Thursday, May 26, 2011

When Life Gives You a (Not So Sweet) Watermelon ...

... don't give up!

I started by serving it cubed at lunch (our main meal) anyway.  The fact that it wasn't very sweet was remarked upon, but didn't stop anyone from eating it.

Next I blended the cubed watermelon with baker's sugar and Meyer lemon juice (my Vitamix pulverizes any white watermelon seeds), poured some of the mixture into ice pop molds, and poured the rest into my ice cream maker for watermelon sorbet.  Experience from the last time I made watermelon sorbet taught me that it isn't a sorbet that you can eat right away (too soft) but that it freezes beautifully and isn't too hard to scoop or eat.  I'm pretty sure it's because of the added sugar; when we make pear or peach sorbet from fruit canned in juice it is much firmer after the time in the ice cream maker and it gets very hard in the freezer.

I still had a huge bag of cubed watermelon (it was a big watermelon) so I decided to blend some of it with water, sugar, and lemon juice to make an agua fresca.  I put it into a pretty Pyrex juice carafe and will serve it later.

There is still enough cubed watermelon to serve as a snack this afternoon.

Here's hoping that the second watermelon I purchased is sweet sweet sweet.  Not that I mind eating watermelon in other forms, but nothing beats perfectly sweet watermelon just as it is.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Too much!

Too many books, too many art supplies, too many pieces of vintage Pyrex, too much dinnerware.

How could there even be such a thing?

Alas, it's true.  Our not-so-big home is bursting at the seams again.  Add to the above list too much clothing, too many toys, too much yarn and fabric, and too much junk.  I know it is too much because Papa has started expressing a discontent with our home and has even taken me out looking at homes a few times.

It's fun to dream, to walk into homes that aren't ours, either empty or carefully purged and staged, and imagine ourselves living there.  It's easy to believe that a bigger home would take care of the problem of too much ~ except I know that it won't.  It might give us more space for gardening and outdoor play, but I firmly believe that stuff simply expands to fill the space.

And so I ask questions, thoughtfully and carefully.  What did you like about that house?  What about our house seems insufficient?  What do you think we could do to make the home we have now the home that we want?

After all, once upon a time this was the home that we wanted and it is still very much a home that I love.  It's true that we couldn't imagine what it would be like to have bigger boys and we didn't know what they would want to do with their outdoor space.  Our yard isn't quite big enough for baseball or football, but it isn't tiny either, and big kids can take themselves to a park or schoolyard if they need more space.

Always it comes back to liking the clean, uncluttered spaces in these homes as well as the carefully curated decor.  Those are things I like too, and I do try to make our home warm, simple, clean, and decluttered.  But lately, well, I've brought home a lot of children's books, vintage Pyrex, and other kitchen items.  I've also been going through my grandmother's things and my dining room table is simply overflowing.  It isn't what I like to see either; it simply is what it is for now.

I remember when we bought this house and as part of our loan agreement we had to secure a tenant for our condominium.  For two weeks we scrubbed, cleaned, decluttered, and did all of the little repairs that needed to be done.  When we finished the Saltillo tile floors were gleaming, the doors were fixed on the laundry alcove, the faucets didn't drip, the patio was clean, the roses were well-tended, and honestly, if I hadn't wanted yard with grass for my children I would have been tempted to stay in the condo.

What is it that makes us put off repairs in our own homes, thinking they are too expensive?  Or stops us from purchasing furniture and artwork that we love (not necessarily new).  Why do we put off the projects that we dreamed about in the beginning, redoing the back yard or tearing the carpet out of the family room?  Why do those things seem so expensive, and yet we contemplate taking on a larger mortgage to by a home where these things have already been done?

And so, I suggested a few things to Papa.  One, that we should do a real, deep decluttering.  A ruthless decluttering.  A peeling back so far that maybe it hurts a little decluttering.  Two, that we should once again reconsider how we use the rooms in this house and decide if we should move things around.  Three, that we visit some antique stores and find a few pieces to replace those that we really don't like.

Just as importantly, I think we should go ahead and spend the money on the projects that mean the most to us, like redoing the backyard, putting in new flooring in a couple of rooms, replacing the doors that the Girl Dog destroyed, sanding and refinishing the trim in the dining room, repairing the damaged wainscoting in the front bathroom, putting up window coverings, having the outside trim painted, and hiring a handyman service to fix all the little plumbing issues that bug us.  The list seems endless, but each thing that we accomplish will add to our contentment here in our little suburban home.

The Most Extraordinary of Ordinary Days

Do you ever have days that are amazing despite the fact that they really are hum ho ordinary days?

Yesterday was like that for me.  It was Sunday, so we slept in some (Papa even took care of the dogs when they woke early rather than putting T-Guy to the task as Papa can get back to sleep and T-Guy can't).  Breakfast was zucchini bread (baked ahead and pulled from the freezer to defrost overnight), plus bacon and sausage.  I guess maybe that was our clue that it would be a great day; I mean really, how decadent is it to have bacon and sausage for breakfast at home?

We read the paper a bit and then started cleaning house.  We usually clean house on Saturdays, but this weekend we'd spent Saturday morning hard at work preparing the swim club pool and grounds for the season opening, done our errands that afternoon, and had date night.

The guys all went for a bike ride while I did a bit more house cleaning (and laundry all day).  Papa and I went looking at open houses while the boys had their video game time.  That was enjoyable and while we aren't actually looking for a house it's nice to see what is out there now and again.  Honestly, there was one house that I am interested in; the house is okay (if stuck in the late 80s/early 90s) but the yard is amazing, over an acre with lots of fruit trees and room for raised beds.  Seriously, there were Valencia orange trees, Navel orange trees, "juice" orange trees (I thought that's what Valencias are), lemon trees, fig trees, a tangelo tree, an Oro Blanco grapefruit tree, a kumquat tree, peach trees, avocado trees, blackberry bushes, and more.  Oh, and a full, heated green house!

We came home again, I took out the lamb to sit at room temperature for an hour, made the boys a big bowl of popcorn, and got to work amending the soil in our wading pool beds.  Last year we got started with these garden beds but bought an "all-in-one"type compost that ended up being nothing like the mix recommended in Square Foot Gardening.  It couldn't hold moisture and hardened up, and we had a heck of a time growing anything.  This year will still be an experiment; our local garden center didn't have vermiculite, just perlite, so I added that instead (not wanting to spend the gas to get to the garden center with vermiculite).  Now researching online some people who do SFG don't care for perlite, some do.  We'll have to see how it works.

We grilled rack of lamb for dinner and ate outside, although it had gotten a little chilly and I needed a light sweater.  This was our first real meal outside this year and it was so much more pleasant than last year.  Last year we'd created the wading pool beds with compost and brought home tons of flies with the compost, something that hadn't happened in 2007 when we built our first garden beds.

Papa and I set off for our evening walk a little later than usual and it ended up being like the walks we used to take before we had children; we didn't walk a set route and walked for a long time.  Then it was home for a bit of TV (The Borgias) and then flipped our mattress, put on clean sheets, and got ready for bed.

Such an ordinary day, and yet such a feeling of satisfaction and happiness.  It wasn't a day at the beach or Disneyland and it wasn't free of the typical tasks of daily life such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry, but it was absolutely wonderful.  We connected, we worked hard together, we shared meals, and we dreamed out loud together.  Really, what could be more wonderful than that?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Summer ~ Learning Without Schooling

Ah, the lazy days of summer are nearly upon us.  Now that I am a homeschooling parent I look forward to summer just as much as I did as a child.  It's not because homeschooling is hard or because we don't like what we're doing; we love homeschooling!  Rather, it's the opportunity to spend a few months with a slowed-down rhythm (even slower than during the homeschooling year) seeking deep relaxation and connection.

For three months or so I am their mama and not also their teacher; they are my boys and not also my students.  I can fully put aside all the worry that I try not to have during the academic year (but fail at erasing completely).  We fall into a different rhythm, one based around going to the pool daily, the weekly kids' movie, play dates, beach trips, and more.

Of course, I don't believe that children are ever not learning.  I don't think my summers off from school were wasted nor that I experienced any kind of brain drain.

My hunch is that kids who have grown up loving to learn and doing it in a natural and holistic manner can't help but learn over the summer; learning is that humans do!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Longest Day

(No, not that longest day, that doesn't come until June 21st this year.)

I was up early today, tending to the needs of a dog with a full bladder.  Puppy Girl caught me after about 4 hours of sleep, which is a time of lighter sleep for me, and by the time I'd dressed and dragged myself into the cold early morning just past sunrise I was awake.

It might have been punishment for having just told a friend the evening before that her morning waking time is the midpoint of my night's sleep.  I find it ironic that I was awakened at the exact time that she gets up every morning.

Amazingly, I've had a very productive day, and I've been mostly cheerful as well, after warning the boys that I might be just a tad grumpy.  (I am so tired, however, that I just typed that as frumpy, which I suppose I am feeling as well.  I managed to brush my teeth and take a bath, but didn't do anything with my hair.)

I am reminded of those early years with a baby, when the body somehow finds a way to function despite extreme fatigue, and when some of the best days come when you are so tired that you can't think.  Thinking sometimes gets in the way of doing things, or rather, over-thinking does and I am usually guilty of that.  Today I stopped worrying that there was some better flea medication out there and just ordered what we've used before, and I also made a decision and ordered a new rice maker after having researched them for weeks.  I had been hung up on price vs. slightly better features and had been paralyzed by it, but today the exhaustion stopped me from thinking so much about which one to choose.

(You might think the rice cooker wouldn't be such a big deal, but we had our first one for 12 years before it conked out.  I wanted to get something every bit as wonderful and durable.)

Hopefully I'll fall asleep early tonight; sleepless nights (or too early mornings) don't always mean I'll be able to sleep early, but I'm hopeful.  But first the Big Dog is waiting by the front door, anticipating his evening walk.  He didn't get up early, or he did (he's not one to turn down the chance to go outside, especially in the early hours when he might spot a possum or raccoon), but he went back to sleep and slept off and on all day.

A Summer Manifesto

This year, for three full months (June, July, August), I plan to enjoy the bounty of summer.

1) I will not read any self-help books.  There is nothing wrong with me.  My house does not need to be organized according to someone else's rules, my family doesn't need to write a vision statement, and I don't need any more ideas on how to __________ (fill in the blank).

2) I will not read any help-your-dog books.  I don't have to follow anyone else's dogs rules; if we are happy with the Big Dog walking just ahead of heel (but not pulling) then that is good enough for us.

3) I will not start any new eating plans.  Not Paleo, not Traditional Foods, not vegetarianism.  I choose not to be afraid of food and I know that there isn't a magic diet out there that will prevent any and all future disease.  Nutritional education, of which I have more than enough, is good, obsession is bad.

4) I will unplug as much as possible, especially from anonymous non-connection.

5) I will enjoy the gifts that summer brings, the hot days, warm evenings, cool mornings, and long hours of glorious sunlight.  I will make a point to be outside daily, whether that is under an oak tree at the park or on a chaise beside the pool.

6) I will paint my toenails the bright colors I love and not worry that I will contract an incurable disease because of it.  The smile that the colors bring to my lips and my heart are powerful medicine.

7) I will stop trying to save the world.  I will stop believing that can and stop worrying that I'm not doing enough.  I will be content with what I do rather than thinking that there is always something more.

8) I will make ice creams, sorbets, and popsicles for my children and myself.  I will occasionally buy us all Thrifty Ice Cream and not worry about it.

9) I will take more photographs, I'd call it a 90 (rather than a 365) but I'm not sure I want to make a rule for myself that I might feel badly about if I break it.  But my goal is to have a photograph in every summer blog post.

10) I will let myself be ... myself.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


It was so quiet in the house today; the boys and Papa spent most of the day at the JPL Open House and I was home alone with the dogs.  (Hmm, can I be alone if I am with the dogs?)

I had grand plans ~ learning about my serger, giving myself a pedicure, viewing more of my new yoga DVD, making a small batch of jam.  Somehow of those I only accomplished the pedicure; my toes are now a lovely Aegean blue-green.  But I did fold and put away laundry, unload the dishwasher, put a pot roast into the slow cooker, read, bake zucchini bread, work on my blog, and watch an episode of American Pickers (I didn't love it).

As much as I love quiet, and definitely seek it at times, I find that I prefer the background hum of boys at play to the hum of the (very loud, who knew?) refrigerator.  And my sprinklers are loud when they are on! Plus the Big Dog barks at sprinklers, and because I was home alone he felt extra protective and was giving the sprinklers the what for.  He and I had words but that didn't work, so I had to resort to a spray of vinegar water.  I wish he could understand that I'm cool with the sprinklers, but no, they are a daily threat.

So today was a good experience; I was slightly bored and I missed my family and that means that overall my needs are being met and I wasn't starved for quiet and alone time.  I was so happy when they came home earlier than I expected and the soundtrack of my days was restored.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Lost and Found

I am one of those people who comes alive when May arrives, having spent the winter months in a slump.  It isn't that I'm unhappy in winter, I'm just less outgoing, less motivated, and less active.  I suppose it is the inwardness of the fall and winter seasons, the contraction of life.  Springs comes early where I live, but March doesn't do it for me, not even with the time change.

I feel it begin in April, the month I was born in.  My senses awaken and I am aware that the weather feels like April, with cool misty mornings and beautiful days.  Then I celebrate my birthday, completing that year's personal journey around the sun, and I feel the expansion.  The birds sing and the air feel lovely, cooling down in the evenings but not feeling crisp or cold.  The light lingers.  I want to be outdoors.

This past late fall my grandmother passed away, so this winter was particularly dark.  I was just thinking how it has been nearly six months since she died, and I remembered that is about how long it took me to shake off the immediate grief of losing my mother in 2007.  Six months seems to be what my brain needs to recover from the chemistry of loss and rearrange itself into something new.  I suppose I could have asked for a medication to help me recover from my grief more quickly, but truly, what is six months in the course of my life?  Why not feel how I feel, whether that is sad, overwhelmed, irritated, angry, or bereft?  For me, it is better to feel all of it and make my way through it than to shove it away and pretend that it isn't there, because of course it is.

And so I feel myself coming out of it.  I really recognized it this week, after I rearranged the living room furniture and gave the dining room a minor redo.  At first I thought it was boredom and a simple need for change, and then I remembered.  I changed the furniture after my grandfather died.  I really changed things around when my mother died, changing the function of entire rooms.  And here I am again, making things different because that is what I need.  I grieve, and then I change my environment to one that is new for me, one that the person I miss never experienced.  In this configuration I don't see my grandmother on the couch by the front window while I sit in the chair in the corner.  My mother never saw the living room with the piano in it.  When my grandfather visited the master bedroom hadn't been transformed into a family room.

It's different because I am different.  Part of that is probably my getting older and gaining more life experience, but part of that is learning to move with grief and to find my way back to myself, for certainly I feel a little lost each time I lose a person who I love, especially one that knew me my entire life and helped me become an adult.  There are only three people left in this world who remember the day I was born in a personal way, and two of them were very young.  Someday there may be no one who has spent my entire life's journey with me; I am now in the role of one who has witnessed another's journey from the moment of birth (and before).