I mentioned last week that Alfie moved his visit a day early to surprise Callum. Alfie's Callum's grandad, and one of his favorite people going. There were a few bumps along the way, but we all managed to keep the secret ot the early arrival, and I think you can tell even from this picture: it was totally worth it.
Halloween is a Big Deal around these parts. We generally do a neighborhood gathering in someone's front yard with chili and beer and combine forces to pass out candy. Neel always takes Callum on the trick-or-treating rounds and I hang here with the other left-behinds to await the kiddos. Tradition.
Yesterday afternoon was a nightmare. I'm fighting a little cold, and I had a mini-freakout over my debit card (everything is fine). It took forever to get off campus after school. F O R E V E R. Callum needed a hair cut, and by the time we finally got home it was already five o'clock. I felt frazzled. We never got a pumpkin. It's been a weird fall.
Somewhere during all the driving in miserable, stuffy-nosed traffic I did yesterday, I had the thought that it would be nice to do the neighborhood walk with Callum and Neel this time. Could I do that? I don't feel great; could I leave the block behind and head out with my men? I decided to think about it, and before I could say anything to anyone Neel came home and said, "You should go out with us this year."
I'm so glad I did.
Callum started making his own costume last year. This year he decided to be a Klondike Bar. From scary to sweet. Or scary to diets, perhaps.
He was a huge hit. Grown-ups eat that stuff up, and I do too...who doesn't love a homemade costume? At house after house, he was told that it was the best costume, the most original, and again and again he was offered extra candy for making his own.
Trick-or-Treating, this year? A good walk: not ruined. The rain held of until just as we got home. And he gave me the Whoppers.
A dozen years ago, when we were living in California and I was very pregnant with Callum, I went to a wedding shower for a woman that Neel worked with. (I ended up going into labor the day after her wedding.) The woman hosting the shower, who was the wife of one of Neel's bosses, served two really lovely salads. All the ladies went ga-ga over them. One was Flying Farmer Chicken Salad and one was Chinese Chicken Salad, pictured here.
I really liked the Flying Farmer Salad, but that Chinese Chicken Salad? Oh my! Ramen in a salad! I had no idea! (Remember, this was a looooong time ago. I had a lot to learn about food, apparently.) Everyone loved those salads so much that our hostess kindly shared the recipes, and after Callum was born that Chinese Chicken Salad was just about all I wanted to eat. I'm not joking. I don't know what it was: the crisp green Napa Cabbage, the crunchy ramen, the salty/sweet dressing, but I absolutely craved that salad. Poor Neel made it for me over and over again. I can remember sitting in our bedroom with the bright California sunshine streaming in through the high windows, tiny Callum slumbering beside me as I scarfed down bowl after bowl of that salad.
Here we are a dozen years and 3,000 miles later and we're still making that salad. There are as many recipes for Chinese Chicken Salad as there are for potpie, I'd imagine. My mom read us one when she was up here last time that I meant to write down and try, but I forgot. I lost the original recipe for ours a long time ago, but here's how we do it:
Chop one head of Napa Cabbage
Crush 2 packs of Ramen Noodles (with seasoning packet)
Cube about a cup of cooked chicken breast (optional, but my meat-eating manchild prefers it)
Saute the Ramen in a bit of vegetable oil until lightly brown. Combine Napa and chicken and add Ramen.
For the dressing, in a jar with a lid combine:
Vegetable oil (I totally eyeball this, but I'm guessing about 1/3 cup, maybe a little more)
A dash of toasted sesame oil
Soy sauce (Maybe another 1/4 to 1/3 cup, just less than the oil)
A dash of rice vinegar
Sugar, several tablespoons. All to taste.
Shake to combine, taste and adjust before adding to the salad. If you add the dressing while the Ramen is still warm, it makes a nice sizzle!
Like I said, we've been making it for years. It's a staple in our house now, especially in the summer. A cool and easy go-to supper. Except when your twelve-year-old gets mad at you when you have to break into the hurricane-kit stash of Ramen, and he decides that this makes him sad.
Sometimes I really hate September.
When we moved to the Little Gray House (eight years ago now), I bought all sorts of gardening books. It was our first time not living in an apartment or condo, and I thought gardening might be my thing. Turns out, not so much. I like being outside. I like plants and planning things for the yard, but I'm not passionate about it. I don't have the knack. Neel does. It's his place. It took him awhile to figure it out, but our yard and building our garden has become his passion. I was all too happy to hand over the reins. Turns out I'm the house person. We tend to do things pretty much in conjunction with each other (e.g. In Ikea last week I desperately wanted a gorgeous cream shag rug, but bowed to his better judgement and didn't get it. We do have three dogs and an almost 12 year old boy, you know.), and I don't think there's a thing in the house that he hates or a thing in the yard that I don't love. But still, the yard his his space and the house is mine. Where we each call the shots. Where we each have dominion.
That doesn't mean I don't get to come play along sometimes. Right now, Neel is in the process of building us a patio, based on an idea from this blog. In addition to the 2x2 squares (and lordy there are a lot of those to pour), he decided to also pour four 4x4 squares in the center of the patio. My dad helped pour the first, which was clearly the most arduous (sorry, dad!), and our neighbor Tyler showed up in time to pour the second (it went a lot faster...sorry dad!).
Yesterday, Callum managed to go golfing just in time to pour the third. That left me.
Each 4x4 requires about 12 or 13 bags of concrete, which Neel pours one at a time. That part comes after excavating and placing and leveling the mold. I helped dig. I helped square the mold and level it too. Then I was in charge of watering the concrete and scraping it out of the wheel barrow into the mold. It didn't take long for us to get a rhythm going, and it was fun! Hard work, sure, but so satisfying too. The concrete part took us less than an hour, and all told, I think we worked on it about an hour and a half. Not a bad Labor Day's labor.
One night in this fun and funky town is not nearly enough. I was reminded as we walked down town looking at hippies for a place for dinner, that site-seeing and street photography are two entirely different things.
We were hungry. Not just Callum and Neel, but me too. So! Many! Choices! After passing The Southern (pictured above) and heading down the street to read menus outside Indian restaurants, American cafes and French Bistros (Bon Appetite, y'all!), we ended up right back here. When in Rome, y'all.
French 75 and some awesome beer that Neel loved for us to drink. Homemade pretzels and chutneys to dip, but why oh why did I not take a picture of Neel's chicken and waffles? Hello. That was yum. Even though I had pimento cheese crostini, we all decided that his dinner won. If I can get the chicken sausage gravy figured out, we're totally adding that to the rotation. Even if not.
Callum and I went for ice cream after dinner. He had his usual: cookie dough. Mine, you ask? Brown sugar bacon maple. Yeah, it was good. After I had that puppy in my hands I was too busy eating to take more pictures. So it clearly is one or the other. I want to go back for more.
This is Callum with our friend, Evans. His Excellency. Last night, Evans hosted a meet-and-greet for our new state senator, Ralph Northam. New to us because of recent redistricting. Neel's been following this guy for awhile because he's a physican affiliated with the medical school where he teaches.
Senator Northam is great, and I'm thrilled that he represents us now. He gets it that things won't get done on either side of the aisle, but across the aisle. I'm looking forward to voting for him in November.
It was a great back yard, neighborhood event. Some local brew, some wraps (best wrap I've ever had, by the way) from a local restaurant and a nice crowd. Young people (younger than me!) who care about their city and the future of their country too. That's nice to see.
Politicians were thick on the ground. Here's Callum with Paul Fraim, the mayor of Norfolk. He's a nice guy. It was said last night that he's been encouraged to get involved on a state level, but he chooses to stay here, taking care of our city. I appreicate that.
And how's this....
Callum and Senator Mark Warner! This is a good Virginia guy. We all felt honored to meet him. I'm not going to get all political. I've been pretty irritated this summer. But I like this guy. I like Mayor Fraim and Senator Northam, and I'm grateful for the work they're willing to do.
Neel even asked Senator Warner to not forget funding the NIH.
Holy MOLY, what a summer Callum has had. Braces! Hanging with a circuit court judge! And now meeting our mayor, state and U.S. Senators! How can 6th grade compete?!
After too many summers where we feel like we've left much undone, this year we made a list. It's a fluid thing, getting tweaked and added to... seems I can always think of more I want to do. But June's almost gone, and I'm starting to panic! In case you can't really read it (and actually want to), I'll lay it out for you here:
1. Be happy
2. Bike rides
3. Callum and Momma run a mile
4. Family beach days/mornings/dinners
5. Papa drinks more water!
6. Board game/game night @ least 1x a week
7. Callum cooks dinner
8. Callum and Momma cook together
9. Do more!
10. Explore the area
11. Go to the lab (Callum with Papa)
12. Lunch once a week with Papa
13. Walks after dinner
14. Tides game (local minor league team)
15. Mini trip for Momma and Callum
17. Neighborhood gatherings (India night)
18. Practice lacrosse
19. Callum learns to dive
20. Callum ties a tie
21. Lauren + Lightroom = friends
We're already making a dent, but like I said, there's more to add. Every day I think of things, it seems. We want to soak up every minute of this wonderful season.
I need to take a day to be preoccupied about some stuff, not to mention catch up after the weekend. I'll be back soon, hopefully tomorrow, with an update from the garden and The Great Egg Drop.
We've had a couple of cool nights, cool enough to allow us to sit fireside for dinner. A few weeks ago I had a yen to make soup, and this was the result. I wanted something brothy and vegetabley with spinach and leeks and some sausage. This was a bit more tomato-y than I intended, but the evening was cooler than expected so it worked. The bread, well, my friend Debbie would hate it, so maybe she should stop reading. Mayonmaise mixed with garlic, spread on a baguette. Top with parmesean cheese and broil. Hello.
These photos are really pleasing to me for some reason. After all this (The show comes down today. The art center kept it up for an extra day, which was lovely.), it's nice to take pictures of things sometimes. If I do this class again, and I'm leaning that way for next fall, I think I'll focus on something besides people. Still lifes like this are calling my name.
Neel's been getting his hands dirty (and everything else) pretty much every weekend. It's thrilling to see the backyard come together. There's still A LOT to do, but slowly, slowly we're he's making progress.
This weekend he focused on the vegetable garden. Using wood reclaimed from our kitchen demolition (all but one small piece of 2X4), he created raised beds in the sunniest part of the yard. A good, rich mix of soil went into them, and the dogs were ordered to "keep out!"
Sunday was planting day. Neel and Callum worked together to figure out the optimal placement for everything. He has a mix of seeds and plants (even corn!), fruits and vegetables. We both agree that this is trial and error year, but I'm so excited to see it start to come together. I'm looking forward to a bounty of veggies this summer. There's part of me that can't wait, but the bigger part of me is grateful for this part of the process as much as I know I'll be grateful when our little garden really produces. The waiting and watching is just as important as what comes at the end.
Neel is our yard man. We thought it was going to be me when we first moved here, but I lack the knack and the patience. Neel has both in spades. Our front yard is a vision in the spring time. I should take a picture to show you, but the phlox is thick on the ground and the bushes plump with deep green growth. Neel spent many seasons plotting it out. Trying a plant here before moving it there. Listening to what I liked and learning what he liked. The front yard got the best of his attention, and it paid off. Still, for (what seemed like) years, I would ask Neel to turn his laser beam focus on our back yard. It needs help.
This year was our year. He just needed time to come up with a vision. You can't rush these things, you know. Now I find him staring out our kitchen window, deep in thought. What's next? What's next? And in a few short weeks, he's made tremendous progress (No wonder he was so tired this weekend!). We have a plan for a patio, raised beds for a vegetable garden, and two new pathways. He has plans to shore up a fence, put in a brick patio in the back corner of the yard and ideas for lots more plants. This weekend, we he put in two new trees. A dogwood, which is a sentimental favorite for me because of this, and a weeping cherry. It's early for the dogwood yet, so it's not much to look at. In fact, it almost completely disappears against our fence at the moment. But the cherry is already a stunner. I'm so excited to see it out the window, and I can't wait to see what Neel comes up with next.
This little boy is so sad today and is driving us crazy in need of extra snuggles. He and Neel were meant to do their annual ski day (It's spring break.), but Callum has a crummy cough, and Neel and I couldn't countenance speeding down the slopes in that condition. So extra snuggles today and Neel and I are scrambling to readjust our (my) schedules while Callum heals and we aim for Thursday.
Oh man, I love a lazy Sunday morning. Made especially nice by the promise of a three-day weekend. As we headed to the grocery store on Saturday, Callum and I concocted a plan for a "big Sunday breakfast" this weekend. We do this occasionally, go all out for breakfast, and this time he helped.
As an added side comment, I shot all these pictures in RAW, using this format for the first time ever. Not as scary as I expected, and a lot of fun to edit. It's all about baby steps, people.