September Fun

September kept us busy, as per usual, since this summer started.

The boys gave Dan a good big hug for his birthday.

We visited Ardenwood Farm for their train fair & early engine days.

We all went to see Finding Dory, at the Grand Lake Theatre. It was the kids first time seeing a movie in a theater & they loved it.

The boys attended their first day of “school” for the year. They attend daycare year round but this year started three half days of more structured school. They attend Lab School at Merritt College, an early-education teacher training program, for two half days. They are totally jazzed about it. They also attend Trackers Rovers Forest School for another half day, where they go out, rain or shine, to local parks and farms to learn about the outdoors.

The boys took a week long vacation with Dan & Kathy to Southern California to visit family, the beach & Disneyland. I flew down and joined them for the beach portion.

And we had many great days visiting parks and playing with friends at daycare, weddings and parties. (In the gallery, if you click to see a picture better, you can use your right/left arrow keys to easily see the next & previous pics.)

And finally, here are some videos from this month. Click on any of the below pics to open the video in a new window.

 Click to watch climber video

See Ansel heartily climbing up the slide (28 sec)

 Click to see Ansel Dancing to the Pipe Organ

See Ansel Dancing to the Pipe Organ at the Rail Fair (11 sec)

 Click to see Boys having Fun with Slides Video

See Both Boys having Fun with Slides (19 sec)

 Click to watch Two Little Spiders Showing Their Climbing Tricks

Watch Two Little Spiders Showing Their Climbing Tricks (1:05)

Ansel & Coco Turn Four

The boys fourth birthday was great fun, mixed with a little sadness. Four definitely seems like a dividing line between toddler & preschooler– our little guys are growing up!

Ansel agreed to give up his pacifiers for his 4th birthday (he was still using them for naps & bedtime.) He was so brave going to bed without them… he asked if he could just hold one but not suck on it but I told him that I didn’t know where they were (Dan had secreted them away). He did not protest. Instead he remarked on how he still had his friends Goldie the dragon, Bailey the whale, Owly the owl light and Lovie the lovey with him. I talked to him about how it was ok to miss his pacifiers and that they had helped him sleep well for a long time. Just before I said good night & left the room, he closed his eyes and told me he was thinking of his paci. (Awwww.)

The night before they turned four, Ansel & Coco helped me bake brownies to bring to their daycare class. After daycare, we all went out for pizza & ice cream to celebrate their birthday.

I know that growing up is good & natural, but it’s also tough for me to experience (and they’re still only four!) As we left the pizza restaurant Coco had to push the door hard to open it. Ansel & Dan were behind us a bit so Ansel had to push the heavy door open again. As they came out Coco said to Ansel: “That was a heavy door, right?” And it was such grown-up phrasing & question, I couldn’t believe that it came from our babies. Every day more and more of their baby talk leaves them, though they still manage to make “girl” and “world” sound like two syllables instead of the short way adults usually say them. :)

At least when we walk down the street they still happily hold hands– Coco even does something now that he didn’t when he was young– holding just one finger of my hand. I love feeling their little hands in mine. Recently I asked Ansel if he wanted just my finger or my whole hand and he said whole hand because my hand keeps his hand warm. :)

We threw a huge birthday party for the boys 4th birthday a few days after their actual birthday. We invited all of their “friends” and boy, do they sure have a lot of them! Everyone in their daycare (and some who already graduated), all of our neighbor families their age and some extra friends through Pixar & UC Berkeley, plus Grandma Jerianne & Nana of course. We ended up having 57 people come through the house altogether!

Unfortunately I got sick the day before the party. We still managed, but we made some last minute food purchases so that I wouldn’t be trying to make so much from scratch. Afterwards the family was super tired & we all vegged out & watched the Olympics on tv.

Homemade Pink Lady (Strawberry) Cupcakes!
K, F, Coco, R & P All Being Entertained by Big Sister R
Master BBQer & Sundry Adults (plus cute A)
Let There Be Cupckes!
R & I Playing with Puppets
Done
Is it Bedtime Yet?
Click to watch video of Ansel in puppet theater.

 

August 2016

Inspired by Rebecca Woolf’s post of moments from the previous month, I am posting a gallery of our August moments (minus their birthday party), plus a few observations after.

Astro Tot Lot
Four Year Checkup
Swimming Sessions with Mom
Intent on Legos
Roughhousing with Dad
Catch with Grandma Jerianne
Swimming Session #2 (Click to see Video)
With another Ansel we Met
Tunnel Roller
Jump! (Click for Video)
On the Ferry to the Ball Game
Dad & Son
God Rays
Still Able to Pick up Both (for a second)
Winging up the Stairs

They are four now and really starting to look like little boys. They have great synergy & connection between them. When Ansel complained that his plum had peanut butter on it (a failure of mine for packing the plum next to the pb & j sandwich), I watched Cormac nonchalantly take the plum out of the bowl Ansel was holding, lick the peanut butter off and hand it to Ansel who proceeded to eat it. They didn’t say anything to each other about the transaction, it happened wordlessly.

Almost every night, before I go to bed, I frequently go in and check on them in their beds. Ansel is almost always tucked sweetly under his blanket and Cormac is almost always sprawled out on top of his, limbs akimbo.

To celebrate Dan’s birthday (September 2nd), Dan took the whole family to a Giants baseball game in late August. We had a blast. When I asked what the boys’ favorite part was, Coco said “the ice cream candy” and Ansel said “the ferry” (there is ferry service straight from Oakland to the ball park that we took advantage of.) They paid attention to the ball game for a good 3 or so innings. We spent the rest of the time in line for the slide, in line for food or in the bathroom. :)

While they paid attention though Dan made sure to teach them to chant “Go Giants! Go Giants!” For my part I kept directing Cormac’s attention to the pitcher & the hitter and telling him how fast the ball goes & how hard it is to hit and watch the hitter try to hit the ball. Later, when I wasn’t paying attention but Coco was he said “Mama mama, guess what?” I ask “What?” and he answers excitedly, pointing to the hitter, “The hitter didn’t hit the ball!” Thanks Coco. I’m glad you’re watching, but I don’t really need to know when the hitter doesn’t hit the ball.

Later on, inconveniently & all too predictably, Ansel declares “I have to poop!” Dan rushes him up to the bathroom. While sitting on the toilet making his poop, Ansel chanted “Go Giants, go Giants, go Giants!” So surreal.

RIP Jules (1995 or 96 – Oct. 4th 2015)

On March 18th 2007, just as Dan and I were starting to date more seriously, we each received the same forwarded email through separate friends of friends (kismet!) from a man, Alan, who was looking to re-home his almost 11 year-old cat:

Alan’s Pic of how cute Jules is

Another bitter pill I must swallow is that my fiancé is highly allergic to my cat Jules and I have decided that it would be best for me to find him a home here before I set forth to New York. This has been a hard decision for me to make since Julius has been with me for almost 11 years and I would feel most comfortable if I knew he was going to a good home where he would be loved.

 

I know some of you have met Jules and how soft and loving he is. As he’s gotten older, he has become even more affectionate, but a lap cat he is not. He loves to play and have your attention, but he can also be totally independent and left alone. If you or anyone you know who loves cats would be interested in adopting him, please let me know as soon as you can. I’ve attached a picture of him so you can see how cute he is. 

Your help in finding Jules a new home would be greatly appreciated.

Dan had his own charming cat, Buster, but I was recently catless through a breakup and missing fuzz therapy (Dan and I didn’t live together yet.) I responded to Alan with some trepidation (I had wanted to adopt a girl cat) but asked him to let me know if no-one else seemed interested. A week went by and no-one else stepped up, so on March 27th, I went to Alan’s apartment and met Jules for the first time. As advertised, Jules was not very affectionate, but was super soft and I wanted to give him a new home.

Making himself at home on my computer

By May, I had officially adopted Jules and we started to get to know each other.  Jules was an extremely healthy and low-maintenance cat– he always sharpened his claws on his scratching post or scratch lounge (not furniture) and rarely threw up (for cats, that’s saying something!) He hardly had any voice at all, instead of meowing he would open his mouth and creak a little bit and to hear his purr you usually had to get your head right down close to his chest. He had gorgeous bunny-soft gray fur with a white chest and socks and some people said he might be a breed called Russian Blue.

I learned about his predilection for jumping into the bathtub after I took a shower, which I first thought was super odd and then found charming. He would jump in there and lick up the leftover water or sometimes chase or attack the rivulets as they flowed towards the drain.

He would let us pet him up to a point, but if you did it for too long, he was not shy about biting you to let you know he was done. That said, one of the things I love most about him was his sense of my health. His tendency was not to cuddle or lie on me unless I was sick. When I was sick and he was laying on me, it was a nice reminder that he loved me and I should lie down and get well.

Love and Sickness

He was happy as a inside cat, but liked going outside too. We didn’t let him out without supervision– in Albany, we took him on a leash (not his favorite thing) but once we got all the holes in our fence fixed at our current house we were able to let him go outside with minimal supervision. It was such a pleasure to watch him go out and sniff the air and lie down in the grass.

Jules patiently moved with me from place to place as Dan and I moved in together, got engaged, married, and finally bought a house (Dan’s cat, Buster, passed away before Dan and I moved in together, so he and Jules never met.) Jules never complained as Dan and I went on many long and short trips– though he was always a thin cat and we noticed that he didn’t eat as well while we were gone. In fact, he ate best when I sat and petted him while he ate. (Awww.)

Dan would get out the laser pointer sometimes and Jules would love it, chasing it all around the house and jumping and trying to catch it. He also liked trying to catch moths or insects that came in the house.

Jules & Dan

Despite his penchant for biting you when he’d had enough petting, he was always very well-behaved around our twin boys. Mostly he avoided them, but when they would roughly pet him or sometimes even hit him he only once scratched them (lightly) back. Unfortunately, the arrival of the twins caused us to be able to pay less attention to Jules, but we tried to get some good pets and love in when possible.

Babies aren’t all bad– the double nursing pillow comes in handy!

Most people would not have guessed his age until about the last year. Finally his long life caught up with him. He had kidney disease, high blood pressure and senior cat dandruff. :) He was partly deaf, couldn’t see as well and sometimes would seem to get lost or confused and yowl for us. Since March of this year, his arthritis has really been bothering him and his purr times were fewer. Finally we had to keep him away from the 2nd level of our house and our bed because he would go up the stairs, but be too scared to come down. :(

Still, just last Thursday he jumped up on the couch where I was laying down and sat on my chest and demanded pets from me. His purr came out loud and strong and I rubbed him fiercely on his jowls where he liked it best. I was about to start a new, stronger drug to treat his arthritis from a new vet we had recently seen. But yesterday, in the late afternoon, Jules suddenly couldn’t use his hind legs. I took him to the emergency vet and they said something had gone wrong neurologically or with a blood clot and there was nothing that could be done. Jules let me know he didn’t feel right at all, he seemed disoriented and made little mewing sounds that were very unusual for him. With a very heavy heart and wads of tissues I made the decision to say goodbye to my Jules-y cat.

How can you say goodbye?

I miss him terribly, he has left a huge Jules-shaped hole in our life. I’m so very grateful that I saw that email from Alan and that I got to provide a loving home for an almost 11 (or 12?) year-old cat, who turned out to have eight more years of life to live and love to give. I selfishly wish I still had him here to love, but I’m happy he’s no longer in pain and confusion. Goodbye Jules.

quickie – three interesting articles

Inspired by my husband’s frequent posts, here is a quickie post about three articles I read & enjoyed today.

The first, “On the Wing”, by Tom Jenkins, is about a program Nature Conservancy is running to pay Central Valley rice farmers to leave their fields flooded for longer than they would normally, in order to provide “wetlands” for birds migrating through the Central Valley. A great example of conservation thinking in an unintuitive way. One of the most interesting parts to me was how the conservancy used a “reverse auction” to try to find the cheapest price they could pay the farmers to keep their fields flooded:

In a reverse auction, farmers were asked to submit bids for what they would charge per acre to keep water in their fields at the most critical time for migrating birds. After an initial “discovery round,” in which each farmer was informed how his or her bid roughly compared with the others’, they were given the chance to refine their bids.


Earlier this week as I was moaning about another sleepless night to a co-worker he asks, “Why does anyone do it?” meaning, why does anyone have kids? Certainly it’s not for everyone and I made sure to say that too him, but I also mentioned that it seems like the highs you feel are higher and the lows you feel are lower. Everything seems more intense as a parent. On that note, here’s mom Lisa Morguess posting about “Motherhood: The Big Fat Fuck You”. (Yes, that has been me at times recently.) Favorite quote:

Sometimes motherhood just feels like a big, fat Fuck You, though. This is why people say that motherhood is a hard job. Not because it’s especially intellectually challenging or physically demanding – I mean it is those things, but there are certainly other pursuits that require for far more intellectual and/or physical output than motherhood. Not because it requires a great deal of bravery – of course, it does call for that, too, but certainly not as much as being a soldier or a police officer, for instance. No, it’s not those things. It’s because it’s so fucking emotionally taxing.


And lastly, an intriguing piece from Paul Ford about being polite: “How to Be Polite”. What the author said resonated with me, though in a subconscious way– I don’t think I’ve recognized the value of politeness like this before.

Personally, I am a mixture, I think. Sometimes I’m quite polite and other times I don’t respect people’s personal space or their privacy. It’s something I may be getting better at though. What really hit home for me:

There is one other aspect of my politeness that I am reluctant to mention. But I will. I am often consumed with a sense of overwhelming love and empathy. I look at the other person and am overwhelmed with joy. For all of my irony I really do want to know about the process of hanging jewelry from celebrities.


The first article I found because I give money to the Nature Conservancy and in return receive their bi-monthly magazine. The last two articles I found through A Practical Wedding‘s Happy Hour Link Roundup. Also, strangely coincidental, Paul Ford is a father of twin boys and Lisa Morguess a mother to twin girls (as part of a brood of seven.)

Fourth of July 2014

Celebrating the Fourth (Photo by Chris Walker)

We had a great 4th of July! We met old friends & made new friends on the lawn of our friend’s home in Alameda. His house is right on the parade route so we convened there around 10am to watch the Alameda 4th of July Parade. His home was under renovation, but folks brought everything necessary for a great parade watching experience there on his front lawn. There were chips, salsa, crackers, cheese and someone even brought the makings for Bloody Marys, plus a little table to make them on, all towed in on a little red wagon (the streets around the parade route are blocked off from about a 1/2 mile away.)

Playing with the Big Kids (Photo by Chris Walker)

We also brought our little red wagon, but instead of the makings for a Bloody Mary, we brought in our two boys, dressed appropriately patriotically in red, white and blue. :) They had a great time running around on the lawn and spending time watching the bigger kids play as we all waited for the parade to start.

Standing at Attention

This was the boys’ first parade and I was a little nervous about what they would think. Our Alamedan friend Nancy even brought a shaded double stroller in case they got too hot and needed to cool off (what a sweetie!), but the boys did great. They just sat with us and watched the parade roll, walk and occasionally trot by (their first time seeing life-size horses!) Since they don’t talk very much I’m not sure what they thought, but they seemed to enjoy it. There were many smiles and no tears, so I count that as a good time.

Watching the Parade with Uncle Terry (Photo by Chris Walker)

The parade itself was amazingly long, everyone seemed to be in it! We saw fire departments, scouting groups, horses, military folk, environmental activists, local businesses, including the local funeral parlor looking very serious with a horse-drawn hearse (nice touch). By the time the parade was over, we were pooped and ready to get the kids and ourselves home and down for a nap.

Patriotic Hoffman Clan

Post-nap we grilled in the backyard and debated about whether to try to take the kids to see some fireworks. We decided to forego fireworks, since that would mean keeping them up way past their bedtime and we weren’t sure if they would enjoy them (or be scared of the loud booms.) Luckily, while we were getting them ready for bed, Dan came up with a great idea: tune into the local PBS station, which was broadcasting the fireworks from Washington DC, with accompaniment from the National Symphony Orchestra, called “A Capitol Fourth“. The kids were fascinated to watch the fireworks on our TV and the symphony music was a perfect match. Bravo Dan!

Is that an A for America or an A for Arizona Dan?

Our satiated little tykes went to bed soon afterward and their second fourth was done. (Heck, I don’t remember what we did for their first.)

Is it done yet?

Through Phoenix to Flagstaff and Beyond

On the Thursday before the last weekend in June, our family traveled to Flagstaff for our friend Damon’s wedding. We woke early Thursday morning for our 9:55am flight to Phoenix. The flight was on time and, thankfully, the boys were much better travelers than they were on our first flight to Chicago when they were 13 months old. This may have to do with the fact that we let them watch Toy Story on some iPads and I also fed them gummy bears to keep them happy. Worked pretty well, they seemed to enjoy themselves.

Ansel & Coco on DinoPhoenix was crazy hot, 108 degrees F or so. Boy, I don’t think I could ever live in that sort of heat. After Dan got our rental car and we loaded up all our gear, we stopped at a typical Arizonan Mexican restaurant (Manuel’s) for a lunch just like Dan remembered. Then we got on the road to Flagstaff. It was a surprisingly scenic drive. We ascended what I assumed would be a mountain pass, but as we got to the top it was absolutely flat! It was my first mesa. I just kept looking around in disbelief, my whole experience is that if you go uphill what you find at the top will be bumpy– not flat as a pancake.

Looking East from Citadel Pueblo

Looking East from Citadel Pueblo

Our rental house was located in the Mountainaire/Kachina Village community, 10 or so miles south of Flagstaff proper and very near to our friend Damon’s house (and wedding location.) It was a nice little house, not too dangerous for the kids, but anytime you stay somewhere without childproofing, it requires a lot more oversight. As we unpacked I realized I really hadn’t brought any toys for them. Oops! Luckily we found some in some random drawers in the house, a doll, a pink, purple, plaid My Little Pony with wings and a unicorn horn, a hacky sack and a Simpsons ball. Good thing our guys aren’t too picky what they play with! Dan’s brother, Kevin, arrived after driving in from Colorado.

Friday we drove through campus (Kevin had attend Northern Arizona University for a year as a freshmen) and walked around Flagstaff. A nicely historic downtown.  We made our way to Route 66 (not much to see at this stretch really) and visited the train tracks. Flagstaff’s train tracks were very busy, with 3-4 freight trains coming through during the 45 minutes we were near them. Goodness! Ansel got a huge kick out of them and after they were gone, like he did with the planes, he would sign for “more”. Reminds me of this Onion piece about a toddler train junkie. :) Cormac, on the other hand, found the trains too loud and intimidating (even though they weren’t using their horns at the crossings) and wanted to go away from them or be held.

After a trip to the grocery store and a park, I left Kevin and Dan in Flagstaff to have lunch with Damon while I took the boys back to the house for a nap. Which didn’t happen, really, and caused me (and them) to have a slight nervous breakdown. Turns out I really appreciate the mental time off from the kids when they nap! That night they went to bed early (thank goodness) and Dan & Kevin went out for drinks with Damon, Renee and other wedding guests at the local tavern.

Saturday morning we had a yummy breakfast at Macy’s before we drove North to do the 34 mile scenic loop drive from Sunset Crater Volcano to Wupatki to see the Citadel Pueblo ruins. The scenic drive was incredible and though I was between the kids in the back seat, I just kept saying “wow”. Recently Cormac has learned how to say “wow” too and likes to imitate so it was as if I had a little echo in the back seat with me. :) We saw the Painted Desert at a distance and the sagebrush, cinder, black volcanic rock and red sandstone (?) make a striking and gorgeous landscape that I cannot wait to see again. Next time hopefully the boys will be a bit older and we’ll be able to stop and get some pictures! As it was we did stop at the Citadel Pueblo and walked up the trail. Quite the vista and amazing to think of the natives who lived there and built the citadel and other pueblos.

After the boys’ nap we got everyone dressed to go to the wedding. Dan and Kevin were employed to hand out directions from Damon’s house to the wedding site (at a nearby trailhead) so I strolled the kids from our rental to the wedding site down some side streets to a wildflower filled meadow next to a big rock. Quite scenic. The wedding was beautiful and short. Congratulations Damon & Renee! Everyone filed out and drove to Damon & Renee’s house for the reception in their newly redone back yard. It was a great party and the boys had a good time, running around, finding balls to play with and charming the guests. They found the ice in the ice buckets of beer, wine and water bottles fascinating, wanting to eat it, then put it back, then drop it on the ground, then put it back… Ansel also spent some time carefully removing all of the water bottles from the ice bucket and setting them on the ground. Both Coco & Ansel (Ansel more so) enjoyed climbing the brick walls in the terraced yard. Coco focused on gorging on strawberries and picking up the travel-sized bottles of alcohol that were part of the wedding favors and trying to unscrew them. Wait just a minute there! They were pretty tuckered by the time we went home.

Sunday we drove back from Flagstaff on scenic Oak Canyon Drive to Sedona. A beautiful drive, though I would be hard-pressed to pick which I enjoyed more– the Sunset Crater drive or the Oak Canyon drive. Another place worth returning to. The contrast between the bright green of the trees lining the canyon and the red rocks was spectacular. We ate lunch in Sedona and got back on the road to Phoenix, driving through mountainous desert and plenty of Saguaro on the way. The flight home wasn’t quite as smooth as the flight there, but we managed.

A lovely trip but we really appreciated coming home too.

Watching for Airplanes

So! Last weekend we went with some friends (Michael & Liz) and their son Ryan (who is just three months younger than our guys) to watch airplanes land and take-off at Oakland International Airport (OAK). Dan had scouted out (via the interwebz) a good-looking park near to the airport, Oyster Shoreline Regional Park, so we arranged to meet up there Sunday morning with a breakfast picnic of pastries from Feel Good Bakery and peaches from Happy Child CSA (aka Frog Hollow Farm). Even though we were coming from different directions (Alameda & Oakland), we managed to both arrive within minutes of each other at the wrong entrance to the park that Google Maps had merrily directed us to (it was actually the entrance to the Davis Street Recycling Station.) But that made it easy for us to flip around and follow each other to the real entrance of the park, as found on the park’s website.

Liz, is eight months pregnant with their second, but the whole family gamely walked the half mile to some picnic tables, where we dug into the booty. While we adults stuffed our faces our two little blonde guys (their boy, Ryan, and Ansel) dabbled in the pastries but soon decided they had had enough and went off to explore. Our good eater, Cormac, kept at it for awhile longer before he too wanted to adventure. All the while airplanes were coming in low and slow from a Southeast direction to land at OAK (though funnily, the majority of the planes were of the Southwest Airlines variety.) The boys did not pay them much mind except when we pointed them out.

We were sheltered from a view of the airport proper by a small knoll to the West (I now know that the small knoll is actually a retired garbage heap, covered by a layer of clay) so Dan took Coco & Ansel up to the top of the knoll to see if they could get a better view. While on their scramble through the brush they disturbed a snake, which we are pretty sure was not poisonous. It did not pay them much heed and Dan hastily backtracked. Meanwhile, Ryan was having a great time playing with some giant pinecones that were littered about the picnic table. Despite his younger age, he talks much more than our guys and it was wild for me to hear him count “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 9, 9, 9…” :)

Soon enough we decided to continue on the official trail which wound around the knoll and that we assumed would give us a better view of the airport and planes. We were right. Though the trail had no shade and the scenery was pretty mundane, the views of the planes were great. We watched many a plane approach from the Southeast. It seems wrong to see airplanes going so slow– they almost seem to hang in the sky. Ansel, in particular, really seemed to enjoy seeing the planes and after one would come he would make the ASL sign for more. It was adorable that he thought we could just order up more planes to land for him. As we continued on the trail, which was heading in a Northwest direction, toward the airport (and toward the bay.) we were able to see planes taking off too, though not as well.

We found a good place to stop. Ansel started throwing rocks (with a little help from us on how to throw rocks away from people) and Cormac was intent on treating the stroller as a mountain to be climbed. Ryan seemed content just to be there with mom and dad, though he and Ansel did collaborate on filling my empty coffee cup with rocks. Many excellent pictures were taken, primarily by our friend M, but also by Dan and I. They are sprinkled through this post.

A good time was had by all and I foresee more years of airplane watching, maybe with our friends, in our future!

Spring Has Sprung

On Saturday our neighbor hosted an Easter Egg hunt for the toddler set. Though many of us first-time parents had low expectations, the kids took to it naturally. Cormac had a grand time pointing to the pastel-colored plastic eggs “hidden” in the yard. He filled his pail eventually, but at about half the speed of the other kids. Another neighbor with a son 1.5 months older than Coco said “I’m a little envious– does he always move at this speed? My guy is Mr. Energy!” I explained that Cormac is more of a relaxed observer-type, but that Ansel more than makes up for it with his frenetic energy. Unfortunately, Ansel couldn’t come because he had caught a cold. Though I’m sad he didn’t go to the Easter Egg hunt, I’m happy he napped for four hours instead.

Recently I’ve seen Cormac walking backwards several times, often with a silly smile on his face. This is a new thing for him. Surprisingly, he’s walking backwards before Ansel (usually Ansel leads with new physical abilities.) Speaking of which, Ansel can climb up our child-proof fencing like a little monkey, hooking his toes into the little holes in the fence. He hasn’t managed to go over the top yet (that we’ve seen), but we’re keeping our eyes on him…

The boys still don’t have many words– though they have added hot to their repertoire (pronounced “ha”). “Dada” is Ansel’s favorite word and he says it often. I’ve noticed him saying it more in the hour before Dan arrives home from work– does he know when to expect Dada? They’re pretty quiet overall, though they are doing some chattering. My friend Chris Walker says when they start talking it can be like your cat suddenly started talking. I can imagine– I’m so used to them not saying anything now. Today after Ansel woke up from his nap it was obvious what he wanted without words– he grabbed his snack cup and pointed to the cupboard that holds the Cheerios.

In other news Cormac has three freckles now– one on his neck, one on his chin and one on his forehead. Silly boy, doesn’t he know that freckles belong on your nose? Ansel is winning the tooth race: he’s got his eight incisors, top & bottom, his four first molars, top & bottom, and is now working on his two top canines! Cormac has his eight incisors and one molar. He’s not one to hurry.

Ansel loves to put things away. When Cormac came home with the pail full of easter eggs, Ansel spent a good 20 minutes emptying them out of the pail and then putting them back. Unfortunately, he’s still pretty aggressive about taking Cormac’s toys. Cormac doesn’t fight Ansel much to try to keep the toys but now he’s showing real frustration after it happens. Recently Ansel took a Patagonia catalog that Cormac had been looking at and Cormac turned to me afterward and very deliberately picked up a nearby toy and threw it down in anger. I felt like he was trying to say “Why does Ansel always take my toys?” or maybe “Why don’t you keep Ansel from taking all my toys?” We work with Ansel on sharing and taking turns (and are starting to work with Coco on his frustration) but we also know that they need to learn to work these things out between themselves too.

Coco and Ansel were sick through much of March and the nights got pretty bad (a post for another day perhaps.) Just recently the boys have returned to health and we’ve been trying to get our bedtime routine back to what it was pre-sickness: milk, tooth brushing, books, cribs, lights out, sleep. Since their sicknesses we often need to add 15-45 minutes of soothing before they go to sleep. Bedtime tonight was an interesting experience. I turned the lights out and rubbed their backs, talking about it being time to go to sleep (and warning them that I was going to leave soon.) They were both standing in their cribs, seeming agitated, so I kept rubbing their backs. Then Ansel reached up his arms and pushed me away. I was confused. He reached up his arms again but in a way that seemed like he wanted to be picked up. Instead of picking him up I gave him a big hug and told him that I loved him. Then I did the same for Cormac. They still didn’t lie down so I left the room intending to go get my cell phone so I could come back and chill out with them. As I left the room Ansel started crying but after I closed the door behind me the crying stopped within 30 seconds. I’m not sure but I think Ansel wanted to go to sleep but found my presence too stimulating and that’s why he pushed me towards the door.

I’ve noticed Cormac making arm rolling motions occasionally (like you do when you sing Pat-a-Cake) and I thought it was cute, but didn’t think much more about it. Today I noticed that he did it at breakfast when I said “it’s time to roll your sleeves up” and I realized that he was correlating “roll your sleeves up” with the lyrics “roll it” from Pat-a-Cake and I got really excited! They might not say much but their brains are coming up with connections that I never expected!

Also, they love to help us (sweep, vacuum, pick up (sometimes)) and are starting to care for each other, it seems. Oftentimes when we go into the nursery for naptime or bedtime, one or the other of them (especially Ansel) will hunt for their pacifiers and bring them to the other. And when one or the other of them is lying down for a diaper change and fussing about it, his brother will bring over a toy for him to play with while he’s being changed. I’m hoping this is just the start to a lifetime of fraternal affection for these two.

I can cook!

I feel like I’ve hit a real milestone in terms of my cooking. This week I improvised three meals, two of which were pretty good and one of which turned out ok.

I realize that improvising meals is commonplace for many people, but for me it’s a hard-won goal. I didn’t grow up cooking very much, I don’t really know why. Cooking meant making Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Top Ramen or Snow’s Clam Chowder. After I graduated from college my food appreciation grew as I started earning money and was able to go out to restaurants more. I still didn’t cook much, but my standbys extended to Dad’s simple meatloaf and Betty Crocker’s white chili. Interestingly my boyfriends have nearly always been better cooks than I was. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t need to know how to cook because they did it so well.

Another part of my hangup was a streak of perfectionism and fear of getting it wrong. My motto back then was: “It’s better not to try at all than to try and fail.” (Yeah, I know how dumb that sounds now.) Fast-forward through years of therapy and I finally became interested in risking more. That, plus I got a boyfriend (now husband) who chided me for my lack of cooking ability. In 2009(8?) we took a cooking class together, which helped me get more comfortable in the kitchen. After that I was more willing to cook, though I nearly always followed a recipe and panicked if I got any part of it wrong or if I didn’t have all of the ingredients.

Now, as a full-time stay at home mom for 10 months and since then, a part-time stay at home mom, I cook _all the time_. I’m finding I really enjoy cooking now, especially when it means feeding my family yummy, somewhat healthy meals. And to no-one’s surprise, when you practice something for hours and hours and hours, you get better at it. It’s really starting to feel more natural. I’m starting to intuit how to construct meals with certain flavors and outcomes. In no way am I saying that I’m now a gourmet chef, but I am becoming a halfway decent cook. One of the best parts about it is that it’s less stressful. Either I don’t care as much about getting it wrong or I have more confidence about getting it right, but whatever it is, I can relax more when I cook.

Which brings us to this week. I defrosted a couple of pork shoulder blade steaks from our CSA farms Riverdog hogs. I didn’t remember offhand how to cook them so I looked up a couple of recipes on the internet, but from there I winged it (and even more importantly, I didn’t worry too much about how it would turn out.) I found a spicy rub mix that we had laying around in the herb cupboard and rubbed it all over the pork steaks. Then I sliced a half onion I had laying around, a shallot and some garlic cloves and put that on the bottom of the slower cooker. I laid the steaks on top and poured in 1/2-3/4 cup of water and set the slow cooker to high for 4 hours.

By the end of that time the pork was about to fall off the bones– it was nice and tender. I washed some spinach (from the aforementioned Riverdog farm) and served the steak with a simple spinach salad with bottled honey mustard dressing. Nothing fancy but a decent meal and Dan mentioned that the pork and the spinach went well together.The cool part was the next couple days!

The next day I decided to make an Asian-style salad out of the leftover pork steaks. I shredded a portion of the pork, mixed it with the leftover washed spinach and boiled (over-boiled, oops) some asparagus to add to it. I cut up some candied ginger, some cashews and tossed them in there. I dressed it all with some bottled sesame ginger salad dressing we had lying around. It turned out pretty well and I did it all by instinct!

Then on the third day I decided to make tacos with the remaining pork steaks. I shredded the rest of the pork, cut up some cilantro, some black spanish radish (again from the farm), avocado, heated up some tortillas on the stovetop and served it all as make-your-own tacos! (Margaritas courtesy of Dan.) Along with some sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese and a simple salad on the side, it made for a simple and surprisingly satisfying meal.