Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Before & After

As promised, a few pictures of our weekend project....

The entry before:

Note the coats threatening to eat the children...

Watch out! There is a coat rack monster behind you!

The entry now:

Hey, come on in! Hang up your coat! Stay awhile!

Living Room, before:

Adorable children playing spies in front of a wreck of an entertainment center. Note the drunken lamp in the background with the lampshade on its head.

Living Room, after:

Ooooohhhhh, look at the comfy seating area!

Check out the wall color, the shelves and of course our gigantic tv!

We Live Here Now

To celebrate the end of The Grand Experiment, we decided we needed a bigger tv, for the bender we were going to go on when the experiment was over. We'd also been talking (for just under a year), about how to utilize our space better in the living room. Our house was built in the 1940's, and it has tons of charm, but very little storage. For a family of crap gatherers, you know what that means.....
Crap is in the open. There Is No Hidden Crap!


When we moved into our first condo, I spent a long time picking out colors, because we didn't rent anymore, and things did not have to be white, and I love color! We spent a week painting before we moved in. When we moved in here, almost two years ago, I was so close to having a stroke from the stress of the move, and I decided painting was low on my priority list. But enough time has passed, and truly, I feel for the first time like we are not going to be moving in the next year, so it's time to get creative. The first thing I tackled was our entryway, which was more of a "WARNING: OBSTACLES AHEAD" kind of deal. Apparently people didn't wear coats in the 1940's, so there was no place to hang up outerwear when you walked in the door. I had attempted something in the past, but it just wasn't working. Coats would migrate from the standing coatrack to the nearest chair, where they would turn on the tv and pop open a beer. So I obsessed about it for weeks, measuring, searching, but finally, I found an arrangement that not only didn't suck, it actually worked. I felt bold. Triumphant. And ready to tackle the living room.

Charley had come up with the plan to utilize the space better, and picked up a new tv at costco. It looked HUGE, and I was terrified that it would swallow me whole if I watched it, but with the new layout, it's a perfect size. On Saturday, we rented a van, drove to Ikea and picked out shelving and a new coffee table and tv stand. And ate breakfast. No meatballs, but there was this fried dough stick that I almost mistook for potato wedges. Anyway, none of the furniture that we chose matched, but I don't like it when things are too uniform. I feel like I'm in a waiting room. My mil always tells me she likes that about me. That and the way I don't have to iron my clothes. I make the wrinkles work for me.

But I digress....

So after we loaded up the van at Ikea, I drove to Home Depot to pick out paint. I had an idea, but hadn't nailed it down yet. I decided to go with a terra cotta color, to contrast the pine and green shelving. The rest of our house is the color of rich vanilla, and I only wanted to paint one wall, plus I needed something that would look good with our rustic old hardwood floors. Just looking at that little dot on the can, both Charley and I were skeptical, but once it went on the wall, it was magic. We spent all day Saturday staining and finishing and painting, and on Sunday we put it all together.

Putting it together. (I did that for you, Kari!) I wonder if Mr. Sondheim was inspired to write that after going to Ikea? If you follow the non-verbal directions super carefully, you won't have a problem. But if, like me, you misread them, you will, as Charley said "ANGER THOR AND THE SWEDISH GODS OF FURNITURE ASSEMBLY" And you will be accursed. And accursing. Despite a few mishaps, though, we managed to get it all together. It looked pretty good, but it still wasn't just right.

So after getting JH to bed, I rearranged the furniture, and I have to say, that did it. It looks amazing. I'm actually proud of it. I promise to post pictures soon.

Now to tackle the rest of the house. Wooooo hooooooo!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Grand Experiment

Did you know that this week is Turn Off Your Television week? I was going to blog about it at the beginning of the week, to give everyone the opportunity to hop on board with us, but without the tv hypnotizing my son into a robotic stupor, I haven't had as much blogging time!

In truth, we had begun weaning for this about a month ago. JH was watching a lot of Nick Jr. but kept migrating to Nick, and I was noticing two things: He was being sassier than usual, and at every commercial, he'd say "Oh, that is SO cool! Can I have that?" So we cut waaaay back on Nick. No more Drake and Josh or iCarly. He can watch them when he's older, but at seven, I don't need him to be more of a smart ass than he already is naturally (because the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, as he reminds me). The only thing he can watch on Nick is Sponge Bob. Because, God Help Me, I like that little sponge! And as you know, Patrick and I have a history.

But the real reason I wanted to turn off the tv is to motivate myself. We hadn't eaten dinner at the dining room table in months. We'd sit in front of the tv for Jeopardy! every night, and my dining room table was piled with mail and paperwork and the remains of the day, with apologies to Mr. Forster. We wouldn't really converse much, except to bark at JH to finish his dinner. It was an occasional treat that had become a nightly habit, and I didn't like how I felt. It was like eating McDonald's every night. I could feel my brain getting blobbier by the second.

We had given JH the warning about it the minute I read that it was coming up. He looked at me with horror in his eyes, and complained for about a minute, but then he got used to the idea. For the month leading up to it, he'd ask when it was, and he'd come up with ideas about what we could do for fun instead. We gathered up books at the library, we planned art projects, we thought about how big we could build his train track.

I cleaned off the dining room table, put on a bright table cloth and candles, and we've had dinner there every night this week. It's been a blast. I've learned a lot too. When I asked him what would be the best and worst thing about being a bear, he said "You first, Mom". So I told him that the best thing would be hibernating, and the worst thing would be hunting for food. His jaw dropped and his eyes went so wide I thought his eyelids would disappear: "No WAY! I am THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF YOU! The WORST thing would be hibernating, and the BEST thing would be hunting! That would be FUN!" I think that was maybe the first time he realized that he was his own person and not just my extra arm.

Oh, and do you know how we spent our anniversary evening? I made a steak dinner, with beautiful, fresh meat from the local butcher shop (hey, I said we'd cut back 20 percent, and if you can't have steak on your anniversary, then you're a complete granola head), and because I had gotten Charley a cd of The City of Prague Symphony playing Music From StarWars, we listened to music and cracked open, for the first time, the Star Wars Trivial Pursuit that I had gotten him for his birthday about 8 years ago. I was definitely at a disadvantage, being the only non-geek at the table, but I acquitted myself pretty well for someone who watches Star Wars movies while folding laundry and doing dishes and reading the paper and picking my cuticles. It was a night I will always remember with a smile.

I don't know if we'll be able to keep it up: I'd like to hope so. It's been great for us as a family. But the grown-ups have already cheated twice after JH has gone to bed. BAD grownups. But I have read more at night, and have discovered a new favorite author: Tony Earley. I'm reading Jim The Boy, and can't wait to get my hands on the rest of his stuff. Like Kent Haruff, he writes with powerful simplicity. Love it, love it, love it. I also have Assassination Vacation and The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell on hold at the library.

I would say the only real drawback to this week has been that I've had my reading glasses on more, so I've noticed that my chin hairs are more plentiful, nay, more luxurious, than I've ever seen them.

So I guess that means our next experiment is "Cover Up All The Mirrors Week".

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Days Aren't Long Enough

Fourteen years ago this Earth Day, Richard Nixon died.

And I became Mrs. McQ. It was a small wedding, held in Mr. McQ's parents backyard. I wore a crinkly silk dress that fit in a little tiny bag, and he was so handsome in his seafoam blue suit with jewel colored tie. A small but crucial clutch of friends and family gathered to witness as we pledged that we'd do our best to wake up every day together, and still be married by day's end. We wrote our own vows, and hired someone at the courthouse to come and seal the deal. She was very sweet and sort of large and wore a really purple dress and she cried through most of the ceremony. I thought I'd be the one to blubber through the whole thing, but I was amazingly calm, centered and present. For once. I say this, because Mr. McQ himself will tell you I'm a sap. I cry fairly easily, and I ALWAYS cry at weddings. Luckily, it's something he finds endearing. During Mr. McQ's vows, noisy bi-planes flew overhead, causing everyone to miss his sacred promises (which involved the phrase "whole enchilada"), but I heard them.

After the ceremony, we all walked two blocks to the beach, where everyone bravely crossed the rocky train tracks (including all the women in their heels), as we reenacted the Mr.'s proposal on the log on the bluffs. We'd handed out disposable cameras in lieu of a photographer, because our budget wouldn't allow it, and everyone snapped away. Then we came back and we danced to "Naive Melody" by The Talking Heads. There was cake, miraculously, even though the baker forgot about our wedding. After a frantic call that I didn't know about, he delivered it after the ceremony. As a cost-cutting measure, the Mister's lovely Aunt Fran had agreed to decorate our very basic white cake with fresh flowers, but since it was so late, she just plopped in my sister's bouquet as a topper. Honestly, it looked gorgeous and I never would have been the wiser if, when cutting the cake, we hadn't noticed that it was frozen. There was an inadvertently hilarious toast by my sweet daddy, rest his ever-lovin' soul, and delicious catered food, and more dancing and laughing and hugging.

For the next couple days, we took folks to the airport, and the day after that, we got on the road ourselves for our honeymoon up the California Coast, back to Seattle, and the rest of our lives.

In the intervening years, we've had the normal ups and downs: we've seen a therapist, had a baby, changed careers (for the time being), moved (five times), mourned lost friends and family, celebrated milestones, gained weight (both of us), lost weight (him), gained weight (me), and cleaned up a metric ton of cat poop. And there is no one, not one other person on earth, that I would rather have the depth of that history with.

Fourteen years have gone by like we're caught in some crazy movie, forever on fast forward. I want to just hit the pause button for a few minutes and savor it, but since that isn't possible, I'll do my best to celebrate the perfect imperfection of our days: dishes undone, short tempers, exhaustion, longing, laughter and unspoken deeds of affection.
Oh, and the hot old people s-e-x.

To my friends in the ether: I hope the following song gives your day a lift.
And To My Sweetie, thank you for this life we're building. It's a work in progress, isn't it?
Let's keep at it, and see how it all turns out.

"We'll remember how it was, then begin again because
days are never long enough"

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I'm Not Getting Old, It's Just Weird

I read somewhere that old people become obsessed about the weather, that they watch the Weather Channel for fun, and they turn up the volume during the weather report on the news.

But don't pack my things and send me to the home, please, when I tell you this:

It's. Snowing.

Oh, did you catch the date at the top of this post? If not, let me mention: It's APRIL TWENTIETH.



Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Less Meat = Happier Earth

I like me some meat. But this fact really caught my ear this morning: If the typical American reduced their meat intake (including chicken) by just twenty percent, it would be akin to trading in a mid-size car for a Prius.

I heard this interesting story on NPR this morning about the environmental impact of growing and processing meat.

I've been thinking about this lately, even considering doing our part and joining a CSA. Of course, it would mean letting the land dictate what we eat rather than our taste buds, but I'm sort of up for it. Aside from getting fresher, healthier produce, we won't be putting strain on the environment to get stuff shipped across country to our table. It will be local. I need to do more research, but it sounds so, well, healthy. I'm not going to start making my own tofu or anything ridiculous like that (although I've done it, and it was a HUGE time suck for little reward), but I'm eager to do my part to love my Mother Earth.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Parenting: The Wildest Ride

Dear Joe-Henry,
This is what it's like to be your mom.
I'm often caught in an unflattering moment.
But I would rather be on this ride with you than carefully maintaining my decorum and dignity in some other life.

Life with you is a blast.

Friday, April 11, 2008

April Is Autism Awareness Month

I have been incredibly, overwhelmingly blessed to find work this year as an aide in a classroom for children with special communications needs. Many of the kids in our classroom have a diagnosis of autism.

I had no personal experience with autism beyond a child in my son's class last year, and even then I'm not sure if that was his diagnosis. But I'm learning, thanks to the amazing children I work with, everyday. I was honestly just looking for a job that would just have me home in time for Joe-Henry, but with every day I'm realizing that I am where I am supposed to be.
Where I want to be.

My first day, I arrived a little early to meet the staff and get my instructions. I honestly didn't know what to expect in terms of how we'd be working, but I felt good enough about my meeting with my bosses that I'd at least survive until the end of the day.

The best advice I have ever gotten about doing my job came from one of my kids. It was actually the first thing he ever said to me.

I'd met him at the bus, this little person, and when I introduced myself he said: "Think Outside The Bun".

There isn't a day that goes by in that classroom that I don't use that as my mantra. It's served me well, and I hope that has helped me serve THEM well. I am moved daily by their triumphs, their challenges, and their humor. Truly, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't have a whole body shaking laugh. These kids have a killer sense of humor. They can break your heart, too. But we don't stay there long. We just can't.

Yesterday, one of the kids I work with asked me to draw Illinois. He knows every state in the union, knows their capitols, their most populated cities and knows where everyone I've ever come in contact with lives. That's what we talk about at recess. Mostly that's all we talk about. But he has recently begun asking other questions like "How is your husband?" and "How was your spring break?" These are not just questions to me. They are huge triumphs.

Anyway, back to my attempt to draw Illinois. It hadn't been my first time drawing it, so I thought I could do it from memory. When I finished, I handed it to him. He looked at it. He turned the white board around. He handed it back to me.

"That's Indiana."

And THAT is why I love my job.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Overwhelming Appeal of George Clooney

For Minivan Mom

Aside from the obvious, here is why I adore George Clooney:

1. His sincerity and intelligence.

2. His sense of humor.

3. His compassion.

4. His voice. (Sit down for this one. And know also, that the only person with a sexier voice is my husband. Tooo. Truuuue.)

5. His self-effacing attitude seems real and true.

6. He's related to musical royalty, and knows the power of celebrity.

7. No one wears a dark suit like George. (see #4 above.)

All that said: I'd still rather be married to my husband. But I'd love to have George over for dinner sometime.

A Very Lutheran Dream

I meet George Clooney at a party - he is very sweet and kind, and is interested in everything I say.


I hit the snooze button.

George seeks me out at the party, he's seen me in a play, and thought I was so good. It's a great, witty conversation, but I can tell we're going to be great friends, nothing more. Still, this makes me very, very happy.


I hit the snooze again.

Everyone at the party gets on a train, including George. I wonder how we're going to get home, but I'm enjoying my conversation with George. Then I tell him about my husband. I really want to introduce them - I think they'd be great friends too.

The alarm doesn't even have to go off. I get up, and laugh at myself.

Monday, April 7, 2008

In the Out Back.

This isn't a dramatic tale of my youth in the Australian Outback, or even a tale of drunken adventure in a cheesy steakhouse. It's a sad tale about my old lady back. But I need you to keep reading so that you can post a comment about your favorite muscle relaxer.

So Sunday, I was using my Spot-bot, scrubbing the dried cat poop embedded in our carpeted stairs, when I felt a slight "pop" in my lower back. Dang it. I slowed briefly, but undeterred, favoring my lower back a bit. Yesterday it felt a little tight at work, and my co-workers laughed at me when I told them about the dried cat poop, until they realized that I wasn't joking. Someone kindly suggested coming up with a better story. So, pole dancing it is.

Anyhoo, I rode my bike home from work, feeling so much better, the rain stopping long enough for my little jaunt home, making several trips up and down our newly cleaned stairs with baskets of laundry, when the boy asked me to come outside and help he and his friend build his super sports station. As I was bending over to put it together, Charley pulled up on his bike, and as I started to stand to say hello, my lower back went into full spasm. I was suddenly a parody of a person with back pain, the kids alternating between genuine concern and stifling laughter, as I slooooowly made my way to a standing position and into the house in search of relief. Charley heated up our heating pad, while I downed a couple Tylenol quick release caplets. Can I just say, "Quick release, my ass?" A glass of red wine helped to completely knock me out. Nothing like drinking a big ol' glass of cheap red in your kid's bed while he reads you a story. "Daddy - why is mommy drooling?"
If anyone needs the measurements for my mother of the year tiara, well, my measuring tape is in my sewing basket downstairs on the floor. Just get me an extra large. I have a gigantic head.

You know what this means, don't you? It means I'll have to start doing actual core strengthening exercises. I was hoping that I could just rely on the bunched up bellyfat resting on the top of my jeans to sort of, um, prop up my core? But apparently that isn't working so well. Now I'm praying my upper back doesn't go out because my shoulders are up around my ears to make things easier for my lower back.

It's still stiff this morning, and my head hurts too. Hmmmmmm. I wonder why?

I miss my old chiropractor. He'd have me feeling better in no time. But alas, we live too far away for those weekly adjustments, and I don't know if I can trust anyone else like I did him.

If you have any suggestions for pain relief, they will be greatly appreciated.
Especially if they involve chocolate.
And massage.
And George Clooney.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

My New Bike

My Darling Husband, who is just the best at giving gifts that are perfect and surprising, did something rare this weekend. He told me what he was thinking of getting me for our anniversary. He said it was early, and he didn't want to spoil the surprise, but there was a great sale at The Bike Gallery, perhaps the best bike store in all of the nation, or at least in Portland, OR. He had one he thought I'd like, but he wanted to run it by me first.

When we walked into the store on Friday, I was as excited as a little kid. My first bike was a red Schwinn. It had a white basket, and my mom wove yellow plastic flowers into the weave. Taking the training wheels off of that bike was one of the happiest days of my life. I was in second grade, and suddenly had the freedom to ride all the way to the top of our block, and eventually, all the way to the other end of the block, stopping only to show off my bike to admiring neighbors or put treasures (rocks) in my basket.

I've had lots of bikes since, and the one I've had for the last 15 years has served me very well. But I haven't served it well at all. I've ridden it to work a few times, and have trudged along on family rides, bitching all the way about the gears slipping. Have I ever had it serviced? Mmmmmm? Maybe once in fifteen years. But I honestly wasn't looking to replace it. I loved my bike. I loved bitching about it. But my darling husband, who rides his bike almost every day to the train station has been walking in the door looking jubilant and refreshed and fabulous. It's helped his stress, and he's healthier with every mile he puts on it.

So, he convinced me. Plus, did I mention it was a sale? Even a lapsed Lutheran can't resist the irresistible lure of frugality. And this bike.... he'd already sort of picked it out. He'd looked over a few, and showed them to me, but this is what he showed me first, and I didn't even need to look at the others. This was it. It was creamy perfection, with just the right amount of fru-fru embellishment. It had a super comfy wide leather seat and those beautiful matching handlebars. But it wasn't until I took a test drive that I fell, hard and fast. So smooth, with enough gears to get me up the hills I'll encounter every day on my way to work. Add to that the fact that the bell, kickstand and bottle holder (plus bottle) were all included, and the fenders I'll surely need for rainy NW weather, plus the rack on the back to add my panniers for trips to the grocery store were added there in the store for a pittance, and I'm just swooning.

I can't say enough about the service at the Bike Gallery, too. Most of the staff have been with them off and on for years. As our lovely sales guy Nicko said with a big grin "You can't ever leave for good. They just keep pulling you back." He himself had worked there for years, now working full time at another fabulous Portland institution, but coming back to work sales on weekends, because, well, I think he just really loved it. You can tell they treat their employees well - everyone there just seemed really content and happy. Even the uber-hip Portland types broke into a grin when you spoke to them.

So now, it's time to ride. The road beckons....

Ding Ding!

Friday, April 4, 2008

California Dreamin'

So, we're back from our trip to Grandma and Grandpa's house, in paradise. It went too fast, it was too relaxing and too much fun, as always. And now it's back to the rainy Northwest. But you know what - it's good to be home. I missed my darlin' husband, and didn't enjoy being in traffic again, even with my mother-in-law's Lexus. (Bless her soul - she let me borrow it to drive the hour and half to LA to see friends.) Here is a little pictorial of our trip.

I had a blast with my camera, and it got even better when I got some fab tips from my friend Erin, herself a brilliant professional photographer. She gave me a few pointers, and in no uncertain terms, turned on my creative lightbulb. Not only is she a fabulous photographer, but also one of the best moms I know. A fount of patience and good humor, her boys are as sweet and adorable as she is lovely.

We also had a wonderful visit with my dear pal Jana. She is my soul sister, and her daughter Grace was born shortly after Joe-Henry. We were the Belly Sisters, with our friend Linnea, whose daughter Molly was born the day before Grace.

Jana is one of those moms who helped get me through the early days of parenthood, when things are so hairy and new that you feel as though you are losing your mind every twenty minutes. She's one of the few people in the world that I feel truly myself around. Her kids are so sweet and funny, and Joe-Henry is going to wind up marrying one of them, I'm pretty sure.

Grace is his girl, as well as his best friend in the world, and Ben is his loyal sidekick. Watching them all play makes me so happy that I love their parents.

We also got to meet (and I got to fall in love with) the grandparents new dog, Oscar. Oscar joined the family after their beloved basset hound Huey died this past winter.

Oscar joins their other dog Pepper, both dogs being so smart they could do your taxes. We took them on walks along the bluffs of Carpinteria, soaking up the sunshine and the beautiful scenery.

Joe-Henry was Grandpa's shadow this trip, following him everywhere, helping out here and there, and Grandpa was kind enough to take the boy out for a few errands while Grandma and I got to shop, like the old days. Grandma got Joe-Henry outfitted for the toy golf set that Grandpa picked up in anticipation of our visit.

Sadly, we couldn't stay in paradise forever. There was daddy to come home to, and kitties, and work and school to get back to. Luckily, we'll see them again in June, when school's out, and again in August for my mil's birthday. But even with that knowledge, saying goodbye doesn't get any easier.

Thanks, all, for a wonderful visit. Enjoy the sunshine for us.