Saturday, January 24, 2009

1/24/09 Sour Lemons

This morning as I was getting dressed, I idly glanced out the window into the backyard, a view I don't look at often -- the window is high and the shades are hard to use so are usually mostly closed. I was stunned to see: lemons! There's been a lemon tree in a corner of our backyard, right next to the strawberries, all this time! They're not Meyers, but they're sweet and fragrant. I've really missed having fresh lemons at the ready. It stings to have to buy lemons in California.

It was a cloudy, rainy day, so naturally I used this surprise as an excuse for a photo-op.

It's actually three lemon trees, each with a trunk barely an inch in diameter -- but all three are bearing lemons. On top of it, our next-door neighbor's orange tree is spilling a little branch loaded with oranges on our side of the fence. A citrus windfall!

Random photos.

I dodged a bullet with my back, sort of. Whatever popped didn't bring me down entirely, so I've been able to stand mostly straight and avoid all the secondary problems of hunching over. But, there are still many consequences: the return of the foot-buzzing from sitting, difficulty lifting things from the floor, discomfort from too much sitting or standing. Also, if I bend my head too far forward, like if I slouch on the couch or sneeze, I can feel a sharp twinge my lower back, a very very strange sensation.

I had a huge agenda for the weekend, hoping to push through some of the remaining last remodeling decisions and ordering, and address some new problems. I did a lot online (including finalizing the calendars!), but my back reached a hard limit and I had to lie down. Combined with a rainy day, this turned into a serious veg session in front of the TV, for which I was grateful when Julian joined me. Such a cuddlebug, that one. How apt: PBS was airing a bunch of home improvement shows. Katrina and Gabriel joined for the last show, and I liked having a few terrific excuses to hang around and be surrounded by my children.

My back was pressed into service again for dinner-making and serving and cleaning up, which was fine. I can run around the kitchen longer than I can sit upright in a chair, but lying down is the only way to take all pressure off my back. It's got to be better fast, there is no room right now for a debilitating injury. At least I don't have to make a trip to the store for lemons.


Friday, January 23, 2009

1/23/09 Citizen Cane

Much went right today relating to the remodel, capping off a stressful week. Things "going right" means that the things that went wrong aren't major....a medicine cabinet too high, another too low.

I even managed to pull off a take-out dinner, and Katrina's dinnertime tantrum was cut short by a rare event: she ate some dinner! But my relief at this was short-lived. As I went to reach for a bowl, I could feel a swell of pain in my lower back. A thin strip, not intense, but clear, distinct and persistent. It immediately informed me that I am not to stand straight for a few days.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

1/22/09 Calendar Girl

As most of you know, I do an annual calendar with month-appropriate photos of the kids. This year, I got behind, so the calendar will go February-January instead of January-December. I'm mostly done with it, but I need calendar-worthy photos for the January 2010 page. Of course, they have to be actually taken in January 2009.

But I'm having trouble getting calendar-worthy photos. The biggest challenge is getting all three in one photo -- or even two. No, actually, the biggest challenge is that Katrina gets all mad if I try to take pictures; she turns away, throws a fit, and does everything she can to ruin the picture. Sitting and posing with her brothers is out of the question.

Fortunately, we're living under the flight path for a military airfield, and from time to time we get some very cool low-flying aircraft right over our house. (Those dual-rotor helicopters flying in formation rattle the glasses off the shelves though!) And two C-130s presented themselves just as I was getting Katrina out of the car, in the most ideal lighting my amateur photographer side can recognize -- a bright mottled sky with an indirect glow from sun setting behind patchy clouds.

Katrina still wouldn't cooperate exactly, but she did let me hold her and then attempt to take photos with my arm outstretched, as she eagerly scanned the sky for more planes. Most photos were out of focus, or didn't get her face square on, like this:

The best ones were too close and distort her face.

But this may have to do. She reminds me a little of her cousin in this photo, with a slightly impish expression.

Full-on impish, determined again to prevent timely publication of my calendar.

I wish this were the most stressful event today. We discovered that our beautiful new dining room door (with a funky, unusual, and necessary operable sidelight), which took over 10 weeks to order, had been installed....and it's hung wrong from the factory. When you enter through the door, you walk right into a wall instead of into the room. Or, exiting the room, you have to put your back against the wall to open it. The door's hinges should be on the right in this photo, not on the left.

From the outside.

It's not our mistake, but of course, we end up paying for it in numerous ways. I'm really bummed. The missed opportunity to see something beautiful and new and fabulous installed today is huge.

Then, our new entertainment area has a wide wooden tabletop that should be gorgeous.

But a closer look shows that it's trimmed so poorly that I seriously could have done a better job myself. I'd never turn over an edging job through which you can see daylight!

Or these nasty, uneven saw cuts. Even leaving behind pencil marks is tacky.

Again, not our mistake -- but definitely our problem in one way or another.

Seems I'm not the only one concerned about obtaining a spot at our neighborhood school for my 2009 kindergartner. I'm not planning to arrive at 5am as some are, but I am preparing myself for a line-wait situation. The tiniest chance of Julian having to go to a different school than Gabriel is unthinkable. Who knew kindergarten registration would turn into a competitive sport?

All the new bad economic news doesn't improve matters. Unemployment up. Profits down. Housing prices way down. Stocks down. Everything down, down, down. Can't this all just wait until we move back home? I have a calendar to publish!


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

1/21/09 Can't stand the heat

A few nights ago, a miraculous thing occurred...I sat down to dinner and conversed with my family for over 10 minutes, while Katrina happily played. I felt light-hearted, relaxed, happy to chat over dinner with my children.

It gave me a tiny taste of how easy and joyous life could be, what it would be like without the nightly agony of Katrina's dinnertime tantrum.

I've also grown to like cooking. I like to muse on the drive home about what fresh ingredients I have, what recipe I haven't made for a while, what recipe I'd like to try again and do a little differently. Maybe I'll even stage a baking project as I'm preparing dinner, bringing ingredients up to room temperature or measuring dry ingredients. I like thinking about this during my hour-plus of driving around and picking up kids. It's a nice way to cap off the day.

Except for:


She completely disrupts these ideas, and turns what should be a busy, but homey time into a tense, frustrating ordeal. I grimace the instant she enters the kitchen, because after that, it's almost nonstop tantrum until she demands to get down.

"I scare-me!"
"I want snap!"
"I want TRAY!"
"NO TRAY, I do it my-SEFF!"
"I want water!"
"I want orange juice!"
"I want Shredded Spoonfuls!"
(Mean Old MOM: I won't give her breakfast food or treats for dinner)
"I want milk!"
"I want string cheese!"
"I don't want string cheese!"
"I want pasta!"
"I want rice!"
"I want peas!"
"I want 'ta-toes!"
"I want fish bib!"
"NO fish bib -- I want aminal bib!"
"NO aminal bib -- I want boo bib!"
"I want milk in a red cup!"
"NO milk in a red cup!"
"I want milk in a train cup!"
"NO milk in a train cup!"
"I want Gabriel cup!"
"NO milk in a Gabriel cup!"
"I want blue spoon!"
"I want aminal spoon!"
"I want puh-tle (purple) spoon!"
"I want Spoonfuls!"
"I want...I want...I want...WAAAAAAHHHHH!"

Pretty much every night.

OK, it's easy for you to think, "Well, don't give in to her, and she won't have these tantrums." Oh YEAH?! Hah! She WANTS tantrums! Indeed, if I overact and pretend as though some or other demand is serious -- that is, not resisting her -- it can calm her for the moment. If I refuse to get her such-and-such item, the situation escalates to the point where she is completely out of control, she won't eat a bite, and the tantrum never ends. And no amount of standing up to her will affect tomorrow. Giving in is the easiest response (doesn't work). Saying NO is the next-hardest response (doesn't work). Ignoring is the next-hardest response (doesn't work). Finding ways around the tantrum, circumventing it, removing its bases -- much, much harder, and often impossible. Also doesn't work.

Gabriel had worse tantrums overall, but he wasn't as predictably disagreeable as she is. It's almost inevitable that at dinnertime, she's going to throw a major, constant fit until she's had enough and is ready to get down. Maybe if I were willing to let her live on Clifford Crunch, I could avoid it, but I'm not ready to go there. Yet. It's bad enough that I finally compromise and let her have yogurt for dinner -- TJ's premixed lemon, which is so sweet she thinks it's a treat. She needs to learn to eat real food, but BELIEVE ME, she's some combination of too young and too dedicated to conflict for me to attempt the "if she's hungry enough she'll eat" route. I'm completely confident that the rest of the family will suffer far, far more than she will.

Someday, my evenings won't be ruled by a demanding, opinionated, controlling, impossible toddler. Who, while she's angellicaly sleeping, clutching her beloved Kitty-Kat, I love dearly.

Please, get me out of the kitchen.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

1/20/09 Absolute time

I'm sure I'm not the only one who finds that herding two young children out the door to get somewhere on time -- like school -- is utterly maddening. I was going to say "an exercise in patience" but I am far, far beyond patience. No exercise here.

One thing that's been working a little better, for some things, is to give the boys a specific time -- an absolute time, instead of a relative one. Instead of "five more minutes!" it works better to say "at 7:45 it's bathtime!"

Julian can read a digital clock. but he can't do "clock math," like understanding that 6:51 is after 6:50. Or if he does, he doesn't act on it. Gabriel, on the other hand, been adding and subtracting times for many years now, and has a very solid understanding that 6:52 is 7 minutes after 6:45...but he still can't judge how long 7 minutes is.

(Indeed, it's hard for anyone. I read once that adults are pretty good at guessing how long they've been waiting on line for up to about 5 minutes, after that, their judgment of wait time becomes vastly distorted. I thought about that as I was stuck at an intersection at First Street this afternoon, watching light-rail train after light-rail train interrupt my turn at a green. A clock revealed that it was "only" 4 minutes, but it felt like 40.)

So to move the mornings along, I've been telling them, "At 7:45 I take the bowls away, so if you want to eat breakfast, do it NOW." Before you wince at my cruelty, bear in mind that I tell them this at around 7:20 -- they have plenty of time to eat a bowl of cereal if they don't putz around.

Tonight, I was delighted at how quickly and efficiently they whizzed through the bath-pajama process when I stumbled across the (incredibly obvious) new policy that any ice cream that was earned gets doled out after bath. TIMED ice cream: "At 8:05 the bowls go out...and I put them away at 8:10!" Who knew those boys could get through bath and pajamas in less than 40 minutes and without any yelling!

Katrina, for all her faults, isn't a time liability yet. I think I'd trade her nightly dinnertime tantrum (still in full force) for some morningtime putziness, but something tells me I'll regret that wish. She's an expert in taking same-old same-old problems to new heights. But she loves pointing out the numbers on clocks.


Monday, January 19, 2009

1/19/09 Photo shopping

Katrina had a temperature last night, so I took the day off with her. I'd already committed the boys to Tonya's and playdates with the White kids, so I happily spent a day alone with Katrina. "Happily" includes expecting and bracing myself for the usual fusses and conflict, and she didn't disappoint. But, most of the day she played happily, chatting and even singing, checking in on me and telling me what color crayon she was using now. I loved that. Quantity time.

I can't imagine whatever possessed me, but I took Katrina to, of all places, a mall this morning. I really, truly hate malls, but the surprised expressions I get from people when I spit with distaste about them makes me think maybe I'm being too harsh. And some stores are located only in malls, such as Pottery Barn Kids. I wanted to check out some things I'd seen in the catalog, and this seemed as good a time as any.

So I put my toddler in a stroller and pushed her around a mall.

I quelled the immediate irritation about having a hard time finding the store, and outdated directories with place numbers that aren't on the map don't help. Katrina liked PB Kids immediately and insisted on getting out of the stroller, complicating my shopping. Clinginess is not one of her virtues.

I shop with my camera. It helps me remember what I saw that I liked, and puts it in a context I can remember. A photo in a store can give you a much better idea of how big something is than a catalog photo or a measuring tape. Photos remind me of small details too, like, "oh yeah, I didn't like the way those drawers opened."

So I went about my usual perusing, taking a photo here and there, digitally filing away ideas. "Can I help you find anything, ma'am?" asked a salesclerk, not smiling and not all that helpfully. I told her I was just looking for ideas. "We don't allow photography in the store," she explained, with a very slight scolding tone. "You're kidding," I said in a scoff. "Whatever." I packed up Katrina and left. It was hard to storm out in a dignified way though, since Katrina didn't approve at all of this turn of events, and cried and screamed the entire way back through the mall, and all the way home.

I can't stand those anachronistic policies. There are far, far more subtle ways of spying on other stores these days, and it's not like storefronts are all that make a company competitive anyway. What, if I were spying I'd be holding a camera out in plain view? I wish I'd told her, "But my bosses at Restoration Hardware told me to get some pictures, they're thinking of opening a kids' store."

So, in protest, I post my contraband for all to see. This probably does more to promote than demote the store -- and isn't that the point, you morons?

Katrina loved this little push-truck toy. I was proud of her, in a store filled with froofy girl stuff, she went straight for the truck.

I had to wake her up from a nap at 4:45 to pick up her brothers, who were engrossed in a Pictionary game. She peered at them with curiosity from outside the window.

I like Land of Nod better anyway. And they're not in any malls around here.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

1/18/09 Decked out

I'm in the wrong blog to talk about this, but we had a huge shock last Thursday. Over $17,000 to build a very basic deck, plus $5,000 for no-maintenance material?!

I can't handle this anymore! These sorts of surprises are draining and depressing and exhausting, and suck all our time and attention for days or weeks until it's resolved. We're reeling from the idea of having to throw together a deck from very vague ideas of what we'd want, and spending ten times as much as we'd expected.

And this deck isn't just to set a barbeque on. It's required by PG&E to reach our service panel and turn up our electricity, and it's required by the city to pass final inspection. Every day delayed is another day we're not at home. This deck is urgent. We'd planned to build a throwaway deck to meet code and do a "real" deck after we'd been home for a while, but $17,000 is no throwaway deck.

Friday, I went to talk to a building official at the city to ask a few questions, and a few verrrry interesting things came up. We can step the deck down one step, which means it would only need two steps up, which means no handrails. And below 30 inches, which ours would be, no guardrails around the deck are needed. No railings? Hmmm! A world of possibilities opens up.

Dave's and my dinner out Friday night was partly spent hunched over printed designs with a pencil, and Saturday we stopped by the house for some quickie measurements and layout ideas. This morning we invested real time at the house, with the kids, to measure and lay out options and see what we could do. We had to be prepared to meet with the recipient of the muchos dineros on Monday.

We were hoping that the quasi-novelty of being in our own backyard would keep our little bunch busy. It did -- Katrina was very busy pushing a little wagon right out to the street, and Gabriel was very busy keeping her out of it, running after her numerous times and calling for us (we did the obvious after that and kept the gates closed).

What a terrific big brother he (usually) is.

Our yard has been dug up and refilled, so much of the construction debris is now underground. The earth is soft, there are remnants of sand piles, and just enough outdoor toys in the garage that the kids had a great time digging.

My little scragglemuffin. Poor thing has a temperature tonight.

We were interrupted a lot, but Dave and I figured out that we can probably get away with a bare-bones minimal code-meeting platform. I'm holding my breath until it's confirmed in blood from the city building department, but I think our efforts just dodged us a $22,000 bullet. Or at least, we ran away from it for a while, and gave ourselves a choice about where and when it lands.

The friends we ran into Friday night have also recently been through a major remodel. The woman, Cathy, asked me, "Have you had your meltdown yet?" She's a wise one. Hers was over kitchen knobs, she said, it just sent her over the edge. My full-blown freakout is just around the corner.

Tonight after getting the boys to clean up the family room (a painful operation), they were fighting over Gabriel's marble track toy. So I got out Julian's marble track toy (they both got one for Christmas), and to my amazement, they were very happily cooperating and building a marble track together. The moment was picture-worthy, if not the actual scene.

Someday they'll be making messes in our own house again.