There’s No Place Like Home

…and now we’re sheltering in place. The quarantine is a painfully literal iteration of the word “staycation.” Going to the grocery store is a huge treat.  I used to go daily and now I’m stretching it out to almost a week—the day after I eat the last banana. (If it weren’t for bananas, I could probably make it two.)

But like my last post said, there are some good things about the quarantine. Like, have you noticed how we’re getting in touch with long-lost friends now, checking in on one other? Just this morning I reconnected with these guys:

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Billy Blanks still has it, after all these years.(Fun fact: he’s 65 now!) Cindy Crawford’s high-waist bikini has gone from being the latest style to a total embarrassment and back again to the latest style. I know there are lots of workout apps I could be doing instead, but I’m SO TIRED of technology. I had been skirting around it all these years and now it’s all up in my business with the on-line school stuff.

There’s Power School and One Note where teachers post worksheets. There’s Dreambox for math and IXL too. There’s Lexia for reading and also A-Z for both reading and science. There’s FlipGirl and Zoom and WebEx and Google Hangouts. There’s Dance Mat typing for Leo and Epi Story  typing for the older two. That’s 12 programs, each with their own address, username, and pin number, which is 21 things to remember, times the three kids, which is SIXTY THREE THINGS TO REMEMBER. Our efforts are constantly sabotaged by websites freezing up, or showing the words in a really tiny, unreadable font, or telling us it’s the wrong pin, or loading things s…u…p…e…r  s…l…o…w…l…y,  or making us do voo doo magic to type on the page, or just plain being a jerk.

Which is why Kevin found me on the couch at noon yesterday with a bag of frozen peas on my forehead, saying I just needed a minute.

The thing is, I know what I want to teach the boys and I get excited about those things. Rocco and I planned a whole bridge unit together that spans all the subjects. Leo’s doing a science project on sugar crystals. Kevin is teaching Vincenzo how to code. The boys cook and clean and have even learned the highly complicated process of loading the dishwasher. At dinner, we talk about the Cold War and McCarthyism, Ireland’s potato famine, and whether Sprite commercials appeal to our ethos, pathos, or logos. At this exact moment, Vincenzo is helping Leo bake a salted caramel tart and Rocco is making Oaxacan tacos for lunch. I’m not even being sarcastic for once!

But then I load up the on-line stuff from their school and we’re only making it through half of it, and it’s irritating because Rocco’s math worksheets are too easy even for his younger brother. But because the worksheets are there, THOUGH SHALT COMPLETE THEM and then I’m stressed out because we only had 15 minutes to work on bridges and candy science and coding. Then I feel bad complaining because it’s incredible what the teachers are doing and what technology is allowing, but still. It’s getting in the way of my teaching!

Writing this blog post made me slap myself on each cheek and say, “Get a grip! Do you even hear yourself?!” And then the part of myself that slapped me wrote this next paragraph. Now listen up, Me!

Wake the kids up at 8 tomorrow. Or 10. Wake them up whenever you feel like making the donuts. Write down the things you are truly excited to do with them.  If they spend the whole day building toothpick bridges but don’t unlock a single achievement in their on-line math program, then say, “Yay!” And if you end up with a package of peas on your head at any time, ask yourself why and make sure to not do the same thing tomorrow.

Right. Got it. Donuts. I’m on it.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Breaded sole
Pan-fried potatoes
Garlicky asparagus
Salted caramel tart

Quarantined

I guess you know things are getting serious when the TP jokes aren’t funny anymore. The stories of people who have gotten coronavirus start getting closer and closer to the circle of people you know and love and you realize this isn’t just something on TV, it’s something in your life. When you start searching on-line for the latest quarantine regulations, not so you can write a funny blog post about them but because you want to make sure you are doing everything you possibly can to protect you and your family—that’s when you know it’s just not funny anymore.

Last night before bed the boys prayed, “Thank you that school is canceled.” Even though we’ve been praying for small business owners, local restaurants, people who have gotten the virus and their loved ones, hospital workers who put their lives at risk every day to help the sick and dying—even though we talk about all that, the boys still just see this as a vacation. I didn’t point this out during prayers. I let them be thankful school is out, and I thought how there may be a day not too far off when the boys realize what a terrible thing it is when schools and libraries close down, and they start praying they can go to school again.

It’s scary not knowing how long this will last, how big it will get, how many more will die, how long we can keep up the quarantine, how different everyone’s lives will be by the end of it.

So I am going to borrow a page from my boys’ books and write the things that I am thankful for during this quarantine.

1. I’m thankful for the extra time I get with my boys and the quality of the time, since none of it is spent rushing and squeezing things into the day. We have time to ride bikes now. The neighborhood was full of kids riding bikes and playing hockey with plastic sticks in their driveways yesterday, the adults stopping six feet away from each other to chat and find reassurance from one another. I wish that when all this is over, we realize that our kids’ lives have been overbooked and we all decide to dial it back a bit.

2. I’m thankful the boys and I get to cook all day, every day. We go from biscuits and gravy for breakfast to chicken noodle soup for lunch to papas dauphinoise for dinner, mixing artisanal breads, cream pies, macarons, and soda bread in between. (When everyone else was buying the stores out of white bread, I was filling my cart with flour and yeast.) While the bread rises we start wondering about how yeast is harvested, and by the time the bread goes in the oven we’ve set up our own experiment to collect yeast from a bottle of beer. The quarantine has given us time to wonder.

3. I’m thankful I get to customize the boys’ education. We have an amazing public school system, but there are certain things I want them to learn that they aren’t getting in the classroom, like Spanish and typing, how to address an envelope, and how to write an essay to Mrs. Mouthy’s standards. Vincenzo is writing an expository essay on alloys; Rocco is building a basement-sized leprechaun trap; Leo is working on matching up daily life situations to appropriate emotions/reactions.

4. I’m thankful the garden is still on-limits.

5. I’m thankful that we have a trail running behind our house and countless outdoor places we can go to shake off the feeling that the world is ending, and that the quarantine fell on the first week that looks and feels like spring around here.

6. I’m thankful that my own family is strong and healthy and will likely survive if/when we get the coronavirus.

7. I’m thankful for all the people who keep the city running while the rest of us try to avoid the public—grocery store workers, gas station workers, medical workers, fire fighters, police, utilities workers, and about 1000 other jobs I don’t even know about, working behind the scenes.

8. I’m thankful that Kevin’s job isn’t very affected by all this and that he can work from home.

9. I’m thankful that we have phones and computers to stay in touch with our support group.

10. I’m grateful that the people I love the most are the ones I am stuck with.

For each of the things on my list, I know there are people on the other side of the equation. Those who don’t have outdoor spaces, who have an unhappy or unsafe living space, whose health is already fragile, who are losing their jobs, whose lives are not merely inconvenienced but are devastated by the quarantine. My heart hurts for them. The quarantine is isolating, but it makes me want to reach out to others more than ever.

I hope that despite the hardships, they, too, are able to find things they are thankful for.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Baked potatoes
Irish soda bread
Kiwi and green apples
Triple layer lime Jell-o
Bailey’s Irish Creme cheesecake

More from Coronaville

Man, Coronaville has really gone downhill. It was all fun and games until SOMEONE CLOSED SCHOOLS FOR 6 WEEKS.

I don’t feel the panic, yet I  am living the life of someone who is panicking. It feels crazy to be taking such extreme measures when there are only a couple hundred cases in the state.

But then, maybe there are only a couple hundred cases in the state because we are taking extreme measures?

At Kevin’s yoga class this morning, the teacher put on a cover of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and everyone spontaneously started singing along. I said maybe she should have played a cover of “Don’t Stand so Close to Me.”

The problem is I’m a person who assumes nothing bad will happen until it does. Like, I figured we could leave our garage door open because who would steal something in our safe neighborhood? Until someone stole a bike right out of it. I’m the kind who didn’t see the need for shower shoes at the gym until I got a plantar’s wart. (Gross but true.) I’m the kind who saw no reason to stock up on toilet paper until all the stores were sold out of it. Seriously, the world is ending and all people think is, “TP! And lots of it!”

I’m trying to be good. My family and I dutifully stay inside for as long as we can, until I decide it would be best for everyone’s health if I go to the gym. I venture onto the roads, expecting to be the only one out. Expecting it to look like an episode from The Last Man on Earth. But lo! What is this?  Roads full of cars and coffee shops full of regulars and the gym full of people?! I start wondering–am I the only numbskull following the quarantine?  Is everyone else drinking boba tea and eating bubble waffles at the mall? My FOMO starts wigging out. Everything is canceled or closed, so I’m not missing anything, right? Then why does it look like everyone is out having a jolly old time? Is it just me? Is that a bubble waffle you’re eating?

Normally I’d be thrilled to have 6 extra weeks to just hang with my family, but it’s not the same when all our fun is taken away. No museums, no zoos, no malls or movies, no going out to lunch, no parks or pools, no having 250 friends over for dinner. I never realized how little this stay-at-home-mom actually stays at home. I miss all my haunts. I miss all my humans.

I home schooled the boys yesterday. Rocco woke up super excited, made himself a schedule, pounded through it, then asked what else he could do. Leo grumped a bit but got his work done. Vincenzo gave me a look that burned my eyebrows right off, then stomped off to his room. I’m afraid to even knock. Next week I think we’ll just do an in-depth study of 80s movies.

In the meantime, I will sit here not panicking while the world ends and the TP supplies run dangerously low. I will sit here and wait for someone to yell, “Olly olly oxen free!” and then I will get myself to the nearest boba kiosk, order an extra large, drink it down and wonder if it was just me.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Chicken with cranberry pecan stuffing
Mashed potatoes
Chocolate hazelnut macarons

Camped out in Coronaville

So here I am, blogging from the epicenter of the coronovirus in Kirkland, WA. Please apply your surgical masks now.

Some people around here are kind of freaking out and some are not, and while I understand both, I’m in the latter category. (I save most of my freaking out for last-minute schedule changes and underbaked souffles.) I totally get the scare, but it’s also weird, like a snow day without any snow. Or like playing a game of hide and seek and you’re not sure if anyone’s still looking for you. Or like loading up your car with everything you’re going to need for a week’s vacation, then sitting in the driveway, for the entire week instead.

Mostly things are normal. We wash our hands more, I actually use those sani-wipes to clean the grocery cart handle, and we give our apples a soapy bath before eating them. My hands are so dried out from all the sanitizing you could light a match on them. But otherwise,  pretty normal.  Except one of Vincenzo’s friends is wearing latex gloves at school and a supply cabinet at the hospital got raided of all its surgical masks. Also, stores ran out of bananas, milk, white bread, and sanitizer and they now accept toilet paper as a form of payment.

At my boys’ school, activities that are directly before or after school are still on, but ones in the evening and weekends are canceled. You can substitute teach at a school but you can’t volunteer. Kids can play together at recess but Little Buddies is canceled. I guess our strategy is more to confuse the coronavirus rather than stop it entirely?

There are some advantages to our self-imposed semi-quarantine, like there’s lots of parking at the mall. The locker room at my gym is much calmer without the 50 elderly ladies who mob it after water aerobics. Also, I eat wheat bread now!

But otherwise, like I said, things are mostly normal. The kids come home from school and walk through the Purell car wash-like thing we rigged up outside our front door, we peel off and discard our outer layer of skin, then we all take turns in the bath tub with the apples.

It’s not a bad way to go.

Though if the Coronavirus is listening– I’m not ready to go quite yet!

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Hamburgers
Fries
Salad
Chocolate cake with 7-minute frosting

Pokemoned

My friend read the last blog post and texted that she’s got a whole box of Pokemon that she was just about to donate to the Boys & Girls Club.

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Would we like them?

Yes! Leo said. Yes! A thousand times yes! Minutes later, in what felt like a race-to-stop-the-airplane moment, she showed up at our house laden with Pokemon cards.

It has been a very happy and peaceful few days in the home of Mrs. Mouthy. The boys are thoroughly enjoying their Pokemon. They are also enjoying the box of human teeth that was included.

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Vincenzo thinks he’s going to make a necklace out of them.

When my kids lose teeth I’ve never known what to do with them. Throwing them in the garbage felt irreverent. Should I bury them? Flush them? Compost them? Burn them?

Well now I know the answer: you trade them. This week instead of “I’ll trade you a Solgaleo GX for MegaCharizard,” my boys are saying things like, “I’ll trade you two bicuspids for one molar.” The ones with blood are worth the most, of course.

So thanks for the Pokemon and the teeth, Sandy. But thanks most of all for this blog post. (Also, LMK if you have any nail clippings or umbilical cords you might be willing to share.)

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Leftovers, including:
Ham & swiss quiche
Low mein with Mongolian beef sauce
Steamed cod with ginger and soy sauce
Roasted potatoes
Chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting and caramel drizzle

Old Man Leo

Because, you know, eight is so old.

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Leo would like me to explain that the poem he wrote last week about Bud Light is not about beer. It’s about sharing a light with your friend. (He was mortified that I thought it was about beer.)

He still loves to make up games, like Balloon Balloon Ball and Touchy Groundy and Guess the Commercial, which are too ridiculous to explain here. Kevin joins the games and demolishes Leo, which makes Leo laugh-scream and make more rules. Kevin finds the loopholes and makes Leo laugh-scream some more. But when I join the game, Leo slants the rules to help me win. He gives me redos or quietly slips me cards when I’m not doing well, meanwhile throwing everything bad he’s got at his dad.

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He shares ideas for novels and picture books with me, in case I ever get stuck. It breaks his heart when I have a rough week of writing, and he goes into Daily Affirmations mode, telling me I can do it! I got this! I’m the best writer ever!

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This week he’s into spinning. He spins and spins and spins, then tries walking and laughs when he bumps into things. Also, he has a joke for you:

What did the horse say when it fell down?
I’ve fallen and I can’t giddyap!

He has two beds in his room. He sleeps on the floor next to them.

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Leo is a perfectionist. I knew this about him from the time he was two. If he couldn’t make a toy do what he wanted the first time, he wanted nothing to do with it. At school, he can be sent into tears when he gets a problem wrong or when his teacher offers some advice. (Hm. Wonder where he gets it from?)

He’s an emotional child. He can suddenly turn on you if you ask him to repeat something or if you enter a room too loudly when he’s working on a book report or if your name is Rocco and you are within eyeshot.

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Leo’s teacher lets him pick three friends to work in a small group with him when I volunteer. It was torturous for him because it wasn’t fair to the ones who couldn’t come out, so he had his teacher help him make sure every classmate gets a chance. Bless his little heart.

He’s not into stuff. He couldn’t even do Pokemon trading at his birthday party because he had given all his cards away. “I just like to look at them,” he says.” I don’t care about keeping them.” This morning at breakfast, he gave his last piece of Nutella-chocolate sprinkle toast to Vincenzo just because. He happily fills his claw machine with prizes he’s collected and lets his friends win them all.

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He still likes me to help get him out of the bathtub. I spread the towel on my lap and he hugs his legs to his chest and I see if he can still fit all the way in the towel. He does. Barely. I carry him to his room while he smiles sweetly up at me, like an overgrown, blissfully swaddled baby.

People  often pull me aside to tell me how much they love Leo. Maybe it’s because  he leads with his heart. Maybe it’s because they just gave him a dozen Pokemon cards. Maybe it’s his speech impediment, which is as adorable to us as it is frustrating to him. (Six years of speech therapy, and counting!)

I’m happy for Leo that he’s 8, but I’m a little sad for me. It’s harder to shrink him down in my mind back to the all-smiles baby he was. There are things I’ve forgotten that he’s said or done in the past 8 years. It’s been a long time since he stumbled out of bed in the morning and crawled into mine to snuggle. His silly often overshadows his sweet.

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But the essence of baby Leo—the feeling that he is something precious and that holding him makes me feel there doesn’t need to be anything else in the world? Still there. The feeling that he is giving more than he’s taking? Still there. The feeling that I want to protect him because his heart might be too big for the world? Still there.

Leo is my little love. My heart. He’s my Bud Light.

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But like his brothers, he’s growing up too fast. I’m going to need some bigger towels.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Dinner @ Mom & Dad’s!

Pokemon Party

I did it! I threw an at-home birthday party and I didn’t go over the top!

Now, in the past I have made promises to myself and the general public to take things down a notch, but then I’d get swept up in the big birthday party planning wave and next thing you knew I had repainted the house and bought a miniature pony farm to go with the theme.

But not this time!

Leo chose Pokemon for his theme. Here’s a picture of the decorations.

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Oh, right…I didn’t PUT UP any decorations!!! I’m so chill!

I had to squish all the thematic food to one section of the island instead of it stretching from from end to end. Go me! I resisted the urge to cut honeydew to look like Bulbasaurs or assemble the blueberries into Blastoises.

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I didn’t even make homemade Peeps—I used the store bought kind! (Kevin named these guys “Peepachus.”)

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I couldn’t help but make a cake, of course. I mean, the whole reason I had kids is so I could bake cakes for them.

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Surprise!

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For party games, I sent the boys on a scavenger hunt. And if the clues happened to be rhyming poems, that was purely incidental.

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They did Pokemon energy sorting with Skittles, using plain, unmarked, drugstore plastic cups.

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And they played Pokemon Pong.

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(I wish I could be there the day my boys are at college and someone pulls out the red solo cups and ping pong balls and they say, “Oh, Pokemon Pong! I love Pokemon pong!”)

(Also, yes you do see a couple decorations in the above picture, but the sign was borrowed and crepe paper doesn’t count.)

I promise I’m not writing this post facetiously—this party was super scaled down, despite the well-meaning parent who kept exclaiming, “This is so amazing! I can’t believe you did all this! You are so amazing!” I wanted to say, “Pipe down! You’re blowing my cover!” But I figured a few compliments wouldn’t hurt.

Despite  the lavish praise, I had a lot of fun.

And I think these guys did, too.

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Heart-shaped calzones
Regular-shaped Salad
Heart-shaped sugar cookies