Archive for September, 2009

My Neighbor Marilyn

Posted by laura on Sep 30 2009 | Uncategorized

We have lived on our street for twelve years. It’s not a long street, about .2 miles, but still there are 45 houses on it. Like any neighborhood, it’s always changing slightly with people moving in and out and houses getting remodeled, but there’s still a good number of families who have been here for a long time and give it character. Each home has stories and we’re lucky enough to know lots of them – of those 45 houses there’s only a handful of families we don’t really know.

I think it has something to do with the weather and the fact that we walk and bike all the time. We’re out on the street every day, and the houses are just too close to each other not to say hey as you pass by. Plus, once you get to know some of the long time neighbors, well, they’re your rosetta stone to the histories of all the other houses, current occupants and past. That said, we’re lucky that our street is friendly without being overwhelming; everyone seems to mostly care about each other and not get too nosy.

Not too nosy. That’s a fine line, sometimes.

Marilyn grew up in the blue house right across the street from ours and many years ago fell in love with the boy who was raised in our house. One of our other older neighbors told me once that it was an illicit romance; their parents didn’t approve, and they’d meet secretly at the bend in the road and take off in his car. They married and later divorced, and eventually she moved back to her family home where she began.

In all of the years we’ve lived here, I’ve spoken with Marilyn few enough times that I could count them. To say she was reclusive would be an understatement. She rarely left her home and never took us up on our invitations to visit with us, although I certainly didn’t push that one since I figured our house might not hold the best memories for her. On the rare occasions that we visited her, it was like stepping back in time; she kept the furniture exactly as her parents’ had it. Every surface of the house had a patina of cigarette smoke and the air was oppressive. She kept the windows and blinds closed all the time.

We knew Marilyn was not well. She wasn’t well from the day we moved here. She had a whole suite of complicated issues, and I never could figure out where the line was, in terms of trying to help her out. She clearly did not have any family or friends checking on her – no visitors save the occasional talk with us or Susan next door. Last year I spoke with her and became very concerned but she turned down offers for assistance or even connections to services that could give her a hand.

This afternoon, the police came and knocked on her door. We were in the kitchen when they came over to tell us that Marilyn had died. It had been some time. It breaks my heart to think of her in her last days and our not knowing. It makes me wonder if we should have been more nosy, if we could have charmed our way into giving her more of a hand. What is the line between respect and neglect in a story like this? I wish I felt sure we’d done everything we should. What a horrible loss, in every sense of the word.

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More Surprises

Posted by laura on Sep 27 2009 | Uncategorized

As if our week hadn’t been interesting enough, Hot Wheels decided to throw us a curve on Friday morning. He came out to the kitchen in the morning with a quirky look on his face and told us he “didn’t like swallowing so much.” That led to not wanting to eat breakfast, and shortly thereafter, the announcement that he was not going to school that day. Why not? “I’m just not right.”

At first I thought – Baloney! He has no symptoms: no fever, runny nose, cough. Does not liking to swallow qualify you for a day off? What sort of precedent would we be setting? But then I watched him, and felt he wasn’t trying to get out of anything. He really just wasn’t right, as he explained. We let him stay home. (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some doubts about whether or not we were getting played.)

By about 11 am, however, we had the evidence – 101.5 fever, stomach pain, red spots across his throat. By 1:30 pm we had the diagnosis – strep. By 5 pm he had relief – one dose of the antibiotic down, and he was already feeling like himself again. Now we just have to keep up the twice daily song and dance to get him to down the amoxicillin that tastes so horrid. Other than that, he’s completely repaired. We try not to use antibiotics unless we have to, and when we do, I’m profoundly grateful for them.

When we were in the pre-miracle drug portion of our Friday, we played board games and read and he moaned a bit. And we watched Nike commercials on YouTube. Recently I came across this one over on SwissMiss, and I’ve been addicted to it ever since:

I would have loved to be in the meeting when the creative team presented the idea of city-wide tag. Absolutely fantastic.

We watched another Nike ad for the Men vs. Women running challenge from the beginning of the year, and Hot Wheels is absolutely stuck on it. He describes it in detail to people and we showed it to our friends Amy and Andy when they were over this evening – afterwards he sighed and said, “I love that movie!” When Amy asked him what he liked about it, he replied, “I don’t know; it just makes me feel good in my body.” I’m thinking it might account for the 20 laps he felt compelled to run around our house this afternoon. The competition’s over, dude!

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Posted by laura on Sep 24 2009 | School, Uncategorized

I was standing next to the playground after school with some other kindergarten parents yesterday. These are new acquaintances, so we were chatting, getting to know each other a bit. Suddenly, Hot Wheels ran up.

“May I please get a drink of water?” he asked.

“Sure – go ahead!” I said.

There was a slightly awkward pause. I turned to the other mothers and said, “We have strict water rationing in our household.”

Thankfully they laughed and one said, “When we were at camp this summer, my son ran up to me and said, ‘Mom – can I play?’”

So what’s with the kids, eh? They won’t ask if they can roll one of their bikes down the ditch behind your retaining wall, or climb the tree with the skinniest branches, but they’ll ask if they can drink water? Instead of even answering the innocent requests, we really should be looking around wildly for whatever nefarious plot is really happening in the background.

And now for something completely different: I had some surprise visitors today:


I don’t know their names because they had collars but no tags. As I rounded the bend to our street on my bike today, they were poking around the bushes by the restaurant on our corner. I started up the street and saw a woman heading my way with a concerned, ‘where are those dogs’ look on her face. Thinking they all belonged together I told her the dogs hadn’t gone far. She replied that they weren’t her dogs, but she’d just seen them running across the super busy street together and was trying to nab them before they got hit.

One thing led to another, as it usually does, and once we’d rounded the dogs up it made sense to put them in my house as opposed to her car. Turns out the rescuer was my neighbor’s sister, which was fun – I’ve heard her name for so many years, it was great to finally meet her.

After I called the humane society and gave the dogs some water, I had that funny feeling you get with a baby that’s clean and fed… just what do I do with you now? I couldn’t put them in the yard, because our fence is more decorative than secure. I closed all the doors to the other rooms, since the lab was still young and interested in chewing on the kids’ toys. So they just followed me around as I put things away and tidied up.

That border collie was sweet as anything. She was clearly the older one and just so gentle and beautiful. Too bad whenever she sidled up for some scratching, the lab would jump all over her and shove her away. He was such a pup – all wiggly and pushy and eager. I hope their owner gets reunited with them quickly, and buys them some tags!

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Really, Wednesday?

Posted by laura on Sep 23 2009 | Not So Fun

• THIS is the state of our art room this morning.


• Our dishwasher is on the fritz, requiring me to rewash all of its contents by hand.

• I’ve been welcomed onto the board of two additional committees at the elementary school, and I have absolutely no recollection of signing up for them.

• I just came that close to walking out of the door with my t shirt on backwards.

Really, Wednesday? Are you sure you’re not Monday?

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There is no Casanova in the Kindergarten

Posted by laura on Sep 22 2009 | School, Tasty

Last week, the subject of birthdays had come up, and Tom asked Hot Wheels who he might like to invite to his birthday party this year. After listing a few friends’ names we were familiar with, he casually added, “my girl.” (He actually said “my gril” but I thought the barbecue image would just throw you all off.) It made me wonder when he started listening to the Temptations. Tom got to the bottom of it; Hot Wheels’ girl is a new classmate (let’s just call her K) who is super cute and tomboyish and fun. Turns out she likes him too. So fine, I think. Sweet.

Then yesterday I was chatting with Hot Wheels about his day, asking him what he did at school, and he said, “I played with K.” “That’s great,” I replied, “What did you play?”

“We played the kissy game.”

And that’s where we are. 3 weeks in. He was crushed to learn that it’s simply not appropriate to kiss your classmates. I tried to explain it to him without my voice rising and cracking in panic over the hours of teacher meetings in our future. 3 weeks in, and thankfully only just over 500 to go. No problem!

I guess it’s pretty hypocritical of me to say anything; I myself was engaged in kindergarten. When Bret and I looked down the corridor of our elementary school, we could see the future. The rest of our class would leave fifth grade through the doors at the end of that hall and turn right towards middle school; we’d simply turn left to wedded bliss. That was the plan, anyway. Bret’s family moved away the next year. Stupid Montagues.

Overall, however, school has been going great, particularly in kindergarten. My favorite thing so far has been hearing Hot Wheels singing new songs around the house practically every day. One afternoon he was snacking away in the kitchen and suddenly started up with Waddly Acha. I hadn’t thought of that one for years – I can still see my cousin Mary teaching it to me when I was in elementary school (this was years after I’d been dumped by my fiancé) and it brings back such great memories.

Honey’s classes are serious now, because they are in Fourth Grade. Fourth Grade, it turns out, is not for sissies. It’s not good enough to get the problems right, you have to write them perfectly as well. One missing comma means you get the question wrong. Very serious. Except for one day…

There’s a teacher across the hall named Mr. S. He’s a fourth grade teacher and he means business. He wears a suit to school and calls his kids by their last names. Or sometimes by a number. His room is a bit like basic training. However, he has an impish streak and loves to drift over to Honey’s classroom and interrupt her teacher, whose name is Mrs. S. (no relation). One day last week, he kept meandering into their classroom. “We have work to do, Mr. S.” Mrs. S. said to him. “You have to go now.” But he kept on drifting back in and bugging them. Finally, Mrs. S. closed the door after him and locked it. A short while later, the kids could hear the classroom printer running. Their teacher took the paper out of the tray and held it up. “Dear Mrs. S,” it read, “HI! – Mr. S.”

Enough school stories for now. Let’s look instead at this gorgeous bag of cucumbers that Joan dropped off yesterday.


Trust me – they’re cucumbers. I know they look like lemons in this picture – that’s because they’re lemon cucumbers. Tricky little things. She popped a fennel blossom on the top just to make it pretty.

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What We Love

Posted by laura on Sep 14 2009 | Awesome




Color changing Hot Wheels. They are beyond awesome.

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Midweek Miscellanea

Posted by laura on Sep 10 2009 | Bicycle

This morning I had my first meeting for the Safe Routes to School group for our district. I was a lightweight participant with this group last year – actually I was more accurately a featherweight last year, but I think with my newly rediscovered love of chocolate croissants I’m fixing that little glitch. Even though I was involved at the school, however, I never attended real meetings (horror) and so this morning I was in for a real surprise. It was both well attended and well run. What a treat.

There were coordinators from every public school in our town, as well as two private schools. We also had representatives from the district office and the CHP. (I know! CHiPs!!) Before this meeting, I hadn’t realized exactly how many organizations were working together to secure funding, educate the public and implement road & traffic improvements for safe routes in our county. They’re planning programs to encourage “green routes” to school, they’re building an online matching service for families to line up carpools and bike/walk groups so more kids can participate without having to travel alone, they’re making changes to sidewalks and crossings to raise driver awareness. It’s fantastic. Here’s a photo of some of the new bike racks our school has, thanks to one smart parent and a grant:


The big push right now is for International Walk to School Day, coming up on October 7. We’ve also been asked to implement a weekly table at school to acknowledge students who use green routes – bike, scooter, walk, carpool, camel, whatever. Like a “Walking Wednesdays” program. I’m trying to think of non-material incentives to get kids excited about participating. One of the local schools reported that their students just liked having their hands stamped when they got to school – I thought that was a great idea. If anyone out there has ideas, let me know!! We’re just trying to avoid sending the kids home with tchotchkes this year…

On a completely different note – literally – I recently saw this link on reddit to an old Washington Post article about an experiment they ran where they asked Joshua Bell to play in a DC metro station. If you didn’t get to see it, it’s worth a read – the article, Pearls Before Breakfast, has stuck with me for three days now. I just found it fascinating – what they thought would happen, what actually happened, the descriptions of the pieces Bell chose and even the history of the violin he plays. Amazing to picture a thousand commuters streaming past a world class violinist sawing away on a three and a half million dollar violin and not really noticing. The video isn’t that great, but the discussion about art and appreciation is compelling. See what you think.

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Weekend Camping

Posted by laura on Sep 09 2009 | Camping, Fun, Holiday


This past weekend we were lucky enough to go camping with our friends Amy and Peter and their boys. Tom took great joy in telling our local friends that we were going someplace incredibly exotic – perhaps they’d heard of it… San Rafael. For those of you who aren’t from our neck of the woods, it means we were camping about 15 minutes from home. In essence, it means that the campsite nailed my all-time favorite getaway goal, which is minimum travel distance for maximum effect. It might have been close to our home, but we were surrounded by campers from all over; our neighbors the first night were from Chile! They were on a bike tour starting in upstate Washington and traveling the way to San Francisco – with no set route or plan for each night’s stay. Suddenly our back yard camping felt a bit more exotic.

I’ve decided that camping is really a Virgo’s dream scenario. Think of the lists! The careful minimizing of supplies! It’s euphoric. Our friend Peter is just one badge shy of an Eagle Scout, and Amy is a list maker like me, so it’s insanely satisfying to talk to them about what they bring and the solutions they’ve come up with for comfort vs. carrying, in terms of what to pack. Peter even had his Boy Scout handbook with him – it has illustrations on how to pack your bag, people. Pages of knots and tent styles and fire structures. I get light headed just thinking about it.


We were staying at China Camp State Park, and on Saturday we headed over to the beach to play by the water and explore around a bit. I hadn’t been there in years, and it was a beautiful afternoon to enjoy the bay. The area was named after a Chinese shrimp fishing village from the late 1800s and you can stroll through some of the old buildings that still stand along the shore. Now it’s pretty quiet except for the day visitors and the mountain bikes whizzing along the trails nearby. The kids love, love, loved it. And of course you know what the whole weekend is about. You pack, and plan, and anticipate, just for this moment:



That’s what it’s all about. Ok, that and the beautiful moments falling asleep and waking up in a tent, listening to the sounds around you and bathing in that gorgeous filtered light. Sunday morning we woke to a quiet warbly scratchy bird sound outside our tent. Tom thought at first that it might be quail. Turns out that instead it was….


The blurry turkeys of San Rafael!!!! I just poked the lens of the camera out of our tent to grab this photo of them pecking around the fire pit before they scuttled off into the woods again. I know you’ll all think I photoshopped this just to get fame and fortune, but I swear the blurry turkeys exist in the wilds of China Camp.


I’ll leave you with the obligatory morning toast shot with vegemite. These were some happy campers. (I stuck with the muffins, though.)

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Wonders of Nature

Posted by laura on Sep 03 2009 | Fun







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You Say It’s Your

Posted by laura on Sep 03 2009 | Fun, Holiday

Birthday! Sing it with me!

Well, actually, it was yesterday, but what the heck. Sing it anyway. Who cares if you’re at work? Take a chachachachance.

What an awesome day – you wake up in the morning and you think, “It’s my birthday!” Or, if you’re particularly fortunate, you have a 5 year old waiting for you to wake up so he can whisper in your ear, “It’s your birthday.” You can have an extra [fill in the blank - croissant, coffee, cocktail...] without looking over your shoulder for witnesses, because well, hey – it’s your birthday. You can do all your chores and still have fun, because it’s your birthday. It’s GREAT.

Have a look at the cards the kids made for me. Bet you can’t guess who did what!


That’s me in the front of the bottom car. I think it’s a vintage Jag. I think I need a stylist.


Check it out! “My love for you is Explosive” – with volcano!!

I also had four birthday serenades – all amazing, and dinner out with wonderful friends. It was actually warm last night (because our summer always starts in September) and we were able to sit outside. I’m so grateful for all our family, friends and where we live – days like this are real reminders of our good fortune.

The other good news Dad and I figured out on the phone yesterday? I’m 39 – I’ve finally caught up to him.

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