Stretching

I love that early bit of the learning curve, those first twenty hours, where each little bit of progress is a big fun step. And I love almost as much watching my kids in the same phase, as they test out new things and stretch their boundaries. On our vacation this year I saw my boys being hugely more confident around the water — they both experimented with some independent swimming, Ryan played around with being out of his life jacket, and Nathan?

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He got into boats. This is the same boy who as recently as last year refused to ride in a double kayak with me. Not only did he go out alone in a kayak this year, but he tried sailing on a catamaran with me.

Watching them test things out can be one of the most exciting parts of parenting, but there is a tricky balance between encouragement and protection, and I don’t always nail it. One day at the lake Nathan wanted to take the kayak down a few docks from us and back. It was a windy, somewhat choppy day; I hesitated, expressed my reluctance; he still wasn’t a strong paddler and the kayak was light and could easily be blown about. In the end I agreed to the idea, but having so obviously expressed my doubt that he didn’t go. And even in the moment I was aware of having made a mistake. After all, chances were that he’d get onto the water and change his mind, or have a little trouble and come back early. Worst case, someone stronger would have to go after him, which we certainly could. But it would have been far better to let him challenge himself, test his own limits, rather than have me so obviously express my doubt in his abilities.

That is my challenge — to stretch my own boundaries enough that I don’t get in the way of my kids’ reasonable exploration.

Baby Clothes

It is not news that babies are cute, nor that baby clothes are cute. But my theory is that everyone has certain items of tiny little clothing that for some reason make them grin like an idiot, and I am no exception. If it sometimes seems that I haven’t spent much time dressing our babies up in cute outfits, this is not because I am inured to the effect of them; it’s only because a) I don’t bother to dress myself in cute outfits, so I’m hardly in the habit, and b) clothes cannot stay on a baby for more than ten minutes anyway without getting messy, so it doesn’t pay to get too invested.

But there are certain things that are just too cute to stand, and I’ve recently added a new one to the list: baby girl swimsuits.

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For the boys, and for Mica as well up until last month, I just used a swim diaper. This has a lot to recommend it from a practical perspective. But going into summer, and with a lake vacation in front of us, I’m afraid I couldn’t resist getting Mica a girly little swimsuit, and at the risk of sounding like a squealy sort of person: oh my goodness, she’s adorable.

The Apricot Tree Seals The Deal

After my last post about our apricots, I felt pretty comfortable with my decision to keep the tree. Sure, there might a little tree-shaping in order, so that I can mow the lawn without ducking. But overall that tree was looking good to me.

Then it played its trump card.

Apricots, you see, are one of the few fruits I’ve always liked better cooked. I’ve had fresh apricots from the store but their flavor was rather weak; it took cooking them into jam or a crisp, or at least drying them down, before that intense rich flavor would pop out. Or so I thought.

It turns out that, like so many fruits, apricots are absolutely superb — if picked properly sun-ripened. Just like peaches, there is a world of difference between a fruit which has ripened fully on the tree, and one which is under-ripe or allowed to ripen on the counter. I discovered this when, preparing to mow the lawn, I discovered a ripe apricot that had fallen to the grass.

I picked it up. It looked fine — softer than I would have picked it, but in good condition, and thoroughly warmed by the heat of the afternoon.

What the heck? I tasted it.

After a brief pause I went into the house, where the rest of my family and two neighbor kids were avoiding the heat of the day. “You have to try this,” I told them — all of them, in order — with the same fervor that a religious convert might have while saying “Have you tried prayer in your life?”

If you’ve never tasted a sun-ripe apricot, you should try to do so. It’s like sunlight translated into vivid tango music translated into warm golden fruit, all sensual rhythms and sultry harmony. It’s sophisticated and sweet and rich.

Or, as Dave phrased it rather more prosaically, like “jam in a skin.” It’s like that too.

The 4th

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The 4th of July started out in its usual pattern at our house. Dave took the boys to buy fireworks in the morning, they spent all day thinking and talking about fireworks, and then as dusk approached, darkness sifting over the world one agonizing shade at a time, anticipation roused to a fever pitch until at last it was time to light things on fire.

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The main difference this year was that we had a baby. A walking baby. Who it was my job to manage.

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For the first two fireworks she was content to hang out with me, pointing and gabbling wildly about the incredible things she was seeing — bright colored light! Spinning things! Sparks! Initial observations over, she needless to say wanted to proceed to the next step of her explorations, i.e. grabbing the glowing things and putting them in her mouth. But I, for some reason unfathomable to a nearly-one-year-old mind, refused to let her do so.

Oh, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

I cannot say it was the most relaxing fireworks evening I’ve ever spent. The phrase “constant vigilance” comes to mind, as it took nearly twenty minutes for her to accept our decree. This unprecedented refusal to allow her to explore something — something, moreover, so unique and exciting — brought her as close to a tantrum as I’ve ever seen. She wanted so desperately to grab those lights, and in between struggling to get away from me she would turn into my shoulder and yell in frustration, crying big baby tears. I tried taking her back into the house but that seemed just as bad — she could hear things going on out there, and no amount of playing or chocolate chips (for this third baby I am not above resorting to chocolate) could distract her from the activity.

Eventually she did become somewhat reconciled, and her attempts to experience the fireworks firsthand became half-hearted. And eventually (I saw with relief) the box of fireworks was used up, the last sparkler had been lit, and the rest of the family went off on the annual 4th of July walk to see what everyone else was doing.

Mica and I stayed home and went to bed. We’d earned it.

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Apricots!

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Some of our fruit tree experiments have been wildly successful, and some less so. The peaches were too susceptible to curl, and I eventually gave up on them. The cherries are a definite win. The plums… I haven’t quite decided. But last year, after having given up on peaches, I decided to give up on the apricots as well. They kept wanting to outgrow the space, they didn’t seem to like being espaliered into the shape I’d intended, and most importantly I hadn’t seen any fruit.

Being pregnant and then with a newborn, I promptly did nothing about it — except to ignore the trees. Pruning would be a waste, because I fully intended to remove the trees anyway. And there they remained, growing larger and less espaliered, but still slated for destruction, until early this spring, when I noticed that one of them was bearing fruit. Not just a little fruit, either — big clusters of rapidly growing, hard green apricots.

I couldn’t possibly take out the trees now. I had to at least find out if they would really bear.

Answer: yes. Perhaps it’s the not-pruning technique, perhaps the tree just matured, perhaps it heard my murderous thoughts and set fruit in sheer desperation. But the other day Mica and I went out to check the fruit and were able to eat the first golden apricot from our own tree.

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For a while I pretended to debate on what to do. After all, the tree was producing fruit, but only now that it was a great gangly thing, highly unlike the neat little espalier I’d intended. Was it worth it? Then I looked around my garden, admitted to myself that “neat” is something that only happens sporadically, and went with the obvious decision. Of course it can stay. It produced apricots.

New Things — Camping

For some reason camping just seems like one of those things we should do with our children. I don’t know why; my family never camped that I remember, although neighbors took us kids out a couple of times, and we were welcome to “camp” out in our woods as we got older. But ever since Nathan was little I’ve imagined taking him out camping, as though it’s one of those Necessary Family Experiences.

We do not, however, have any of the gear required for real hard-core camping. Or any of the experience required. So I decided to start us out very gentle, with Camping Lite. We rented a yurt for one night at Champoeg State Park, which is close enough that we could always bail and run for home at the worst.

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This was truly the lightest touch of camping imaginable: we showed up with food and bedding, cooked hot dogs, roasted marshmallows, took a short walk in the woods, and then it was practically bedtime. After breakfast the next morning it was time to head out so Dave could go to work. End of camping.

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But it was highly successful. The kids loved our new little house, and exploring the space, and eating outdoors. There was a little difficulty with getting the baby to sleep, but otherwise everything went pretty smoothly. Nathan in particular was very sorry to leave so soon, which I guess is the right idea — always leave them wanting more, right?

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And now I think we’re ready to tackle the next baby step in our camping journey: staying two nights at Fort Steven’s park, later this year.