Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Everything but the kitchen sink

This is a kitchen sink post and a long one at that. I'm throwing everything in this one, none of it connected and none of it relevant to the news of the day.  Thank God for that; nobody wants to further discuss the news of the day because wow, what a shitshow.  

So school's back in session. My kids are older and wiser, their fresh little smiley faces heading out the door for a great new school year.  A friend on Facebook circulated the following article to help us "prepare healthy lunches!" for the new school year.  Brimming with back-to-school energy and enthusiasm, I clicked on the link.  I found the article immensely helpful.  (It's hard to tell in writing but that last sentence was sarcasm at its most exaggerated.)

As I stand late at night in the kitchen packing the following day's lunches, I conjure the following phrases: "Hudson has always loved Asian flavors" and "Maca is a Peruvian superfood; look for it in powdered form at health food stores" and my personal favorite, "The slightly sweet addition of mirin, a small amount of sugar, and (optional) dashi broth, transforms eggs in the most comforting of ways."

I then send a couple quick faux apologies up to my kids asleep in their beds and toss a couple stale bagels, devoid of cream cheese because we're out again, into their lunchboxes.

Maybe I should try packing lunches like Goop suggests just one time. It wouldn't be for health reasons; it would be more for entertainment. I like to picture Lucien's face should he crack open his lunch to find a Japanese sweet omelet and some lemon tamari dipping sauce for his pickled vegetables.  I can hear the incredulous "WHAT THE HELL, MOM......what is this pretentious crap......well, at least the eggs are comforting with that sweet addition of mirin."

I'm not entirely immune. I will admit to getting sucked into a tiny bit of parental overkill.  Coco recently had a birthday and requested a circus party.  I booked a party at SANCA, our local School of Acrobatics and New Circus Arts (we got it all in Seattle, trust it) and vowed to "keep it simple."  I was not going to bake anything, cook anything.  I was going to buy a tray of cupcakes, a few bags of pretzels, maybe some juice boxes if I was feeling generous.  Have some fun, throw a few bags of popcorn at them, get it done, that was the plan.

Then Coco said quietly, "Oh. I was hoping for a real birthday cake" and something immediately switched inside me.  Of course she needed a real birthday cake!  Yes!  Baking and lots of it!  Now!

I'm weird like that, can be very all-or-nothing.  I'm either in front leading the parade or I'm hiding in the corner hissing at people.  Hanging out in the middle doesn't last long for me so I went from "I'm not baking a damn thing and they can deal with it" to "I'm gonna bake the best birthday cake that girl has ever seen, it's gonna blow her dang mind" in a matter of seconds.

The next events were as follows, in chronological order --

*Log on to Pinterest*
*Search for a circus cake*
*Regret logging on to Pinterest*
*Feel bad about myself*

Well way to go, Lucas, lucky you.
PS. The number on top tells me Lucas is turning 1.
He is never going to remember this cake
which tells me you are not baking this cake for Lucas at all.

What is a Hezry?
Do you think they just mis-spelled Henry, accidentally flipped the "N" on its side?
 I like to think they did -- less perfect.
(Hez(n)ry, by the way, is also turning 1, though this cake seems more reasonable)

what fresh hell is this.

Pinterest is full of overachievers. I quickly abandoned Pinterest and instead Googled "easy birthday cake recipes" where I stumbled across the rainbow cake idea.  Perfect.  I threw myself into its creation.  A rainbow cake is a six layer cake, each layer a different color of the rainbow.  It took a long time. There was fondant and sprinkles involved. I was sweating profusely by the end.

It ended up being the tallest cake in existence because I didn't shave down my layers sufficiently.  It tipped over halfway through the cutting and serving, no longer able to stand on its own.  It was a top heavy rainbow sonofabitch.

But Coco was happy.  And I do love to see my Coco girl happy.

Speaking of Coco, we're a little concerned.  Alex took Coco to a video arcade recently that had one of those claw machines -- the machines that are rigged to rarely, if ever, let you win anything.  Still, she tried.  And tried.

Coco had been given a set amount of money to use at the arcade and it was dwindling quickly.  Alex tried to reason with her, explained the claws are intentionally weak-springed so they don't hold onto toys very well and suggested maybe it was time to try another game. She stopped speaking to Alex after that, stopped making eye contact, just kept pumping quarters into the claw game.  I soon thereafter received a text that said, "Help. Coco is like a degenerate gambler."

She came home with a stuffed animal she won from the claw game and a smug smile on her face. Coco has an iron will -- which should bode well for her, except that sometimes she can also be unreasonable.    

Speaking of gambling, Alex and I went to Snoqualmie Casino awhile ago with a couple friends.  We are not casino people but thought it would be fun to try something different. Even better, we decided to take the casino bus from Seattle instead of driving.  We pictured the casino bus as being a fun time -- champagne flowing and upbeat music playing for festive bus riders and whatnot. The casino bus was a total party in our minds.

The casino bus is not a total party.  It is the opposite.  The casino bus is a silent, kind of depressing thing full of mostly elderly people, half of whom are asleep.

The casino itself was also not fun.  After our initial shocked gasps at all the smoking happening inside the casino (it's on a Native American reservation so they make their own smoking rules) we promptly bought a pack of cigarettes, giggling like teenagers giddy with rule breaking.  None of us have smoked a cigarette in years so we all immediately coughed up a lung and took turns saying, "Oh my god, this is so gross."  We tossed the pack but still -- rebels!

Alex very quickly lost a lot of money at the blackjack table so he retreated to the corner with us where we played nickle slots and drank alcohol until it was time to grab the bus back to Seattle.  If you think the casino bus is depressing on the way to the casino, just wait until the trip back home. That is one silent bummer of a loser bus.

Here are more happenings in the past few months I never wrote about.  It's a lengthy list, forgive me, but I feel compelled to document these things, even if just in a crappy iPhone photo way.

The kids and I met this guy walking his pet lizard on a leash in South Lake Union --

it was not a fast walk for man and lizard, more an aimless mosey

We went on our annual camping trip with our friends, no wind storm this time --

Then we went camping with our friends again --

North Cascades National Park, by the way, is stunning

We played euchre at night by a lantern covered in a beanie hat --

One evening, Bobo fell asleep like this as I was putting Lucien to bed. We laughed at him pretty hard; he was barely hanging onto that log, just look at his little legs --

By morning, he had fallen off but was still asleep.
Bearded dragons are the chillest of animals

I learned how to play mahjong with the ladies--

and now I am hooked

We still have a sweet and funny though frustrating dog --

Natani the Navajo dog is not allowed on the couch
but she likes being on the couch very much
and sneaks up onto it at every opportunity.

We had a back-to-school party at our house involving a ukulele band --

We ate tacos, sang along, later had a water balloon fight in the yard  
We called it the back to school taco-lele party
and it was glorious.

Our friend Seattle Dad wore this amazing hat that one time --

Yep, I'm still going.  I still have more.

I went up to the top of Smith Tower for the third time, for the last Tower Sessions concert. The Tower Sessions are private concerts, held once a month in the apartment at the top of historical Smith Tower --

I will miss this concert series.  
I will miss the music but will miss most of all climbing all those ladders
and spiral staircases and catwalks 
to get to the very top.  

Below is a picture of the gorgeous Smith Tower, completed in 1914.  It was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River until the 1930's when something taller was built in Kansas, I think  --

The stunning private "lighthouse"apartment at Smith Tower is the pyramid shape at the top.  It's owned by a tiny dynamo of a woman named Petra and her children, and is where the concert series was held.  The glowing glass ball at the very very tippy top is where we were for these next couple pictures. It's a long way to climb and a small hole to squeeze through to get up into the glass globe but if you can make it, it's worth the effort --

My inlaws were recently here for a visit.  My mother-in-law had a birthday during their stay and we celebrated by inviting some friends for dinner, including a messy though delicious guest named Dungeness Crab, which we ripped apart like the disgusting animals we are.  I love the taste of crab but the process of eating it can be unsettling.

Alex and I took off for a few days while my in-laws took care of the kid wrangling.  We took the RV over to Port Townsend, a picturesque Victorian town on the Olympic Peninsula.

We stayed in a mini castle at nearby Fort Worden.  The "castle" was an odd place.  It was once a single family home with a single bedroom so we were the only ones in it for the night.  As soon as we entered, I said, "This place feels weird." Later, as we walked around the grounds outside the castle, I said, "It feels like someone's watching us, do you see anybody?"  Alex concurred, said he felt a little twitchy and tense himself.

On a whim, I looked up the castle on my phone --

You betcha it's haunted!  
Or so say some people. 
It was not a great night of sleep.

We spent one night in the castle then switched to the nearby Fort Worden campground on the beach where we promptly locked our keys inside the RV.  The tow truck driver our insurance company sent as part of our roadside assistance package couldn't jimmy the window enough to get the wedge thing and the metal thing in to pop the lock.

The tow truck driver scratched his head and mentioned he knew a guy who was "good with locks" in town.  It's not as shady as it sounded at first -- the lock guy is a retired police detective who now works part time as a locksmith.  He was also one of the most cheerful guys I've ever had the pleasure of coming across; he looked a bit like John Denver with that round shiny face and big smile.

Smiley John Denver Lock Guy got into our RV in less than ten seconds using a pair of tweezers and a tiny pick.  We did not give him our home address.  He seemed very nice but still, not taking any chances there.

Fort Worden as a whole is kind of an eerie place.  It's an old fort abandoned after WWII and turned into a state park, and is mostly empty now that we're headed into the off season. Although eerie, it's a cool place. You can stay in the old barracks and officers' homes at Fort Worden, and have a nice meal and a drink in the old jail.

If it looks vaguely familiar, Fort Worden is also where An Officer and a Gentleman was filmed -- and now we're all thinking about a beautiful shirtless young Richard Gere.  At least I know I am.

OK, I think I'm done now.  That was a lot of catching up.  As for our Mexico City news, it's more complicated than not complicated.  As of right now, there are no openings in the international schools but there "may" be openings in the near future.  This makes it very difficult to plan.

Applications are filed with a handful of schools and now we wait.  If the schools come through, we're gone in the new year, perhaps with very little advance notice.  If they don't come through, sorry, Seattle suckers, you're stuck with us.  Or at least you're stuck with me and the kids and you'll see Alex every other weekend.  Ouch.

All righty, off to tackle those homemade sushi roll lunches,

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mexico City Part Three: Julio learns to love

It's a trilogy.  Part One of Mexico City is here, Part Two here.

Did I get lost in Mexico City again?  Yes, I did.  Did I text our driver, Julio, with a panicked, "I'm not sure where you are or where I am, help me" message?  Yes, it's true.  Did Coco throw up in the car again?  Thank the Aztec Gods, no.

Coco throwing up in the car, horrifying as it was, was a real turning point in my relationship with Julio.  Once you've dealt with that together, the ice is most definitely broken.  Once you've made horrified faces at each other, flapped your arms like panicked birds together, and tripped over flustered words in your respective languages together, you're bonded for life.  

The next morning, when we once again braved the car, I brought plastic bags. I put my hand up, did not let Julio move the car an inch until the kids had bags held up to their mouths.  I yelled, "Bag!" Julio laughed so hard at that, I at first thought he was crying because we were in his car again.

Julio and I began yelling in unison, "Bag! Bag! Bag!" every day after that, especially when traffic got hairy and Julio got swervy.  I stockpiled plastic grocery bags, always had at least a dozen in my purse.

I promised Coco cotton candy one day if she didn't get sick in the car
I realize that doesn't make much sense
It also wasn't very helpful
because cotton candy just makes a different kind of mess

The kids and I visited the Anthropology Museum, a museum that boasts being the best anthropology museum in the world.  What we learned from our visit is humans are fascinating, and also pretty creepy and quite mean.

The kids enjoyed the dioramas of ancient people getting gored by animals

My favorite part of the museum was the Stone of the Sun.  It was huge, impressive, terrifying with its center ancient god and his tongue shaped like a dagger.  From what I understood, gladiators fought on the Stone of the Sun and the loser was then sacrificed upon it.

And the laughs keep coming at the Museum of Anthropology!

I hoped to find a replica of the Stone of the Sun in the gift shop.  I found one, all right, but it was a large-ish solid slab of stone and weighed about 20 pounds.  I debated for quite some time; we still had a couple sights to see that day before Julio picked us up and how was I going to get to them, let alone enjoy them, carrying a large rock?

I had put the heavy Stone of the Sun back down and resigned myself to the smaller six-inch version made of lightweight plaster when Lucien piped up: "Mom, YOLO. Get the one you want, get the big one, we can do it." I love that kid; he often provides clarity when I'm getting bogged down in stupid, worthless worry.  He was absolutely right.  I bought the big one.

Lucien volunteered to carry the stand, which was almost as heavy as the stone itself.  We dragged our bags down the street and through the park, stopping to rest every few minutes for a breather because sure, YOLO, but also, we can't feel our arms anymore.

The next stop was the castle high on the hill.  I was dreading the walk up to the castle with the Stone of the Sun in tow but -- merciful Mexico! -- there was a stand of storage lockers at the base of the hill.  The Stone of the Sun fit perfectly in the largest one.  We climbed up to the castle laughing and feeling light as feathers.

I enjoy these next two pictures because they're a real slice of life and a great illustration of how light-as-a-feather moods can turn on a dime.  My kids began fighting soon after we arrived at the castle for reasons that were never quite clear. Take a look at these two pictures (there are two because the kids refused to stand next to each other by that time) and take a guess -- who was bugging who just for giggles?  Who was pushing every button they could think of just to upset the other person? And who was being very, very effective in these efforts?

Don't feel too badly for her.  The expressions are just as often reversed with these two.

An hour outside Mexico City lies Teotihuacan, the ancient village and site of many pyramids. It was my favorite place we visited, too bad I'm cramming it in here at the end where it won't be given the time and energy it deserves because I'm getting sick of writing about this trip and would like to wrap it up.

Teotihuacan was definitely the kids' favorite. We climbed the biggest pyramid, the Pyramid of the Sun, early in the morning before the crowds arrived.  It was hard work on the legs, and a little tense (for the mom, anyway) given the steep and seemingly endless stairs.  I pretty much just yelled, "Be careful!" constantly.

Later in the day, after a lot of sun and heat, we may have gotten delirious at Teotihuacan.  This is us touring the ruins of a noble's house --

Coco is pretending to go to the bathroom on that rock because she thought it looked like a toilet. Lucien is doing God only knows what.

We also climbed to the top of the smaller pyramid, the Pyramid of the Moon, where Lucien once again began complaining about his old man aches and pains

Lucien declaring, "I'm going to sit on this old crap now, I'm sick of walking around."

just chillin' on a pyramid

The last noteworthy tourist attraction I'd like to mention is Frida Kahlo's house, La Casa Azul.  Frida grew up in the house and later lived there with her husband, artist Diego Rivera.

La Casa Azul is a very special place. It is both a museum showcasing Frida's art and her home, which introduces you to the more intimate parts of her life -- her physical ailments, her clothing, her complicated relationship with Diego, her various braces for what she called, "a body less than perfect."

Everything in Frida's studio is where she left it when she died, per Diego's orders.  Their personal artifacts are still scattered throughout the house. It feels like Frida and Diego are still living there, like they've just stepped out for a moment and we should make ourselves at home while waiting for their return.

Strolling around the charming neighborhood of Coyoacan

I just noticed there is another goddamn Sanborns behind them in this picture
Should I stand in front of it and text Julio in a panic for old time's sake?

After Frida's house, we loaded up on souvenirs at the stalls of the Coyoacan mercado.  I bought a couple handmade Dia de los Muertos figures from a very silent man.  It took him half an hour to wrap each one; they were so fragile, there was much concern they would not make it home in one piece.  

(Spoiler: they didn't.  They arrived home in many pieces.  I spent hours gluing their tiny slender fingers back on with a pair of tweezers and a q-tip full of super glue.  They next day the dude fell over and lost an entire arm in several places.  It could be a losing battle.)

keep your parts on, people

Julio drove us to the airport our final morning and hugged us all twice.  He even looked a little emotional as he ruffled the kids' hair a final time, winked at me and yelled, "Bag!"  I like to believe Julio came to love us but I didn't ask him outright.  

The Loosh was right.
I'm happy when I see it everyday.

So....now for this.  Our trip to Mexico City wasn't exactly a whim; Alex and I are in active talks with his employer about a temporary move to Mexico City, just for a little bit.  It wouldn't be a long bit, not like a Paris-three-year bit. It would be maybe six months, maybe a little more.

Our trip to Mexico City was a reconnaissance mission.  Could the kids and I live there happily while Alex hammers out what he must do for work?  I think we can.  The city is nutballs but we love Mexico.  How can you not love Mexico??  They put black sauce in their beers to make them spicy, you guys!

plus, delicious enchiladas verdes
(we miss you, Rosa)

There are many hurdles.  Houses, pets, schools, visas, etc. We are beginning the visa application process, beginning the Mexico City school application process.  We're going to give it a try.

Ex-pats 4-ever, or at least ex-pats once in awhile 4-ever,

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mexico City Part Two: Sorry again, Julio

Here comes Part Two.  Mexico City Part One is back here.

A large percentage of life in Mexico City involves sitting in traffic.  If you look at a map, it looks like a short distance from Point A to Point B but don't get optimistic about it -- you're still going to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic for over an hour and ultimately wish you'd never heard of Point B.

There are tricks for avoiding the heaviest traffic, such as driving only between midnight and dawn.  Those are not the friendliest tourist hours, though, so instead Julio and I just said, "mucho trafico" back and forth to each other for long periods of time while staring at some guy's bumper. At least I learned a little Spanish.

A couple days after our arrival in Mexico, we went to Puebla, a city that should take two hours of driving from Mexico City but took us three-and-a-half.  Mucho trafico.

We were in Puebla as guests of one of Alex's co-workers, who grew up there.  The co-worker, whom I'll call Luis, and his wife introduced me to the cubano in Puebla.  A cubano is a beer poured into a glass containing some thick-ish black sauce at the bottom.  I was suspicious, too, until I tried it, but now agree with Mexico that beer should be spicy.

I mentioned the beer first.  That probably says a lot about me.  There are many other fascinating things in the Puebla area besides spicy beer, though perhaps they're not as life-changing --

There are gorgeous churches

and a street devoted entirely to candy
she clutches pesos in her hand
she is ready

and "mystery tunnels" that lie underneath the city

and the very first public library in the Americas
with books over 500 years old

and our hotel, which was a former convent and had a strange window/door thing
Coco claimed it as her own private entrance
and used it often to dance outside the room

Luis drove us to the nearby town of Cholula.  Cholula's defining feature is a huge hidden pyramid. After the conquering Spanish took control of the area, they covered all the pyramids with dirt and built Spanish churches on top of them. That's really rubbing it in, kind of a dick move there, Spanish.

The pyramid at Cholula, the largest pyramid in the world,
 is partially uncovered
but still mostly covered 
by grass, trees, and a dick move church

I was intrigued by the site but, thankfully, did not understand how one accesses the area until we were already in the thick of it.  If I had known, I would not have gone.

The entrance to the Cholula pyramid takes you straight through the pyramid itself -- as in really straight through the pyramid, far underground, through a narrow tunnel with such a low clearance, Alex had to duck for the duration.

I would have been OK, somewhat, if there had been some breathing room but there are lots of people in front of you, lots of people behind you, all moving very slowly.  I'm a claustrophobe, as I've mentioned before, and being in that tunnel with no visible exit in either direction and no possibility of moving faster and surrounded by lots of people may or may not have pushed me to the brink of socially acceptable behavior.

I couldn't speak.  We had a tour guide with us in the tunnel who spoke Spanish.  After every sentence, Alex or Luis would translate for me but I couldn't respond.  I heard very little besides my internal voice screaming, "We're all gonna die!  This is our tomb!"

Welcome to my hell

It took a full twenty minutes to clear the tunnels.  Those were twenty long minutes.  The only thing that kept my rising panic at bay was my faithful iPhone.  I began scrolling through pictures I'd taken so far in Mexico.  As long as I was staring at something else, and not looking around assessing the reality of my situation, I could avoid hyperventilation, clawing a path through strangers, passing out, screaming, whatever.

Alex didn't understand what was going on with me and said at one point, "I cannot believe you're on your phone right now" to which I replied through clenched teeth, "Trust me, you want me on my goddamn phone right now or else I'm going to embarrass us all very, very badly."  He got the hint, even pointed out a few of his favorite pics on my sanity-saving tiny phone screen.

Once we were through the tunnels, I once again loved the idea of visiting the pyramid at Cholula because the place is really, really cool.

I like you, hidden pyramid
but I never again want to walk through you

It was Cholula where we discovered Lucien is a crabby old man trapped in a young boy's body. There was a lot of walking involved up and down the pyramid and at first it was a few quiet, "Gosh, I'm tired"s but soon escalated into full blown "Ow, my hip, my hip!" as he clutched various body parts and hobbled around.

Here he is bemoaning the fact his "lower back ain't what it used to be."

Lucien's injuries disappeared miraculously after we'd finished the tour and purchased his favorite chili lime peanuts.  Lessons learned at Cholula -- iPhones and peanuts can cure serious problems.

We were welcomed warmly back to Mexico City by Julio and Rosa.  As perfect and helpful as they were during our stay, I found it awkward to have people in my employ hanging around the house.  When Julio was not driving us or attending to car-related issues, he hung out in a little room off the kitchen where he read the paper or watched TV. I felt guilty every time he was in the little room because I worried I wasn't using his time and talents effectively.  If it seemed he'd been sitting in the little room a long time, I began flipping through my Mexico City travel books thinking, "I should find someplace to go right now so Julio isn't bored."

One day, out of Julio guilt, we went to Chapultepec Park, a huge park in the center of town that houses museums and a castle, all of which were closed the day I chose to go.  The kids and I instead played Pokemon Go in the park (trust it, we weren't the only ones) and rented a paddle boat to take for a spin in the pond.

Paddle boats kind of suck.  It's a lot of work for not a lot of excitement.  Lucien and I could no longer feel our legs afterwards because you work damn hard on paddle boats, especially when there's a third passenger whose short legs and tiny feet can't reach the pedals so is no help at all.

Free ride

The next day I asked Julio to drive us to Luis's wife's apartment.  We were going to meet up with her and her kids to take a tour of the canals in the Xochimilco area.  Traffic was particularly bad that day so there was a lot of darting on Julio's part.  He got us to her apartment complex in time but was punished for his effective driving when Coco threw up in the back of the car.  The motion sickness runs strong in that one.

As Julio and I bailed from the car and flailed in a parking lot looking for plastic bags and paper towels, she threw up again.  We never made it to Xochimilco.  We instead went home with all the windows rolled down.  Julio drove so slowly, trying so hard not to upset her sensitive equilibrium yet again, that people actually honked at us.  You know you're doing something way wrong if they're honking at you.

Back at home, the kids and I hugged each other and played video games on the Xbox while Julio cleaned up the car. I begged him to let me do it, emphatically and profusely, but he waved me away and said no, no, it's no problem, it's ok.

At least he wasn't bored.

I told you Julio really earned his money that week, and I did not lie.