Saturday, December 20, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like...


Six weeks ago when I flipped the calendar page from October to November, I was greeted by a scotch-taped list titled "Christmas Ideas" -- ways to make Christmas less stressful (do the cards early, shop early, buy generic gifts for forgotten events, etc.) Now there's less than a week to go and I've moved the list to next November, in the spirit of "at least there's always next year..."

This (or I should say, buried under all this disaster) is our kitchen. If you can stomach the sight, and frankly I can't, which is why I'm here blogging at 10:30pm instead of cleaning it, you may notice the following:

1. Half-eaten gingerbread house. I never actually granted permission for the kids to eat it, which is why it's only half-eaten and not completely gone. They think I haven't noticed yet.

2. Playdough from the preschool gift exchange, which despite my many pleas, never made it into the playdough box.

3. Plate of leftovers from the ward Christmas breakfast, which everyone promised they would eat and now no one will eat except the dog.

4. Assorted Christmas projects from the last day of school, newspaper ads from this week's sales, receipts from today's hellacious trip to the mall.

5. Envelopes from the Christmas cards we received this year. I can't throw them away yet because I lost my address book in the summer's hard drive crash.

6. Quantities of measuring cups, baking sheets, spices, sugars, sprinkles, etc. from making spiced nuts, peanut-butter kiss cookies, cranberry bread, spritz cookies, and toffee. Two batches of each because Tyler kept upping the number of plates he needed for the families he and the ward missionaries are working with.

7. Ribbon, tags, gift bags and plates for #6.

8. Cup from Del Taco when I told Tyler at 4:00, if you want dinner, you either make it or buy it (see #6 and #7).

9. Leftover programs from the Relief Society Christmas dinner I was in charge of.

10. Assorted deposits, fragments, leavings, rubble, scree, sediment, shavings, and detritus that accompany the "most wonderful time of the year." I have new appreciation for a friend who was so burned out last year that by the time her husband and kids woke up from their post-Christmas-dinner naps, she had taken down the tree, boxed up the decorations, and put it all back in the garage.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Today I made one of my bigger errors in judgment. I thought an 18-month old would sit still and smile for a photography sitting. Three hours and three photographers later, I had photographic proof of how dumb I was. I even made the ultimate sacrifice and jumped in the picture with the kids, thinking that holding Charlotte on my lap would instantly transform her personality. Tip: When you're using the drool rag to mop up the sweat on your own forehead from wrestling an alligator in a black velvet Christmas dress, it doesn't make for a beautiful shot. Still, I now own an 8x10 to hang on my wall. Somebody else will have to say how cute they are. I'm still looking for a traveling circus in need of a few extra alligators.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

All things old are new again

Vicki--this one's for you. Shortly after Tyler and I got married, his parents gave us an old kitchen table set. Vicki and I bought new fabric and staple-gunned it onto the old chairs for a new look. Fast-forward eight years and those chair covers were looking pretty shabby. Well, grape juice stains be gone! I am now the proud owner of a staple gun and I'm not afraid to use it. Sadly, my fancy "new" chair seats are hidden under vinyl protectors. Oh well. At night I peel off the protectors and feel like a grown-up again.

Deborah--this one's for you. Another wedding gift revisited, my wonderful college roommate Deborah made a beautiful quilt for us, but those chaotic eight years took a toll on that one, too. It was coming untied and the backing was wearing out in spots. My friend Kristin, a quilter (actually, calling her a quilter is like saying Rembrandt drew pretty pictures) had just started a long-arm machine quilting business, Sadiebird. She helped revive my quilt, adding a new backing and machine quilting it. I even got to go over and try working the machine, which was tremendous fun, even though you can clearly tell the difference between the end I worked on and the end she did! Since it's the biggest quilt we own, it's currently doing fort duty in the playroom, a use for which I suspect Deborah would heartily approve. Here's Kristin's quilt blog posting about it with some photos. Thanks to both of you. I love having another memory layered into my quilt!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I have recently rediscovered the soundtrack to the musical Wicked. Lousy book, but fabulous Broadway production. Much to my surprise, the boys have taken to it like mad, and won't let me play anything else. They have memorized the track numbers of all their favorites and shout at me in the car, "play number 1, play number 9." Even Charlotte shocked us the other day but screaming out, on exactly the right note and beat, "DAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYY!" (the last word in a particularly rousing song, "One Short Day." We just learned that Salt Lake is on the upcoming tour next spring, but after getting a busy signal for three hours we concluded that all the tickets had been bought by scalpers. Luckily it's still in LA and San Francisco, two cities we still have ties to, so we've got a good plan B.

So just what have we been doing?

Frankly, it doesn't seem like too much, and yet I remember a steady stream of "hurry up, we'll be late!" and "you need to do X, and Y now, because later we've got to do Z" coming out of my mouth.

Charlotte wins the prize for most drama as of late. We had noticed a strange growth on one of her toenails. Pediatrician referred us to a dermatologist who said it needed to be biopsied. So after a shot in her toe and having most of the nail scraped off, I took a screaming child and a sample of bacitracin home to await lab results. Whatever it was, and they never did figure it out, it's benign, for which we are grateful. Now we wait to see if she will ever have a toenail regrow on that toe. I hope so. As I said to the doctor, "I know this is vain, but when she's a teenager she's going to want to paint her toenails and wear cute sandals."

Carden and Seth finished a session of swimming lessons, and both passed to the next level. This is major cause for celebration since I have shelled out $30 for Carden to take Level 3 at least four times, in addition to a couple of bouts of private lessons.

We have contributed three stray cats to our local Animal Control office this month. Naturally most of this happened while Tyler spent his usual week in Japan. Animal Control only collects the animals--they don't actually catch them. You, the tax-paying citizen get to put down a $75 deposit for the privilege of setting a trap in your backyard and capturing the critter yourself. We had a couple of false starts when I set the trap incorrectly, and the cats enjoyed a free meal and waltzed off. Then one cat somehow got trapped in our garage. I moved the trap into the garage and loaded it with food, but that dumb cat sat under the van and stared at it for 24 hours until I finally had to open the garage to get the car out and it escaped. On the bright side, I haven't noticed that one in the yard lately, so maybe it learned its lesson.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Netherlands Day 6 (last day) -- Amsterdam

We rousted ourselves out of bed and made our usual morning run to the bakery, indulging in cherry tarts and apple dumplings since it was our last day. And then, off to the station and Amsterdam. This picture isn't so good because of all the morning fog, but this is David and Julia's house. The single window at the very top is the one bedroom in the attic/loft-type space that they so graciously let us use (two floors above the bathroom!).

On a whim, we opted for a canal bus tour, hopping on and off the boat as it circles some of the larger canals. Other than poor Vid being target practice from a passing bird, it was great fun to see the city from the water and a nice rest when we didn't want to walk so much.

First stop: the Anne Frank House. The line was long, but the museum was worth it. Very sobering. To see someone so young, just wanting to live and make her mark on the world and not being allowed to.

We walked up the street to the Westerkerk (West church) and saw the church with Rembrandt's unmarked grave (he couldn't afford anything better than the 20-year grave). Someone was practicing the organ--you could tell from the repeated passages and occasional mistakes--but it was still beautiful to hear the music filling the enormous space.

Here's a shot of those lovely Dutch row houses. You'll notice that at the top of every house is a plank with a pulley attached to the end. Because of the narrowness of the houses, furniture and bulky objects were hoisted up to the correct floor and loaded in through the windows. Ouch. Many of the buildings are built to lean out a bit so that ascending objects wouldn't smash into the building, which caused more than a few to topple over. Lunch at the Pancake Bakery, a restaurant Tyler had researched online before we came. They had the biggest selection we'd seen: sweet, savory, anything you can imagine. Dutch pancakes are more like very large crepes--thin and stretchy. Tyler had his with tomato, onion, and mushroom; mine was lemon and powdered sugar; David ordered ham and cheese; and Julia chose chicken and onion. Then we stopped by a cheese shop and bought a wedge of cheese and a slicer, which has been my quest for many years.

We caught the canal bus to its next stop at the Rijksmuseum (the national museum) and Van Gogh museum. The Rijks was under construction, but we saw the highlights, including "Night Watch," several Rembrandt portraits, and some other stunning works. It was good to be forced through quickly since we were trying to see so much in our one day.

The Van Gogh was great. I hadn't realized that he tried a wide range of techniques--Japanese paintings, copies of Old Masters done in his distinct style. I guess because his working life was so short but intense you get the high points and his learning along the way. A lot of his famous works are scattered in other museums around the world, so we didn't get to see a lot of our personal favorites. But Tyler did get to see "Wheatfield with Crows" which doesn't do much for me, but he really liked. It's always such a different experience to see art in person. Van Gogh's work is so textural--the paint is almost a character in the pieces. I had never been that big a fan of his work, but seeing it in person gave me a much greater appreciation for him.

As the day wound down, we went through a shopping district looking for a few things for the kids but it was all junky tourist stuff. David suggested we try Hema, the Dutch version of Target. Success! Their toy section was small compared to US stores, but we found cool socks, art kits, and a gnome house for Charlotte. Needing our daily dose of frites, David led us to the frites shop, a small take-out restaurant serving nothing but paper cones full of salty Dutch yumminess. This place offered about 10 different sauces to dip yours in. We tried curry ketchup, regular ketchup, the traditional mayonnaise, and peanut satay sauce. Here's about the point that we really appreciated being with David, since the train station is on the edge of the red light district. He could warn us, don't look left, stay to the right. Let's go down this street, but not that one, etc. So we came away with a lovely impression of Amsterdam as a beautiful city well worth the visit.

Back in Leiden we zipped into the grocery store before it closed at 6 and bought some chocolates and stropwaffels for souvenirs and came home for our Phase 10 rematch. The next day we got up and headed to the airport.

It was a marvelous trip, especially enjoying the life of a "resident" by staying with David and Julia. European life seems so much simpler--small houses, small cars, small shops are such a stark difference from America's mega-everything. It's really made me wonder, how much do you really need. It's like those decorative signs that say "simplify." If you have to buy an accessory to simplify, isn't that sort of missing the point?

Netherlands Day 5 - Leiden

This was Sunday, General Conference day, so no church meetings were planned here because the time difference is so great. They watch tape-delay sessions the next weeks. Tyler had homework to catch up on so he worked on that and David, Julia and I walked around other parts of Leiden I hadn't seen yet.

First stop: the Burcht, a manmade hill with a circular fortress on top. When your whole country is below sea-level, you have to make your own hills. I'm not quite sure how they managed something like that hundreds of years ago. It was designed to protect the citizens from flooding by providing a small amount of "higher ground." You can see from the photo that they must have lugged an awful lot of carts full of dirt to do that. It has slits along the battlements attesting to its military uses as well. It had great views of various churches and the town hall, which we had passed earlier. Form one side the town hall is built of stone, on the other side brick, a later replacement when the original stone was destroyed in a fire. This older part of town was the area where the Pilgrims lived for 10-12 years before they went to England and chartered the Mayflower.

Walking back to their house, we passed an unusual building with a large courtyard (all the other buildings are built right up to the sidewalk). It looked museumish, so we popped in. Luck! It was the city historical museum, housed in the old cloth merchant's hall. Leiden was world-famous for cloth. We learned about the cloth making process and the quality control inspections (8 grades) and a neat display on various episodes in the city's history, especially the Siege and Relief of Leiden. They even had the Spanish pot the traditional hutspot stew came from. Lots of great art and decorative objects. There's a lot to be said for the smaller, more specialized museums.
We stopped in at a small (comparatively--it was still probably six stories high) Protestant Marekerk (this is their website; click on "Huren" to see photos) and saw that they were holding evening services. After dinner I convinced David and Julia to come back with me to hear the service. Our enthusiasm faltered a bit once we walked in and realized we didn't know where to sit, what to do, and for Julia and I, what they were saying and singing. The sermon seemed longer than usual (I have new empathy for small children in sacrament meetings), as we copied the other members in standing, singing, and listening. "Blah blah blah Ezekial." "Blah blah blah blah prophet blah." But the organ was magnificent, filling the space with such sound, it was all worth it.

Not understanding the sermon gave me a lot of time to think. 90 minutes, to be exact. I felt like a medieval peasant, hearing the mass in Latin, not understanding it but being awed by the music and architecture. I'd have made a good Catholic peasant, I thought. Then I thought of those rabble-rousing Protestant reformers who worked to translate the Bible and church services into the vernacular. I'd have made a good Protestant revolutionary, I thought. Then I thought of my own ancestors among the Mayflower arrivals and imagined them walking through the streets of Leiden and was grateful for the paths they took to lead me where I am today. The LDS Church wins for doctrinal clarity and applicability to daily life, but loses in the ability to inspire awe from the moment you step through the door. Oh well. Can't have it all. Home for dinner and to put our soaking jackets and gloves on the radiators to dry out before tomorrow.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Netherlands Day 4, Antwerp, Belgium

(To everyone slogging through these travelogues, please know these are mainly for my mother--partly because she says she's terribly interested in every detail, and because David and Julia don't post anything about what they're doing! I have no delusion that anyone else really cares to know exactly what we did, ate, and saw in such mind-numbing detail.)

Tyler really wanted to see another country on our trip, in spite of the fact that those European Union countries don't stamp passports anymore. So Belgium it was, specifically Antwerp. Sadly, our trip to Antwert was punctuated by things that didn't go right, but we still had a pretty good day. To start, I had miscalculated the time difference and set my cell phone alarm wrong (it was still on Utah time). It went off at 3am and I didn't reset it so we overslept and got started late. Then we got to the train station and poor David couldn't get our tickets because the system kept crashing, so we missed the train and had to wait an hour. Then they announced that the ticket system had crashed nationwide, so we were lucky to have gotten our tickets at all!

The train ride to Antwerp took about 2 hours, and was pleasant, passing through countryside: fields of onions and broccoli, lots of cows. The central Antwerp station was the biggest we'd been in. Three stories underground, but the entrance was a stunning collection of towers, marble, glass, and gold. In our daze at the building's construction we exited out the wrong side of the building and walked around Chinatown for 20 minutes before we discovered the right direction to get to the historic district.

First we saw the Cathedral, built between the 1200s and 1600s. It was the biggest one we'd seen yet, with an enormous tower, flying buttresses, and four paintings by Reubens. It always strikes me as odd to see these amazing masterworks just sitting on the wall of a church, not protected by bullet-proof Plexiglas, not monitored by cameras. It was the first cathedral I'd seen with painted columns, moldings, and walls, although most of the paint had been worn away or covered with whitewash. The carved screens were so elaborate, and it had beautiful stained glass. They're big on statues commemorating old legends--usually involving giants and someone a little bit drunk.

After the church we saw the stadhuis (statehouse) flying modern flags of various countries, although we did not see the U.S. one--guess we're not all that popular these days, anyway. In the courtyard sits a large fountain depicting the legend of how the city was founded. Apparently linguistically, Antwerp could mean "Hand werpen" (throwing the hand). So there's this giant, and someone (likely a teensy bit drunk) kills him and cuts off his hand. The giant-slayer then tosses the hand and its landing spot is the place the city began. There are various hand statues around town, but this one showed the giant killer tossing the severed hand, while the stump of the arm spouts water. Charming.

We also saw a castle with its military fortifications, the meat hall, built of red and white bricks, designed to look like a slab of bacon, and an alley from medieval times. Today is just a cute little alley weaving among shops and restaurants, but we overheard a guide explaining that on those original paving stones would be crowds of unwashed inhabitants and their animals, all wallowing together in whatever murky liquids ran through those lovely cobblestones.

Despite the enjoyable meanderings through random streets (note to self: next time, get a map!) we tried heading back to the station to find Reuben's home, but arrived right after closing. Next we tried returning to the medieval part of town to see a printing museum, but got there as it was closing its doors. So back to the station again, consoling ourselves with Belgian chocolates, and Belgian waffles dripping with carmelized sugar. Why don't we have tasty street food in the U.S.?

We laughed at a couple of street performers--the ones who look like a statue but then move. One was pouring a jar of water into a pool, and I was convinced it was a fountain. When she moved, it scared me to death. Once we arrived back in Leiden we got our daily dose of frites and a falafel and rushed home to get warm. It was the first dry day but the wind at night was icy!

Netherlands Day 3 - Den Haag

Tyler and I walked to the corner bakery for our daily bread, but it was closed for the festival. We took the long way back to the apartment, passing two canal streets and seeing lots of families with strollers heading for the "Relief of Leiden" festival (quick summary: The Spanish control the city as part of the 80 Years War. Dutch resist. Spanish beseige the city. Half the population of 70,000 starve. Dutch break through and free the city, bringing herring and white bread. In gratitude, the citizens are offered permanent freedom from taxation or a university. They opt for the university--Leiden University, where David is studying.)

The streets were getting crowded with stalls full of fish, snacks, and various wares--clothes, scarves, jewelry, leather goods. One smaller stand had two old men smoking herring in big oil drums and string the fish out on racks. The traditional food for the day is herring (typically raw with onion, but also smoked I guess) and white bread. Also the Hutspot or "Spanish stew" found in the still-hot pot when the Spanish fled Leiden. Hutspot is mashed potatoes topped with sauteed onions and carrots, which David and Julia prepared for us for that night's dinner. The street fair was going full tilt--we bought fresh stroopwafels hot off the griddle--two thin wafers glued together with a thin layer of caramel. Very good, but very sweet, and much better than the packaged ones David brought home from his mission. In honor of the festival, the local windmill was open for exploring, so we climbed up some very steep, very narrow stairs and looked out at the old wooden gears turning the sails. This particular one was used as a flour mill. Some windmills were used for draining water out of the land, and some for commercial purposes.
The trip to Den Haag (The Hague) was about 15 minutes by train. The city is much more modern and busy, with large governmental and office buildings and shopping centers. We walked about 10 minutes to the older part of the centrum to poke around.

First spontaneous stop was the Prison Gatehouse, one of the oldest buildings in town, from 1300. Sad that the prison is always one of the first things built. That and the church--I guess things don't change all that much. It served as prison and torture chamber. We watched a video of the trial, torture, and murder by the mob of one of the famous Dutch noblemen, later exonerated from his charge of treason. It was a bit gruesome to see the torture devices and note all the little details that had been so carefully thought out so as to inflict as much pain as possible. Despite the horrible purpose of the structure, I enjoyed walking and climbing around in the building. Old buildings have a distinct yet similar smell. I guess it's old wood and brick and stone. Carpet and drywall just aren't that evocative, albeit a lot more comfortable--and warm. But I really could imagine peering through the narrow windows at the mob outside, and hearing all the shouts and screams.

Across the street from the Gatehouse is a large brick-surrounded pond with a fountain, next to the Binnenhof (Parliament Building). They were typical European--large and impressive stone walls, but with Dutch rooflines.

Behind this compound we visited our first art museum, the Mauritshuis. Built as a private home, although it's hard now to see how it functioned as a home, it has a small collection but it's almost all of highly regared works by Dutch Masters, which is the period I most wanted to see. It was so impressive to see the paintings in person, so different from seeing them in a book. The colors are noticeably brighter, the light the artist conveyed was much more engaging. We bought a print of one of my favorites, "View of Delft" by Vermeer, but it doesn't come close. But it reminds me of the value of seeing art in person. Other favorites were "Girl with a Pearl Earring" (Vermeer), and "Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp" (Rembrandt), which I included mainly because seeing it in person changed my mind and made me like it. Also saw several interesting floral still lifes, although despite the symbolic interpretation of the inclusion of bugs (imperfection and decay) and butterflies (change and resurrection), I still wish they had just painted the flowers.

Spontaneous jaunt number 2 was Tyler's interest in heading out to the beach. So on to the tram and through the city and out to the coast. We passed the embassy district, a large park, and the International Court of Justice. The North Sea was windy and cold, but we still walked down to the sand, which was studded so thickly with small shells that the sand crunched as you stepped. But now we can say we've seen the North Sea, age-old enemy of the below-sea-level Dutch.

Back on the tram, the train, and the crowds to Leiden, where we picked up some currant juice, panekuchen (pancakes), and lemon qwark at the market; and some oliebollen (cherry, apple, and pineapple) and frites (French fries) with mayo, ketchup, and curry ketchup from the fair's street vendors.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Netherlands, Day 2 - Delft

Slept in until 11, trying to get acclimated, but horrified that half the day was gone. The bakery around the corner made fruit bread that morning (not cakey like our pumpkin or apple breads, but more like regular bread with bits of dried fruit) so we tried that and a loaf of sunflower, which we ate with jam and cheese, and felt very European.

Delft is known for the famous blue and white Delft porcelain. We toured the factory, which they'd been using for 300 years or so. Most of the walls are tiled with rejects or extras from various projects through the centuries, including some beautiful exterior-grade construction ceramics, which they used to decorate the courtyard garden. We watched the process of pouring molds, sketching and painting the designs. The work was beautiful but very expensive. Most stunning was a life-size tile reproduction of Rembrandt's work, The Night Watch, which is about 12 feet by 16 feet.

After the tour we toured Old Church and New Church--"new" of course meaning 1396, since "old" was way back to 1200. New Church was not that impressive except for the fact that it contains the Royal Crypt of the Dutch royal family, the House of Orange. Since the founder of the line was assassinated across the street, it was a rather unplanned decision. Old Church has the grave of Johannes Vermeer, who lived in Delft, and some stunning stained-glass windows. I really wish stained glass had caught on in the U.S. There's something to be said for inspiring surroundings to compensate for the days the sermon just doesn't cut it. High Council Sunday, anyone?

Lunch was Dutch pancakes and pofferjtes (round pancakes, similar to aebleskivers--inside Halverson memory). We tried them with ginger, apple, peach, and cherry. The train ride back was on a modern double-decker train; the ride out had been on an old Hogwarts Express-style train with individual compartments for passengers. The Leiden festival planned for the weekend had already started with the street vendors so we picked up oliebollen, a fried donut-type pastry covered in powdered sugar and usually eaten during Christmas. What's not to love? Sounds like a perfect dinner after pancakes for lunch!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The grown-ups flee

Most of our friends and acquaintances know that Tyler travels a good deal for his job. Some assume that we wallow in frequent flyer miles and must always be planning an exotic vacation. Oh that it were true. Stingy airline policies and business-class upgrades have eroded much of my mileage cache. (We joke that the suitcases may belong to Tyler, but the miles belong to me.) But for the first time in eight years, we left the kids in the able care of my soon-to-be-canonized sister-in-law Mandy, and Tyler and I spent a week in the Netherlands.

We were prompted by a batch of expiring miles, but more important, the fact that my brother David and his wife Julia are currently living in Leiden, south of Amsterdam. For one semester he is a student at Leiden University. They're living in a lovely Dutch row house on Rembrandt Street, since Rembrandt was born here so with free tickets and free accommodations, we couldn't pass up the chance.

Here's a bit from my recollections (and you don't have to slog through it all--this serves as my pitiful effort at a journal).

Day 1 - Leiden
Slightly disoriented, despite those lovely business-class seats, we collected our luggage and found David and Julia at the airport. They took us downstairs to the train station (leave it to those ever-efficient Dutch to stack the airport over the train station) and we soon arrived in Leiden to our first rainstorm--of course with jackets and umbrellas stowed in the suitcases. We arrived about 10am, and after unpacking a bit we went out to see some of Leiden.

The city is small and feels like Old Europe--brick streets, stone buildings--but not crowded. We walked around the courtyard of Pieterskerk, and the old prison and had it all to ourselves. Everyone walks or rides bicycles here--there are bikes or all descriptions everywhere you look, and all loaded down with baskets, mailbags, wheelbarrow-style attachments to carry children and dogs. Take a look at the red-brick house behind David--it's not much wider than the doorway. Hope it goes really far back...

Once the rain stopped we walked through the Hortus Botanicus, the University botanical garden. We didn't find the 400-year-old tree, but did see several that predated the American Revolution. I liked their use of tree branches or logs to build raised beds, and several of the greenhouses were filled with interesting pitcher plants, cycads, and other tropicals. Vid took us to a restaurant for Doner Kebabs (Israeli-style schwarma and falafel) for lunch, and we went out for Indonesian food for dinner. The rijstafel came with two kinds of rice and 12 things to put on top of it. Spicy but good.

At home we had snacks of pancakes with orange quark (sort of like a cross between yogurt and cream cheese), which I'd had in the States, and I wish I could find in Utah. This will become a theme. Pancakes are not breakfast food to the Dutch. There are entire restaurants devoted to the pancakes, and they're full at all hours of the day.

David and Julia's apartment is so fun, albeit a bit quirky. It's a typical Dutch row house, with three floors, each about 12 feet by 20 feet, with the front door right on the sidewalk. The Dutch used to base property tax on the width of your house, hence the typical Dutch architecture is narrow but tall. Their main floor is kitchen and a small bathroom/laundry room squeezed under the staircase. The bathroom contains a toilet, but no sink or mirror. The second floor is a sitting area, and the third floor is the bedroom and the other half of the bathroom (sink, shower, and tub, but no toilet). The bedroom has four sloping ceilings rising to a point, like an attic loft. Clearly not a house designed for large families, especially with the staircases squeezed into an almost ladder-like steepness. When you wake up in the middle of the night, needing to go to the bathroom, you really think about how badly you need to, since it would require climbing two flights of narrow twisty stairs in the dark.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Back to school (a month ago!)

Hard to believe that six weeks of school have already blown by. Carden is loving first grade. I still don't get a lot of detail about what goes on, other than recess, but what his reports lack in comprehensiveness is made up by their enthusiasm. He has taken to the daily homework assignments without too much complaint and we are thrilled with his newfound interest in coloring (mainly because it indicates vast improvement in his fine-motor skills).

Seth is also enjoying preschool--a new school for him. We are quite happy that he's liking the new school, mainly because I chose it for the revealing but honest reason that it is 10 minutes closer to our house, one hour longer, and came with a carpool partner. What's not to like? In my defense, I did give Seth the final say, and luckily the new school had better playground equipment. And what do I do in my gifted free hour? Clean the house, teach Charlotte to actually play with her own toys instead of eating Star Wars action figures, wonder why I'm not getting a whole lot done in my free hour...

"Summer's lease hath all too short a date"

Labor Day weekend was a mix of one beautiful day and one rainy, windy, knock-the-sunscreen-out-of-your-hand day. Luckily we spent the sunny day outside without much thought for anything besides having fun. Even Dad and Angus got in on the act.
We ate blackberries off our bushes, swung in the hammock (our favorite backyard addition), had squirt gun fights and full-fledged water wars. These are the days you hate to see end, especially since at the time you don't realize that the best days of your life, like the season, are spinning through space, away from you.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

How we spent our summer vacation

Lately all the home improvement businesses have spent vast sums of advertising dollars telling us that instead of traveling we should invest in our homes. Well, this summer we bought it. "It" being anything sold at Lowe's or Home Depot. Our friend Steve, who can build or fix practically everything and was between jobs, spent much of the spring and summer working on various projects for us. For a few blissful months I felt like the queen of a castle, laying out the daily tasks for the servants. Sadly, a budgetary coup has overthrown me and the projects have ground to a halt or are being imperfectly and slowly done by yours truly. But here's a sampling of what we accomplished.

Our first goal was to finish half the basement, especially Tyler's office since he works exclusively from home. After three years of living here we decided he'd earned heat, real walls, and more light than the bare bulb dangling from the ceiling. We're not done yet, but there's wires in them thar walls! We also are finishing another bedroom and we started the rough plumbing and electrical work for a bathroom. Under the drywall we added a layer of soundboard in an attempt to muffle the pitter-patter of little feet.

For Mother's Day I decided to see if Steve could add another layer of beams to an arbor we already had in the backyard. The existing beams were too far apart and the vines flopped through instead of spreading out on top, and there wasn't any shade or sense of enclosure. Voila! Next year this will be the perfect place for the hammock I'm searching for.

I shouldn't admit it but this was probably my favorite project. I thought it was one of Tyler's whims, but he was right. Turning half of the basement into livable rooms meant that all the junk stored down there needed to find a new home. Tyler asked Steve to whip up a wall o' shelves in the garage. While we were on vacation he worked his magic and we arrived home to a beautiful bank of hanging shelves. I am an organization nerd, I admit. I often go out to the garage just to gaze at the neatly labeled boxes in their rows. It's not exactly Pottery Barn, but it does make me ridiculously happy.

Actually this was my favorite project. In the end of July our swamp cooler died. We had figured we'd bite the bullet and replace it with air conditioning in a year or two, but that schedule suddenly accelerated once I'd spent a day in a house that was pushing 90 degrees. Thankfully the AC guy rushed our job through, even working on Pioneer Day (an actual holiday here). Here's a shot of him up on the roof, dismantling the swamp cooler and sending it to its ignominious death. Something about having AC has made me feel very grown up. This is the first house I've ever lived in with air conditioning. Of course, once the first electric bill comes, I'll feel that other grown-up feeling: broke.

OK, this is definitely my favorite project. Here is the "before" shot. When we bought the house, we inherited a beautiful yard and a lousy sprinkler system. The whole neighborhood knows when we go on vacation because the lawn dies. After two vacations and two death-and-resurrection cycles this summer we'd had it. Thanks to my brother-in-law Dave, an irrigation guru who lives too far away to do forced family service projects, we tapped his friend, another wizard of water, to revamp our system. Actually, we begged, pleaded, sent photos of our dead grass. As of 8pm tonight, we have an almost entirely new system. The sprinklers are beautiful in motion. I could seriously watch them all day. They are fountains, arcing through space, cascading, dripping, dropping, welling up, raining down... I am truly inspired.

So there you have it: how we spent our summer vacation--every penny of it. I wish we'd bought stock in Lowe's and Home Depot--it would have funded an actual vacation next year!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Meet Angus

After eight years of postponing the inevitable, we have a dog. I really tried to talk up the aquarium full of fish, but no dice. Tyler and Carden insisted on having something "more alive." Last week, Tyler and his brother Joel returned from their Missouri road trip (Joel was driving west for med school rotations; Tyler went along to help drive and to meet the bulldog breeder Joel had bought his dog from).

It's been a busy week. The whole experience has reminded me so much of bringing a newborn home from the hospital, starting with this first photo of Tyler carrying his new arrival into the house. Watching Tyler has been like seeing myself as a first-time mom. He wakes up before dawn to take the dog out, since the dog isn't on Utah time yet; he measures out the dog food on a digital scale; and keeps track of each "messy diaper" with all the fervor (but not the charts) I had with Carden. He's found special puppy shampoo (two kinds!), debates the merits of various chew toys, and browses bulldog websites gathering helpful tips. It's really cute. He's as hands-on a dad as you could wish with all of our human babies, but he's gotten into this dog like nothing I've ever seen.

Angus is a bulldog. They are short, fat, and friendly. I personally think they are ugly. Tyler thinks they are beautiful. Of course, one of his main dog criteria has always been, "something that makes me laugh when I look at it." Just remember Angus, we're laughing with you, not at you.

Angus is 5 months now, older than the typical puppy you bring home, but that's meant he's that much closer to being housetrained. He contracted an eye infection after birth and his right eye (the brown side of his face) is smaller than the other. The pink tissue of the eyelid is almost the only thing you can see because the eyeball is partially hidden under his wrinkles. The breeder couldn't sell him because of the problem. But there's a dog for everyone out there, and this seems to be the one for us. Maybe it's helped warm me up to him. It's tough to preach to your kids to make friends with people who may look a little different and then ignore the visual aid that's slobbering on your ankles.

Carden is in heaven. He has wanted a dog for so long, and he now he has a furry pillow who is happy to eat the dog treats Carden offers and pretend to obey him. Carden's technique of shouting commands after Angus has done something has made Carden believe he is a super dog trainer. Seth is a little more ambivalent towards the new pet. He's too busy doing four-year-old things, and he's so small and quick-moving that Angus is a little jumpy around him. Charlotte is the goddess on high. She sits in her high chair and tosses crumbs to her new acolyte below.

As for all of us, having to take a potty break outside every two hours has been a surprising source of enjoyment (I say this, not being the resident pooper scooper). There is so much work to be done in the yard that when we are outside it tends to be because there is mowing, weeding, or watering to be done. But now we sit on a bench under the apple trees and watch the kids throw the ball to Angus, or have a snack, or watch Charlotte learn to bounce on the trampoline. There's even a little less mowing, weeding, or watering to be done because Tyler has been making good use of his early mornings up with the dog to reclaim the garden from the weeds. He's done more yard work this week than he had the entire summer.

And that's enough to make me love any dog.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Catching up

The summer has sped by, and blogging, along with an awful lot of house and yardwork, has fallen behind. As usual, there's no easy-to-name culprit for why I've felt so busy, but we've definitely had the feeling of looking around and saying, "what happened?" Hopefully with the start of school I'll be able to dig down to the bottom of all the piles and discover the things I can't find. I only pray my mind will be in there somewhere.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Seth turns four

Lucky Seth got to have his grandparents arrive on his birthday for a visit. We decorated cupcakes as a family project, an idea I think I'll do forever--no slaving over decorating the cake! He opened his presents throughout the day, the highlight being his Razor scooter, and went to the exotic, cliff-diving Maya restaurant for dinner. The boys thought the fire dancers were very cool. I wish I'd had a picture of Seth staring open-mouthed at them, with his fists clenched in excitement.