Friday, December 12, 2008

Pony Up (or is it down? I'm not sure)

Technically, this is not a story about raising boys. It might be considered a story about a mom raising girls, naive in the care and maintenance of certain members of the male species, not necessarily human.

I’m about to throw my mom under the bus and I really really hope I’m not making a mistake doing this so close to Christmas, but the alternative is spending time whacking down my immense shopping list, so here it goes.

Years ago, a mother of three girls, married to a man who would be known as Dr. Dolittle far in the future, received this request: "Mom, I want a pony!" Most mothers have no choice but to deny this kind of request, but this mother was uniquely qualified to grant this most outlandish wish. She had recently moved to “the country” with acreage and zoning for equines. Her daughters each owned, and wore, cowboy boots. She had experienced local experts to call upon for advice. It was a perfect storm of pony-enabling circumstances.

Soon a white pony, with a round stomach and a fierce case of barn sour, appeared in the yard. His name was Winter. He was led by George, a scrawny man of indeterminate old age, wearing a cowboy hat over his bald head, protecting his deeply etched sun-baked wrinkles. He smelled of tobacco, leather, beer and sweat and his thumb was missing. His lower lip was distended, and his speech slurred, by the huge hunk of chew he kept tucked in there.

This was the mother’s local expert. He seemed just a little too eager to help a city-slicker mom and her three little girls learn how to care for a pony.

George taught the mother and daughters how to feed Winter hay and oats. It seemed clear to all involved that Winter had been eating far too much, but they paid careful attention. They learned how to put the bridle on and take it off, how to saddle Winter, and how to ask him to pick up his feet so they could use an evil-looking pick to clean out the underside of his hoofs, inexplicably called his “frog.” They learned how to brush him. They did not learn how to cut and style his forelock and mane, a question they were dying to ask but did not feel brave enough to voice. They did not learn how to ride him. That would be someone else’s job to teach. Ol’George, he lost his thumb in a roping accident when he was bringing down a calf and the rein was wrapped around his thumb. The rein pulled his thumb right off. He finished roping the calf, picked up his thumb, put it in a coffee cup, covered it with whiskey to preserve it, and still keeps it by his bed. Nope, he was not the person to teach the little girls how to ride.

Once the three little girls were sufficiently terrified of George, they went off to feed daisies to the pony and he and the mother went over some of the other tasks involved in keeping Winter clean and happy.

Riding lessons began and the little girls lived happily ever after. The mother, however, discovered that the maintenance of this pony was perhaps more taxing than she had bargained for. She was finding that following George’s instructions to clean Winter’s sheath were a little tricky. She had to have her supplies at the ready, and keep her eye on Winter. When he dropped his sheath, she had to immediately run over to him with her towel and bucket with soap and water and clean it. Her concern soon proved unfounded. As Winter got used to his new home and owners, he would routinely drop his sheath as soon as he saw the mother, and she could easily clean it.

The mother began to notice the country neighbors stopping their trucks along the road to see the cute white pony. They watched admiringly as she groomed and cleaned him, a city mom so knowledgeable and capable in the art of animal husbandry.

Or so she thought.

You see, tricky, crusty ol’George had taught the mother how to pleasure Winter, waited until the routine was well established, and then told all the town to stop by and check it out.

Winter was no longer so cute. There was no chance he would ever get over being barn sour.

The future Dr. Dolittle had a hardy laugh. The mother never forgave ol’George. She told her girls he deserved to have his own thumb as his bedside companion.

Strangely, I don't have any pictures of Winter, and my mom claims she does not either.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Old Dog Teaches Us New Tricks

After a lot of negotiation, debate, and discussion we have recently added a new member to our family. He is a 6 year old Weimaraner named Miko that we adopted from the Northern California Weimaraner Rescue.

Our negotiation went like this:
Boys: We want a dog!
Me: I’m thinking about it.
My husband: No.

Boys: We want a dog!
Me: Let’s do some research and learn about different breeds.
My husband: No.

Boys: We really want a dog!
Me: Yes I think we should start looking into it.
My husband: No. OK maybe.

Boys: When are we getting the dog?!?!
Me: When we find the right dog.
My husband: No. OK fine.

Miko is our first real family pet. My husband was concerned about who would take care of the dog, walk it, feed it, pick up it's poop, watch it if we went out of town. I had some of the same concerns but I’ve had a lot more experience with pets. I grew up with dogs (and cats, angora rabbits, pet rats, several parrots, fish, chickens, geese, a pig, a cow named Nancy, a horse named Blaze and a pony named Winter, goats and even llamas). My parents don’t have nearly as many animals anymore but my husband still calls my dad Doctor f**ing Dolittle. He means this in the nicest possible way, but you see he grew up pet-impaired. Or pet-challenged might be more politically correct. In any case, he did not grow up with a pet. His parents got a small fluffy dog named Tippy once he left home for college. It is not uncommon for parents to get a pet to replace the void left by children leaving home. My parents got two goats when I left for my freshman year of college.

My husband’s stories of Tippy are all about how he used to play catch with him. I don’t mean throwing a ball and Tippy bringing it back. I mean Tippy was the ball, thrown back and forth between friends, as a casual game of football to pass the time. This story horrified me, so long ago I decided that if we ever did get a dog, it would be one that was too big for my husband or anyone else in our house to play catch with. At 84 pounds, Miko qualifies as too big to throw around. In fact, the kids can waterski behind him.

Me at two months old with my babysitter Simba

My first pet growing up used to babysit me. She would sit in my crib and guard me while my parents went to a neighboring apartment for a drink or down the street for dinner. She was a cat named Simba Tai Pan and was apparently trained in First Aid. My parents also had a dog named Vaca, who probably babysat me when Simba was not available. Through the years, I don’t ever remember a time when my family didn’t have at least a few animals around. Often it was more than a few. There was the whippet that could jump straight up and no fence could contain. There was the Great Dane that knocked us down as toddlers any time we tried to run. That Great Dane also chewed up the entire boat trailer my dad built when he was left in the garage all day. There was the dashound named Heidi, then one named Pepper, the border collie named Foxy, the airedales named April and Shelly. There were various cats too, the most memorable being one that would let us dress it in dolls clothes and pull it around in the wagon, and the one that must have been weaned too young and liked to give us hickeys.

I also had a pet rat most of the time I was growing up. I got a new one in 6th grade when I was reading Gone With the Wind, and named it Scarlett. Once I decided I needed some variety and got a little ginger-colored mouse, which I named Pumpkin. I came up with a brilliant idea to breed Pumpkin with another mouse at the pet store so she could have babies. I have no idea why my parents ever agreed to this, but they did take me (and Pumpkin) to the pet store. Pumpkin and her new husband ran around the cage and sniffed at each other, but there was no action, at least that I could tell. I went home disappointed. Much to my surprise, about 20 days later, Pumpkin had about ten teeny tiny pink little babies. I was over the moon with excitement. I watched them nonstop for days as they grew fur and their little eyes eventually opened. I tried to figure out which were males and females. Someone at the pet store showed me how to tell the difference by grabbing the mouse by the tail and rubbing your finger along it’s underside. I gave some of the baby mice away to friends. But not soon enough. More and more babies kept arriving and at ten babies per litter, I was in mouse crisis mode. The pet store didn’t want them. I couldn’t persuade anyone else I knew to take one. Then I saw the look in my dad’s eyes and knew I had to take action quickly or they would all end up in a dumpster. With tears streaming down my face, I let them go in the field across the street, trying to convince myself that like tiny Stuart Littles, they would go on to bigger and better adventures.

Me at the age of seven in that famous field across the street with Heidi and Blue. No mice in sight.

Just about every spot in the large yard at my parents’ house marks a place where one pet or another is buried. For those too large to bury (pretty much anything bigger than a rat), my dad would unceremoniously take the dead animal for “a drive” in the car, searching for a dumpster. For all his bravado, he did not at all enjoy this job. He usually came home from that errand and had a glass of Gallo Hearty Burgundy.

When my husband and I first started dating, he was somewhat overwhelmed by all the animals, hence the Dr. Doolittle nickname. Early in our relationship he accidentally ran over one of my parents’ cats. Being allergic to cats and not at all fond of them, he didn’t seem to mind too much cleaning it up off the driveway with a shovel and going on the dumpster drive with my dad.

With all this experience around animals, you would think that getting a dog would be no big deal for me. However, we have been without a pet for a very long time. We did have a Vietnamese Potbellied Pig for a while before we had children. Her name was Harley. She was so very cute as a little piglet but when full grown was not so cute. She started nipping at me, and being pregnant with my first child, I realized she had to go. Not having a field across the street conducive to setting pigs free, I gave Harley to a woman who lived in the mountains and had just lost custody of her own pig through a nasty divorce. It seemed a perfect match.

Trendy is not always the way to go. Here is my husband with our baby potbellied pig in 1993. He was still under the newlywed influence at the time.

I was very realistic about the fact that although my children really wanted a puppy, it was not a good idea for us. And even though we adopted a well-trained adult dog, adding a dog to our family was a big deal, a big change for all of us. Watching a few episodes of the Dog Whisperer did not do enough to prepare us for adding a new member to our family. I was confident this change would be good, but I was unprepared for the emotion I felt in adopting Miko. The responsibility weighed heavily on me and in the first few days I really wondered if it was such a good decision. I was so worried that it wouldn’t work out and I didn’t want to become too attached to him just in case. As we all settled in and got used to each other, I let myself believe that yes, we finally had a dog. The boys absolutely adore him. He follows me everywhere I go, which has made me very conscious of how much I ramble pointlessly around my house. At first I was uncomfortable with the change in my routine and having him follow every move I made. Now, three weeks later I enjoy the companionship, the fact that he doesn’t talk back or give me attitude like my kids, his instant readiness to go on a walk or for a drive in the car.

It’s hard to write about dogs in unsentimental way. I think Billy Collins, one of my favorite poets, does a great job of capturing the essence of the dog without being smarmy.

by Billy Collins

The way the dog trots out the front door
every morning
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her doghouse
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.

Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Gandhi with his staff and his holy diapers?

Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.

If only she did not shove the cat aside
every morning
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she
would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.

I don’t know, I kinda like being the god. Or goddess as the case may be.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Miko Joins the Family

We have adopted a beautiful 6 year old Weimaraner named Miko. These pictures are not the ones I chose for our holiday card but they are some of my favorites. Having a dog adds an unpredictable element to the photoshoot!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

A Thanksgiving turkey from my 10 year old. He is thankful for ocean, skimboard, boogie board, school, dog and house, football, baseball, basketball, soccer, vollyball, food, family, friends, sports, and Mom's home cooking.

I made the list!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New Picture!

Is this new picture too fashion/glamorous for my blog? Maybe. I just couldn't add a new picture complete with the pimples that have appeared. Photoshop is a wondrous thing. In fact, this turned out so glam that I think I'm going to do one of myself!

Porn: What's a Mom to Do?

Pick one:
It’s inevitable.
It will never happen.
I don’t want to know.

Personally I was hoping to avoid the whole thing.

But in the flash of a screen, a fraction of a second, and the unmistakable form of a naked woman . . . I discovered my son surfing a porn website.

Oh shit oh shit oh shit what do I do? Why me, why did I have to catch him, why didn’t my husband? My emotions raced from shock to panic to anger, while my brain was telling me, “However you react, whatever you do right now, he will remember and retell his entire life.” I realized instantly that this was a seminal moment of parenting. I had to stop freaking out. So I went in the bathroom and texted my husband, who was not home, with this simple message: 911. He didn’t answer so I texted him five more times with the same message.

Then I went to talk to my son. First he tried to deny what he was looking at, then he claimed it was a pop-up he couldn’t get rid of. I let the irony of that melt away. Then I’m not exactly sure what I said, but it was something like, “This is inappropriate, you are not allowed to be on these websites, it is not OK.” In case he was starting to feel ashamed, I added, “It’s OK to be curious, but this is not OK.” I added that he needed to talk to us about it. I don’t know, it didn’t make sense to me either, I just threw it in.

I went back in the bathroom to voice my frustration with my husband by texting him a few swear words for not being there and not calling me back.

When he did call me back and I blurted something incoherent out in a hostile whisper, he was maddingly quiet. Once he got the gist of what was happening, he had the nerve to sigh in relief. And even start to chuckle. I hung up on him.

A public location for the computer, an internet filter you think is up to date, a trust you place in a boy to know what is “appropriate,” it is all no match for the powerful cocktail of emerging hormones and curiosity. They want to know, they need to know, and it is so easy. Images and videos are everywhere online. He will be told or even shown exactly where to find them by a more knowing friend.

Now I happen to believe that surfing internet porn is not at all appropriate for a boy of this age. I feel I have a responsibility to protect him and shield him from it at least until he is older. Obviously my precautions were not adequate.

I was able to determine by viewing his computer’s browser history (and that of all the other computers in the house) that this was the first time he had surfed porn sites. My husband and I spent the better part of the next day installing and updating better filtering software (we chose K9 by BlueCoat which is free).

After taking care of the immediate need for better internet filtering, my mind began to go back over the incident. I thought about the boy at school who had so kindly given my son the exact website to check out. I felt sure his mother had no idea he was so knowledgeable in this kind of information. It was a mom I don’t know very well, but I pondered telling her, or at the very least suggesting she check where he son goes online. I would want to know. Wouldn’t she? I tried to come up with scenarios in my mind, running into her in the carpool line, rolling down the window, and saying, “Excuse me, I think your son is a regular on,” or calling her up and inviting her over for coffee and broaching the topic, “So what are your philosophical beliefs about pornography?”

I sought input from other people. My mom was shocked and dismayed about the whole thing. My dad, who has been trying to warn me about how horny young boys can be, while I try not to hear this message from him, said “I told you so.” The very kind school administrator said, “Go with your gut and don’t be too hard on him.” A good friend said, “Buy him a subscription to Playboy magazine.” I heard “boys will be boys” more than once. I decided I had enough of input from other people. The range of opinions among parents about pornography is staggeringly wide.

According to one article I read, boys ages 12-17 are among the biggest consumers of pornography. If parents don’t monitor their children’s internet use, and if they don’t have filters in place and check that they operate as expected, then I have to assume they are not concerned about pornography. And just to be clear, every variety of sexual activity is available online; group sex, violent sex, much much more than enough to satisfy your basic curiosity.

I’m not going to tell that mom about her son’s expansive knowledge of porn. Maybe she doesn’t care. But mental note: no sleepovers for my son at that house.

Articles I found useful:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Patterns of Importance

My youngest son is having some difficulty with spelling. He seems to struggle with recognizing the patterns letters form to spell words, and applying those patterns to spelling other words.

This can be something very worrying to a parent.

Am I worried about it?

Absolutely not.

Because last night he told me he noticed a pattern. All the light blue PG&E trucks that he has ever seen are Ford F-550s. Which is weird, because every other Ford truck he sees is a Ford F-150, 250, etc. But he's never seen a F-550 unless it's a PG&E truck.

He announces the makes and models of trucks he sees as we drive around every day. I thought this was solely to irritate his brothers. But he noticed a pattern that no one else in our family did.

I guess this means that he is a perfectly normal boy who is much more interested in trucks than learning how to spell. And I'm a perfectly normal mom who is much more interested in him learning how to spell than checking out Ford trucks.

While I am confident that he will learn to spell eventually, I know he is not so optimistic about me. I'm pretty sure he knows I am never going to be very good at identifying trucks.

Maybe painting his spelling words on the truck would help?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Age Homework

Gone are the days when homework was sitting down and reading a boring science book to learn about inertia. At least at my boys' school. But this was a first: an assignment to make a video. My 5th grade son had to learn about inertia, demonstrate how it works, and then try to articulate what he learned. A much richer learning experience than simply reading a book. And what did I have to do? Dig out the video camera, film him, transfer the video to my computer, edit it, and then (for fun) figure out how to post it on Youtube. We both learned something and it was a fun project. But we didn't have anything to eat for dinner that night because I was doing my homework!

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Sunday, November 9, 2008


The mohawk is gone. My middle son now has a nohawk.

Noticing that he has lost interest in styling it, I asked at dinner if it was time to buzz it off.

"Yeah, I think so," he said.

My husband pounced on this moment with decisive action. Within minutes the two of them were outside in the cold and dark and the mohawk was no more.

I must admit I will not miss it.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Adolescence is Here

OK adolescence has probably been here for a while. But a visible sign of it has appeared.

The pimple.

And it's friend, another pimple.

All of a sudden, my one-month-away-from-twelve-years-old son looks like a teenager.

And the really unfair part is that I have a pimple too. It's not from adolescence but from 40-something hormone changes. However, I don't feel like I have to suffer through acne again in my life so I got myself to the dermatologist. There are great treatments for acne and damn it I'm not going to put up with pimples vying for space with graceful aging.

As we know, independently performed personal hygiene is not the adolescent boy's strong point. But this is the very first step in the treatment of acne. We have to try it before we go for medical intervention. So he is going to have to wash his face morning and night with cleanser. To him, this is an almost impossible imposition on his time, and a hassle too. And too taxing on his hormone-deranged memory. So this means I will be reminding him twice a day to wash his face.

Now I really feel like the nagging mother of a teenager. Ick.

The other interesting point is that my son is not at all concerned about the appearance of pimples on his nose and chin. He really doesn't care. Could this be a boy's lack of concern or obsession about his appearance? Because when I started getting pimples at his age, I FREAKED OUT. I hid in the bathroom and tried to arrange my hair to cover my face. I felt that everyone stared at the pimples. I angrily picked at them until they turned into something less like a pimple and more like a scab.

My memories of adolescence are something I don't visit very often, as it was not my favorite time in life. It was an uncomfortable rollercoaster of a time that was necessary to endure. But now there is a very obvious symbol of the changes occurring attached to my son's face. Every time I see that pimple, some memory of my adolescence surfaces and I shudder. I really hope what my friends tell me is true, that boys have an easier, less turbulent journey through these changes. I also feel a little sadness that the smooth soft skin of my little boy is gone. It has been replaced by bumps and hair, bruises, scrapes, blisters and sweat.

At least I don't have that particular look of dazed concern, sheepish confusion and heightened frustration that seems to be more common on the faces of my friends with daughters.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Why I Hate Halloween II

Once again, Halloween is not my favorite holiday.

This year's take: 31 pounds of candy.
And there is nothing cute about these costumes. And the trip to the Halloween superstore was horrible; there should restrictions on the aisles that kids can go down. I don't enjoy laughing with my eight year old over the snake charmer costume which would be perfectly fantastic for a fraternity party. Just imagine the reaction if he got his way and wore it to school. I'm pretty certain his snake is too small to be charmed, but the phone call home would be very entertaining. Uh no.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Two Notes on Dinner

How to get three boys to eat a whole head of kale?
Cook it with bacon.

Quote from my youngest at the table tonight?
"Every man has a passion."

Dinners like this make me think it would be very funny to record it on video and put it on YouTube. Don't think I won't do it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


The word smug has been in my mind the last few days.

Last night as my husband and I are leaving the house, my youngest son says the following to us.

“Oh you are going to the meeting at school? The one about sex? Of course I know what sex is. (sigh) Mom. Sex is how you make a baby,” my eight year old said smugly.

It is in fact the time of year where the school my boys attend has a sexuality educator come and talk to students in 5th through 8th grade. My youngest is in 3rd grade. The sex educator doesn’t talk to him, and we haven’t had the talk with him yet. But apparently, he knows it all.

“So how do you know all this?”

“My brothers,” he said smugly.

His brothers, sitting in the same room, become intensely interested in their fingernails.

Just three days ago, I was with a group of women who also have third graders. One of them also has a son who went through the sex ed last year with my oldest son. She was lamenting how her older son had taken the information he so newly acquired and immediately told his younger brother everything.

“Well, I made it very clear that my older boys were not to share any of the sex education information with their younger brother. It’s our job as parents to talk to him about this, not theirs,” I said smugly.

I don't like to be smug. Sometimes I can’t help myself, but it always backfires. Somehow I always get knocked back down to earth. I just hate when it’s my own kid.


A few days ago I took my boys shopping with me at Costco. To maximize the chances of a fun positive experience, I got them a snack from the food area before we went in, and I told them we were only there to buy food, not any extras this time.

We did have a pleasant time, cruising the isles efficiently, stopping for samples when available, discussing the pros and cons of sliced or unsliced packages of cheese. I reminded my oldest son to be on the lookout for things he might like to have as after-school snacks, which are usually like a meal at our house.

Walking through the frozen isle, he announced that he found it. "Mom, a perfect snack! Cornish game hens!" I saw the heads of several customers turn curiously in the direction of my three blond boys in school uniforms peering through the glass doors at the little frozen hens. "No Cornish game hens as a snack until you are a teenager" I told him. There were a few chuckles.

I am not chuckling. When I told a friend about this, she suggested I could have a spit in the back yard and cook the hens on it for snack every day. Yeah, this is funny, but also probably not a bad idea. I could cook all kinds of things on a spit back there. "Mom, what's for snack today?" "I don't know, go check what's cooking on the spit today. Oh, that's right, I'm cooking a side of beef. Go carve some off but save enough for dinner!"

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Destination Foil Stew

It started with all the talk about Foil Stew and how it is the best meal ever invented. Add a desire to get away to a tropical destination. Mix in economic crisis. Fold in Thursday and Friday off from school. Cook with the desire (by my middle son) to use a pocket knife.

I know, this is a very complicated recipe, and was I surprised by what it produced: a camping trip with my three boys. I know. You are surprised too. I'm not known for my tendency to jump at opportunities to go on camping trips. I like my drinks brought to me with little umbrellas, and fresh towels every day when I go on a vacation. I knew that wasn't going to happen, so I had to dig around a bit in my memory to those fun camping trips with my family when I was a little girl. I had to search around for that sense of adventure. I had to reassure myself that I'd be close to home and it was only one night. I had to come to terms with a sleeping bag instead of high-thread-count sheets.

When I told the boys what we were going to do, they were so excited that I thought for a second I accidently told them we were going to a five-star hotel on the Cote d' Azure. Actually, it was almost ridiculous how excited they were.

Then the first question: "What are we going to eat?!" This was not as much a question as it was an enthusiastic statement. No lobster dinner on this trip. No, we were going to have Foil Stew, which according to my boys is the best meal ever invented. They first had it at camp during the summer when they spent the night out in the woods. They have waxed poetic about it ever since. It has grown to almost mystical proportions.

Armed with a shopping list, I hit the store. Then I packed up the propane stove (still in the box), the camping pots (still in box), the flashlights, a lighter, backpacks loaded with trail mix and flat sandwiches (see Sept 2007 post titled French Women, Teenage Boys, and a Flat Sandwich), sleeping bags, and a copy of my online reservation for a tent-cabin, and we hit the road. Our destination, Big Basin State Park, was pretty close, but it takes a while to get there as the road is very narrow and twisty. We quickly lost cell phone coverage, and therefore contact with my husband who was hoping to monitor the trip from the safety of his office.

We arrived at our cabin, which was set in a beautiful grove of redwoods so tall we couldn't see the tops. It was nicer than I expected, a cozy little cabin with two double beds, a tiny wood stove, and a table. It even had a broom! It was a little dark in the cabin, and I couldn't find the light switch until I remembered there wasn't one. We left most of our stuff in the car, put on our backpacks, consulted the trail map, and set out for a hike. Most of our discussion at first centered around our disappointment at not being able to have a campfire. When we checked in, the ranger told us that there was a red-flag warning, or high risk for forest fire, so no open fires. He did point out we could use the wood stove in our cabin, which I would later be grateful for.

On the trail in Big Basin State Park

We hiked for about four hours, which I figured would guarantee that the foil stew would taste as good to all of us as promised. As we walked, and talked, I took some pictures of the boys with my camera. The boys had a camera too, and they took hundreds of pictures. Pictures of rocks, trees, leaves, the sky, and sometimes their shoes. I love digital cameras, as I am old enough to remember wasting film to take this many pictures, then spending a fortune to develop the pictures to see how they turned out. The boys have no concept of this, happily taking as many pictures as the SD card allows.

On the way back to our campsite, I started getting worried that it was getting dark sooner than I expected. With the very tall trees and mountainous terrain, the light was fading fast. After a relaxing day I felt a sense of urgency. We had to get started on dinner! I got everything out and got everyone to work. One boy peeled carrots, one cut up potatoes, one opened the can of tomato sauce. At this point I realized we better get the fire started in the stove in the cabin while we could still see. I went to light the fire and realized I forgot any kindling or paper to get the fire going with. I also realized I had one lighter and I was not sure how much fluid was in it. Hmm . . rookie mistakes. OK, hold that thought, I've got to get the stove lit. I took it out of the box, read the directions quickly, hooked up the propane, and it worked just great. Whew. Back to the fire which of course went out. I put the directions to the stove in, and then went into the car and gathered all the paper I could find (old mail, etc) and put that in the stove. We lit it and it looked like it was going to work. We couldn't watch it though because suddenly we had visitors to our campsite. A family of raccoons came to visit; a mom, dad, and baby. "Oh how cute!" the boys exclaimed. Then the raccoons got a little too close to the food, and we had to take my youngest off of his duties and appoint him to Raccoon Patrol. He quickly took this job much too seriously, yelling, wielding a stick, growling, and lunging after the raccoons. They would disappear and we would go back to preparing our meal and trying to light the fire, only to have to raccoon family try from another angle to taste our food. Someone would yell "Raccoon patrol!" and my youngest would race off brandishing a stick, yelling and chasing them off into the almost dark woods. I had to keep yelling "Get back here!" although I was pretty sure the raccoons knew these woods better than he and they were safe from his stick. I checked the chimney and saw smoke coming out. Our fire was lit in the stove! Back to getting all the food in our pot. We had to make the foil bowls to eat them out of too. I went in to check on the fire. It was out again.

Hmm. I am resourceful, I can figure this out. Ah ha! We brought a whole roll of paper towels! The foil stew was bubbling away on the stove, so I put all the rest of the food in the car, locked it (raccoons are smart and might be able to open the door I thought), and had everyone making balls out of the paper towels. We had a lot of discussion about how to place the wood, where to put the paper towels, if the door to the stove should be open or closed. We also had to have a flashlight-holder since we could no longer see what we were doing in the cabin. This time, the wood really caught and the fire was going. The cabin started to heat up nicely, but didn't seem necessary because we were all running around so much that no one was cold. Since we had a fire going, I went ahead with the appetizer. We were all starving. I went back to the car to get the food and had a my heart stopped. The car was locked! Where was the key?? We are miles from the ranger station, my cell phone doesn't work here, its getting dark, we are going to starve and freeze! Oh here is the key in my pocket.

The cheese s'mores on crackers were really really good. We put chunks of fresh mozzarella on skewers, cooked over the fire until melty, then put it on a cracker. Then we made our foil bowls for the stew. My middle son made a bowl the size of a mixing bowl. We were ready to eat, but discovered the only way we had to get the bubbling stew from the pot was a teaspoon. No problem, my middle son who loves to build things out of foil made a ladle. It worked perfectly. We sat down to foil stew that truly was delicious.

After we finished our dinner, I pondered how to clean the dishes. We could throw the foil bowls away but the silverware and pot were dirty. Flashlight in hand, we hiked to the water spigot and attempted to clean the dishes. We got wet from the spray, the flashlight-holder didn't stay focused, and I would discover in the morning that the cold water and soap did nothing for the grease on the dishes.

The real reason to go camping

Back in our cozy little tent cabin, we added more wood to the fire, and I started getting the marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers ready. No camping trip would be complete without s'mores. We ate our fill. I decided that hiking back to the bathrooms to brush our teeth was too much trouble at this point, so we got ready for bed. Once in our sleeping bags, we all got our books out to read. My youngest, not a big reader, was really tired anyway. He asked if he could just go to sleep. I sneaked a peek at my watch and was shocked to see that it was only 7:55 pm. I thought it was much later. I told him he could go to sleep and he promptly did so, along with my middle son. My oldest son and I read for about a half hour until we could no longer keep our eyes open, so we went to sleep too. I expected we would all wake up at 5:00 am anyway.

But no. At 7:00 am I could no longer stand it, I had to get out of my sleeping bag and pee in the woods. It was so quite that I think the sound of running water woke everyone up. It was cold and we had used up all our wood, so we put on all our clothes and went about making hot chocolate and breakfast. No raccoon visitors for breakfast. They hadn't broken into the car either. I think they had enough of being chased by a maniac with a stick. After breakfast we cleaned up and the boys all worked on the bow and arrow they started the night before. I was surprised to see how beautiful it turned out, and even more surprised to see them shoot an arrow, fashioned from a sharpened stick, right over the campsite and the car. I felt that maybe we really could survive in the wild if we had to, I think I have a few hunters on my hands here. When my middle son started to aim for a bird, I told him if he killed it he would have to eat it raw. I figured that was more effective than telling him we were in a State Park and he could not touch any wildlife. Later when we got home, this bow would be used to shoot one of the homemade arrows in the direction of the garage, where the sharp arrow would lodge into the wood siding. Ooops.

The bow was whittled carefully by pocketknife and precisely notched for the string. It is dark in this photo because the sun did not reach us very early in the tall redwoods.

We made our lunch, packed up and drove over the ranger station. From there we set out to explore and hike for another four hours, two and a half of which was a series of switchbacks up a mountain to a spectacular view toward the ocean. We did not see another person until we were almost back to the ranger station. This did seem a little eerie to me when I realized I had no cell phone coverage and if someone got hurt it would be interesting to get back for help. I stopped the boys and explained that I would not tolerate any horseplay on the trail, and why, and it worked quite well. Then I relaxed and enjoyed being unplugged, in nature, with my boys all to myslef. They absolutely loved it too.

The top of Buzzard's Roost

It was a great trip. It was not a tropical vacation, and I was utterly exhausted by the time we returned home at 5:00 pm on Friday, but we had an adventure that I'm sure none of us will forget.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Economic Crisis

"Mom, what does bankruptcy mean?"
"Mom, how does the stock market work? What makes it go up and down?"
"Mom, what does financial crisis mean?"
"Mom, can I get the Air Jordan basketball shoes?"

It means you are out of money, experts don't even know what makes the stock market act the way it does, and the financial crisis means we are going to turn off the news. And no, you can't have the $150 Air Jordan basketball shoes.

Yes, our family has been hit by the financial crisis, and it feels like a blow to the stomach that knocks the wind out of you. It means uncertainty and change and it's very stressful. And it's hard not to pass that stress on to the kids. Sure they can help out with some things: I've told them that we are trying to save money and they are surprisingly helpful on that front. Penny-pinching is admittedly something new to us. But pinching we are, pinching we have to do, and the kids mostly seem to see it as a challenge. We are eating out much less, buying only the necessities, forgoing the membership to the expensive gym, renting out our second home. We stay home and watch a Netflix instead of going on vacation. These things are really not huge sacrifices. We are not going as far as, for example, hanging our laundry to dry, or baking all our own bread at home, or living in our car. But I am making and drinking my coffee at home rather than at Starbucks now.

I know many people have much more serious problems due to the financial crisis. I hear it from friends, see it on the news. The instability is scary. But the kids understand less than I do about the whole thing, and there is no point in worrying so much about things beyond our control, so we have cut down media consumption to even lower levels than we normally do this close to an election. It's all bad news and nasty political ads anyway.

It's an extraordinary time and I look forward to talking to my kids about it. I look forward to talking to them about it in about ten years, telling them it was tough but everything turned out all right.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Back to School Taken to New Height

Today was the first day of school for my boys. Summer is over, grocery store trips with all three boys are done for a good while, early bed times are back.

I now have a 3rd grader, 5th grader and 6th grader, all at the same school, which goes to 8th grade. To my eyes, the kindergartners look impossibly tiny, and the 8th graders don't look so big anymore. A sign my children are getting older.

My 5th grader went to school with his mohawk today. He went with the knowledge that it probably won't be OK with the administration at his private school. Probably, but not certainly. Enough of an ambiguity that, with a little encouragement, he has decided to test it. This little streak of rebellion surprises me. I would expect it more from my 3rd grader. I figure that a rebellious haircut is a completely harmless and perfectly acceptable way to be rebellious. The rest of his body is clad in a pristine navy blue and white uniform for goodness sake.

He was a little nervous and didn't want to get out of the car at first this morning, realizing he was about to get a whole lot of attention. He did get a lot of attention, and he said "it was awesome and fun to be un-normal." This is a stand-out student and athlete, feeling he needs to stand out in yet another way. I suppose it is quite clear that he is a middle child. Although he cannot articulate it, I know this is in part a reaction to his older brother going to CTY camp this summer. It is also a way for him to let everyone at school know he is different from his brother in some significant way.

I think the message was received loud and clear.

From his report, there was a little bit of controversy today from both fellow students, and teachers. Nearly everyone commented. One teacher told him quite sternly that she didn't think it would fly, and another teacher nearby made a point to say it looked cool and she really liked it. Some were surprised or didn't recognize him at first. The head of the school asked him if he could wear it down, without spiking it up (hmmmmm . . .). You see, my son is first to point out that the guidebook on uniforms and dress code states no makeup or unnaturally dyed hair allowed (thank goodness this does not apply to parents). But there is nothing stating which hairstyles are acceptable and which are not. Is his hair really so different from the long floppy hair-in-the-eyes style of some of his friends, or the massive curly bouncy blond afro an eighth grade boy wore last year? Not so much. In my opinion anyway.

My son reported that the head of the upper school, the person he thinks has the power and/or responsibility to bless or condemn mohawks at school, didn't say anything.

So we wait to hear . . . if anything . . . from the school. It will be interesting. Of course we have discussed that if the school asks him to cut it off, we will comply. We are not out to protest the pledge of allegiance or defend the first amendment here. It is just hair.

I get to be the "cool mom" and not the bad guy this time. Kinda fun.

It could be worse!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tough Question 5

"Mom, do cigarette boats take diesel gas or regular plain gas?"

Why my eight year old would think I have the answer to this question is beyond me.

The fact that he thinks I could have the answer to this question is pretty cool.

I was curious to know why these boats are called cigarette boats. They don't much look like a cigarette. A quick check on Wikipedia and I discovered these boats were used at first to smuggle cigarettes into Canada and therefore derived their nick name as the "cigarette boat." Wikipedia also states that apart from the racing market, most buyers of these boats purchase them for the mystique; the combination of the racing and smuggling connections, plus the immense power, high top speeds, and sleek shape make these boats popular. My son likes them because they look cool and the name cigarette boat makes them seem just a little bit bad.

Want to know what a cigarette boat looks like? Want to impress your eight year old son with how cool you are? Show him this.

I still don't know what kind of fuel these boats use.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Chestertown to Annapolis in Four Hours

The drive was supposed to take one hour. But a big rig drove over the side of the Chesapeake bridge, closing it down and stranding us and many many other people who desired to cross it.

We survived on one package of Skittles dolled out as fairly as my ten-year-old could bring himself to do.

We heard the Kid Rock song All Summer Long on the radio about ten times.

The most exciting part of our day was experiencing a thunderstorm in Annapolis. First it got cloudy, then the wind came up a bit. Next we heard the thunder, then saw a dramatic lightening strike in the afternoon sky. Soon after, an astonishing amount of hail and rain fell so fast that we didn't have time to run, and I mean RUN, to shelter before we were completely soaked.

Then we did what my boys and husband would call shopping, but I call speed walking past lots of shops that may or may not be open if we were moving slow enough to see the signs in the windows. While eating ice cream.

We are back in the room, trying vainly to shush three crazy kids up too late and hyped up on Olympics competition. I better go intervene before someone gets tied up with bedsheets and lowered out the window.

3 Boys Perform Olympics in Hotel Room

Having three boys in a hotel room, even a fairly large suite room, is just not a good idea.

They are loud. The walls are thin.

The beds are two perfectly placed trampolines. Or they are the perfect ring for the wrestling game called bullfighting.

The pillows are to test if the bedside lamps are attached to the wall or desk. Or not.

Walking from suitcase to bed means stepping on a crispy sock or tripping over one of the six shoes strewn over the floor.

The sound of punches landing on various body parts fills the air.

There is no escape from the farts, burps and the odors they produce.

The mirror is to do a silly dance in your underwear.

The last person to shower has to use a wet towel because we have forgotten to call and request a fifth one.

There is a place for nothing and nothing is in it's place.

We all get to listen to a great rendition of Life is A Highway by my eight year old who sings in the shower.

Life is a highway
I wanna ride it all night long
If you're going my way
I wanna drive it all night long

He is a great singer but usually forgets that a shower is to use shampoo and soap.

But there are lots of giggles and a lot of togetherness. And there is usually a bathroom off the lobby in which only women are allowed.

Ecology and the Olympics

We picked up my oldest son two days ago from his camp in Chestertown MD where for three weeks he studied the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay. We decided to stay in the area for a couple days so he could show us some of the places and things he visited and studied. He makes an excellent teacher and tour guide, telling anyone who will listen (mostly me) about substrate and turbidity and mummichogs.

A mummichog

So we have had a strange combination of going out and about touring around and then watching the Olympics in our hotel room.

The first day we went to the Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge to check it out. We were literally the only people there. My son guided us down an unmarked gravel road and then to a hidden trail to get right out on the shore. All three boys stripped down to their underwear and my oldest demonstrated how astoundingly shallow the water is way WAY out there. They all walked so far out they were little specks. It made me a little nervous, but the water wasn't even up to their waist.

Soon enough they headed back in, and my middle son was complaining that something really painful and itchy was on his back. He turned around and his back was very very red. Oh no, an allergic reaction to something. He said something jumped on his back. I grabbed the field guide we brought with us and flipped through it to find the most likely culprit: a jellyfish. Hmmm, I had no idea there were jellyfish out there. Duh. Come to find out they are the common nemesis of anyone swimming in the Bay. There was no cell phone coverage, no way to search for treatment online, so we headed back to the car and drove to the drugstore we had seen on our drive out there. By the time we got to the drugstore, I had read online about how painful jellyfish stings are (like multiple bee stings) and some treatment options. I went in to talk to the pharmacist, who was very helpful. I spent $3.89 on a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and some benzocaine ointment, which I applied to my son's back in the parking lot. It worked just great, his painful welts were gone by the next morning.

A jellyfish found in large numbers in the Chesapeake Bay right now.

He wasn't too keen on going back in the water after that.

The next day, after a delightful lunch at the Fish Whistle in Chestertown with my son's teacher and TA from his class, we headed to St. Michael's and the Maritime Museum there. My son was there on a field trip and he thought we would all enjoy it. He was right, it was a great museum. We signed up for an extra excursion through the museum, a two hour sail on the bay on an old skipjack piloted by a waterman who was very knowledgeable about the bay and had a lot of great stories to tell. We brought our purchases from the farmer's market: homemade foccacia bread, handmade cheese, peaches and enormous blackberries, plus a bottle of wine we purchased at a nearby restaurant, and had wonderful time just listening to Captain Farley talk.

This area is a place I think I could live. But then I see the signs along the road: snow evacuation route. Then I hear the river can get nine-inch-thick ice on it. Then I see what I think is a bird but is really an insect. Then I come to my senses.

It's back to the hotel to watch Olympics until my husband and I are almost asleep and have just enough energy to reach over and turn off the light. The boys protest, wrestle and giggle for a couple minutes, and fall sound asleep.

I forgot the cable to download pictures from my son's camera, so I will update the post with pictures later.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Summer of Hair, or Lack Thereof

This summer has marked a new trend in hairstyles for my family.

It started with my youngest wanting a buzz cut. For some reason I have resisted this particular hairstyle for my boys with their gorgeous blond hair. When I got the phone call from my youngest, calling on dad's cell phone from the haircut place, to ask my permission for a buzz cut, I had mixed emotions. On one hand, he has the nicest hair, why cut it off and look bald? On the other hand, why not let him get the hairstyle he wants, it will grow back? I gave my permission and in return a fuzzy little chick came home in place of the tousled-hair boy I once knew.

Then, more recently, my middle son saw one of his best friends from school. This friend has had a longer, rumpled, signature head of hair since we've known him. So we almost didn't recognize him with a buzz cut. And he declares to my son, "I love it." I can see the wheels start to turn in my son's mind immediately.

I have a very hard time getting my middle son good haircuts, his hair is fine and thin and difficult to cut well. I already have one son with no hair. So a few days later, I ask if he might want a buzz cut too.

I don't know where the idea for the mohawk came from.

He thinks it is AWESOME.

We are now negotiating whether or not it will still be in place when school starts.

So now I am thinking of a change in my hairstyle. Nothing like a mohawk or tri-hawk, but maybe a color change so my hair is the same color as my boys' when they still had hair.

Life with Two for Three

As I am packing for our trip to return to the east coast to pick up my oldest from the CTY program, I've been reflecting on how the last three weeks have been different. I've missed my son, of course. I miss his companionship, his opinions, his chatty commentary, his calm in the sometimes-storm of his brothers. Some of the things that drive me crazy about him are the things I miss.

However, I have appreciated the time with my middle and youngest sons too. Having one less child does mean you have a little more time for the others; to really listen, appreciate, and focus. I have three different opinions to deal with on every topic (mine and my two sons) instead of four. Decisions are easier, like what to have for lunch, what game to play, where to go on a bike ride. The wrestling is more fairly matched and somehow calmer, and there is less arguing and fighting with two instead of three. There is less laundry and a little less food packed into the refrigerator. When we go out to eat, we can sit at a regular table for four instead of waiting for rearranging tables or the one table to hold a larger party.

While we all miss my oldest and are looking forward to seeing him, I know in my heart that some part of both my younger boys will miss having that little extra helping of mom and dad. My middle son has enjoyed playing the role of oldest instead of middle. He has grown up a bit, separate from his best friend and brother for the first time. He sees himself in a new light, a more responsible and independent light, and so do I.

I knew this summer would be a time of big growth for my oldest. The fact that there has been such growth in my younger sons has surprised me though. It reminds me that a pack of three boys close together in age cannot be treated as a pack, they are three very distinct personalities and each have different needs. As they grow more independent, it is an opportunity to really spend some one-on-one time with each, the kind of time that has frankly been pretty rare in our family until this point.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Mom, Do My Nails!

We have a nail bitter in our family. My middle son, now ten years old, has been biting his nails for a while. His nails and finger tips always look clean, but it is because they are always in his mouth. We've tried explaining how unsanitary it it to always put your fingers in your mouth, we've tried badgering and bugging him every time he puts a finger up to chew on it, we've tried bribery with a banana split, we've tried just ignoring it. Nothing has really worked and the habit is as bad as ever.

Until now.

I have hit on the perfect combination of motivation and nail polish.

First of all, he now wants to stop biting. Badly. There is a pair of fins for boggieboarding at stake. And he is just ready to get rid of the habit.

But this is not quite enough for him to quit. So I found Bite No More by SuperNail, which claims right on the package nothing less than 100% satisfaction to stop nail biting. It is a clear polish that is applied several times a day and tastes bad.

I showed him the polish and to my surprise he was completely willing to try it. So I painted his nails. Then we sat down to watch a movie, a time when he usually bites. Watching James Bond in an intense car chase, his hand rose to his mouth and his teeth came in contact with the nail. ACKK!! ICKK!! It tastes terrible!!

It worked! Every time he starts to bring his hand up, he remembers the terrible taste and stops himself.

I haven't quite gotten used to doing his nails several times a day. If I forget, he will remind me, "Mom! Do my nails!" It's a small price to pay for the nudge he needs to quit biting. Plus, his nails look nice and shiny, better than mine do.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Update from Chestertown

I heard from my son yesterday. He told me all about how he learned to take water samples and test them, and how they found phosphate traces probably from fertilizers that had washed into Chesapeake Bay from agricultural land in the watershed. He is also getting to know more of the indigenous species.

Good. He's excited about what he is learning.

He also told me how his room is the "party room" because he has a radio and the other kids are coming in to listen to music.

Good and bad. Making friends is great, but having the "party room" could have different implications in a few years.

Nudge and StickK

I found this hot coffee jacket at the Washington DC airport the morning I left to come home. I think it is meant to discourage people from smoking a cigarette with their cup of coffee but it seems to me that the no smoking signs and rules in the airport already do that. What this coffee jacket does is remind those who do smoke that they really want a cigarette and they can’t have one. It is an unusual and cruel sort of torture. The coffee jacket (or should it be called a smoking jacket?) is probably a well-intentioned attempt at a nudge that backfires.

I am currently reading the book Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. The book is subtitled Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, but it is actually an economics book. More precisely, it is about the psychological aspects of economics, including choice and decision-making. It may sound like a dry read compared to, say, People Magazine, on a long flight, but it really is very interesting. Click here to see a short video by one of the authors explaining what the book is about.

A nudge is a little push, suggestion, or opportunity to make a choice that is beneficial. It can be as simple as putting fruit at eye level and the junk food on the bottom shelf. This can have some interesting applications in parenting, especially as kids get closer to teenage years and can benefit from a libertarian paternalism (a theory of government supported by the authors) kind of parenting. Now I realize that this term is most often used in a political sense, but can we draw some similarities between forms of government and forms of parenting? If you use nudges skillfully as a parent, your child gets more practice in making decisions that are good for them without restricting their freedom. For example, could re-merchandising the kitchen to make it easier for kids to find healthy snacks make a difference in what they eat?

Toward the end of the book, the authors offer several mininudges which I find quite interesting. They are to promote charitable giving, simplifying tax returns, quitting smoking and gambling, staying healthy, stopping teenage pregnancy, remembering to change the filter on your air conditioner, stopping nail biting and alcoholism, and stopping uncivil emails. However, one of the most intriguing nudges to me is the website, a website which allows you to make a commitment and then have either financial or nonfinancial consequences if the commitment is not fulfilled. The website was started by, you guessed it, an Economics professor! I plan to use this website as soon as I can figure out which commitment I want to stick to that badly.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Left on the Right Coast

Goodbye, see you in three weeks!

Yes, I left my son on the right coast today. The actual goodbye was unceremonial and mercifully short, which I'm sure was designed by the leaders of the program to lessen the pain for the kids, and maybe the parents too. I held it together pretty well as I said goodbye, telling him to have a great time, but then I went straight to my car with my head down and a few tears in my eyes. Or was that sweat? Hard to tell.

Moving him into a dorm room brought back a flood of memories for me, back to when I moved into my own dorm room. However, I was not eleven, I was eighteen. It was very strange. I felt like I was dropping him off for college, except when I really drop him off for college I don't think I will make his bed for him. But in addition to a very interesting and academic class he is taking, he will have a taste of the college experience; getting along with a roommate, living in a dorm, eating in the campus cafeteria, sharing a communal bathroom down the hall, having an RA living a few doors down, and keeping his room either neat or pigsty, whatever his fancy. If he takes after one of the RAs on the floor, it will certainly be pigsty-style, but I don't care because when I pick him up it will all be packed in his suitcase. Unless he takes a picture, I will never know.

My son's dorm room right after moving in while it is still neat

An RA's room on the same floor. Note lots of clothes on the floor. He better clean this up if a girl ever comes to visit.

My son's roommate. He was very worried about who his roommate would be, but I think these two will get along just fine.

Somewhat apprehensively, I then embarked on the drive back to DC without my human GPS, only a fly for company. Yes a fly. A fly that came into the car and didn't want to leave. And once the AC was keeping up with the temperature outside, I wasn't about to roll down the window. So I subjected it to my singing along with the radio and it stopped visiting the front seat. I'm proud to say that I successfully made my way back to the Washington DC National Airport, a pretty confusing series of freeway transfers, without a wrong turn.

My son chilling on his dorm bed, probably the only time it will be made. Hey, I'm realistic.

Waiting for the hotel shuttle, I discover how hot it really is here right now. So hot that after about ten minutes outside, I have rivers of sweat running down my legs. Pretty gross. I hope know one notices, then I see men in suits who are sweating profusely and then I know I don't look as stupid as they do.

What a big day for me. So now I am sitting in the hotel bar in DC, working on my blog, drinking an ice cold glass of pinot grigio and half listening to the gay bartender talking to his parents sitting at the bar, as they discuss exactly how you plug a DVD player into the TV. Could they PLEASE come up with some more interesting conversation? I know they are capable. Maybe after they finish the scotch or whiskey or whatever they are drinking.

I have an early flight in the morning, and I have the evening to myself. Sitting in a hotel room by myself sounds good in theory but it is not as interesting as sitting in this bar. And the bar is really dead except for the bartender's parents, so that's not saying much. Oh bummer, the parents just left. If someone mildly interesting doesn't walk in soon, I will be forced to go to my room and watch CSI.

Washington DC to Chestertown Maryland

Sitting near the harbor in Annapolis

Fish and Chips at Pusser's in Annapolis

A yacht with a great name in the Annapolis harbor

Thank god for the human GPS qualities of my oldest son, and the actual GPS that we rented with our car. We only took two wrong turns (or missed freeway connections) getting out of DC. We stopped in Annapolis for lunch at a fun restaurant right on the harbor. We crossed the Chesapeake Bay bridge (not the longest one, but still plenty long). We watched the country side turn into rolling green agricultural land with beautiful stately houses.

We found our hotel and then had to go out and purchase the items we could not bring with us: comforter, lamp, etc. I was looking for a Target, which is where I would have gone at home, but instead found Rose's, an incredibly inexpensive place where I bought everything we needed for $47. It would have cost at least $150 at home.

Then, on a recommendation from the woman at the front desk, we drove to Rock Hall, a small town nearby with a restaurant on the water called Waterman's. It was super fun, sitting outside, listening to a great live band, watching people dance and eat mounds of crab. My son had ribs and I had the local fresh flounder, all excellent food. We will certainly go back there sometime.

Well, now it is time to go and register for camp. When I say goodbye to my son I will be driving back to DC (without my human GPS!) to head home. It is both exciting and sad at the same time.

Getting into the crabby spirit in Maryland

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Trip to the East Coast

My oldest son and I are on the East Coast, where he will be going to camp for three weeks. I am here to drop him off, and then I will be going home and coming back to pick him up in August.

We have had an adventurous couple of days together, ones I will always remember. We flew into Washington DC last Thursday, arriving very late at night. Early the next morning we explored a bit of Crystal City, near the airport and very close to our hotel, to find some breakfast. What we found was a lot of men . . . men in fatigues, all manner of military uniforms, and plenty of other men in suits & ties. I have never felt I stood out so much as a tourist as I did that morning with my pink tshirt, biking capris, running shoes, and son in tow. We were near the Pentagon, but I never expected to feel SO out of place near all this official and very serious government business going on around. It is my country after all, but it did feel slightly foreign.

Standing out as tourists in a big way at Starbucks in Washington DC

I mentioned this out-of-place feeling to a friend who lived and worked in the DC area until 15 years ago. He said when he left DC and landed in Texas in his blue pinstripe suit, he realized he didn't fit in there and had a feeling like he had just gotten out of the hospital. That really made me laugh.

After breakfast we made our first foray into the Metro to make our way to where we were meeting a tour. I told my son that once he learned how to use a metro system, he could get around any metro in any other city. We spent time looking at the machines to buy tickets, we studied the maps, I taught him how to avoid getting on a train going the wrong direction (been there, done that), how to get on and off the trains, how to hold on to your ticket so you could get out of the metro. There is a lot to learn. He was completely fascinated by the entire process and asked why we don't have such a system in California. Good question.

Studying the metro map

We made it to meet up with our tour just in time. I decided that a three-hour tour on bikes run by Bike and Roll would be just the thing for us. We had a delightful and knowledge guide, Sara, who we followed all around the National Mall and various capital sites and monuments. We learned lots of interesting facts and made good time compared to the throngs of hot sweaty people we were weaving around on the sidewalks. Of course we were hot and sweaty too. The heat and humidity are definitely something to get used to.

My son's favorite parts of the tour were seeing the White House with the snipers on the top, and riding through some sprinklers along the way. I went through the sprinklers too.

Supreme Court Building

We took this picture making sure you could see the snipers. See them?

Afterwards, we went to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History where we were quickly overwhelmed by the mass of people, the very untidy bathrooms, and the sheer volume of displays, everything from the Hope Diamond to dinosaur skeletons to meteors to insect displays. While we enjoyed the air conditioning, we were soon just wandering through, not really focusing on anything. Although we wanted to check out the Air and Space Museum too, it was just too much. We had to go back to the hotel, take a dip in the pool to cool off, and get ready to meet some friends for dinner. Much to my son's delight, this included a long metro ride to the other side of the city.

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where you can take pictures of anything, any time. Weird.

Our friends drove us back to our hotel late that night, and even treated us to a midnight visit to the Jefferson Memorial on the way. Who knew, the monuments are open late at night, are apparently very safe, much less crowded than during the day, and slightly cooler too. I think this is certainly the way to see them at this time of year.

As we flopped into bed, I felt like we got a lot out of our one whole day in Washington DC.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008

What a Scream!

This last weekend was one I look forward to every summer: I kick out all the males in my house and a bunch of my good girlfriends come over for a night of fun and relaxation. We had a dinner of gourmet appetizers, some apricot daiquiris, and some wine. Then we tried out the Wii game Rockband, which my boys have been playing for about two weeks. We had to call my oldest son twice for tech support just to get it all started. We were terrible, but had a lot of fun laughing at each other. It turns out we have a few good singers in the group but no one who can play guitar or drums. Then, following tradition, we headed out to a local nightspot for some dancing to a live band near the beach. We all got back and went to bed much, much later than we do in normal life, happy knowing we could all sleep in as much as we wanted in the morning.

After lazing around all morning, drinking coffee and eating a little frittata whipped up by Em the Gourmet, we decide to get dressed and go on a walk. I go up to my room, relaxed, feeling good about going out for a little walk with my girlfriends in the fresh ocean air. I'm thinking what route we should take, as I open my closet and pull out the drawer that contains my workout clothes. I reach in to pull out a pair of pants . . .

and something moves.

black eyes looking back at me

I gasp in air, let out the loudest and most heartfelt scream my body has ever produced, and get the hell out of there. My friends are instantly panicked hearing this kind of scream and come running.

I can't speak. I finally get out the word "creature" and then the phrase "in my drawer."

Shannon instantly rises to the challenge of Crisis Management Coordinator. She goes to my room with my sister and they both bravely investigate what I am so freaked out about. She comes back out and announces, "You have a baby possum in your drawer!"


Working together, Shannon and my sister put a cutting board on top of the drawer, pull it out, and take it outside. All seven of us, still in our pajamas, follow them across the street and into the empty lot where Shannon carefully sets the drawer down and takes off the board.

The possum treats us to a good view of it's teeth and gives a little hiss for emphasis. We all back up. People on morning walks cross the street to avoid our motley crowd, apparently not at all curious what we are doing.

The drawer sits there with the workout clothes and the possum, while we all head back to the house and watch from a safe distance. The possum doesn't leave until we eventually dump the drawer out.

I continue to freak out. This is a young possum. Where is the rest of the family? Did it come in alone? How did it get in? I go online to investigate what the poop looks like so I can recognize signs of more creatures inside. Then I read that possum litters have 8 to 14 babies. My god, I think, I have to search the rest of the house! There could be 13 others and a mom INSIDE MY HOUSE! Then I read answers posted on a website in response to a woman asking how to get a possum out of her house. One suggestion is an elaborate homemade trap, another is shooting at the possum with a BB gun any time you see it in the house. Then I learn that they carry fleas that can transmit the plague and sometimes have rabies. That's when I decide I have TOO much information now and put the computer away.

My husband and boys, upon learning of the incident, think it is funny. I am not at all amused by their lack of sympathy and their failure to grasp the very serious nature of the problem at hand. My friends left (probably thankfully) and my family returned. That night when it started getting dark, I announce we are all going on a possum hunt through the house. We all go through the house very carefully and my husband, trying to hide his smirk, plays along. Thanks to my newfound internet knowledge, I find two places where a possum took a poo. I put it in a spotlight with the flashlight. My husband cleans it up after the boys carefully inspect it.

Possum poop

After much investigation and discussion, we decide the possum must have come in through a door that the boys had left ajar several nights ago. I have a feeling that no one dares leave that door open ever again.

We find no other possums. But I didn't sleep well that night, listening for evidence of something creeping around in the dark. In fact, I am listening pretty carefully right now. I think there could certainly be more in the house. My husband thinks I am just being paranoid.

So tonight I will play a little joke on him. I am going to put a small stuffed rat that belongs to one of my boys into my husband's drawer. I wonder what he will do?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Expert Advice

Sisters sometimes ask each other for advice and more often give it even though it was not asked for. I am certainly guilty of this with my sisters. But it was very strange for me when my sister asked me for advice the other day. . . not on usual girl stuff, but on what to do about Athlete's Foot. And I had plenty to tell her about it.

And the other day, I was reading the Sports Illustrated article on the MLB pitcher Tim Lincecum. And I enjoyed the article. This is very strange for me. My usual magazine reading tends more toward Food & Wine, Bon Apetit, Vanity Fair, National Geographic, and Time.

If you told me ten years ago I'd be dishing out advice on Athlete's Foot and reading SI, I would have told you that would only be possible if I had a lobotomy.

You just never know where life is going to take you.

Warning: Teenager Approaching

“Mom, does this look tight?” (Translation: Mom, does this look good?)

I am asked to evaluate my oldest son's look: sunglasses and All Stars baseball hat. Now I know he is not asking if the fit is too snug, but I can’t help it. I tell him, “No, it looks like it fits you just fine, they are not too tight.”

He rolls his eyes, exhales loudly, and walks away.

What happened to my sweet little boy with a large vocabulary that did not include stupid slang expressions?

Like he says when asked a question, “I d.k.” (I don’t know)

There are other signs of change. Unprecedented fighting with his youngest brother. Aggressive behavior. Forgetful behavior. Sassy back talking behavior. All from who used to be the most kind, thoughtful and considerate member of our household.

I have to admit I feel a sense of loss. I miss my son and don’t particularly like this creature that has replaced him. Telling myself it is a phase makes me feel better until I think about how long this phase may last.

I think we picked the perfect time for him to be going away. He is going to a camp on the east coast for three weeks this summer, as part of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth program. He is really excited to be going, and I want to get rid of him.

Oh come on, not really. I will miss him terribly and the separation will be much harder for me than him. But he is ready for the independence and challenge that this program will give him.

I wonder if the kids he will meet at this camp will understand the meaning of the word "tight."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Still Here!

No, I have not moved away to a country with no cell phones or baseball teams.

I thought about it though. I listened to a podcast today from NPR about a woman who lives six months of the year in a fire tower in central California, in a small space in the middle of the forest. A helicopter brings her supplies and cleans out the porta-potty once in a while. She watches for fires and really has no other responsibilities. I had a fleeting fantasy about taking a job like this for a year. Oh wait, I don' think she has a shower. I need at least one shower a day to feel human, so forget that idea.

Much has happened in the last month or so since I have posted a blog entry. The school year is over, the baseball season is over, the All-Star baseball teams are finished, and summer has officially started for me and my family. Last Sunday, we started our summer much later than usual by making our move to the beach, getting away from it all and trying to remember what it is like to have time to sleep in, lay on the couch and read a book, relax on the beach, and not get in a car for an entire day or two.

I feel like I have had to go on a baseball detox program. Just so there is no misunderstanding, I actually enjoy the game of baseball. What I had a hard time with was the business and inflexibility of the schedule of practices and games. It took over not just my boys time, but all of my time as well. Between organizing equipment, uniforms, trying to feed everyone despite being at games or practice during meal times, the constant driving kids to and fro, and having to stick to a strict schedule during the day to make sure everyone is where they need to be, I was completely burnt out. I didn't have time for myself, I didn't have the energy to write although I certainly had plenty of material, I didn't have time to cook, I didn't see my friends or family unless they came to a baseball game. All this and the mandatory working in the snack shack serving junk food to all the baseball players just about put me over the edge. My family has consumed so many cheeseburgers and hot dogs from the various snack shacks in the last few months that we might all need to go on Lipitor.

I am recovering though. We are all getting in the groove of slower days, which I am relishing. We are eating better. And I am becoming a less stressed and much nicer person.

Is it possible to have three boys playing in Little League and not go nuts? It must be, I see other moms doing it. There is one mom I know that makes me feel like I just don't have my game together. She has three boys, all playing Little League AND competitive soccer at the same time, she comes to every game with a huge supply of snacks and anything her kids (or mine) ask for, she pulls out of her bag. She scorekeeps for games, is the team mom, organizes pizza after the games, volunteers for extra duty in the snack shack, AND always looks nice and always has her nails freshly manicured. The bitch. I don't know how she can do it all. What is her secret?? I better figure this out before next season.