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Happy Birthday Old Man

June 3, 2010

There have been a lot of birthdays in my peripheral life lately, Two of my Blogher ’10 roomies, Beth Anne and Mandy had birthdays this week.

But today, June 3rd is my Grandpa Joe’s birthday. He would have been 97.

He was fucking awesome.

He was an amazingly important influence on my life, even though he died when I was 17. Piper Josephine was given her middle name in his honor, and frankly it was 50/50 whether she was going to be a Josie or a Piper up until she was born and I actually met her.

When I was growing up in a tiny town in northern Michigan my Grandpa and his second wife (who I didn’t actually know wasn’t technically my Grandma until I was about 7 or 8 years old) lived in our same teensy town, in fact they were pretty much the reason we lived there. My Grandpa built a little house on the lake in the 1940s, when his wife and kids used to “summer” there and he drove up every weekend from Kalamazoo. By the time I came along, the joint had been “winterized” and Grandma and Grandpa lived there all the time. It was still on a lake.


That’s Grandpa and I’m on the left with my sunglasses on upside down. No he was not going to throw me and what I think is my cousin Julie into the lake fully clothed. We were going on a boat ride, hence the lifejackets. SAFETY FIRST PEOPLE.

Remember how I said he was fucking awesome?


My dad on the right, obviously also very excited about the kick ass turkey.

He loved jokes, especially dirty ones. His collection of booze themed cartoons snipped from the newspaper remains protected on the inside of the liquor cabinet door in the kitchen of what is now my Dad’s lake house. He loved jazz, his favorite instrument was the clarinet (I played one in middle school for that reason) and he sang whenever possible. He also loved explosives of all types. He frequently carried cherry bombs around in his coat pocket and would light them from the bowl of his pipe whenever he felt it was appropriate. He had a wonderful voice, like warm molasses poured over gravel, wrapped in smoke.

Speaking of smoke.

In almost every memory I have of him speaking to me he is talking around the stem of a pipe. The big table inside his kitchen door was covered in pipe tobacco and paraphenalia. He used to bring me bags of pipe cleaners to make crafts with. It was years after he died before the house didn’t constantly smell like tobacco to me. Last time we were there when I was pregnant with Piper, I could still smell it sometimes in the kitchen. He died in 1996.

If you’re pointing at the screen saying “Why the hell didn’t she crop this photo?” or “ZOMG ghosts!” my responses are “I meant to not crop it” and “I’m not sure we can be friends anymore because you’re 7” respectively. It’s smoke. From the ever present pipe.

It dissipated after a while.

When we left the house after a visit, we made silly faces at each other as we drove away. When he tried to take my parents out for a nice grown up dinner I always got mad because I couldn’t go with. He always let me order the fried shrimp.


That’s my mom on the left. Hotness right? Also, hey Mom! That’s the quilt dress we were talking about the other day that I loved and that you don’t remember. Remember?

He never in my whole life was ever anything less than absolutely and wholeheartedly delighted to see me. Even right before he died.

I’ve never been loved by anyone quite the way I was loved by him, before or since. It wasn’t just unconditional love, the man got palpable joy out of my very existence. All I had to do was show up and I had made his day. It was the least complicated and in some ways the most inspiring relationship I’ve ever been a part of. He asked nothing of me, but made me want to give everything.

This Summer after Blogher we’re headed up to the lake and Piper will wear a much more stylish if uncomfortable looking lifejacket for her boat rides. I’ll show her where to hide her sandcastle shovels under the marble slab above the beach that we keep the towels on, and how to walk on the dock without getting splinters in her tiny feet, and I’ll blow bubbles in the water when I swim, pretending to be a sea monster while she rides on my back just like he did. And I’ll pray that she gets to experience an uncomplicated and generous love like the kind he gave me.

Happy Birthday “Old Man”. I still miss you. Every day.

When are they ready?

June 3, 2010

Despite our assumptions (based on feedback from experienced Florida home gardeners!) that our first growing season would be wrapping up and our garden starting to “fry” any minute now, it’s still going strong! We’re producing tomatoes and cherry tomatoes with regularity and even the broccoli is continuing to make strides. We’re still too nervous to pull up any more carrots, but maybe this weekend? I think I want to make a roast, and that sounds carroty, right?

While watering last night we got into a debate about the tomatoes.

When exactly does a tomato become a tomato?

With some it’s pretty easy to tell. You come out one day and all of a sudden there’s a 3 inch tomato there that you would swear on your favorite shoes simply didn’t exist the day before. And before you know it, it’s red and almost ready to go:

Then there are those that you catch in their infancy, or earlier. For example (look closely to the left of the obvious one):

Ok so the one on the right, the obvious one I’m ready to call a baby tomato. The one on the left, we are calling a late term tomato bud. But what about the middle one? I couldn’t get a picture of it, it’s so teensy tiny, but I swear to you it’s in there protected by those tiny leaves until it grows big and strong enough to hold on to the plant amidst raindrops and wind gusts.

But is it a tomato yet? When will I know? How exactly can you tell when that happens?

I’m sure you guys are getting tired of all the comparisons of my daughter to vegetables but I can’t help it. Being out there makes me think of her little mysterious, miraculous life almost every time.

When will we know that she’s ready to stand in the world and feel the rain on her face without the umbrella we provide? Will she really be ready when she thinks she’s ready? Will we keep trying to hold the umbrella long after she’s outgrown the need for it because we still need it? We don’t want to be helicopter parents, raising kids who don’t know how to balance a checkbook by the time they leave for college or whatever, but we don’t want to push her to grow up and away from us too fast either. But how will we know when the moment has come?

Which moment am I talking about? I have no idea. Any moment, I guess. I strongly value independence and want to teach it to my daughter, but I also want us to be and remain her safe place to fall for as long as possible in this life. I don’t really know how to make sure we create that kind of upbringing for her. I will freely admit that I have yet to figure it out from the daughter side, let alone the mother side. But I’m still trying, on both fronts. She makes me see things differently.

What do you think? How do you know when they’re ready… for anything? When do you consider your babies to be tomatoes?

Blueberry Madness

June 1, 2010

Sunday morning we visited a U Pick Farm about an hour’s drive away with Piper’s Godparents, a trip we’d been planning for weeks. I thought I was really excited for the adventure, but when we swung by their place to caravan over, Robyn put me in my place quite promptly by (literally, which is pretty impressive since she had back surgery 5 months ago) jumping up and down like a kid, telling me all about her blueberry donut and blueberry coffee and how excited she was to drive her blueberry car to go blueberry picking.

She even wore a purple shirt. It was hot.

Piper was a trooper and napped in the car. While she slept we drove, held hands and listened to the radio. It felt kind of like just the two of us again, and at one point I even remarked to Topher that it felt like we were on vacation. That’s a big part of what we like to do on vacation, drive around and do random stuff. I’d never spent any time in this part of our area before and the new scenery was refreshing in more ways than one.

At first she wasn’t so sure about our expedition, but to be fair she had just woken up to a crazy lady in a cowboy hat talking about blueberries:

She was slow to warm up:

But once she realized she could put small things (berries) into larger things (buckets) she was pretty stoked:

And well, once she got her feet under her she was completely won over:

On our way out, when we were supposed to be “done” but Mommy and Uncle Justin couldn’t physically stop picking berries because of some insane but delicious compulsion, we saw a bird. We’re working on learning to say “chirp”

We all walked away with something from the day. Topher got 8+ cups of blueberries which has so far translated into one pie, some turnovers and a possible fun vodka drink(?!?!). Piper got the immense satisfaction of putting lots of small things into a large container. I got this:

I totally win.

Because it still isn’t fair

May 26, 2010

Tonight I stood in my garden while Topher gave Piper her bottle and read her a bedtime story. I watered, I sipped wine. I thought about how our tomato plants are so much smaller than my stepfather’s tomato plants, but how much more fruit they’ve produced, relatively speaking.

I look at my tomatoes, and I decide to leave the three that are orange but not quite red for one more day and use them in my pasta sauce tomorrow. I think about how the plants keep producing fruit even though they look so battered, the scars of their battle evident on every leaf. In the life of a tomato plant they’re really rather far along these troopers of mine. And they’re still fighting back, being productive. I hope I’m like that when I’m rather advanced in life; even if you can see the scars at a glance, you’ll also see the fruit, see that I’m still working and fighting.

Piper’s life is so fresh and new, she has no battle scars yet. She is nothing but perfection. We are so blessed.

When I water our little vegetable garden I always water the flowers that we planted for Layla Grace. Piper likes to play with them, they’re snapdragons. Tonight I’m excited because they have blooms again and a couple of weeks ago it really looked like I had killed them, like I do every other flower I’ve ever planted in my whole life. But instead of despairing and giving them up, I did what my Mother told me and snapped off the dead heads, watered and waited. They came back.

My friend Jill, author of one of my favorite blogs and one of my roommates at Blogher in a few months is working very hard to get the word out about Baby Sam a 6 month old heartbreaker with a mohawk waging his own battle against Stage 4 Neuroblastoma. Baby Sam was given a 30% cure rate at diagnosis but he tolerated his first round of chemo well and is on the second. He’s fighting hard. His parents are fighting hard.

His Mom had to quit her job to care for him. Sam was approved for Passport (medicaid) but could still get dropped and his parents want to keep him on Cobra because there may be an issue with having a waiting period due to a pre-existing condition imposed should there be a lapse of even a day.

This hits home for me. I don’t talk about it a lot here, but Topher and I both have medical conditions that make going without insurance for a single day one of our worst financial nightmares and something to be avoided at all costs. And neither of us are ill at the moment. Sam is in the hospital already, getting chemo.

That’s got to be one hell of a waiting period.

So, what Jill’s done is incredible. She’s gotten some amazing companies to offer some really amazing prizes for anyone who donates $5 or more to Baby Sam’s cobra fund. If you give and want to enter the drawing please make sure that you comment as instructed, and check out the opportunities for extra entries if you’re on twitter and/or have a blog to help spread the word.

Jill’s goal with this fundraiser was to raise $1,000 to cover a month of cobra for Sam (his parents aren’t currently eligible for private insurance due to pre-existing conditions of their own) by June 11th when she’s drawing for the prizes.

She raised $3,000 in 5 days.

Her new goal is $4,500 by June 11th.

We can’t save them all and I’m not saying that we can.

But this illness scares the shit out of me. Layla was Piper’s age when she was diagnosed, and now she’s gone. Baby Sam was 4 months old when he was diagnosed. There were no real warning signs for these families. This illness, this tragic, heartbreaking devastation just happens like a trainwreck. I can’t imagine the emotional and mental bandwidth required to deal with the logistics of the situation, let alone the reality of a 30% cure rate. Because what that really means is a 70% mortality rate. For a 6 month old. With a mohawk.

Can you tell I’m fixated on the mohawk a little bit? Well go look at it already!!

So we gave a little. And if we win something that’s great but if we don’t and all we paid for was 5 minutes of life that Sam’s parents don’t have to spend wondering how they’re going to pay for a fight he may not win, that’s more than ok with me.

Review: One Green Balloon

May 26, 2010

A few weeks ago we celebrated my darling husband’s 31st birthday with some great friends in a great Irish pub, and we had a great time. Like at my birthday a serious cake was provided by excellent friends, only this time we rocked so hard that we broke the cake. No really.

I was approached by Jodie at One Green Balloon a couple of weeks before Topher’s big B-Day for a review of her site. I checked it out; the timing was good and I was in love with her concept.

At One Green Balloon the party planner (in this case, moi) is able to create guest lists, electronic invites and thank you notes all on one site and all in a few minutes. It was the easiest “party planning” I’ve done in a long time, the site did everything for me but call the pub and make our reservation (Uh, Jodie… can you do that? Because baby birthday party planning makes me crazy and that’s my next gig.).

But the best part? One Green Balloon isn’t just about helping you plan your party; it’s about making a difference. I know I know that sounds so hokey but it’s true! Oh, shut up it’s not my fault you’re all jaded!

“Instead of the conventional party where one would bring a wrapped gift and greeting card, guests will simply RSVP to an e-mailed invitation and give a gift online. These secure online contributions are accumulated and subsequently divided between a worthy charity, and the purchase of one special gift, or you can choose to donate your entire gift to charity. It’s up to you.”

What I loved about One Green Balloon was how easy it made it for us to give. From the initial setup of the event, to adding attendees, to receiving our check, every step was easy. In fact, the hardest part was choosing our charity! The site offers you a group to choose from in both the US and Canada and I can assure you that Jodie is adding more all the time, because there were some listed yesterday that weren’t there when I set up our party, so I guess that part’s only going to get harder.

We were fortunate that our friends donated a modest amount for Topher’s laptop fund (it’s coming today and I don’t think he slept last night) which we split 50/50 with the charity that we chose, in this case Feeding America’s Hungry Children. Feeding America’s Hungry Children is an organization which provides food to children in food insecure households, including fresh produce. Given our efforts to eat more healthfully in general and specifically our growing enthusiasm for gardening and producing our own food, it seemed like a great fit for us.

So, my overall impression of the service?

Pros: It’s easy to set up your guest list, edit and send invitations, choose your charity and get your check. You’re also able to set up an automated reminder email for your guests. You can give more than 50/50 split if you want, or even give all of the money to your charity. And if you and/or your guests end up donating more than $25 you get the tax deduction as well!

Cons: I do wish it sent you an email notification when your guests responded, but I’m lazy and kept forgetting to check the responses so maybe that’s just me. Also I can see how with a large party this could get annoying really fast so in that respect, I totally get why it’s not a feature.

Overall I’d recommend the site and use it again in the future, especially for an event centered around a philanthropic individual or a party for a young child as a “teaching moment”. Last year after Piper’s birthday we ended up with about a half dozen duplicate gifts, with no way to return them. Some we gave to charity and some we held on to for spare parts. With P’s birthday and Christmas being so close together it’s probably not a problem that we’re going to outgrow anytime soon. I really like the idea of promoting charitable giving at an early age, and this site is one I hope to use in the future to teach our daughter how we provide for those less fortunate than ourselves.

Because we’re very fortunate.

Disclosure: In exchange for this review Jodie waived the standard 15% administration fee for my party. Trust me, this was not a lot of money. Our friends aren’t rich, but they’re definitely fun!

Wordless-ish Wednesday

May 19, 2010

We ended this big guy’s party too soon, AKA the carrots are not quite “in”, yet. We felt bad yanking him, but we don’t know how else to tell they’re ready. Stupid all in the ground plants…

The teensy one? He was a surprise, squished between the fence and the border of the plot. We decided to put him out of his misery.

Our caterpillar survivors continue to soldier on. We’ve got one sun ripening on the windowsill,  and we get new cherry tomatoes about every other day with dinner.

they’re his favorite

May 17, 2010

Topher loves his little girl in overalls. They’re not typically what I choose to dress her in because I never enjoyed wearing them. But on mornings I get to sleep in and she’s dressed by daddy, she usually ends up in a pair and she is ridiculously cute. I love to watch them together all the time, the love of my life and his baby girl, but she seems to belong just to him a little bit more when she’s wearing overalls.

I used to think he just found them so adorable that he couldn’t help himself. But my husband is a practical man, and it turns out that cuteness is only part of it.

You know those little kid backpacks that are really harnesses with leashes attached? You see them a lot at airports and theme parks.

What a waste of cash.

Just get your kid some overalls. They can be all rough and tumble in ’em, true. But they can also be easily restrained.

And the dads really like them.