Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Great Backyard Campout

Yesterday afternoon, after we had returned from a necessary but somewhat boring trip to the small city to drop off A.'s rental car, get some tomato plants*, and buy a lug nut to replace the one that fell off of the Subaru, I suggested to A. that perhaps we should move the kids' tent outside and let them "camp out" on the lawn that night.

A. has been wanting to take them camping, but he knew it would just be a miserable experience because of the bugs. I thought maybe the bugs around the house would be tolerable at least, though I wasn't sure Cubby would be very enthused about faux-camping in the backyard.

Cubby once memorably remarked upon arrival at a state campground in Arizona, "Are you kidding? We're going to camp in this parking lot?"

Go wild or go home, that's Mountain Man Cubby's motto.

But then A. said if he set up the big tent on the lawn and told Cubby they were going to camp out there to get Jack used to the idea of sleeping in a tent, it would probably be okay.

I also added that perhaps we could cook hot dogs in the firepit A. made in the brushy area behind the house. Because every campout needs a fire.

So that's what we did.

A. decided to take his bike to the general store four miles away to get the hot dogs. I asked him to get hot dogs, buns, and chips. He came back with hot dogs, buns . . . and beer.

I couldn't very well send him back to ride another eight miles for chips, even though I was bummed about the no-chips thing. What's a cookout without fun snacks? And fun snacks are in short supply at our house. This was the best I could come up with.

Nori and anchovies just don't scream, "All-American holiday fun." 

At least I managed to scrounge up enough lemons for lemonade and the last of some marshmallows. Add in some pickled carrots, radishes from the garden, and Star Wars plates sent by my mom for Cubby's birthday that I forgot to use in February, and you have one festive cookout.

But not really.


A. got the fire going and cooked some hot dogs.

Just steps away from the garden and a freshly-picked arugula garnish.

Charlie was displeased because the only hot dogs at the general store were the red hot dogs, which are a local variety that are bright red with some kind of scary dye and which Charlie declared unfit for consumption the one time we tried them. Frankly, I agree. So he had ham and cheese in his bun, and I ate a salad.

Then they made some really gross-looking "sandwiches" with roasted marshmallows and more hot dog buns, because we didn't even have the right ingredients for S'mores. And then they finished up some coconut-flour cookies I had made the day before. (These are really good, even though the name of the blog makes me cringe.)

This was obviously the weirdest campout food ever.

They spent the next couple of hours racing around like maniacs, pretending to be raptors.

Tent-dwelling raptors, apparently.

At 8:30 p.m., A. announced that Jack was so tired he was seeing elephants, so they all got ready for bed and got into the tent. I listened to the ensuing tent insanity from the comfort of the house. The last of the shrieking died down by 9:30 p.m. 

At 3:30 a.m., A. came in with Jack, both of them cold from inadequate covers. A. put Jack right into his sleep sack and into his bed and we heard no more from him. Then A. got into bed in the house.

At 4:30 a.m., Cubby came in demanding to know why Daddy wasn't in the tent anymore. Then he said he was cold and got into his bed.

This only proves to me that everyone really prefers his own bed over a sleeping bag in a tent, and I still do not understand why anyone would ever voluntarily sleep in a tent.

But Charlie is still out there. I went out to check on him and found him sound asleep in the tent, with good old dog Mia zonked out in guard-dog position right in front of the tent's entrance.

I expect they'll all be awake shortly, requiring hot baths and a large breakfast and already ready to do it all again.

* Six Juliet plants and six Mortgage Lifters are now in the ground. Hooray for The Tomato Crazy: Northwoods Version!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Bringing the Outside In

It is a great truth that the solution to almost any behavioral problem with my children is to get them outside. Perhaps this is true for all children, but I only have experience with my own, obviously.

That's why when I see all-day rain in the forecast on the first day of a four-day holiday weekend, which is also a day that A. is out of town and therefore unable to provide any distraction, I quail a little inside.

You may recall I have some experience with this particular situation already.

All three boys woke up with all guns blazing this morning, and there was no such thing as cooperative play. It was ugly. After a lot of crying and yelling--not all of it by them--I looked at my watch and noted with some desperation that it was only 8:45 a.m.

So I pushed them all outside. Fortuitously, there was a break in the rain at that exact moment, so it was just a little misty. Not too cold, either. Totally bearable. They disappeared into the barn to get their bikes out and I went into the garden to check on progress and thin some radishes.

They ate the radishes, and then we went for a bike ride. Which really means Cubby and Charlie rode back and forth in front of the house while I pushed Jack along on his tiny bike. It rained most of the time, but as it wasn't 23 degrees below zero with snow and wind, we stayed out. Plus, the rain was keeping the bugs away, which was a great relief.

After about 45 minutes everyone was wet and a little cold, so we came back inside for a change of clothes and some creamy tea. Plus cheese crackers. Of course.

And that was the end of the respite. I had to confiscate all drawing materials due to fighting over said materials. I had to break up brawls over the Tinker Toy pieces. After some peanut butter bread, Jack went down for a nap and I let Cubby and Charlie draw again, which at least kept them quiet while Jack was sleeping.

Then he woke up. And they were all staring at me, ready to jump right back into their sibling rivalries at any second.

What I really wanted them to do was clean up the disgracefully chaotic downstairs living room, which functions as their playroom. But to entice them to do that, I needed an excuse that would require a clear floor space.

Could I build a fort down there? Not very easily--not enough furniture. Plus, forts always collapse when the three of them get to tussling in them, which they always do.

But then I remembered the tent. This was a children's tent that my parents had sent many months ago but that I had never set up before. Mostly because I knew once I set it up, they would never want me to take it down again.

But, you know, desperate times.

They picked up downstairs (hooray for manipulation!). I set up the tent (not without some difficulty--following assembly directions is not my forte) and they all dived into it immediately. Shortly there was a game in progress with Cubby going hunting, Charlie tending the fire, and Jack in charge of campsite protection. It will all go wrong eventually, as it always does, but for now?

Peace reigns.

P.S. Yeah. I was just about to hit "post" on this tale of triumphant distraction when I heard sounds of discord which ended in both Cubby and Charlie saying they hated each other and Cubby declaring he would never play with them again. It's definitely that kind of day.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Everyone Benefits When Mom Feels Guilty

I had a tater tot situation today.

I know. The drama of my life is just exhausting, isn't it?

The situation was this: I had only a small portion of a bag left from the desperation dinner I made when I was sick. There weren't enough left for more than maybe two people. The only time I feed two people is when I make lunch for Jack and me on school days. But cooking the tater tots involves firing up the oven, and I dislike doing that for only one purpose. Especially when that purpose is as frivolous as cooking a small batch of tater tots for lunch.

Therefore, I made these cheese crackers again.

I was reminded of them when I got a note from Charlie's teacher requesting some more snack foods for his class at school, with the helpful information that Goldfish are always a hit. I happened to be at the store the next day, and Goldfish happened to be on sale, so I bought some for Charlie's class. But as I was buying them, I of course couldn't resist reading the ingredients, and . . . yeah. That's worthless food right there.

At that point, I remembered that I made knock-off Goldfish for Cubby that one time. I wasn't sufficiently motivated to make them for Charlie's class*, but it was in the back of my mind that I should make them again, because they are really good and I knew all the kids would be happy.

I didn't have the motivation to do it, however, until I wanted to turn the oven on for the tater tots, but felt I needed a sufficiently virtuous reason to do so.

And that's what brought us to the making of the cheese crackers today.

This time, however, I did not cut them out with any ridiculous small cookie cutter. I am now older and wiser, and really not down with wasting time like that. Instead I just rolled the dough out and cut it into strips with a knife, and then into square-ish pieces. Not real squares, because can you roll out dough with straight sides? I can't.

That doesn't matter in the least, however. Because the way I did it this time meant literally five minutes of prep work before they were in the oven, and they were all delicious regardless of their wonky shapes.

BUT WAIT. We're not done with the guilt (or the baking) yet!

As I was baking the crackers, I thought what a shame it was that A.-the-wheat-intolerant couldn't eat them. But (I continued thinking), he could if I replaced the nominal amount of wheat flour with something else. Like buckwheat flour, which, despite the name, is not a grain at all.

The oven was still hot and the food processor and baking pan hadn't yet been washed, so I made a batch with buckwheat flour.

Those taste like . . . well, like cheese crackers made with buckwheat flour. In my experience, nothing really masks the flavor of buckwheat. I'm not too fond of it myself, but A. likes it, so I suspect he'll like the crackers.

As for me, I really liked my tater tots. Especially because I could eat them without guilt.

* Though I may as well have done it to really cement the reputation I have at the school for being a weird militant hippie homemaker. I suspect it's Cubby's and Charlie's lunches that gave me that rep. Reusable bags, reusable containers, homemade pizza, homemade yogurt, homemade bread, sandwich fillings like leftover lamb and fish cakes . . . Yeah, I can see how that would lead to Cubby's teacher saying to me one time, "I'm guessing you're the sort that had all your kids naturally." 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Totally Buggin'

I suspect that quoting the movie Clueless like I just did definitely dates me. Seriously? It came out twenty years ago? Damn. And yet, I still love it.

Anyway. Bugs. Yes.

Real bugs, that is. Real bugs EVVVVERYWHERE.

It's an unfortunate screw of the north country that winter is pretty much immediately followed by Bug Season. Capital letters for emphasis.

This is a relatively new thing for me. I know it's a problem in interior Alaska too, where I lived for three years when I was a kid, but I guess because I was a kid I didn't pay any attention to it. Or maybe because we were constantly covered in whatever totally toxic insect repellent was used at the time. Probably just a step away from DDT.

Anyway again.

Arizona obviously doesn't have much of a bug problem, and bugs weren't much of an issue at Blackrock, so this is the first spring in my memory that I've come up against them. And up against them I am.

First there were little gnats that swarmed ceaselessly around our heads at the first baseball/T-ball games of the year. They were annoying, but they didn't bite. I can deal with that. A hat more of less took care of them.

Then the biters showed up. They looked just like the harmless ones--as far as I could tell, anyway--but judging by the welts they caused that linger for days, I expect they're the dreaded black flies.

Still, it's mostly cool enough that I'm covered everywhere except my neck, which is where I currently have three good-sized welts courtesy of the little bastards. But I still haven't used any bug spray.

This definitely puts me in the minority, as every ball game or practice I attend is punctuated by the spectators stepping away to envelope themselves in a cloud of insect repellent. The fields are surrounded by woods and, at the main fields, a sluggish stream. It's a bug paradise. But I really hate bug spray, so I've resisted so far.

Then yesterday, the mosquitoes arrived. Because mosquitoes can't fly in any sort of breeze, they're not something we've seen yet. The more or less constant wind here must keep them away. But yesterday was warm, and as the sun went down, the wind calmed.

I opened the window in our bedroom to cool it down before bed, and I noticed mosquitoes swarming around the screen. Later, when we actually went to bed, I saw that that screen was loose. Like, really loose. I closed that window and opened another, but the mosquitoes found the loose screen before I did.

After the kids went to bed, I must have killed at least eight mosquitoes in the 45 minutes I was reading in the living room. And when we went to bed and turned out the lights, I heard the ominous whine of mosquitoes in the dark. I thought maybe they were just still outside the window.

Then one bit me on the neck.

When I turned on the light to look, I saw at least a dozen mosquitoes on the walls. The walls are all white, so the mosquitoes were easy to spot. I got the fly swatter and hunted them down, handing off the swatter to A. when they were too high up for me to reach.

Then we turned off the light again. And again heard the horrid whine of a mosquito close by.

Light on again. Three more killed, one courtesy of A. hopping on top of the dresser to swat it on the ceiling.

Light off. Whining. Light on. More swatting.

Light off, now at 10:15 p.m. and we are no longer amused. And there's that WHINING AGAIN MAKE IT STOP.

At this point, A. had the brilliant idea of turning on the ceiling fan to create a breeze that would keep them away. That ceiling fan makes an annoying clicking noise, but it's a lot less annoying than the whine of a mosquito in your ear and waking up covered in bites.

So we slept. Briefly.

I am currently sporting both black fly bites and mosquito bites (including one on my ear, which seems wrong somehow), and I just can't WAIT to see what fun insect is going to show up next to feast on my flesh.

Happy spring. Bah.

Monday, May 22, 2017

An Eminently Quotable Book

It's been a few years now since A. sold the last of his sheep, and not a grass-growing season goes by that he doesn't mourn the waste of fine forage with no animals to set upon it. He gets particularly voluble on this subject when he has to mow grass that--in his opinion--sheep should be eating to provide him with lambs for the freezer.

Personally, I could happily go my entire life without ever docking another lamb's tail, but for A., that would be no kind of life at all. So I'm resigned to the fact that someday we will have woolly dependents again.

But I haven't forgotten what a pain in the ass they are. No, indeed. And a book that A. brought home from the library and I started reading is bringing it all back.

The book is Country Life: A Handbook for Realists and Dreamers, by Paul Heiney. It's published by the wonderful DK Publishing Company, which has my eternal gratitude for producing non-fiction books about every imaginable subject for children that both the children and adults can enjoy and learn something from.

Do you know how hard it is to find really good non-fiction books for kids? DK does it every time.

I'm digressing, though.

I started having reluctant-shepherdess flashbacks in the section with instructions for proper fencing. He notes that while a fence with three wires should be fine for cows, sheep will probably need five wires. And this is because, as he goes on to say in the section with advantages and disadvantages of all types of farm animals, sheep are "Famed escapologists."

Now you're singing my song, Paul.

He also lists the following for sheep diseases: "Blowfly strike, foot rot, and countless other diseases, the first symptom of which is often death."

Or, in the words of another well-known and very alliterative saying about sheep, "Sick sheep seldom survive."

The only thing he lists as a special need for sheep? "A good shepherd to keep them out of trouble."

As long as that good shepherd is A. and not me. I don't qualify. Maybe that's why ours were so much trouble.

Anyway. You should read the book if you can, even if you're not really into farming. If nothing else, Paul Heiney has a distinctive dry humor that makes the book fun to read.

P.S. Though not specific to sheep, I did also appreciate this nugget of wisdom: "Farm animals do not make good pets. If you can't kill them, get a dog or a cat and grow vegetables." For realists, indeed.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Motorcycles, Microgreens, and May Sprinkler Play

It's been an exciting Saturday for us. We kicked if off by driving all the way to the small city 45 minutes away to pick up a rental car for A.'s upcoming out-of-town trips this week*.

Well, technically I suppose we kicked it off with apples and peanut butter for breakfast and fighting over Star Wars toys when the kids woke up, but we'll skip that part and get to the exciting stuff.

When we got to the small city, A. decided he wanted to stop in at Harbor Freight--home to massive quantities of very cheap tools--to get a couple of sawhorses. The Harbor Freight store happened to be right next to the Harley Davidson dealership, and they had set up their parking lot for some kind of rally. Which meant there were motorcycles everywhere.

Much as my sons enjoy running wild through tool stores, the lure of shiny machines was strong. Therefore, we went to tour the motorcycles while A. got his sawhorses. Eventually we made it into the actual showroom, where a very enthusiastic lady swooped down on the boys with bandanas, helium balloons, and cookies. And then she tied the bandanas into do-rags on their heads.

Possibly my favorite picture ever of my sons.

Unfortunately, that photo captures the shining moment of happiness just before it all fell apart. Specifically, before we left and Charlie lost his balloon in the parking lot. He watched it floating high up into the sky, and when he realized he could not get it back, he was absolutely inconsolable. It was very sad. Not even the fact that Jack also lost his as I was getting him into the car could make Charlie feel that the loss of his beloved balloon was anything less than tragic. He cried for several minutes.

But after we picked up the rental car we took them to a playground and let them play for over an hour--despite the deceptively sunny but cold weather that made A. and me really wish we had brought our sweaters--so that cheered everyone up.

Also, the fact that Cubby popped his balloon accidentally in the car on the way home made Charlie feel as if balloons really are ephemeral delights to be enjoyed for a fleeting moment in time before they fly off to their inevitable end.

Or maybe something less philosophical.


When we got home, I decided it was time to thin the plants in the garden. The children's enthusiastic help with the planting of tiny seeds had resulted in what can only be described as clumps of seedlings coming up. Not so much with the careful spacing. But that's okay, because after I had thinned a few rows of radishes and arugula that had been planted by Cubby and Charlie, I was left with a large quantity of fancy-pants microgreens.

See? Fancy-pants.

They're not careless gardeners; they're foodies. 

I had to wash those greens a total of five times before they were clean, but it was worth it. I dressed them with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. The kids ate theirs just like that and, amazingly, actually ate them. Cubby even asked for seconds, and Charlie--Charlie who doesn't even like pizza--announced, "Our greens taste best."

Damn straight.

I added some pickled beets and feta cheese to mine and it was delicious. Also pretty, though I don't have a photo for you because, well, I wanted to eat it, not take a picture of it.

I do, however, have photos of the post-dinner sprinkler playing. And the reason I have photos is I wanted to document how insane my children are. It was 58 degrees. God knows how cold the water was. But A. turned on the sprinkler for the garden while he was planting some shallots and onions, and I couldn't convince the kids it was too cold to run through it. So they did.

They only stopped when Cubby announced he was so cold he couldn't run anymore and Charlie announced he was so cold that the rock he was standing on was shaking. Jack didn't announce anything except "ha ba," which means hot bath and told me everything I needed to know.

After their hot baths they went to bed. I can only hope that all the excitement of the day will mean that they sleep soundly and long. I'm certainly planning on it.

* A. very kindly conceded that perhaps he shouldn't leave me without a car for several days this week while he was gone. He knows I'm not down with the bike-as-substitute-car idea.

Friday, May 19, 2017

A No-Car Family

We still haven't replaced the dead minivan, which means that we're currently a one-car family. This is actually not a big deal for us, as A. works from home and I, uh, don't leave the house. Like ever. Sharing a car between us is definitely feasible.

But what happens when even that car isn't available? We found out.

See, A. had scheduled some maintenance work on the Subaru at the mechanic's shop in the village, and he really wanted to get all this little stuff taken care of before he was required to get the state inspection done next month. He had been meaning to buy a bike for himself anyway--because we bought bikes for the kids and already an adult has to have one too to keep up with Cubby--so he figured he could ride his bike to drop off the car and pick it up. It's only seven miles from our house to the mechanic's shop.

Well. Distance becomes a much different thing when one is on a bike. Seven miles in a car is not at all the same as seven miles on a bicycle. Especially, ahem, if one has not ridden a bike in approximately 20 years.

A. dropped the Subaru off on Tuesday morning and biked back. It took him about half an hour and he said it wasn't a bad ride at all.

The car was supposed to be done that day, but the mechanic called to say that when he test-drove it, he discovered a brake problem. Okay, said A. I can pick it up tomorrow.

We didn't really need it that night, and then he wouldn't have to make the bike trip again on the same day.

On Wednesday, the mechanic found more issues when he was working on the brakes and had to spend some time tracking down a used part. So the car wouldn't be ready that day, either. But A. had to go to the post office in the village to mail some documents for work.

No car, so that meant another trip on the bike. He left at 3 p.m. and called an hour and a half later to say he was at the post office.

I guess the heat (84 degrees), the hills, and the wind (15 miles an hour with stronger gusts) had a bad effect on his time. Just a little.

And then I compounded the misery by reminding him that I needed some sunscreen to send in to school for Charlie the next day for his "beach day" (sprinklers and popsicles on the soccer field). So he had to go up to the store just a bit outside the village. This seems like a trivial distance in a car, but on a bike, that long incline out of the village becomes much more noticeable. And it added another two miles to his trip.

Sure hope Charlie enjoyed that sunscreen.

In the end, he got back three hours after he left, after riding about 16 miles. His legs were done for. He took a really hot bath with Epsom salts that night.

The next day was just the same weather--hot and windy. And he had to ride back into the village to pick up the car. But at least this time the car was actually ready, so it was only one way.

I suspect that the drive home, sitting in a cushioned vehicle whizzing along at fifty miles an hour, has never seemed so luxurious.

At least now A. knows it can be done. He said he didn't mind it that much, it was just a little bit of a trial by fire to do so much riding so suddenly. But he does plan on sometimes using his bike to go to the post office on nice days.

I, however, am not planning on cycling merrily off to the grocery store with Jack in a trailer or something. A one-car family I can handle. A no-car family? No, thanks.