Monday, December 28, 2015

Yup, still alive.

I realize that the fact that I have to keep posting reassurances that I haven't died since the last assurance suggests it might be time to retire this blog. But I'm not going to do that. Let's just assume I'm alive unless I post otherwise.

We're in Maine, visiting the Big Cooks. I've been lying on couches a lot, reading newspapers and also staring out the window. The weather has been gorgeous, and it might even snow for us tomorrow!

Cook and I took Duchess to see Star Wars today. I enjoyed it tremendously, Duchess enjoyed it, and Cook thought it was okay. (He reasonably thought it would have been nice to see a movie that was more different from the first movie, but I didn't care. Fan service works great for me, and I felt an actual thrill when the Millennium Falcon took off.) Skipper wisely chose to stay behind and have a fast food and video-at-home date with her grandparents. (She's in her sweet spot watching Mr Rogers, and would have hated this movie. Not to mention the EIGHT awful-looking and violent previews that came with it.)

And we had a lovely Christmas, full of food and sloth and presents. And instill have almost a week before I return to work! (Which I will - they extended my job another six months. I found that out about two weeks ago,)

I hope you all had holidays with the exact right amount of food and sloth!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Oh, hi! You may have thought I was dead. I'm not. I've been busy doing things like unsubscribing from email lists, trying to clear out my email inbox, listening to a backlog of podcasts, etc. You know, end-of-the-year kind of stuff.

Also, I've decided that I should probably look for work in a field where my work is not subject to criticism from people beyond the basic circle of my coworkers. It turns out that I do not like being criticized by lots of strangers. (Not that I'm good at handling criticism from anybody; it's a major flaw of mine.) I take it far too seriously, and it makes me feel awful and I pretty much want to lie under my desk and cry, and then pretend it all never happened. Also, I want to punch the people who are criticizing me, but of course I don't. It's all a very Skipper-like response.

It has been raining steadily for weeks - flooding and general misery abounds. I know that you think that it rains all the time in Portland, but it actually doesn't, really - we typically get a lot of grey and frequent but not very heavy rain. Not only has it been relentlessly grey (the sun came out for about an hour this afternoon, and I think it was the first time in at least ten days), but there's just been A Lot Of Rain. I biked to a dental appointment in a tremendous downpour last Monday, and I arrived (after adventures including at one point having to carry my bike up a brambly bank to avoid a sidewalk-and-street-swamping lake) completely drenched, dripping all over everything. The receptionist offered me a blanket. All our clothes are wet, all our shoes are wet, and the umbrellas drip on the floor of the mudroom all the time. It's like we live in a submarine.

However, everything is basically fine. Some lists.

Skipper's roster of Clothes She Is Willing To Wear:
- four pairs of pants
- four shirts
- one fleece jacket
- one raincoat
- three pairs of socks
- one pair of sneakers
- one hooded sweatshirt

What Duchess is Reading (all at once):
Navigating Early
The Two Towers*
All Creatures Great and Small

What Skipper is Reading (and LOVES):
Harriet the Spy

What Cook is Reading:
Barbarian Days

What I am Reading:
If You Only Knew**
All your awesome holiday cards. Thank you!

Hey, NPR has the 2015 version of the Book Concierge up! (The girls recommend Interstellar Cinderella, by the way.)

That's all I've got. I have to get back to unsubscribing to things.

*She picked up the trilogy again because she really wants to watch the movies, and Cook is holding firm on his Book Before Movie rule, but then she got sucked in. It's fun to see.
**This is a romance of the sort that you would probably never read, and while I read lots of crappy romances, this is pretty good stuff. I recommend it, should you be inclined the romance way.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Life wisdom

Skipper is very amped up on the walk home from aftercare, most days, and usually talks non-stop. Tonight she told me about the (latest) misdeed of one of the boys in her class, who today tried to convince Skipper and some other girls to jump in a pile of leaves at recess. Skipper said "I did NOT do it, because I have learned, the hard way, THROUGH EXPERIENCE, that when boys want you to do something and they're smiling and laughing, it's almost always a bad idea."

(It was a thin layer of leaves over a pile of dog poop, as it turned out.)

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Why parents drink.

The scene: Skipper has just gotten out of the shower, and flossing and tooth-brushing before bedtime is the next step. She is feeling fairly jaunty and pleased with herself for having (finally) executed this weekly chore. Because the mood is positive, I dare to suggest a minor break in routine.

Me: Hey, do you want me to braid your hair before you go to bed?
Skipper: (puzzled silence)
Me: It would help keep your hair contained so it won't get tangly while you're sleeping. And it would be kind of curly in the morning!
Skipper: I don't want it to be curly!
Me: Okay. No braid. That's fine.
Skipper: It's not fair! I don't want a braid!
Me: Okay.
Skipper: You can't make me have a braid!
Me: You don't have to have a braid. I was just offering to braid your hair if you wanted to try it.
Skipper: Fine! I'll have a braid! But you can't make me floss and brush if you're making me have a braid!
Me: You don't have to have a braid. I'm not making you have a braid. If you want a braid, I would be happy to braid your hair. But I'm not making you have a braid. (I walk away with an armful of dirty laundry, attempting to avoid escalation, but inevitably enraging her further by making her feel that I am diminishing the significance of her feelings.)
Me: (unable to resist engaging in petty argument, even though I actually do know better) I'm pretty sure that doesn't count as a lecture.
Skipper: YOU'RE MEAN!!!!!!!
Me: (walking down the basement stairs with the laundry, thinking "And you're a PSYCHOPATH!!!!") I know you're feeling really angry.

Friday, November 27, 2015


She lost this tooth today.
Note the braces!

Friday, November 20, 2015

What have we been up to?

Well, this last week we've been throwing up. And now that we're done with that, tonight we took Duchess and her best kung fu friend out for a slightly delayed birthday celebration of pizza and another archery session. (Best Kung Fu Friend, besides being a generally lovable person, is an excellent solution to the problem of how to invite some of one's school friends but not others - just invite a friend whom none of your other friends know!)

That's pretty much the news. Skipper wore a DIFFERENT OUTFIT to school today, to my great delight. Cook still hasn't put his fenders on, in spite of torrential rain. It might snow next week! Exciting stuff.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

sibilant update

Everything's fine. We're just boringly busy. Duchess's 11th birthday is just around the corner, and she acts more like a stereotypical teenager every day, complete with surly snarling, sullen sulking, and snarky superiority. She doesn't play with Skipper much anymore, and Skipper is grieving over the loss. Skipper is, however, expanding confidently and happily into her own world of school and aftercare, and finding her own place.

The weather has turned wintry, cold and rainy and dark. Cook keeps procrastinating putting the fenders on his bike, but I think he'll have to give in and do that this weekend. I have given up bike commuting for the season, and am very content to listen to podcasts on the warm, dry bus.

That is all.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


I appreciate that my children are generally pretty pragmatic and utilitarian about their costume choices. Skipper, for example, chose a costume that uses the same black pants and black sweatshirt as last year's costume, plus a new felt mask (handmade by Cook).  Duchess is wearing the same piratical shirt she has worn for many dress-up events* in the past, and a belt (and lunar theme) from three Halloweens ago.

This year we went to the home of our friends who live in a wealthy neighborhood that turns out to attract an enormous number of trick-or-treaters. It was pouring rain, so the hordes of kids were all carrying umbrellas, and between maneuvering the giant moon on her back and continually being poked with umbrellas, Duchess felt it was all too hard, gave up after a block and returned to our friends' house to give out candy to the continual stream of soggy kids. Skipper made it a little further, but in the end they both much more enjoyed the giving of candy than the procuring of candy. And the modest pile of loot was the perfect size for enjoying in a moderate orgy divided between the night of and the morning after. (I think a heap of candy for breakfast is pretty great, personally.) No leftovers!

I most enjoyed the 45 minutes before we left, when Skipper was wearing her mask** and fully inhabiting her character, prowling and growling and pouncing around the house. This is a kid for whom the magic of masks is particularly potent, allowing her to leave behind all the hesitations and worries of her ordinary self and just be somebody else. Which is one of the great things about Halloween, too.

*Photographed episodes include last Halloween, the Halloween before that, and Pirate weekend at Catalina.
** Technical problems with the bridge of the nose compromised what was otherwise a pretty fabulous creation.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Friday, October 23, 2015

My kids know how to do school.

The girls are out of school three days this week, which also means time for conferences. We saw Duchess's teacher yesterday, and Skipper's teachers today. The upshot of both conferences, which is not a surprise, is that my kids are both very good at the game of school. Skipper's teachers produced particularly rave reviews, perhaps because they don't know about her less impressive traits and behaviors (unlike Duchess's teacher, who, after 11 months of teaching her, remains enthusiastic about and fond of Duchess, but definitely sees her pretty clearly). We did take the opportunity to let Skipper's teachers know that part of the reason that she's so on-task and resourceful about independent problem-solving is that she's terrified of exposing any vulnerability, and they seemed to take that information as interesting and helpful, as we had hoped.

Anyway, both kids are bringing their A game to school every day, as it were. I can continue to worry about other things!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

We're fine.

Don't worry.

We are exceedingly busy. Okay, I'm exceedingly busy, with the kind of emotionally and intellectually exhausting workdays that leave me with very little left at the end of the day to do much beside stumble through the motions (I do continue to exercise almost daily, I'm proud to report, but that's pretty much maxing out my ability to do anything other than read romance books and watch bad tv).

Cook is busy. The kids are upper-middle-class-kid busy, juggling gymnastics (both), kung fu (both), Chinese (Duchess), piano (Skipper), taiko (Skipper), ultimate frisbee (Duchess), and wilderness survival/LARPing* (Duchess). Duchess is going to start a historical interpretation training program in January, learning how to pretend to be an 18th century girl living at Fort Vancouver. She's been wanting to do that for years, ever since we went to Champoeg and she found out that they take on children volunteers.

Skipper is doing very well at everything, but continues to be filled with defensive rage. Not sure what to do with that. Duchess is also doing well at everything, and seems pretty happy when she's not throwing weeping/screaming tantrums over problems that seem ludicrously trivial to everybody except her. (I concede that watching bad tv and reading romance novels is probably just an adaptation of this non-coping tactic, but I wish she'd hurry up and adapt, too.)

That's pretty much the news. I'll write again when I have mental space. Might not be soon.

*Duchess has had two weekend trips to the woods, where she practices starting fires and tracking animals. She's very into mushroom-identification right now. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

New nephew!

Skipper and Duchess are disappointed that he's not going to be named Momotaro, but they'll get over it. Look how beautiful he is!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Raising an adult

I've been thinking about parenting.* Both the kids right now are storming through growth periods, transitioning more or less into being A Grade-Schooler and A Middle-Schooler. Both these stages involve increased rights and responsibilities, and they're working out how to balance these things. I have been reading a book about the perils of helicoptering, and considering how to balance things in our family life.  In general, I think Cook and I are pretty good about giving our kids opportunities to handle stuff on their own, though of course we can do better. However, some of the cautions in the book, particularly about overscheduling and under-responsibility-ing, ring alarmingly true to me. Since reading the book, I am considering how to deschedule the girls a bit. It is very evident how much Duchess is benefiting from her free time in the afternoon (which will be somewhat less expansive when she starts Chinese one day a week next week). She loves being home alone to do homework, practice flute, and lie around reading or playing Minecraft. She listens to music and podcasts and practices being a teenager. More free time for everybody would clearly be a good thing.

I am also stepping up chore expectations a bit (though not as much as apparently I should). This school year we have a chore chart on a whiteboard, with chore cards affixed by magnets. The cards get moved to "done" when they're done, and it means much less nagging.** I've added a few new chores since reading this latest parenting book, mostly after a review of the annoying small tasks that I do that make me crazy - I realized that the kids can do many of them. The first thing I punted to them is the packing of lunches. (I think I need to next get them washing the lunch dishes, since the endlessly repeated washing of those damned small containers remains pretty much my least favorite chore.)*** This is working out okay. Not great. Okay.

The trick here is to make these tasks so consistent and regular that they become automated and the girls stop complaining/arguing/resisting. Skipper in particular is so relentlessly awful about doing chores that it is very tempting to just give up. Duchess tends to flare up, yell, cry, and then angrily do the chore very ostentatiously and then be quite pleased with herself for having done the chore. (She usually brags about it.) Skipper never moves past the yelling and crying. She's actually kind of a genius about resisting things. She ends up taking so much time and energy to do the chore that we subsequently ALL consider the chore as much larger and more painful than it actually is. While her schedule is far busier than it should be (and I'm just talking about the aftercare required by having two working parents, not an overscheduled life of extracurriculars), she has plenty of time to get her chores done if she just did them. She does not have plenty of time for extensive screaming and crying AND doing chores.****

This weekend, Duchess is gone on her 48-hour ninja adventure, and we're having an unusual stint of weekend time with just Skipper. Turns out she's MUCH nicer when she's an only child. And it also turns out that she's more willing to do chores. The presence of a sibling creates an additional energy-drain because each kid has to constantly assess the Fairness and What She's Doing While I'm Doing This. It's exhausting for them, and for me and Cook.

Anyway. Oh! The other thing I've been meaning to tell you (all of you) is that we have been trying to do Movie Nights on Friday nights. And right now there is ONE thing that we can all watch and enjoy together as a family. ONE thing. Skipper likes incredibly mild television (Caillou!) and cannot bear more than a frisson of possible danger, and Duchess still has pretty unsophisticated tastes as well (she loves a TV show called Lab Rats). Cook likes depressing, complicated movies and TV shows. I like silly TV shows. The ONE thing we can watch together is Mythbusters. That's it. Thank goodness there are so many seasons.

*I always think about parenting; I suspect I think about parenting as a way to love my kids without actually being with them, similar to my diligence about reserving books from the library for them.

** Or at least different nagging - I say "How's the board coming?" instead of "Did you brush your hair? Did you brush your teeth? Did you pack your lunch? Did you pack your lunchbag? Did you pack your flute?")

*** The girls spent a few days this summer at an expensive day camp which has a few major selling points, but key among them is that you can drop your kids off any day you want, without reserving a day, and the camp provides ALL THE FOOD. No small containers!

**** Want to know what they do for chores? Of course you do. Duchess does the family's breakfast dishes every day, changes all her bed linens once a week and cleans the toilet once a week. Skipper cleans the bathroom sink (when Cook doesn't get impatient and clean it first) and strips her own bed every week. They both are responsible for at least one irregular household chore (like organizing and cleaning the spice rack) per week as assigned, tidying their own things daily, and periodically making their room less miserably messy. They both are (now) responsible for packing and unpacking their own lunches and backpacks for school. Their non-chore daily tasks are practicing flute/piano, homework, and personal care. We need to start moving Skipper into dishwashing and Duchess into cooking...

Growing up, and belated photos

Look! Old bad phone photos from our beach trip in August.

Duchess got braces this week. This is her before they were installed.

No post-braces close-up photo yet. Duchess headed straight off to her camping weekend after school on Friday. This is her at the bus stop, snarfing a hastily-assembled burrito, and rocking an overall awesome adolescent geekery. She's now a good inch taller than I am.

And this is a random photo from my bike commute last week, waiting for the drawbridge to go down.