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Posts from the ‘home’ Category

lice, you ain’t nice

Every time I see an email about lice from my kids’ school, I read it with a shudder of revulsion and then try to figure out which kid in the class has the lice. Then I try to prevent my kids from coming in contact with the perp, all without actually mentioning the word “lice.” It’s tricky.

Me: “Hey Finn. So how about those Blazers, huh. Say, anyone at school get a haircut recently?”

Finn: “What?”

Me: “You know. A haircut. Like anyone cut their hair super short? Or…I don’t know. Any of your friends get a new hat?”

Finn: “Like what kind of hat?”

Me: “You know. A hat. Like, a baseball hat. Any kind of hat.”

Finn: (Long pause). “No.”

Me: “Ok, that’s cool.” (Pause). “Hey, maybe don’t do any reading today in the reading corner.”

Finn: “Why not?”

Me: (Pause). “Well, you can read. Just don’t, you know, touch any of the pillows. Don’t do any lounging. And maybe, you know, don’t touch any of your friends today.”

Finn: “Why not?”

Me: “Because.”

Finn: “Because why?”

Me: “Because I said so, ok?”

Finn: “But why?”

Me: “BECAUSE THERE MIGHT BE BUGS ON THE PILLOWS OK?? Now eat your breakfast.”

The thing about lice is that centuries of human familiarity with lice hasn’t robbed it of its power. It’s like leprosy. I haven’t heard of anyone having leprosy in a really long time. But anyone who has seen Ben-Hur knows that leprosy is no joke. Your skin falls off, and then your fingers fall off. I don’t want leprosy, and I don’t want lice. Lice isn’t a sexy old-timey disease like consumption, which makes you think of Chopin coughing delicately into an embroidered handkerchief and seems kind of romantic. Yes I know that consumption is technically tuberculosis. But do YOU know that lice is BUGS? In your HAIR??

Feel free to start screaming. I did, when we got the call. I buzz my kids’ hair on a regular basis and we’d avoided five rounds of lice at my kids’ school, so I thought we were home free. Nope. Tate had a bug near his ear, and needed to be picked up. The school checked Finn as a precaution and said he was clean, but my older son was leaving for outdoor school the next day, and I wasn’t taking any chances. My car screeched into the school parking lot and I left the engine running while I ran in to grab Finn. Tate had already been picked up by Tom and with any luck, was at home being fumigated. Inside the school, Finn sensed my distress and reacted accordingly.

Finn, digging in his heels: “Wait, why are we going home early?”

Me: “Ha ha, happy to see you too, sport. Hey Chandra!” (Waving to another parent). “I just, you know, felt like picking you up early because…I missed you.”

Finn: “But I want to play soccer!”

Me: (Leaning close, grabbing shirt, and hissing). “Listen, buddy. Your brother has BUGS, ok?? IN HIS HAIR. We need to leave. RIGHT. NOW.”

With Finn in the car, I sped off for Lice Knowing You. The only nice thing about lice in the modern age is that there are places like Lice Knowing You. Lice Knowing You is a real place that actually exists. It is a salon, just like any other salon, except that this salon isn’t marked from the outside and the only service they offer is the removal of bugs from your person. The school had told me that Finn was clean, but, no offense to the school, I needed a professional opinion. I screeched into the parking lot and dragged Finn into the salon, where I tried to be really chill about not touching any of the surfaces. There, a lady sprayed conditioner in Finn’s hair and then gave Finn the first combing of his life. No lice.

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I packed Finn into the car and we peeled off for home. I arrived to find Tom and Cuz stripping all the beds. Tate was running around the house stark naked. I waved to Tate from a safe distance and turned to Tom. “So, did you do the lice treatment?”

Tom looked up from spraying a mattress with an expression that suggested that he had been dealing with lice and spraying the mattress for approximately seven years, instead of the 45 minutes that had elapsed since he’d left the school with Tate. “I didn’t find anything,” he said.

What did he MEAN he didn’t find anything? Tom wasn’t like Finn, who often asks where his glasses are, when they are on his face. Tom is a FINDER. Tom’s ability to find things is like number 4 on the top ten things that I love about my husband. If Tom didn’t find lice, there were no lice. But still. The school wouldn’t have sent Tate home on a TUESDAY unless they had found some serious lice. Would they?

“What do you mean you didn’t find anything?,” I asked. “Do you even know what lice look like? They look like little white grains of rice, Tom. Like little white eggs. Did you even look at any pictures??!!!” I could feel myself sounding and looking like a howler monkey and was powerless to stop it. Tom stopped spraying and pulled his body up to full height. “Yoona. I know what lice looks like. I know what nits look like. I looked at the pamphlet in the kit. He didn’t have any lice.”

Well. He didn’t have to get all hysterical about it. I gave him a look and hauled both my boys to the bathroom, where I clipped on my trusty Number 1 guide and buzzed them clean.

Try clinging onto that fuzz, you nasty lice. And you nasty nits, too. ‘Til next time.

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bike racks and other marital traps

There are things in life that I try to avoid because of how much tension they cause between me and Tom. For instance, H&M t-shirts. Tom insists on hang-drying his so they don’t shrink, but sometimes I forget and put them in the dryer along with every other piece of clothing I wash, and then he gets really mad. I’m sorry that I ruined your shirt, Tom. Luckily, it cost $4.99 and there are another 3,000 of them at the Lloyd Center H&M.

Or how about grilling, at parties. I don’t enjoy throwing parties at which meats must be grilled, because Tom gets really tense if anyone even approaches the grill while he’s at work. When that happens, he gets a weird performance anxiety, and then we usually end up with under/overcooked meats. Our grill (a “Charbroiler”) is a true POS so it’s not really Tom’s fault—one side of the grill has never worked, and the starter is broken so you have to light the whole thing by turning on the gas and throwing a flaming paper towel into it from a safe distance and hoping for the best, and it’s just…not a good scene.

But listen, I have a vested interest in the outcome of the grilling. I’ve planned the menu and cooked the sides, and I’ve procured and marinated the very expensive cut of meat. So I can never help reminding Tom not to overcook the meat, which sounds to my ears like a friendly “Tom please don’t overcook the meat” but apparently sounds to Tom’s ears like a mocking “Tom, your penis is so very tiny.” Now that I think of it, it’s not just Tom. Most men I know are extraordinarily sensitive about grilling. My friend Ethan has an outdoor turkey fryer and when we do Practice Thanksgiving we all just watch him from inside the house, nursing our beers, because he’s super sensitive about being second-guessed on his frying time.

Grilling, however, is nothing compared to the marital stress bomb that is our bike rack. If you’ve read this blog for a while, you have witnessed my evolution from bike-hater to bike-rider. While we’ve had our bike rack for a while, this is the first year that all four of us have bikes. In advance of our first summer trip to Central Oregon, I took our bike rack, which has a 1.25″ fitter, to get it fitted to our new 2″ hitch. “Are you sure that’s going to stay on?,” I asked, as the employee affixed the rack to the hitch with a single, puny screw. He had his face turned toward the car so I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty sure I heard him roll his eyes. “Yep,” he said, grabbing the rack and pressing down on it for good measure. It seemed steady, but then again, he was a small guy. “Ok. But I have four bikes,” I said, nervously, leaving out the fact that Tate’s bike didn’t have pedals and weighed about 4 pounds. “Well, good thing about this here rack is that it’s made for four bikes,” he said. I narrowed my eyes, sensing sarcasm. “Anyway, it can hold up to 200 pounds,” he said. I perked up. 200 pounds! That was a lot. And this guy knew bike racks. He worked at a bike rack store, after all. I left feeling reasonably assured.

But then Tom loaded the bikes on the rack. And while I trust my husband, I didn’t feel good about how the whole rig looked. Worse, I had no experience with bike racks, so I didn’t know if all loaded bike racks looked so terrifying. But wait a second, this is why Facebook was invented, right? I snapped the photo below and posted it to my wall, asking whether the rack looked normal. I sat back, and awaited the reassuring commentary.
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The first comment came in, from my friend Tim. “NO WAY THAT’S STAYING ON.” Well. Alarming, certainly. But if I had to name one person I knew who seemed less outdoorsy than me, I would have chosen Tim, maybe after my Mom. It’s not like I’d ever seen a bike rack on his Boxer. So I ignored Tim and waited for other comments. More comments came in. Becky asked if that was a basket on one of the bikes. What did that matter?? Patrick commented that his bike rack had once fallen off on I-405. By this time we were on I-405, and I could see the bikes bouncing up and down through my rearview mirror. I looked on FB again. Ethan had commented. “DUDE.”

Fuck. Ethan is pretty outdoorsy, and grew up in Denver. More importantly, Ethan spends a lot of his free time on the Internet and has a lot of useless knowledge about random things. So I dialed Ethan from the car’s Bluetooth. “Does it really look bad?,” I asked. Tom sat next to me, fuming. The boys sat behind us, sensing drama. As for Ethan, he had no idea that he was on speaker, or that Tom could hear the conversation. “Well, I mean, why are the bikes sitting so far away from the car?,” Ethan asked. What did he mean? I hadn’t even thought about THAT. I had only worried that the bikes would fall off. Now I pictured them tipping my car over. I started to ask Ethan follow-up questions but then noticed Tom’s arm, gripping the console in rage. “Ha ha, it’s all good, Ethan,” I said. “I mean…” Ethan continued. Then I hung up on him.

“I’m sure it’s fine,” I muttered to myself. And it was fine. The bikes bounced a lot but made it all the way to Sisters. And back. And hopefully they will make it all the way to Bend next week, and back from Bend. I assume they will. Because Tom says they will. And like a ringer, Tom tends to be right when it matters.

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hiding in my car

I ought to go in there. I really ought to.

I mean, it’s my house. And 9 times out of 10, I bound up the steps. That tenth time, though. Boy. That tenth time, I’ve had a bad day, and dealing with my kids just might put me over the edge. Times like that, I just can’t go inside.

In the house, Tom’s likely wrestling both boys towards bedtime. He’s prying lips back from two sets of clenched up teeth, and trying to touch toothbrushes to tooth surfaces. He’s suggesting to Finn that the wiping of the ass might be more effective if the paper goes between the butt cheeks. He’s trying to convince Tate to crap in the toilet now, instead of later in his pull-up, when it will be unspeakably disgusting for all involved.

In the bath, there will be water, sloshing all over. Tate will want to take Thomas the Train and his friend Percy swimming. It will sound like this, to Tom and any neighbor in a five house radius: “PUSSY WANTS TO GO SWIMMING!!” There will be the ten millionth explanation of why you can’t put wooden toys into the tub. There will be whining that the water is too cold (Finn), and simultaneously, too hot (Tate). Inevitably, there will be “DON’T GET WATER ON MY SCRATCH/FAKE TATTOO/CHUCK-E-CHEESE STAMP/BAND-AID!!” There will be screaming. There will be tears, most of them Tom’s.

But out here in my car, all is serene. I can listen to the radio and check my texts. The wireless in the house works just as well out here in front of the parking strip. If the light is good, I might do my nails. Base coat, color, second coat of color, topcoat. It all takes time, but you can’t rush perfection.

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From out here, I can quietly enjoy the view of my denuded lawn, which has no plants in it because Tom had them all pulled out last week in a fit of gardening rage. Instead of shrubs, I can now enjoy the hole in the boards below my porch, perfectly sized for rodent entrances and exits. Tom says he will cut and paint a new board to replace the missing one. But that would seem to require woodworking skills of which I’ve seen zero evidence during our 12 years of marriage.

Sometimes if I run out of stuff to do in the car, I’ll run to my mailbox on the porch and then run back to my car with my mail. US Weekly is the best for car reading, but if it’s not Friday, catalogs will do. Frontgate is my favorite. Frontgate is like the Skymall catalog, without the plane. Tom and I play a game on the plane called “Death is Not an Option.” Every page of the Skymall catalog, you have to pick something that you must display in your home. Sometimes the kids play, but they actually want the items. Who says married people are lame? Not me. Married people can squeeze fun from the most sullen, whiny, and ungrateful rocks, not that I ever think of parenting or my kids that way.

I flip some pages in the Frontgate catalog. A Sopranos Craps Shadowbox! Tom would totally pick that. I wish he was out here in the car with me. But it’s impossible, because someone has to be inside the house with my kids.

The light is dimming. Tom’s probably settling in for the 200th reading of the haunting children’s masterpiece known as “Superman v. Mongul.” Or perhaps tonight the boys have chosen the compelling narrative arc of the Lego Star Wars Character Encyclopedia. In particular I really enjoy reading which Lego sets each character can be found in and then hearing “We don’t have that set. Can we buy that set?” Sweet dreams, boys.

I ought to go inside. But I put them to bed last night when Tom was outside in his car checking scores and poring over the Eastbay catalog. Of course, when Tom hides in the car, I run outside with no shoes on and stand menacingly at his window until he gives up and comes inside. I shouldn’t do that. Because I get it. Sometimes, you just need to hide in the car.

the lentil soup project

I really like lentil soup. I’ve liked it since I had my first bowl of it in Istanbul, which is a d-baggy thing to say, like when people come back from Italy and say they won’t eat pizza anymore because it wouldn’t be as good as the pie they had in Naples. Go back to Naples then! Who’s stopping you? But anyway, it’s true: they have spices in Turkey that people don’t use much here, like Aleppo pepper, and I’ve searched for years for a recipe to recreate the magic of my first lentil soup experience, and never gotten even close.

But that’s all in my past. I’m a mom now, and don’t have time to waste on perfecting my own culinary experiences. I just want to cook things that my kids will eat. After pick-up last week, Finn and I stopped in at a coffee shop across the street from his school, for a snack. He ordered a pumpernickel bagel and I ordered a cup of lentil soup. “What’s that?,” Finn asked, as I tucked into my bowl. “Lentil soup. Want a bite?,” I asked, hopefully. After three bites, Finn hooked his hand around the bowl and pulled it in front of his face. After a few more bites, he told me that the soup was “incredibly delicious,” a phrase he has used only once before, in relation to Twizzlers. I looked down at the bowl full of protein-rich lentils and vegetables, and tried hard not to wig out. Then I politely approached the owner of the coffee shop for her recipe.

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I either didn’t telegraph my desperation loudly enough, or the woman had never known the misery of having kids who were picky eaters. Either way, the owner didn’t give two shits about my malnourished kids and she wasn’t about to share her recipe. She told me, dismissively, that it was “just lentil soup with vegetables.” But I can be insistent when the situation calls for it, and I decided that my kids, and this soup, called for it. So I kept pushing her for details, and finally got one: roasted tomatoes. I bought another bowl for Finn’s lunch the next day and said “thanks” while adding the “for nothing” silently in my head.

A couple days later on a day off, I got to work. I researched lentil soups online, and broke out my cookbooks. The good news was that there were lots of recipes for lentil soup. The bad news was that none of them included roasted tomatoes. I rejected the recipes with cumin and other extraneous spices, and focused on the ones that included bacon. I settled on the recipe from “The Best Recipe: Soups and Stews,” and modified it to include some roasted tomatoes.

I gave the soup a taste. It wasn’t Istanbul, but it was pretty great. Rich, buttery, warming. Still, I was nervous when dinner time rolled around. Getting a kid to eat something once is one thing–getting a kid to eat something twice is a freaking miracle. I couldn’t be certain that Finn would eat my lentil soup, even though he’d loved the one he’d had before. I placed a bowl in front of both my kids. Tate ate his up along with four pieces of baguette with butter. Finn finished one big bowl and asked for another. Cuz and I gave each other silent high-fives across the table, while maintaining outward calm.

I’m not making any promises. But my kids ate it. And even if yours don’t, you’ll have a pot full of delicious soup that you can have all to yourself.

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Lentil Soup with Roasted Tomatoes

Adapted from The Best Recipe: Soups and Stews, serves 12 (you can halve the recipe)

4T vegetable or olive oil

8 oz. bacon, diced

8 cups chicken broth

1 cup white wine

2 large onions, diced or chopped fine (my kids are likelier not to pick vegetables out of their food if the pieces are tiny, but maybe yours don’t care)

4 large carrots, chopped fine

2 T minced garlic

2 cups dried green or brown (not red) lentils, rinsed and picked over for stones

2 cups roasted tomatoes, chopped into rough chunks (recipe follows), or 2 cups canned, diced tomatoes with juice (fire roasted work great)

2 t chopped fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1-2 T red wine vinegar, or to taste

Directions

1. Heat oil in a large stockpot or cast iron casserole over medium-high heat. Cook bacon until fat has rendered and pieces are browned and crisp.

2. Throw in the carrots, onions, garlic, thyme, bay leaves and a few grinds of black pepper. Saute for 3-5 minutes, until softened.

3. Throw in the lentils and tomatoes, and “sweat” the lentils by sauteing for 5-7 minutes.

4. Stir in the wine, stir until dissolved.

5. Pour in the broth along with two cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until lentils are softened.

6. If you like a creamier soup, you can blitz 3-4 cups of the soup in a blender and then pour it back into the pot. Or you can leave as is. Stir in the vinegar at end. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

7. Enjoy with a crusty baguette and a salad! Leftovers are great for lunch.

*Roasted tomatoes: preheat oven to 400 degrees. Halve five roma tomatoes and put them, cut sides up, on a cookie sheet. Melt some butter and brush the tops with butter. Sprinkle with kosher salt and a little pepper, if you like. Roast them on the top rack until they turn brown and bubbly–took 25 minutes in my oven.

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drowning in legos

Growing up, my brother had a blue plastic box that was filled with Legos. It was the size of a small shoebox, and it had stickers on the outside and a handle, and he carried it around everywhere.

My kids have approximately eighty times the amount of Legos my brother had. I don’t know how it happened. Insidiously, over time. You buy a set or two, you have a birthday party and you receive ten sets, Grandma sends some through the mail. I don’t know. I just don’t know. I think about it a lot. How did we get here?

My older kid covets Legos, but then, once procured and built, could care less about them. Tate, however, really digs on Legos, most especially the people figures, which he calls “my guys.” He wants to take his guys everywhere, at really inopportune times.

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At New Year’s, we were late for a family party in Vancouver and I hustled to get him ready. “My guys! I need my guuuuuuys!,” he screamed. Increasingly with Tate, I understand why governments negotiate with terrorists. At that moment, I gave in, because giving in was less painful than listening to Tate sob for an hour while I munched on a handful of Advil. I ran to the play room, dumped out a box of Legos onto the floor, raked through them with my fingers, and picked out four figures, all missing heads or arms. I threw them into a tin lunchbox and ran back to the door.

As I hurriedly pulled on my shoes, Tate opened the lunchbox, and eyed the contents. And then he put on his angry face, which makes my heart clench up in terror. “I want Kendo Kai!!” Kendo Kai? Sounded like a Ninjago figure, but I couldn’t be sure. The only Lego figures I can consistently tell apart from any of the others are the R2-D2 figure and the Batman figure, who helpfully wears a bat mask. More crucially, I had a better chance of running into Christian Bale right there in my entryway than I did of picking out Kendo Kai from the metric ton of Legos in the playroom. I exhaled an impatient breath. “Tate, we’re late. You have one minute to pick your Legos, and then we have to go.” Tate strolled to the playroom, picked through the Legos, and made a selection for his lunchbox, a process that took approximately three hours. We finally made it back to the entryway, and put on his shoes. When he stood up, his lunchbox opened over the heating register and all the pieces fell through the grate. And that’s when the real screaming began.

Legos cause a lot of drama in my house. For instance, the three panicked hours on Christmas Eve when Tom and I drove around Portland in separate cars trying to find a Ninjago set for Tate. Annoyingly, the only thing I could think in my panic was that, being 3, Tate wasn’t even close to being in the recommended age range for the Ninjago sets. At this rate, he’d be stealing scotch from Tom’s cabinet when he turned 8. What kind of crap parents were we? But all the anxiety faded when Tom texted to say that he’d located a Ninjago set at Barnes & Noble. Anyway, all the drama was worth it, for this moment, on Christmas morning.

The Ninjago incident was nothing compared to the Falcon debacle. When the Millennium Falcon came in the mail from Grandma Johnson, Tom took one look at the box and put it on top of his bookshelf. “WTF, it has 1254 pieces. I’m waiting for Matt,” he told me. Tom’s brother-in-law Matt is the kind of guy who wears shorts year-round and knows how to de-bone a chicken in 12 seconds. He is McGyver. This year he glued on a cabinet door in my kitchen, fixed a broken doorknob, sharpened all my knives, and pounded my misshapen mixing bowl back into round with a wooden spoon. Anyway, when Uncle Matt arrived a week later for the holidays, he and Tom began the process of building the Falcon. It took about six hours, on and off, to complete. The finished product was a beaut.

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Once built, the only thing Tate wanted to do is play with that Millennium Falcon. To open the flaps at the top, to put his guys in it, to take his guys out of it. But having expended considerable energy on its creation, Tom wasn’t about to let Tate touch the Falcon. Instead, he put it up in our bedroom, out of easy reach. Every morning for three days, Tate would come upstairs at the crack of dawn and try to touch the Falcon. And Tom would gently swat his hand away and tell him that the Legos—the Legos were not for playing. It sounds heartless, but if you’ve ever built a large Lego set, maybe you can sympathize. The Falcon was built layer by layer, with hundreds of pieces you can’t even see comprising the framework. It looked to be virtually impossible to reconstruct once taken apart. What drove Tom was not cruelty, but fear.

On the fourth day, I woke up late, to an ominous silence. I blinked my eyes to adjust to the dim light in our bedroom, and made out a fuzzy shape at the foot of our bed. I put on my glasses and realized it was Tate, standing with a gray roof flap from the Falcon in his hand. Oh shit oh shit oh shit. How long had he been in our room while we’d been sleeping?? I jumped out of bed and ran to the sitting room to assess the damage before Tom woke up.

In the next room, Tate and I both stared at the Falcon, now missing half of its top and much of its battle gear. Tate looked freaked out, as if he’d sleepwalked to the kitchen and woken up to find himself eating a package of uncooked bacon. I wanted to repair the damage and protect Tate from Tom’s wrath, but where to begin? To me, even in its finished form, the Falcon had looked unfinished. Now, I had no idea what parts were complete and which had had pieces torn off of them by Tate. “Buddy,” I whispered to Tate as I began sticking random Lego pieces onto the Falcon, “it’s not looking good for you.” Tate whimpered.

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When Tom eventually lurched into the room, he grabbed his hair in two handfuls and gave a silent scream. Then he took the Falcon and hid it, in the closet in his man room, where it sits to this day, giving joy to no boy or girl.

This morning, Tate asked if I wanted to play with his “pod racers.” I looked at the toy in his hand, and did a double take. I recognized those gray pieces: the roof flaps from the Falcon. And as I looked at his charming little creation, I remembered that this—spontaneous creativity—was why we put up with all the Legos. I gave Tate a snug and threw a mental fist bump to the Lego gods in appreciation.

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criss cross applesauce

People always act like it’s so great when one parent is at home with the kids. But listen, it depends on the parent. I have friends who stay home with their kids and are always posting pics of them doing fun crafty activities. If I stayed home with my kids, they’d end up watching TV like 12 hours a day and eating mountains of Hot Pockets.

But I still have to amuse them on weekends. And when it’s rainy outside, as it often is in Portland, it can get really ugly. That’s why I like to cook with them. They fight over who gets to stir and who gets to lick the spoon, but better that than them “playing ninja,” which as far as I can tell, involves Tate kicking Finn, and Finn putting Tate into a retaliatory headlock.

The thing about cooking, of course, is that it always seems to take so long when you need it to go quickly, and to go so quickly when you need it to go slow. When I bake with the boys, I’m so desperate to prevent flour from flying all over my kitchen that I end up speeding through it. And then I’ve burned no time off the clock at all.

That’s why I’m so glad that Finn is old enough to cut with a knife. Cutting stuff takes a long time. Even better, Finn loves nothing more than cutting things with a knife, and would do it for hours if I let him. A block of tofu can eat up fifteen minutes, if you plan it right and make a math game out of it. A bowl of strawberries—maybe 30 minutes (you have to cut off the tops, and then halve the berries).

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But tofu and strawberries is kids’ stuff compared to cutting apples for homemade applesauce. First of all, apples have a nice, satisfying consistency for cutting. They aren’t too hard, like carrots, or too wet, like citrus. Secondly, you need a shitload of apples for applesauce. I cored and sliced the apples and passed them to Finn, who cut each slice into thirds and then tossed them into the slow cooker. It took him 45 minutes to fill the slow cooker.

He did eat enough apples during the cutting process that he blew chunks at a Blazers game later that night, but I don’t like to think about that. Instead, I choose to think about this: 45 minutes is two episodes of Jake and the Neverland Pirates. And at the end of it, we had jars of rich, sweet applesauce, made without an ounce of added sugar. Sometimes I have this parenting thing so dialed that I think that I should have had ten kids.

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Slow cooker applesauce

Apples (how many is going to depend on the size of your slow cooker). Mine’s a 7 quart and I used 8-10 large honeycrisps

Juice of one large lemon

1 cinnamon stick (about 3 inches is good), optional

Ground nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger to taste

1. Core and divide each unpeeled apple into six or eight slices. An aside: is there any kitchen task worse than peeling apples?  No, there is not.  Have your kid lay each slice flat on his cutting board and cut it into thirds. Toss the apples into the slow cooker.

2. Add lemon juice and cinnamon stick. Cover and cook on low heat for 5-7 hours, or until soft enough to mash.

3. Remove cinnamon stick. Mash the apples, or blitz them for smoother texture. Stir in ground spices to taste. I used about a teaspoon of cinnamon and a half teaspoon each of nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.

4. Store in fridge up to a week, or give it away in jars. Or pack for your kid’s lunch with a container of greek yogurt and another container of granola.

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xbox nation

I haven’t been writing as frequently because, as I’ve mentioned in my last few posts, I’ve been busy surviving my kids’ winter break. They’re back in school now. The alternating bouts of ennui and frenzied activity that made up the past three weeks have died down into something more regular, more sane.

But before it disappeared completely, this winter break left something pungent in its wake. The afternoon of the roller-skating debacle, we drove home from the rink around 2:00 in the afternoon, with a car full of family and nothing to fill the time until the inevitable Chipotle run at 5:00. I looked over at Tom in the passenger’s seat, and saw desperation in his eyes equal to mine. “Let’s do it,” I said. “Let’s get the Xbox.”

We’d been arguing about getting a video game system for months. Tom grew up on a country road with few neighbors, and no game system at home. The way he describes it, it is an absolute miracle that he did not grow up to be an ax murderer given this deprivation. When he got to college, he apparently suffered severe sociological consequences when his frat brothers wouldn’t let him play video games. “They’d never let me play because they said I didn’t know how,” he’ll tell you, in a tragic and aggrieved tone that is totally at odds with the ridiculousness of the statement.

As silly as Tom’s fear-mongering was, it worked. I started to worry that if I never let my boys play video games, I would be inhibiting their social development.

So we got an Xbox Kinect. Waiting in line at GameStop, I tried not to touch any surfaces and watched as the cashier hollered at a woman standing in line. “Ma’am? You alright with your child playing ‘Call of Duty,’ rated M??” “You bet,” she hollered back, while cracking her gum. I clutched my Xbox tightly to my chest and promised myself that my kids would only play sports games, and that this was the only time I would ever need to be physically present inside a GameStop.

We bought a few games with the system, but really all anyone has been doing is playing FIFA 2013. The first time Tom played the game, he stood in front of the TV and stated without irony that the game was “the best thing that has ever happened to me.” I waited for him to look back at me with his sheepish grin, adding on the usual caveat (“except for you and the boys!”), but I waited in vain. He never looked back at me at all. Because I’d already lost him to FIFA.

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That first session, Tom and Cuz played for like 90 minutes and scored not a single goal between the two of them, even with several rounds of penalty kicks. A penalty kick is when you kick on the goal with no one in front of you but the goalie, who in this case, is not even a real goalie, but a computer generated figure that moves with all the grace and agility of Frankenstein.

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But they’re better now, because they play almost every night after the kids are in bed. They’ve taught Finn and even my Mom, although it’s unclear whether either Finn or my Mom know how to work the controllers. Last weekend, Finn played with his friend and neighbor Owen, and Owen beat him 8-1. “At least Finn got one goal,” I whispered to Cuz. “No,” Cuz whispered back, shaking her head. “Owen accidentally scored on himself.” I thought that simply buying the Xbox would be enough to assure my sons’ future social ascendancy. Watching Finn and Owen, I realized that I would now have to worry about my boys being good at video games. I stood up abruptly. “Owen, it’s time to go home,” I said.

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At least Finn is learning sportsmanship, even if he sucks at FIFA 2013. I overheard Cuz and Finn talking to one another in the car last week. “You’re not good at FIFA, Aunt Bora,” said Finn. “What are you even talking about? I scored on you the last game,” Cuz retorted.

“Yeah, but it was a cheap goal,” Finn muttered from the backseat.

Ah, long live Xbox.

the best of the season

I like creativity. But I crave order. And nowhere is this more apparent than during our annual holiday cookie bake. Linds comes over, for a full day. We bake approximately 400 cookies. We wrap our precious booty in tins and cookie boxes. We are a FORCE. The day requires coordination and two people who have cooked together enough to have figured out a rhythm.

This year, my boys wanted to help decorate the cookies. But I am very specific about my cookies, having learned years ago from the best of the best, my sister-in-law Susan. I strive for elegance, consistency, and precision in my cookie decorating. I abhor cutesy cookies and stick to a limited palette of holiday-appropriate colors. My kids don’t care about any of that. They just want to slide their feet around in flour, eat raw cookie dough, and sprinkle stuff.

Tate wanted to decorate a cookie. He ignored the red and green sprinkles we’d laid out, and did his own thing. And the end result was my worst holiday cookie nightmare, but it’s alright. It’s the holidays. He can have his blue and pink cookie. But I have to do my thing too. And I have a cookie platter to worry about, and my platter doesn’t do blue and pink. So I admit that I made Finn eat Tate’s cookie first.

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It’s been a stellar December. My husband gave into two years of begging and went to a Zumba class with me today. It took approximately 45 minutes of psychological warfare but I got the job done by requesting his presence at Zumba as my Christmas gift. Having given in, he shook his head and muttered under his breath as he slowly pulled on his gym clothes. “I am a sad, sad man.” Climbing into the car, he looked me dead in the eyes and said, accusingly, “Men all over the world have lost something today.” He was so down about it that I almost called the whole thing off, because Zumba is not a downer. It’s a party. But we made it to class. He stood in the back and I was worried he’d try to escape but he grinned throughout the hour and I grinned too, watching his long arms flail around in the mirror.

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What’s not to grin about? He loves me more than his pride. For that and so much more, I, in turn, love him more than is rational. And permit me this moment of emotion–love really is the best Christmas gift of all.

Happy holidays everyone.

full house

It’s the holidays and our house is bursting at the seams. Cuz has been living with us since September; my Mom is visiting from Seoul through January; Tom’s family arrives in a matter of days.

It’s all good. I say that to myself a lot these days. Like a prayer.

December started with a healthy dose of fear. Fear for everyone’s sleep, for example. Our house was built in 1910 and it features the world’s creakiest hardwood floors. On the mornings when I leave for yoga at 5:30 am, I have to walk from the third floor to the first floor, without waking Tate, who is a light morning sleeper.

The most distressing mornings are when we wake up and we can tell that Tate’s been up for hours, playing by himself. If we’re lucky, he hasn’t crapped his pull-up and spread his business all over the house. Last week he came upstairs at 6:30 am and haughtily informed us that there was poop in the playroom, as if it had been deposited there by someone else’s ass. Anyway, what was I talking about? Right, my floors. When I tiptoe downstairs for yoga I am careful to shuffle and slide across the floor in an irregular rhythm, kind of like how the Fremen walked across the sand in Dune, to avoid waking the terrifying sandworms. Sandworms have nothing on pre-dawn Tate.

Now that I have semi-permanent houseguests, I don’t just have Tate to worry about. We also have to try to avoid waking Cuz and my mom. Cuz, after three months in Oregon, has just recently adjusted to Cuz Standard Time (CzST), which sits somewhere between PST and EST, and means that she wakes up at 9:30 AM most mornings. My mom wakes, I believe, somewhere around the same time (MoST). My boys, given ideal circumstances, wake up at about 6:30 AM. You do the math. If you have boys, you know how difficult it is to keep them quiet in the morning. We can’t even turn on the TV, because no TV before school is pretty much the only Montessori guideline we manage to observe with rigor at home.

We all do what we can. Tom and I beg and cajole. Cuz and my mom wear earplugs, and have complained not once about the noise.

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The thing is, we’ve settled into a rhythm, this full house. On Finn’s birthday earlier this month, we were all here to share shabu shabu and ogle Finn’s gift from Grandma—a printing calculator!—and all that extra love made his birthday so much better.

Cuz moved to our uncle’s house in Vancouver a week ago to free up some space for Tom’s mom, who arrives tomorrow. We thought we’d be glad for the reprieve, but we all miss her. Tom misses his TV buddy. I miss having someone around who eats vegetables with gusto, or who eats vegetables, period. Tate will occasionally bolt upright while playing with his Legos to ask, “Where’s Aunt Bora?” And even Finn misses Cuz. Finn and Cuz have had some epic power struggles over the last few months. We think Finn is confused about Cuz’s role as an authority figure because she kind of looks like a kid, despite being 26. But they’ve come a long way from those early days.

On the way to school this morning, Finn asked when Cuz was “coming home.” Dunno, I said. “Shall we go get her?,” I asked. Finn gave a firm nod. “Yes,” he said.

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the elf on the GD shelf

The Elf on the Shelf. Either you’ve wrestled with one in your life, or you have friends on FB who are wrestling with one and lashing out by posting photos of their elves doing unsavory things. Either way, the epidemic refuses to be contained.

The EOTS is a small bendy elf figure that “watches” your kids and supposedly flies back to the North Pole every night to rat them out to Santa. The idea is to trick your kids into behaving less like wild animals throughout the month of December than would otherwise be the norm.

Simple enough premise, right? Right. Personally the thing I dislike most about the EOTS is that I didn’t invent it. I’ll give credit where credit is due, and whoever invented this thing and then boxed it up for sale is a freaking genius. Because once you buy one, you’re committed to an annual tradition that inspires such dread that you’d swear the thing was created by Satan himself, if that sentiment didn’t seem so anti-Christmas. You hate it so much that you can’t help talking about it, and then other innocents go out and buy one for their families out of sheer curiosity, and pretty soon, you’re looking at world domination.

Our EOTS is named Rindy. Finn named him two years ago when he was four and that’s all I have to say about that corny name. Personally I’d have gone with “Succubus” or “Evil Malingerer,” but Finn wanted to write “Rindy” down in the little space provided for the elf’s name in the associated EOTS hardcover book, and that was that. The doll itself has a vintage charm that in the light of early morning looks positively demonic. Spindly little legs and arms and a face dominated by large cracked-out eyes, the better to watch your kids. The EOTS is creepy enough that I’m always nervous that I’ll come downstairs in the morning and Rindy will actually be running around, rearranging ornaments, or that he will swivel his head towards me and giggle, “Yoona, you’ve been a verrrrrry naughty girl!”

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The EOTS has to be moved every night, to maintain the fiction that he flew back to the North Pole at night and flew back for a new day of surveillance and tattling. But by bedtime, Tom and I are so tired and depleted of mental resources that we always forget to move Rindy before we go upstairs, which means that when 6:00 AM rolls around and we awaken to the peaceful sound of Finn screaming at Tate to get out of his room, one of us has to race down to the first floor and move Rindy before the kids make it downstairs. We have forgotten to move him a couple times and Tom had to spin a complicated yarn about Rindy choosing the same spot as the day before because he really liked the view. Ahhh. Nothing says Christmas like a web of lies.

Here’s the other thing about moving the EOTS: you can’t just cram him anywhere. With the EOTS, placement is all. He has to be high enough that the kids can’t touch him, because imagine the hysteria that would ensue if someone accidentally jostled the EOTS and he fell lifeless to the floor. That has never happened but you can be damned sure that I’m neither emotionally nor intellectually equipped to explain the situation to my kids, if it ever does.

In moving the elf, you also have to be careful to orient the EOTS’s eyes towards the space in the room where people would normally hang out. I learned this the hard way when I told Tate that Rindy would tell Santa if he didn’t eat his eggs. Tate shrugged. “Rindy’s not looking at me.” I looked up and saw that Tom had placed Rindy on top of a painting, with eyes facing towards the windows. Shit! Geez Tom, do I have to do everything??

Finn’s six now but he’s still on board with Rindy. Let’s face it, Finn would be on board with Strawberry Shortcake if she led to presents. If I need the EOTS to help keep anyone in line, it’s Tate, who approaches life as if he is Godzilla and the rest of us are the cowering city of Tokyo. But of course Tate is immune. Last week, he walked past the EOTS, muttering to himself. “Stupid Rindy.” I started to tell Tate that Santa wasn’t going to be happy that he said “stupid,” but I didn’t have the heart to continue the charade.

2012 may be curtains for our elf.