Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Kids are Fine (surviving the swine)

It's suddenly fall, there's a lot going on at our house, and I'm writing about the kids. For those of you following for green building -- skip this post. The house post will come soon - as soon as I take a few photos to show the progress.

In our decision-making process, we always assumed Bella would transition without missing a beat. She's pre-school, precocious, and solid in her sense of self. Dexter, outwardly confident and equally grounded, inwardly resists transition of any type. He likes to know exactly where he stands in everyone else's eyes. Bella doesn't care a fig what anyone else thinks. Dexter also left more behind - 4 successful years in a school he loved with a steady pack of pals. Bella focused forward on the adventure of moving, not the sadness of leaving.

So the verdict? They're both fine. Although they have a case of swine (flu, of course. And yes, I know it's H1N1. It's just not very catchy - not well-suited to an apparently very catchy bug)

Last week both schools hosted open houses. Dexter's school was a bit of a zoo. We're still getting used to the size, with more kids in 4th grade than in the entire student body at Gooden. But his teacher is solid, on it, in control. Her assessment? He's doing great. Making friends, participating in class, excelling in his work. He seems to straddle two groups -- the athletes and the bookworms. And his class is much more diverse in all ways. Just check out the names. There's Brett - that's easy, and Duncan. Then it's Shumari, Barshay, Sergio, Servando, Adolpho....

Bella's open house was very low key. Few parents have time to attend pre-school open houses. But her teacher is lovely, they have a policy against worksheets and coloring in the lines (as a child raised without coloring books, I appreciate this one), and I've noticed a significant increase in her "pleases and thank-yous". She may be a southern belle yet.

So - they're fine. I think Dexter summed it up perfectly. "I still miss Eddie and Caleb. I wish they would move here -- they would like it so much better!"

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Happiness and Human Cannonballs

photos: The human cannon ball - in flight! The ride over which he shot (and on which Dexter rode). The river rat, a carni-classic. Bella high-5'ing after her 1st soccer game.
It's raining. Again. It's rained every day since Monday and the forecast shows rain for every day coming. The French Broad (it's a river, not a dame) is busting her seams and we're a little stir-crazy. I haven't had the guts to head up the driveway to check on the house. The mud would likely swallow me whole.

We haven't been twiddling our thumbs inside too much though. Last weekend we went to the county fair. A guy climbed into a cannon and shot himself over the midway, through the tentacles of the Cyclops, and into a net. He had a blast. We saw Brahmin Bulls (they have humps like camels), pygmy goats, and a 100-pound river rat. The kids milked a cow. One generation removed from active dairy farming, they had no true idea how milk gets out of the cow. Bella still may be a little fuzzy ("you mean boys don't make milk? What do they do then?") but at least she's got some hands-on experience now. I went on my first ever real mountain biking outing (sans mountain bike still) with some new friends. Bella played her first ever soccer game. Her team scored more points than the other one did but unfortunately, several of them were in the other team's goal. And yesterday we had what Dexter termed a "blind date" when we met one of his new friends and his family. The rain held off just till we were done.

But still - it's raining. I lack a theme. I've tried calling several of you (you know who you are) and you didn't answer. And I'm overdue for a post. So here goes - in no particular order.

1. Culinary feat extraordinare: With this cool rainy weather, my thoughts turn to soup. More often than the kids appreciate. The other night I tried something new - a West African Peanut Stew (from the NY Times). Beautiful orange chunks of sweet potato, slivers of green kale, lovely red tomatoes, a veritable feast for all the senses. As it bubbled away prettily, one thought crossed my mind -- the kids were NOT going to eat this! Not in a million years. A little epicurean epiphany. I grabbed my immersion blender (you don't have one? Get one. Tomorrow.) and pureed those lovely vegetables into an anonymous sludge. A vegetable smoothie if you will. And the kids ate every bite. With opinions on how it could be improved for the NEXT TIME I MAKE IT. Ha. You mean your kids haven't eaten sweet potatoes, kale, and tomatoes lately and asked for more? Get yourself a blender baby.

2. A true kid movie: We took the kids to see "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs". Seemed fitting with the rainy weather. And I am happy to report that it was honestly funny, refreshingly light-hearted, and only moderately apocalyptic. And only if you're really worried about the world getting flattened by a meatball. So go. Spend the extra buck or two and see it in 3-D. Bella thinks movies should be 6-D, but until that comes along, 3-D will have to do. And it does.

3. Movie previews: Am I the only mom who objects to scary previews during kid movies? While waiting for the above-mentioned movie, a preview for Avatar (based on a Saturday morning cartoon show!) blasted at us in full sensory overload fashion. I'm completely over the end-of-the-world theme for kids' movies. And I am firmly of the mind that cartoons aimed at the under 8 crowd and cross-advertised with Happy Meals should not be made into PG-13 movies with blood, gore and sex as their primary topics.

4. Happiness: Finally, I'm sure you've all seen the headlines. Women are getting sadder and sadder. Across the world, regardless of ethnicity, class, income, education, or employment status. And the single strongest correlation with women's unhappiness? Kids. The simple act of procreation is directly correlated with a decrease in happiness. So what gives girlfriends? I'd love to hear your thoughts. BTW -- all the "good" answers are apparently, statistically speaking, insignificant. It isn't that we work too much, or our husbands work too little, or that we can't get good jobs, or that we aren't paid as well for what we do. We're just getting sadder.

So. Eat your sweet potatoes. Blend something into oblivion. Take your kids to a silly movie. Laugh out loud. Get shot out of a cannon. Make a list of all the reasons your kids are not a source of your unhappiness. And fly in the face of statistical wisdom.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Buried Treasure

photos: the big hole; the rainwater cistern on the truck; lowering it into place for burial.

Along with all the grading, the small army of backhoes and dozers at our house this week did some serious digging. Remember the home burial rumoured to take place on our property (right about where our house sits) some years back? Well - I think JD and Stacy have done their best to find some bones. No luck so far.

But we did have a dandy hole in the ground. And it looked suspiciously grave-like, if you were burying Shaq perhaps. It had to be 8 feet deep and just as wide. Custom-dug for our rainwater cistern.

Moving from perennially drought-stricken SoCal to the previously, though briefly, drought-stricken WNC - collecting rainwater seemed like a no-brainer. That was before we learned of the effect of what I have come to call Magic Mountain. That's the little mountain behind our house where the clouds gather and hide, then spring over the hill and immediately drop all their rain on your unsuspecting head. You might get about 10 seconds warning. The rain starts in the treetops. Surely that isn't rain? you think, just the breeze in the trees? Then you get drenched. You can almost hear the mountain laughing. It never gets tired of this trick.

We have a big cistern in that big hole. 1250 gallons. Sounds impressive right? But the guys were busy digging drainage ditches to take excess water (after we fill that 1250 gallon cistern) away from the house. One to the back will water the woods and one toward the front will carry the water down to the pasture. And I'm busy reading about how to build that creek we wanted.

On the more serious side, our cistern should supply all the water we need for the lawn and garden. We'll collect the rain off the roof and a pump will drive it to the 2 hydrants. That's pretty cool - but we'll have to see whether this green choice ever pays for itself.

Perhaps a swimming pool after all?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Our Big Back Yard, or perhaps the Value of Verbal Stimulation

photos: our newly flat garden space, cute dozer prepping the driveway, backhoe vs. the dirt pile, our big back yard
All summer, our "back yard" has been dominated by a big pile of red Carolina clay. It wasn't pretty but it got a lot of use. The kids have climbed, jumped, and rolled down the hill, used it as a backdrop for target practice, and even nearly attempted to bike over its edge. This week the pile met its match - Stacy and his various backhoes and mini-dozers. We were surprised how far the pile extended -- the official yard is a lot bigger than we thought it would be. Of course now instead of a big pile of clay - we have a big field of clay. Just as messy, just a little more spread out.

Bella and I have a slight disagreement over what we should do with the yard. I think we need to get it seeded soon so some grass grows to hold the dirt in place (and out of the house!). She, however, declares grass to be "too itchy". She thinks we need turf. Artificial turf. Hmmm.

This would be the same daughter who - in big brother's school magazine drive-- held out for a magazine titled "Sparkle World" over Mom's suggestion of "Your Big Back Yard". 40 pages "packed" with all things sweet and sparkly (including Bratz? they must qualify on the sparkly side because they sure ain't sweet!) over the the National Wildlife Federation's publication where she could learn how our yard could become a Certified Wildlife Habitat site, find out how to fight global warming, or log on and inventory all the wild animals we see? Hmmm indeed.

Same said daughter has, in the course of a day or two, argued that she should sleep on the living room floor instead of her bedroom because the sound of our dog snoring is "like a lullaby to me"; declared that she will die tomorrow if she doesn't get a popsicle today; and suggested that perhaps Mom and Dad should give her and Dexter some "peace and quiet" in the car. And somehow charmed the gentleman at the tire shop (himself the father of 6!), who speculated that she must receive much "verbal stimulation" at home. A good thing - this verbal stimulation - or so the studies say. Children who simply hear more words at home apparently have much higher levels of success in school.

I hope it works just as well when the only words they hear are their own, because around here, no one else can get a word in edgewise.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Return of the Pines

photos: left - view from entrance to fireplace and kids' rooms. The large openings on the sides will be sliding doors to the front and rear patios. Right (vertical orientation) - view toward entrance and kids' loft. Kitchen will be on right - master bedroom is to the left.

I love our house right now.

I probably love it more now - with all the bones showing - then I will when it is done. I love the skeletal feel of the framing, the shattered view from room to room, the space for imagining what it will look like when it is done. And the thought that perhaps we just shouldn't quite finish it. Not put too much stuff in. Lose the curtains. Skip the rugs. Forget about making the beds. A step above camping but maybe just below really and truly civilized.

Sounds fine to me. But - pictures. Everyone wants pictures. And as much as I love the house now, it just refuses to photograph. Kind of like Dexter. He's got a lovely smile but you'll never see it. Not in a photo anyway. Not even with a bribe.

I'd like to tell you to just imagine with me but reluctantly I'm posting these photos. Mostly I want to show you the beams. These are "our" beams -- cut from the three lovely white pines that stood right in the middle of our house site. Kind of like our version of the head on the wall. No stuffed game here - just some dead wood. The trees have come home.

Other stuff has been happening at the house. Our well water was tested and is just fine. We have a garage and little retaining walls and today the windows and doors are to be delivered. They'll go in next week. The big pile of red Carolina clay in the back will get leveled and the rain water cistern will be buried in the front when the final grading gets done. I think siding and the roof follow shortly and then perhaps the house will cooperate for photos.

We've been making progress on settling in as well. The kids started school last week. Among the firsts -- Bella goes to pre-k all day (she does NOT want me to pick her up before the other kids go home), Dexter takes a bus to school (which I love and he does not), and there are more kids in 4th grade in his new school than were in the entire population of his old school. And I have finally found some running partners. So now I'll have company if I meet a bear.

Meanwhile, California is burning, again. Our old hiking spots have gone up in smoke and our friends are locked indoors. It's lovely here -- cool, crisp and fresh. Like the first crop of apples showing up at the farm stands. I feel just a tad guilty.

Come visit! I'll bake a pie.