Category Archives: summer

Sunshine

After a record-breakingly wet most of May, summer has arrived on our doorsteps with a thud. (That’s the sound of ladies fainting.)  It’s only 85 or so, but I’m convinced that I can’t possibly survive in such temperatures, that by July I’ll be dead, and that I have nothing to wear. (That last is true, of course. All my t-shirts have sprouted holes.)

School lunches at this point in the year are a half-hearted, last-minute effort, and for some reason the first grader has a project to do (the reason, I’m well aware, is multicultural day, with its PTA-related multicultural dinner, but for the purposes of my argument let’s pretend I don’t know that), which is not something I want to have anything to do with, except that I have to because she’s a first-grader.

I’m eating fruit all of a sudden: cherries, rhubarb, peaches. My next-door neighbour dropped in a bag of freshly-picked strawberries. It’s asparagus time. The farmers’ market has opened again. At this rate we’ll be grilling any minute.

After a long weather-related hiatus (you can’t play when the field is waterlogged), baseball is back on. Spring season part two, we call it.

Sunny little league baseball game with spectators

No-rain baseball

And I’m working. I have actual editing work that pays money, and I’m writing in between times. The new thing, not the old thing, which I’m going to publish as an ebook any second now, just as soon as my cover art is done. I have a website and a Facebook page for it too, so don’t say I didn’t do my own PR – at least as far as I can without being required to talk to real people in real life and say “I wrote a book; please read it.” Because I’m not sure I can do that.

Neither fish nor fowl

 

Mabel by a butterfly bush

Wearing my hat, hunting butterflies.

It’s September, but it’s not autumn yet. One child is back at school, the other is still watching Sesame Street in his pyjamas at 10am.

The air is full of the noise of cicadas and crickets and other late-summer sounds that happen in hot countries. I forget that they’re exotic – the sound of summer holidays in France, and wearing a t-shirt and shorts in the dark. We encounter crickets on the basement steps and by the side door, eager to come in and spend some quality time with us any time the rain starts. They’re hard to live with, though, noisy little feckers. We keep a plastic glass and a postcard on the sideboard for regular eviction purposes.

Homework has started, but evenings playing outside aren’t over with yet. It’s hard to drag just one away, or to make them sit down and concentrate as soon as they get home. We stop at the playground on the way back from school and by the time we get home it’s already time to start on dinner.

It’s so hard to settle down. It’s so hard to go to bed. It’s so hard to get to sleep. It’s so hard to snap into routine when one child is still stuck in summer and the other is halfway to Christmas.

Let’s move on.

Mabel holding a large brown praying mantis.

A praying mantis. Mabel is a fan of bugs, big and small.

Stuck

I keep starting and stopping posts. I have a cold that’s starting but won’t just get here, so I’m stuck with a giant tickle in my throat that turns into a coughing fit that is finally an enormous sneeze but sometimes it just makes me gag instead and then I blow my nose and my ear squeaks. In the middle of the night I lie there thinking that some insidious mould spore from old books has got stuck in my throat and I’m going to die of consumption or a bacterial lung infection any minute now, but mostly I think it’s just a thwarted cold.

Why would I encounter old books, you ask? Because I’m running the PTA used book sale, and my days are currently filled with collecting empty boxes and bags of old books from the neighbourhood and sorting the books into the boxes so that they can be all moved from the school to the festival location on the Friday before Labor Day and then browsed by the people of the neighbourhood who apparently need more books to fill all the gaps they just made on their shelves.

Boxes of books piled up.

A small proportion of the books sorted so far this year.

It’s really quite amazing. Every year I think that the people of our town must be out of books by now, but every year we get thousands of paperback mysteries and hardback self-help volumes and everything else in between, and more than you’d think get sold again at the end of it. It’s a great fundraiser, but it takes a lot of volunteer work.

(I wrote about it last year too.)

Anyway, then I read a blog post by someone whose husband had coughed to death, which didn’t really help my middle-of-the-night notions. (He had had heart surgery. I am unlikely to cough to death of a tickle. Right?) And Mabel’s acting like a banshee which is most probably because she’s starting first grade on Tuesday but could also be because she ingested a mould spore while helping with the books and will also die of galloping consumption any minute now.

So that’s where my end of summer has me. I have grand plans for September, once the sale is over and both kids are at school and I will take over the world. Or at least regain some serenity for myself.

Things my children have recently talked me into


1. Accepting a very large toy dinosaur into the house, unwanted by neighbour child. “For at least a year,” said Mabel, refusing to budge on the matter.

large toy T-Rex watching TV with Mabel and Trixie the slightly smaller dino

2. Financing a lemonade stand. Going to Aldi specifically to buy more lemons. Sorry, lemins.

"leminade" stand

3. Two popsicles in one day. Maybe three. Silly freezer-on-the-bottom fridge.

4. And an ice-cream from IKEA.

5. Being allowed to use a box cutter. (The 9yo only. He’s very handy.)

6. Being allowed to use my camera. Selfie city.

Selfie by Mabel

7. Luminous yellow trainers.

8. Luminous pink trainers.

Mabel with new pink shoes

9. Turning the TV back on. Again.

It’s the end of summer. My defences are weak.

A pet day

Today was what my mother would call a pet day. It was just right. It was the sort of day you wish summers were full of; that in your imagination and in your memory, summers are full of. It was easy.

The sticky-hot and humid weather of the past few days has broken and suburban Maryland awoke to a scrubbed-clean blue sky and blissfully fresh air. I was so overcome by the beauty of it all that I agreed to mid-week pancakes and Mabel was nearly late for camp. Happy children and sticky floors resulted, and a rush to get dressed, but we managed.

I dropped her off and came back to give the kitchen floor a quick once-over with the steam mop. B went to work and Dash and I set out on our errands. (Mabel is doing camp for two weeks – and loving it more than I could have believed possible – and Dash is at Camp Mom, which is not as bad as it may sound.) We dropped off paperwork in a couple of places, printed up some flyers, and lunched in McD’s in between.

The battles over Dash’s daily reading have abated a lot since his new school said that listening to an audiobook and following along with the text counts as your twenty minutes of work. He still has to be gently shepherded to the table, and gently provided with glasses and headphones and Kindle and timer, but he no longer resists it with every fibre of his being the way he used to. It’s easier when Mabel’s out of the house, too, and there’s nothing else interesting going on. He also has a math packet and a grammar packet to do for the new school, because I suppose they need to see where everyone is when they come in, and once he gets into it he quite likes doing that.

After that it was back-to-back playdates. Two eight-year-olds for the nine-year-old: they battled Beyblades and played Trivial Pursuit and wrestled, and it was almost peaceful. Then I picked up the six-year-old and a friend, and the girls played “My baby has an allergy” for three hours straight, and it was just delightful. (I removed the potentially irritating big brother from the equation by letting him listen to the Watership Down audiobook without making him follow the text. I think I’ve finally found a way for him to entertain himself quietly.)

Meanwhile, I employed myself colouring in one of the flyers we’d printed. They don’t need to be coloured in, but I decided it would look more eye-catching. So I took out the box of coloured pencils I bought myself last Christmas and I coloured all afternoon. I offered the kids a turn, but they didn’t want to (though Dash offered advice on colour combinations). I feel chock full of mindfulness now.Photo on 7-23-15 at 2.19 PM

The day’s not over, of course. Bedtime could still ruin everything. For the past few evenings, Mabel has seemed to need an overtired screaming breakdown before she could finally get to sleep, so there’s that gauntlet still to run. We’re only back a week, I remind myself; she’s still recovering.

But as days go, it was the sort I’d like more of.

Midsummer night

Last night I stepped outside in the dying light to look for the girl child.

Her pale blue-green dress was glowing against the darker greens of our street’s kempt lawns, and she skipped to and fro like a fairy, arms outstretched, grasping for a tiny will o’ the wisp that blinked ahead of her.

The fireflies are out, and it was the longest night of the year. There was school today, and she needed her sleep after a late night on Saturday, but I couldn’t deny the magic of chasing fireflies on the solstice. I joined in, ignoring the mosquitos that I could feel but not see on my bare arms and sandalled feet.

Fireflies travel low to the ground and don’t mind being caught. They’re busy looking for love, flashing their little messages back and forth. If you catch one, which is not so hard, it will flash in your hand a few times before flying on its way, an unremarkable little beetle with fizzy wings and an illuminating rear end.

IMG_1249

It’s summer now.

Irish summer

As the weather here gets hotter – veering into hot, humid, thunderstorm, blech – I have to try to keep one section of my brain remembering what 60 F feels like. Or 70; but definitely no more than that. Because in a few weeks I’ll be packing for Ireland, where summer is usually around, let’s say, 18 C (that’s 65 F) on a good day.

But then, just in case we hit a real heatwave where the midlands reach the dizzying heights of 28 (82 F), or a cold snap, when it goes back down to 8 (46 F), we need to be prepared for all eventualities. And rain, of course. Always rain. Unless it’s a fine mist, or a drizzle, or a sprinkle, or spitting. I love that one, spitting. It’s never “spitting” in America. It’s mostly just either wet or dry, and mostly it’s dry. On a practical level, summer in Ireland just means that some days you don’t need a jacket over your jeans and long sleeves.

So I have to do a really good capsule wardrobe, obviously.

(Insert hysterical laughter and me falling off my chair. I try really hard to do a capsule wardrobe every time I pack, but it hasn’t worked yet.)

A capsule wardrobe for all four of us. Because even if we have a nice big baggage allowance and everyone’s big enough to pull their own case and nobody has to be pushed in a stroller any more, we still have to fit everything (and ourselves) into a smallish rental car. Or other people’s cars. Or trundle them to public transport after three hours sleep (if we’re lucky). In the rain, of course.

With this in mind, I’m going shopping tomorrow. I have written my self-allocated number of words this week and I am giving myself permission to take the morning off and go to the outlet mall (mmm, lovely outlet mall), where I will avert my eyes from flippy skirts and floaty sleeveless dresses and flappity sandals and I will look on the clearance racks for tops with 3/4 sleeves and a light jacket with a hood and light wash skinny jeans that are not capris. (And that somehow give my legs the gazelle treatment they’ve always lacked.)

Dressing for summer in Ireland, I realise in hindsight, is sort of the opposite of the way people in LA dress for winter even though the temperatures barely dip at all. They wear darker colours, and ankle boots with their booty shorts. They indicate through accessories and textures that the season has changed, even if the weather isn’t paying the slightest bit of attention.

So I have two lovely new summer scarves (an oxymoron if ever there was one) and of course I’m well equipped with cardigans of various weights and colours. I have a new pair of runners, but I could do with some other shoes that are nice like ballet flats but don’t fall off my feet. I’ll bring my sandals, but to be honest I might never wear them. I remember how buying sandals was in Ireland – I’d buy them and then I’d wear them for two weeks on holidays somewhere warm, and then by the next summer I’d hate them but they’d NEVER wear out so I’d be stuck with them forever.

At least here I get to wear through my sandals and get new ones.

No doubt in the fullness of time I’ll decide to blog my lovely perfect capsule wardrobe. I’ll keep you posted.

Summer dining

A while ago I declared my intention to make lots of salads for quick and easy dinners on the go during baseball and t-ball season.

Last week, I decided it was time to get serious about vegetables before a muffin intervention was staged, so I trawled through the relevant Pinterest board (you’d want to stay well away from this one) and polled my Facebook friends for things to do with cabbage. It’s been going pretty well.

So without further ado, let me tell you about my salads and other vegetably deliciousness. Some of these are entire meals, and others are crying out to accompany a steak, or a chop, or something you threw on the grill, if you’re of the mind to throw things on grills.

Sesame noodles

This is from an ancient Rachel Ray 30-Minute Meals book, but I can’t find it exactly as written online anywhere, so I’ll put it here. It’s always a success. For enough noodles and veg for two people, this is how I make the sauce. Scale as needed. Mix together the following, and then toss all the ingredients in it:

1/8 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 inch fresh ginger, grated
1/2 small clove garlic, minced
Pinch cayenne pepper (or more depending on how spicy you like it)

If you don’t have tahini you can use smooth peanut butter and it’ll be sort of satay-y, but still delicious. You can throw in any vegetables and protein you like, really, though chicken strips or tofu, with red peppers, spring onions, zucchini, tiny broccoli florets, mange tout (that’s snow peas in America), and bean sprouts are all good ideas. You can use plain old spaghetti for the noodles or something more Asian – whatever you’ve got. You can eat them hot or put them in the fridge and take them somewhere for lunch the next day. You can make them spicy or mild. They go down a treat with crowds.

Cabbage and sugar snaps with sesame miso dressing

cabbage salad

This is from the Smitten Kitchen book, which adorns my bookshelf and should be used more. Many other people have kindly reproduced the recipe on their websites, so I’m linking you to one of those rather than wade into the murky waters of recipe copyright myself. I didn’t have an radishes, and didn’t miss them; though it did take me a while to track down miso paste. I finally found it in our local organic supermarket. I now have a huge tub of it, but apparently it keeps forever. And I’ll certainly be making this again.

Carrot salad with chickpeas and tahini dressing

Carrot salad and a breaded chicken finger

Sorry it’s all so orange; we ate it with homemade chicken nuggets because Mabel likes those

This is from Smitten Kitchen again. You don’t have to have the parsley or the pistachios, or even the chickpeas in a pinch or if you can’t face turning on the oven. Just carrots and the dressing make a toothsome mouthful, but the whole thing is a wonder to behold. And practically an entire meal, what with all that protein in the pulses, right? (Use your food processor to shred the carrots, unless you really enjoy the pain.)

Falafel

falafel and tzatziki with tomato in a pita pocketNot a salad, I admit. But if you like falafel, it turns out it’s really simple to make at home. Eat them hot, stir some grated cucumber and a little garlic into some yogurt, pile it all into a pita pocket with some sliced tomato and lettuce if you have any (we didn’t, but we didn’t care).

Lentil salad with feta and chickpeas and a tahini dressing

I can see a theme emerging here. I like chickpeas. (Or garbanzos, as they were when I first met them, in Spain.) And I always have a jar of tahini in the fridge, mostly for the sesame noodles. This lentil salad is fiddly and has a lot of different elements, but it is the most astounding thing, when you finally come to eat it.

Broccoli slaw with craisins and buttermilk ranch dressing

I discovered this last year and I’ve already over-indulged again this summer. I never thought much of raw broccoli before, but this one works.

Salade nicoise

The version I make is from How To Eat, Nigella Lawson’s very first book. She makes it with fresh tuna, and I do sometimes too, but often I just use a couple of chicken breasts, sauted and sliced. Otherwise, you need boiled potatoes, sliced; cherry tomatoes, quartered; green beans, boiled to al dente; and a few hard-boiled eggs, also quartered. Toss it all with some salad leaves – lettuce, spinach, whatever you’ve got. Douse the whole thing in a garlicky viniagrette and stuff it in your mouth. B really likes this. I think it’s the potatoes.

Quinoa and kale salad with walnuts, craisins, and feta 

This is an old favourite that I’ve linked to before. It’s the recipe that made me like kale, and still one of the only things I know how to do with quinoa. It’s great warm or chilled, for dinner or lunch, on its own or as a side.

Bibimbap

Two bowls of bibimbap

I turned the eggs over for a few seconds; that’s why they’re not bright yellow. Still runny, though.

This one’s not a salad, but it’s a really handy quick dinner, so I’m putting it here. This is not the real thing, it’s the Irish Times hack found here: but in case, like me, you’ve used up your ten articles for the week, let me give you a quick run down:

1. Cook some rice.
2. Sauté some vegetables: tonight I have carrot, peppers, cabbage, broccolini (fancy!), and scallions. And a few cubes of tofu.
3. Stir in two tablespoons of soy sauce and two tablespoons of sriracha or chilli sauce. I’m using a jar of chilli garlic sauce that says something about Viet Nam on it. It looks molto autentico, if you get me.
4. For each person, put rice in a bowl, followed by the veg, and a fried egg on top. The bowl is vital, because the runny egg yolk has to get all over everything.
5. Scoff. Beware, it’s spicy!

My only trouble has been that these are all so yummy it’s hard to leave any for lunch the next day, never mind hoping that one might stretch to two dinners. Must buy more veggies.

Do you have any favourite summer dinners or salads to recommend to me?

6 reasons I know it’s summer

Whatever the calendar says – and you might be surprised; seasons don’t just fall differently depending on the hemisphere* – there are certain ways I can tell for sure that we really have made the leap to summer.

1. My coconut oil is liquid. I know this because I keep some upstairs in my bathroom for moisturizing purposes and this morning I opened it carelessly, expecting some sort of soft sludge consistency, and found I’d sloshed half of it out over the countertop.

2. I’m hanging the clothes on the line. Many Americans don’t line dry at all, because we have those lovely big tumble dryers that work so well. In the colder months, even in the sort of weather when all of Ireland would be busy hanging out the washing (because it’s not actually raining even if there is a fine mist in the air, and sure there’s a fine bit of a breeze), I give myself permission to use the dryer, because I have Reynaud’s and my fingers really hurt when they’re cold and damp even if it’s not actually cold cold outside. But yesterday I was actually legitimately disappointed when the washing line broke and I had to resort to electricity. I think it’s because I really enjoy the smug feeling I get from singlehandedly saving the planet every summer.

3. I have been overtaken by a strange urge to eat healthily and get more exercise. I’m even drinking water instead of tea. (Which is good because I’m less likely to need a muffin or seven to wash down my water.) This is not entirely unrelated to my recent doctor’s visit where I saw an unwelcome number on the scale, but let’s not dwell on that. It’s not about the number. It’s not about the vanity. (It is totally about the vanity, what there is of it left to me.) It’s about being fit and strong and healthy and getting my five a day. I keep looking up salad recipes. I bought a cabbage yesterday.

4. There are insects. Nobody has had a tick pulled off them yet, but it’s only a matter of time. I have yet to see a mosquito either, but I keep meeting an ant in the house. I”m convinced it’s the same little fecker every time – he’s about the size of a small puppy, and every time I put him outside I tell him not to come back, but a few hours later there he is again. Even when I squash him and put him in the bin, he gets resurrected. Fecker.

5. I want white wine, not red. A nice cold Sauvignon Blanc, a Pinot Grigio, maybe a vinho verde. I like my whites crisp and refreshing and tasting of almost nothing, but in a good way. No Chardonnay, thanks.

6. We have all stopped caring about school. Homework, schmomework is my new motto. I have to remember not to say it in front of the kids.

Washing hanging out to dry

Baseball mom laundry

*In Ireland, it’s already officially summer. Summer runs from May 1st to the end of July. Yes, August is technically an autumn month, though I never understood that. If you’re on summer holidays, it’s still summer. Weatherwise in Ireland, September is often much sunnier, and maybe warmer, than July, too.

In America, as I have mentioned before, summer doesn’t start until the solstice. Yes, even though it’s called Midsummer’s Day and you’d think there’d be a clue in there somewhere, they say that June 21st is the beginning of summer. And then it goes all the way to the equinox, in late September. Weatherwise, mind you, that makes a lot more sense, as it usually doesn’t start to cool down till October.

So what did we learn this summer?

What did we learn this summer? You know what? We didn’t learn what monkeys eat, or much about Einstein’s theory of relativity, or to speak Italian fluently; and we didn’t spend all those weeks with improving schedules and doing chores and keeping up with our math skills. I look back at my notions from two and a half months ago and I think what a twat I sounded, basically.

But we did learn things.

They each went to camp. Mabel learned that she can survive a long day (camp was 9 to 4) with a bunch of strangers and maybe even have a good time and make them laugh and like her. If that’s not a good lesson to learn the summer before you start Kindergarten, I don’t know what is.

Mabel bouncing on a trampoline

Boing boing boing

Dash started baking. He can read and follow a (simplified) recipe – that was news to me as well as to him, I have to admit. He was bursting with pride at his achievements, and I should have trusted him to try it by himself sooner. Now I just have to encourage him to bake something other than entirely-chocolate-based items.

Dash eating a muffin of his own creation

Proud baker

They travelled abroad to a country where people speak a different language. They met new people and made new friends and old ones. They discovered they could do things they didn’t know they could do. They expanded their horizons. Dash was able after all to find things to eat in a strange land, and he realised he’d be okay. He became the child I never had a moment’s worry about – the social butterfly who was always happy and always with a buddy. After the early summer’s concerns – all mine, admittedly – about academics and reading and inability to entertain himself, it was just lovely to see the other side of him that’s so comfortable and confident and happy.

Dash eating a giant pizza bread

Plain pizza “senza tutti”

Once again the kids proved that they’re great travellers, who can fall asleep on a plane (maybe, eventually) and get up three hours later (or after zero sleep) and walk through another airport and queue up interminably again for the security routine and get on another plane and do it all without pitching a fit or sitting down and refusing to move a step further. (If you want to pretend to be a wolf cub and roll around on the floor while waiting to go through security in Heathrow and you’ve just been awake all night and it’s 6am outside while it’s still 1am in your body and you’re five years old, I think that’s perfectly reasonable. Different people express exhaustion in different ways, and drooping quietly against your adult while waiting in line is not yours.)

Mabel pulling a suitcase

Not in Heathrow, obvs

The coming school year will teach us all a lot of new things, but the summer is for learning all that other stuff. What a great person you are, and are becoming, and how you can do even more than you thought you could, for starters.

Dash and Mabel by a fountain

Conversing at the fountain