Saturday, June 14, 2008

6/14/08 Neighborhoods

Tonight I went out on an errand while Dave put the boys to bed. In our new place, all my reference points have shifted -- I still go to Trader Joe's and Target, but now they're different ones.

It's so different here, just 2 miles south of our house, and even in the same city. It's older, busier, bustlier, no hint of Brady-Bunch suburban sterility, more people walking around, more activity in all directions. It appeals to the urban side of me, indelible from my childhood. Yet our rental house is on a nice quiet cul-de-sac, with big rustling trees, and super, super nice neighbors, all of whom speak English so far. Our next-door neighbors are retirees who've lived there for 42 years, since the house was built, and they have a granddaughter who's a month older than Katrina. Today they offered their phone number in case we ever needed any help with the kids!

Did we make a mistake? Should we have moved instead of remodel? I've never liked our neighborhood, a great one by most measures, but not "neighborhood-y" enough for me.

Well, there's a reason we didn't end up closer to a downtown to begin with: the house. After a lot of house-hunting in 1999, I chucked the checklist, thinking it all came down to three major items: the house, the location, and the lot. Of those, we'd be lucky to get two out of three.

At the time, I lumped "neighborhood" in with "location," and now I see those two things separately. Our "old" location is great -- close to highways and businesses I like, but I've never been crazy about the neighborhood. Our "new" location is amidst a neighborhood I like better, but it's located near a busy traffic-choked road and adds 10 minutes to every trip to my usual spots. A run at Rancho now means a 20-minute drive each way. I think neighborhood is more important to me than location...or is it? The complexity of getting out of Willow Glen made me hesitant to move there, though I absolutely love the neighborhoods there.

But of those three -- maybe four -- major items, it really comes down to the house. We love our house. And nice big houses with big yards aren't near downtowns -- apparently for all my urban upbringing, I really did want to be in the suburbs.

Dave and I made good use of our child-free time today, making some major decisions such as a front entry door and flooring. Our door will be based on this one, but with a sidelight and more glass, 'cause I don't want to have to stand on tiptoe to look out my own front door!

After our shopping spree, we picked up our little crew. I was so glad to see them again, but the feeling wasn't mutual. Katrina was crying and fussy, Julian whiny and complaining that he wanted to stay at Melissa's, Gabriel varying between giggle-pesty and indifferent.

We took them to the "old" house to check it out. Now all the flooring has been torn up, and we found out some fascinating things about our house. What we've been calling the "sun room" probably was a porch, as the original fir floor was painted.

Our office used to have a bay window, until the corners on either side were filled in during some-or-other improvement. (Our house was built in 1913 by a man who married and raised a family there, and died living there in the mid-1970s, so it makes sense that the house had some upgrades during his 50+ year stay.) The office floor itself is a beautiful rich red color, with the tight vertical grain characteristic of fir.

I'm wondering if we can repair and refinish that floor, as a nice historical touch (that will cost 10 times more than putting a new floor in).

Not long after we got back home, we got a real treat: our first playdate! Betsy ever-so-kindly brought by our weekly fruit subscription, along with her trio, which meant an instant playmate for each kid. Gabriel and Gina wasted no time running through the house hollering their heads off as usual. But once Gina caught sight of the mound of moving boxes out back, a construction project was underway.

I wish I caught a photo, but even Dylan and Katrina had a few moments of interacting together.

I still haven't met my goal of getting one room in this house under control, but there's still tomorrow!


Friday, June 13, 2008

6/13/08 Lucky day

We did it! The city backed down on our $1157.13 fee, finding a "prior condition" clause. So we don't owe the difference between two sewer connection fees (the house has been connected to sewer for 50 years) for becoming a 3+ bedroom house (the house had a 3rd & 4th bedroom added 30 years ago) after all. Whew! But you can bet we'll straighten out what we thought was an amusing quirk in the county records about our house still being a 2BR/1BA.

We HAVE to unpack. I HAVE to get my Dad's finances in order. I HAVE to set up rent and contractor payments. We HAVE to order an entry door and choose flooring very soon. We just can't get any traction on these things. So the kids are all at Melissa's for a sleepover, and will be there tomorrow morning and early afternoon too. Darned if I don't miss the little buggers though.

Friday the 13th 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

6/12/08 Endings and Beginnings

The ending: Gabriel's last day of kindergarten was today!! The classroom was open for 20 minutes before the end, so parents could come and see the room and hang out. I was late, and I felt SO bad that Gabriel was waiting outside his classroom for me, looking around anxiously. But I did get some time there, and he showed me where he sat, and his cubby. My tough little cookie.

Gabriel and his teacher, and outside his classroom.

Gabriel and his best friend, Parth.

Gabriel and Parth talk a lot apparently -- Parth's father knew all about our move and remodel!! Parth is a really nice kid, talkative in an engaging way that reminds me a lot of Julian.

I took the day off work for Gabriel's last day of school, but also for another reason. It's always a dilemma for bloggers whether or not to write about the tough stuff, but out of respect I haven't written about what's going on with my Dad. But now there's no chance he'll read about it in my blog. Most of you know about it anyway.

The beginning: My sister and brother, bless their hearts, moved our father in to a very nice private facility in Pittsfield, MA today. We'd hoped to move him to traditional assisted living, but he didn't qualify, and so he went into the secure dementia facility. He's mid-stage Alzheimer's (never officially diagnosed but all signs point there), and while he's better off than most of the patients in the dementia facility, he's not nearly self-sufficient enough anymore for traditional assisted living.

We've been helping him live at home, alone in upstate rural NY for a year now after he lost his driver's license (another traumatic event for him and us), but the isolation has really taken its toll. Now my father is surrounded by very, very caring and nice people who are experts in handling dementia patients, and he'll have everything he needs. Except his mind.

The history of Alzheimer's on my Dad's side is strong and frightening. His mother died of it in her early 60s, as well as a grandmother and an aunt. In 2000, my sister and brother and I talked amongst ourselves with great concern about my father's increasing memory struggles. He was only 68, and probably could have been diagnosed, if he were willing, before then. This history, and my own occasional blankouts (which way do you turn a key? though that's probably more migraine-related) don't bode well for me.

But I'm sure as heck not going to make my demise as difficult on my children as my Dad did on me and my sister and brother. Think it's noble to tell your kids to just let you die or take out out to a field and shoot you before ever putting you in a nursing home? It's not. It's incredibly selfish and causes no end of stress and guilt for your children, who absolutely are not going to shoot you and absolutely are going to have to move you at some point. Alas, but I can't hold Dad accountable for any of the old sh*t that goes on in families anymore.

Fortunately, today he went willingly because he's very excited about the "brain fitness program." He really, really wants to get his memory back, and his focus on that since he's learned about "the program" has given him new spark. He believes he's there for the program, and when he gets better, he'll move back home. It's tricky at his level of understanding; there's no point in arguing with him that no, this is permanent, you're moving. And he's right -- if he gets his memory back, he will move home. He's physically very able. He's only 75. He'll likely ask at some point when he's going home, but the staff there are experts at dealing with dementia patints and know how to handle it.

A child-free friend once said to me, "You're not really a grownup until you have
kids, right?" and I found myself answering, "No, you're not really a grownup
until you're taking care of your parents." Kids make you a kid, babies make you...well, jello, but aging parents -- that's the real grownup stuff.

My house is in a-shambles (both of them). The city wants to charge us a fee for having more bedrooms than they have in their records. We still don't have our building permits. My father is starting the best new step possible in his life, but there is no good path from here for him. A few days without a migraine is rare.

And people think raising three kids is stressful?

Kids keep everything rooted, normal, moving along. They make me stop and trim fingernails, try on new summer shorts, sign up for day camps, read stories, talk about Legos, play tickle-chase with a guffawing toddler. They make me be a mom, a person that they need and love no matter what else is going on in my life. They're filled with joy and hope and optimism and want nothing more than to play and be happy. They can be annoying -- very annoying -- but not truly stressful.

I think I'll go give my new first-grader a hug and then go get the rest of them now.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

6/11/08 Pajama Day

Last night we were talking about Pajama Day at school today, and commented that Gabriel should go in underpants, not Pull-Ups as he'd normally wear under pajamas. But apparently, he now doesn't want his peers to know he uses Pull-Ups, which led to my asking him if he wanted to try night-training again. He gave me a goofy "yes" answer, almost unwilling to talk about it.

And his Pull-Up was dry this morning!

But the best part is, he seemed to have decided to make it, or not happen, as the case may be. He explained that he was lying in bed, then suddenly his eyes popped open...he said he knew he had to go pee, thought about just going in his Pull-Up, then decided not to. He was very proud of himself for waking up. We're using a Pull-Up again tonight (he is a very heavy sleeper), but if he's dry, then it's genuine skivvies for him. I have a "feeling" this is finally it!

This morning Dave had an early meeting, so I did the big triple dropoff this morning. This included a wake-up call for our soon-to-be new reality: school started at 8:40 for all kids today, including PM kindergartners. This will be our life for many years to come, starting in August when Gabriel starts first grade. It was a scramble, but I got him there exactly at 8:40, Katrina in tow, Julian already dropped off.

First, they all 3 had breakfast together. I've taken to waiting to dress Katrina until after she's done dribbling milk all over herself.

Katrina asks every time I put her in the car where Gabriel is. I can tell more by her expression and gestures than her words, which sound something like "ih biy?" She points to his seat and her tone of voice and inquisitive face are clearly asking after him. Then when she sees him, she smiles and says "BIIIIIIHHHY!" Julian gets much the same reception, with a sort of "jhhhuuuuhhhh!" sound. It's very sweet to see her ask about her brothers, and it tickles them to no end.

My house is gone. GONE. It's a shell. You can't tell from the street, but three days of discrete interior demolition have been swift and unrelenting.

Here's my old kitchen.

Here's how it looks now. All that's left is the cute little boy (not pictured).

The old family room, or rather, a view of the kitchen from the family room. Notice that dark corner all the way on the right? That was where my sink was.

And now.

I thought I'd be rattled by seeing this...Dave sure was. He even said he wasn't sure any woman should have to see her house in a state like that. I was prepared to be upset, but I was more fascinated than anything. Ohh, so that's why the sun room's ceiling is higher! I never knew there was insulation in that wall! Gabriel was with me and he too was fascinated, took it all in stride.

Truth is, the house we're living in now is the one no woman should ever have to live in. What a mess! Unpacking is drudgerous and infinite...I can't even get a single room under control. If I get just 3 boxes done a day, they have to run out eventually, right?

Well, turns out, it's great fun for kids to unwrap stuff and discover what's inside! Gabriel got 3 boxes done tonight, each filled with individually-wrapped bowls, shakers, little dishes, and countless other tiny breakables. The best unpacking resource has been right under my nose all along!

Tomorrow's a really big day in many ending and a beginning. More on that...tomorrow.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

6/10/08 The Moon

I was outside with the boys while Dave was bathing Katrina, and something or other was really bothering her and she was crying up a storm. It was really, really loud, punctuated by full-body screams, and the whole neighborhood must have heard it. It worried me rather than bothered me, despite the volume and intensity, because it sounded like painful crying instead of angry tantrumy crying.

Julian asked, "Can the moon hear Katrina?" I half-joked that she was pretty loud, it must be able to. "NO," said a scornful, skeptical Gabriel. "Of COURSE the moon can't hear Katrina." Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, Moon's Ears....ah, a childhood gone. "She has to be even louder than THAT for the moon to hear her!" Whew.

As soon as I was done trimming Gabriel's disgusting toenails, I went to check on her, and by then she was fine. A rear-end rash, best guess. It reminded me that we actually haven't had any major tantrums in a while.

Dave and I and our architect were livid together about something this jerk at the city building department told our architect today. He wants to charge us a "developmental impact fee" for adding bedrooms, which we're not doing, but he insists our house is a 2BR/1BA. And it was, 30 years ago, but has long since already been a 5BR. What makes him think it only has 2 bedrooms now? Friggin'!!!!!! Never mind those pesky official city records!

I'm finding myself feeling almost insecure these days, I think because my home is so topsy-turvy, with projects everywhere. The kitchen still isn't unpacked, boxes are in every room, and it's just a mess. Nothing serene or comforting at all. And despite the rental's vastly improved kitchen, bright sunniness, attached garage and big leafy trees out front, I miss our house. Warts and all, it had character and quirkiness and unexpected spaces.

Anyway, that's the least of my worries right now. Much more pressing is the auditory range of an orbiting natural satellite.


Monday, June 09, 2008

6/9/08 The Big Dig

Just HOW many individually-wrapped glasses, dishes, vases, pitchers and countless other items can one person take?! By the time we get it all unpacked, we'll just have to pack it back up again!

And I had a busy day, even without trying to dig out from piles and piles of boxes.

Today was the last Musical Monday. First, our second-to-last Music Together class. Katrina played with my shoes for much of this, putting them on me and then playing with them herself while the rest of us made music. Sigh. But she had a good time (as long as I didn't interfere with SHOES) and then so did I.

Here's Katrina doing the music train:

Mondays are also Remodel Meeting Day. Today I met with my architect/interior designer to work on bathrooms. I know enough to keep tile under control, but maybe some colorful accents in the kids' bathroom that aren't too too kidlike...?

Will three kids have conflicts when they're older sharing a one-sink bathroom? I'd be a lot more nervous about that if they were all girls!

A notary errand with Dave, home, quick lunch, off to Gabriel's last piano class. Parents were invited this time for a "recital." Brace yourself for the most boring video ever recorded, but I had to do it for posterity.
Gabriel's first recital:

He can play many songs way better than that, but in this case, he's following instructions from the class to read the music, which he's doing.

A side story: Last week, I heard Gabriel playing a very familiar rift from the 1970s, and then realized he was playing "Super Freak" !! Apparently they'd had a Party Day at the CDC and played some old disco songs. Super Freak is very catchy, enough that he had to play it when he got home. Later, he wanted to know if I had Bad Girls and YMCA on CD!

His piano teacher, classically trained, also made sure the kids bowed before and after their performances.

The recital part of the class was over quickly, so she played some musical tic-tac-toe with the kids. Gabriel was very excited and animated, dancing around a lot. I started to get a good clip of this, until he ran toward me unexpectedly -- to hug me! Mom will always take that!! Gabriel is actually pretty affectionate, but he still surprised me, in the best way possible.
Run and hug:

One of the few things we've set up in the new house is the piano, by popular demand. As I was cleaning up Sunday dinner, I heard little-boy voices singing in unison. It was so cute, I quietly grabbed my camera. Gabriel and Julian were singing "Ten Little Indians" together to the piano (one of its pre-recorded tunes). They saw me but didn't mind, and started over so I could record. Other than that, I didn't stage this at all, they just did this on their own.
Gabriel and Julian singing together:

I can't explain why this is so heartwarming...I guess it's cooperation at its best.

I went to Zumba tonight at the Y, even though our new location adds about 5 minutes to the trip. I needed that, as I'm starting to feel oppressed by all the cardboard in our house. I was tired and hungry when I got home, but determined to do whatever bare minimum was necessary to get back on the air -- and I am! It's minimal, but at least I can upload photos and check email with Eudora instead of the ultra-lame Web interface my ISP offers. I've gotta fix that. Someday. When all the cardboard boxes are gone.


p.s. I hate getting behind in photos, but I mentioned yesterday Katrina's surf PJs that she loves, and I have a photo, so....

So cute...I want some too!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

6/8/08 Hot handles

(hmm, maybe I should start a trend of finding the most insignificant thought of the day and using it as a subject for each blog post!).

I discovered today why my pans with so-called "stay-cool" metal handles can make that claim: because if it doesn't take so long to cook something, the handle never has time to get hot. I'm absolutely amazed at the difference in scrambling eggs or sauteeing ground beef. I can't even use the highest heat, in fact, it scorches any butter or oil I've put in the pan. Tonight when it came time to boil water for spaghetti, once again I'd forgotten to get it started ahead of time -- no matter, a stockpot full of water was at a furious boil in a matter of minutes. Think how much energy we'll save by being able to boil water when it's needed, instead of preparing it some vague variable time well before then.

And, I was able to actually simmer spaghetti sauce tonight. Truly simmer it! Not cover it so it doesn't boil over even with a simmer ring, as was the case with my old cooktop. I could even turn the burner up to 3 (out of 10) or so and it would calmly bubble far less than my old cooktop did on its lowest setting.

I'm not sold on the flat continuous surface of the electric cooktop though. Cleanup is unmatched, but I find the pans slide around more than I'd like when I'm stirring the contents. And it makes some pretty furious sounds if I set a pan down that isn't completely dry. The smooth surface is misleading too; Julian almost set a toy down on it, not recognizing it as a cooktop.

I love not having to hike around my old island.

I spent a lot of time at the house today ("the" house has come to mean our house, our real house), holding something of an informal open house for friends to check it out when it's empty. Kids love running around an empty house, and when Betsy arrived with her crew, we had six of them shouting their heads off in an echo-y for a while, it was great. After Gabriel arrived with Dave that is, and before Dave took a suddenly-grumpy Katrina home with him for a nap.

I got a lot done tying up things in the house, including packing up my computer and printer (still not set up, hence lack of photos), but not enough to prevent yet another trip back tonight to mark items to keep in the demolition. I used the ubiquitous blue painter's tape, a terrific tool for instant identification, but with a potentially devastating consequence. No one will read anything once they see the blue tape, especially not the guys who work for the demolition subcontractor hired by your contractor. A piece of blue tape in one place means the same thing in every other place, no matter WHAT you write on it. You can't use blue tape to leave notes -- its mere presence conveys meaning, regardless of what's written on it. In the past, I've even made sure not to use any blue tape to force the guy working to actually read a note, because any blue tape anywhere instantly turns off the analytic process.

I took the boys back to the shoe store today to return Katrina's sandals and pick up Julian's. Store credit for her sandals, so I figured I'd look for something to exchange them for as long as I'm there. I ended up with a $55 pair of Eccos for her, cute girl's sandals in light blue. >> $55 !! << I don't think I spent that much on sandals for the first three years of the boys' lives combined! I just don't have the energy for another shoe-shopping trip.

The good news is that she likes them and wore them happily today without a fuss. She's obsessed with shoes these days, which is often cute, but results in her brothers' shoes getting scattered all over the house, and tantrums when a shoe's rightful owner (often me) would like it reunited with their foot. Then she gets all mad when she can't take off her own shoes to put on someone else's, then demands to have her shoes put back on....on and on. So a fuss-free shoe application is a huge relief.

To my surprise, Katrina showed a preference for clothes tonight too, in the form of choosing pajamas. I got an inexpensive set of two pairs of shortie PJs at Target, but I couldn't stand the "I want to be a princess" lettering on the girls' version, so I got her a surf-theme set. One top has cars all over it, and the other has one car in the front, and she completely insisted on the one with the cars all over it. I called it exactly right, I knew she'd like the cars. On the other hand, I wasn't expecting her to care that much at all about PJs at 20 months old, so in that sense I didn't call it at all.

Lots of new territory, it seems.