Almost-September Blues

I’m walking around this week all teary-eyed, like it’s my children’s last week of life instead of their last week of summer.  I pick Leo up for random hugs and kisses, trying to memorize the smell and feel of his blond head.  Every bit of laughter, every pitter-patter of footsteps I take in with a brink-of-tragedy feeling.

School.  That’s the tragedy.

This is how I feel, even though summer has worn me to the bone.  I’m under-exercised, over-baked, dizzy from the front door swinging open, low on sleep and completely devoid of down time.  I should be looking forward to September!  I’ll finally have time to do things I really want to do!

But what if what I really want to do is make waffles with the kids, spend the morning at a museum, pick huckleberries and make a pie with them in the afternoon, read books in their colossal forts, then find a beach and stay until it’s too dark to find our shovels?

The thing is, I’m good at being a summer mom. In the summer I never question if I’m spending my time in the best way.  I never feel guilty for what I’m not doing.  I’m happy worrying about whether or not the kids are eating too much peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or finding reasons not to vacuum the sand out of the car.

I like those worries.  They’re cute, like puppies that might try to chew up a cushion but can’t actually do any damage.

Once school starts, my worries change.  I worry I won’t be able to finish my novel or write another picture book.  I worry that I don’t know how to be happy just  being. I worry that I should be doing something more. I worry that time is going too fast and I’ve started everything too late.

Peanut butter and jelly?  That’s a problem I am equipped to deal with.  Evaluating my self-worth and dealing with the publishing world?

Kevin and my mom both remind me I always have a hard time when school starts.  I’m blaming writing this year because it’s an easy target.  But truthfully, I’ve had September anxiety as long as I’ve known how to spell the word September.

If you’ve read this blog long enough, you know there will be a post next week about how lovely, beautiful, and magical this thing called school is, to take my children for six hours a day while I can do whatever the bleep I want to do.  I’ll get a pedicure.  I’ll spend hours in my garden.  I’ll finally return that one pair of shoes.  Read a novel in a whole day.  Shave both of my legs.  Browse actual stores instead of just the Internet.  Go for a walk with a good friend.  Maybe do some writing.

So anyway, can we just skip this week and get straight to that one?

Ginger salmon burgers
Fresh vegetables
Blackberry hombre popsicles

Short stack

Everyone’s been saying Vincenzo looks a lot taller lately but you know, I don’t think he’s getting all that tall.  I mean, look at him next to me:


Wait, camera person where are you going?  Stop backing up!


Okay, fine.  I’ll take the wedge heels off. He still just comes up to my chin.


I often remind Vincenzo that I’m still taller than him.  Like when we’re picking blackberries on the trail, I make sure to tell him that if he can’t reach any, to call me over since I’m so much taller than him.  At the ice cream store I came up behind him and tried to lift him up so he could see the flavors. When he stands close enough to me I thank him for bringing me my armrest.


Okay, so maybe he is encroaching on my height, and maybe I’m having a bit of a hard time with it.

I’ve seen this very thing happen to other moms, how one year the Christmas card makes sense and the parents are standing there like the demigods and rulers they are and then the next year, the demigods look like an older, smaller, and possibly shrinking versions of themselves.

I just kinda thought I’d always be the right height for my family.  Like this:


Instead of *just barely* this:


Kids these days.  They ain’t got no respect for their 5-foot-3-inch mothers.

But hey, every cloud has a silver lining.  Now Vincenzo and I wear the same shoe size and can finally swap shoes with each other!


Well he definitely gets the better deal there.

Things stuck to the bottom of the refrigerator


I woke up Thursday morning and the smoke was still there, but something else was there too: the slightest whisper, a tiny hint, a brand-new baby wind.  I knew I missed the sky, but I hadn’t known how much I missed the wind.  I missed the wind and the sounds of outdoors.  We have been so sealed shut for a week—windows, doors, garage, car windows.  If a kid needed to go outside to water a peach pit he planted, I’d open the door a crack for him to leave, then wait there nervously for his return, then open the door a crack to usher him in, like that mother out of A Wrinkle in Time.  But today, today, the wind came and the smoke left and we let the wind in the house.  I had to take a picture of this, it was so beautiful to me:


I missed all the kinds of wind.  The warm evening ones, the cool morning ones, the loud windows-rolled down ones.  I missed the sounds the wind brings, the pieces of shiny conversations and far-away laughter it brought near.  I missed the rustling dress sounds of our big leaf maples, the happy shouts floating up from the lake, the sounds of construction on the houses behind us that had so annoyed me before our lockdown.  There!  Do you hear the hum of the freeway?  Isn’t it the most lovely noise?

I missed the sounds an open window allow into your house.  I missed the humans.  I missed the machines.  I missed it all, I missed the assurance the wind brings that life, life is happening all around.

Dear Wind, Dear Lovely Wind, thank you for bringing back our world.


Minestrone soup
Cakelike cornbread (Thanks for the recipe, M!)
Fruits & veggies


I don’t know about where you are, but where I am we haven’t seen the sky in over a week.  Now, it is not unusual to go a week or twenty without seeing the sky in Seattle, but it’s usually because of cloud cover.  This time it’s not clouds keeping our city in a cloak of ho-hum; it’s smoke from forest fires.

Here’s tonight’s sunset from my deck, on a cloudless night.


It all feels rather post-apocalyptic.  It’s weird to go outside to grill and not hear the neighbor kids laughing in their back yard, not even hear the birds in the trees, and then you hear a siren in the distance and it sounds like the apocalypse.  You check the grill to make sure it’s not human forearms you’re grilling or something.

At dinner the other night, our friend’s little girl saw the sun through the clouds, a sick, pinkish looking thing, and said, “Look, Mommy!  The moon!”

It’s been hard to be so inside these past days.  I ran errands today around noon and was surprised to see other people also driving cars around, and not a bunch of rusty, old cars abandoned all along the streets.  Then I drove by a park.


And our public pool.


And our baseball field.


Notice anything missing?  Like, all the people?

Through it all, I can’t shake the feeling that I somehow made this happen.  All those years burning up gas, years of plastic-wrapped plastic toys that eventually ended up in the garbage, the times I didn’t recycle, the times I used paper towels instead of dryers, the times I turned on the fire instead of putting on a sweatshirt.  All the stuff I’ve thrown away and burned and added to this thing called global warming that has led to wildfires in Canada that has sent down smoke to our city.  Our green city, known for its crisp air, its cleansing rains.  What I wouldn’t give for a drizzle.  Why did we ever call rain dreary?

Leo walked from the car to the store yesterday and said, “My eyes can smell the smoke, Mom.”

Seattle’s air has become as unhealthy as Beijing’s air, which I find shocking.  I’m not shocked that Seattle’s air is that unhealthy but that there are people in the world who live in and breathe this air every day of their lives.  How ids that okay?  What is happening to our beautiful Earth?

Even though we can’t smell the smoke, there are miniscule pieces of ash in the air that can get into our lungs and our blood.  It’s easy to ignore until you realize your throat is sore and your eyes are stinging and your kids all have headaches.  It’s easy to ignore until you see a piece of ash float by like a sinister snowflake and you realize this piece of ash used to be part of something.  A magnificent tree in a forest, a house, a deer that didn’t know which way to run.  Then you realize that this gray haze we are living in is much more than a week of canceled soccer camps and closed pools.  It’s not a warning of a scary future to come; it’s a sign that today, right now, it’s happening.  And yes, we have something to do with it.  I’m not sure how much or exactly what, but I know that we are both the problem and the victims of the problem.

I wish there were something bigger I could do than switch to paper straws or try to buy local.  I wish I could go outside and yell at the smoky sky, “Okay!  I’m sorry!  I’ll be better!”  And like that, the sky would turn blue again and the world would go back to normal.

But then, we’re not supposed to go outside. 

So I’ll just sit here inside and shake my fist at…at something.  I will do a lot of helpful fist shaking and eventually, hopefully, maybe this smoke will go away.


Anniversary Date Revisited

You know, I feel like I started writing about our 15 year anniversary date and ended up somewhere totally different with the last post.  Did anyone else notice that?

Yeah, so we were supposed to go to Canada, ended up staying at home and hanging out in the boys’ room.

We did venture out of the house a bit.  Kevin loves shopping, which feels weird every time I say it, but it’s true.  Then I feel like I should add that this is Kevin:


We shopped and ate [and cleaned] our way through the weekend.  We went to a Brazilian steak house, which is a crazy thing that everyone should try at least once, except definitely not vegetarians or people who are grossed out when their dinner partner breaks out into the meat sweats.  We played tennis one morning, which we hadn’t done since our anniversary in the Bahamas.  We went to pilates together, drank jamoca shakes at random times, ate a Vietnamese restaurant, watched a movie snuggled up on the outdoor deck, browsed Home Depot and commented on how it smells like the first two years of our marriage there.  (We did a lot of home improvement before our efforts became thwarted by our spawn.) 

At the end of two days, I asked Kevin how much more fun he thought he’d have if we had gone to Canada.  He said, “I think we would have had less fun.”

And you know?  I think he’s right.

Maybe next year we’ll plan an even bigger anniversary trip to cancel.  Imagine how much fun we could have then!

Chicken & shrimp satay with peanut dipping sauce
Thai noodles
Fresh vegetables
Blackberry peach trifle

The Undate

For our 15th anniversary, Kevin and I planned a trip to Vancouver.  We sent the boys’ to my parents and then I went home to pack and noticed a little detail: that my passport expired three months ago.


For two seconds, we thought of all the other places we could go instead, and then we shook that thought off and decided to just stay home.

He told me to make a list.   I already had.  We got right to work.

I spent most of the weekend in the boys’ room, which started out looking like this:


20180811_173601327_iOSThe mess is the result of two years of Saturdays where they were told to clean their room and they did so by putting everything back exactly not in its place.  I was able to do what they never could have: fill up two garbage bags worth of old toys, papers, candy wrappers, certificates of showing up, etc. etc.  I sent one to Goodwill and one to the dump.

There were treasures hidden in all the junk, like an unspent Toys R Us gift card, an entire Easter basket’s contents, unopened, and an unusual amount of legitimate postage stamps. But my favorite find in their bedroom was this:


Yes.  A booger.  And before I even finished asking Kevin which kid do you think did this, we already knew the answer.

Coincidentally, one of the things on the weekend list was to hang the letter R that Rocco got for his birthday two years ago.  Zoom in.  You will see the booger exactly in the middle of the round part of the R.


Even more coincidentally, this was the exact place I planned to hang the R.  Zoom out…


I’m not even going to say anything to Rocco.  Not a word.  Then one day he is going to discover this blog and discover this post specifically, and he’s going to go to his bedroom to see if I was BSing or not and he will find that no, I was not, and all these years his boogie was framed in the letter R on the wall beside his bed and he didn’t even know it. 

Then he’s going to say it’s not his booger.

[The last time we found boogers on the wall it was an entire collection, in the bathroom, and no one would claim it so finally I said then it must have been me.  I must have made a booger collection on the boys’ bathroom wall.  I apologized to everyone and scrubbed it off while they watched and told me how disgusted they were with me.]

Over the weekend, we made other little improvements to the boys’ room, like adding a hole to their desk to hide cords, installing a hook for V’s headphones, hanging R’s geosphere lamp, adding power strips to each side of the desk so that both their lamps would plug in, and unburying and plugging in the lamps that wrap around their bedframe.  I was very excited about these little things.  With each improvement I told myself that this, this is the missing piece, the reason they couldn’t keep their room clean.  I told myself I was turning their room into a magical fairy land and that they will take pride and delight in, so much so that they will want to keep it pristine.


I imagined the boys rushing into their room when they got back and exclaiming over all its new features.

And finally!  They were back! 

Vincenzo instantly retreated to his bed and covered himself all the way with a comforter and Rocco went outside to whittle weaponry on the front porch, not to be bothered with the details of interior design.

I ripped the covers off of Vincenzo.  I made Rocco come inside.  I showed them how their lamps were now plugged in and working!  They said, “Meh.”  I asked them if they knew how many teeth I would have given to have a bendy lamp on my bed when I was their age.  “How many?” they asked.  “All of them!” I said.  “All of my teeth!”  Vincenzo went back under the covers.  Rocco went to the kitchen to build a ham radio.  The lamps remained un-turned on.

I was just about to declare our kids completely broken when I remembered that wait!  I have another kid!  I called Leo downstairs to the panic room—that dark room underneath the stairs–where we had hung light up Minecraft torches on the wall.  “Behold!” I told him.  “This room is just like real Minecraft now!”  He glanced at the torches, unimpressed.  “No it’s not,” he said.  He went on to tell me all the reasons it’s not at all like real Minecraft, then left me alone in the panic room to contemplate all the decisions I’ve ever made in life.  He never even turned the torches on.

Seriously, what is wrong with my kids? 

I peeked in on the boys last night after hours, just to see if maybe they were using the lamps after all.


It’s hard to see what’s going on in this picture due to the obvious LACK OF LAMPLIGHT, but Rocco is scrunched at the end of his bed by the window, reading by the feeble amount of light coming through the closed blinds, while not one but two lamps on the opposite end of his bed are sitting there in the dark like a couple of chumps.

Seriously.  Broken kids.  Duds.

But you know, maybe I’m looking at things wrong.  Maybe I should stop evaluating my boys based on their lamp-turning-on skills and start evaluating them on their mess making skills—to look at the situation in a different light, if you will.


There we go.  Absolutely brilliant.  Top shelf kids.  Friggin’ geniuses.

(And no, the light coming from the right side of the picture is not lamp based.  It’s just the window.)

Chicken sausage
Potato & corn salad
Soba noodle salad
Kale, date, & parmesan salad
Sugar cookies

The Gardener

Many of you know of my lifelong fight against nature in trying to grow vegetables in my backyard, population 3 boys,  5 deer, 18 birds, 22 rabbits, umpteen slugs, and every species of vegetable eating bug known to man.  A couple years ago I tried to give the vegetable garden to Kevin so when things went wrong I could just look at him pityingly and tell him better luck next year instead of feeling wrath and rage and responsibility of my own.

That didn’t work very well.  I’m not a great liar, and we both knew whose vegetable garden it really was and who should take the blame.  I learned that there was no point in planting carrots, that any attempts to grow peppers will result in mutations, and you have to offer up the first crop of beans to the slug gods.

But now my sister is in horticulture classes and she has actually taken over the vegetable garden and holy cow, I can’t keep up with it. 


We had peas!  We have beans!  We have tomatillos, which I think I know what they are!  Red peppers, green peppers, jalapeno peppers which are sometimes red and sometimes green, which is confusing!  We have tomatoes!  We have rhubarb!  We have pumpkins!  We have a stressful amount of cucumbers!  A troubling amount of yellow squash!  An alarming amount of kale! 

Now, if only I could train myself to enjoy eating cucumbers, kale, and yellow squash!


I’ve learned so much about gardening this year, like how the only possible answer to the question, “Could you use some kale?” is, “Nah, I’m good.”

Even though I am excited at the enormous success Jnet has brought to my garden, I have to say I did feel a little I-told-you-so when the eggplants only made one measly little eggplant and the rabbits ate half our peas and the voles ate all our carrots and the peppers looked like they might have teeth and the slugs ate our first crop of beans.  But I’m a grown up now and I don’t say things like, “See, Jnet?  Are you reading this right now?  Because I told you so!”


I have never before felt empathy for a vegetable.

Anyway, my sister didn’t just stop at the vegetable garden; she took a look at our fruit trees as well.  When we bought this house fifteen years ago, I decided to plant a fruit tree a year until we had an orchard positively dripping with fruit.  We started with a fig tree.  Each summer, the deer would eat the entire tree until it was just a single, scraggly stick.  One year the deer left it alone and we let our hopes rise, but then we looked outside to see little Leo beating the fig tree with a bat until there was only one stick left.

The pear tree I planted died, as did one of the apple trees.  The plum tree got huge and thrived, but only one year did it get a single plum.  We’d go out every day to look at that green, growing plum and talk about how it would taste best.  In a pie?  A pudding?  A sauce?  Sliced razor thin and drizzled with honey?  But then one day we went out to discuss the plum and it had disappeared. Was it was something we said?

After about five years of planting trees with the vision of an orchard in our backyard, I gave up.  We were left with a barren plum tree, an apple tree whose apples made you desperately thirsty with one bite, and a very depressed fig tree.

Jnet looked at our fruit trees differently.  Not as someone whose romantic orchard dreams withered on the vine but as someone who sees a terrible car wreck at the side of the road and gets out to help.

Normally when the apple tree gets its fruit, we count the apples and then decide which members of our family will get a whole apple this year and which of us will need to share.  There are five of us, remember. 

But this year we got dozens of apples!  I didn’t even count them,* there were so many.  And you don’t need to chug a cup of water in orderto eat one!


Also, for the first time since we planted it fifteen years ago, our fig tree got a—wait for it—a FIG!!!!  A real live fig!  And even if it only grew to the size of a sidewalk ant before something ate it, still.  A fig!

I think I can say my dream has been achieved.  We have two fruit bearing-ish trees.  In our orchard.  Which looks like this.


Right.  So we still have a ways to go.

In conclusion, I mostly wrote this post because I wanted to use the line “I have a stressful amount of cucumbers.”  Anyone who has ever grown a single cucumber plant knows exactly what I’m talking about.

And now for some beautiful pictures of vegetables, most of which, especially the first one, are technically fruit.


Thanks, Jnet! 

And also, could you use some kale?

Gado gado salad (goodbye, yellow cucumber and beans pictured above)
Applesauce (goodbye a bunch of the apples pictured above)
Blackberry cheesecake bars

Rocco’s Bday, the sentimental post

Actually, Rocco is my one kid who I don’t feel sentimental about when he has a birthday.  He was one of those babies who was irritated that he was stuck in a baby body because his brain thought he was older. He’d get so frustrated trying to make his dimpled fingers build train tracks that were too complicated for my feeble brain to even imagine.  I know because he’d loudly express his disgust at my attempts to help.

So each time he turns a year older, my thought is, “Finally!”  Instead of “Already?”  I’m happy he’s a year closer to being able to do all the things he  really wants to do. 


Not that he isn’t perfectly happy now, building Lego creations and playing games and drawing up plans for world domination with Crayolas on lined paper.  Rocco is never short on ideas.

Here he is, building a stone and log bridge so he could walk across the river to a fallen tree.



Along with all these ideas in Rocco’s head comes the conviction that he has all the answers and he knows a better way and he’s not going to wait around for directions.

He still asks a lot of questions, like, “What’s a mankini?” I told him there’s only one way I could answer that.


On our trip to Yellowstone, at any given moment, you could hear someone saying, “Rocco. Rocco!” The first firmly, the second fiercely. It takes that to get his attention, and even then you never get his full attention because half of his brain is still listening to himself while the other half may be doing any number of things.  There’s not all that much room in his brain left for listening to things other people have to say. Like, “Watch out for the bear!” Or, “Your robot army is is attacking!”

If there’s a book character that reminds me of Rocco, it’s Zaphod Beeblebrox.  It’s uncanny, their similarities.


Rocco’s voice has two volumes: loud and louder. He chooses friends who are also loud and louder, and they yell at each other when they’re happy and they yell at each other when they’re mad.  Arguments are settled by whoever’s voice holds out the longest.  It’s enough to bring a tear to any politician’s eye.


The only time we can really get through to Rocco is when he’s eating, as he often uses one hand to jam as much food into his mouth as will fit and is unable to speak for minutes at a time.  We have to save up anything we want to say to him during the day for dinner time, when the food jammer comes out.



(Rocco’s 4th of July outfit.  He insisted it was red, white, and blue and once Rocco makes his mind up, there’s no convincing him otherwise.)

He continues to be selflessly generous with everyone he encounters except for his archnemesis, Leo.  He gives away candy, Pokemon cards, money, Lego creations—but the minute Leo shows up, shop is closed.  “Sorry, I just ran out.”

During read aloud at night, Vincenzo has taken to sitting on Rocco’s head. Rocco laughs and laughs. Leo joins in the pile. Rocco gets mad.

Rocco builds something every day. Only the materials change. He builds things of sand, sticks, pillows, blankets, rocks, Legos, spaghetti, architect sets, robot sets, mashed potatoes, carpet fuzz. If it is within reach, Rocco will build out of it.

A tiny sampling of some of the things he’s built this summer:







Yesterday we had a babysitter over while I got some things done. I heard Rocco outside teaching her how to play soccer, then they came inside and he got out the beginner piano books and gave her a piano lesson. He’s had 4 lessons himself, you know. If he keeps this up, we’re going to have to start charging the babysitter instead of paying her.

Now for some random pictures that don’t quite fit in with anything:


Hot slide face!


(He loves to read.  Some days that’s the only way I know he’s mine.)


Sometimes I worry about Rocco. I worry that he’ll never listen to what his teachers say, that he won’t listen to what his boss says, that he won’t listen to what anyone says, that he’ll drive whoever he falls in love with absolutely mad with all that not-listening. (I hope whoever they are, they have a loud voice.)

But I don’t worry about him much. Rocco has all the confidence I always wished I had, the ideas to back it up, the never-say-die attitude when things go wrong. He approaches failure as a challenge instead of a defeat. He laughs the loudest and longest, and he never takes it personally when you tell him you need a little break from him.  He wakes up every morning excited to see what he’s going to come up with today.


I do too.

Hey world!  Are you ready for this guy?


It’s okay. Neither am I.


Mexican corn cakes with pulled pork
Fresh fruit
Kale salad with dates and shaved parmesan
Leftover birthday cake