Don’t Go Out the Front Door (Or Under the Kitchen Sink)!

It’s funny how being a parent alters the way you look at things. If you’ve been there (or currently are there), you know what I mean – cleaning up traditionally repugnant substances like poop, vomit or any other of the vast variety of sputum becomes, through some reverse transubstantiation, as mundane and ho-hum a task as sweeping up cracker crumbs. The point being, if you’re a parent, then you just don’t get freaked out about the same things you used to.

The same could be said for situations that don’t involve the body’s by-products. For example, a couple of evenings ago while Lizzy and I were getting supper ready, Sarah popped out the front door unattended for a bit of pre-dinner running around. We don’t normally have a problem with this sort of thing, as long as we know where she is and we’re able to check on her every few minutes or so, so we let her do her thing while we went about setting the table.

Upon coming back into the house Sarah proudly informed us that she had made a “garden” on the front step (see picture). We went out to have a look, and, sure enough, she had gathered various flower petals and arranged them in a neat pile, surrounded by carefully chosen twigs, on the stone tiles in front of our door.

Lizzy and I both oohed and aahed accordingly while Sarah bounced into the house, proud of her achievement. And really, who can blame her? Look at her choice of color, the arrangement of the material, her selection of found objects – quite impressive, if you ask me.

“It’s my garden!” Sarah beamed, hopping about in the living room.

“How nice!” Lizzy beamed in response.

“That is beautiful!” I offered enthusiastically, beaming even brighter.

“Yes!” Sarah beamed some more.

If you haven’t noticed, we’re one of those families that tends to beam a lot.

We were just at the point where even the cats were about to start beaming when Sarah, buoyant as ever, added:

“Somebody died there!”

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those movies where the family moves into a new house and the littlest one – usually some dour, brooding type – stands at the top of the stairs and utters an ominous and foreboding non sequitur like “It’s in the cellar,” or “Why is the floor all red, Daddy?” and the parents brush the statement off with a distracted tousle of the kid’s hair and a casual “Aw, how cute…now go play with your new Heretic Necklace, Dakota!”  Well if you have then you know that the child’s announcement would have in actuality portended the demise of both the house and family, most likely at the hands of some ancient daemon or disgruntled Native American’s curse. Additionally, you’ve probably shaken your head incredulously, questioning how any adult could possibly have be so clueless as to have missed the obvious warning.

But there we were, all smiles in the living room as Sarah, skipping over to the dinner table, reiterated her statement that her creation commemorated some poor soul’s demise. Lizzy and I exchanged a chuckle, mused on our daughter’s creativity for a moment, then went back to the dining room.

I mean, are we crazy? Sarah’s flower and stick arrangement turns out to be not just a spontaneous and girlish burst of creativity but instead memorializes some imaginary person’s death and here we are, thinking, “Oh, kids….” Next thing you know walking out back and finding Sarah drawing chalk pentagrams on her Melissa & Doug easel while speaking in tongues will be a common occurrence, as will waking up in the middle of the night after some fitful dream and finding her standing over our bedside in the dark, brooding silently.

Of course, just this morning while getting ready for school Sarah amused herself by opening up the cabinet door under the kitchen sink, happily muttering “Monkeys, monkeys, monkeys…” so maybe the whole death-shrine thing is nothing to worry about. I mean, I’m certainly not going to believe a four year-old’s claim that there are anthropoids under our sink, so why give credence to anything else her healthy imagination feels like producing? Just encourage and move along, right?

I guess the desensitizing aspect of parenthood serves a pretty good purpose. Otherwise we’d be far too grossed out to clean up any of the messes, or too concerned about monsters in the closet – or, say, monkeys under the sink – to function properly. And while I may never know if anyone did ever die on our front door step, I can say with a pretty high level of confidence that there are no monkeys, under-sink residing or otherwise, anywhere in the house.

At least, I don’t think there are.

Aw, crap.

Catching Up.

It’s been a while now since I last posted, what with summer and its myriad events taking up much of the Miller family’s time and all, but now that it’s mid-September I guess I really haven’t much of an excuse any more. Try as I might to put it off indefinitely, I’m afraid there’s no use fighting the inevitable much longer. It’s time to do some catching up.

As alluded to above Long Beach, in the summer, can’t seem to let anybody settle down for a weekend of mere leisure. I swear that from May through September there is on every single weekend some sort of festival celebrating a specific style of food, music, culture – you name it, there’s a festival for it. There’s a Crawfish Festival, Bayou Festival, Blues Festival, Jazz Festival, Funk Festival, Lobster Festival, a Sea Festival, Greek Festival, the E Hula Mau Hula dancing Festival and Competition, and more. There’s Seal Beach’s Fish Fry, what’s called “Taste of the Coast,” (wherein local restaurants peddle their food from booths on the Long Beach Pier), and of course the annual Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

This last event we generally avoid at all costs, being the blue-state, hybrid driving, solar oven using socialist elites that we are, but fortunately for us we can hear the damned cars all weekend, even from many miles away. So we got that going for us.

The extracurricular activities aren’t limited to weekends, either: there are several “Stroll and Savor” weeknights (same concept as “Taste of the Coast;” here though the restaurants along Second Street serve their food to passersby from the sidewalk outside their location), Thursday night Concerts in the Park, and a Wednesday evening Farmer’s Market that has not only the requisite local produce on display but also provides music, crafts, and booths serving everything from ribs, Asian chicken, Spaghetti and New England style fried seafood to sweet crepes.

Of course we still haven’t figured out how to check out a calender of events before the summer starts, so our routine usually involved dilly-dallying around with Sarah for the first half of a Saturday before finding out, purely by accident, that one of the aforementioned festivals was starting oh my god TODAY! Then we’d run around feverishly tossing stuff in the backpack, thinking “What luck! If we hadn’t happened to have passed Rainbow Lagoon on our way to rushing Sarah to the emergency room with most of a tube of Mentos stuck up her nose, we’d never have noticed that the Incan Quechuas festival was in town! Screw the hospital – we’re dancing to charango and wooden flute renditions of classic rock songs today!”

Which Sarah would be fine with, of course, even with the Mentos, because like all kids she loves anything with lots of singing and dancing. Her favorite, so far, is the Crawfish Festival, which has tons of Cajun, Zydeco and New Orleans style music, a neat dance area, and more boiled crawfish than anyone has ever seen outside of Louisiana. We went last year, as well, but never got around to sampling the food due to the nearly two hour – yes, two hour – wait in line for the salty red critters. That, along with poorly marked entrances and some god-awful parking, led to much grumbling among the festival-goers and, consequently, a lot of bad reviews on Yelp. Ouch. As we all know, if there’s one thing that’ll make you take a good hard look at yourself and reevaluate your place on this earth, it’s a bad review on Yelp.

Not that we minded, having gone pretty much just for the music (Sarah being only two at the time), but this year the organizers seemed to have taken the poor reviews to heart and worked out many of the bugs. We had a great time dancing to the live music, watching all the older, purple-clad and parasol-wielding ladies and gents parading around to “When The Saints Come Marching In,” and yes, dining on mounds of steaming red crawfish with corn and boiled potatoes.

Which, to be honest, wasn’t much to write home about. We’re from New England, dammit, and we grew up on lobsters – like, whole lobsters, some weighing even more than two pounds. Crawfish, it turns out, are so tiny that in order to get anything resembling meat out of them you have to chew and suck on the body in a disgusting and primitive manner, looking not unlike one of those monkeys one sees at the zoo always making short work of some nut or tropical fruit. It’s embarrassing, of course, but the humiliation of exhibiting oneself this way pales in comparison to the revulsion one experiences upon witnessing the masses around you doing the same. I had a roommate a long time ago who similarly tucked into his roasted chicken legs. It’s damned unnerving, it is, and it nearly puts you off your own food.

But we still enjoyed it, and that includes Sarah, who attacked her crawfish with aplomb. She’s got a good palate, that one, which I have to admit makes me particularly proud, though nothing could prepare me for my surprise on a subsequent weekend when, while visiting the aforementioned “Taste of the Coast” on the pier, she downed – happily – three beautiful, briny, recently executed oysters on the half shell. I kept waiting for her to, y’know, gag as she chewed up the unfortunate bivalves, but it never happened – in fact, she even asked for more. A month or so later she and I were having lunch by the marina after a nice ferry ride, and she had a couple oysters then, too, so it’s not, at least for now, just a fluke.

So yes, the festival experience has been enjoyable, but this being southern California, we also found time to visit all the beaches: Long, Seal, Huntington, and Santa Monica, Pier included.  Throw in two trips to see family (One to Hawaii and one to N.E. – both sans me), a couple of days in San Diego and, of course, Disneyland, and it’s been a busy summer.  I for one am glad that it’s over, if only so that my skin color can return to it’s natural, corpse-like hue. Now we have fall to look forward to, which, after we slog through September, will bring all sorts of other opportunities for weekend fun.

Pumpkin Patch, here we come!

I Wish That I Could Go To Just One Party That Didn’t Have The Word “Birthday” In It.

Wait, did I ever say that I would actually post here on a regular basis? Is that really what people do when they have blogs – post things regularly?

They do?

Really?

Oh.

My bad. So anyway, Sarah turns three today – three! – and as you would expect we’re all pretty excited. Admittedly, the significance of this particular day might be stronger felt if we hadn’t been celebrating her birthday for a whole week already, but who am I to complain? The more parties the better, right?

Believe it or not, we’re the kind of parents who fully intend to keep these annual ceremonies small-ish and manageable. I’m looking for a word here – dignified doesn’t really work, not with children…tasteful, no… free of clowns, jugglers, balloon animals and bounce houses, too wordy…how about…underwhelming. Yes, that’s the word. We’d like to keep all of these parties underwhelming. The idea is that Sarah will grow up having learned the value of a nice, quiet evening spent with a small group of well-chosen, and ethnically diverse, friends. I’m thinking tapas. She’ll thank us, I’m sure.

Well, okay, so I’m kind of kidding. Bounce houses and jugglers are actually awesome, and Sarah has already shown an affinity for balloon animals (at least, those not attempted by me), so of course we’d never deny her the pleasures of a normal , whimsical childhood. We do still prefer to keep things small, however (and if a clown dares to come within 50 yards of us I will call the cops), but as any parent knows, what we’d prefer to do and what winds up happening are often two different things. Particularly when one factors in the needs of one’s extended family members, Sarah’s current schoolmates, and the kids and parents from her past “mommies” group – many of whom have already had you over to their kid’s birthdays so you know what that means.  Well I don’t know about you, but there’s no way that we’re fitting all these people under one roof in one day, so it looks like we’ll have more than one party – in this case, make that four parties.

We had our first party last Saturday, and I have to admit it went swimmingly. And no, it wasn’t at a pool, smart guy, it was at a gym, specifically the “Kidnastics” in Los Alamitos. Kidnastics, as the name implies, is a pretty straight-forward and self-explanitory concept, and if you need any advice or guidance as to what it entails then for you I feel only pity.  We have been going to this gym weekly, and it’s an absolutely fabulous time for all involved. This was actually a duel birthday party, an old playmate of hers having turned three a week prior, and was a co-production of the respective parents. You would think that that would lessen the workload, especially taking into account that both we and the other parents wanted to eschew all excessive elements (no gifts please, no decorations, and no party favors), but that would only have been the case if one parent hadn’t offered to make the cakes at home rather than buy one fully decorated, as is customary. That parent was a fool.

That parent was me.

I do all of the cooking around here, but baking cakes is not my thing. Oh, I’ve tried – I remember struggling two years ago on Lizzy’s birthday, hovering over a large mixing bowl with my cheap, Target-bought hand mixer, waiting what seemed like hours for the damned butter and sugar to cream. Well, I had no intention of doing that again, and vowed early on to use only store-bought cake mix, but I still wanted to do something nice. I knew there would be at least 15 kids so I decided to make a double-layer sheet cake, which I could then frost decoratively. Both kids’ names would be written, in perfect script, with icing.

Figuring out how many boxes of cake mix would be needed for the sheet cakes was a trick – it turns out two boxes will fill one sheet tray with a bit left over, which means that I would need to mix up four boxes, eyeball how much to put into each sheet tray and then bake either a small cake or several cupcakes with the leftovers. There was also the matter of adjusting the cooking time (since most boxes include directions for a smaller cake), baking them without overcooking the sides or undercooking the middle, and then – if I were lucky enough to get this far – inverting the cakes out of the trays cleanly without destroying them.

And yes, ultimately I had to run back to the store for more ingredients – not only because I wrecked one cake by undercooking it but because I realized, after staring at the sheet trays and going over the numbers in my increasingly panicky head, that I would not have enough to feed all the kids and the parents. So two sheets of cake turned into four (plus the one that I had to redo), and the amount of icing I had planned to make doubled.

[On a side note – if you’ve made cakes from a mix you know that you still need some ingredients – the first mix I bought required lots of butter, eggs and milk; the second (when I went back the store was out of the original stuff, natch) needed oil, eggs and water. Add to that the ingredients required to make the icing – 10x sugar, Margerine, shortening, milk, vanilla and food coloring – and you suddenly know with absolute certainty that anyone who says it’s cheaper to make your cakes at home rather than buy them fully baked and decorated is a complete ass.]

So ten boxes of cake mix, two dozen eggs, a bottle of vegetable oil, one pound of butter, a half pound of Margerine, six pounds of powdered sugar, a half gallon of milk and an immeasurable amount of shortening later, and I had my two cakes. Each cake was decorated in light blue and dusty-rose pink (initially designed to be gender-neutral but ultimately looking very pastel), and each read Happy Birthday!!! Isaac and Sarah in purple icing. A large candle in the shape of the number “3,” purchased at the local Ralph’s, would top off the ensemble.

As I said, the party went off without a hitch – the kids played happily while the parents chatted, we didn’t run out of pizza or drinks, and the wonderful staff at Kidnastics not only entertained and monitored the children while the parents gabbed, but also cleaned everything up at the end.

And, of course, we didn’t even touch the second cake.

So that’s one down and three to go. Sarah’s classroom is having a little thing today (another joint venture with a classmate), we’ll do something just the three of us this coming Saturday, and then we’re heading out to New England to visit the family where yet another party, this time with lots of alcohol and seafood on the menu (finally!),  awaits us. At this rate I figure we’ll be done celebrating some time this coming August.

Oh yeah – anyone need a cake?