Aug 21 2013

A Will Signing Party

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We were sitting at an Indian buffet. To paraphrase, Adam said something like, “It can take on an almost celebratory feel.”

An almost celebratory feel. I could get behind that.

I remember asking my mom where we, meaning my sister & I, would go if something happened to her and my dad. We would go where I thought we would go, to an aunt whose home was like our second home and who made us feel like her own already. I don’t remember how old I was but I’d hazard a guess at 4th or 5th grade.

When we, meaning Brett & I, moved in together and eventually married, we did all the stuff you can do easily and online. Made one another our emergency contacts. Made one another beneficiaries of things and stuff. As a teacher and a know-it-all, I had long wondered what the hell took people so long when they had kids. Why didn’t people, like, just have their wills done already?

And then we had a kid.

When she was a newborn(ish) we sent a letter to my sister asking her to act as guardian because clearly we were about to start AND complete the process. I was all over everything like the amazing new mom I knew I’d be.

And she turned one. And then two. And we’d talk about it every once in a while. Inertia is a powerful thing.

And then a few months ago, our dear friend Adam Salzman started a law firm focused on estate planning.

You know when you can’t really ignore the universe anymore? The only person who would be closer to us would be either Brett or I opening a law firm. I sheepishly mentioned to Adam that we, you know, kind of still needed to do this.

We filled out some paperwork on our assets and answered a questionnaire. We met, first at our house and then at an Indian restaurant to nosh and talk.

The process was so much easier than I thought because we worked with someone who took the time to listen and who knows the law.

The process was so much more important than I thought. I hadn’t known much about probate courts and the bogged-downed-ness if wishes and plans weren’t explicitly mapped out.

Adam wasn’t just interested in completing our will. He was interested in us understanding what we were doing. I assumed we’d sign things with the same “Um, ok” feeling we had when we did and redid our mortgage…that things would be pointed at and glossed over. Nope. Not this time.

As a couple, we had already discussed guardianship so it wasn’t wrought with all-family Thanksgiving debates about Lo’s future. Thinking about the logistics of time and geography and our wishes and her interests, talking about those frankly and honestly and without blame or future blame, and mapping it out before we sat down was a smart step. It can be impossibly hard, I realize that. I can say, though, that no hard conversation is ever made easier by just not having it.

It is, also, an incredibly hard thing to think about someone else raising this little person we love so so much that we can’t wait to see what she does tomorrow, let alone in 15 years.

It’s also an incredibly powerful thing. It gave time and space for us to discuss what we want for her in broader and longer terms, in ways far more concrete than the wistful conversations we had when I was newly pregnant. It was beautiful to hear her dad talk in ways that showed what a wonderful father he is, even as we wrapped our collective head around our potential absence. It was good to affirm our initial thoughts about guardianship. They were still accurate and felt right. It was important to do.

Because of those conversations and ones we had in our consultation, Adam helped us craft two provisions specific to our family (not that we’re inventing any wheels here folks, just sharing what we thought about).

First, we asked for specific gifts to be set aside for any children who would become Lo’s de facto siblings, should someone else raise her. In all instances of her care we mapped out, she’d become the third and youngest kiddo for a family to care for. To honor the love we know those other kiddos would give her, we wanted to set aside something as a thank you. We think so much of the children of her potential guardians and they factored into our decisions. Our choices impacted them, too. These young people? They’d rock as big brothers and sisters to our little Lo.

Second, we wanted to empower her guardians to make her world interesting. We want so badly for her to see things and try things and do things. We’d never want a guardian to feel crippled by concern that they are offending us by spending “our” money. We wouldn’t have picked the people we picked if we thought their lack of discretion would be an issue. If anything, we want to empower them to think bigger. If that means using some of the money to fly the whole family somewhere or to send Lo to some awesome camp I can’t even fathom? We think that’s a wonderful honoring of us. Go. Do. Please.

Adam crafted a smart, sound, thoughtful estate plan. I exhaled about as deeply as I ever have. For so many moments as a mom I feel doubt or second guess my choices. The blogs and the articles make questioning nearly everything an automatic part of motherhood.

This, this legal and non-huggy thing, was something I could be completely confident and happy about. I rocked motherhood in that moment.

And so, when it came time to finalize the will, it felt like a thing to celebrate. To celebrate the couple we are, the family we have, the people around us who we know would rally around Lo if we were gone. The people who rally around her now. We wanted to cheers as we checked off this thing that we had meant to get done and had, really, been downgraded in the family triage till the universe kicked us in the pants.

We needed three witnesses. Our neighborhood playgroup, so important to us as parents, was summoned. Could a few of them come over for a quick thing? I’d make it worth their time. I’d make it celebratory.

I got some prosecco and I bought a cake. I had intended to bake…perhaps something with mint so I could riff on “last will and testament” but the kid wanted to go to the park. Since we are doing all this for her and her future happiness, it seemed a bit silly to deny her present happiness when a Whole Foods vanilla with vanilla 5″ cake is so damn good anyway. (Seriously, they are good. They have a lemon one too. Also v. good)

And you know what? We had four witnesses. One who biked over simply because he said he knew if it was at our house it was going to be fun. Yes, our will signing was fun.

Surely, you say, I must realize this is a topic fraught with complexity and layers and messiness for many individuals and couples. Grandparents and aunts and blended families and having kids younger or older or not at all. Pets. People plan for pets! You’re right. I do realize. I don’t mean to be flippant or braggy. We have one kid. It makes things easier. We agreed about guardianship. That made things easier. Our estate attorney knows our family history. Man, did that make things easier.

Instead of saying “But it is SO EASY,” I just want to encourage the start. And the second step. Whether it’s a “Hey, we should talk about this.” or a “Hmm, we need to update that bad boy now that we are so wildly successful.” or a whatever it is. Hard conversations and hard things are usually not made any easier by endlessly delaying their start. We triaged much of our life for two years and thankfully they were two years when Brett & I stayed relatively healthy and earthbound. Estate planning is one of those things that if you don’t do and suddenly need, you’re kind of in a jam.

And, however messy it gets, it has an end point, and I don’t mean someone’s death, though this is certainly all about the end of my mortal days. I mean the end point of the process. At some point the decisions are made, the document is drafted, and that sweet relief IS cause for a lil’ celebrating.

We signed and then we toasted (for reals, no sip was had before those beasts were signed). We ate cake and told stories and had another glass. Because here’s the thing. This is an incredible thing we’ve got. This life. With this kid and these friends. And as we plan for a time we might not be here for, you can be damn sure I’m going to enjoy the time I’ve got.

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Jul 11 2013

The Kindness of Neighbors, Not Strangers.

We are, you know, not living in our home this summer. So we are not, you know, with our neighbors and community. We love Oak Park, the community and friendships and co-ops and goodness. I wrote about the powerful impact of a neighborhood a little over a year ago and stand by every sentence in that post (minus the upkeep of the soup exchange).

It’s hard to leave for a month. To have the playgroup talking about outdoor concerts, to have Loie ask about her beloved music teacher, to know our garden will (again) be shriveled up and sad because we’re gone for so long. We miss an annual BBQ at a friend’s, marching in the July 4th parade, and at least two of our beloved tot’s birthdays. Saturday donuts at the Farmers’ Market and all those summery delights.

It can be hard, too, to figure out our place with our temporary neighbors when away.

But leaving and coming are both part of the process, both important for us and both processed and talked about.

I love when a good anecdote brings those concepts, or any concepts, into high relief (especially when it comes with relief at the end of the anecdote).

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And thus:

Noise travels in our San Francisco home. We have next door neighbors who are in the same building, as opposed to the next house, here. We try to keep jumping, crashing, and cavorting to the second story to spare our downstairs neighbors. Instead, we reserve that space for sleep. Because sleep should be quiet.

Lo’s had a few rough nights this week were she’s woken up at 3:55 on the dot and yelped. A quick back rub, snuggle, and song gets her back to sleep fast but I’m incredibly sensitive to disrupting the sleep of people who call this building home. For one, I have a terrible time falling back to sleep so I empathize with the jolt of a toddler pre-dawn alarm clock.

And (more importantly) two, we’ve not yet been able to prove our worth as neighbors and likely won’t have time to in our brief stay. We can’t get anyone’s mail while their away or feed a fish, pour a hefty glass of wine while watching Mad Men or bring something over in celebration or comfort.

The give and take, back and forth, relationship piece of neighboring is harder, maybe impossible, when it’s a temporary measure.

So yesterday, when a downstair’s neighbor passed me on the street it took me a moment to recognize and place her: Ah, YES, a neighbor.

When she said “Oh! I have a note I’ve been meaning to drop off at your door,” it took me less than a moment to fully panic. To brace myself for the comment about being woken up, the question about what I was going to do about it, the sigh that implies “You are not my neighbor, I am allowed to be only annoyed with you, not compassionate.”

Blood rushed to my ears (and I imagine my cheeks). I squeaked an “Oh! Really?” as Lo hopped up and down next to me.

The note?

It came with two children’s books. And kind words about being a grandparent and a correct spelling of Loie’s name.

The neighbor had a book about San Francisco and a book about Chicago she thought Loie and the children of our friends might enjoy. She though that Loie might like seeing things familiar and be introduced to things she’ll meet. And she wanted us, as Chicagoans, to take that book home with us.

I damn near wept on the sidewalk. With relief, yes. But also with a sense of the power of neighborliness and a wee bit of shame that I assumed the worst.

Might she be frustrated with the yelps? Sure, she wouldn’t be the only one.

Might I need to keep a more open mind about how long it takes to build a dash of community and neighborliness? Sure, and it seems like I’m the only one.

 


Jul 8 2013

Have you? Did you? Nope. Not yet.

Have you been biked across the Golden Gate Bridge?

Are you going to do the Exploratorium?

Did you eat at that restaurant I sent?

My answer is typically: Not yet. But maybe.

We get a pretty non-stop list of suggestions and must-dos and gotta-sees leading up to trips. I’m always happy to take suggestions and hear ideas, especially on traveling with a tot. And, I do heaps of research and make a Google map and doc before we go of stuff (places, tastes, things, kid friendly and not) nearby and far by (these are great to share with friends traveling, too). For San Francisco, I read up on everything and anything Jordan Ferney of Oh Happy Day shared, especially this post on urban hikes and this guest post for Alphamom. I googled and queried and dug around Yelp.

Over the course of a month, we’ll likely do some of the things shared and things I found. Maybe most. Maybe.

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But today, so far, the place we’ve been the most is the Cow Hollow Playground.

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It’s a small neighborhood playground tucked into a half-street a few blocks from our house in the Marina. It’s nothing fancy. Sun bleached communal toys, some much loved equipment. Lots of sand. But it’s exactly what we like to discover when we’re away. The things that make us feel connected to a new place, even if we know it’s (and plan for it to be) fleeting. In Iceland (pre-Lo) it was C is for Cookie. In Paris, it was the toddler playground at the Jardin de Luxembourg (man, I did a crappy job blogging in Paris.) And here, it’s a place like the Cow Hollow Playground.

It’s not all that different, in fact it’s a bit older and rougher, than our playground in Skunk Hollow (and no, we didn’t realize the name of our neighborhood here till we got here). And that’s why it’s both familiar and magical (because, no, we didn’t realize the name of our neighborhood here till we got here).

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Part of the challenge of explaining the whats (and whys) when we’re away involves sharing a philosophy that sounds overwrought and high handed and, ugh, pretentious or obnoxious. In fact, if one of you were to talk to me about something similar I just might (no, I would) make fun of you for being too earnest. But with reflection and hindsight on past trips and planning for this and future trips, one does, if one’s looking for it, start to coalesce ideas and approaches. And the neighborhood playground embodies much of our approach. It’s an immersion and a surrounding and an appreciation for being somewhere, not just visiting somewhere.

To do that sometimes means we de-prioritize all the places on the lists and recs and must-sees. It’s not a wholesale rejection, because I am wired to want to do it all. A focus on finding what we can do, honoring our work we both love, and the realities of the limits of CopperTop both limit and free us from accomplishing it all.

It’s trying to find the balance of the native New Yorker whose never been to the Statue of Liberty and the run-ragged tourist who’s been everywhere for the sake of checking it off a list. I want to be neither.

The thrill for us yesterday was discovering the path of least resistance. In San Francisco, that means the least hilly route from the playground home. It’s about as mundane a thrill as you can have. It’s just the thrill we are looking for on trips like this.

There will be moments like the Pride Parade.

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There will be trips to someplace exciting worthy of a skipped nap and a crappy night, I know and hope.

But for the most part, the most parts of the trip are simple pleasures. And those have changed, and stayed the same, since I first wrote about it in 2010 (oh, to spend a day reading!). Now, it’s Lo’s first swim class last week (at the wonderful JCC here) and seeing how songs like “Open, Shut Them” sound sung by a different librarian at story time. It’s tasting fresh strawberries and seeing what hills look like to a toddler from flatter lands.

It’s trying a puff pastry from the joint down the street.

Or even just chasing the rainbows on the staircase at the house. Because there aren’t rainbows on our staircase in Oak Park.

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It isn’t necessarily anything that would appeal to everyone. But we know we’re creating time and space with travel like this to let the mundane magic happen. It’s why we do what we do.

 


Mar 6 2013

Sweet Monday

This week I dug into my easy wins with a modified version of this recipe. (Psst. I ignore all her optionals and do white chocolate and dried cherries. Details are below.) This was supposed to be easy because I needed to make two separate batches.

Aside from Sweet Monday at Design Cloud, I was jazzed to bake to support the Sugar Beet Co-op‘s film screening as part of the One Earth Food Festival. My dears at the Beet, Cheryl & Jenny, were putting together a luncheon. As a proud co-op member (and general helper outer) I said I’d bring something.

And that something went horribly awry. Underdone in the center and a nearly scorched earth diorama on the edges. I wound up carving out cooked-enough pieces and sending Brett to deliver the sad, sweet shrapnel.

I was flummoxed. I screw all kinds of things up in my daily life. This recipe is not one of those things. When we bought the house and redid the kitchen, we got a double oven specifically so that I could use the top oven for baking (less energy, just kind of sounds cool). The top oven has consistently not done a great job with baking at temp or on time. I’ve been setting it 5º higher and baking for a few minutes longer, both of which did me heaps of not much here.

After the CopperTop was up for an hour in the wee hours and I was up again at the crack of dawn feverishly packing my brown sugar, I demanded redemption. Replaced the baking powder and soda. Used the larger oven in our double oven. Let the eggs reach room temperature. If baking is like science, a scientist should tweak one thing at a time. But even if it is, I am not and I went to tweaking town. It still took about 15 minutes longer than it should’ve. And the edges were still dancing way too close to crispy. But there was no shrapnel.

And the best part is that I caught an express train so I arrived with still warm treats to tempt. And tempt they did, crispy edges and all.

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Tempted? Assuming you don’t screw them up as much as me, they’re worth it.

Oatmeal Blondies with White Chocolate and Dried Cherry

  • 1 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • chocolate chips (optional)
  • raisins (optional)
  • chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup dried cherries
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9×13-inch baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until thoroughly mixed and creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla extract until well mixed, and mix in salt, baking soda, baking powder, flour, rolled oats, plus other junk. Mix well to moisten all ingredients, and spread into the prepared baking pan.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before cutting into bars.

**Clearly step 3 is full of crap. I baked those beasts for a hundred hours. Raw in the middle. Burned on the edges. I felt shame.
***Clearly the next logical step is for me to get the oven (ovens?) checked. Sigh.


Apr 5 2012

Soup Exchange, Explained.

I read in Kiwi magazine about a group of moms who exchange meals. Once a month they each cook enough for all four families. So, a herculean effort one night yields three nights of freedom. Now, I’m about about community. But DANG that’s a lot of cooking. Like four roast chickens? Yikes.

I thought about how I could do this on a lazier scale and realized I could blame Chicago winters and a friend’s dietary preference to make a soup exchange. Who doesn’t love a warm soup on a cold wintry day (minus the fact that we basically lived in Miami this winter)? And, because one of my dearests is vegan, we thought it would be a good opportunity for all of us to eat super healthy once a week.

Four families have now been working on a neighborly soup exchange. One a month we make a gigantic batch of soup, usually doubling a recipe for the four families (8 parents, six soup-eating kids under the age of five, our babe who is a total crapshoot food wise).

The rules are: A family claims a week. A reusable jar/container is dropped off or picked up. A soup is made. Then, it is delivered. Sometimes desserts or fresh baked bread accompany said soup. We all tell each other we’re amazing cooks. It’s a pretty sweet deal.

It’s been a wonderful way to open myself up to things like….kale! Who knew? And it’s pushed us all to try a new recipe here and there. And it’s been a really lovely way to build community in our tiny enclave of Skunk Hollow.
We fell off the wagon, oooph, recently due to the very rich lives of those involved but the email declaration of intent for tomorrow’s sweet potato and black bean soup went out from this girl yesterday. And, I’m already thinking about a gazpacho exchange for summer!