Little Squirrel ~ by Big Tree

Yesterday marked the first day of classes for both of my college students.

Yeah.  I am now the mother of not one, but ~ count ’em ~ TWO college students.

On the 18th of August, Hallie moved to the dorms at Otis College of Art and Design.

I still feel like I am finding my footing.  Kaia has long schooldays 2 days/week, due to  band practice, and then there will be football games or drill days on Fridays.  I won’t be going to pick up anyone at the bus stop after school.  If Hallie forgets something at home, it’s just a walk across campus ~ and it doesn’t involve me, anyway.  I won’t be running anything to school, or meeting with teachers or administrators, or trying to figure out how to juggle the two back-to-school nights that always seem to fall on the same day ~ one over the hill, one in the Valley.

There’s only one kid to wake, one lunch to pack (yes, we still pack their lunches ~ I know some kids pack their own.  Fight me), one homework progress to check.  I’ve walked away from that one high school for the last time, forever.

I have all this time, and I need to figure out what to do with it.

But, really, enough about me.

This kid. Well, not really a kid, anymore.  This whole entire grown up human.  How did that even happen?

It’s like…one day you’re watching them play in the mud and sing with the Care Bears, and the next day they’re in college.

Seriously ~ didn’t you have pants on your head just a minute ago?  But I know.  I know it’s been years. Some of them have not been so easy, my sweet, and that breaks my heart, but here’s what I know: if you made it through that, whatever life throws at you now, you can handle.  And, you know, if you can’t, call us.  Because it’s not like we won’t help you now that you’re off at college.

I feel like, as you head to college I should have some advice, but, you know, I’ve always said, I am the Sergeant Schultz of Parenting: “I know NoThing!” That’s super helpful, I know.

I do know a few things about you.

You are and will always be worthy.
You are smarter than you think you are.
You are incredibly talented and creative.
You are kind.
You are capable.
You are compassionate.
You have a strong sense of what is right.
You are a good person.
You are brave.
You are strong.
You are resourceful.
You are witty and clever
You’re an excellent problem-solver.

When you were small, you used to hold my hands and climb all the way up to my shoulders, telling me you were “Little Squirrel Climbing Big Tree.”

I might not be such a big tree by comparison anymore, as you take flight, ~ because you’d have to be a flying squirrel, wouldn’t you? ~ but I hope you remember where your roots are.  You’ll always have a tree to come home to, my Little Squirrel, no matter where your journey takes you.

I love you so very much, sweetheart.

Here’s to an excellent first year of college, and to the wonderful life it unfolds!

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Echoes in the Hall ~ by Sam

Girl walking away 2010
New backpacks: 2010 (l-r) Justice, Hallie, Kaia

I’ve just returned from dropping off Kaia for her first day of 10th grade.  This year’s  picture will have to wait until after school.  We weren’t running late, but we weren’t running early enough to stop and pose for pictures, either.  With or without photo evidence, she’s off to 10th grade, and great things like AP World History, and her second year of Marching Band, in brand new sunshine yellow Chuck Taylors.  Do they still call them Chuck Taylors?  I’m probably dating myself.

It was a quiet morning, with just one kid to get ready and out the door for school, and it occurs to me: this is how it’s going to be now.  Hallie will be moving into the dorms this Saturday, and Justice’s schedule varies, but, really, being almost 21, she gets herself up and out the door to work or school without any help from us.  Honestly, at this point, I’m mostly just company and a ride for Kaia.  She’s pretty self-sufficient.  So, for these next few years, it’s just us.

It was really, really quiet.

It felt like I was learning to do this all over again.  I’m used to juggling many things, both parents up, dodging each other in the kitchen, calling over my shoulder to one kid, and then to another…but…oh…there’s just this one kid.

And one day…there will be only echoes in the hall.

For now, it’s still me and my youngest girl, in the morning, riding to school together.  I’m glad we get that time.  Last night, Shane asked, “You’ll probably want to drive Kaia to school in the morning, won’t you?”  He sounded vaguely hopeful that I might say no, and  it surprised me to realize how important driving her was to me.  Now that we’ve got just this one kid to drive, we will no longer have to “divide and conquer” as we once did, and it’s not like I ever begrudged him those rides to school with Hallie.  I knew I would get the rides home.  Maybe it hadn’t yet occurred to me how fleeting time is.  Maybe, now, as my older children are growing older still and moving on, I am finally beginning to feel that tug, that gradual letting go.  Maybe it’s just harder with the youngest.  The last.  My baby.  It occurs to me now, however, that he hasn’t driven Kaia to school in a very long time, and I am probably going to have to let him (she says, as if she gets to “let him”).  Isn’t that odd?  That I would think of this as a thing that is “mine?”  It’s ridiculous.  Of course, he will drive her some days.

Our mornings aren’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes, they are hectic.  Sometimes, I’ve forgotten to wash something that needed to be washed, or we’re scrambling to find a decent lunch to pack.  Sometimes, we are late getting out the door, and she’s eating breakfast in the car on the way to school.  Sometimes, I’ve forgotten to sign something, or she’s forgotten to tell me about something at school, or there’s a disagreement about who forgot to do what.  In short, it’s not all a bed of roses.  Sometimes, we bicker.  Sometimes, we listen to KUSC, covering the display on the dash and challenging ourselves to answer their Great Composer Quiz.  Sometimes, we talk.  Sometimes, we’re just quiet.

Always, the moments are precious.

Because, someday, there will be only echoes in the hall.

 

So Much to Say ~ by Sam

After seeing how well the photo-heavy post worked last week, I decided to do another this week.  Perhaps, I will just keep posting that way, just to keep posting something.  Shane has promised to post about the computer he is building ~ oh, the trials and tribulations of the Great Computer Build of 2016! ~ when he has time, but he is, as usual, working several jobs at once, so it might be some time before he gets to that.  Well, he is not working several jobs at the moment.  At this particular moment, he is sleeping, as he should, after a much-needed night out for just the two of us at Cheesecake Factory (and, yes, there are things I can eat there ~ there is a Vegan Cobb Salad, in fact, that is quite good, and almost as large as I, to boot, so I will be eating that for days) and a very heavy work week.  Kaia is at a friend’s Bat Mitzvah, and the other kids are still asleep, because it is Saturday morning, so they can sleep in.  Me?  I was up to get the kid to the early Bat Mitzvah, and now I am drinking coffee, writing, and neglecting chores.  Three of my favourite pastimes!

I decided to do another photo-post this week, because I enjoyed looking back on my week.  Sometimes, I feel like the days and weeks and months all bleed together, and I find myself gasping for air and thinking, “Wait!  Stop!  What??  It’s April?!!  When did that happen??  Where were January, February, March???  Didn’t we celebrate Christmas???!!!!  Slow down already!!!”  It is my hope that, by taking time to make a regualr “Week in Review” post, I will remember to pause and appreciate all of the moments, big and small, that make up our lives.  As Social Distortion told me: “Life goes by so fast!  You only want to do what you think is right.  Close your eyes and it’s past.”  Yeah, that certainly is the “Story of My Life,” too.  So, I am pausing to think, and I am letting you in, if you want to come along for the ride.  Here it is, then, my week in review:

We went to see The Tempest at the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival (find more info here: Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival
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I had a lot of busy days, but am trying really hard to remember to make healthy choices.  I don’t like much fruit, but I know it’s good for me.  The medication I am on impairs my appetite somewhat, and can, in combination with another medication I must take, cause dehydration, so I have to be very careful to make sure I:
a) REMEMBER TO EAT (trust me, this is not as easy as it sounds ~ and yes, I realize how ridiculous that is), and
b) STAY HYDRATED
Because I practically live in my car, I have to eat there, sometimes, too; but I am trying to make healthy choices when I do.  Pears I can stand.  They are an acceptable fruit.  Coconut water is very hydrating.  Violets are always a winner.

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Right.  That thing about being healthy.  I just said that, and now, I am gonna post poptarts.  It’s true, I made poptarts.  I made them because it’s all good and well to be healthy, but you have to also eat delicious things and have fun, too, and homemade poptarts are really the best poptarts.  You can make your own crust, or just use store bought piecrust (I make my own, because I prefer it, and it’s really pretty simple, using an oil pastry recipe my mom gave me) and you can fill them with jam or, as I did, brown sugar & cinnamon mixed w/ a little almond meal, butter and pinch of salt.  Okay, so they are still a little bit healthy and kind of nerdy, as compared to regular poptarts.  Being a little bit healthy and kind of nerdy, myself, I can live with that.

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I added a few little touches to the Alice Garden, including teacup & saucer birdfeeders I made using pieces purchased from a thrift store; and while I wouldn’t call it “finished,” by any stretch of the imagination (and I don’t think I ever will), I do think it is looking quite “Alice-y,” indeed.

Shane brought me a tiny bouquet of flowers; and I picked up two magazines about two pretty amazing people, but I haven’t had time to start reading either of them yet.

I continue to walk and use the free equipment at the local park 2-3 times/week.  I keep thinking about signing up for a gym membership or the YMCA, and I might just do it when it gets too cold for me to be outdoors, but, for now, this is my gym:

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Saw yet another positively glorious North Hollywood sunset.  I got to enjoy it with my kids, thanks to a phone call from Shane, to give us a heads-up from our homework and chores.  I love that we do this for each other.  Any one of the five of us will call or text to say, “You have to go outside and see (the Moon/sunset/rainbow,etc.).”  It’s just one of the things that makes us who we are.  I hope we always do that.  As usual, the pictures just don’t do it justice.  The sun was glowing deep red.  I did the best I could to capture it with my little phone camera, but you’ll just have to trust me, it was roughly 8,000x more glorious.

We celebrated Gene Kelly’s birthday by watching a bunch of his best dance numbers (which pretty much means all of them ~ they were all his best).

I baked a darned good gluten-free apple pie, if I do say so myself (I do, by the way)!  I didn’t intend for it to be gluten-free, but discovered, after I had already started peeling apples, that I didn’t have enough regular flour to make pie crust.  I did, however, happen to have some gluten-free flour left over from a baking project Kaia had done for her Girl Scout troop, so I decided to just go ahead and make a gluten-free pie crust.  Turned out great, so, should the need arise, I now know I can do this.  Also, I got to have pie for breakfast one day.  Oh, we totally had pie for dinner.  It has fruit, see, and fruit is good for us.

Justice brought home a huge bouquet of sunflowers!  Thank you!

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Kaia did her homework outside one day; and it was accidentally left outside.  The next morning, at 5:00 a.m., the sprinklers went off.  Later that morning, as she was getting ready to leave for school, she couldn’t find her homework. I’ll bet you can guess where it was.  Yeah.  We used a hairdryer set on low to dry it.  Only one finished math equation was completely washed away.  Her teachers were very understanding about its rumpled condition.

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I FINALLY started painting the detail above the shower in the kids’ bathroom.  I know.  It still looks pretty shoddy here.  Give me some time.  And look with your hearts. The Fox taught me that is only with the heart that one can see rightly.  What is essential is invisible to the eye!  (I’ll post more pics when it’s done.)

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Last, but not least, I played my banjo.  I am getting used to the new banjo.  She looks, feels and plays different than the old banjo.  I will still play both, but, for now, I am just playing the new one, because…well, the old one is a little easier to play, I guess; so I feel like I need to work with the new one until I get used to her.  The new banjo is so much heavier!  I feel like I am lifting a small child (or a medium-sized child…who is carrying a small dog).  I love her.  I mean, she’s beautiful, so it was kind of love at first sight, if you believe in that sort of thing.  Have you met her?  Her name is Babe.  Ain’t she a beaut?

 

 

Counting My Blessings ~ by Sam

Today, we went Christmas shopping with the girls.  Almost every year (we’ve missed a few), the five of us go to the mall together.  We separate into small groups ~ or, now that the girls are older, we might all go our separate ways ~ to shop for each other.  Before splitting up, however, we like to spend some time shopping together for grandparents, friends, etc.  It gives us a chance to see what the others like, enjoy the decorations, music, maybe a snack, and to shop for our little “Christmas Angel.”

Each year, we stop by and pick an angel off a tree at the mall.  These are little cards, hung like ornaments on the tree, each with the name and age of a child, the child’s clothing sizes, interests and/or gift requests.  Shoppers can take a card, shop for gifts for the child, then return the card and gifts to be wrapped and given to the child.  The girls usually like to choose a little boy to shop for, since they don’t have a little brother.  It is one of our favourite traditions, and, no matter how lean things might be for us, we always manage to find enough to buy a gift for one of these little angels.

This morning, on our way in to Mass, we noticed a similar tree there.  We decided to choose a card from that tree, and the girls selected a 2-year-old girl this time, since they hadn’t shopped for a little girl in a long time.  We were excited at the prospect of shopping for a couple of adorable little outfits and a toddler-appropriate toy  to brighten a little child’s Holiday.  After Mass, we drove to the mall, and, as soon as we walked in, there was the tree, with more little cards hung all over it.  The girls decided to look, just in case they wanted to shop for another child.

We were finding a lot of older kids, asking for things like bicycles, which we weren’t sure we could afford, but kept checking the cards, just in case there was something we could manage.  We were just about ready to leave when we came upon a card that was written for a 1-month-old boy.  The card asked for a stroller and diapers.

A stroller and diapers.

We just couldn’t walk away.  This tiny baby needed a stroller and diapers for Christmas.  The girls all offered to pitch in, and we took the card.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a store in the mall that sold diapers, so we got a stroller and two tiny outfits ~ one with suit pants, a matching vest, and a tiny button-up dress shirt, and one with a sweatshirt and pants, and a little warm puffer vest.  When we returned to the tree with the gifts and tag, we explained that we hadn’t been able to find diapers, and the woman working at the table said she would get the diapers and add them to our gift.  We also found an adorable sweater and leggings set for the little girl, as well as a gorgeous, sparkly silver dressy dress and sweater set.  We have another week to find a little toy to go with it.

When we got home this evening, the garage, which we just had fixed, was leaking again, as was the bathroom ceiling.

I’m not sure what we’re going to do about these new little bumps in the road, but a baby boy will get a stroller, a couple of snazzy outfits and some diapers for Christmas, and a little girl will get a dress fit for a princess, some play clothes, and a little toy.  And me?  There’s a roof (albeit, a leaky one) over my head, and food on the table.  If that’s not enough, I get these sweet, tender-hearted girls, and this generous, kind-hearted man.

Already, I got my wish.

Short and Shorter ~ by Sam

Today was the first day since Hallie and Kaia started school last Tuesday that I have actually been home while they were at school.  Shane has been working his regular job, plus 3 side jobs, so he has not been home much, either; and, when he was home, he was working.  Justice’s first day of college was this Monday.  I planned to pick her up after her classes and treat her to lunch, but, alas, it was not to be.  I had to make a delivery to Shane at his office, then drop off a forgotten notebook at school…I am not sure what else happened, but, as has happened every single day since school began, something came up.  Last week, it was an ant infestation in the dining room and bar. That was followed by an injured bird in need of help (I spent a day driving a bird to Compton).  It seems like there has just been one thing after another.

So, I get home with the kids, make dinner while they do homework, make sure everyone gets homework, laundry, dishes, etc. done, and, before I know it, it’s time to head to bed, so we can start all over again bright and early the next day.  To have a whole day with no real demands on my time was something of a luxury.  Naturally, I decided to use indulge by cleaning the house, mopping the floors, washing the slipcovers and baking snack cake.  In my defense, the house REALLY needed to be cleaned.  I did take the afternoon to have my hair done, which really was a luxury.  I usually dye my own hair, but I have been so overwhelmed by the messy house and my busy days that the thought of having to clean up after dyeing my hair was intolerable.  Also, we are going to a Bar Mitzvah this weekend, and I wanted to look okay, and didn’t have time to screw it up and have to fix it.  So, off to Floyd’s 99 Barbershop where, for $74, Ada cut and dyed my hair.  She insisted on the cut, and she was right ~ it is so much better.  I didn’t even mind having to pay for it, and you all know how much I hate spending money.

Now, I am home for a few minutes, so I will keep chipping away at the messy house.  It’s much better, but not great.  I want it to be great.  One little corner of it is pretty great.  See?

TidyPassThrough

That’s the pass-through from the dining room to the kitchen.  It’s too high to really function as a pass through on the dining room side, so it’s just this awkward window into the kitchen.  Shane seems to really like piling stuff on it.  (Sorry, honey, I have made other plans.)  Trust me, for us, this is tidy.

But, you know that feeling you get when you work really hard cleaning one room, and you are feeling super-accomplished….until you walk into the next room, where stuff is just everywhere.  So, you walk into the next room…and the cat has peed on the laundry hamper.  Yeah.  It was like that.  (Really, Cat?  The LAUNDRY HAMPER??)

I guess you could say today has been a mixed bag.  Somehow, I remembered to put on my shorts today.  For those who don;t know, I am in the midst of an experiment.  Having struggled with body image, low self-esteem and eating disorders, I have challenged myself to post pictures every day for about 9 days of myself in shorts.  If you want to read a little bit more about that, read my previous two posts.  Right now, I feel like I have been talking for a long time, so, without further ado, I give you:

Me, in shorts.  Day 3:

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This picture was taken right after I had my hair done.  The shorts are simple knit shorts with an elastic waistband.  I bought them some time ago, thinking I would wear them, but…well…sometimes I sleep in them.

Kaia snapped the picture for me, having met me at the salon, which is right down the street from her school.  Here we are being silly together, me and my favourite 7th grader:

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That’s all for now!

Quick Tomato Cream Sauce ~ by Sam

Like my last post, this one is a quick, sort of “cheat” version of a family favourite.  I htought about posting it to our food blog, and I probably will, later, but it seems like it fits here, since it makes feeding the kids a little bit easier and less stressful.

Today, Kaia had a friend over through lunchtime.  I thought I was going to make quesadillas, to go with the leftover rice & beans from last night’s dinner, until I realized we’d eaten all of the tortillas.  Making quesadillas without tortillas would be tricky, at best.  Then, Kaia’s guest piped up, “You know what sounds really good right now?  Pasta with tomato-cream sauce.”  It happens to be one of Kaia’s favourites, too, so, after a quick check to make sure I had the ingredients, I set to work.  I didn’t have much time, so I decided to just make it quick, and it occurred to me that others might need a good, quick go-to recipe.  So, here ya go.

Quick Tomato Cream Sauce
1 sm. can tomato paste
3 cans milk (fill the empty tomato paste can 3 times, that is)
1 TBS flour
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp. Italian seasoning
salt & pepper to taste
1 TBS butter

In a blender, combine first 7 ingredients.  Blend until very smooth and well-combined.  Pour into a medium saucepan and heat on low, stirring occasionally, just to simmering.  Turn off burner.  Stir in butter, salt and pepper.  Serve over hot pasta or rice.

Today, I served the sauce over capellini (angel hair), because it takes only about 3 minutes to cook.  I put on a pot of salted water to boil before I started making the sauce, and the pasta was done just moments after the sauce, so it really was a quick meal.  It is particularly delicious over spinach tortellini, which happens to be one of Kaia’s favourites (and wait…is that TWO vegetables in one dish??  Wonders may never cease!).

Before I go, here are a few of tips I have picked up over the years on the subject of cooking pasta:
Salt your water.  Cook pasta until “al dente.”  This literally means “to the tooth.”  In other words, you should have to use your teeth to cut the pasta; it shouldn’t just squish against the top of your mouth when you press it with your tongue.  After draining your pasta, toss it with a little bit of olive oil.  This keeps it from sticking together, helps maintain the texture after sauce is added, and gives it a nice flavour.  Last, but not least: I do not rinse my pasta (with the exception of cold pasta salad ~ in that case, I rinse in cold water until it is cold, and drain very well).

When “The Best We Can” is Good Enough ~ by Sam

Yesterday, I found myself (again) lying around on the sofa with my foot propped up, and I happened to look around the house (again) and find myself feeling very discouraged ~ almost defeated, in fact.  The house was a mess.  It was dusty, furniture wasn’t where I wanted it to be, paperwork was piling up ~ mail I needed to sort through, finished homework for which we had not yet created a file, magazines, fundraising information ~ laundry needed to be folded, laundry needed to be washed, the rugs and the furniture all needed to be vacuumed, the hard floors all needed to be swept and mopped, the bathrooms needed to be cleaned and organized, so many half-finished (or not yet started) projects ~ painting, putting up shelves, hanging pictures…And here I sat, with my foot propped up on a stack of pillows, doing absolutely nothing.  Again.

Let me make one thing abundantly clear: Shane and the kids help a lot with the housework, even when I am not injured.  Its just…well, let’s face it: I’m the one who is home all the time.  I used to feel like I was somehow failing my kids if I did the lion’s share of the housework.  I want them to have life skills, to be responsible.  Nevertheless, if they are home for only a few hours each day ~ during which time they are required to complete homework assignments, practice their music, dance, lines for a play, etc. ~ well, it makes sense that, since I am here for many more hours each day, I can do a little more work around the house.  So, I have struggled to strike a balance.  The kids are expected to keep their rooms clean, clear their dishes, and pick up after themselves, and they do about as well as any kids, I think.  They also help with things like washing dishes, cleaning the litterbox, taking out the garbage, doing laundry, sweeping, vacuuming, dusting.  However, since school started, everyone has been exceedingly busy, and I really am the only one home.  The fact is, there are some jobs no one but me thinks to do. So those things tend to go undone.  And, most likely, no one but me notices.  But I do notice, and it bothers me.  As a result, I was feeling like a bit of a failure.  I mean, I know I can’t do much right now, but it was starting to feel like I am NEVER able to do much.  It seems there is always something that gets in the way of my ability to complete home improvement projects, or even just keep up with the housework.  I thought, “Geez.  Why is this so hard?  Other people manage to do this all the time, right?”

It’s true.  Other people do manage to keep up with the housework, and complete home improvement projects.  In fact, I have always managed to do those things fairly well.  So, what was the problem?  Because, really, it seemed like, since we moved in to the new house in mid-December of 2012, I just could not manage to keep up.  Was it because we were doing more projects than we had in the past?  Well, that might be part of it.  The thing was, it seemed like I had been doing so well.  We had painted at least 6 room, built shelves, done extensive work in the garden…I had helped with all of that.  I’d done some of it all by myself.  So…what was going on?  Why couldn’t I just manage to keep up?

Well, I got kind of frustrated, and sort of lost it here at the house all by myself yesterday.  Shane was work, kids were at school, and I was looking at everything that needed to be done.  I got up off the sofa, washed slipcovers, vacuumed all of the floors (rugs and hard floors alike), cleaned bathrooms, washed all of the mirrors, put away a bunch of the clutter… And then, when I was taping a plastic bag over my cast so I could bathe, it occurred to me.  I did some math, and, lo an behold, I found the answer:  For at least 6 of the past 18 months, I have been in a cast or brace of some sort that has dramatically limited my mobility and, therefor, my ability to complete even the most basic household tasks.  So, for the remaining 12 months, I have been in recovery mode.  I have spent some time recovering physically from my time in the cast ~ regaining strength and dexterity, so I could once again function at a relatively normal level ~ as well as time “recovering” simply in the sense of getting back in to my normal routine of household maintenance.  Or, perhaps more accurately, trying to establish a new routine, since I feel like I never really got in to the swing of things at the new house before that first injury, just 2 months after we moved.

So, now I get it.  Now, I won’t be quite so hard on myself.  I did pay for getting up and doing all of that stuff.  My foot swelled up to about twice its normal size, which is not at all comfortable in a cast.  And, so, today, here I sit, again on the sofa, with my foot propped up on a pillow mountain.  Today, however, scented candles are lit, the slipcovers are fresh, rugs and furniture are not covered with cat fur, and, if I felt like getting up and walking over to one, I could see my reflection in any mirror in the house.  Next time, I will try to pace myself, and not do it all in one day.  Next time, I will remember to let myself take the time I need to recover, and not feel guilty about it.  Will I still be frustrated by my lack of progress on those unfinished projects (like the 1/6 of that one room that is not yet painted!!!)?  Oh, you better believe I will.   But at least now I know WHY.  I can cut myself a little slack, just like I cut the kids a little slack because I know they are busy and doing the best the can.  Because that’s what it comes down to, really: I’m doing the best I can.  At the end of the day, isn’t that all we should expect from anyone?  I am always so eager to give others the benefit of the doubt.  Why not myself?

Today, I will rest.  And maybe I will throw in one load of laundry.  And then, I will rest.  And then, maybe I will clear up the clutter on the sideboard.  And then, I will rest.  And it will be okay.