Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Eat your heart out, Gene Simmons. This one's only 4 and he already has groupies.

A Summer's Harvest

Well, Autumn has officially arrived here and with it some cooler temps and rainy weather. Yesterday was probably the last truly warm, sunny day that we'll see until next year, so Atticus and I took the opportunity to clean up our summer garden and begin preparations for winter.

It is so sad to look out my kitchen window and see a loney space of black dirt where my lush, beautiful garden once took root. We were fortunate enough to move into this home with enough time to sneak a garden in during one of our first weekends here. The raspberry vines that were planted here years ago produced bountiful berries; my tomato bushes grew so many tomatoes I was giving them away to whomever would take some; and I cooked a winter's worth of homemade spaghetti sauce; our peppers were hot and spicy enough to be turned into a delicious salsa worthy of praise from Cliff "Nothun's-Too-Hot-For-This-Cowboy."

So in lieu of posting photos of my bleak garden space, here are some great garden memories we this summer of 2006. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Cliff's Adventure at Lilly Lake

Since our wedding in November of 2000, Cliff has maintained a weight loss of about 25 pounds. Like all of us, sometimes his weight goes up a bit (like when his wife is pregnant and depressed about how much she's eating so he ramps up his eating to make hers seem far less), sometimes it goes down (like during the summer months when his wife does the majority of her shopping from her garden or the farmer's market and their diet becomes suspiciously close to that of. . gasp. . vegetarians).

So over time we've replaced his business suits, jeans, shirts, etc., with clothing that fits his trimmer physique. Even is wedding band has become loose, loose to the point where it has gone missing over the years. Luck would have it that the precious item is always found right where it slipped off. . . in the finger of a glove, in the toolbox, on the bathtub floor. And everytime we've been scared by these accidental misplacements, I would nag Cliff, in the way that only a wife can nag a husband, "Get your ring resized! Remember, if you get a new ring, I get a new ring!"

For the most part, that last caveat put the fear of God (and the even greater fear of a jeweler's bill) into Cliff and the ring has stayed permamently locked upon his ring finger. . . that is until a few weekends ago.

As of late, Cliff is trying out a new hobby: kayaking. One of his closest friends, Josh, aka The Chipmunk Hero, is also aka King Kayak. Josh is one of the lucky few in the world who has found a true passion, something that he loves and enjoys and just lives and breathes it in, and that's kayaking. Cliff found his enthusiasm to be contagious, and over the years, Cliff has been getting the itch to have Josh teach him how to kayak.

Well, he had his first such adventure several weeks ago at Lilly Lake. Josh was kind enough to lend Cliff his wife's kayak and off they went.

This particular kayak might not have been the best choice for Cliff's maiden voyage. As Josh explained, the kayak manufacturer labelled the kayak "playful," which is something like a real estate agent calling a 700 square foot house "cozy." The thing was tippy, and Cliff realized that within the first five feet.

Overboard he went. But this was a kayak, so the kayak went with him. He got up, went a bit more, then over again. Then he got tangled up in someone's fishing line. Then he went under again. I think you may be getting to see the pattern here.

Eventually Cliff became a little more accustomed to the tippy kayak, and he ventured his way around the lake with his buddies. But then it happened, the tip of all tips: He went under and suddenly felt his wedding band beginning to slip. . .he said that it became a moment very much like one you see in a movie. . .everything happens in slow motion, he can see the glint of the ring as it slowly tumbles into the dark watery depths. . his face contorts and a slow but loud, "NO O O O O O OO O!!!" escapes from his open mouth, but the sound is muffled by the water around him.

Down to the bottom of Lilly Lake the band sank. Way down to the bottom. Irretrievable.

When Cliff returned home that evening, he shared the story about the lost band, ending with the line, "You better find a babysitter, we'll be going ring shopping this weekend."

At any earlier moment in our marriage, I probably would have been overjoyed at this announcement. But I didn't find myself dizzy at the thought of a shiny diamond. I looked at my simple white gold band and realized that I didn't really want to replace it. When we were first married we chose to purchase these meager bands instead of fancy rings because money was very tight and we just couldn't justify such a purchase. I love my ring and it always reminds me of just how far we have come, and also of how we have always lived by the principle of living within our means, even when the Joneses are living in fancy new houses and driving Lexuses.

"You know, honey, I really love the ring I have," I told my hubby. Relief settled into his face, and for a moment, I think he thought he was off the hook, "Can I trade the new ring for new living furniture instead?" As Cliff tells it, at this point, it crossed his mind that maybe he should take SCUBA classes and rent the equipment to get his ring back, as it surely would cost him less in the long run.

Hence the photo of our current formal living room. The previous owner painted it a shade of light icy pink. . ewwww. . who does that?!? This is the "before" shot. Today will be spent painting and removing the horrid curtains, carrying our old tattered furniture into the basement rec room. The new furniture will be arriving this week, and I'm hoping to have the "after" picture posted soon.

I've been asked by many a person just how mad I was when I found out about Cliff's ring. To be honest, not mad at all. As twisted as this is, I find something very peaceful in knowing that his ring is resting quietly at the bottom of a lake. Like it's somehow preserved in time. . .that is, unless a hobbit from the shire will be someday swim in Lilly Lake when he notices the precious glint of gold. . .

Thursday, September 21, 2006

When you least expect it. . .

Kids grow up fast. Sometimes their growth is quite obvious, such as Paloma taking her first steps. Sometimes their growth just kind of happens so gradually that it takes a moment of enlightment for a parent to realize it.

I had just such a moment last night. It was a fairly typical night: the kids came home from school; we did homework and music practice; and then they all played while I our prepared dinner of sesame chicken with vegetable fried rice and pineapple chunks.

We sat down to eat and I became preoccupied with Paloma, who is rather feverish and fussy from her bout of roseola. Suddenly I realized Atticus was patiently asking me, "More pineapple, please."

For a moment I just stopped. More pineapple? Atticus? Normally he wouldn't touch the stuff, with the complaint that it is "too spicy." I looked over at his plate. While the rest of us were only half done, this kid had eaten everything on his plate, and now was asking, politely, for more.

Atticus has always been my picky kid. Many meals ended up with one or both of us in tears over a small piece of a green vegetable, bread or whatever he chose to be his dislike for the day. I guess over the years I've grown accustomed to his fussines.

I thought about all the things he had eaten over the past few days and it just hit me: we had made our way through this dark tunnel and now were finally at the light. My first thought was, Hallejulah! My second thought: It's about stinkin' time!!!

Upon waking up this morning, I thought I would test this new-found bliss, just to make certain that we were indeed in the land of headache-free meals. I recreated our Paul Bunyan experience, making pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon for my crew. To my great delight, Atticus ate everything! And even had seconds on pancakes and bacon!

Now don't get me wrong. I am certainly not naive and I fully recognize the yin and the yang of parenting. Now that we got through one difficult phase, it is certain that a new, even more difficult phase will soon begin, one that will certainly cause me to grind my teeth, grow grey hair or roll my eyes so far back into my head that they get stuck back there. But for today, I will force myself to remain oblivious to that fact and just relish in the moment of getting through one heck of a childhood phase!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Rest Assured, Juan Valdez

Here in our home we drink coffee. A lot of it. Probably way too much. We wouldn't even *think* of getting through a Monday morning without knowing that our beloved coffee maker was programmed to begin brewing that liquid gold at precisely 5 a.m. We are true coffee-aholics and will drink this fabulous beverage at any hour of the day. . as a mid-morning snack, for an afternoon pick-me-up, or as an after-dinner spoil.

Well, in other homes, life imitates art, but here in ours, life imitates. . .well, life. Miss Paloma is already fascinated the coffee cup. Cliff and I know that we can't leave any coffe cup within 4 feet of the floor, or else Paloma will go to all measures to try and obtain this treasured object. And it's not just the coffee cups that fascinate our little darling. . she loves the whole coffee-making process. Paloma has her own special little dance that she does only for the sound of our bean grinder, and she'll clap with great enthusiasm as Cliff pours the water into the coffee maker.

Atticus knew the difference between Starbucks and any other fast food restaurant from a very young age . Once a Starbucks would be within his visual range, he would begin calling out, "Coffee. . .Chocolate Chunk Cookie!" because he knew that at Starbucks, while no Happy Meals would be found, he could always rely upon Mom ordering him his favorite Chocolate Chunk Cookie.

As parents we see how our habits and interests can easily become the habits and interests of our children. . .Cliff and I both love books and spend many a spare hour reading, and now our children do as well. I love to knit and so does Hatfield; Cliff wears a suit and tie to work everyday, and for quite some time, Atticus insisted upon wearing his "work" everyday (a white, orange and blue tie) to be "Just like Kiff." But for all the good habits that we try to instill in our kids, there are the less-than-ideal ones too that get passed along: Hatfield is a worrier, much like her mom. Atticus has a junk food tooth much like his dad. Try as we might to limit these things, we are only human too.

The verdict is still out on not whether or not the coffee habit is a good one or a bad one, but chances are, it will be something passed on to at least one of our children. Given Paloma's affinity for the supplies necessary to support this habit, it's probably safe to say that Juan Valdez can sleep easily knowing that his coffee will be in high demand for generations to come.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Outta the mouth of babes. . .

We picked Hatfield up moments ago from school and as we were walking up the front path Atticus pointed to a large patch of purple mums that had sprung up over the weekend.

"Mom! Look! New purple flowers!" he shrieked in his excited way.

"Yes, they're called 'Mums'" I explained.

Atticus immediately pointed to the black-eyed susans dotting the other side of the picket fence. Without skipping a beat, he asked, "Are these Dads?"

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Well, it's now mid-week and we're happy to report that our sore and achy muscles are now fully recovered from our big tree-chopping weekend! With the help of our beloved Boppa and Jimmy, we were thrilled to finally cut down the sorry birch tree which resided smack in the middle of our front yard. As neighborhood lore has it, a good third of the tree was decimated during a fierce thunderstorm some years before. Unsure of how our neighbors would take it, we were thrilled to welcome all the smiling faces that made their way over to let us know how relieved they were to see the eyesore finally go.

Cliff now has another good friend as a result of this project--a new chainsaw! I can now see the "chainsaw fever" in his eyes as he looks around our home and yard daily, trying to figure out any project in which he can brandish his new toy. He impressed all of us (and many a neighbor) with his fierce wood chopping skills, honed in his youth spent on the rural Washington peninsula.

We also probably pushed the "Child Labor Laws" to the maximum limit, as Hatfield and Atticus (willingly, mind you) spent the day loading up the cut wood into their red wagon, hauling it up the driveway to the garage and unloading it into our firewood cradle. We were amazed at just how much firewood the tree produced--our 7-foot long cradle is nearly overflowing. While we need to wait a year for it to cure, we should be kept toasty warm next winter!

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Suggestion for Steven D. Levitt

Cliff is a huge fan of Steven D. Levitt, the economist behind the bestseller, Freakonomics. For those of you unfamiliar with his work, Levitt is an economist who wrote an equally fascinating and entertaining book that explores things such as why the KKK was brought down (his theory: Saturday morning cartoons), why Chicago gangs are successful (they have a corporate structure which mirrors McDonalds), and many other interesting topics ranging from real estate agents to abortion to baby names. The arguments are "out there" but so convincing, and the term "Freakonomics" fits it to a tee.

Well, here in our house, I have a phenomena that I would love for Mr. Levitt to explore: Mt. Washmore. Why is it that if I do a load of laundry everyday, I am washing only one medium-sized load. But, when I leave the laundry and wash just every other day, I am washing at least 3 large loads? My largest amount of laundry is on "Clean Sheet Monday," the day I strip the beds and wash the sheets, so it isn't as if I have bedsheets adding throughout the weekday loads; it's just our daily clothing, towels and dishrags the rest of the week. I have spoken with many of my mom friends who all have 3 or more children, and they all admit that this Freakonomic occurs daily in their own homes. We would LOVE it if Mr. Levitt would take a stab at this in his next book.

Either way, I figure by the time Paloma is 15 months, she'll be doing all the laundry anyway, and this Freakonomic won't be my problem anymore but hers!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

First Day of Preschool!

We are thrilled to report that Atticus sailed through his first day of preschool with flying colors!

For weeks now, Atticus has been telling anyone who would listen that he would soon be going to "Big Boy School at Montessori." The big day finally arrived, and our boy was ready to go by 7 am! He carefully chose the pink shirt that Aunt Louise gave to him, along with his favorite shorts and Buzz Lightyear backpack. Having just seen Hatfield take her first day of school pictures the week early, Atticus proudly stood outside to have his very important day recorded as well.

To my great delight, the drop-off went seamlessly. He shook his teacher's hand "hello," and immediately sat down with the others and joined in the welcome song. To relay just how much Atticus had matured over the summer, last year when we lived in Milwaukee, he cried at every preschool drop-off for the first 6 months (the first week he cried so loudly I could hear him from outside the building!). To see him just run right in without turning around to even wave goodbye was unbelievable!

When I returned several hours later, Atticus was busy eating his snack and talking to his new classmates. When he finally did spot me, I got a big hug and "I had fun!" I asked the head teacher how the day went and she told me, "Fabulous. . he's a very happy and smiley boy!" I felt like I died and went to preschool heaven!

I think this year will hold great things for Atticus. . . he is so excited about his letters and numbers and puzzles. As icing on the cake, our school has now hired a Suzuki violin teacher, and now Atticus will be taking violin lessons five days a week, 30 minutes each day. In my mind, Atticus is still my baby boy, and often it is difficult for me to realize that he isn't my one-year-old sidekick anymore. I am so proud to see him grow, and I am so thankful for this great preschool opportunity. We will be certain to report his progress over the course of the year, as I'm certain there will be a humorous tale or two from time to time.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Those perfect family moments

As parents, we often envision moments of perfect familial bliss. I had one of these myself just the other evening. Cliff and I had the "perfect" barbeque dinner planned, all to be enjoyed on our backyard deck: dad's burgers, mom's salsa, corn-on-the-cob, baked beans, fresh watermelon, lemonade; you get the picture. And to top it off? Ooey gooey s'mores roasted over the charcoal grill! Mmm, mmm, mmmm!

Well, that's what I had envisioned in my mind. Here's the reality of it:

(Whole family sits down to dinner on patio.)
Atticus: (Shrieking) A bee! A bee!
Hatfield: There's a fly on Paloma!
Paloma: (feeding Ernie her food) Whining for more food.
Cliff: (to Atticus): It's not a bee. It's just a fly.
Hatfield: Where's the ketchup? (Mom gets up to get the ketchup)
Atticus: (Shrieking) The bee's back! The bee's back! Uncle Adam's allergic to bees! (Uncle Adam is two hours away, up north on vacation)
Cliff: It's not a bee, it's a fly.
Hatfield: When are we having s'mores?
Paloma: (throwing her sippy cup)
Sarah: (picks up the sippy cup, puts it on tray. This scenario repeats 4 more times)
Atticus: It's yellow! It's black! It's a bee! I want to die! [Yes, this is a phase he picked up from Sarah during the Chipmunk fiasco]
Hatfield: Is it time for s'mores?
Cliff: Oh my god! It's 3 bees! Don't move! Don't swing at them! They're more scared of you than you are of them!
Hatfield: There's a fly on my food. Ewwww. Is it time for s'mores?
Paloma: (dumps bowl of applesauce on head while Sarah is reaching for the sippy cup for the 5th time).
Cliff: Great food, honey! (plate only holding remains of corn cob and melon rinds). I'll go give Paloma a bath. (looking at Sarah's full plate) Don't you like the food? You haven't touched anything!
Hatfield: Time for s'mores!

Cliff takes Paloma to the tub. Sarah, Atticus and Hatfield arrive at the grill.

Hatfield: Ack! I burnt my marshmallow! I can't eat a burnt marshmallow!
Sarah: (ever the trooper, eats the burnt marshmallow)
Atticus: Ack! My marshmallow fell into the fire!
Hatfield: Oh no! I burnt another marshmallow! Mom, here you go!
Sarah: (eats second burnt marshmallow)
Atticus: Oh no! Ernie ate one of the chocolate bars!
Hatfield: (having finally roasted one to golden perfection) Mom, will shampoo get marshmallow out of hair?
Atticus: Ack! My marshmallow fell into the fire!
Hatfield: Mom! Ernie just ate the stack of graham crackers!
Sarah: (sits down out of sheer exhaustion and pure burnt-mashmallow induced indigestion)
Atticus: Mom! My marshmallow's on fire!
Sarah: (stands to roast a marshmallow for Atticus)
Hatfield: Mom, what's all over the back of your pants!
Atticus: Mommy has a marshmallow butt!
Atticus and Hatfield, laughing, in unison: Mommy has a marshmallow butt! Mommy has a marshmallow butt!

I suppose someday I'll look back at this adventure and find it terribly funny. For tonight, I'm too busy trying to get burnt, smooshed marshmallow out of the seat of my favorite shorts to appreciate the full humor of the situation.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Only in Green Bay

We live in a nice neighborhood. A good mix of the generations: the elderly, the early retirees, families with high school kids, families with young kids. People tend to stay in their homes for decades and go to great lengths to continually improve their homes/yards. They'll spend tens of thousands of dollars elaborately landscaping their yards or putting in heated, inground pools that they'll use for 3.4 months of the year.

Then why, praytell, with their elaborately landscaped yards and award-winning decks and patios and backyard gazebos, do they choose to sit in their driveways in ratty old lawnchairs?

Now, I realize the first answer many of you are thinking is, "They choose to do it to maintain a community feel, to welcome their neighbors and spend time enjoying each other's company." And yes, that is a very valid answer, and I'm certain that it holds quite true.

The thing we don't understand, however, is the Ratty Lawn Chair Phenomenon. Most of these people have decorated front porches, complete with wicker chairs with plush cushions (as in the photo).

Our only explanation: This is Green Bay, and this is how we (well, some of us at least) do it here. It reminds us of a story from when Cliff first moved here. It was his first Wisconsin autumn, and the three of us were out for an evening walk on a brisk, fall night. A night that happened to be a Packer Game Night (meaning we were the only people in the city out for a walk and not glued to our televisions).

And as we were walking down our street, we approached a driveway where eight men, some in flame orange hunting jackets, were hunkered down in ratty old lawn chairs, drinking Miller from cans, huddled around an outdoor fireplace and a 40-inch tv, watching the Packer Game. In their driveway. Their back garage door was wide open, revealing a beautiful cedar deck, but there they were. In the driveway.

Only in good ol' GB. It took moving away to a big city where scary things happened all the time to realize just how much we truly appreciate our slower, albeit at times backwards, pace. So we'll happily live with the Ratty Lawn Chair Phenomenon. In fact, we wouldn't have it any other way.