Friday, December 31, 2010

Finally. Some Frightful Weather.


At last.  Some snow in Denver.  Also, frigid temperatures.  Is winter finally here?

I finished that last semester, wrapped up some Christmas presents, and then whisked my children off to Idaho for five days so that we could see, enjoy, and love on our family there.  It was great--a truly fun and enjoyable trip--except that I didn't sleep the last two nights we were there, and we flew back into Denver early Christmas morning.  I sat in my jammies in our living room, sipping a cup of hot coffee and watching the kids tear into their presents in an exhausted and pleasant stupor.  I also tore into a few of my own presents, which were all wonderful.  I'm so tempted to take you on a tour of my gifts, but that seems a little...I don't know.  Suffice it to say I enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, all of them.  It was a wonderful day.

We're wrapping up the last week of Christmas break now and I'm finding it difficult to get serious about getting ready for next semester.  I have two new classes that need some serious attention.  My research partner, dear friend, and taskmaster Juan was in a serious skiing accident before Christmas, and I may need to step up my contributions to our shared projects as a result.  Eric and I are traveling almost every month for the next six months, independently, for work.

It's going to be a doozy.

And yet, here it is 9:30, an ungodly late hour of the morning, and I'm still in my jammies.  With absolutely no desire to get out of them.  This is unheard of for me, at least in my post-children life.

I...am...overcome...with...the...most...languorous...bit...of...laziness...I...have...ever...experienced.

And I don't want it to end.

Hmmm.  How can I bring a bit of this sweeter, gentler pace into my hectic spring schedule?  I think I'll imagine on that particular outcome for a while today.  Happy new year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Last Few Months in Cell Phone Photos

It's that time of year again.  Some or all of us may or may not be going out of town for the holiday (I don't like to say in case one of you pervies is casing our joint).  You're wondering where we're going.   It's somewhere fun, but not this fun:


Boy, that was fun.  I won't say where these were taken, because some people who are not pervies but who have a very big say in my professional future believe I should be working all the time and don't like to think about the fact that I might have gone on a vacation once.

Did I mention that Addie was the Statue of Liberty for Halloween?


What a cool little nerdlet.  Her whole school (which shall remain nameless, pervies) did a parade and so many kids who marched past her were enthralled with her costume.  They must have recently studied civics.  Either way, it was a big success.  Thank you $14.99 on eBay.

Skipping ahead a few holidays, here is a required shot with the North Polonskies:


See that smile Addie's doing?  That's her new fake smile.  It's a bummer.  It makes getting good pictures of her hard.  E. says the same about me.


Do I ever look like the same person twice?  And see the kids' faces in that one?  That's them being scared to death to meet Santa.  My children are anxious about meeting famous people.  But then they get over it and they act like they've known them forever, and fart on their laps.

And now, for the biggest news of all:  our family is skiing.  I won't tell you how much it cost to buy passes for everyone.  Okay, I will:  IT WAS ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS.  And that's not including the little bits of equipment that we needed to purchase and still need to purchase.  I get faint thinking about it.

We had our first day in the mountains on Sunday and I was so nervous because what if one of the kids refused to put her boots on?  Or refused to go out on the mountain?  Or refused to ski down, choosing instead to do that limp noodle thing?  That would be ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS in the crapper.

Well, all of those things happened, and still by the end of the day both girls were skiing down the bunny slope and Addie even went on the chair lift once.  Nolie proclaimed from the magic carpet, "I LOVE skiing!  I'm going to ski all DAY!"



That was Addie in the green, there.  Not screaming and having a tantrum.  She's not Lindsay Vonn, but she's not pitching a fit, either.  Brilliant.

And E. and I got to snowboard and eat nachos and beer together.  Alone.

I'm not going to say all that was worth ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS, but it was pretty close.  It was a beautiful, perfect day, I got to reunite with my sporty self, my husband and kids rose to the occasion, and we get to do it bunches more times this season.

Have a great holiday, my friends.  I hope to see some of you soon around the pool.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Imitation, Flattery, Etc.

Was just zoning out to a little bit of Shabby Apple (yum) and noticing that they put out a new version of one of my favorite dresses, the Bugle Boy.  Except now they're calling it the Ming, and they put a navy skirt on it with a black belt.

Sound familiar?  Hmm?  Hmm??

Monday, December 13, 2010

Punch List

  • Read over article revision again.  Watch out for repeating words, which you always do when you've been writing intensely for a few days.  Pray for fresh eyes.
  • That other chapter has come back.  Add in missing references, write yet another short bio (because you're never the same two days in a row), and sign the contract.  Mail.
  • Read articles on nanotechnology.  No, you haven't studied that in years, but that other short article is due by the end of December.  How come you agreed to do that again?
  • Grade final papers.
  • Go to post office and mail eight (yes, 8!) boxes for Christmas.
  • Get an allergy shot and pray you don't have a third anaphylactic shock because your immune system is as reactionary as a Republican on flag day.
  • Pick up your prescription nasal steroid so that your polyps don't get any bigger.
  • Deposit that check in the bank.  E's company isn't paying you until the end of January, now, rather than on the first.  Like Tim Gunn says, make it work!
  • Submit article revision.  Keep fingers crossed the reviewers are sated by total rewrite.
  • Grade final exams.
  • Submit final grades.  Wonder which students skewered you on course evaluations, and whether you'll run afoul of the grade inflation police.
  • Fret about two new, unformed, risky courses in the spring.  Wonder when those syllabi will get finished.
  • Snowboard ass off.
  • And...repeat.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Yes, Exactly.

"I have nothing against novelty in buildings--I am quite taken with the glass pyramid at the Louvre and those buildings at La Defense that have the huge holes in the middle--but I just hate the way architects, city planners, and everyone else responsible for urban life seem to have lost sight of what cities are for.  They are for people.  That is obvious enough, but for half a century we have been building cities that are designed for almost anything else:  for cars, for businesses, for developers, for people with money and bold visions who refuse to see cities from ground level, as places in which people must live and function and get around.  Why should I have to walk through a damp tunnel and negotiate two sets of stairs to get across a busy street?  Why should cars be given priority over me?  How can we be so rich and so stupid at the same time?  It is the curse of our century--too much money, too little sense...."

--Bill Bryson, Neither Here Nor There:  Travels in Europe

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Choice This

Hey!  I'm getting an exciting opportunity to practice releasing control over outcomes.  Love when that happens.

Turns out that it looks like Nolie may not get into "choice" into the school that Addie tested into because of her gifted and talented results.  This is because it's a good school and 600 students want to choice into it because, as we all know, the public school system is uneven and a den of inequity (sic intended).  Plus, the economy has tanked and not so many folks are wanting to or can support education with higher taxes.  And the states are bankrupt.  Which at this little elementary school means they haven't been able to build an addition to accommodate their exploding enrollment rates and have to pack children in like sardines.

And that's the good school.

Don't even get me started on how the kids only get 20 minutes for lunch and a 20 minute recess.  I find these things obscene.  An obscene result of the emphasis on test results, primarily, but also an obscene philosophy that sees kids as little receptacles that need to be filled with information and then spat out into a workforce.

Okay, so I'm pissed.

I'm also pissed that we have to "choice" in anywhere.  I'm pissed that they couldn't accommodate my bright, quirky kid at our "home" school and that I have to drive her across the city to go to a school where she won't be isolated or picked on for being a good reader and a skoosh odd (odd in the best sort of way).  I'm pissed that all kids don't have access to excellent schools.  I'm pissed that we had to pay the equivalent of two college tuitions to get our kids through preschool.  Preschool.  I'm grateful that we could afford to do that in our family, but pissed that it meant E and I working our asses off to make it happen, and pissed that other families could not begin to afford that.  Inequity, inequality, bullshit:  whatever you want to call it, it's bullshit.

Most immediately, I'm mad that if Nolie isn't allowed to "choice" into the same school as Addie, we really have three options:

1)  Keep Nolie at her very expensive preschool for her kindergarten year.  We can afford it, and it's a wonderful school, but we were hoping to have that $10,000 extra next year to free us both up from some other work/obligations and to pay off some debt.  Ah, the difficulties of privilege.

2)  Put Nolie in our "home" school for her kindergarten year.  Addie stays at her GT school.  Mommy and Daddy go crazy for one more year, dealing with the dual drop-off non-matching school schedules thing while trying to keep two careers going.  Pray Nolie tests into GT and gets to go to Addie's school.  Try not to put any pressure on her to do so, though, because we think she's amazing no matter what.  Go crazy trying not to be crazy.

3)  Put Nolie in our "home" school for her kindergarten year and transfer Addie back to our "home" school.  But do we put her in second or third grade now?  How do we handle the problem of her not being accommodated there?  What does it mean to do that to our kid?  To us?

When I'm able to access my unchurch self, I just calm down and let it all go and know that something will happen that enables Nolie to choice into the GT school or that resolves this problem for us.

My problem-solving ego self is mostly just pissed, though.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We Love It!

Crap.  I only have 10 days to get that article done before Christmas whacks us full on in the face, with travel to family and all that.  Confidence, take that.

Here's some nice scenes from around the house.


I like that Addie set up the nativity scene to make it seem like Baby Joysus was crowdsourced.


These figurines are so old and dirty they probably carry viruses that were only around when Baby Joysus was actually born.  Get the Lysol!


Our fully decorated tree.  Fully decorated thanks to my mother, who gave me Christmas ornaments every year of my life.  This seemed so completely lame when I was a teenager and in my twenties, but I'm grateful for them now.  Chalk one up to mom wisdom.

Note the Christmas ball, rather than angel, at the top.  E.'s atheist self would have a hissy fit if there was an angel there.  So I like whispering things like, "Honey, don't worry.  The angels are there even if we can't see them!"  He loves it!


My favorites get hung on the kitchen light.  E. loves it when I hang tchotchkes everywhere!  He loves it!


Although our singing/dancing cowboy Santa with the "Holly Jolly Christmas" tune is nowhere to be found this year.  Hmmm.

We all love Christmas, though.  We love it!

On Writing

There are a few interesting happenings on the parenting front, like the fact that E. and I finally had it with Magnolia's night wakings (getting oppressive again) and last night at 2 in the morning agreed she was just going to have to cry it out, and then hunkered down like Berliners during the siege.  But the crying it out lasted about 2.5 minutes and then was over and then she slept all night long.

Stunning.  Revelation.  Better than the Book of Revelations, which is what we were living before.

Also, the homework wars with Addie, where there is much screaming and gnashing of teeth and pleading with us to "HELP ME!" and then "YOU'RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT!" and then we call Child Protective Services because we cannot be trusted not to kill this child before she turns seven, seem to be over.  Of course, these things are never really over.  They just cycle.  But for now, we have a detente.

What I really want to write about, though, is writing.  Academic writing.

Boooooring, I know.  But it's on my mind.

See, all semester long I've known I had two kind of major writing projects to tackle before the term ended.  You might remember I had a fairly writing-intensive summer, churning out a bunch of small pieces, one or two medium pieces, and a long article.  Then this semester came, and I got swallowed by a calendar full of meetings, departmental drama, and a thousand talks/guest-teaching spots.  Which was all very nice, but which also gave me a very convenient excuse to not work on my two major writing tasks.  See, in practice, I tend to not need huge chunks of time for writing.  I can sit down for two hours and make progress on something, but then I need to go do something else, like scoop out the kitty litter, or my brain explodes.  But I still have graduate-student brain, which tells me I need an eight-hour stretch to get anything meaningful done.  And my graduate-student brain is convincing, especially when I don't really want to work on my writing tasks or I'm afraid.  So I frequently put off doing my writing until I have a beautiful eight-hour stretch of time.

That never happens, of course, the eight-hour block of time during which to write.  If it does happen, I sabotage it by polishing my shoes or something, which suddenly seems very urgent when I'm faced with an eight-hour block of time.  I'm much more productive when I have two-hours and better write like my ass is on fire or it won't get done.

Good to know about one's self.

The other good news is that one of the writing projects fell away.  I thought I was going to have a chapter due by the end of December, but the editors postponed the book project for another year while they go after a big-gun publisher.  Good news and good news.  Because I was not ready to write that thing and would have had to pull out of the project.

The other project, though, was an article revision.  That longer piece I had submitted this summer was, well, hastily done.  In fact, I never should have submitted it in the form it was submitted in.  I am embarrassed and ashamed.  But, to be honest, I wanted it out the freaking door and I let my haste overwhelm my better judgment.

Somehow, by some gift of God, the article received what's called an "R&R"--an invitation to Revise and Resubmit (not rest and relax, unfortunately).  This really was a gift, as the article deserved to be rejected outright.  But the editor must have been feeling charitable that day, and let it slide.

The reviewers of the paper didn't, however, and called for a total rewrite.

So I've been thinking about that rewrite all semester, and fearing it and dreading it.  This is a piece I'd sure like to get published, as it would fill a bit of a hole in my research.  I've been working on it a long time, though not to great effect, as I stated earlier.  I want to succeed.

Good set up for procrastination and writer's block.  I was thinking I would not get it done.  I was thinking about how I hate this part of the job, the solo writing aspect.  I was thinking about how sitting down to do this is favorable only to pap smears and tax hearings.

But then, I started.  And something odd happened.  My grad-student brain--which loathes and fears writing and failure tremendously--went away, and I started to enjoy the writing!  This has happened a few times before.  There is a flow to academic writing, sometimes, that is very creative and fun.  But I had psyched myself out so much I had forgotten that could happen.

I had also forgotten that I had done quite a bit of writing and reading over the course of the semester on my topic.  Little smatterings here and there, but which are coming together in ways more meaningful than I had expected.

Not to say that the article is a work of genius, or even that it will be accepted on this go-around.  It may not, and then I'll have to do another revision and send it out to another journal.  My point is that the process of writing this has been much more enjoyable than I anticipated.  The worry about sitting down to write was much worse.

This is the kind of lesson I'm amnesiac about, unfortunately.  Do you think I'll ever grow out of sitting down to write for work with fear and trepidation?  Or at some point will I learn to trust myself and the outcome?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Gratitude

This poem popped in my head the morning before Thanksgiving.  I was so excited that my brother and his wife were coming to visit, and so glad our friends would be with us.  And this weird little thing just appeared.  So, for posterity:


GRATITUDE


It was you who hand-pressed the gown
of Marilyn Monroe,
caught the sequin dangling from her hip, pleated
the chiffon back in place                       
            buried
your nose in its timeless smell.

[you are the timeless]

You are the first breath of
my first born, the squall
of life
breaking the ribcage open
to the world, filling my heart
with your heart.

[you, my heart]

You are dust in the eye of Hannibal           
The wake of ocean liners
The clack of the time clock punched
over and over again
The inverted lid at Ellis Island
The pull of the jackpot.

[you are the jackpot]

You are all things
something
no thing
You are gifts flown here on
the wind, gifts always been.

No.

Not gifts at all.
But evidence that life begets life,
and wills itself to be good.

[you

are

good]

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Yet Another Freaking Advent Calendar

Mostly, I've been grading papers and going to meetings.  But we are sneaking in some crafting here and there, preparing for giftmas (thanks, C n T) and playing with the girls.  If you follow the crafty blogs, you know there are about a million and one advent calendar designs out there.  I love doing the advents--the kids get a kick out of it, and it reminds me of the deliciously painful process of waiting for Christmas when I was a child.  My favorite one is in the Garnet Hill catalog, which is also my very favorite catalog for dreaming about being rich and buying everything in it.   But my gizzles, puh-lease, who is going to pay $58 for an advent calendar?  Not moi.

I'll gladly rip the idea off in my use-all-my-scraps-up kind of way, however.



What's that you're asking?  Will I be going out to buy little gifts to put in each little bag?

Heck no!  That would be contrary to my penny-pinching mentality 'round the Holidays.  Instead, they're stuffed with things we had lying around:  lollipops from the candy stash, embroidery thread friendship bracelets, quarters.

I would have liked to sew numbers on, but that would take more juice than I have at the moment.  Next year.


The countdown begins.  Hello, December!

Another Record-Making, Fantastic, Wonderful Thanksgiving

Folks, Thanksgiving just continues to be my favorite holiday.  I didn't think we could top last year, when we headed to the mountains, just the four of us, and relaxed and ate and loved each other.

But this year topped it!  It topped it big time!  Friends and family all around, and so many, many eats and drinks, and our little Charlie Brown "gratitude tree":














Love you all.  Hope you had a great holiday!

Monday, November 29, 2010

I Know the Way You Can Get

I Know the Way You Can Get
by Hafiz

I know the way you can get
When you have not had a drink of Love:

Your face hardens,
Your sweet muscles cramp,
Children become concerned
About a strange look that appears in your eyes
Which even begins to worry your own mirror
And nose.

Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
And call an important conference in a tall tree.
They decide which secret code to chant
To help your mind and soul.

Even angels fear that brand of madness
That arrays itself against the world
And throws sharp stones and spears into
The innocent 
And into one's self.

O I know the way you can get
If you have not been out drinking Love:

You might rip apart
Every sentence your friends and teachers say,
Looking for hidden clauses.

You might weigh every word on a scale
Like a dead fish.

You might pull out a ruler to measure
From every angle in your darkness
The beautiful dimensions of a heart you once
Trusted.

I know the way you can get
If you have not had a drink from Love's
Hands.

That is why all the Great Ones speak of
The vital need
To keep Remembering God,
So you will come to know and see Him
As being so Playful
and Wanting,
Just Wanting to help.

That is why Hafiz says:
Bring your cup near me,
For I am a Sweet Old Vagabond
With an Infinite Leaking Barrel
Of Light and Laughter and Truth
That the Beloved has tied to my back.

Dear one,
Indeed, please bring your heart near me.
For all I care about
Is quenching your thirst for freedom!

All a Sane man can ever care about
Is giving Love!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

My Child is Gifted AND Talented.

I'm going to admit to you that there are still times that I get anxious about what I'm going to "do" with my children.  I mean that in the most literal sense.  We get home from school, I make lunches, coffee for the morning, and dinner, we eat, and then two hours stretch out before bathtime and then bedtime.  When the weather is nice and the sky is light, life is easy.  I just scoot them outside while I clean up, and then join them.  Or Eric gets home and kicks the soccer ball around.

But it's dark early, early now, and those two hours have to be dealt with.  Anxiety.  This anxiety is a hold-over from when they were toddlers and I was trapped in the house playing the same boring games over and over again.  I know this is a horrible thing for a mother to say, but I found their toddlerhoods among the most difficult times of my life.  I'm traumatized from the boredom, still.  Remnants of that trauma resurface in moments of unfilled space.

I'm very unenlightened and pitiful.  Be glad I'm not your mother.  Tsk tsk.

Luckily, they're older now, and I like these particular ages much, much better.  Usually those two evening hours take care of themselves.  The girls and I sit at the table for family drawing (thank you SouleMama), or we do puzzles, or Eric plays Uno with them and I sneak off to check Facebook and try to make up pithy status updates (there is an art to that, I tell you, and I haven't mastered it yet.  My high school friends the Drabinskis are masters.  It's intimidating).

Other times, though, the kids sprawl across the dinner table moaning, "I don't know what I'm supposed to do right now, Mama!"  And that familiar anxiety resurfaces.

But, saved by a field trip.  Addie's class went to the Denver puppet theater today and she came home with a handmade construction paper "puppet" taped to a straw.  And we decided that in the dreaded two hours we'd make our own puppet theater and puppets.  We hacked up and painted an old box:



And tomorrow morning, when it's dry, we'll have the puppet show.

I know better than to invest too much in these projects, and the outcome was far from amazing.  We're not making it into any craft books any time soon.  But it was fun.  The girls had a blast.  And, most importantly, it's bathtime.

Here's my favorite puppet, from my six-year-old in the gifted and talented:


Please don't notice how much wine is gone from that bottle in the background.

Monday, November 22, 2010

More Doodies

I get the feeling you don't really believe that I'm going to try to say "no" more.  Those of you I see in person, you get a little smirky when we talk about this, like yeah, whatever, we'll see.  But some of the female faculty at work had a meeting, an actual meeting, to talk about how to say no (I couldn't attend because I was barfing my brains out).  So I'm not the only one, succotash, fighting this particular problem.

One of the websites circulated after the meeting, in an email, featured 20 ways to say no.  Like, actual ways.  I think some of these are pretty great, though when I read them they enter my brain a little bit like a foreign language.  So I'll practice them here, and then maybe you'll actually hear one come out of my mouth in the near future.

"I am in the middle of several projects."
"I am not comfortable with that."
"I am not taking on any new responsibilities."
"I am not the most qualified person for the job."
"I do not enjoy that kind of work."
"I do not have any more room in my calendar."
"I hate to split my attention among projects."
"I have another commitment."
"I have no experience with that."
"I know you will do a wonderful job with that."
"I need to focus more on my personal life."
"I need to focus on my career right now."
"I need to leave some free time for myself."
"I would rather decline than do a mediocre job."
"I would rather help out with another task."
"Let me hook you up with someone who can do it."
"No."
"Not right now, but I can do it later."
"Some things have come up that need my attention."
"This really is not my strong suit."

I plan to use one of these quite soon.  Can you guess which one?  It's with a colleague who will absolutely not take no for an answer.  Lord, he just will not.  So now I'm in a bind and have to get out.

Here's another one, which I used in a recent email:

"If I take on one more thing, my head will explode."

The level of professionalism in that one was tops.

The only problem this list doesn't address is when you've got some sort of fundamental ego problem and take on new things because it makes you feel needed and worthwhile.  Not that I have this particular ego problem or know it intimately.  So another one for the list might be, "I feel very flattered by your invitation, and my ego would very much like me to take this gig, but my ego gives me the shaft every five minutes and I'm trying to shut that beeyotch up."

Again, professional.

One other landmine: a lot of those in the list above might invite more work down the road, which I have to be careful about.  Do you have a favorite "no"?  I'd like to hear it.

November Nasal News

It's November, which according to my calendar, means it's time to bore you with all of our many viruses and bacterial infections and bodily functions.

But I'm not going to do that, because, like I said:  boring.

If I was going to bore you with all that, it would go something like

blahblahbronchitisblahblahsinusinfectionblahblahstomachflublahblahpertussisscareblahblahmigraineblahblahpinkeyeBLAH.

But I'm not.

Instead, I'll bore you with the fact that, in between coughing fits, I've been doing some felting:



This a felted bangle.  Super quit to knit up, then I felted by hand and added the seed and bugle beads.  Thank you One More Skein for inspiration.

In between dry heaves, I knitted this little number:




Chunky wool, rescued from the thrift store, a made-up pattern, shoved some buttons through stitches.  Crocheted a shell pattern around the edges Then lined with jersey so not too scratchy.  These are all over Etsy and I wanted one.  Cozy!

Other than that, not much is new.  My oldest is still petulant, my youngest wakes at 3am every night like clockwork, my dog and husband snore in an alternating symphony of joyous exhalation, and we bought an entire box of frozen snickerdoodle batter for a school fundraiser.  Life is plentiful and good, in other words.

Achoo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wrapped Up in Doodie

I was talking with one of my teachers the other day about how things are going, and how I still struggle with overcommitting, and with feeling like some of my life is taken up with duties and that this keeps me from feeling free.

Before I tell you about her response, I should say that I see a huge difference between duty and service.  Service, for me, is reciprocal, being in conversation with another or in one's self, a fulfillment of love and recognition.  I raise my children out of service, because I learn and grow from it just as they do.  I do the laundry because it's pleasing to me to have clean clothes.  I stay in touch with friends not because I have to but because it feels good to connect, to listen and be heard.  All of those things are service, in my mind, because they are about relationship and mutual fulfillment.

Duty, on the other hand, is hollow.  When I sign up for duty it is usually because there is some voice in my brain that says "if you don't do this, it will look like you are this," or "if you do this, you'll be seen as this." Duty is about externally projecting the thoughts of others back on to myself.  It is about shoulds and have-tos, shame and guilt.  It's about fracturing myself into a million tiny pieces and seeing where those pieces stick, and thinking approval or appreciation or love will come back in some form or another because I did my duty.  Duty is exhausting and about anything but freedom.

Sadly for me, duty is often really alluring.  My ego loves duty because it makes me feel wanted and important.  I sign up for duty all the time, especially at work.  Then I spend quite a bit of time feeling bummed or pissed that I "have" to do all this duty that I don't really want to do.  See that?  I sign up for the duty, then resent others for giving me duties.  Hilarious.

As Nolie would say, "Duty is doodie!  Bahahahahaha!"

Ah, the wisdom of babes.

Anyway, what my teacher said was this.  "You need to understand the difference between excellence and genius.  Excellence is fine, you know?  It's about doing things well and on time and as you're supposed to.  Excellence is a good thing to reach for.  But its downside is perfectionism, and in the end, excellence can be quite limiting, constraining.  It's not really what our souls want, this excellence for excellence's sake.

Genius, on the other hand, is about freedom.  It's about yearning.  It's about spontaneity and thinking differently, about laughter and joy and listening to Spirit.  So, you might ask yourself which one it is you're wanting when you make your choices."

I say this most humbly.  I don't think of myself as excellent or genius, either, most of the time.  But I like this distinction, and think maybe we can let go of some of our preconceptions about what these words usually mean and think of them instead on a heart-level, as a guide for how we might live our lives.

On the morning walk with Milo I was listening to an old Fresh Air, where Terry Gross was interviewing Abbey Lincoln, a singer and actress who died in August.  I kept having to stop on the walk and close my eyes to listen, because Lincoln just had so many amazing things to teach me.  And her voice is gorgeous to listen to, anyway.  The final story she told was of an interaction with Thelonius Monk, where he told her, "Don't be so perfect."  And her husband Max Roach said, "Make a mistake."  She said she didn't know what they meant.



Gross asked her if she knew what they meant now, and Lincoln laughed and said she did, and that what they meant was that if you really reach for it, really shoot for the moon, and your voice cracks, oh well, at least you shot for the moon.  You can be safe and stay here on the ground--in duty, reaching for excellence--or you can shoot for it, take the risk of failure, and be guided by your spirit's instinct to genius.

She said it better than I, but you get the idea.

This is all high-falutin.  I'm not quite sure how to translate it all into the daily.  But it's on my mind anyway.  Listen to the Abbey Lincoln interview if you have time.  It's worth it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

And Then I Was Bummed



First, I was happy, because my kid with the stomach problems is doing really, really well on the new program.  I mean, we don't need to get too graphic, right?  But things are really, um, flowing well.  Super well.  Super-duper...

You get the picture.

And then I was bummed, because some time in the last two weeks she developed the most rotten attitude I have ever seen.  It's like living with a reality show monster.  A teenage werewolf.  A snot-nosed brat.

I don't mean those things.

But, honestly, I maybe think them, just a little, in some far off corner of my brain, every time she snatches something out of my hand and rolls her eyes at my stupidity and then screams at me for loving every square inch of her six-year-old little know-it-all self.

Yeah, go ahead and chuckle, we get the kids we deserve, she's hoisting me on my own petard, blahdiblahdiblah.  Blah blah.  That just makes me mad at you, too.

None of my tricks are working, either.  We've tried points charts and time-outs and loving talks and extra attention and she still is just acting like funky mold in the pesto jar.

I need some help on this one.  I need some time for thought.  Some patience.  Extra love in my heart.  A new gimmick.

Maybe a mommy's night off.

Cause it just ain't working right now.  I'm about to ship this kid to I don't know where.

You know what I mean.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

On the Walk

This child is still in my lap
legs forming a hard T, jutting
an unfamiliar hard line from and against mine.
But also resting her rounded cheek, no angles,
on my leg.

She looks up.
I look down.

The future lays out similarly before us.
Perhaps there is a cold front looming beyond the mountains, ready
to drop its cold winds in our midst.
Or there is the long flatness of a desert road
gondola rides in Venice
the rhythmic ecstasy of carnival
or, even, the curling up in soft grasses, hushed
by prairie winds and geese overhead.

I lay my head back on the pillow
close my eyes against what comes.
She grabs my own cheek, little hand on hard plane,
and whispers good morning, dear red bird,
good morning to you.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cornucopia

Had to look up how to spell that.

We had a few hours today and considered going on a family hike because it's so freaking gorgeous out.  But Addie was having some trouble with her feelings today, and I thought a date might be in order.  She said we couldn't go to any stores for our date (Who, me?  Wanting to go shopping?  Shocking).  So we decided to participate in a little craftiness, using this wonderful book.  We did NO Halloween crafting this year, but rectified that with this little Thanksgiving masterpiece:



We did have to go to the grocery store to get the gourds and tissue paper (the directions called for dried corn and corn husks, but for some reason King Soopers doesn't stock that as a staple, so we just cut up some construction paper petals and cut some grasses from our dead gardens, and threw in some Werthers for shine and yumminess).  But even the trip to the store was relatively painless, and Addie wasn't too peeved about it.  Everything else we had.

Fun times, and a good reminder from the mouth of babes that it's often better to make than buy.  If we had been even more creative, we would have just collected leaves and stuff from outside and skipped the gourds.  Next time!

You get the idea, anyway.  What would you put in your cornucopia?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Upcycle Update

I haven't been sewing much, because for some reason at 9:15 every night my body has been going into a coma and I fall asleep, ne'er to be seen again until 6:30 when the evil ones come in and jump on the my head and the clink of the coffee cup on my bedside warns me of impending doom.  I've been feeling quite joyful and peaceful, lately, too, so maybe it's all that happiness that's wearing me out.  Not sure.  Also, been working a lot.

BUT I have been drooling over a few holiday catalogs (the usuals:  anthropologie, garnet hill, sundance, j.crew) whose clothing I cannot afford.  Plus, I have a genetic aversion to buying expensive clothes new.  The craving is still there, though, especially for all the bright, sparkly things in fall line-ups this year.  I want I want I want!  Me want sparkles!  I'm like a fish that way.  Bright, sparkly, hook, frying pan.  That's me.

So as the girls were taking their bath last night and E. monitored election results (yay for Hickenlooper!  Yay for Brown!), I attacked with scissors and a rotary cutter a sequined evening gown my grandmother sent me last year and sewed these big sequiny flowers onto an Old Navy tee.  Took about 12 minutes.


Sparkly!

That seems to be my pose, the arms akimbo thing, eh?  You must be weary of it.  How about another shot?

Hard to give you a close-up without it being a total boob shot, but here we go:


Boobs!

Anyway, you can feel bad for the sequined gown if you like, but it was totally Falcon Crest--big shoulders, shaped like a sack.  It deserved to get hacked.  Plus, it's a ton of material and will service many reJuJu tees in the future, I'm sure.

I think this gives me awesome professorial pizzazz, don't you?

I almost wrote pizzass.  Which I also have some of.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Getting It Out

Alright, so here's the deal with Addie.  It's taken me a few days to write about it because it's something of a socially taboo topic (not that poop has ever been off bounds on this blog), Addie's getting older and maybe could be a little embarrassed by this, and it's also taking us some time to figure things out.  But I think it's good to talk about things, to shine a light on them, so that there is no shame.

Basically, Addie has this condition called chronic constipation.  It doesn't sound like a big deal, but it is, or it could be.  It may not be a big deal for Addie, yet.  We don't know.  We're optimistic, but we don't know.

For the last month or so, Addie's been complaining of pretty bad stomachaches.  It looked like cramping from the way she was bending over.  It usually happened around mealtimes, but not always.  One of Addie's little friends also had chronic stomachaches awhile back, but that turned out to be kind of like attention-getting behavior.  So, we had a few hypotheses:  either it was hunger, she was needing attention, or she needed to poop.  Or, it was some horrible and unnamed problem, but neither one of us even spoke this possibility.  The cause, and therefore the solution, was not clear.

Then, a few days before the trip, Addie started to complain of her "vagina leaking."  She was using huge amounts of t.p. just for pee, and then had a urine accident on the plane back from the trip.  I felt really concerned, figured maybe a bladder infection.  There was also one stool with bright red blood.  Scary, very scary.

So we made a doctor appointment after our trip, just to be on the safe side.  Addie is allergic to most antibiotics, or we think she is, and we needed to have her tested to make sure, because she's building up resistance to the one they like to prescribe and that she can tolerate.  But the allergist wouldn't do the test until we figured out the stomach thing.  So we go into our pediatrician about the stomach thing, and the peeing thing, and also a bad cough Addie just developed.

The doctor does all the normal questions and exams, and honestly, I just expect her to say that Addie has a cold and maybe is something of a nervous kid, and that probably explains the stomachache.  And maybe the pee thing is that she just needs to give herself more time on the toilet.  The blood thing, I don't know.  A hard one?  That's what I expected. I expected the doctor would laugh and kid me for being a nervous parent, bringing my kid to the office yet again.

But, nope.  Instead, the doctor says, "Well, we have two very serious things going on here.  One more serious than the other.  She's got bronchitis, a really bad case of it.  We can treat that.  Of greater concern is the fact that she is chronically constipated.  Basically, she's full of poop.  And the poop is getting hard and impacted and pressing on her bladder and causing the leakage, and before long, if we don't get on top of this, you'll start having anal leakage."

Yes, friends.  Anal leakage.  These are phrases every parent can't wait to hear at the doctor:  "very serious," "impacted poop," and "anal leakage."

And after that there was some talk of "this could be the worst year of your life" and "this is one of the most common and yet incredibly serious things we see" and "you have to get on top of this immediately or it will seriously ruin your quality of life."

Like, scary words, pretty much.  And a scary story.  The worst year of our life?  Ruin our quality of life?

What?

I guess I'm glad she imparted the seriousness of things, because I basically was forced to push through the stupor I felt into action.  We don't know exactly what caused the problem.  Diet doesn't cause chronic constipation, but it can help it, so that's one thing.  Addie also is not a big fan of certain public bathrooms, particularly those ones where there are automatic flushers that spray water on your ass or airplane bathrooms where the flusher seems like it's going to suck you in (pretty run-of-the-mill kid fears, I think).  Our best guess is that she is just a very, very focused kid.  She does not want to miss anything in school.  When she is reading a book, you almost can't rouse her.  When she's watching t.v., she falls into a t.v.-watching coma.  All "spirited child" stuff.  So we've got to retrain her brain and her muscles to properly register when she needs to go to the bathroom, and then strongly encourage her to listen to those signals, and provide her with opportunities to act on those signals.

Here's the do list:

1)  Switch to a mostly whole foods, probiotic diet.  We're most of the way there anyway, but need to cut out some of the white flours, especially, and dairy products with lactose.  Addie loves fruits and veggies, but we needed to up her intake of bran and whole grains.  Easy enough.  Prunes, baby, prunes!

2)  Get her on a potty schedule.  She has to have dedicated "potty time" after every meal.  Which means getting her teacher on board.  Teach is very cool, so also easy enough.  She loves to read, so I bought her the gigantic fifth and sixth Harry Potters at the thrift store, and she just goes in with those and hangs out until good things happen (so to speak).  I promise not to lend you these books someday, you germ-freaks.

3)  Keep a food/poop journal.  Record everything she eats, and everything that comes out, along with tummy aches.  Gathering data helps us with the second-guessing, any tendency we might have for shaming or blaming, and with tracking long-term improvements.  The thing with chronic constipation is that kids with it still poop; they just only may poop every four days.  They hold the rest of the time and those muscles get all screwed up.

4)  Give her Miralax, an easy-going laxative, everyday.  We've chosen to do this after school to try to avoid accidents during the school day.

Writing it here, this doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but when the doctor was first telling me, I felt like I went into shock.  I mean, our lives are so full, and these changes seemed big.  And what if we didn't "get on top of it"?  Would our lives be ruined?  What if we failed?

And you know what?  I kind of bought into this horrible possibility for a few minutes, because that's what I've always done.  It was tempting to believe this might derail everything, be the shoe I've always been waiting to drop.

But that story can suck it.

For a bunch of reasons.  Addie is a kid who, three weeks after being told she had a lisp, basically cured herself of it with no speech therapy--just some gentle reminders.  We are a family who comes together in difficult times and makes whatever changes we need to make.  I am an organizational mastermind, who may not be able to control this situation, but can use her powers of automation and system building to make these things happen smoothly.

Most of all, we are just bathed in love and grace and light and, you know, that helps a lot at times like this.

My money is on us kicking this thing in the pants.  Ha!  No pun intended.  Already we are seeing good things and feeling positive.  In some ways, maybe this is a blessing--a chance to improve how we eat and drink, to be there for one another, and to be compassionate and loving.  That sounds okay to me.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lessons from Addie

We went on a little trip a few weeks back.  A family trip.  Short, but a real, true vacation.  The kids came with us, but there was loads of free daycare provided, so we got to have time during the day to be together as grown-ups, like a couple!  It was amazing.

But it started out rocky as hell.

Addie just wasn't excited about it.  She was going to be missing her dance recital at school, and I think too she is still a little nervous going into new experiences, even though she historically has been very resilient and handled them quite well.  But on this trip, she was pretty intent on making things difficult.  Her stomach hurt.  She wanted to stay in our (incredibly tiny) room and watch t.v. instead of going swimming or playing games or attending kids' activities.  She pouted, she whined, she cried.  She wouldn't eat.  We were pulling our hair out and feeling really exasperated, and maybe didn't respond very nicely.  At all.

We know now that there was a medical problem underlying some of her physical complaints (more on that soon) but the main ingredient was emotional.  I had been pretty frustrated with Addie the first day or two:  we had spent a lot of money, and I felt like I really needed a vacation, for God's sakes, and couldn't she just be a big girl for these few days and have some fun?

It's hard to force people to have fun, if you haven't noticed.

Finally I got wise, and on the second day of the trip leaned down to Addie and whispered, "If there's ever, ever anything you need to talk to me about, you just please let me know, and I'll make time for the two of us to be together, and we can talk it over."

She was quiet for a minute, and then responded, "I do have something we need to talk about."

So we let Nolie and E. do their own thing for a while and we retired to our really very tiny room and had a talk, where Addie--in a quiet but steady voice--told me that she felt me and E. were being too hard on her, that we only liked Nolie, and that she didn't feel like we loved her.

Gulp.



I assured her right away that our behavior would change immediately, and that she was absolutely right about us being too hard on her, and that we could never love one of our kids more than the other, it was just physically and mentally and spiritually impossible.  And then I sucked it up and acted as cheerful and positive as Pollyanna.  Man, was that some kind of acting job!  Interesting how I expected her to be so cheerful and then had a hard time manufacturing cheer myself, isn't it?  But the acting was was good enough.

Because after that, she perked right up, got excited about swimming and kids' camp and eating, and we had a great rest of the vacation.

Ah, jeez.  There's so many lessons to be learned here.  To not be hard first.  To listen to my kids.  To ask them to talk to me, and then be available to listen and respond meaningfully.  To pay attention to signs and signals, especially indirect ones.  To believe the highest and best about my children.  To slow down.  To make time for them (by the way:  one of my favorite ways to do this is to schedule special "dates" with them--a trip out to lunch, a visit to the library, some craft time.  Just with one at a time.  I don't think it matters what you do, just as long as you clearly label it "our time" and give them all of your attention).

I don't know.  All this is just evidence that these are exactly the kids I was supposed to have.  I mean, they're such amazing teachers.  I'm so lucky to learn from them.  But school isn't always easy.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

It's been longer than I expected since I last posted.  There have been so many days where I've thought, "I should write about that," and then something else comes up or it just feels so much better to fall in bed and sleep, or the dog needs a walk, or I just need to eat a bowl of ice cream and watch The Daily Show with E.  And, too, when you've been away awhile, you wonder why you write to begin with, and whether it wouldn't just be best to let things go.  But here I am again, compelled.

We've been facing some interesting challenges lately.  One of the ministers at unchurch uses that word "interesting" to describe anything that feels challenging or difficult or bad.  I think she uses it because it's sometimes better to avoid forming a story around an event that prohibits us from seeing the positive that can come out of it, or to label it in a way such that our story about it becomes worse than the event itself.  I like it.  It reminds me of Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, wherein he finds that when people can find positive significance to hardship or tragedy, they are much more likely to live happy and full lives.  Calling things "interesting" also encourages me to be more of an observer of my life and less caught up in all its little ups and downs.

Things have been interesting.  I had a reaction to an allergy shot that landed me in the e.r.; we took Addie to the doctor for some tummy aches and found out she had bronchitis and a chronic stomach condition that requires some significant attention and changes on all of our parts; E's work is having some interesting cash flow challenges; my work is having some interesting personnel dynamics.

I have had my moments of freak-out.  Don't let me misrepresent.  But I've also been grateful for the extended autumn we're having, with the amazing colors, for the geese flying by, for the beauty of my family, for the peace of everyday work and chores, for the kindness people so often show one another, for parties, for laughter, for love.  Another reverend at unchurch saw a flock of geese fly outside our classroom window during an intense morning storm.  It was breathtaking.  She was silent for a moment and then said, "Oh thank you, geese, thank you."  Turning inward with gratitude, then projecting it outward, has helped tremendously.

And this, from Byron Katie's amazing book Loving What Is, which has been for me one of those books that comes along at just the right moment:

I can find only three kinds of business in the universe:  mine, yours, and God's.  (For me, the word God means "reality."  Reality is God, because it rules.  Anything that's out of my control, your control, and everyone else's control--I call that God's business).  

Much of our stress comes from mentally living out of our own business.  When I think, 'You need to get a job, I want you to be happy, you should be on time, you need to take better care of yourself,' I am in your business.  When I'm worried about earthquakes, floods, war, or when I will die, I am in God's business.  If I am mentally in your business or in God's business, the effect is separation.  

If you are living your life and I am mentally living your life, who is here living mine?  We're both over there.  Being mentally in your business keeps me from being present in my own.  I am separate from myself, wondering why my life doesn't work.

Ah, this clarified a lot for me.  Just noticing how awesome I am in other people's business, how often I fight with reality (so many "shoulds" in my brain!) has been a clarifying experience.  Honestly, I had started to worry that maybe something was wrong with me, that I couldn't be happy.  I was deeply confused.  But really, I was just separate from myself.  When I can inhabit my center, stay in my own business, and locate grace and gratitude within, I feel deeply satisfied and joyful.  So simple!  And so easy to forget.  The paradox of my spiritual life.

Here I am, though, back on the blog, and hoping to post more frequently.  Addie and Nolie are growing up so fast.  Addie makes me tell her stories about when she was a baby every night now (I'm going to run out soon!) and Nolie is on a vocabulary quest (mama, what does listless mean?  How about product?  How about contraption?).  What a blessing this crazy existence is.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hello, and See Ya

It's been a rough time at work.  Have you guessed that?  There's not much I can say yet, except that the recession has hit my workplace, if not financially, then at least mentally.  There is a scarcity mentality, and there is meanness, and a lack of respect for others.  Oh, and much misunderstanding.

But that is all I can say for now.

What can be said is that I've been grasping at moments of grace wherever I can find them, and trying to stay whole when everything feels as if its pulling me into a million tiny fragments.  These moments of grace have come in the form of phone calls from friends and family; E., who always listens calmly and has my back; from the laughter and joy of my girls; from Milo and the crazy kitties; from the beauty of nature; from the beauty of things; from hot baths and red wine and the everyday.  And this, the view from Van Bibber, where I try to walk Milo whenever I can:



We are so blessed.  And still I struggle.  My real struggle has been to stay in the present and not get lost in the elsewhere of wondering and guessing at and scheming.  Life in the present is pretty good.

I am away until next weekend, thankfully, but I'll be back posting soon.  I hope things are well for you, and know things will turn around for me, too, soon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Vegetables and Marriage

The last page in the most recent issue of Orion Magazine is by Katrina Vandenberg, "On Cold-Weather Vegetables."

This post may or may not be about vegetables.

This excerpt from her article caught my eye:

I watch my husband from the kitchen window as he pulls dead morning glory vines from the trellises.  I love him differently than I did the day I married him.  In the fifteen years we have been together, I have helped bury his father, he has cleaned up my vomit, we have both been bored by stories we've heard dozens of times.  We have lost two pregnancies.  Two falls ago, in one five-week stretch, we were each separately taken to the emergency room in an ambulance and had to start thinking about what it would mean to lose the person who has witnessed so much of our lives.  Eventually, surely, one of us wil be left behind.

Andre Dubus describes the meals between married couples as not mere eating but a 'pausing in the march to perform an act together,' a sacrament that says, 'I know you will die; I am sharing food with you; it is all I can do, and it is everything.'  My husband and I have eaten together maybe ten thousand times, in three states, in various rentals and then our house, at the same oak trestle table.  Watching us, you could chronicle changes--I quit vegetarianism, he learned to cook, we started to say grace--but the act remains.

Christians regularly take communion, a ritually shared meal that acknowledges the mysteries of life and death, but meal-time is especially poignant in the fall, when Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead, and Celts once celebrated Samhain, and ancient Greeks told the story of Persephone disappearing into the underworld--all harvest festivals that connect sharing food with death and gratitude.  So we start with what the earth has given us.  We shape it into something else.  Perhaps there are candles.  We talk.  We have enough and are together, even though one of us will someday eat here alone.
I read this, and I'm frustrated at the romanticization of the couple and of the mealtime.  I think, here is someone who hasn't had kids needing to be taught table manners, who doesn't have people having farting contests at her dining table, who doesn't understand that for some people, dinner is just about shoving food in your mouth until you're not hungry anymore.  This nostalgia--even if it is also about loss--is not available to me.

But then I soften a little.  Because mealtimes are, in fact, sometimes sacred, and we work hard to capture those sacred moments, in case they happen to show up among all the madness.  And maybe this is not a romanticization at all, but rather a recognition that in the mundane there is also love and meaning.  "It is all I can do, and it is everything."

Part of me waits for pronouncements of the sacred, and is disappointed when there is only the mundane, which paradoxically has at its core the sacred.  I look for the high, and miss it in the low.

The mundane and the sacred are not always easy to tease apart.  Nor does my sacred always look like E's mundane.  He's thinking hamburgers while I'm thinking prayer.  He's soaking in a moment while I fret over work.  Once in a while we land on the same moment, but it doesn't happen very often.  I don't know whether to find this wearying, or also part of the way things go.

It is all we can do, and it is everything.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Way Things Go

I had a very good dream last night.  I hesitate to tell you because you'll make judgments and psychoanalyze me and determine once and for all I'm completely narcissistic and boring.  But that's what this blog is about, my narcissism, and if you haven't figured that out by now I just don't know what to tell you.

My dream, which I don't remember very well now, but which felt very real and pleasant at the time, was like some sort of beauty revue, except all of the faces in the revue were mine.  And it was like I was being a very objective reviewer of all these faces flashing by (were they pictures?  floating heads?  I don't know.  dreams are weird).  And I was able to objectively say, Yes, she looks beautiful right there, and yes, I really like how she looks, and yes, she (I) can rest now because she is (I am) finally a beautiful woman.

Quit it.  Stop analyzing me.  It was just a dream.

But the thing I remember most was just that feeling of relief.  Like:  phew.  Don't have to worry about the appearance anymore.  I have achieved beauty nirvana.  This might have to do with my first and recent trip to the dermatologist to deal with my face bumpies (which aren't milia after all, and which require this horrible process called electro-dessication to remove.  It's beyond foul and horrific, and I'm both haunted and fascinated by it).  I've been thinking about my face a lot.  But that's for another post.

Anyway, I was having that lovely dream, and then 6:30 in the morning came and ruined it.  And guess what?  6:30 in the morning is when my eyes open because my evil children and husband are all morning people and have plotted against me to ruin my natural habits, which are to sleep in and pretend the world doesn't exist for as along as humanly possible.  Actually, 6:30 is sleeping in.  Usually one mammal or another wakes at 5:30.  They're all horrible, horrible mammals, these mammals I live with.  And so 6:30 is when my eyes open.

Except at 6:30 in the morning this morning, my eyes wouldn't open.

Well, my right eye wouldn't open.

Because I had pink-eye.

Nobody else in the house has pink-eye.  Not even Milo, and he does all sorts of things with his poo nobody should do.  And I can guarantee I wash my hands more than anyone in this house.  You may have seen me today, and I might have even hugged you.  I washed first, I promise.  And the pink-eye is mostly gone now; it wasn't a bad bout.  But my point is that it was jarring, maybe even mentally scarring, to go from being very beautiful and relieved about my beauty struggles in my dream to going to the mirror where my eye was squozed shut and oozing and my hair was all stuck out and I was wrinkled and still had bumpies.

And we don't even need to talk about what happens when I'm wearing a stretched out jammified tank top with no bra, if you know what I mean.

That's all I'm saying.

Don't leave any comments saying I AM beautiful or I'll just feel as if you've totally missed the point of this post.

Which is:  where the crap did I get pinkeye?

The universe is cruel.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

One Path to Reading

Nolie is starting to "read," and by that I mean that she is beginning to pick up books, show interest in words, and do her best to sound out or guess at words based on the pictures on the page.  She's doing this in much the same way and with the same books that Addie did, so I was thinking it might be a good idea to post about how we've promoted reading for the girls in our house.

Friends have asked us how we have "gotten" the girls to read.  I should be clear that we don't have any proof that their reading has much to do with us or things we've done.  We haven't invested in any phonics programs, or done a lot of things we wouldn't have done otherwise.  But I think we've probably created a good culture of reading in our house, and for what it's worth I'll write about that here.  So these are not rules or guidelines, but rather things that have worked in our family and that we've wanted to do.  There's nothing surprising here, either--I think a lot of the early childhood stuff says similar things.

Here are our strategies:

Have lots of books around.  We were lucky from really early on to have boxes and boxes of books from my childhood that my mom had saved for me in the hopes that I would someday be lucky enough to snag a man and procreate.  There were tons of classics in those boxes, including nearly a hundred of those little golden books.  So Addie had a complete library before she could even walk, and now she and Nolie share it.  As they grow out of particular books, I box them up and ship them off to my brother, who has been lucky enough to snag a woman and may procreate someday.

Go to the library every week.  In addition to inheriting all of those great books from my mom, I commit to going to the public library every week (whose existence is now in some jeopardy thanks to those douchebags on Wall Street.  Yes, I said douchebags).  I don't take the kids, hardly ever.  I just swoop in on my way to work with an old diaper bag, fill it with books randomly off the shelves from the kids' section, grab a movie or two for movie night, and check out.  It takes five minutes.  I suppose eventually the kids will want to come and pick their own stuff out.  But for now this is easy, and it works.  Addie also checks books out from her own school library.  Some get read, some don't.  But that's what's great about libraries:  it's a no-risk way to try out whatever you like.


Read every night, and other times, too.  It's a rare night that we don't all cuddle up in bed with library books or books from the girls' collection after bath and before bed.  I think we all love these moments of togetherness.  I especially love the magic of trying out a new story with the girls and seeing how they react.  Then the girls get on p.j.'s, brush teeth and hair, and head off to Nolie's big bed, where I read to them in the dark, using a reading light, from a chapter book (we've done Harry Potter, which gave some nightmares, The Littles, Lily Dragon, and are now on to Charlotte's Web, to name a few.  Whatever's around.)  Addie has always already read the book on her own first, because that's just how she is, but she LOVES being read to, and asks tons of questions about what words mean and how characters feel.  I hope they never stop wanting me to read to them.  We also read on the weekends when the girls need a cuddle, or whenever they bring a book our way.

Talk about what you read.  No magic there.  Mostly the girls ask us questions about particular books, but we also try to make connections to what we've read in our daily conversations (hey, you're dancing just like Angelina Ballerina in Angelina Visits the Tsar!).  Stuff like that.

Encourage storytelling and writing.  Nolie prefers to tell stories orally, and let me tell you, they are about as exciting as a box of bricks.  Addie loves to write and illustrate her own stories now, also boxes-of-bricks-ish.  But I think this is an important part of getting into narratives and how they work, so I suffer through.  Woe.

Let them see you read.  Eric is mostly a magazine and newspaper guy, while my head is always in a book or a Kindle.  I guess I think this shows them you value reading, but mostly I do it because I love to read and can't imagine my life without it.

A few gimmicks that work.  Okay, these aren't even gimmicks.  But two books that have really set both girls on the path to reading have been the P.D. Eastman book Go Dog Go (classic) and the little phonics books in the "Now I'm Reading" packages.  The sentences are quite simple (See Spot Run type stuff) and they map neatly on to the pictures.  So the girls can guess at the words based on the picture.  And you can offer big praise for them "reading."

And finally, my best suggestion:  Avoid teaching them how to read.  We haven't done actual phonics lessons, we don't work with them to "sound things out," we encourage guessing at words, faking our way through books, and all sorts of silliness.  They get the more serious "skills" at school.  Our main thing has been to keep reading fun.

A few disclaimers:

1.  Boys are probably different from girls, and I don't know if these strategies would work with boys.  My guess is probably not, especially after reading Sax's amazing book Girls on the Edge.  You might need to do different things with boys.

2.  I have no idea how much having a gift for reading is genetic.  Maybe a lot.  But that doesn't mean we can't think about how to foster particular behaviors in our kids.  But I'm careful not to take too much credit for Addie's great reading skills and Nolie's budding interest.

3.  If you have a baby and especially a little baby, don't worry about any of this stuff.  I don't think reading to babies does anything, unless it makes you feel good.  It might be good for them to hear your voice, I guess.  But I'm not sold on any of that stuff.  Once kids are toddlers, I think that's a great time to begin to introduce them to age-appropriate stuff.

Alright, that's my wisdom for the day.  Hope to post more this week now that E. is back in town (again).

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Did I mention

that we love Milo?  We really, really do.  He's such a slobbery slob.  But we love him.


Look at the schnozzlesworth on that boy.  Goodness.  Lovey, lovey, lovey.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Like a Rock Wall

One of the challenging things about parenting these girls is that it's so hard to tell what they're feeling at any given moment.  Take this:


Or this:


Inscrutable, aren't they?  Amazing poker faces, those girls have.

This reminds me of a poignant moment from last week's hellishness.  I've raced out of work so that I can get to Addie's school on time for her parent-teacher conference.  I am late, of course, and Addie is the last kid in the classroom (bad mommy, bad mommy).  I enter, breathless, and ask the teacher if Addie can sit in the library while we talk.

"Talk?" she says.  "About what?"

"Uh...don't we have our conference today?"

Silence.  Looks me up and down, maybe checking for signs of meth use.  "That's in two weeks."

"Ah.  Alrighty then.  Well, I'm here!  And now we're leaving!  HahahahaHA!"

More odd looks.

Whisk Addie out of room, fight back tears, kick self in butt.

Then, in the car:  "Mommy?  Do you know what I'm really good at?"

"What?"

"Knowing how people feel."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah.  Like I know exactly what you're feeling right now."

"You do?"

"Yep.  You're feeling exhausted."

Apparently I'm no rock wall, either.

I'm so glad this is week is not last week.

PowPow Bum Was Here

You probably can't see it, but this is one of the kajillion forms that comes home from the kids' schools every Friday.  It's for a Family Education evening with the Jeffco Sheriff, where I assume you learn about how to not let your kids get molested.  Stuff like that.

Anyway, Addie's been secretly absconding with the memos and filling them out on our behalf.

Apparently, a Ms. PowPow Bum will be attending this particular session.


I hope Ms. Bum asks the Sheriff some probing questions.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Shrooms

Just want to say that last week was pretty darned hard for a number of reasons.  Not least of which was that Milo got really, really sick from mushroom poisoning, leaving pond-sized duke puddles in our backyard and throwing up like you wouldn't believe.

We didn't realize it was mushroom poisoning until he got better.  So we were doubly blessed, first by the fact that he got better (thank God, because I freaking LOVE that dog.  It's unreasonable how much I love him).  Second by the fact that we didn't have to pay thousands of dollars in vet bills to get him better.  He somehow got better on his own.

Sometimes it's good to be slow on the uptake.

Here's a picture of Milog the Dilog with his little pint-sized friend Darcy (actually a real dog, even if she doesn't look like it):


And here's a picture of the false morels that made Milo turn into a poo/barf spout.  They're poisonous to animals and humans alike, so dig em out of your yard if you find them.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Make Shirts From Shower Curtains

I love bossing you guys around.

Here's another shower curtain shirt.





Sorry again for the bad photos.  My mac enables me to both work much harder than I used to and be really lazy at blogging.

Anyway, picked the shower curtain up at a yard sale today for a buck.  Had these pretty cut-outs on it and so I just copied this shirt, which you may remember:



It's a good style for layering with cardis and the like, and you can whip it up in about fifteen minutes (I'm wearing mine to E's gig tonight--Hankfest 2010!).  Plus, you can say you made it from a shower curtain.  It's like a wet t-shirt contest without the wetness.  Awesome.