-givers?

I consulted The Dangerous Book for Boys ( tonight. I thought for sure the book would have some wise nugget about making sure you make your mom a card on her birthday-at the least. Nope, not there. The section that comes the closest really is the one on writing secret spy letters using your own urine as ink.

Then I thought back to my childhood. I know my mom did almost all the gift shopping in the family. But even if my dad was not involved in most gifting, he always did give something to my mom. I remember the story that one year he gave her a pair of rear-view mirrors for the truck she was driving at the time. That didn't go over real well, and we then had a new rule instituted: no exceedingly practical gifts. No appliances, no underwear. These are things you should buy for yourself.

I had one or two boyfriends growing up that did give great gifts. In fact, I still have them. The gifts, not the boyfriends. One is a gift given to me on my 16th birthday, a beautiful silver keychain with a heart attached, engraved with "Cinderella." The other gift, given to me when I was in college, is a pair of earrings that I like so much that I still wear them. Now I am wondering, did their mothers buy these gifts and wrap them too?

Cruising the web a bit, I found odd birthday gift advice. Like the perfect birthday present for a 40-year old is lots of candy and a ride in a Ferrari. Note that is a ride in the passenger seat, not getting to drive. This person also suggests "Another memorable 40th birthday gift would be to experience what it is like to drive a rally car on gravel and dirt, tarmac or forest stage under the tutelage of expert rally school instructors and these experiences are available at rally courses in rally cars such as Ford Escorts, Focus or even the powerful Subaru Impreza." Uh, what??

It's not always easy to buy something meaningful for someone you love. Maybe it is a lot of pressure. It takes a bit of time and thought. And it's just a nice thing to do. I'm certainly not a perfect example myself, but I try. I really hope I can find a way to teach this to my boys.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Picky Eaters

The beginning of school is crazy busy. Last night I needed to serve left-overs, but I wanted all of us present (three boys, my friend Lynley and daughter visiting from out of town, myself) to have an enjoyable meal. And it needed to happen fast, everyone was hungry and cranky.

So I had a burst of desperate creativity and invented our first Small Bites dinner.

I had a leftover Caesar Salad from Aqui's. What can you do with a day-old salad besides throw it out? Actually, it can be recycled into something edible and quite good. Really. I swear.

I also had some left-over vegetable quesadillas from the same place, and a couple slices of grilled tri-tip.

I started with the leftover salad. I have a recipe for something called Caesar Salad Soup that actually calls for leftover salad. So I dumped the salad in a bowl. This particular salad has corn and black beans, and strips of tortilla along with the usual romaine lettuce. Then I cut up a tomato and tossed it in, and added about two cups of chicken stock. The recipe calls for the mixture to sit at room temp for an hour. Perfect. I jumped in the car and went to pick up two of the boys from soccer practice.

I was prepared for Lynley, who stayed behind, to throw the mixture away because she was rather disgusted at the thought of eating my concoction for dinner. However, when I returned, she had been distracted by my youngest who engaged her in a game of rollerblade/basketball and she didn't have a chance to sabotage the dinner. Did I mention what a good sport she is?

The recipe then calls for blending the mixture "just short of smooth" and tasting for salt and pepper. I was thinking this was going to go straight down the disposal when I saw what it looked like blended up. Then I tasted it and it was pretty good! I decided to rename it gazpacho, as calling it a soup just seemed wrong.

I put the gazpacho in some small glasses. Then I cut up the leftover quesadillas and meat into little bite-sized pieces and arranged it artfully on a big white plate, and heated it all up in the microwave. I added a bit of other random leftovers, and voila, Small Bites Dinner!

And then, one very important detail: I gave everyone a toothpick to eat with.

I admit that the boys didn't like the "soup." I thought it was pretty good. However, they did love eating dinner with a toothpick. They were pretty distracted with the novelty of it and didn't mention eating the recycled dinner. Of course they were starving, which always makes almost any food seem attractive.

Eating with a toothpick had an added benefit: less scarfing, slower eating, more time between bites for conversation. Even after soccer practice.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Traffic School

I admit it. I got a ticket recently. Not like it is any big secret. All three of my boys were in the car with me when I was pulled over.

I haven't gotten a ticket in about 20 years. I had no idea that police officers are so young now! As he pulled me over, the boys all sat very straight, not saying a word. The officer explained why he pulled me over, etc., and then went on to explain that I qualified for traffic school and that my ticket would then "go away."

HA! I said. You see those three kids in the back? This ticket will never ever go away.

After the officer left and we pulled back in to traffic, one of my sons asked me, "Should we tell Dad about this, or not?" After a momentary pause, I told him that we don't keep secrets like that in our family. My husband has gotten a ticket before (also with kids in the car) so he will understand. OK, at least we got a good teaching moment out of that.

I think that people who get minor tickets with their children in the car should get some sort of extra credit for time served.

So now I am looking at my traffic school options. I went to traffic school once before, when I was in college. It was a very long and boring affair, with the most interesting thing being my classmate with the very thick glasses who got a ticket for reading a book while driving.

Things have improved since then. I had no idea! My options now include:
Gay Community Traffic School
Comedy School
Cheap School
Fun N Cheap Comedy Traffic School
Saturday or Sunday Painless School
Pizza For You Comedians School
Pay N Less School
The Smart Choice Traffic School

How about Fun Painless Pizza Comedy? If I could do that one, I might even be willing to learn something.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Last Days of Summer

I haven't written anything since I returned from my trip. It is those bittersweet last days of summer, and my mind is occupied with all I have to do before school starts and how to make this transition smooth for the boys. We spend an idyllic summer at the beach, hardly returning at all to our home in "the city." We basically escape our regular life and lead a very child-centered, outdoor simple life. We don't do much we don't really want to do. We don't attend birthday parties, we don't meet friends for playdates (unless they come to the beach), we don't get in the car unless we really really need to. We don't work on our house, we don't worry about how clean the house is, we don't go shopping, we don't watch any TV. We don't get mail and we don't have a phone. We eat dinner out on our deck almost every night, something grilled with very few dishes to clean up. The boys wear a swimsuit most days and don't have to comb their hair. We spend a lot of family time, just being together without a lot of distractions. We play Uno and Sorry and read books together.

Sometimes I wonder if our summer is TOO idyllic. Re-entry into the school year is hard on all of us. We all have a hard time moving straight into the rigid structure and all the expectations. This year, the boys have decided: we can move to the beach permanently, they can be home-schooled, they can continued to have lots of time to skimboard. They really aren't ready to go back.

So over Labor Day weekend we wrap up our summer. We spend all day at the beach, we spend evenings on the deck with good friends, we shower outside, BBQ dinner, eat lunch at our favorite taqueria. My husband and I go for a PJ walk at 11:30 pm, they boys snoring away. I go for a night-time bike ride with a couple girlfriends, and smell the bonfires on the beach.. We savor the sand in our beds and getting out of bed only because we want to and not because we have to.

The truth is, I don't want summer to end any more than my kids. Sure, I look forward to the routine of school. But I will miss the unstructured days and the long stretches of being together.

But go back we must, to school and soccer and work and all of our various commitments. I can't help but wonder how I can keep some of the things we so love about summer. Each one of my boys, when asked their favorite thing about summer, will simply answer: the beach. They each love it, for different reasons. It is a place to be with friends or play by yourself, to chat the day away or bury yourself in a book. A place to burn every ounce of energy you posses or simply sit and build a sandcastle. It is a place to dig a big hole in which to play all day long. A place to be invigorated or to rest. A place to see pelicans, dolphins, the occasional gang member. A place to study the art of tattooing. You never know, there could be a wedding, a photo-shoot, or a fight. There can be a teenager smoking a joint or a lone man dancing hula to the beat of his own wave. It can be totally crowded, or utterly deserted, high tide or low, sand moved in this pattern or that. The magic of the ocean meeting the land is somehow never boring, and seems to melt away any worries or stress, leaving mind and body swept clean. It's a place where being yourself is exactly right.

It's also a place where I have two washers and two dryers and laundry is done faster than you can imagine.

We will all miss the beach desperately.

Almost 24 Hours Gone

Well now we are on the plane at least. But the flight is retarded again due to four idiots who checked their bags and then fell asleep somewhere and didn’t get on the plane. Another hour delay, and we finally take off at 3:00 am. One of the highlights of our time in the airport: watching a man in a bright blue suit, who was refused entry into France; try to break out of limbo-land. We saw him wandering the inner hallway of the airport, unable to get out by legal means. He talked to several people. Then he talked on his cell phone. He looked nervous. Then he talked to a maid, mopping the floors. Soon after talking to the maid, he waited for a quiet moment when there were no official-looking people around, and pressed a code into a keypad and gained entry into the area we were sitting. About seven other people witnessed this. He just carried his bag with him like he knew where he was going. He was then stuck in the area we were in, and was looking for a way out, nervously talking on his cell phone once in a while.

We made sure he didn’t get on our flight.

Our pilot this evening is retiring. He has his children and wife and a couple of grandchildren riding along on his last flight. I feel really safe. I would go and talk to his wife about raising five boys, but I’m so darn tired that I can’t get up from my seat. Maybe it is the Tylenol PM.