"She refused to be bored, chiefly because she wasn't boring." Zelda Fitzgerald

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Vacuum Salesman And Veggie Gardens

It was a long day, lots of things got sorted out in the garage, piano lessons got plonked out in the living room, video games got played and school was worked through. I got a little bit more work done on the veggie garden I am putting in and I am feeling optimistic about our chances of getting some real food out of it. I have a little more to plant and the boys are all itching for their own gardening plots too so there is still more hacking of weeds to come. Handily, some of what is growing all vigorously all over the beds is delicious wild chickweed. Free salad! Have to come up with a way to harvest it all and not have boys stomp it to bits afterwards. Maybe I run out in the early morning before they are up?

After dinner tonight an Afghani vacuum cleaner salesman talked his way into the house and gave an in depth cleaning session to our living room carpets while I washed up dishes, A finished his evening tele-commute and I read One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish to the boys in their beds while the carpet man grinned and vacuumed in the background. I experimented with exercises in holding boundaries and said kindly, "No, we don't want your vacuum, yes, we see that it works well, thank you for the demo but no, no, really...no." And smiled and smiled and smiled. After the spiel wore out, the Aghan man told me wistfully that he has triplets at home, plus one more child and that he has been here in California just about as long as we have. I hope he's home now with his family, enjoying some rest finally. He and his sales partner were out on the curb waiting for their corporate pick-up van for a long time after we locked up and hit the lights. Its strange to think of his wife out there somewhere in the dark, making a new home here like me, taking care of four, crazy kids like me and wondering what time her husband will be done working...like so many of us. Life is universal, all of us are treading this wheel together, be we tired salesman or unwilling customer.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Gardens and Baseball and Church

Today, we put the vegetable garden in. There are radishes and spinach and kale and all manner of other good things, actually planted in the ground of a whole new plot, in a whole new yard, in a whole new state. I feel like I live here.  Sort of.

Its amazing how long it takes to really feel like you "belong" somewhere. We continue to hunt and search for a church that will be just right for us. We like to take weekend adventures and sometimes we have normal conflicts like baseball tryouts and illness which slows down that process of church shopping immensely. We've been here for six months already and we had a top pick that we thought we'd decided on but its a lot harder to get over there than we thought (its a couple of towns over) and then we also have been unsure if the vibe is exactly right for us. Picking a church, as a non-Catholic is so much tricky, factor weighing!! Sheesh. Lucky Catholics.

This week the weather is hitting the 70's, the hills are unbelievably green and we are really revving up into true baseball season. I am the team mom this year, an exciting responsibility which I am determined to work hard on and make fun and not scary. I am a little worried everyone will discover that I am a weird homeschool mom, not a Californian and also not sporty....don't tell. I plan to give a great charade as "normal."

Tomorrow I begin in earnest to clean out the garage. I must, must unearth it and pare down the number of objects we own...especially the number of pieces of furniture (here's looking at you, old bedroom set!). Smaller and simpler. Cleaner and more open. There is enough. We have enough. Time to cull. I am dreaming about what I will do with the space in there. Pinterest board brewing with ideas for artist studio/guest space. Buy your tickets to California now....our little garden guest cottage will be a hot item! Plus, we want to see YOU!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Decoding Winter

Winter here in The Bay Area is a confusing tumble to an outsider like myself who has no cheat sheet about what in the world to expect or how one marks time or knows seasonality or understands what to plan for next. The lovely side of this phenomenon is that I am deliciously naive and unjaded about everything in the outdoor world here. I love the surprise and Dr. Suess like implausible beauty of the visual circus that is a more tropical environment. Earlier this month we were getting rain, rain, rain and lots of chilly weather that felt clammy and demanded sweaters and tea and roasts in the oven at night. Suddenly, we began to be able to tell that the temperature was rising a little and the chill was gone from the air...replaced with a few sunny days here and there.

All the dry, gold-brown hills around us have morphed to Irish green and every lawn and strip of empty earth is full of growing weeds and grasses in lush profusion. Its an amazing and beautiful thing to be in the middle of all of this green and living life in the "dead" of winter but its really incredible after the truly parched dry season. You wouldn't believe it was possible. I laughed one day when I realized that even the cracks in the highways area  bright lime green from growing grass and weeds seeds. There are vivid green seams all the way down every highway, for real.

Then suddenly, BAM! There was a shocking explosion of yellow along the roads and just like that, the bloom season began. Golden acacia trees opened overnight, covered top to toe in the most dayglo shade of highlighter yellow, all over the sides of the main throughways. I was in awe. They were fast....an ephemeral (invasive, as it turns out) pleasure. I think they were there for two or three days in a shining glow and then the yellow dulled to a dirty school bus shade and this week they are a very smudged over brownish carmel and are dropping their blooms in a powder of rusty fuzz all over the shoulder of the highway. When you get up close the blossoms look like little pom poms. Each one a miniature globular bouquet of teeny little canary colored wands. They were amazing.

Now there are plum trees blooming all through our neighborhood, and their petals are just beginning to fall. We had another fantastic rain this afternoon which will drive many of them off the trees and blow them all around the city in a pink confetti storm. The dandelions in the lawn are really revving up in front of our house, there are some species of purple bearded irises blooming all over town already and this morning I noticed that the next door neighbor's apple tree is just opening its blossoms. 

I am so confused and amazed! I have no idea what is next.....the only thing I know is that winter like this, is glorious. I'm drunk on the wonderful fragrance in the night air, the glowing warmth of sunshine and the rich feeling of growth all around me. Cali's got me where it hurts.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

High Church, Short People

He hopped up on the kneeling bench tonight, standing in his little, high topped tennis shoes meant for a posture of devotion he was the same height of the adults before him who had knelt there. He grinned up at the priest and she bent down to his level and took his cherub cheeks in hers, smudging his little forehead and she told him intimately, "Remember, that you are dust and to dust you shall return." He listened, paused for a split second, flashed her another grin, and told her agreeably "Okay!" and jumped off the kneeling bench without a backward glance.

I aspire.

Okay, I'm dust.
Okay, I'll be dust again someday.
Time to practice joyfully jumping off the kneeling bench.


Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Sacred Maternal Brokeness

My husband rocks. Love him so much. He's kind and thoughtful and sentimental to the max but also pushes my edge, is tough as nails to argue with and has a more willpower than anyone I know. Sometimes he says exactly the right thing, I love having anther person there to be stable and think clearly when I am feeling off or melting a little.

Last night one of the boys was having a bedtime meltdown....after having a dinnertime fit....and a pre-Daddy coming home screaming and crying session. I took a break because I couldn't handle it anymore and was on the verge of crying myself. I found A, and shut the door to the room, and told him, " Sometimes I feel like such a broken person that I can't handle the crying anymore. What's wrong with me?"

He laughed, and he hugged me and he told me..."That's your design....remember? Nothing is wrong with you. You're wired to not be able to ignore it. Good motherhood means being bothered by the cries of your little ones. You're perfect."

I cried. And felt totally good and right and seen.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Poetry Friday: A Family Link, In Verse

Happy Poetry Friday! Its the weekend y'all and we made it all the way across the line. Having a little Flashback Friday moment tonight, not enough inspiration or time tonight to pen a poem of my own and so, I'm sharing a great one by Jacqueline Woodson about family.
My parents and I and my first baby sister Jen, sometime in 1984.
I feel increasingly connected to mine as I age, as my boys grow bigger and form their own connections, as I research my family tree, consider my genetic testing I got for Christmas this year and soak into my new life so very far across the country. I'm lucky, I have a wonky, bumpy, lovely family full of grit and jokes, woodsmoke, doubt and other delicious things. They are wonderful people all of them and I am working on sorting out who I am in relation to them and who I am not in relation to them, but no matter who I turn out to be, I know I will belong. I am part of these crazy people and they are part of me. Its a strong thing to feel that internal wire, stringing you all together irreversibly. May the cable never sever.
My parents and I, December 2015.

Here's my contribution to Poetry Friday this week. Enjoy.


My mother has a gap between
her two front teeth. So does Daddy Gunnar.
Each child in this family has the same space
connecting us.

Our baby brother, Roman, was born pale as dust.
His soft brown curls and eyelashes stop
people on the street.
Whose angel child is this? they want to know.
When I say, My brother, the people
wear doubt
thick as a cape
until we smile
and the cape falls.

Catch the rest of the submissions this week at The Miss Rhumphius Effect, click over and have a marinade.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Chinatown Link-Fest

The small city we live in now is hugely Chinese in demographic. There are four giant, full service Chinese grocery stores here, for instance. I have a feeling that Chinese New Year might be a big deal here. We had a little foray into San Francisco this past weekend and fooled around in Chinatown, watching people buying lanterns and food for the festivities and loading up the bottom of the stroller with rambutans and longan. I am not very Chinese in style. I like my Latin culture and my "island time" but I have a hard time with cultures that are particular or rigid or invasively harsh.  I admire their stringency but I am kind of unsettled by their culture of wily, particularity. I look like I'm sick if I wear the orange-red color they are so fond of, I'm terribly fond of being golden tan from outdoor play and I really don't like bean paste desserts. I'd make a lousy Beijing expat. I do love the Chinese medicine culture with their emphasis on observing the body for symptom decoding and clues and their use of herbs and other natural remedies. I also love the lower sugar baked good in their shops. I think the flowers are amazing....the big, lush chrysanthemums and tuberose in fragrant bundles. I have some gigantic white lilies on my dining room table that we brought home with us. Each lily could be a full-sized lady's hat and the whole room is spiraled through by the drifting eddies of fragrance. I like that very much. I'm a little biased. China is a whole universe away and feels philosophically alien to me but I want to appreciate and understand my neighbors and connect to them. China is encroaching in my life. I did a little reading to inspire me. Wanna see what I found? 

Here are my favorites: 

  • A photographer, making fashion role models out of Chinatown's elders. (We accidentally wandered past her studio and I peeked in the window and wondered what the exhibit was about as it was closed at the time and I hadn't yet read this article.)
  • How Walmart didn't make it in Chinatown. The Chinese are frugal, but protests reigned and it didn't fly. 
  • Chinatowns in rural Connecticut. How the World Trade Center attack caused a migration and brought the Chinese out of NYC.
  • The largest Chinatown in Mexico is in Mexicali. It includes a large population, and a warren of secret tunnels. Who knew!?!
  • One man, eats his way through every restaurant in Chinatown, L.A. He gives you the serious lowdown on where the astounding stuff is and what it was like to do it all.
  • Chinatown and public art are intermingled. The Chinese have embraced identity discussion in public spaces and expression of feeling and tradition emblazoned across walls and courtyards.


Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Ladybug Mosh Pit

 We took a hike with our new homeschool friends recently to see the winter ladybug clusters. Our new pals are hardcore, just the way we like our friends so, we all hiked through a redwood forest in the rain with minimal gear and cover and maximal mud and toddlers to see the spectacle of the jewel insects gathered in bright clusters and crowds on the sides of the trail.

 The hike was stunning with or without ladybugs, the redwoods and the rainy season forest world of California blows my mind. Its like some jurassic Fern Gully world that is 15 minutes from my house. Wild. Utterly. It was so exciting to hop right out of the car and see that basically as soon as we left the parking lot we were lost in a forest paradise.

 After our hike I did some reading about these gorgeous insects. It was such a consuming thing to see a branch turned glossy red with their crowded wing covers that the boys were pretty obsessed. It was much much harder to convince them to return hike because they were so interested in watching them. They each tried to carry one home on their hand, Pom cried some bitter tears when his "own bug" spread wings and rejoined kith and kin.

 Ladybugs are famous for being a gardener's friend because they eat aphid which are a major plant pest in the garden bed. Turns out that the earlier understanding of ladybug diet was a little unclear and after further observation and research scientists have decided that they are definitely not carnivores but omnivores. They do eat a lot of aphids and other soft bodied pests but they also eat nectar, sap, pollen and even fungi.

Someone on the hike told us that they number of spots denote age which turns out to be a commonly repeated myth. The spots show their species, there are a lot of different kinds of ladybugs....both native to our shores and imported and they can vary in appearance but the number of spots is the best differentiator.

I've noticed before that when you hold a ladybug you often start to sniff a peculiar stink. Turns out that's a back-up plan for their scarlet wing covers which are already a warning sign to birds to let them know that they taste terrible. If they are hassled or stressed they will start "reflex bleeding" a substance from their knees that smells bad and tastes worse than their natural flavor. Crazy! Right?

There are also some species of ladybugs which lady fertile eggs and then lay a bunch of infertile eggs in among them to be food for the forthcoming children. What a strange but clever system. Motherhood is pretty vast and wild.

If you ever need a break from winter and come visit we'll take you to see the ladybugs where they cluster in the redwood groves. Its astounding and gorgeous....California is amazing.