Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saturday in Albuquerque

We've been at the McGee homestead in Albuquerque for more than 24 hours now. Mark's sister Shanna arrived with her children Sammy and Annie just moments after we did, and the cousin fun has rolled nonstop ever since.

Skip is building this great treehouse in the front courtyard. Roscoe and Logan have been great helpers, and I even saw Haley pound in a nail today.

Everyone agreed the kids should eat their lunch on the treehouse.

The highlight of the day was the all-boy lizard hunt. By the end, one lizard had met its death and four more were living in the Bionicle bucket.
We went to the pool after lunch.
Poor Jesse was in the throes of the after-nap grumps. He clung to Mom, demanded otter pops, and lounged with Roscoe and Grandma, but refused to have fun in the water.

Then, when everyone else was swum out and ready to pack up, he suddenly, inexplicably jumped up and ran into the pool, fast as a pink, greased piggy. I practically killed myself trying to reach the pool before he did. Then he spent 20 minutes laughing manically and splashing like a madman. Apparently he was able to condense all his pool fun into those few minutes.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Play-Doh for the road

My business is doing lots of business this week. Good in many ways--bad for organized packing! I kind of like turning the van into our own little family oasis with little packaged treats and movies and books and tapes. Usually I pack very little--but if we're really going to stay for 6 weeks I don't think I want to wear the same three outfits over and over.

To tide you over while we're driving, here's a truly great Play-Doh recipe. I call it "Aunt Sue's Play-Doh," but Sue says she calls it "Ellen's Play-Doh," and who knows whom Ellen got it from. It uses ingredients you probably already have, it mixes up in minutes, and the warm smoothness of it is very soothing. The kneading is the best part.

Aunt Sue's Play-Doh

1 c flour
1 c water
1/2 c salt
1 T cooking oil
1 T cream of tartar
food coloring

Cook and stir over medium heat until it forms a ball.

Dump on counter and knead.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Irrational but Heartfelt

OK the Flemings have moved on. *sniff * why?* Now I'm staging for the next chapter of our Summer Extravaganza: Me driving 5 kids 986 miles to my parents' house in Plano, Texas. The idea is that we'll fete with adoring grandparents and fun cousins while Mark attempts the feat of writing an entire Ph.D. dissertation.

We're very excited about the trip. We haven't been to Plano in years. There are tons of cousins (mine and the kids') plus Joe and Jessica's farm...but we'll be separated from Mark for almost 4 weeks. Actually he's trying to talk me into staying for more like 6 weeks. This the man who whines like a baby if I leave him for 48 hours. It's the desperation of the deadline.

You know those moments--irrational but heartfelt--where you think for a moment that you'd like to be living a different life? Any life but this one? Suddenly I realize, I like my life, and my house. And my husband. Six weeks sounds like a long, long time.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

How do you afford your rock and roll lifestyle?


5:00 pm Mark and I drive away from our home and the five children therein. The Flemings--again--have volunteered to man all posts while we sneak away for a sleepover.

6:00 pm After a delicious feast of Middle Eastern barbecue, we check in to our downtown hotel. I'm not at home! I'm not even in the suburbs! The only person who knocks on this door is a hotel staffer offering me chocolate and bottled water. We take long showers. I soak, I shave, I exfoliate. We watch 2 episodes of Law & Order. Spools are unwinding.

9:00 pm We emerge from our hideaway to walk down the block for Italian gelato. We pass bars overflowing with pimped out meat market hopefuls. We feel smug in happy, marital bliss.

10:00 pm We watch Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, which we highly recommend. New quote to be integarted into conversation whenever possible: "But the crisis is ongoing!"

midnight We fall asleep in our huge, downy bed, happily confident that no one will come weasel between us at the crack of dawn.


10:00 am Mark wakes up.

1:00 pm We come home to find the Flemings have not only kept everyone safe and happy, they've made pancakes and cake and had the children tidy their toys.

1:15 pm We leave for a hike. A single file line of 6 children precedes us, chatting and sharing ridiculous kid lore as they tramp up the dusty trail under the hot sun. Mark carrying Jesse and Steve with Gillian are the caboose. At the top of the trail we reach a cold reservoir. We wade and splash for a long time before tramping back down.

5:00 pm We roast hot dogs over the fire in the backyard for our dinner. Amazingly--frighteningly--we consume 32 hotdogs.

8:15 pm Our overpartied and very stinky kids have been bathed and tucked into bed. In a few minutes, the adults will sneak out to see Get Smart. Is it pathetic how liberating this is for me?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Brown Belt, Brown Belt

Logan advanced to brown belt in karate last night. So he started as white, then went through yellow, orange, blue, purple, and green. Brown belts meet in their own class and basically go back through each belt before advancing to black. So next he'll be brown with yellow stripe, then brown with orange stripe, and so on.

Doesn't he look sharp? Logan has a cool karate mojo and looks awesome when he does his forms. Our favorite thing about Logan in karate is watching his concentration and obedience. The teacher says, "Attention!" and Logan jumps into attention pose--WITHOUT ARGUING!

Best of all, Logan felt the joy of achieving something you've worked hard to attain.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Swiftly Tilting

A moment where the crazy, kiltered modern world came into focus for me:

Logan: "Whooo-hoo, that was sweet!"

Levi: "What was sweet?"

Logan: "The way we killed that guy and got $600 for it. Because he was the most wanted fugitive."

The boys play this online game where they create avatars and fulfill quests. So there's strategy and creativity and collaboration and a diverse world, and even money management because they earn money through tasks and buy gear with it--well, weapons. And they get to play for only 20 minutes a day.

But still, this is a family that generally doesn't eat meat, that lets bugs live happily alongside us--at most gently sweeping them outside, that works every day on creating peace, and my kids think of fighting and killing as forms of entertainment?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Summer Launch Party

Summer has officially launched with the arrival of our favorite non-relatives, the Flemings. When we're lucky they stay with us during summers and Christmas vacations, and the kids really can't figure out why they ever leave.

Steve began our visit by making his famous Fleming chocolate chip cookies. He's just the kind of guy that would happily let Haley help.

Casey played Cranium Cadoo for a long time with Jesse. Jesse would say, "ball," and Casey would reply seriously, "ball." Over and over again. I love how summer vacation makes the kids play together in all different combinations.

Here's a clump of children on the tramp.

Logan, Casey, Bridget, and Roscoe play Sorry. Poor Logan still has school this week! He's been a great sport by heading off each morning while the rest of us frolic.
Roscoe set up a tent, just for fun. The kids ate lunch there, spilled milk there, colored there, and with any luck, will at some point fall asleep there.

Haley has been in heaven with little Gillian to play with.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Hello, old friend

Friday I stepped on the scale at the gym and saw this number:


I have not seen this number for more than 3 years. Since before I got pregnant, whoops!, got pregnant again, lay in a hospital bed for a week, couldn’t move for a month without going into labor, had a baby…

Now, some of you are thinking, “That’s a really low number! Don’t even talk to me about body size!” Some of you are thinking, “Ang, I know how you look in jeans and you really need to raise your standards!” Some of you (likely the men) are thinking, “Why oh why are we even talking about this?!”

It’s true I look bad in jeans and terrible in a swimsuit and would certainly look a lot better if I lost 10 more pounds. But here’s the thing: The body I have is the body of my life. I’m 36. I have 5 children. The flap of skin that hangs over my waistband is a direct result of stretching out to house those babies—something I wouldn’t trade for all heaven and earth. Ditto the stretch marks that inexplicably have spread across my entire torso and half my legs. Even my mutant-grade saddlebags are a direct result of my beloved Benac-Wilson heritage. I’m healthy, I’m relatively fit, and that’ll have to do.

My goal in life is not to come out at the end unscathed and untouched, all perky and smooth and pristine. My neck is turning into a turkey waddle, my hands are sprouting age spots, and that’s just the beginning. I’m gonna get older and fatter, and so are you, and there’s nothing--no diet, no cream, no exercise plan--that will stop it.

Edgar Guest

Life is a gift to be used every day,
Not to be smothered and hidden away;
It isn't a thing to be stored in the chest
Where you gather your keepsakes and treasure your best;
It isn't a joy to be sipped now and then
And promptly put back in a dark place again.

Life is a gift that the humblest may boast of
And one that the humblest may well make the most of.
Get out and live it each hour of the day,
Wear it and use it as much as you may;
Don't keep it in niches and corners and grooves,
You'll find that in service its beauty improves.

While I “wear” and “use” my body, while age and babies take their toll, I’m banking on “service”—plus yoga and moisturizer and broccoli—to find a beauty that improves.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day

Here's to having a great Dad, who has always insisted on thinking I'm great--no matter the evidence to the contrary.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What's a Girl to Do?

I generally drive my children bonkers in one of two ways:

1. The noncommital answer

They ask, "Can we go see Kung Fu Panda on July 21st?" or "Can I play computer after lunch?" or "Can we have dessert on Saturday?" And my answer is, "I don't know" or "I can't answer that" or "We'll have to see." Partly because who knows what we'll be doing next Saturday or on July 21st. But also because what I do on any given day depends on Jesse's nap schedule, how much kid whining saps my energy, how high-maintenance my resume clients are....

My life is like a puzzle and I just keep spreading out all the pieces to figure out which one will fit where. Ah ha! I have to take Levi to an appointment at school--let's stop by Costco on our way home! The kids want a movie from Blockbuster--we'll drop off our library books on the way home. Jesse is taking a long nap--perfect chance to plant those new tomatoes.

But sometimes the kids wonder why they can never get a straight answer from me. It's like they're living in some covert CIA operation where you only get one piece of information at at time, strictly need-to-know, until I suddenly burst in and shout, "We're going to the library! Everyone get your shoes on NOW!"

2. The reneg

This morning someone mentioned the library and I said, "Yes! Let's go to the library this afternoon. We'll do it!" Well, Logan didn't want to go, so he's at a friend's house, and Jesse is still asleep and why on earth would I want to wake him prematurely and listen to him grump for the rest of the day, and Levi says he has a headache and he's resting on the couch, which means he really needs a rest. So I told Roscoe the stars didn't seem to be aligning and how about if he just takes himself to the library on his bike. He's furious. I never keep my word. I said we could go.

So clearly I shouldn't have been so rash as to say we'd go. Or should I drag a bunch of tired and cranky little kids over there anyway just to appease Roscoe and keep my word?

The answer please?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Notes from the Underworld

Mysterious--and possibly menacing--messages from the underworld encroaching upon my dreams of order and serenity.

1. Omen of warfare

Someone inked this little warrior along the side of my bedsheet.

2. Have I got a deal for you

"Do you want to buy this bookmark? It comes with glitter and a pencil. It costs a thousand bucks."


3. A secret treasure

Inside the babyproof doorknob on the inside of Jesse's bedroom door someone has cached a little green bug.

4. An important question, wherein Roscoe's intellectual abilities are showcased

"Haley, do you think there's ANY more monkeys? Anywhere?"

5. Post bathtime frolics

Haley likes to bathe in the hallway bathroom; Levi likes to shower in my bathroom. Jesse likes to streak, wet and naked, from one to the other. Oh, the joys of nakedness.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My 10 Kids

We came across this picture a couple months ago when I visited Mark and Kelly and Roko, and I immediately was drawn to it. This picture captures my memories of my childhood, centered on those 5 little faces.

I realize no one else feels this way about it, but in some ways I didn't think of myself as a child so much as a Junior Mom. Loving and caring for these 5 kids throughout my childhood and adolescence has helped me love and cherish them even more as adults. Every good thing they do gives me an extra dose of joy.

So I staged an updated version. Five kids eating muffins at the bar in the same general age order. And in fact, Levi-Josh, Roscoe-Mark, and Logan-Joe do look somewhat alike.

All we need is our Baby Ruth!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Sunday visit from McGee sibs

Yesterday we got a brief visit from Mark's sister Shanna and her family. What's better than cousins and siblings cavorting away a long Sunday afternoon? Not much.

Here's Markus doing a photo shoot with Annie and Jesse, who are majorly cute on their own and mind-blowingly cute as a pair in their dapper little Sunday suits.

Don't you love the shenanigans we'll do to make babies smile? Markus is wearing a Viking hat and Levi is helping by wearing a sprinkler on his head.

Here are Mark and Shanna with their baby sis, the lovely and talented Kate.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Six, and a Rubber Duckie

Remember when I said Levi is a delight?

Overheard in the car while Levi thoughtfuly munched a taco he got with a birthday coupon from school:

SIX! ...pause...
Six is the first of the big numbers. ...pause...
I'm in my tens. ...pause...
I'm almost ten. ...pause...
I just have to be 7 and 8 and 9 and then I'll be 10.

(Sounds like the kind of logic a good friend once used to convince me that my pregnancy was almost over when I was 5 months along.)

Mom (concluding it's time to stop the indulgence and move on): Hop in the back Mr. Backwards Pants Man.

(Mom delivers a swat onto Levi's backwards pants.)

Levi: Hey! Don't slap my rubber duckie!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A Day Off

Last night was a doozie. I really can't remember when we've had one as bad. Jesse apparently woke up in the night--probably just needing someone to retrieve his binkie from the corner of his bed--and Mark woke up before I did. Whatever Mark did--probably taking too long to locate said binkie--made Jesse very, very, very upset. I had to intervene. Before I succeeded in tiptoeing back to my bed, Jesse progressed, slowly, through the following stages:

1. Screaming madly.
2. Heaving tortured, post-cry hiccups.
3. Lying down but not sleeping, with rabid eyes fixed on Mom.
4. Appearing to sleep only to rise with piercing screams whenever I inched myself toward his door.

I'm sure you're familiar.

(Yes, I could have just shut the door and let him scream in solitude, but he had clearly exceeded his capacity to self-soothe and since this was an isolated incident I decided to help him out. Besides, it's a toss up on which is less comfortable: lying in bed while your baby screams madly or lying on the floor while your baby is quiet.)

So my eyes are heavy, I'm in a fog, and I hereby declare today a DUD. Of course for Moms, an off day doesn't mean a day off. Clients must be phoned, dinner made, children nurtured, and all that jazz. But expectations of great productivity are aborted and my only goal is to keep the home fires burning til I can hole up with a book in bed.

Update: I think I was actually sick yesterday. Mark the superhero didn't even flinch when I went straight to bed after serving the family a delicious meal of leftover hotdogs and yesterday's whole wheat bread.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Levi's 6th Birthday Party

This boy has been a joy for each of his last 2,190 days.

His birthday party was a hodgepodge of things Levi likes with no unified theme: Batman pinata, sand castle birthday cake from Family Fun magazine, Hulk party favors, roasting hot dogs over a fire, and playing toilet tag.