Saturday, June 09, 2007

Good Morning

Last night we enjoyed our traditional Family Night, this time in the backyard. The boys volunteered to clear our workstation/picnic table, so we could eat our grilled turkey burgers al fresco. As the sun slipped away, we lit some candles, and then I started a little fire in our fire ring. Alex and Maria came out with pillows and a sleeping bag. We lingered over our dinners, and laughed about funny things like Alex's French guy drawings. We rejoiced in the fact that only 5 days of school remain before vacation. We decided that Alex's history/English report and presentation were, objectively speaking, the best. He had mastery of the material, which was the rise and fall of the Samurai, and he deftly handled all questions directed at him.

After a while we stretched out on the sleeping bag, where Maria invited everyone to come under her blanket tent. Say, "tent" once and my boys want to camp. Alex likes to challenge himself and this time he took it upon himself to build a tent from materials on hand, like a thrift shop sheet, packing tape and some, rather thin, dowels. It took a lot of tape, and a couple of redesigns, before we could get it to stand. It wiggled and danced like a Jello mold, and it's sheltering abilities were called into question.

At one point the whole thing came crashing down. A sight so disappointing and devastating that Maria cried, dropping her face into her hands, saying, "Oh. Oh, no." Do not despair little one. Everyone contributed to the final design and construction. It stood all night, passing the test Alex put it to.

Max and Alex slept under it and the stars.

It is a typical overcast June morning and I feel good. I went out at 6 and came home with fresh, hot bagels. Geoff and I sat together on the porch swing, eating a bagel and watching the campers wake up. Max was up first and he sat with us and reflected, once again, on the joy of impending summer goodness. Maria and William slept inside. They are still asleep. It feels good to have no plan, no sense of urgency. We have plans for all of next week, and we are breathing an extended sigh of relief to be through all the hoops and obstacles of last week. Right now, this quiet moment, is ours.

Upstairs, William has been updating an old friend, his Lego brick pirate. Scroll down on this link to see his original design. Does he have a name? I don't recall.

He had two bad falls this week. He was rebuilt once, then was mercilessly knocked over by B. Thunder Cat, so he's back on the Lego worktable.

William's methods are getting more sophisticated. He has blueprints, of his own design, where he has labeled and counted the different bricks. He has sketches and he takes photographs of the evolving phases of the pirate.

Geoff will be leaving to play some tennis. Alex and I are going to address birthday party details, like cooking and organizing. Max is teaching himself to Rollerblade. Maria wants to Rollerblade. Last night she imagined she was wearing the heavy, wheeled boots. She teetered and slid and reached to hold onto the chairs and tables. She held her arms out and said, "Whoa, whoa!" She looked longingly at Max's real Rollerblades and pleaded, "Try it? Try it? Pease."

Oh, and the berries? Surprise to us. They are growing on the south wall along our side yard. While Max practiced blading, Maria and I were keeping him company and nosing around. It smells (reeks) of garlic... crushed society garlic that Max has repeatedly crashed into. Anyway, Maria discovered a solitary eggplant colored gem. It was peering out from among the lantana. Easy to miss, but we seized it.

I think we found 7 berries all together. Some dark and tender, and most raspberry red. Max and Maria were not particular and ate all of them.

There were not enough. Are there ever enough berries? OKay, the answer is "yes," if you live in Oregon, Washington and other blessed states. Berries in Southern California, in a tropically landscaped suburban, rental house yard? These are gems in every sense: Rare, beautiful, coveted, precious, tantalizing. Maria is still asking for more.

There are more. About 7 more, maybe 10. They are green, and spread out beneath the palm trees and eucalyptus. They are not too easy to find, because they are growing among a massive lantana, with similar leaves.

Above the yard, in the retaining wall planter, a blackberry vine, is surviving and spreading through the lantana, mondo grass, pygmy date palms, bougainvillea, asparagus fern and the dropped leaves of the eucalyptus tree.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Anne... Anne... what's all this about being busy... too busy? I think I found a quilt we could make. It's all about the gorgeous fabrics and makng the quilt simple enough to show off the patterns and colors of the fabric, rather than being overwhelmed with cutting and piecing. And I have seen these Freshcut Fabrics in real life and they are amazing. Wouldn't it be exquisite to throw our bold, beautiful quilts on the Tuscan soil, glance back at the villa, and drink wine, while the children chase butterflies and write in their journals?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Pike's Peak

1,144 Miles From Pike's Peak

William, Geoff and I take long walks together. Some days we walk around our neighborhood, other days we walk along a bluff that runs north and south with a trail that skirts a golf course. Our favorite walk is along the beach. When the tide is right we can walk on the damp sand and get close to the crabs and seaweed, the shells and surf. And the seagulls.

We live in Southern California, where there is a great variety of climates and environments... some quite artificial, like Disneyland and the Burbank studios. We also have mountains, deserts, valleys, canyons, mesas, bays, ponds, creeks, reservoirs. Contrast is everywhere in California. I think of the below sea level, parched floor of Death Valley and the sky-scraping top of Mt. Whitney.

I actually love the variety of places, ideas, and natural wonders we can enjoy living here. I like the imagination that comes to life in the mystical lands called Hollywood, Disneyland, Legoland. I like the days when we drive from the desert, over the mountains, to the breaking surf... I savor the unique sights and beauty of all these places.

Lately I have been giving extra thought to what California means to me, its place in the United States, its gifts and features, its citizens and culture. I am preparing to participate in a special project started by "Firefly" at "Scrumptious Living." She wants to create a kind of national tribute, in writing and pictures, from the perspectives of all 50 states. It's called "The Pike's Peak Project" in honor of her brother. Read her post. She says it best.

Look for my "From Sea to Shining Sea: California" post on the 4th of July. In the meantime, I am going to keep thinking about all of the things that make my home state matter to me... what makes it special and worthwhile and what makes it part of "America the Beautiful."

Art, food, farms, history, seashores and canyons, rolling hills and oaks, vineyards and harbors, aquariums, zoos, research centers, technology, research and development, observatories, Pacific Coast Highway, redwoods...

My children and days at the beach, rolling in the sand, eating corn chips and drinking ice cold lemonade, jumping in the surf... there is so much to be happy for, so much to cherish and hold dear.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Medieval Tamales :: A Tall Tale

I don't think I've ever made tamales in June. Normally I reserve that insanity for November thru December, when it's cool enough to spend 12 hours over steaming pots. But when my children are planning a birthday party their enthusiasm is infectious. I get caught up in their excitement and I want to do my best to make all some of their birthday dreams come true... like serving enchiladas and tamales at the medieval banquet.

Medieval tamales?
Why, yes. A little known contingent of Viking explorers were blown way off course and found themselves on the shores of Mexico, long before Hernan came and plundered. The Vikings were somewhat disoriented, hungry and homesick, which mellowed them considerably. They left peaceably, and the only gold they carried away was maíz, some cilantro, chile and ajo, and a recipe for tamales. When they returned to their native homes they produced a great many hot tamales and, naturally, froze some for later consumption. These frozen caches of spicy goodness were discovered by a small band of lost medieval Crusaders. The tamales saved their lives, and they returned to Sherwood Forest and regaled the peasants, lords and ladies with tales of the "Wondrous parchment wrapped meal, with most savory filling." Some say it's only a legend... we know better.

So, it's tamales in June, with lots of garlic and coriander and chile.

It all goes in the pot, with the cumin, onion, bay leaves and oregano. Simmer, simmer. Like the Vikings, I won't order masa preparada... they had to grind their own maíz to make their masa. I will make my masa from the bag of corn flour in the pantry... but that will have to wait. I have lunches to pack and children to deposit...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

In general I found two themes on the blogs I read today: To Do Lists and FAQ. I very often toss my to do list on Chickenblog. It's usually comprised of dreaded chores, tasks that I tend to neglect and basic stuff like "wash car, take cats to vet, feed children etc." I have a to do list right now... actually it's only in my head, which may explain why I am so often caught off guard and falling further behind. I need to get my agenda committed to paper, so that I can face and overcome my obstacles, duties and responsibilities.

As for FAQ's... well, no one asks me anything, not on Chickenblog. I get some friendly comments, but I have not had to face a full mailbox of inquiries about my hair color, pant size, the secrets of my success, where to find the best crispy chicken tacos, how many pecks in a bushel or whether I floss daily. On other blogs it's interesting to read the FAQ's. I am a curious person. I am pleasantly satisfied to realize there are so many interesting people in the world.

Geoff is back at work. Perhaps I never mentioned that he was home. Well, we have had the pleasure of his company for a month... it was comp time earned for going beyond the call of duty during crunch mode. Alas, his free time is up. We all miss him, but it hurts Maria most. She grew accustomed to having her daddy by her side, to calling him and knowing he would come to her. She doesn't understand office hours and his duties away from home. We had hoped comp time could come during summer, when the boys could travel with us. Now we have to wait and see whether there will be any vacation time to enjoy together as a family.

8 days. That is how many school days are left before summer. We don't count the weekends, assuming those days will be fun, less demanding. So, in 8 days the boys will be released in to my grateful arms and we will see what we can discover. In 8 days we will try sleeping a bit later, exploring more and dabbling in our many hobbies and projects. Max wants to take more keyboard lessons and go to Legoland. Alex thinks he'd like to try more painting and build a working fountain out of Legos. William? Since he home schools, I'm not sure he's given much thought to his time at home during summer. He will still have some topics to cover, like driver training.

I have made at least one week of scheduled activities by planning a drive to my brother Bill's. Geoff and I exploring the possibility of opening a restaurant, so I am going to Taqueria Baja to reacquaint myself with the food service industry. Lucky Bill will have the honor of my capable hands and quick thinking for a few days, while my mom hangs with the children. I am anxious... new stuff does that to me + I made camping reservations too. Just to add to the fun we will camp in a tent in two different California State Parks for a total of 3 nights. Oh my. Look for tent, find camping stove, buy sleeping bags and mosquito repellent... excuse me, I need to make some lists.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Hopper-Kingsolvers are nearing the end of their year of living on what they grow and can acquire locally. I have been savoring the book page by page, seed by sprout. Now it is winter, in their story, and they are contentedly, comfortably enjoying the work of their harvest. They canned and froze and dried. They collected the wealth of their farm, so they could continue to enjoy the bounty through their true winter, with snow and frozen ground. The work sounded exhausting and all-consuming... maybe I would have been less dutiful, less determined to preserve everything, but now that they can look upon rows of bottled sauces and a freezer full of pesto and grated zucchini, I can see the worth of their effort... their sweat equity is paying.

We cannot garden here. No space, little sunlight, and an overzealous landlord, preoccupied with trimming trees and pulling weeds and sprouts. I did manage to shelter and encourage a few sweet peas and they are in full bloom. I sit beside them and inhale their fragrance every day.

This is my harvest. I cut some and bring them inside, but mostly I have been letting them live in the quiet garden shade.

I love their colors, their subtlety and variety, the essence of spring that exudes from each petal.

I love the way the petals retract and wither, the color enriching, and then the fuzzed, green pods that emerge and mature.

I love that they smell like sweet spice. I love the rich green of their leaves and the way their tendrils twine and extend, ever hopeful of finding something to hold onto.

This is my harvest... these photographs will sustain me, later in Fall, when I am enjoying boisterous pumpkins and bold chrysanthemums in other people's gardens, I will look back and fondly recall the garden in Spring, when I had sweet peas .

Just a quick update: Quilt swap? More projects? What was I thinking?!



I keep finding 50 different ways to play, and in the mean time responsibilities are amassing themselves, looming and taking on a life of their own. If every neglected corner of this house should get together with the piles of stuff and unpacked boxes, they could counter strike and defeat me swiftly, deftly, painfully. I really should unplug my computer and quit peeking into talented people's blogs. Sigh.
Anne, would you like to try a Doll Quilt Swap? It could be fun. It's definitely easier than making a full sized quilt. I signed up and the deadline is 4 weeks away... OKay, that sounds a bit crazy now that I say it out loud. I can do it. I can do it. I'll make one 13"x13" quilt and send it off to another quilter, then wait to see what comes my way. After all, I didn't even have a plan for my first doll quilt attempt and that went pretty well. Can you tell I am trying to encourage myself?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Been Sewing

This is what I finished last night, when Maria was up until midnight. She took a long, late nap, that we should have woke her from, so it's not surprising that she could not fall asleep at her usual bedtime. My little pin cushion is rather cute for an experiment. I didn't like the traditional, but cheaply made tomato pin cushions at the fabric store, so I adapted my yo-yo's into my very own green tomato double cushion with button top. Now I have a place to stick pins, which is handy, because I have been sewing quite a bit.

Maria didn't sleep very late, considering her late night. Maybe we can get her back on her schedule today. She woke-up and found me arranging my latest pennant decorations. And wasn't she clever to recognize the Lotería theme I appliqued on some of the triangles? She found our game cards and started decorating the plain triangles: ¡EL ALACRÁN, LA LUNA, EL GATO, LA PERA! Actually there is no "El Gato" in Lotería... it's one we made and added to our own game.

"Con los cantos de la sirena no te vayas a marear."
My favorites are El Gallo, El Sol, La Luna, y " Rema, rema va Lupita, sentada en su chapulita."

Some day we'll have a party with music and sangrias, and we'll play Lotería. I'll bring out my best flatware for eating the enchiladas. A while back I realized we were down to having no more than 4 forks and almost no more little spoons, the kind we usually fed Maria with. Where were they going? Landfill. Maria is a very good little girl, who regularly excuses herself from the table, then takes her plate and cup to the sink and her flatware to the trash can. Oops! I caught her a few times and thought we broke the habit. She must have seen us throw out some plastic picnic forks.

I couldn't bring myself to buy a whole new set of flatware and risk losing any more to El Trash-can, so I've been keeping my eyes open in the thrift shops. Each of these lovely forks, knives and spoons cost one quarter. I may be somewhat addicted to finding new patterns to add to the collection, which don't seem to be disappearing any more. I think Maria likes them too. She likes to count them. There are plenty of other treasures I have been bringing home, like the rooster table cloth. It cost me $3 and it's in perfect condition.

This bowl was a bargain too. I eat my granola from it, and yesterday it was full of diced green onions for the enchiladas I made. I made 3 trays. We froze one, shared one and ate one. ¡Sabroso!

Why can't we all just get along? This morning I found my latest amusement... it is a sweet and optimistic blog called "Let's Be Friends." 100% kid safe and sure to amuse and delight.