Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Four Star

On the same street at the kids' gymnastics center are several hotels that cater to mid-budget beach goers.

Today, while passing a chain hotel, I heard Annike say under breath, "gross."

Annike is a shushy talker, all hers s's are said "schhhh" instead of "ssss". It's heartmelting. I attribute it to her terrible fall from the bathroom counter our last night in Ann Arbor. The fall that landed us in the ER with a middle of the night surgery involving reattaching the front of her tongue to the back of her tongue. Even to this day, she has an inflexible divot half-way back on her tongue. She also mispronounces her r's, just like Petra did.

So really, what she said sounded more like this, "gwosch."

Then, "you know when you go to vischit people and it isch faw away? And you can't stay with them beausche theiw housche isch too schmall? And scho you gotta schtay at a hotel?"

The rest of us, "ummmm . . ."

Annike, "you know?"

Us, "yes?"

Annike, "well let'sch nevew schtay at that one. It schays on the schign that they have 'weekly ratsch'! That'sch scho gwosch! Why wouldn't they juscht get rid of them?"

Soren is long back to his book by now, Tova gives an empathetic "eww, rats."

Petra and I sit and think, out loud repeating, "weekly rats?"

Then we giggle.

Weekly rates.

I love being her mother. I do.

Annike is my funny one.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Love the One You're With

If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with. Do do do do do . . .

Makielski's. All you A2 people know what I'm talkin' about. Makielski's is a verdant and lush orchard filled with every species of blackberries and raspberries and gooseberries and pumpkins here on God's green earth. We go there every year, sort of. Kind of. Now we go their in our hearts. Because Makielski's is in Ann Arbor, one of the top 3-cities of the world. Annnnnd, if you recall, we don't live their anymore. We gave up Camelot for burnt toast with a side of ocean. Not bad, mind you, but we still have our I'd Rather Be in Ann Arbor bumper stickers.

Ok, so whaddya do when your stuck living over in Burnt Toast? Well, you do what you always did and go pickin.

Tovey got confused and nabbed an alarmingly large gem from her nose. That's not what we had in mind.

Unlike Makielski's, with 7-fields encompassing hundreds of acres, the place we went to up in the mountains was 3-1/2 rows that were 20-feet long. That's it. Just one kinda berry. There were plenty of bees, which was a relief. Not so much of a relief were the snakes curled up under the tender, wet leaves. But we managed. And I was teary, homesick, but determined that my puddin-babies are gonna grow up right -- with raspberry thorns stuck in their finger tips and snake wrapped around their ankles.

That's Baby #3 there. She was a good picker until the snake incident, then she mostly snake hunted.

Baby #4 likes bees and snakes. She's a lot like Nutmeg, troubles with leaving all the little creatures be. Plus, I don't even know how she got a hold of that shi-shi in her mouth.

I take it seriously. The kids had the buckets so I had to use my skirt, probably just like Laura Ingalls Wilder. I wonder how Laura handled snakes? I run and scream and have to cardiovert myself. My heart is still flip-floppy.

When people ask me how old the twins are, I don't correct them, and then I tell them that Jack and Annike are 6-years old. It's all true. They are 6-six old. And, they're strikingly similar. Jack Henry Viking was our boy for the day. On Friday, Soren was one of theirs. Even Steven.
(Oh, I was still holding raspberries in my skirt.) (I wasn't trying to be sassy.)

All my Viking children. Soren is too cool for smiles. He also doesn't have teeth anymore.

Pa and Ma Viking and the minis and the corn and the field and the mountains and the most fabulous smell in the air. It's breathtaking in ways Back Home isn't, and I get an extra child or two out of the deal sometimes, and so I'm trying to make Burnt Toast the way we are. It's not so bad, spread it with something sweet and it feels just about right.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Once Bitten

One of the things I did while you were away was this, I did a cake decorating class. I didn't really want to do it. It was a holiday gift from my well-intentioned husband, groan. After all, what working mother has time for cake decorating? A cleaning lady, now that is a gift every mother could use. And, I'll tell you this, my husband certainly wasn't doing any laundry while I was away.

What ended up happening is that I went t0 work and whined about it. Whine and complained until one of the doctors that I work with got so fed up that she decided to take the class with me just so she could prove me wrong and get me to shut-up already. Every Wednesday for a month we went to class at the local high school. For three hours a week we crumb-layered and iced and piped and rolled and so on. We were placed in the beginners group on the grounds that neither of us had any formal training. That is when I decided it was a competition between me and that richie doctor with her fancy MD degree. I secretly spent each class peering over at her work, jumping at the chance to laugh hard at her mistakes. It was a lot of fun. One time I laughed so hard at her Big Bird cake that I squirted blue icing out of my icing bag and onto my Cookie Monster cake. That was not funny.

The story doesn't end there, though. It was a little bit fun. Because we also laughed at and with the people in our class. There was a 60-something father of two with gobs of money who was there to learn a hobby and establish residency so his youngest could go to UCLA. There was the 60-something Japanese granny with limited English skills who had never, ever heard of Sesame Street let alone Big Bird (you should have seen her Big Bird cake on Sesame Street day!). The four of us were way copacetic, laughing and joking and secretly trying to one up each other in Beginning Cake Decorating. There was a T.A. with the sorriest bunch of decorating skills I had ever seen. Lastly there was the head honcho, Miss Linda.

Now, Miss Linda was a piece of work. She was probably about 5'5" tall, and 300-lbs. She was chronically breathless, could hardly walk, and had perfected the eye-roll and huffy breath. She had mad skills. She was also a bit celebrity, having appeared on some cake show as a contestant and then later a judge. On both wrists she wore braces due to injury after years of squeezing icing bags and rolling fondants. Several of her toes were numb from her years of living as a diabetic in a cake store. When she walked she would grab on to the nearest counter, or chair, or person then shuffle her feet until she could grab onto the next object in front of her. If you were that object and you were in deep crap, one false move and you were both toast. Linda love to slap the icing bag out of your hand for poorly piped decor, and then growl at you mercilessly as she showed you the right way to do it.

Idle chatter is how we spent our time as we worked on those cakes, so by the end of the class we all knew each others' life stories. My family's diet was no secret to the rest of my group, who was supportive and curious. As a self-proclaimed food snob, I'm accustomed to receiving lots of feedback about my snobby and wayward living. One day Linda and the T.A. were simply agog when they learned I am a vegetarian. Upon sneerily proclaiming it to the entire class (the Intermediate and Advanced groups shared the same home economics classroom with us), she loudly announced "my God woman, you know you're gonna DIEEEEEEEEE from that." Then she avoided me for the rest of the class like I had The Clap, which was fine by me because it was flower week and my roses were looking really shitty and quite frankly I was afraid of her.

But, we loved Linda and it turns out that I liked cake decorating. No my husband did not try to get a load in or pack the kids' lunches or clip their toe nails. But when the month was winding down, Tricia and I were on the quest for more cake knowledge. Linda invited us to come to some classes at her store for free! Because she liked us so much! But she wanted me to eat some Spam before I came because I made her uncomfortable with so much asparagus blood.

And that is what we did. We drove down San Diego on Monday nights and sat in a big class room with 25-inland women far, far away from our tight knit group of beachcombers. And then we signed up for more classes! Fondant! Drawing on your cake! Rolled butter cream!

It wasn't too long before the office found out about our skills, soon we were in charge of the desserts for each celebratory event at the office. Baby showers. 50th birthday. Saint Patrick's Day. Office manager's birthday. Usually, Tricia baked half the cake, I baked the other half. We both filled our own and then I would decorate. It had been going along well until recently. After a long night of call, Tricia came home and baked her cake all the while struggling to keep her eyes open. Then she dropped them off to my house, where I was supposed to carve them, crumb them and then decorate them.

We were making a baby shower cake for one of the young women who worked our reception desk. I had the cakes centered on the counter while I was working on making a Hispanic skin tone frosting, which isn't easy. Everything was well out of Maggie's reach.

It turns out it wasn't out of Nutmeg's reach. My poor mom began screaming in absolute despair, and I turned around to the above horror. My heart sank. I had 12-hours to make a new cake and fill it and crumb it and ice it and decorate it and it was already close to midnight (give or take 3-hours). Which is what I did.

And we all lived happily ever after. And this baby got eaten. And the mama was very happy. And everyone, ev-errrr-yyy-one, thought this baby looked just like what the new baby will probably look like. And so there you go.

Monday, August 8, 2011


This is the story of how one quiet-ish Monday, Tova and I found ourselves without any big kids to cramp our style. After doing all our drop-offs at soccer and gym, Tovey told me she wanted to buy some 'sishy cwackerz' -- fishy crackers, duh -- and eat 'em all up, yum, yum, yum.

We buy our fishy crackers in bulk, and two things happen when you buy fishy crackers in bulk. The number one thing is that children untwist the twisty tie and take a handful and then shove the bag back in the sorry-excuse-for-a-pantry that we have in our sorry-excuse-for-a-kitchen. Basically they get stale, or spilly all over and then the mice come or we have stale fish. Either one is a bummer. Ok, the number two thing is that our mutt-puppy dog and our pure-bred wiener dog are geniuses! They can muster up the know-how to break through our baby proofed pantry doors (blue rubber bands wrapped around the door handles) and steal the plastic bag with the goldfish and then eat the plastic bag with the goldfish inside.

At first it doesn't sound like a bad plan, right? Cause who wouldn't want their dogs to eat plastics bags, then the poop would already be bagged up. Turns out, that's not how it works. The plastic ends up mixed in, you see. Mixed in, sadly.

Now you know where I'm going right? We needed another container. A container to keep the mice out and a container to keep the fishies fresh and a container that was eat-proof (not putting Maggie past it, but I'm always hopeful). All our other containers were tied up with oatmeal and pretzels (Maggie doesn't like pretzels) and Honey Nut Cheerios and granola and all that crap.

So, sishy cwakerz store and then the 'tainer store. Tova wrote the plan on her map of the zoo with a highlighter and off we went. She was happy-dappy, singing her fave song about the juke box and rock and roll. Last stop was the fancy outdoor mall by our house, with many 'sountains' (fountains) and the 'tainer store.

And before you knew it, we were done with the 2-errands Tova had on her list. Listen, I know what you're thinking: 1) but they really were Tova's errands, her original ideas 2) you're probably thinking I'm the kind of mom that drags my kids everywhere on errands and such and then lets them pick a fun one to do so that they don't think the whole day was a big wash (I am, but that's not what happened today). Tova carried the bag with 3-cereal box sized containers, and we headed out the front door toward home. There I was yapping away about washing our 'tainers, drying our 'tainers and then filling our 'tainers with all the fishies and then how we must only eat a little bowlful. It's funny, I thought, how I suddenly don't hear Tovey dragging that bag of 'tainers behind her.


I was alone, looking like a lady with a few-hundred screws loose baby-talking to thin air about goldfish crackers and portion control.

A few frantic nanoseconds later, I found that girlfriend around the corner. She has a thing for fountains, and this mall has lots and lots of fountains. I'm thinking she went out the side-door to see the fountain, dragging her container bag with her.

Well, there she was, paralyzed with her jaw dropped, little drips of drool dangling from the corners of her mouth. Her eyes were dancing and awestruck, her chubby little finger pointing at side-by-side escalators. Barely audible, her tiny voice was whispering "alligator, alligator, alligator." And when a taut woman with bouncy body parts jumped onto the escalator, yoga mat tucked into the crook of her elbow, Tova gasped and shook with joy.

Slowly, she turned and as she did she noticed me watching her a few feet away. Her precious brown eyes, as big as chocolate covered doughnut holes, welled up and implored me without a word but saying so much -- "Mommy," they said "it's all I ever wanted, all I ever needed." Then she gently parted her rosebud lips and let out the sweetest sigh ever heard on this barren earth.

And so I had a choice. I could have been the mommy who stuck to the plan, wrangled up my toddler and pressed her into her car seat with my elbow and forearm holding her in place and my other hand snapping her up at 5-points while she wailed in mortal rage as her hopes at sacred escalator ascension were dashed by evil, evil mama. But who wants to be that mommy?

Most of the time not me. And, just who on earth was I to be a heart breaker? Who? I'm nothing without these babies, so if life is about the simple pleasures and cheap thrills then let's do it.

39-minutes later, pudgy baby hand in my hand, we rode up and down that escalator on 11-round trips. A couple of times we went and splashed our hands in the 'sountain', buuuuut mostly we did 22-escalator rides.

You know that song about Charlie, the man who gets stuck on the M.T.A 'neath the streets of Boston and never returns? Well, my life was starting to sound just like a Kingston Trio song.
And then it came to me, bribery.

"HeyTova! Remember those goldfish crackers in the car?"


"Well, how about you and I go home and wash the new container and then pour the gold fish in. We'll have to get off this escalator of purgatory, but I'll let you use the scissors to cut the bag open."

She had to think about it for a bit, purgatory or scissors. Think, think, think. She really loves scissors.

"How about we wide da alligator fwee more times, den we comed home and I cut de sishy bag open and I get to pour dem aww by myself and you don't help me and den I eat dem and you don't eat mine. Fwee more time I wide dis fing."

And that is how you pull yourself out of purgatory. You simply offer your child something to gouge their eyes out with and then some cheesy sodium to wash it down.

Three more round-trips on the escalator and we were home with her cutting open the bag of crackers, pouring it onto the floor and table and a little bit into the container.

Peace, love and containment,

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


I swear this is my last summer as a working parent. I told Lars this yesterday. He is, apparently, disbelieving. But, running this household really requires at least one adult more present more often.

Take today for example. I forgot to make the pizza dough last night, so that meant I had to make it today. It takes 4-hours to rise, not to mention the time it takes to make. Because I need to leave her with the car during the day New Nanny picked me up from work, then the kids and I dropped New Nanny off. That's 20-minutes I had to subtract from pizza dough-ing. Then at home, I had to clean-up the tissues that Nutterbutter had pulled out of the box. Another 5-minutes negative from my dough-ing. I quick started the water for the yeast, but didn't take the kettle off until it whistled. Knowing it was probably too hot, I sprinkled the yeast anyway. After that, we whisked Petra off to gymnastics 20-minutes away, and then the rest of us off to Trader Joes. Home 57-minutes later, but the yeast wasn't foamy, it was just plain boiled. Now I was like negative 98-minutes! I had to start over.

But, when you're starting over and a little huffy, you can't help but notice the other things that are wrong about your day. For example, 6-bananas with fruit flies all around, very ripe and very splotchy. That means banana bread.

So, there I was, needing to double the pizza dough recipe and make the banana bread undoubled. Which is how we ended up with banana-y pizza bread.

And the kids. Something needed to be done about the kids. Soren was, and is, engrossed with the 4th Harry Potter so he was all set, but those little baby girls were something of another sort. I'm not one of those mamas who loves cooking with her kids. I like to do it my way, and I like to do it without talking. I don't necessarily like to let Annike over-stir the batter while singing her rendition of Sir Mix A Lot's "Baby Got Back", which I've heard at least 72-times today. Let me tell you, it got old after the first time.

So there I was, with Annike bumpin' to "Baby Got Back", trying to be more like one of those patient mommies who happily cooks with her kids.

Tova was wailing "I Love Rock and Roll". She leave out the part about the dime, skips right to the juke box bit. Hard on the nerves.

Tova also got pokey with the dough and stuck her fingers right in there. See that? How's a doubled dough to survive?

As if it wasn't crowded enough in that little kitchen, Nutmeg curled up in her favorite kitchen napping spot.

But, well, then they do little things like this. Things like holding the dough up, naming it Baby Ivy, and patting it on the back til it burps.

Then rocking it.

Or pretending to swaddle it.

And, cooing to it. Annabeaner is a great cooer.

It makes me sigh a little happy sigh. Just a little one.

We set that dough to rise on top of a heating pad, whispered sweet nothings to it and gave it a few gentle pats. I'll be darned if that dough didn't double in 1-1/2 hours! We punched it down, and then let it set for it's second rise, also done in 90-minutes flat! And then another improbable thing happened. Neighbor DJ came over, said something about being hot and then took Soren, Annike, Tova and Nutmeg back to his house to swim.

Suddenly, I had a coo-less and dog-less house (unless you count Maggie, but she's mostly cow and only 7% dog). Without so many helpers, without so much burping of pizza dough, I was able to get a few other things done.

And that is the story of how I was able to make 4-whole wheat pizzas, 2-loaves of banana bread sans fruit flies, and 2-dozen Viking muffins some with and some without granola, and clean up the kitchen, all in time for dinner.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Puppy Wuppy

So, here's the deal. Around here, there are several grades of animal shelters. There's the one run by the county that is filled with pit bulls and dingos and feral cats. There's the Humane Society, where they have 3-legged goats who fell off tractor-trailers, abandoned pot bellied pigs, bunnies galore and a handful of adult pit-bull mixes, a rare puppy or adolescent dog, and 1,000 cats and kittens. Finally, there is the well-funded boutique shelter that flies in Golden Retrievers from Taiwan and mutts from Utah. They have a large selection of puppies and young dogs who won't eat your chickens.
So this is what I imagine went through Lars' head several months ago on one of the occasions that I tried explain to him, without whining, that I can't help it that my body keeps telling me more children are in order -- it's my biology, and he's a biologist after all. He of all people should get it, no? Ok, where was I, oh yeah . . . back up to that almost sentence at the start of this paragraph. Here's what he was thinking (I'm paraphrasing): "One time I saw on TV how at a zoo in China a mama chimp had just had a still birth and the mama panda in the next cell over was rejecting her offspring so the zoo keeper brought the baby panda over to the mama chimp and darn it if that panda baby didn't latch on and darn it if that mama chimp didn't love that baby panda like her own and then she was okay and didn't want anymore babies. Heyyyyyyy, how about I go buy my wife a puppy!"
Later, we drove out through the prickly heat in America's wealthiest zip code to that boutique shelter and we picked us a puppy. And by we, I mean Lars. Lars drove us out there and Lars picked himself a puppy. Per his specifications the dog needed to be chocolate in color and lab-ish in breed. Per my specifications, she or he needed to be young enough that we could train her not to eat the chickens. Chase those spoiled rotten fat birds, yes. Eat them, no.
Enter Nutmeg Buster Brown Viking, our chocolate Chesapeake Labrabeagle, our not so cheap boutique shelter mutt puppy. She's smart as a whip, as sweet as an unripe lemon, precious as a diamond. For the first week, Magdalena Humphindinkelheimer ignored her and us. Beginning of the second week, she tolerated her. And now, after months of Viking living, Nutty and Maggie are BFFs. The romp together, bark together, pee on trees together and over-take our master bed together. Now, nightly Lars takes the two dogs for a walk to the 'big park' in our subdivision where all the neighbors bring their dogs. Everyone knows her pitiful orphan story and has fallen in love with her and her floppy brown ears.
Remember when I said she was smart as a whip? Well, it's mostly true. For example, Maggie demonstrated proper doggie-door use to Nutmeg a handful of time and BOOM! we've got a potty trained puppy. Dinner time in the Viking home? Look under Tova's chair, there's Nutty sitting under it with an open mouth waiting for Brussel sprouts and pie crust. Want to have a good time? Sure, go ahead and join my mutt-pup up on the trampoline where she likes to jump with and without the kids.
Now here's the part where I tell you about how she doesn't have the sense that God gave geese. You may recall how our bee population in this country plummeted. In response Lars and I planted a bunch of water-wise bee friendly plants and bought lots of vanilla Haagen-Daaz. We were gonna bring those bees back, by golly. Truth be told, our front and back yards are buzzy in the afternoons with lots of mostly aloof and historically gentle honey bees.
Unlike the bees, aloof is not something Nutmeg does well. Nutmeg wants to know what everyone is doing all the time, and if she can sit on your lap and lick your ear lobes at the same time then she is truly happy. Too bad for Nutmeg that she can't on the bees' laps. Too bad for Nutmeg that she doesn't speak English, because when I told that twerpy pup to leave those honey bees alone I didn't know that her response to me was "fat chance woman."
Had I known, I would have given her a time-out for being sassy. That usually fixes 'em right up. Like I said, I didn't know that she was not minding me.
25-minutes before we had to leave to get Petra and pick up equipment for Lars' new soccer team, it's always in the 30-minutes before you have to be somewhere, Nutmeg came running in to the house from the backyard. She was a little bit yelpy and a lot snorfly and very much pawing at her face. I said her name in a scolding manner, to which she looked up at me. Holy moly, call the ambulance this dog has turned into a bobble head. Her face was beginning to bloat and swell right in front of me. I grabbed her in my arms, screaming my bloody head off for Lars, who came running. Panic stricken he ran to the next door neighbor's house, who after his own unfortunate bee sting incident always keeps Benadryl on hand. While my puppy's eyes were swelling shut and her snorfling grew more pressured, her little nostrils were closing in, and her face was now 2-times it's usual size. I called our friend Mike who knows a little bit about everything. In less than 5-minutes, Lars was back from the neighbor's and Mike was here with some liquid Benadryl, and EMT kit with oxygen and his extensive veterinary knowledge (former vet tech cum computer geek). With a syringe full of children's Benadryl, Mike shot it to the back of her throat. I grabbed my stethoscope, only to hear tight wheezy lungs and a pounding heart. Mike monitored her color while Lars scolded her in his nice-daddy voice. Gradually, agonizingly slowly, her right eye began to open. Then the right side of her face began to unswell. Her left eye came next, the wheezing stopped and her heart rate returned to normal. The side-effects of the Benadryl kicked in, soon enough Nutmeg was zonked out on Mike's lap with all of us surrounding her sitting on the kitchen floor. When Mike left, her droopy and swollen jowls resembled pendulous hippo testicles. But she was alive, Mike had saved our dog's life.
This morning, Mike called me at work to check on Nutterbutter. Back to her normal puppy pokiness with only a bit of swelling on her left cheek, our dog had gone from being an orphaned puppy in a kill-shelter in Utah to a mutt with the love of all our neighbors and computer geeks who will leave their families at bed time to go do an emergency house call. Right now, she's laying on the grass watching the bees buzz from afar and practicing being aloof.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Don't Call It a Comeback

It's funny. People keep emailing me and telling me to get busy with blogging again. I've been here the whole time! Hmmmm . . .
Well, anyway, here's a quick update of all that's happened since my last post:
1) Soren turned 8
2) Petra turned 10
3) Annike turned 6
4) Petra got straight A's (Annike and Soren are numerically graded)
5) Soren has developed a love of dance
6) Annike made the gymnastics team
7) we got a new nanny, sniffy sniff
8) our friends moved in with us for a bit, we got two more kids out of the deal
9) I had to go to Las Vegas without the kids (work trip) and I yearned for them every darn night
10) we got a puppy, we named her Nutmeg
11) Petra got her braces off
12) our friends moved out yesterday
13) Petra went away to camp, left me for an entire week
14) I'm still not pregnant, and since our friends moved out we're down two kids and the house feels a little lonely and very empty

Maybe I'll post again tomorrow. I love you all, thanks for the support you've given me. Saying all that nice stuff about my writing, you're the best!