In which I make a delicious apple crisp while home with the two boys

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups apples
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup oats
  • Dad, Max, Abe
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • laptop computer
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • cinnamon
  • lemon juice
  • apple juice
  • one bowl pretzels
  • one bowl chips
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Put children at dining room table. Put chips and pretzels in front of children. Put laptop far away from children, but not so far that they can’t see it. Responding to requests, start “the smashing things and all the paint” video. Remind children not to get snacks on laptop.
  3. Peel and core apples. Restart video.
  4. Try to convince Abe not to eat the apples, because soon they will be covered with sugar and butter. Realize how stupid this is. Give away one apple. Peel and core replacement. Sprinkle all apples except for the one Abe has with cinnamon, brown sugar, and lemon juice.
  5. Break up small fight. Remind children not to touch computer. Wipe sticky hands. Start “funny dogs and all those garbage cans” video.
  6. Mix oats, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nuts.
  7. Refill snack bowls. Start “guys falling off treadmills” video.
  8. Cream butter into mixture. When children change their minds, do not reason with them. Wash hands, start “smashing things and all the paint” video.
  9. Restart mixing butter into mixture.
  10. Provide apple juice to both children, along with stern warning not to spill it on computer. Consider utility of this move; decide not to worry about nagging the children too much, because they are watching a sledgehammer hit a tv and therefore completely ignoring me.
  11. Cover apples with butter-flour-sugar mixture. Tell children “it’s not good, wait until it’s cooked.”
  12. Repeat.
  13. Repeat.
  14. Repeat.
  15. Give each child one spoonful of butter mixed with brown sugar. Put crisp into oven before they can ask for more.
  16. Restart “smashing things” video. Follow with “treadmills” video. Deny request to buy treadmills for house.
  17. Serve with ice cream.
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In which Max realizes, “Abe is here to stay.”

The scene: Abe is on the floor, smashing trucks into each other. Max is at a little table, drawing a roller coaster on a small white board. Abe notices Max. Hmm, thinks Abe, Max is doing something. I bet I could mess with that, and these trucks would still be here when I got back. Let’s go! Abe jumps up and smears the ink on the white board with his hand.

Max: Abe! Stop! (dramatic sigh) I wish I didn’t have a brother!

Abe: (huge smile – Abe has determined that, since he can smile in the face of almost any kind of angry voice, it is always the best move to just wait people out)

Max: (calming down a little) Well, I wish I didn’t have this whiteboard. (looks at the whiteboard, erases the smeared roller coaster, starts again)

Abe: (still grinning and waiting)

Max: Well, I guess what I wish is that Abe wouldn’t mess up my whiteboard.

Abe: (still grinning)

Max: (sigh) But that probably won’t happen.

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Really?

We let the children watch lots of TV. Why? Because there are only two of us, and there are two of them, and TV sort of gives us a third grownup. The name of this grownup is Curious George. He does what we often cannot in the morning; make Abe stay in one place that is not the top of the dining room table or the counter next to the knife rack.

Figure 1

But today, while I was packing up his lunch, Abe came flying into the kitchen. He generally moves only in a run or a tumble. Note in Figure 1 how he is basically being held back to keep him from launching himself across the yard. He has already zipped right out of his shirt here. He moves fast and wonders about the consequences later, if at all.

Abe: Dad, come with me.

Me: Well, I’m making your lunch. In a minute.

Abe: (screaming, tears) No, now! Hold my hand!

Me: Ok, ok, calm down. What’s so exciting?

Abe pulls me into the living room to watch Curious George, then, using my hand for leverage, leaps up my body into my arms.

Abe: It has cows. Cows are very scary.

Not what I expected from Baby Deathwish. But it was true: he is terrified of cows.

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Yet another pool

How nice to have something exciting to do on a Sunday in Spain. When I travel, I tend to have an image of closed doors in a city that I don’t know very well. Not a very original image, clearly, but I always wind up jealous of people who have some kind of “in” – who know someone, or have some insider knowledge that gets them into places where tourists can’t go.

This is not about Fancy Nightclub Envy. When I was in Brazil we accidentally got into a Fashion Week Party, an occurrence I can only attribute to washing my clothes in the hotel sink for three weeks, and still this was boring. This is more about the fact that I already know that with a Visa card and a little effort, I can get into anything open to the public. No real challenge there. It’s just more fun to think about having put in the effort to get to know a place well enough to find stuff you just can’t pay to do.

Thus it is with Sundays in Spain. Listen, it isn’t 1986 – stuff is open. But people tend to hang out at home with their families. When we were here in 2003, we rarely saw our friends who had family in the area on Sunday. But this past Sunday we were reunited with our old friend Arancha. She’s now married and has two kids and a stepson; all three were there. Here she is with her husband, Kiko and youngest, Tonio:

Kiko whipped up a killer paella and Max was introduced to the joys of violent cartoons by his seven-year old counterpart, Roberto. All afternoon, the two of them managed to watch stuff or play soccer or swim together, asking us intermittently how to say this or that in English or Spanish to move things along. While Max clearly will not learn Spanish, per se, from this trip, he is definitely learning the pain of not being able to communicate and the joy of breaking through two different languages to be able to share a toy or agree on who will be goalie first. This is good stuff and I think that he is enjoying it, though he ends each day a puddle. Abe, of course, has no idea that he isn’t understood and he basically is flirting with all the Catalan moms in the courtyard and yelling with the other 2-year olds.

Having spent the entire afternoon in Spanish, we headed to Melissa and Colby’s for our sleepover. The boys marauded nicely together and the adults got to hang out without worrying that Abe was about to climb through a window or that Max and Colby were going to battle to the death over who had won an Uno game.

When we left, Abe was so worn out from partying that he napped for four and a half hours. Max and I played gin rummy with “the grown-up cards” and he was pretty darn proud of himself for using them, though he cannot hold a hand of cards without a plastic card holder thingy.

Today we decided halfheartedly that we should go do another outing and chose the Barcelona botanical gardens. Later, I asked our friend Jose, the tour guide, what he thought of them, and he said he had never been in his life. A wise move. Apparently an homage to semi-arid scrub, they featured numerous aloe plants and dying brownish bushes. See how excited Max was?

So. Freaking. Bored. Note the lame bushes in the background.

Things only got better when there was monkeying around and kissing. But this is true of many events.

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Off to Sitges

Our friend Jose now lives outside the city, in Sitges, which is convenient for us because Sitges is on the beach and his apartment has a pool as well. This time, we did not leave all our luggage on the train, which made Max happy. When we went out there for the first time, a week or so ago, we were so addled by having to carry a sleepy Max and a wild Abe off the train that we forgot our, you know, stuff. Max was furious at us and basically told us that we should not be trusted to plan trips. But the train staff found the bags at the end of the line, I took the train 30 minutes to collect the bags, and we were back in business.

This time, as I said, we arrived without incident, and got quickly into the pool, like so:

Jose’s son, Colby, who is also 5, joined us for much of the festivities.

Max and Colby got along like 5 year old buddies do, which is to start 1000 fights, then, while the adults are trying to sort out the opposing sides, forget about said fights and tell us to stop talking. It was a relaxing three days. Even Abe got in on the action.

The best part of the little trip, though, was when we went out to dinner on the second night. Max and Colby went outside to play in the street, which is ok here, probably because the streets are 4 feet wide. They came back in, having run into Jose’s neighbors and their daughters, also 5 or 6 years old, with whom we had been playing in the pool all day. Well, “we” weren’t really playing with them – Colby was. Max was pretty shy about playing in a group of kids speaking Spanish. But at dinner, they all invented a game consisting of hitting each other with plastic bottles. Max did not have a bottle, but he put a pair of socks on his hands and everyone seemed to agree that that was fine by them. So he was in.

At the end, he said, “I’m so proud of myself!” So was I, for finding a way to communicate, but I wanted to hear him say that he had learned a lesson about how to join a group by just playing the game or being confident. He said, “I really hit Colby hard with my socks.” Perhaps the more important point. Lest you think, though, that they are not getting along, see how they play video games:

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The Mediterranean Diet

We are going to live to be 550 years old, now that Max is addicted to a few things.

Thing 1: Nutella. It can’t be worse than jelly, correct? And the jar says it is hazelnut paste, which is basically soy nut butter, which is essentially dirt and vitamins. Plus, after a hot morning kicking the ball around the courtyard, it dramatically improves his mood.

Nutella face

Can something that makes you smile like this be wrong?

Thing 2: Melon with jamon. A person needs protein (well, maybe not after all that hazelnut vitamin paste) and melon is a big green fruit and therefore clearly healthy. Together they are like the Wondertwins of breakfast. Look at it another way: if a little salty cured meat gets your kids to gorge themselves silly on nice healthy stuff, I say go for it.  Max and Abe are eating this stuff as if they do not know what a nice slice of jamon costs around here (30 Euros/kilo if you’re keeping score at home, but it is very light). Note the use of a fork as well, not something we get every day.

Serious consideration for the ham and melon breakfast. No smiling.

After breakfast we took our crazy stroller contraption and headed out of our courtyard and made our way to the metro. We are making this the Summer of the Hot Commute.

For the record, I push the stroller sometimes, too. It’s heavy. We headed for the University Gardens  but *surprise* it was closed. Thanks, Sunday. Whatever. We really just wanted to get lunch. Max ate even more pork and soon it was time to go home for Abe’s nap.

Max took the bus.

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I have always loved soccer so, so much

Actually, no. Usually it’s boring. But of course the World Cup comes with its own zip and of course people are a tidge more excited in Spain than in the US. Spain is, of course, nuts for soccer, and they had never even made the quarterfinals before this year, so they are sort of the Chicago Cubs or pre-2004 Red Sox of soccer. I suppose that should make it even more exciting than if we were in someplace that is used to winning, but since those places are Germany, Italy, and Brazil, probably not. Anyway, there were fireworks in the courtyard and, though Max has a touch of the world cup fever, he is scared of loud noises and therefore is rooting for Holland in the final.

More exciting for us has been his transformation from a sleep-deprived psychopath (the first seven days) to a well-rested and only occasionally insane kid. He has put away his mitt since a few days ago when he insisted that we buy him a soccer ball and it has not come out since. All his free time is spent kicking the ball against the walls of our courtyard. We would probably have preferred to have him just ask one of the 75 kids playing soccer in our courtyard if he could join them, since he plays only alone, and with a wide berth around him, or maybe with Abe if Abe is not chasing a dog, but Max is Max and he does not like crowds or kids taking the ball from him or anything like, you know, a pickup soccer game.

So we bash it off the wall for hours on end. But then two kids came to the courtyard with their dad around lunchtime and Max, out of nowhere, said in a whisper, “Dad, ask them if I can play.” Soon he was off to the races, only returning to us to report when he had understood a Spanish word. Here they are:

Max is about as good as any American 5-year old, but as he has been playing for 4 days straight, he can hold his own in kicking it around, so he had fun.

Later that week, we took him to the Aquarium. On the way, he went insane again and nearly had to return home, but he pulled it together long enough to be wowed by the sharks and stingrays. And then, after those, we popped out at the exit. For 50 Euros a family, the damn thing should last more than an hour.

We did better the next day, when we bought a little platform for the back of Abe’s stroller so Max no longer needs to walk. When all else fails, think,”if my kids were Renaissance princes, what would their parents do?” This preserved enough energy for him to make it to lunch, and he inhaled about $30 worth of tapas. Something about quince paste makes kids batty. Today he came with me to the water park, played in the sand, and then declared that he wanted…pickles. This can be bought from your neighborhood olive vendor, so we went off to find them, but he fell asleep on the way, then ate about 500 pickles when he woke up. Happy Hour!

Tomorrow we are unfortunately going to something like an air conditioned, indoor playground. Mostly this trip is doing the same crap we do at home with more Spanish, more meals out, and more pickle vendors. It is a good way to live.

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Six days in Spain

Most of the vacation so far has been about finding pools and swimming in them. This is not going to be a Sagrada Familia – fancy lunch – Picasso Museum visit to Barcelona. In fact, we’re lucky, so far, if we eat three meals that don’t involve Abe running away. But why should Spain change that?

We started our tour of swimming holes by going to a public converted moderniste water tower, which is now surrounded by five-year-old-size wading pools. It is in the middle of a city block and you’d hardly know it was there, but it has sandy beaches, trees for shade, and it costs 1 Euro per person. Awesome. After that we tried to get a quick lunch, but the kids were too far gone and Max wound up throwing a lot of straws around the place and had to be removed by force. He is generally refusing to eat everything except for jamon serrano and some pizza, perhaps in a rejection of the idea of being yanked from his homeland (no pun intended). We do play baseball everyday in the courtyard (see below) outside of the apartment, which helps a lot, but the other day we had this sad little exchange.

Max: I was excited to come to Barcelona, but I think that was a mistake.

Me: Why?

Max: (sigh) Because I can’t use my language. No one understands my words and I can’t ask kids for my ball back if I miss it.

But then, today, when he wanted Leah to watch him jump into a (different) pool, he yelled, “Mama, mira!” So that was cool.

The next day was pool-less; I honestly have no recollection of what exactly we did for the activity part of the day, but I know Max and I watched Arthur (the cartoon, not the Dudley Moore movie) in Spanish and Max yelled out words he recognized while Leah went to the grocery store and Abe took a nap. On Friday we started the day with a haircut; well, I got a haircut and Max hung out and waited to be given some candy by the barber. I got an unexpected scalp massage which spiced up an otherwise dull haircut, and Max demanded only one pastry in exchange for the errand. Fair enough. He has become addicted to the ensaimada.Plain, or filled with custard, it’s not bad at all for someone who mostly gets Trader Joe’s cheerios for breakfast. Later we took a train to Sitges, a beach town where our friend Jose’ lives. He has a 5-year old, Colby, and he and Max played in the condo pool and palled around once the initial “what the hell language do we speak together” thing got sorted out and Max got a little less shy. Abe was not at all shy and leapt at things, including the pool, which he believes he can swim in unassisted, with the sunny confidence of a happy 2-year old. Abe is Abe. We ate dinner on the balcony, walked along the beach to get ice cream cones, slept 4 to a room, and got up to get back in the pool at 10:30 am.

Upon returning to Barcelona for dinner, Max decided he wanted to watch the Spain-Paraguay match instead of bedtime stories. I know that this is “Stuff White People Like” fodder, but it’s nice to have your kid want to watch sports with you, so it was an easy trade for me to make. He had approximately 17 questions for every 5 seconds of soccer, but as long as I answered each one quickly, he was happy. Finally, at 11, he and Abe were asleep. Seriously, what the hell?

Here are some pictures of the apartment:

And here is Abe eating raspberries last week:

Nothing to do with Spain, but a nice picture.

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Everything is fixed.

Ok, first both toilets broke, but then everything was fixed. Also, we ran out of money, so maybe the house knew that it could not wring any more repairs from us. Then we cleaned the bejesus out of the house (Raise your hand if YOU have cleaned your basement and attic in the past two weeks. I thought not.) and decided that it looked just good enough for our planned house swap with our ultra clean friends, Maria and Jacobo. Luckily, they live in Barcelona, and so the house swap meant that we got to head over there for a month. Ok, we had already decided to do this, but it did make us clean the house. After two very very sweaty days of packing, our good friend Rachele drove us to the airport and off we went.

Abe is not designed for airplanes. He likes to move and airplanes like you to sit in your seat. But, with enough Bob the Builders and little bags of pretzels, anything is possible. A flight to Europe feels like it is going all night, but what it really is is two hours of taking off, getting settled, and serving dinner, three hours of nothing when you can sleep, and one hour of landing. But what a dinner it was: on Lufthansa, they just keep bringing you alcohol. Though it was tempting to give it all to Abe, he turned out not to need it and soon drifted off to sleep, his sticky hand tangled in Leah’s hair. The mom can never get comfortable. But when else can you have your two sleeping kids draped all over you and have two uniformed pursers say to you, “Baileys? Cognac?” and then, fifteen minutes later, “White wine or red?” Yes, that is a wine chaser to an apertif, for those of you keeping score at home.

Then we had two hours to kill in Munich. At this point the kids had sort of slept from 10 pm EDT to 1:30 am EDT and then were awake from then until 4:30 am EDT, which is about 10:30 am in Germany. They were not in what you might call “public” moods. Mostly there was grabbing, screaming, and escaping. But they fell sound asleep on the plane, such that we just sat there at the end until a steward asked if we were planning to leave. We were. Off to Barcelona!

We arrived at our awesome borrowed apartment (photos to follow once I dig the card reader out of the luggage) and found it surrounding an empty courtyard. Perfect for whiffleball. This is a good way to make friends in Spain, since it looks like riding a unicycle or something: kids sort of know what it is, but it clearly has some novelty. So we are sharing. Leah has brought 3 extra mitts and we will try to start up a traveling all star squad.

Since then, we have introduced Max and Abe to the joys of daily croissant breakfasts, 9:30 bedtimes, and ice cream every afternoon. Max has adjusted, sleepwise, and has dozed until 10:30 am both mornings. Abe, not so much. He sees the time following his bedtime as a Boston nap (that is, it is only 3:30 in the afternoon in his head when he goes to bed) so he wakes up at midnight ready to rock. Not so fun. But then he sleeps until 10:30 as well. I am not sure how they will manage to get up for school in the fall. But it will be worth it.

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Everything is broken.

Broken thing 1: Car made a horrible noise while driving to Cape Cod. Of course, we ignored it. Because who wants to miss a trip to the Cape for something silly like an unsafe car. Yes, super dumb, I know. Anyway, it was 4:30 pm on Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. Lots of mechanics on duty then. Hello, Midas. Actually, they were pretty nice and only terrified me once when they said that after looking at the car up on the lift, they would not be willing to drive it 10 feet. New struts in the front to fix the issues with the, um, car, were in order. I really don’t know what struts do, to be honest. But they are not supposed to be broken. They said it would be done on Weds, which would let Leah drive down there (in our shiny new rental car – aside: renting a car makes you want to buy a new car like nothing else) and get back in time for all of my graduation festivities. Then they said it would be done by 11 on Thursday. Then it was 11 on Thursday, Leah was at Midas, and a very important spring was not. Same story at 12, 1, and 2. Finally, around 3, Leah got in our newly-strutted automobile and headed home. A delightful use of $900.

Broken thing 2: Max tried to execute a 2.5 twist in the pike position off a chair at Ron’s Bowling Alley, the best candlepin-and-ice cream establishment in the land. Love this place, we do. When Max walks in, they all come out to greet him. That’s right, my son is recognized as a regular at a bowling alley. Anyway, the degree of difficulty was too great and he fell on his wrists and burst into agonized tears. We tried the traditional remedies: a band aid and a root beer float. Neither worked, so we were off to punch our frequent-faller ticket at Newton-Wellesley Hospital’s ER. The only exciting, if awful, part, was the X ray that Max scream through as  I held his arm in a painful position to get the right shots. But four boring hours later, we had a new splint, a tiny sling, doc’s orders for another visit the next day, and more root beer and ice cream. Two days later, Max was fine. Co-pays, in total, $150. Less than struts!

Broken thing 3: The sewer backed up into our house, and that smells worse than anything, ever. After a few slimy (literally, which is not really an insult) guys “snaked” the line with some machines caked in, um, something, it was established that the 150-year old pipe had broken. Amazingly, excavation contractors will actually come out on a Sunday morning. There must be something about a job that costs somewhere north of $3 grand that gets people out and about. I would actually pay just about anything to be allowed to flush the toilet and take a shower again.

In truth, our neighbors have been super generous with their bathrooms. Go Roslindale!

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