Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Long Way from Home

What a whirlwind these few months have been, filled with lots of unpacking and challenging weather. As well as the fun of exploring beautiful and historic scenery. The people of Annapolis have been kind and encouraging. Autumn has launched a huge campaign to win my favor, and I can't say it isn't working. And yet my heart is still in California. I am desperately missing my family and friends and the familiarity of "home." It feels as though I am grieving, and I guess that I am. There is an emptiness that won't go away.

I can barely hold it together for phone calls home. I feel like a child at my first sleep away camp, trying to be brave and not beg them to come and get me. My grandma is moving into the home, and I'd love to be there to help her (and my mom) through this transition. A Santa Barbara friend starts chemo next week, and I'm not around to bring meals or help with the carpool. Friends are posting pictures at the pumpkin patch, a place with 12 years of traditions and precious memories for me, and the squeezing in my chest travels farther north with each pic, sometimes erupting into tears. FaceTime is the worst kind of torture, offering glimpses of living rooms whose smells and cupboards are more familiar than my own displaced ones.

This comes as a surprise to me. I pictured myself bringing a little bit of West Beach to the East Coast. I'd wear Uggs, write witty freelance articles from home while tutoring my children to academic success, and have intimate friendships across the nation. Boy, was I wrong, so far!  Life on the opposite coast with three lonely and active children, no network, and not so much as a neighbor to list on school emergency contact forms, seems a bit more chaotic.

The good friends we left behind are still an important part of our lives and special events. The five of us are learning to rely a bit more on one another, and the kids have a greater awareness of a mom and dad who don't leave or change - even when everything else does. My husband has a job that he loves, and sacrificially commutes so that our children can attend the best schools and I can be near the water. I am beyond grateful for the friends my kids are making here, and I’m really looking forward to meeting some new families. But you can bet that I'm counting down the days until the next California visitor.

Monday, September 10, 2012

August in Annapolis

When we broke the news of our impending move to friends and family in California, often their first comments were about the Maryland weather. "That's going to be a big adjustment," they'd say. And as I embark on week four of this new adventure, I can say that they were absolutely right; this is a big adjustment.

One thing East Coast weather has got going for it is consistency. You know when you wake up in Annapolis in August that it is going to be hot. That you will open the front door each morning and step out to feel God's hot breath on your skin. There is no wondering if you might need a sweater in the evenings (you won't) or an umbrella even though the sky is blue (you will). It just makes planning easier.

What I was really unprepared for is the bugs. We don't even own a fly swatter, for goodness sake! The deafening and constant screech of thousands of invisible insects is something I thought technicians invented for swamp scene ambiance in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride, not my real life backyard. The noise prevented sleep the first couple of days, but has now faded to become part of my everyday soundtrack. Although noiseless, I vow to continue my campaign against those little blood-sucking mosquitoes, who have devoured my children's legs and turned them into topographical maps of itchy red mountain ranges, until death do them part.

With all of this rain and heat and life comes intense beauty, too. Ivy tendrils that climb everything immobile, sailboats blowing under the bridges, the true green of mile-high trees that isolate neighbor from neighbor, birds of outstanding size and color, the 18th century bricks and domes and spires. It is easy to appreciate this new place we call "home," humidity and bugs and all.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Packing, Day 1

The boxes are being filled. The awful screech of the tape gun is a constant.  I've misplaced three fat black Sharpies today alone. Moving truck arrives in 7 days.

We are really doing this. 


There was a displaced bird's nest on the front step this morning. Poor little birdie, putting so much effort into that cozy little home and suddenly having to start anew. At least birds don't have to bubble wrap the nicknacks.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Summer Playlist 2012

I take any excuse possible to run errands on warm summer evenings after the kids are in bed. I love driving through town with the windows down, music blasting, and car seats empty.

I've been making summer playlists, or (as they were known in 1987) "mixed tapes," since high school. The first one was recorded on Memorex and came like a rite of passage along with a driver's license and diploma. Guns N Roses opened the collection with "Sweet Child o Mine" and side two peaked with Simply Red's "Lady in Red." 

I like to think that my musical tastes have matured a little in the years since high school, or at least broadened past Top 40.  (Now it is my children who obsess over Gotye and Katy Perry, and I who need an iPhone app to identify them.) But there are a few constants in nearly every playlist that I create. For reasons unexplainable, you'll almost always find Neil Young somewhere in the mix, as well as a hymn. And everything must be singable. Loudly, with the windows open.

Here is the "Summer 2012" playlist, and I think it's a dandy! Grab your keys and let's ride!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

I and Love and You

The kids and I spent the day road tripping home, and listening to this song on repeat. It perfectly sums up what our lives look like at this very minute, with one foot in California and the other in Maryland, heads spinning with details, dreams and tie cutting.

Just can't get enough of those Avett Brothers.

Load the car and write the note.
Grab your bag and grab your coat.
Tell the ones that need to know.
We are headed north.
One foot in and one foot back.
But it don’t pay to live like that.
So I cut the ties and I jumped the track.
For never to return.

Ahh Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.
Are you aware the shape I’m in?
My hands they shake, my head it spins.
Ahh Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.
. . .

Dumbed down and numbed by time and age.
Your dreams that catch the world, the cage.
The highway sets the travelers stage.
All exits look the same.

Ahh Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.
Are you aware the shape I’m in?
My hands they shake, my head it spins.
Ahh Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.

Three words that became hard to say.
I and Love and You.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sunshine and Sweet Tea

If Dolly Parton is right (and why wouldn't she be?) in proclaiming sweet tea "the wine of the South," then DC and I are going to get along just fine.

Sweet tea is my fuel during the summer. It is fun to drink and helps keep me awake when it's 91 degrees inside the house and I'd like nothing more than to nod off on a big veranda somewhere during those two days in July when summer actually comes to Santa Barbara. I'm perfecting the recipe now to impress my new Maryland neighbors with my southern hospitality after August 1.

makes 3 quarts

4 Pitcher-size cold-brew tea bags, 8 regular, or 6 tablespoons orange pekoe tea leaves in a diffuser
¾ cup sugar
Ice cubes
2 lemons, sliced (optional)
Fresh mint sprig (optional)

Place the tea bags in a large pitcher. Add 3 quarts cold water, and steep for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine 1 cup water and the sugar. Boil, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved.

Remove the tea bags. Add the sugar mixture and stir to combine. Serve over ice with lemon and fresh mint and a viewing of "Gone with the Wind," if desired.

*Recipe from Martha Hall Foose from her book Screen Doors and Sweet Tea (Clarkson Potter, 2008).

Monday, July 16, 2012

Life is Like A Box of Chocolate

According to experts, chocolate is now good for you. Feel guilt no longer; chocolate is actually good for the heart, brain and libido. Can I get an amen? 

That is more than the permission the kids and I needed to visit Papa during his shift at the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. If you ever find yourself cruising down I-5 through the nothingness of Lathrop, do something sweet for yourself and pit stop at Ghirardelli's ice cream shop. At $5 each, the "World Famous Hot Fudge Sundae" will not disappoint.

The smell alone is enough to get your dopamine levels rising, keeping travelers bellied up to the bar like alcoholics on a binge. Thankfully, you can't get pulled over for driving home under the influence of an over-sized sundae. Although, judging by the giddiness and volume of some of the pint-sized patrons, I'd say the hot fudge can definitely affect your judgement.

Life may be like a box of chocolates, but in this case, you definitely know what you are going to get: extreme indulgence.

Ghirardelli Factory Outlet: 11980 S Harlan Rd in Lathrop, CA

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Road Trip Games

Being on the road with the kids as the lone adult is a test of endurance. We were a mere 30-minutes into a 6-hour drive when the first “Are we there yet?” was heard, and only an hour after that when "I have to go to the bathroom" surfaced. I had packed a big fat bag of books and crafts with high hopes that the children would arrive at Grandpa and Grandma's cheerful and rested, even though Lucie did have to wait an hour for her dinner.

At the point when fidgeting and poking and simmering restlessness was about to boil over into mutiny, I came up with a game to unite the troops and distract them from their captivity. I grilled each of them in turn, asking all sorts of up-close-and-personal questions about their goals and future plans. Their answers and the laughter made us forget that we were hungry and out-of-sorts.  

Grayson plans to live in Austin, Texas, so that he can have a farm in the big wide open. He's not sure why more people don't live on farms where you can grow everything you need and don't have to work or need money? He'll bring his wife and two sons to live with him, but absolutely no little girls. Three Golden Retrievers, one for each of his sons and himself, complete the family, unless his wife wants a cat (she probably will). He'll need a full-size Dodge truck on the farm, even though he's not working. The wifey gets a minivan.

Lucie's top priority is to live in LA, so she can go to Disneyland everyday. She'll need a big place for her four horses, three Golden Retrievers, and three cats (so the dogs have something to do all day). There will be three kids: two girls and a boy (and a horse for each of them). No mention of a husband. She plans to be a horse trainer.

Violet has her heart set on becoming a Three Musketeer, but only if she can wear a pink cape (it is okay to be both ambitious and like pink, you know). She'll have a golden talking cat and a horse named Sweetie, both of whom will live in a hotel in Santa Barbara with her. There will be no car (she's got Sweetie the horse, after all), no husband and no kids. She says "they do too much crying and don't smell very good." (Kids that is, not the husband.) 

Even after being confined together in a small space for hours on end, these questions helped to remind me why I adore the company of my kids. You can use these questions, or just wing it on your next road trip.
  •  Where will you live?
  • What will your job be?
  • Will you be married?
  • Will you have kids? How many? Girls or boys?
  • Will you have pets? How many? What kind?
  • What will you drive?
  • What will you do for fun?
These dreams fit each of my kids so well, and represent such a sweet and innocent outlook. With any luck, they many even come true. Let's hope so.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Santa Barbara Fourth

Fourth of July in Santa Barbara is my hands-down favorite. Beach, barbeque, and bombs bursting in air. Nothing can beat it.

We spent the entire holiday with friends. There were ponies and hay rides, ice skating, water slides, and a live band. We pigged out on hamburgers, cupcakes and watermelon. At dusk we bundled up in jackets and hats, grabbed the sleeping bags and headed to Girsh Park for the best view of the fireworks. We've been doing this for a number of years, and it truly is my happy place. I love the patchwork closeness of our circle of friends and their blankets spread out on the grass, all of our hands digging into the same bag of popcorn. Our kids, who have known each other since birth, dance their hineys off and then giggle together under the blankets, foreheads touching and eyes sparkling.

Washington, DC is the ultimate place to be on Fourth of July. But will it give me this?

The fireworks were exceptionally smoky this year, causing bittersweet tears full of ash and pride to roll down my face. It was the best day of the year.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Perhaps I've lost perspective, or investing too much in the achievements of a 6-year-old. But I can't help myself; she smells like bubble gum.

Lucie taught herself to blow a bubble! We want to share this significant milestone in the life of an enthusiastic gum chewer with you.

(Apologies for the Drake & Josh noise pollution in the background, 
which has become the unfortunate soundtrack to my summer.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I Scream, You Scream

My mom and dad risked shame and flogging by wrapping up a kitchen appliance for my birthday. My mom, knowing how I feel about presents that plug-in, questioned Rob twice: "Are you sure that's what she wants?" But I did want it very much, and I'm not ashamed to say it: I'm in love with an ice cream maker.

July is National Ice Cream month, and my family is doing our part to celebrate. We've sampled and modified a number of homemade ice cream experiments, and have narrowed it down to two recipes that everyone loves. Think of this post as a Wagner Family Ice Cream Cookbook. 

The competition is by no means closed. July is a long, hot month and we are always willing to whip up another batch. Submit your favorite homemade ice cream recipe in the comments section below. (Particularly if you've got one that tastes like Haagen Dazs Coffee, hint hint.)

Happy freezing! And remember: there is almost nothing that ice cream can't fix.

2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt (organic tastes best, and make sure it is extra cold)
2 cups plain nonfat or reduced-fat Greek yogurt
1/2 cup superfine sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
Fresh fruit or other toppings

Whisk both yogurts, the sugar and corn syrup in a bowl until combined. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer's instructions (about 20 min).

For a soft consistency, serve right out of the ice cream maker. For a firmer texture, transfer the frozen yogurt to a covered container and freeze up to 2 hours.

Serve with assorted toppings. (I recommend strawberries and crushed Oreos. The kids like Fruity Pebbles.)

7 eggs, beaten well
2 cups superfine sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 quart half & half (cold)
1/2 quart milk (cold)
Beat eggs. Add rest of ingredients to eggs, except milk. Blend well. Pour mixture into ice cream freezer, and fill with milk to “fill” line.
Eat with a spoon right out of the ice cream maker. Or share with the rest of your family, if you are of a generous nature. My kids like to add chocolate sauce or warm caramel on top, but they aren’t really needed. Although fresh sliced peaches taste like heaven with a scoop on top.

Monday, July 9, 2012

When Life Gives You Lemons

In an effort to relieve some of the guilt for not bringing in any income, I agreed to help the kids with a lemonade stand today. This was not to be a Pottery Barn stand, with the lemon shaped ice cubes and matching straw dispenser and awnings, but an old-fashioned run-by-kids-using-mom's-card-table affair.

They did come up with a business plan, though: make enough money to buy an ipod. Well, either an ipod or a smoothie.

Grayson took charge of profit maximization, carefully coaching the 6-year-old wait staff on number of ice cubes and ounces allowed per cup, as well as drilling the girls on "cute faces" to coerce new customers. Lucie wanted to be the main squeezer, but when her hands proved too small for the task, settled for sign publicity. It was really important to Violet that she be responsible for the necessary job of stacking and sorting cups. And also looking cute (reference profit maximization tactics above).

I was touched by the number of neighbors who came out to support their little efforts. The cyclists who stopped along the bike path to refill their bottles with lemonade, the Hispanic gardeners who didn't speak English and then left a $5 tip, the friends who responded to my Facebook ad. The lemonade was gone long before the kid's enthusiasm.

And the smoothies were delicious.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Santa Barbara Summer

Since lazy and carefree aren't working out according to my pie-in-the-sky summer fantasy, and since I can't find any month long sleep away camps willing to take a 3-year-old, the kids and I sat down to brainstorm some old-fashioned summer fun to keep our minds and bodies occupied this summer.

Video games and texting did not make the list. What did make the list are the simple pleasures of summers past; imaginative activities that don't require special equipment or a lot of money. They will require the kids to change the default position from lounge lizards on the couch, and will also require, for the most part, that they wear more than underpants. Which may mean that, without physical intervention, the following list may be politely ignored. And also that I may be setting myself up for a month of nudging and nagging. Or it just may mean that I get my summer of bonding after all.

Wish me luck.

  • Hike Cold Springs Trail
  • Go camping at Ocean Mesa
  • See a movie at the drive-in
  • Host a lemonade stand
  • Go to the zoo
  • Go to Lake Casitas water park
  • Get Blenders in the Grass
  • Have friends over for a sleepover
  • Attend an outdoor movie party
  • See a Forester baseball game
  • Have a water balloon fight
  • Eat snow cones
  • Go roller skating
  • Play in the sprinklers
  • Decorate our bikes and have a parade
  • Build a fort
  • Eat watermelon for dinner
  • Go swimming at night
  • Go miniature golfing
  • Make homemade ice cream
  • Host an Uno tournament
  • Make homemade play dough
  • Make root beer floats
  • Go to the Warner Sea Center
  • Make and complete a timed obstacle course
  • Write letters
  • Blow bubbles
  • Perform a puppet show
  • Go geocaching
  • Paint rock animals

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Mom is Not A Doormat

Rob left yesterday for his third tour in Washington DC and I am determined to make this summer alone at home with the kids the best ever. I’ve calendared play dates and sleepovers and train rides and zoo outings and story times. It is only day two and already I’m busting my hump with crafts and lemonade and building forts and homemade play dough.  And in between I’m attempting to turn my little sideline freelance business into a livelihood.

Enter here the children, those ungrateful little nitwits, who make Veruca Salt look like a saint. These are children who aren’t afraid to injure one another over the last yogurt with the rabbit cartoon on it. They scoop Nutella from the jar with their fingers and then, after using shirts as napkins, criticize and reject the nutritious meal I’ve laboriously prepared for them. Their bodies go limp with injustice when I ask them to put on clothes or even, heaven forbid, brush their teeth. They are constantly touching one another and then screaming for me to make it stop. They are perfectly content to watch TV wearing only a cape and underwear for 18-hours a day.

But wait, this was going to be the best summer ever! Just the four of us, spending fun-filled days together in the neighborhood pool, going on lovely excursions to parks and the beach. We were supposed to be bonding and laughing and playing and exploring and having fun with each other. I’m not supposed to be screaming at them every five minutes that if they don’t stop hurting and teasing each other, then there are going to be serious consequences!

No, apparently, this summer is about delivering everything the kids want exactly when the little darlings want it, even though their behavior doesn’t warrant a reward. And I’m exhausted. I have completely stopped caring who started it, or who grabbed who, or who had the remote control first. I really just don’t give a crap. All I want is for the whining and the crying and the tattling to stop. 

So my summer of love has not started off as the love fest that I thought it would be. These are good lessons, though. I’m learning to roar and may end up going full-out tiger mom on my kids. And I’m definitely going to be seeking out schools with a year-round schedule.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Leprechauns and Tooth Fairies

After months (literally) of wiggling and pulling, Lucie finally lost her first tooth on St. Patrick's Day. It came out in a big glop of toothpaste as she brushed her teeth before bed, quickly followed by a fist pump and triumphant "YES!" Our household was already out to catch a leprechaun that night; now a winged tooth collector would be sneaking in among them.

When I asked her later whether she was ready to put her tooth under her pillow, she gave me a funny look. "I don't want to," she said. "I'm afraid that the tooth fairy will get eaten by Barley Pup." She would not be swayed by fairy tales or even the chance at $20 from her best friend, Kaci. Fairy safety remained top priority, and the tooth was safely hidden away where no fairy would ever dare to go (in the darkest regions of her sweater drawer).

The next morning she climbed into my bed for a morning cuddle, and said nothing about any nocturnal visitors. "So, did the tooth fairy come last night?" I asked, nonchalantly, as I smoothed her hair. "Oh yeah!" she remembered and bolted out of bed. She found her pink bedsheets sprinkled with glitter, and the following note tucked under her pillow:

Dear Lucie, 

         Congratulations on loosing your first tooth!
         I only have time for a quick little note, but I’m afraid that I wasn’t able to find the tooth you lost? The babies who need to grow teeth will find yours very useful, since I know that you take such good care of them – well done! We’ve been waiting for this tooth to come available all week!
         I’m afraid that I must fly away now – there are leprechauns causing mischief everywhere, and I’ve got lots of teeth to collect before morning.  I just hope the rest of the teeth are as nice as yours!
         Can I come back tomorrow night? Just leave the tooth under your pillow.

                           Lots of Love from Your Tooth Fairy,
She was enchanted.

The letter also reminded her that there had been a breeze through her room in the night, like wings fluttering nearby, and she was also pretty sure that she heard someone tickling Barley and that he really seemed to like it.

The future of the tooth fairy was secure. And Lucie did eventually get her $20, concealed within a box full of glitter (but no leprechauns).