Monday, June 30, 2008

Drying peaches

This weekend I finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” which is the sort of book that will inspire you to grow asparagus, can tomatoes and, heck, even breed turkeys. Until you remember that you have a nearly 1-year-old and a nearly 4-year-old -- and you often only sleep between midnight and 6 a.m. as it is.

Still I recommend accompanying the Kingsolver-Hopp family on their one-year journey eating local food (the bulk of it grown and raised themselves). It inspired me to imagine myself as a gardener in the not too distant future -- growing at least a little bit more of my own very local food and even storing some of it away for the winter – and to read more labels and think more about where my produce and other food goods are traveling from in the meantime.

So fresh off that book, I flirted momentarily with the idea of trying to can the peaches Will and I had picked last week. Then thought we’d go for some good old dried fruit instead.

My mother’s dried fruit is perhaps the most coveted item in our family. Dried apples, cherries, plums, peaches, apricots and pears – all purchased from orchards in Grand Junction, Colorado, dried, and then mixed up in heavenly jars or bags. I remember when my mom used to sun dry the stuff on a screen in our backyard. I never bother to make it myself, so we all just make off with as much of it as we can when we visit home. And hope we get some in our stocking for Christmas.

But on Saturday Will and I had fun going through the drying process ourselves -- blanching the peaches so we could peel them easily, slicing them, dipping them in lemon-water and then arranging them on the shelves of our very under-used food dehydrator. (My mom wasn’t right at her phone when I made the decision to start drying, so I learned later that she just washes the things, slices them up, complete with peels, and puts them on the trays. Leave it to me to read some online advice and make it three times as complicated.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Trash art

Yesterday Will had a minor meltdown after I vetoed his proposal to paint his wooden blocks. Once he’d recovered from the agonizing disappointment of not getting to follow through with that scheme, he agreed that it might instead be fun to paint other objects destined for the recycling bin (and not likely to be mouthed on by Owen in the near future).

Will used tempera paint, crayons, glue, yarn and masking tape to construct this “house” made of a plastic milk jug, a paper-covered cereal box, a veggie burger box, some beverage bottles, a vitamin container and a deconstructed box of baby wipes. Now I’m finding it difficult to put anything in the trash. I just saved a toilet paper roll and a wine bottle cork in case Will's house needs extra chimneys or something as well as a squeeze bottle of lemon juice for a temporary bath toy.

What strange stuff do you turn into art or toys?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Bathroom adventurer

Ever since Owen started crawling he’s been trying to sneak into our bathrooms, tantalized perhaps by the fact that each time he ventures in one I scoop him up and set him down in a cleaner, more appropriate play space. Now that Owen’s mastered pulling up, the bathroom is all the more enticing. And yesterday, Owen nearly got a taste of the forbidden fruit for babies: toilet water.

I was on the phone with my mom, with Owen hanging out floorside in the dining room. And within a minute’s time, Owen, capitalizing on my distraction, made a bee-line across the house, through the living room, into our bedroom and then into our bathroom. I noticed the eery silence, did a quick search through the house and found him standing elated at the toilet, dipping his hand in the bowl. We have an if-it’s-yellow-let-it-mellow water-saving policy when there’s no company to offend in our house, so it was only by the grace of God that he got a clean dip. So I’m renewing my resolve to keep the bathroom doors shut at all times – but I imagine it won’t be long before we have a lapse and I find my little adventurer toilet climbing again.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Pickin' peaches

Today we joined my friend Ginny (who makes a habit of going on Wednesday morning excursions with her kids) for a fruit-picking trip to Hudson Farms. It was a hot but fun morning of peach- and blackberry-picking. I have fond memories of picking fruit with my family at U-pick orchards near Grand Junction, Colorado – and I’d like to make an annual tradition of it here.

Will and Creight enjoyed picking peaches side by side, while Owen explored the leaves of the trees from his seat in the backpack.

Will stopped to study each fruit and comment on it’s wonderful aroma. (I think he made me smell just about every peach he picked.)

And Millie snacked along the way, and had the blackberry stains to prove it.
Back at home, Will and I devoured a simple lunch of cheese and tomato sandwiches (with homemade whole wheat bread and a tomato from our garden) and blackberries and peaches for dessert.

Go to for links to fruit-picking farms near you.

Where do you go fruit- or vegetable-picking?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The road home

I'll end our road-trip-in-pictures with a few shots from the journey home:

We logged a long day Thursday, winding up at this motel in Witchita, where Owen and Will played doghouse.

So we had banked enough hours to make it to my Uncle John and Aunt Philia's house in Little Rock by late afternoon on day two of the return trip. We enjoyed a nice homemade dinner and even squeezed in an excursion to nearby Pinnacle Mountain State Park where Will enjoyed some time with Uncle John on a playground while Rob and Owen and I took a 1/2-mile late-evening hike and viewed some mammoth cypress trees.

A couple photos in motion: Dad does the backseat squeeze -- while we sugar-high Will through the last leg of the return trip. (Rob and I spent much of our non-driving time seated between the boys like so, juggling their happiness and hunger as we conquered the Interstate.) Will sang and played a few original "bluegrass" tunes on the new travel guitar:And, knight-obsessed Will explored one of his favorite fast-food playgrounds: a Burger King castle.
(I'm secretly glad to be back to our Lakebottom Park playground, where we can swing and slide and run about -- no cheap chicken nuggets required.)

And we're all alternatively happy to be home and a little sorry our adventure's over. "I'm glad to be home," Will said a few different times within an hour of our arrival, having laid eyes on his toys and bedroom. By the next morning, though, he started longing for our more nomadic days. "I want to go home to the motel," he said.

But we're settling back into our at-home routine anyway.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Roadtrip Snapshots: Part 2

And here's a few shots from our stay in Colorado, which was really not a "stay" at all since we were on the move most of the time -- attending (in spirit at least) two simultaneous weddings and visiting family and old friends (most of whom aren't even pictured here). It was the busiest trip of my life -- and great fun no less.

First, in Eagle (my hometown), an aproned Will plays waiter. He would later -- on our road trip back to Georgia -- purchase a ring pop with his tip money.
Boulder Canyon makes a picturesque wedding spot:My cousin Molly ties the knot:
In the audience, two of my favorite women in the world (at 90, "G.G." -- grandma to both Molly and me -- was a guest of honor. And she loved the celebration.)Dancing with Grammy to cousin Adam's bluegrass band:Sleeping with Daddy to cousin Adam's bluegrass band (3 hours past bedtime)At our friend Travis's post-wedding brunch, Owen develops an affection for sunglasses (with guidance from Priya). He's been swiping mine from me ever since: "Shopping" at REI with my friend (and eternal college roommate) Alicia and her two 2-year-old twins Henry and Clementine (who both have an intimate love for the Boulder city buses -- it made Henry sob desperately each time we had to deboard and watch one of the mighty mobiles drive away):
We met sweet 9-week-old Teagan, son #2 for my cousin Emily. (We are thinking of launching a 2-boys support group. Anyone want to join?)Hanging out with second cousins Max (elder brother to Teagan) and net-headed Jasper (who'd just survived his own family road trip from Seattle to Colorado).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Road trip snapshots: Part 1

We're back intact. As we played our road trip theme song (Little Country Giants' "Fields Are Burning") for the final time and pulled into our driveway last night, well past bedtime, I was already getting nostalgic about our little adventure with the boys. As we decompress, I'm going to take a few days to share snapshots from our two-week road trip to Colorado. So we'll start with the trip out:

Owen and Will befriend Evan and Eileen in the hotel where they'd been passing time until move-in date arrived for their new home in Russellville, Arkansas:

One of the more striking images in the windy hills of Kansas was this field of monstrous wind turbines, each of them swimming circles in the air like slow-and-steady-moving space-age creatures.

Portraits from a Kansas rest area (where we also chased a bunny rabbit and discovered a half-eaten Robin's egg).

Bathtime with cousin Wilson, whose parents live in one of the most enviro-/kid-friendly redevelopments in Denver. The old Stapleton airport is now a community of not-at-all-look-alike energy efficient homes with lots of greenspace and bike paths, a town center and a pool all in easy walking distance -- not to mention the most impressive playground I've ever seen (complete with mini mountains and rivers you can run around in):

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Here, there and everywhere

We’re back from a whirlwind tour of Colorado’s front range, where we celebrated two nearly simultaneous weddings; reunited with college friends and extended family; and visited Denver, Fort Collins and Boulder all in the space of five days.

We went to a Friday night meet-and-greet and a Sunday brunch for the wedding of an old college friend, Travis, and enjoyed my cousin Molly’s beautiful outdoor wedding in Boulder Canyon on Saturday. Her younger brother Adam’s bluegrass band Head for the Hills turned the late-night celebration into a fun fast-paced dance festival that only totally exhausted Owen managed to sleep through (as we danced him around on our shoulders).

After the wedding will enjoyed a couple days on his own with Grammy and Grandpa. Highlights included a trip to the zoo where Will decided he is brave enough to observe lions, tigers and gorillas after all. (He went on the condition that he would not have to lay eyes on those scary beasts.) And the lowlight was a touch of stomach bug that hit this morning, perhaps ingested with some Glenwood Springs pool water yesterday. He was mostly recovered after one minor bout of vomiting and a few morning complaints from Will (As in: “Something’s wrong with my body” and “Something inside me is wiggling.”)

Meanwhile Rob and I dragged Owen all across the front range as we visited with old friends and spent a night on our own in Fort Collins. We’ve made a new bedroom for Owen on each of the past five nights and I’m beginning to wonder if this vagabond lifestyle is making him question whether he’ll ever get back home to his crib and a regular nap schedule. The poor sleep-deprived kid has been a real trooper despite the fact that he’s sporting a bright red beard of dry-air-induced eczema that makes me itch just to look at it. And Rob and I have realized that it’s plenty fun bringing along a generally amenable non-talking baby for a weekend “away.” But we're also looking forward to next summer’s Colorado trip, when we’re already scheming about leaving a weaned Owen with the grandparents alongside his big brother while we pull off a full escape, just the two of us.

Tomorrow, assuming Will’s little stomach bug is really long since departed, we’re meeting up with cousins from my dad’s side of the family, including a new arrival, my cousin Emily’s 2-month-old son Teagan; and my cousin April’s family, who were also bold and crazy enough to do a long road trip to Colorado from their home in Seattle.

Then Thursday marks the launch of the ominous road trip home. So it may be Sunday before I squeeze in an update. My apologies for the infrequent posts as we traipse across the country.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sick and spooked

Last night Owen came down with a cold that he must have picked up somewhere along our journey. It’s the usual runny nose mixed in with regular bouts of fussiness that are so out-of-character for our little laid-back guy. In his fragile state he decided he was frightened of my sweet 90-year-old grandmother, who he hasn’t seen since Christmas. Yesterday every time he looked at GG (our nickname for great grandma) he’d pinch up his face and burst into tears. At the dinner table my mother started playing a little GG peekaboo game: When Owen started crying my mom would put a cloth napkin over GG’s face, we’d say “Where’s GG?” and the tears would instantly stop. She’d remove the napkin, reveal a sweet, smiling GG -- and there came the tears. It was just plain terrible but also terribly funny. Today fragile Owen has had a bit more sleep and is slowly warming up to GG again. He almost blew her a kiss before his nap. And then at dinnertime he started stealing glances at her and crying inconsolably again.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

1,600 miles

I imagined that when I was writing today’s “we finally made it” post I would have some brutal war stories to share from our Georgia-to-Colorado road trip. But the truth is it wasn’t half bad. Granted, Rob and I spent at least half of our non-driving time squeezed in the back seat between Will and Owen so that we could keep the kids entertained or fed, but Owen never had a major meltdown (although now that we’ve arrived he’s out of sorts) and even after day three, Will agreed that road trips are fun. His enthusiasm did wane a bit though over the course of the trip. Three hours in, he announced, “I’m having a nice time.” Today, as we conquered the last two-hour jaunt from Denver to Eagle, he announced several times, “I want to STOP.” At which point, we’d find something to preoccupy him until the complaining started again.

It helped immensely that we got to enjoy two nice visits along the way – one with friends in Russellville, Arkansas, and one with my cousin and his family in Denver. In Russellville, 5-year-old Evan stepped in as our road trip guardian angel when he decided, with no prompting from his parents, to give Will his Cars coloring book as a gift. Will (who is an ardent fan of “cars with eyes”) spent hours coloring the thing over the course of the next two days. Other pastimes for Will included coloring states in on a map when we spotted license plates, playing tottering games of Chutes and Ladders that left me slightly nauseated, reading E.B. White’s Stuart Little, listening to music, singing along as Rob played a half-hour-long rendition of Old MacDonald had a farm and consuming rare treats like juice boxes, lollipops, and yes, Cheetos (which I had never before purchased for Will in his life). Owen meanwhile loved being entertained by puppets and this-little-piggy games and he enjoyed handling masking tape, board books and cell phones (and even managed to turn Rob’s phone on and call a couple folks on his contact list before we realized how proficient he was with the thing.)

The real secret though was making the decision to eat every meal on the road. I figured time spent sitting (which is how we tend to eat) should be time spent in the car. So if we stopped at McDonald’s we spent the full time on the indoor playground moving our stiff muscles and then took an ice cream or some chicken nuggets (more rare treats) for on-the-road consumption. Our backseat is still a crumb-filled disaster zone, but we made good time with that eating-on-the-move strategy and preoccupied the kids for nice little chunks of time.

Of course, we've still got the return trip looming over us, and that leg of the journey -- with nothing but a return to work and life as usual to look forward to -- sounds a bit more ominous already.

(Since, in these times of soaring gas prices, you might be wondering about the price tag for this excursion: We totaled $167.98 in gas receipts for the outgoing trip. And that doesn’t feel half bad after my conversation with a neighboring gas-pumper in the-middle-of-nowhere Missouri. He was filling up his mega-RV, with a trailer in tow, and told me he spends well over $200 per fill-up. “It’s the government,” he muttered. “I guess they’re waiting so whoever gets elected can say they brought down gas prices.” Hmmm, I thought to myself.)

Friday, June 6, 2008

And we're off...

...or at least we're nearly packed after what has felt like two full days of nonstop packing along with maintenance of the general house chaos. We've got house-sitters this time and I had dreams of vacuuming for them but they're going to have to make-do in my half-dirty home. Because it's 1 a.m. on Saturday morning and Rob and I need to get a little rest. We've got a 9-and-a-half-hour drive ahead of us tomorrow -- that's before stops (and there will be plenty of stops) as we try like heck to make it to Russellville, Arkansas, where we will stay in a room adjacent to our old friends Maureen and Durwin -- who are stuck in what they are calling "jail with continental breakfast" until they get to move into a house in their new town. We'll have a very quick visit with them and then hussel off for two more days of marathon road trip fun before landing in Colorado. Assuming all goes as planned.

It'll probably be Tuesday before I get back to a computer for an update on our nutty adventures so send us good thoughts. Lots of them. Who knows what we're getting into.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

My little live-in babysitter

Yesterday after a week off from school, Will started back for his two-day-a-week summer session. And for the first time it seemed like Owen, who was a bit fussier than usual down on the floor without his playmate, really missed his big brother.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve grown more and more comfortable letting Will become Owen’s just-in-the-other-room babysitter. I work in the kitchen and listen attentively as they play together in the living room. I peek in now and then of course (especially when I hear either total silence or unusual rambunctiousness or Owen sobs). In general, though, Will is sorting out how to be a kind, tolerant and usually semi-careful big brother.
My strategies for keeping peace between the brothers include: 1) Smothering my hover-mother instincts and trusting Will not to commit terrible crimes against Owen (the more I tell Will to be careful about something or not to do something, the more likely he is to do it) 2) Pointing out how much Owen enjoys playing with his big brother 3) Listening closely when Will wants to register an Owen complaint – as in “Mom, Owen pushed me!” and then asking Will “Well since Owen’s a baby, what do you think you should do about it?” (Usually Will doesn’t even bother answering the question; he just resumes playing with his brother.) 4) Reminding Will that Owen is learning how to do things from him, that he is his teacher, but refraining from lots of moralizing about how big brothers should behave. 5) Trying to be patient enough to let Will figure out solutions for keeping Owen happy. If I jump right in the second Owen starts crying and bark orders at Will he gets resistant. If I ask him questions and give him space to figure out how to keep Owen happy, he's more likely to come up with his own plan for better behavior. Today, for instance, he decided that it's best to run around with a sheet over your head in a different room from Owen -- after chasing the little guy around in his makeshift ghost costume prompted lots of cries of protest. Often it's five or ten minutes after an "incident" or a little power struggle before Will will be settled enough to devise one of these perfectly practical but not necessarily ingenious plans for himself. But when it comes from him, the solution's more likely to stick.

And Will seems proud of his role as big brother. Yesterday he said to me, “Mom, if Owen had another brother, he might not be nice to him. But I’m always nice to Owen.” And even if Will does slip up here and there – mostly by getting overly reckless or occasionally impulsively aggressive – he was pretty much speaking the truth.
Here's Will feeding Owen lunch today – the first time I asked him to do that job solo. It worked surprisingly well until they started sword-fighting with their spoons (which I swear was all Owen's idea).

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Listen while you work

This was my mother’s day gift
– a little speaker in our kitchen that Rob connected to the computer in our adjacent office. It’s one of my favorite gifts ever. My habit of trying to squeeze in a walk to the park, dinner preparation and bedtime routines all within the few hours between Owen’s afternoon awakening and evening bedtime leaves me slaving in my wreck of a kitchen well after 8, when all the interesting NPR programming has turned to music that somehow just doesn’t inspire me when I’m in the midst of scrubbing crusty dishes.

I’m starting to realize that I’m something of an NPR news junkie. Now I play Morning Edition and All Things Considered on my computer as I perform mundane kitchen tasks, and it’s added a whole new layer of serenity to my life as a domestic laborer. Sure I’m washing dishes and floors that will only get dirty all over again in a short number of hours – but at least now I’m hearing interesting tales from around the world while I slave away.

What diversions do you enjoy when you’re stuck doing chores?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Prep-time for the road marathon

The ominous 3-day road trip to Colorado is looming (in spite of your near-consensus that this is a nutty undertaking with two young kids). And yes, Owen will still be in his backward-facing seat. Rather than let a vague feeling of dread settle into me as Saturday’s launch date approaches, I’m deciding to get proactive and super-organized about entertainment and kid logistics for this road trip.

Yesterday, when I was remembering how much I loved these classic auto bingo games (too late to order them now), I decided to search for a printable auto bingo game and found one at Will and I taped a couple boards to cereal-box cardboard today to give them a firm, official look, and we’re going to take washable markers and check off items as we see them in one color the first time, in a new color the next. I also printed off a U.S. map so we can color in states when we see their license plates and track our route as we go.

Of course none of these activities are going to fly with little Owen. For him, I’m gradually stowing away the things that seem to provide him with endless fascination: spools of thread, masking tape, favorite balls, nesting cups, some favorite books and some new snack food. Beyond that about the only thing in my arsenal is a slew of songs like This Little Piggy and The Itsy Bitsy Spider that I have mentally filed away.

As I was packing a couple game pieces and the spinner from Chutes and Ladders in a ziplock bag yesterday, Rob said, “Don’t you think Will is going to be fine just listening to music?”

And it occurred to me that Rob has been readying for road trip entertainment even longer than me -- but in a distinctly Rob kind of way. Long before I started making notes about hokey car game suggestions from the old mom's minivan website, Rob was ordering a traveling guitar (which Rob justified by designating it Will’s soon-to-be-guitar, for Will to play as soon as he grows into it and for Rob to strum on as we cruise down the Interstate) and a Led Zeppelin box set (along with some other I-tunes downloads) because after all, it’s important to expose the kids to “classic” music.

So now that it’s official -- we are out of our minds and this road trip is going to happen (and we’re not taking a portable DVD player) -- please send me any little strategies you’ve discovered for keeping the peace in the car.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

I'll stand for that

On Friday night, for the first time Owen pulled up to standing all by himself. Look what inspired him…

yes, the beer cooler, which Will and Rob were filling in preparation for a little potluck we had for Rob’s co-workers. Now the beers and cooler are put away, and we haven’t seen Owen pull up past his knees since.