The Watermelon Chronicles: A Brief Photo Essay

Showdown at the Dropped Watermelon Corral

Some friends generously sent us home from a playdate with a sample from their backyard watermelon patch. Mbot promptly dropped it, which is the best way to find out if it’s ready to eat. The dinosaur thought so, but was a bit outsized.

The antique cat was less impressed:

Ugh, your breath–sweet and watermelony

In the end, we gutted and ate it. No pictures of that. We were all too sticky. It was kind of sad to slay the little guy. Gave a new dimension to the old saying, “I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me.”

Today we’ll just add some fresh basil leaves and crumbled feta, and finish him off. We have no remorse.



Attack of the Killer Tomatoes: the 2012 Remake By Gbot

The upside: I now know what a hornworm is. (photo credit:

It is fascinating to me that when I search Google Images for “tomatoes smashed on a door,” pictures of homemade bruschetta, a bowl of soup, a hornworm, and a mean-looking cartoon Viking come up on the first page, but no actual tomatoes smashed on a door.

After I purchase the memory chip to put in my phone to replace the one that disappeared from my desk last week, I will change all that. The appearance of tomatoes on my door and the disappearance of electronics from my desk help to explain where I’ve been for the past seven days, which is obviously not in front of my computer posting tips and tales from parenting, writing, and life, as my business card promises.

For the past seven days, I have been attempting to adapt to just-turned-four-year-old Mbot’s second week of his second year of preschool. For Mbot, it seems to be going very nicely. And for that I am thankful. For me and almost-three-year-old Gbot, some days are better than others. Some days, we build impressive MagnaRepTiles (I would show you a picture, but it’s stuck in my phone.) Some days, we go to the Y, where I am summoned off the treadmill prematurely because my younger half put his tooth through his lip under a table in the playroom. Some days, we play in the pool, where Gbot wants nothing to do with actual swimming, or even bobbing, but instead insists on playing catch with a SquiDiver for an hour from the cooling comfort of the steps. Other days, I try to work. Like today.

I had a lot to do. I was behind. Very behind. Husbot was in the bedroom getting dressed for a meeting. I let Gbot play by himself while I stared into my computer screen begging it to take me back.

Over the monitor, out of focus, I saw Gbot playing handball against the bedroom door with the half-deflated mini soccer ball I’d thought I’d left in the car. “How good he is at entertaining himself!” I thought, pleased. “And thank heavens, because I’m so behind.” I listened to the rhythmic, gently “Thump. Thump. Thump,” as he played. Every once in a while it would stop, and I’d see him race across the living room, out of sight because I didn’t bother turning my head, and then it would start again.

I was deep in mid-edit when Husbot opened the bedroom door. “Did you see this?” he asked in what seemed an overly alarmed tone.

“What?” I asked. “Gbot’s been playing ball against the door.”

“With tomatoes,” he replied.

If my floor had been cleaner, I could have turned it into this. (Photo courtesy of “Door to My Kitchen” at

I snapped to attention.

Had I already forgotten that earlier that morning while signing Mbot into school, and while all the other children had been milling around interacting with other humans, the Bots had gotten double time-outs for conducting a hands-on investigation of the office paper cutter?

I leapt to the scene of the present crime and yes! It was true! The vine-ripened tomatoes that had been on the high counter were now splattered up and down the bedroom door and across the floor. It looked like a murder scene.

The slipcover on the arm chair which he climbed and on whose arm he stood to reach the tomatoes will have to be removed and washed.

The velvet and beaded silk throw quilt responded surprisingly well to dabbing with water.

We will have pasta sauce with canned tomatoes.

I will have a glass of wine.

Probably two.

And I will continue working–and working toward serenity tomorrow. Thank goodness the tomatoes are gone.

Overly Astute Four-Year-Old Expresses Skepticism Over Mother’s Explanation of Chlorophyll

So we were driving along, chatting about poop or, more specifically, what can make poop green. (Don’t you love a story that starts that way?)

Alarmed earlier in the day, I had consulted the internet and among the short list of perpetrators are excess bile, food coloring, and green veggies. I decided it was the food coloring in the sprinkles on the cut-out cookies Mbot had helped make after breakfast.  Mbot decided he had eaten too much broccoli, which he likes to eat but tends to whine about while it’s cooking because of the odor. He decided that food coloring makes broccoli green.

No, I explained. Something called chlorophyll makes broccoli and other plants green. “Chlorophyll can turn sunshine into nutrients,” I said brightly. “It’s kind of like magic. So when we eat broccoli, we’re really eating sunshine!”

Mbot paused, then asked in a voice that betrayed his suspicion: “You mean when I smelled broccoli, I really smelled sun?”

“Kind of!” I chirped.

At least he didn’t make the next connection, which would be: if broccoli smells like sun, and broccoli turns into green poop, then does sun smell like poop?

It’s a question for another day.

Magic Pockets

This has reminded me of how much I love marshmallows and how I’ve always wanted to make them myself. I think I’ll be able to find helpers. (photo and a recipe! at

When I was three, my favorite dress was “the dress with the magic pockets.”

It was homemade–of course–in a cotton print, and my sister had a matching one. Each dress had two patch pockets, and every time my mother dressed me in it, I would find a marshmallow in one of the pockets. This delighted me, I think, more than it did Susan–I had an insatiable sweet tooth. If someone had set a whole bag of Jet-Puffeds in front of me and told me to have as many as I wanted, I would have thought I’d entered a parallel universe of unmitigated pleasure. My family simply did not indulge in such excesses, perhaps because we are from old New England stock, with its mix of ascetisism and a stiff-backed sense of propriety–perhaps because my parents couldn’t afford it. But whatever the reason, a pocket with a marshmallow in it was my idea of the best magic in the world.

Sadly, I did not get to wear the dress every day. But after a few outings in it (well-spaced by matters of weeks, probably), I figured out a way to beat the system. I have a vivid memory of looking up into my closet at a row of dresses hung neatly above my head, of quickly locating the right one, and, knowing what I’d find, plunging my hand into the pocket. No marshmallow. Undaunted, I reached into the other pocket. Empty.

Something was obviously terribly wrong. Apparently, the dress was not quite as magic as it was purported to be. I do not think I admitted to my disappointing discovery, because it would make me look like an ungrateful glutton. I suffered in silence.

The next time my mother took the dresses out of the closet for me and my sister to wear, I reached into the pockets, my belief wavering–but my fingers touched the smooth, soft surface of the puffy nugget of delight. I think it’s then that I began to suspect that my mother was behind the magic in the dress with the magic pockets. But I didn’t mind. Magic was magic was a marshmallow.

Given this family history, I shouldn’t have been surprised last week by the reception of the inaugural appearance of magic pockets in my own home.

It is ridiculously easy to slip, unnoticed, a marshmallow–even a large one–into the pockets of a toddler and a preschooler. The look on Mbot’s face when he found his was one of disbelief and delight. Then Gbot started patting his own pockets–his reaction was more “it’s about time I found it.”

I enjoyed a moment of mommy triumph in seeing a silly tradition that I remember loving coming full circle. Until ten minutes later, when it really did come full circle.

Mbot reached back into his pocket for another.

He dug deep.

There was no other.

I heard my own childhood disappointment in the indignant notes of wailing that rose around me.

And I heard my adult self explaining over the sobs. “But a magic pocket doesn’t just produce one marshmallow after another. It’s a treat. You can’t expect it. You have to just enjoy it when it appears.” And how does one explain patience to someone for whom a summer day lasts all summer and a two-minute time-out is eternity?

Of course all was forgotten ten minutes later. By the weebots at least. I am left recognizing my disappointment that my marshmallow–the magic of Mbot’s initial reaction–did not create eternal contentment for either of us. But the alternative, of course, is a universe in which marshmallows are infinite. And that would be so sticky.

T – 1 Day: Ironman Has More Pizzazz Than I Do.

English: Screenshot of Julie Andrews from the ...

If I were Mary Poppins, I’d be making this look a whole lot easier. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9:30 on the night before the party. I don’t have the energy to write, scrub the chocolate off the floor, empty and reload the dishwasher, paint the last coat of red on Ironman’s throat (yes, this morning I sawed off his head, lengthened his neck, and stuck his head back on), or lift Mbot in my arms and carry him from the sofa, where he fell asleep watching Mary Poppins.

Ironman is, but for the layer of paint, done. Pictures to come Sunday. My camera’s still broken, and Husbot is too tired from running interference all week to post pics from the Droid.

The monster cake is finished. Baked. Decorated. The marshmallow fluff frosting recipe (untested) off the internet is WAY to sweet, so I’ll caution parents to steer clear. I used an extra paper mache sphere left over from The Big I for the monster’s head, atop two chocolate cakes–a recipe I’ve made fifty times in the past twenty years–in which, by mistake, I put double the amount of butter. Blame exhaustion. Blame measuring in the company of ansty fighting weebots. Blame anything you want. It still tastes good. This is no Hollywood party. This is a homemade, folk art-type shindig and the homemade-er, the better. Except for the OCD moments with Ironman.

10:04 pm: Okay…I scrubbed the chocolate off the floor. No one’s house is ever this clean for real, right? I’ve just stuffed everything in my “office” (read: a five-foot-long counter in my kitchen) into the cabinets. I’m kind of feeling like a fraud–or feeling like everyone’s a fraud, in some way. Even my butter dish is fraudulent. It’s from Anthropologie, a small, bright melon-colored butter dish of cuteness. This morning, it was full of 80-degree soft butter, some smished around the edges. This evening, after cake-making and pasta-preparing, it was empty, still with some smished around the edges. Tonight, after cleaning? Empty. With some smished on the inside. But the edges? Spotless. Does everyone do this? Am I the only fraudulent housekeeper, grownup, mother, woman, writer?

Mbot’s still on the sofa. Mary Poppins has left with the west wind. Husbot’s snoring. I’m thinking about hanging streamers. I’m looking across the room in the half-light at Ironman, whose neck just received a final dousing in ferrous-hued tempera, and he kind of reminded me of the alien in Prometheus. Insiduous.

Time to hang streamers.

11:20 pm. Streamers hung. Teeth brushed. Dishwasher emptied and loaded. Mbot lifted from the sofa and carried to bed. Sippy cup checked to make sure it was full. Gbot kissed goodnight. Nose held to his skin, inhaled, inhaled, trying to fix the smell of sleeping baby cheek in my memory, which seems to unhinge from everything these days.

Will I know better next year what to do and what not to do for a birthday party?

This morning, when I received a late RSVP “yes,” I told Mbot, “Hey! Jbot is coming!”

He said, “Isn’t she already on the list? And Mom? Can everyone come just one at a time?”

I know just how he feels. Birthday parties, except for the presents, for the most part suck ass. I said, “Moon Pie, it is easier and more fun to play with one friend at a time. I feel the same way. But everyone’s going to be here together tomorrow, just like school, and it’ll be fun, too.”

Who knows if I’m right?

At the last birthday party we attended, the newly four-year-old cried when she saw Chuck E. Cheese approaching her. “But she loves him!” cried her mom, in consternation.

So, who knows. It’s all an ongoing experiment.

Will tune in tomorrow.

Prometheus: The Home Movie


In an interestingly serendipitous sequence of events, within three days last week, Mbot set fire to a paper Spiderman napkin, Husbot and I saw Prometheus, and the family caught a discoverment at the Arizona Stomach Center entitled “Combustion.” What do these things have in common? Read on.

The first event occurred just after Nanny and the bots set the table for my birthday party. Uncle Marty and Grandma were coming over for dinner. Nanny was busy in the kitchen boiling lobsters. (She was not wearing earplugs, as, fortunately, their screams are silent. (Z, that was for you.) I was shucking corn. The bots were behaving, by which I mean kind of watching Caillou and kind of playing with balloons and kind of doing crafts. I laid out the cheese and crackers, I opened the wine. I moved a giant candle to the center of the table–a table whose center is farther from its edges than bots’ arms are long–and lit it. The bots tried to blow out the three flames from their positions on the chairs. They couldn’t. I told them to stop trying. That fire is dangerous. Blah, blah. blah. Then I turned around to do whatever I had to do to continue getting dinner ready.

Moment later, as I was taking a serving plate down for the corn, I heard Mbot’s voice. “Uh, Mom? There’s a fire on the table.”

I whirled and yes! Lo and behold, there was a fire on the table. A small one, exactly the size of a paper Spiderman napkin. I rushed over and lifted the single unburned corner and dropped it on the serving plate that was still in my hand, then dropped it into the sink and turned on the water. And then I attempted to explain how he could have hurt himself, and us. Blah, blah, blah. He remained unfazed. So Nanny had a go at it. She explained that he might have hurt Junepbear by mistake. And that’s what got through. There was crying, and promises to never play with fire. My heart rate was still about 160. I washed the serving plate and piled lobster on it. The guests arrived and dinner was served while Uncle Marty and Husbot discussed Prometheus, Ridley Scott‘s prequel to Alien, which Uncle Marty (an author and screenwriter) had just seen at the IMAX in 3D.

The next day, Husbot decided we had to see it. And here is my completely uneducated review: It was okay. There were problems. It was also confusing. But fun to discuss and try to make sense of. Prometheuswas the name of the spaceship that arrived on a distant planet seeking the origins of mankind. Students of mythology or art history will know that Prometheus is the name of the god who took fire from the heavens and gave it to man. As punishment, he was chained to a rock, and every night an eagle flew down to eat out his liver, and every day it grew back. This happened for all eternity.

It’s an old, old story. Shown here: Prometheus bound, Laconian black-figure
amphoriskos C6th B.C., Vatican City Museums (via

One thing about the movie isn’t confusing. One of the morals of the story is: Don’t play with fire. Not to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet, but fire, in this case, is the biological weaponry that a superior race with a god syndrome (or are they god???) had developed in order to destroy whole planetfuls of other carbon-based lifeforms. Perhaps in order to start from scratch with the hope of a better outcome (a world without the color mauve? Without reality TV and the Hilton sisters?)

Of course, the characters don’t KNOW at first that the animate sludge on the distant planet peopled by large dead guys will turn into large gross monsters that will shoot large gross appendages down their throats. (Again, I hope I’m not ruining something for someone.) The humans are seeking knowledge, and that is their downfall. Like knowledge, fire is a thing that must be used carefully and that can destroy more than paper Spiderman napkins and stuffed bears.

Which brings us to the Stomach Center. We visited it the next morning because Nanny had never been. The bots loved showing her the waterworks, the exhibit on nanoparticles, the giant telescope you look through and see your own eye projected on a big circular screen on the ceiling. Mbot wanted to see the kitty brain. No one except Nanny was brave enough to go into the giant stomach (from which the Arizona Science Center takes its bot-given name). I won a game of Mindball against Nanny, but solely because I knew she was worrying about where the bots were while we were playing, and so I didn’t have to worry about where the bots were. And then a demonstration began, about combustion.

Mbot dragged me to an empty seat and sat, riveted, while two college students explained the three sides of the fire triangle (fuel, oxygen, and heat).


They poured alcohol into a clear plastic twenty-gallon water bottle, pumped in air, and dropped in a match. Mbot jumped about two inches at the fireball that momentarily filled the bottle. Then they threw lycopodium powder into the air and aimed an acetylene torch at it. Then they held a flame to Peter Cottonball and we all watched as it was reduced to a blackened puff of its former self. Then they explained how to use a fire extinguisher. And then, they told everyone in the audience to put their hand over their heart–Mbot did so immediately–and solemnly repeat after them: “I promise to never play with fire.”

Mbot repeated it. “I promise to never play with fire.” Then he glanced sideways up at me, and added, “Again.”

And the next day he was back to his discoverments with liquids, pouring his cup of milk at breakfast into the mouth of a deflated balloon to see if it could be done (yes, to a point), and if, after it was done, he could drink out of it (yes, to a point). As I was mopping up, I banned (again) all discoverments involving liquids to the bathtub.

But it doesn’t look like there will be any more discoverments involving fire. Not until he gets his first chemistry set, or falls in love.

Adventures with Lobsters and Fire

Call me heartless, but inspite of David Foster Wallace’s call to end boiling lobsters alive, this native New Englander is still a fan.

We’ve been busy–my mother’s in town for the week. The bots have been counting down the “sleeps” until Nanny arrived and now that she’s here, we’ve been going nonstop.

One of the highlights for the bots during his last June visit was a trip across town to the Chinese Cultural Center, which features an enormous Asian grocery called, for reasons I have not yet ascertained, 99 Ranch. Last year, with the bots 2 11/12 and 1 3/4, everything in every aisle was a marvel, especially the produce department with vegetables of every conceivable texture, shape, and shade of green, the swordlike lemongrass, carrots the size of a half-bottle of wine, watermelon-sized jack fruit resembling scared pufferfish, and especially the real fish–about thirty different varieties on ice and six great tanks filled with live tilapia, catfish, Dungeness crab, and our main objective: the Maine lobsters, $10.99/pound.

Behind the counter, four men in rubber boots and aprons stand on high stools to dip fish from the tanks and take silver-bladed cleavers and giant yellow rubber mallets to chop each fish in one of six ways, illustrated on a board hanging above the counter. Last year, we had to pull the bots away. I myself could watch for hours without getting bored, in spite of the pungent low-tide smell.

Well. This year, with a 3 11/12 year-old and a 2 3/4 year-old, was an entirely new experience. In the produce department, everyone was cold and wanted to be held. They are both too big for Nanny to carry, and too big for me to carry both. We took turns. The bot in the cart complained of being cold and not being held. As we neared the fish counter, wailing about the smell began. It didn’t bother Gbot, but Mbot, who is notoriously sensitive to smell and has remained largely resistent to my attempts to introduce him to foods other than cereal, peanut-butter, hamburgers, chocolate, ice cream, and broccoli, refused to be diverted for more than a minute at a time by the tilapia, the catfish, the crabs, or the lobsters. A hole was poked in the lobster bag and Nanny went back for another.

It was among the least pleasant grocery shopping trips of the year, mostly due to dashed expectations.

In the past six months, I’ve rarely been taken so totally by surprise by the bots’ response to an experience. I realize this trip was a preview of teendom, when nothing that is my idea will prove to be anything other than boring, too smelly, or too cold. But we got the lobsters, we got the Tsing Tao, and we escaped without setting fire to anything. Which is more than I can say for that evening, when Mbot found out what happens when you hold a paper Spiderman napkin over a candle.

But that’s a story for another day.


How to Get A Quiet Morning To Yourself a Week Before Mother’s Day

1. Drive up to the mountains for a two-day family getaway.

2. Spend a fabulous day at the creek, catching bugs and collecting rocks.

3. Drive fifty yards up the road to the Junipine Restaurant and, knowing better at a place that looks like it does a brisk business only in chicken strips and beer, order the smoked trout.


4. Spend the night in the bathroom of the hotel as Your Body Battles a Stomachache. (Mbot’s very favorite book of all time.)

If you take these four simple steps, you will find that your husband may whisk the weebots into the car and off on an adventure the next morning, leaving you curled up in bed like a creek bug under a rock, because you are unable to walk; you can only feebly nurse a glass of ginger-ale because your stomach feels like it lost the battle.

Of course, that afternoon, when you can barely sit upright to drive the two hours back home, you may have to field questions from the back seat. Mbot might be asking, “What does salmonella look like, Mom? Why did it attack your body? Why did you eat it?”

But when you say, through nearly-closed lips, because it seems to increase the residual nausea even to open your mouth, “Let’s just all have a quiet time. One thing about a stomachache, Moon Pie, is that it hurts your voice sometimes too, so that it doesn’t feel good to talk,” there may be a short silence and then he may answer,

“But Mom, I think your voice sounds magnificent.”

Which will not quite redeem the tainted trout, but I think it’s as close as it gets.

No-Fail, Kid-Pleaser Spinach: Popeye’s Pancakes

The secret ingredient: baby spinach

Readers know that I’m not generally one to hand out recipes. There’s always someone out there who knows more or figured it out more scientifically.

But I find that I’m becoming, quite to my surprise, a pancake expert. I add things to pancakes: Bananas. Applesauce. Carrots. Zucchini. Yams. Wheatgerm. Flaxseed. Ground oats. Ground almonds. I think only one experiment was an unredeemable disaster but I can’t remember which one. Although, in an uncharacteristic turn of discipline and documentation, I usually write down the recipes while the bots are making them disappear, and I usually write them down accurately.

This morning, faced with half a sixteen-ounce container of spinach from last week’s Costco run (do you KNOW how much a pound of spinach is? It’s roughly a billion servings. More when I’m the only one eating it. Eating it alone was not the plan), I decided that I would no longer eat my spinach alone.

So I got out my trusty Joy of Cooking, the one with fifteen different variations scribbled on the “pancakes” page. If I had been in charge of naming this book,  it would be called The Necessity of Cooking: Striving for Gratification. As I’ve mentioned (see Muffins McBot, Or, You’re Stepping On My Habit), I enjoy baking much more; it’s zennish, except when it’s punctuated with battle cries and calls for Dora bandaids.

Pancakes fall somewhere between cooking and baking. They’re cakes, but they’re cooked in a pan. What makes them a good target for slipping in nutritious, vitamin-filled ingredients the bots have shunned in other contexts is simple: sugar. I add honey–preferably local honey, because it’s supposed to help with allergies. Makes sense to me. Then I dab them with Vermont maple syrup. Which isn’t supposed to help with any allergies but really, who cares?

Even A.A. Milne wrote a poem about eating peas with honey. If he’d thought of it, I’m sure there would be a follow-up  verse about spinach with chocolate.

Popeye’s Pancakes

  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • About 1 1/2 cups fresh spinach (or 1/3 cup frozen), cooked & pureed (as my nut grinder has coffee beans in it and my food processor is too big, I just used a pizza cutter to slice-‘n’-dice the hell out of it).
  • 2-3 T honey (or brown sugar)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour (these proportions can be varied)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • a few dashes cinnamon
  • a handful of chocolate chips

Stir together the liquid ingredients, stir in the dry ingredients. Heat griddle on medium-low with a tiny bit of butter on it. Ladle the batter on, then drop 4 or 5 chocolate chips onto each pancake. When bubbly, flip and cook for another minute.

These don’t even need any syrup. Gbot’s review: “I yuv dese pan-cakes.”

After breakfast, I pile the leftovers into stacks of four and freeze. They reheat fabulously in the microwave. And leftovers are my new favorite food. Look ma, no cooking!

I Just Got a D in Preschool Snack Procurement


Last Friday Mbot was sent home from preschool with a big red bag and a list of food items I needed to bring into class on Monday. I’ve been faced with the big red bag and the accompanying list twice before; approximately every three months it’s our turn to buy a week’s worth of snacks for the Joshua Tree classroom. The list changes all the time.

I’ve always done the shopping well ahead because who wants to be the mom who can’t even find the caramel dipping sauce for the apple slices? (Although I had to visit three stores before I found it.)

But this weekend, having succeeded twice before, I was lulled into a sense of my own competence. And so, on Monday morning, when I looked at the list on the way to library story and craft time, I read along nodding: ten bagels, a container of cream cheese, a bunch of bananas, a bag of carrots, etc. etc. And then: Gogurts. Followed by: Pretzel Flipz.

Were they typos, spelling mistakes, or trademarked names for packaged foods I’d never heard of? I feared the last. There was no one around to ask. I couldn’t Google it because I left my smart phone in my other life, the one in which I’m savvy and hip. Hell, if I had a smart phone, I’m sure I’d already know what Gogurts where, just because hello, doesn’t everyone?

I cheated on the Pretzel Flipz and bought the funnest looking pretzels I could see, in little tic-tac-toe shapes. But after failing to find anything called Gogurts in the trail mix aisle, I admitted defeat.

I had to turn in the big red bag without having completed the assignment. I didn’t have time to explain my performance, which, if not improved within twenty-four hours, would surely result in midafternoon cries of starvation emanating from the Joshua Tree classroom.

By now, I have discovered that Gogurts are, of course, individual tubes of flavored yogurt that can be sucked directly out of the bag. I will go buy some this afternoon. Although, if I do say so: gross.

We are all learning something in preschool.