Jonah at ten

Shortly after Jonah’s tenth birthday I hit a bit of a wall. I felt very out of sorts and couldn’t explain it. My sister pointed out that I haven’t been writing much at all over the past year, and perhaps that was keeping me from processing things in a way that’s healthy for me. I’m not sure I had fully worked through the magnitude of this birthday in my mind. 

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Halloween 2022: Descendants (and a sorcerer)

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve written anything here. I don’t have a good excuse, except that we listened to a podcast that dug into the reality that not getting enough sleep will kill you and I started going to bed a whole lot earlier. I used to stay up and write until midnight; now I go to bed when the kids go to bed.

There’s been no shortage of photo documentation of our days, but a whole year of things has passed without me writing about it. I’m going to give myself some grace and start here, at Halloween, and see where things go.

Vivienne pointed out that she’s often the first of us to decide what she wants to be for Halloween, and I do think she’s right about that. She’s been responsible for setting the theme the last few years. To be clear, I don’t insist on or even really push for a family theme; I know how improbable that is with such a wide variety of interests and I want Halloween to be what the kids want it to be. But we’ve gotten lucky the past couple of years and it worked out again this year. Well, OK, to be honest Jude is never on theme, but sometimes he’s close enough that I can pretend he’s on theme. Two years ago we all did Neverending Story and he wanted to be an Earth Giant from Frozen 2, but that was awfully close to the Rock Biter, and last year we all did Harry Potter and he wanted to be a made up spider by the name of “Lightning Spider” but it was easy to pretend he was Aragog. This year all I can say is, “Surely there’s some sort of invisible sorcerer on the Isle of the Lost, right?”

Vivienne wanted to be Mal from Descendants. I hadn’t seen any of the movies and when I looked the character up I immediately thought, “there’s no way I can make that better or for less, so let’s just buy the costume.” I hate the idea of just buying the costume, but it was what she wanted to be. But then Jonah said that if Vivienne was being Mal, maybe he’d be Jay. It turns out you can’t buy a Jay costume, so now I had to think about how to make one. As I brainstormed this it occurred to me that if two kids were being Descendants characters, maybe I should join them (I think I’d seen a movie or two by this point), and then Kristin asked who she could be, and we had a theme. I would be Uma, Kristin would be Hades, and Jude was a character of his own creation with a specific costume in mind.

I decided to search thrift stores for faux leather moto gear, and ended up finding two jackets and a vest on Poshmark. All of them were pure black to start. I learned that you can paint faux leather with basic acrylic craft paint and that you can put studs on without any special tools (with only one or two stabbed fingertips in the process). I honestly had SO MUCH FUN making these jackets.

I used a couple of different colors of green color-shift metallic paint, plus gold, and hot glued beads onto my Uma jacket to create the textured sequin look on hers. It was time consuming, but surprisingly meditative.

All of the pieces were a little imperfect (the Uma and Hades jackets actually both arrived falling apart, chunks falling off, total garbage, but the kids said, “that’s OK, everything on the Isle is supposed to be that way!”). Realism for the win, I guess? I wasn’t totally happy with the way the yellow came out on Jonah’s Jay vest, but he loved it and that’s all that matters. Originally I had it a much closer color to the original, but he wanted it warmer and I feel like it ended up a little nacho cheese, but whatever. He also really wanted the cobra on the back, and I was not at all confident about hand painting a cobra. I couldn’t find an affordable stencil and don’t own a Cricut, so in the end I decided to make my own stencil by printing the image, putting it into a plastic page protector, tracing it with a sharpie and then using an x-acto knife to cut it out. It wasn’t perfect, but it absolutely did the trick. I touched it up after the fact and he loved it.

I did Hades last, and you might have assumed I would have been tired of all of this by now but I wasn’t; I LOVED doing this Hades jacket. The jacket we bought had no studs, and we needed it to have a lot of studs. I bought two different sizes/shapes on Amazon and it was slow going, but Vivienne and I put them on by hand. The large ones were easy, the tiny ones were a giant pain, but I was really happy with how it turned out.

After the studs were done, I got to paint the details. Lost souls, blue flames, and the words “Soul Stealer” across the back. It was tons of fun.

Jude’s costume was simple but it may have been the most challenging. For some reason I could not figure out how to make an easy hooded cape. I like sewing, but I am am amateur. We bought the morph suit, but he specifically wanted a hooded cape with stars/constellations on it. I found the perfect velvet and my mom bought a pretty purple satin lining, but when my mom came over one weekend to help me make the cape we spent HOURS searching online for a tutorial that felt reasonable. Finally my dad came over and joined the search and we eventually found a no-sew variety and merged it with something slightly more complex and pulled it together. I won’t even pretend to be able to teach you how to make a cape; this isn’t that blog post.

He also wanted the cape to be lit, and fortunately I had several strings of mini-lights in a closet. I poked holes in the fabric and wove the wires through between the cape and the lining. Unfortunately when he wore it to school on Halloween some kid stepped on the battery box and ripped it off, so on Halloween eve I had to re-string the whole thing with a new light strand in time for trick-or-treating. I added a pocket for the battery box this time.

I think that Jonah looked just like Jay, especially with his long hair.

I found moto-leggings at Goodwill and painted them the same colors as the jacket to make them more authentic (but it took about a dozen coats because acrylic paint just soaks into black fabric). I decided to add the pirate hat from Decendants 2 because I felt like it completed the character, and had fun adding gold trim and seashells and crab claws to embellish it. I also made a gold shell necklace and shell earrings because the kids insisted that I needed them.

And Hades – I think she nailed it. We had a hard time getting the wig to stay in a mohawk, but I think we got the general idea. I repurposed fabric from Jonah’s dementor costume to make a black dress/toga of sorts.

Vivi expressed a little disappointment that her costume was the only one that I didn’t make by hand, but it seemed like she felt entirely confident and excited about it by Halloween. She loved her wig, and I did end up having to do a little sewing to take in her leggings because they were way too wide. I think she looked great.

My parents and my sister said that they think this is my best year so far. There are so many costumes that I’m proud of looking back, but this year sure was a lot of fun.

Hocking Hills State Park – the last road trip of summer

Last week we wrapped up our last road trip of the summer: camping in Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio. The weather promised to be dreadful for camping and hiking: hot, humid, and rainy throughout, but somehow we ended up having a wonderful time. Just two days ahead of time we found ourselves scrambling to buy sandals that aren’t flip flops for the two of us who didn’t have them, and lightweight raincoats for the four of us who didn’t own one (in all the right colors for the kids, of course, which complicates the matter). It was surely the muddiest camping trip we’ve ever had. The hiking though? Breathtaking. I had no idea that Ohio had such beauty in it.

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It’s August so I’m fretting about summer ending, but this year the feelings are bigger and more complicated because of the (almost) year and a half we’ve had. Adjusting to having everyone at home took four to six weeks at the start of the pandemic, and I’ve used that memory as an anchor when faced with a potentially undesirable change – just give it four to six weeks and it will all seem normal – and I’m telling myself that now, but I don’t feel ready for everyone to go back to school.

This week the kids are at day camp and it’s an abrasive reminder of what it’s going to be like to have to pack lunches and backpacks and leave the house at a designated hour every goddamn day. I’ve loved our slow mornings, I’ve loved not having to get anyone anywhere on time, but mostly I’ve loved sharing a space with them and having the opportunity to watch the way they grow and learn and choose to spend their time when it isn’t being stolen from them by school. And I love their school, but after this year it’s hard to believe that they truly need to be there for seven hours a day.

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Review: Getaway tiny houses – with kids

I first heard about Getaway, a chain of properties scattered throughout the US (largely within a short drive from major cities) that offer the opportunity to unplug and get out into nature by renting a tiny house without wifi, when a friend sent me an article about an outpost opening about 40 minutes from here. This particular location is technically considered a Getaway from Chicago (significantly further away), but that’s kind of their market. They appear to be aimed at young urban professionals with a demanding, fast-paced lifestyle who are looking for a chance to escape and simplify for a bit. Since our location had yet to open there was a promotional rate of $129/night which felt more than reasonable, so we decided to book a two night stay for early July. As the date approached we began to worry that maybe we weren’t exactly the target market they had in mind and that getting away with three small children in a quiet tiny house community might be a terrible idea, but we went for it so I thought I’d write a quick review.

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Five things right now – May 2021

I’ve written so little this year, and I don’t know if that’s because I’m feeling less clever or because there’s so much less variety in my days so I have nothing new to say. So here are five things right now. And maybe some entirely unrelated photos because I haven’t kept those up either.

Plants. I love this time of year because after such an incredibly long stretch of grey/brown cold seeing things come alive again is like stepping into Oz. It lifts my spirit in a way that few other things can. Also, being out in the yard takes me out of this incredibly messy house and lets me forget about that source of stress temporarily. While the boys enjoy picking out plants and love watering, Vivi is my real gardening partner. She’ll spend all morning weeding with me and won’t lose interest and wander away when I’m planting. Today we put her zinnia seedings and pumpkin plants, all grown from seeds in the window, into the garden. Here’s hoping that chipmunks don’t take them all down.

Kids being kids. Last night our nature center held a drop-off event for kids. All outdoors, all masked. K and I are both fully vaxed at this point and we hadn’t eaten in a restaurant for ages, so we took the opportunity to go out to dinner on our own. The kids were looking forward to this event for weeks, but when we dropped them off we were worried and felt fairly certain that at least one child would end up in tears. They haven’t been away from us much at all in over a year – they’ve kind of lost their tolerance for it. When we picked them up though, they were all smiles. Jonah said that he didn’t want it to end because they were engaged in an epic game of tag. Vivi shouted that she made two new friends. And Jude talked about the trails they’d explored. All three raved about the campfire and the s’mores, and as their energy buzzed I looked at Kristin and almost cried. They’ve missed this SO much.

Zoom lipstick. I don’t know who needs to hear this but it’s a thing. You can be even less put together than you already were 14 months into this pandemic and still look good in meetings. You’re welcome.

The rabbit hole of exterior home design. Having our roof done has been on our list for several years and we decided that this summer is the time. And changing the roof color made us want to re-think the colors of the house, because we’ve never loved them. Initially I wanted to leave the brick because painting it felt like a huge commitment to upkeep in the future, but after tons of research we came to the conclusion that the only trim colors that work with our peachy brick are cream, brown, and red. We don’t like any of those. So we decided to paint the brick, and we’ve been down the rabbit hole of paint and shingle colors for many weeks now. Is every home project just a cascade of, “well if we’re doing this we should probably also do that…”? Now we’re committed to roofing and paint and are also pretty set on wrapping the wrought iron column in wood and maybe adding more wood to the exterior, then we called a landscaping company to see about removing the two ugly yews in front of our front door. I’ve already bought two new planters for the patio because once we paint we’ll want a new style…it’s getting a little out of hand. But we’re excited. And we’re fairly sure we’re painting the house black, which we realize is controversial, but it takes me forever to commit to a paint color anyway so luckily we have some time. The painter can’t be here till August.  

We recently picked up Discovery+ which is perfect because it’s mostly just house shows and science shows. Jonah and Jude love anything that involves Adam Savage, and Vivi and Kristin and I love home design shows. Vivi has such a good eye for design at this point that she’ll say things like, “I wouldn’t paint the house black unless you can do the windows in wood, and we should probably have wood garage doors.” Sure V, we’ll just add $10K to that tab, but you’re not wrong.

Slowly thinking about summer. Normally after Christmas we start thinking about plans and putting things on the calendar to look forward to. We didn’t do that this year because life felt too confusing and uncertain, but eventually (thanks to K) we booked a mountain house in Georgia for spring break. It turned out to be a really lovely week, colder than anticipated, but still incredibly nice. Then we made the same sort of mistake and made absolutely no summer plans, and here we are four weeks out from summer and the kids are asking what they have to look forward to. So we’re slowly trying to figure out what we can do, booking a week of day camp here, a weekend trip to Chicago there, and today we booked the trip to Mackinac Island that the kids love so much. It will be the first year they all bike the island on their own two wheels since we skipped it last summer. We’ve gotten word that more than one long-time friend will be passing through town this summer, one from Seattle and one from out East, and we’re feeling hopeful at the possibility that we’ll get to see people we love a lot more in the coming months.

And my parents come back to town soon, which is always something to look forward to. So that’s it, five things right now. What’s on your mind these days?

The twins turn six

I’m stunned at every birthday. It all just races by.

For last year’s birthday we planned to take them up north for a long weekend away, including a stay at an indoor water park that they love, but we scheduled it several weeks out from their birthday and by the time the date arrived we were already in lockdown and had to cancel. They haven’t forgotten and still ask when we’ll finally be able to fulfil that promise, so for their birthday this year we really wanted to be able to do something special. I told them weeks earlier that we could take them skiing for the first time if they wanted to, and they were thrilled. Vivienne in particular has felt a certain injustice every time I leave to ski with only Jonah. But as the week approached the weather was warm and the snow was melting and sloppy and things began to look uncertain. We scrambled to find something different at the last minute, thinking that horseback riding might be an excellent alternative. The Saturday morning before their birthday though, we decided to stick with the plan to ski, 45 degrees or not.

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Scattered thoughts on connection

Last night I was helping Vivienne make dinner. She loves to cook lately, and she’ll proudly go over to the meal planner on the fridge and write, “I cook” on a given night and then tell us all of the ingredients she needs. Last night it was sauteed mushrooms and white rice (always), a salad with spinach, hearts of palm, and avocado, a fruit salad, and buttered bread. I turned on a go-to playlist while I helped her, and when Rilo Kiley came on I immediately thought of an article about Jenny Lewis that I read a couple of years ago. There was this passage that I loved, not only because it was so well constructed but also because the punch line was wickedly funny and perfectly timed. As soon as I thought of it again I found myself wanting someone to laugh and relate with. I texted the friend of more than 20 years who I sent it to and laughed with the first time I read it. She’s way out in Seattle and I don’t even know when I saw her last. The memory made me miss her. Suddenly I missed laughing with people about something we all understood. I sent a text to my go-to group thread of local friends asking first if anyone listened to Jenny Lewis or Rilo Kiley, to see if the reference would land. No one responded. I remember when liking the same music was one of the major grounds for friendship. Now I don’t think I could name what kind of music any of the friends on my group text thread listen to. Isn’t that strange?

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Christmas break 2020

Today was the first day back to work and school following the break, and absolutely no one felt ready. Actually, I thought that I was at peace with it and Kristin thought that it would be awful, but then today came and went and Kristin was celebrating the fact that she got through the day and it wasn’t terrible, and I on the other hand found myself really craving the freedom to sit in front of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle for hours (the one that I started several days ago and have yet to finish). The kids moaned about school but actually seemed fine when the time came (Jonah actually seemed very enthusiastic about a new student teacher in his class when he learned that they share a love for the Harry Potter books).

Around 2:30 this afternoon Jonah asked me to build a fire because he wanted to work on LEGOs in front of it, and Jude and Vivi curled up with their audiobooks and I could tell that we were all wishing we had a little more unstructured time left.

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