28 July, 2008

Some All-Girls' Outings (with kittens)

We've been a sort of clearing-house for visitors these days, thank goodness: after three straight weeks with just me 24/7, Avery was about to start climbing the walls (in her own completely elegant way of course). Our fun with Farmer Rollie and his family, Anne, David and Katie, and Jill, Jane and Joel were welcome little stars in our sky of togetherness. But it was time for houseguests.

Avery had started a running commentary of the news broadcasts: last night some dopey talking-head was describing something Obama had said, and descended into one of the typical mixed bag of metaphors, similes and poetical imagery. "He's treading on thin ground here." Avery groaned, "All right, that's IT! He has to choose between treading on thin ice, and covering difficult ground, but there is no such thing as THIN GROUND!" And as we watched my favorite episode of "The Vicar of Dibley," starring my crush, Richard Armitage, she laughed perfunctorily at a joke and looked at me out of the corner of her eye and said, "You realize I'm only humoring you."

So it was with great happiness that we received Jane for her sleepover holiday of the summer, this weekend. She came with her bag perfectly packed to include everything she could possibly need and her father ready for a night of concert-going all on his own. My unbelievably energetic sister was on a business trip to Indianapolis, so Jane was ours for the weekend. There was trampolining, a dinner adventure to Maggie McFly's (there's nothing like a light-up ice cube to MAKE your pink lemonade really shine), fun with kittens, a thunderstorm in the wee hours, some fun with a whole collection of brightly colored clay lumps, a trip to the incomparable Laurel Diner for brunch on Sunday, sweaty visit to the playground and some rugged hide and seek. Through it all was Jane's own personal soundtrack, featuring her bellowed version of "Life is a highway, and I wanna ride it, all night long..." When I reported this to her doting father Joel, he merely sighed and said, "She doesn't even LIKE highways!"

Of course everywhere we went everyone adored Jane. This would be repetitive except that everyone must get in line behind Avery and me, who find Jane to be practically perfect in every way. She's incredibly articulate, humorous, energetic and warm. I told Joel, "Everyone found her so charming..." and Jane, listening in from her position on the trampoline, chimed in deadpan, "Well, I'm a charming little girl."

All too soon it was time to take her home. Whatever Jill and Joel are doing to produce such an agreeable, entertaining and SWEET child, they should keep doing it. She wears Avery out, though! It's so hard for me to look back at the three and a half year old Avery, whatever she might have been like. I just don't remember it aside from little vignettes (at the park, she came to me with a bubblegum wrapper and said, "Mommy, please take my detritus"), but looking at the slightly pre-teenish girl calmly negotiating our limited CD selection in the car, it seemed there had never been a goofy, heedless, reckless, silly, sweaty little near-baby in her place. But I know there must have been. Avery, this summer, seems to be in a bubble of extreme calm. "I love this age," I said the other day, and she rejoined, "You always say that, Mommy," and I said, "Yes, but it's really true this year." She is wonderful company, morning, noon and night.

We came home to a blackening sky and wailing tree branches, and a visit from Anne, David and Katie to our cheerful kitchen to pay homage to the kittens. Thank goodness I had succumbed to my housewifely instincts the other day and thoroughly scrubbed the kitchen floor, as we all ended up sitting on it, on the kittens' level, making absolute fools of ourselves with those voices that even intelligent people can make when faced with the fuzzy little creatures. These voices use a lot of "o" sounds, as in "oooooo, they are sooooo cute!" And they are. Wiggly, fearless, hopping about and bouncing from lap to chair to rug, chasing their favorite toy: a roll of red Christmas ribbon! Avery marvelled at all the things they can, do, when their human compatriot Katie, the very same age, can do... just mewling and asking for food! I explained this, pointing to the cats and saying, "All these things they can do? That's all they'll EVER be able to do." "Good point, Mommy."

And life with no stove or oven? Getting old. I realize that for most people a microwave is used for more than, say, microwave popcorn and... melting butter. For microwave popcorn. So last night I reverted to childhood and steamed up a serving of good old rice pilaf, used to love it as a child, not bad now. But corn in the microwave? Don't love it. Mushrooms in butter? Can't cook them evenly. But a thinly-pounded chicken tenderloin, marinated in garlic, ginger, sesame oil and soy sauce, takes about 5 minutes to grill, and that was lovely. Today I acquired a hot plate, in desperation. At least then I can make pasta sauce, keep it warm in the microwave, and boil water for pasta. Anne keeps inviting us to use her stove and oven, but I feel that the last thing a woman with a newborn baby needs is a whole household camping out keeping an eye on a roast chicken. We'll see. The gas people informed me loftily today that they don't particularly care when my stove people are coming (tomorrow), that they cannot get me a new gas tank until... Friday. There must be more people who can supply gas to me?

Today was the day Avery has looked forward to for MONTHS: the day she got to introduce the joys of Red Gate Farm to her beloved Anna and Ellie. Who knew (well, actually we did, but we were sad anyway) on that last, horribly sad day of school, that in just a few weeks we'd be reunited in the super-American, sunny, blue-skied sidewalks of Katonah, New York, the perfect halfway point between Greenwich and Southbury. It was fun to catch up with Becky, listening to her perfectly exaggerated Southern accent as she describes her North Carolina adventures. Then it was onto home for us, and the girls' absolute on-their-knees devotion to the kittens. What else could you expect? One kitten per girl, nothing so 20th century as shoelaces to be sure with these girls and their Crocs, their platform wedgies... but other toys presented themselves: Avery's summer obsession of lanyards has produced endless numbers of keychains, bracelets, zipper pulls... they all made perfect teasers for the little ones. "I just KNOW that my mom will give in when she sees these little guys!" Anna said hopefully. "My dad's not THAT allergic."

Finally they tore themselves away and we headed to the pool, for a late afternoon dip. I actually fell asleep on my towel in the sun, in total relaxation with those girls occupied in the pool: no little voice clamoring, "Come in, Mommy, it's really warm when you get used to it!" I felt very grownup as I swam with them for just ten minutes and then acted like a real mother, getting out and reading my book as they played. This is what I dream of all year in London when times get complicated. Just a calm summer afternoon, everyone healthy and happy, sun blinking in and out of the fir trees, a nice icy bottle of water in the pool bag, a mindless novel to hold up against the sky, American voices shouting, a radio playing tacky 1980s pop hits, most of them involving "Journey." Perfect.

And what luxury to come home, take a leisurely shower while the girls practiced their trampoline routines, then to another dinner (enough!) at Maggie McFlys, and more light-up ice cubes, naturally. The girls are like a comedy act together, with a friendship's worth of shared stories, corny jokes and what seems to me an amazing sophistication for children so young. Among them these three have racked up an outstanding travel: can you imagine they've been to Rome, Florence, Paris, Dubai, South Africa, Morocco, Ireland, Scotland, and countless cities in their own United States? It boggles the mind to think of the restaurants these girls have eaten in, the flights and hotels and tours and museums and plays... and yet what really makes them happy is three stray kittens and a light-up ice cube. There's a lesson there for sure.

We stopped at Anne's to deliver some emergency cat food to her two, and now the girls are playing "Horseopoly," at least when they can tear themselves away from the kittens. I'm very happy with my little household. But tomorrow night: I'm cooking in, no matter how sick we are of grilling! Any new suggestions gratefully accepted...


min said...

We once went without a stove for three months! A crockpot saved my life but it was the winter so soups and stew were very inviting--not so much in July. Can you grill bacon? This summer I have been addicted to BLTs. How about potato salad? You can boil water now right? Just thinkng out loud here--can you sautee on a grill using a pan over the flame?

payotbb said...

You could do alot of stir fries and steaming -- after all, Chinese kitchens don't have ovens at all. Have you got a rice cooker? You can make steamed dumplings in there as well as using the bamboo steamer in the wok... I happen to really love Chinese food, and I don't mean the kind you get in Chinese restaurants. The really fancy grill we had in the US actually had a gas burner (or 2?) on the side, although I remember that it wasn't very powerful.

Ooh - what about grilled pizza? I had that once and really liked it.

I love summer. Hope you get your oven back soon.

Kristen In London said...

I love summer too! Actually hampering me more than no stove or oven is... a purely childish palate with three little girls. This means (at least for the two I've borrowed) no mayonnaise, and I think no rice. For sure nothing exotic like a dumpling. None of the three would eat one of those. So until I have gas, or an adult to cook for, I'm a bit stymied.

Tonight I think will be classic barbecued chicken... but what on the side?? Garlic bread in the toaster oven and watermelon? Sounds basic but good!

I love summer too. Does anyone have a paella pan that you attach to your grill? I've been emailed something about that and you could do all sort of stir-fryish things, and still stay outdoors? I'm tempted...

I would kill for a grill with as burners. Alas, as I found when I visited a hardware store yesterday, my grill is of a caveman simplicity and VERY small. Sigh.