Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Little Dose of Ava

Dose #1

We found a new playground. We found it a week before we used it, but it was raining when we found it so we tucked it away for another day, which happened to be this past Saturday.

On Friday night, the night before the Saturday we used the new playground, if you had asked Ava what she would be doing on Saturday morning, this is what you would've heard:

First, Ava wakes up. Then Ava, mommy, and daddy go to coffee shop (shebop) and have daddy's muffin. Then go potty.... and then (excitement is building that she absolutely cannot contain) go to new playground to go slidin and swingin'! (The finale is about ten spinning circles followed by one big not-quite-jumping-jack, but close).

So when you are at a new playground, how do you possibly decide what to do first? You don't decide; instead, you do everything for milliseconds at a time so that it feels like you're doing everything at the same time. Eventually, you land on the couple things you know you really love, and that you always knew you really loved (sliding and swinging) but you had to try out the new stuff too, just to be sure.

After a little bit, a little girl, about four, on a sparkly purple bike with pom-pom-like handle bars pulled up to the really big slide. She got her daddy's okay before getting off her bike and climbing the slide.

It didn't take long at all for Ava and the little girl to start following each other around; eventually there was hand holding and ant watching.

At one point, they were on the swings together. Once they got off, Ava turned square to her new little friend, grabbed her at the shoulders, looked her square in the eyes and said, with excitement she could barely contain, "Wanna go slidin'?"


Dose # 2

We were visiting with some friends and there was another little girl there, right about Ava's age. Ava was playing with a little foam bat that the little girl also wanted to play with. The little girl began to grab at it and her parents scolded her. As you can imagine, at two, she got pretty upset and didn't understand why she couldn't have the bat.

Without hardly any time passing, Ava walked over to the little girl and handed her the bat. Just like that. No words, no explanation, no trying to make her feel better, just doing what she knew would.


One Small Step

Putting all my folded clothes away. Today.

Splurge Thursday

Oh, I don't know. Maybe an ice-cream cone tonight?

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Spot on the Horizon

It is not true to say that I dust this speech off each Memorial Day; the truth is, I tuck it nearby so that I can read it any day, sometimes every day. Six years ago my dad wrote and delivered this speech at our hometown Memorial Day services, the first after 9/11. I will admit my bias, but still, I think it is the best speech I have ever heard.

Memorial Day—May 27, 2002
Norwich, NY

J. Philip McGuire, guest speaker
Combat Medic, 2/502 101st Airborne

Good Morning Friends and Neighbors—

Here we are again. Come together on a day in May to remember, to
recall the images of men, mostly young men, who went away for that
flag flying over us; men who didn't come home.

If you're like me, and I suspect some of you are, memory plays tricks
and the film in our head is hazy—filtered through the lens of our own
lives, and the vision of events and people past form dreamlike and not
always real.

The men that I remember were young. They didn't talk politics or
causes and they weren't always fighting for the same reasons they were
sent… Mostly they talked about home, about girlfriends, family, the
job they left—and girls.

Young men of course are the best soldiers. I guess not only because
they are strong and vigorous but because the recklessness of youth
lends itself to soldiering. Often the youngest volunteer to walk
point. For the young, death is a spot on the horizon—it's there, but
it's not today's concern.

Many of these soldiers were months earlier playing high school
football and wearing stiff leather shoes to the prom…they did
heroic things—exposed themselves to enemy fire and threw themselves on

The cruel confusion of war takes some in random chance. War shows no
favorites. Our best and brightest… hopeful men that today are forever
young—frozen in time, unfinished lives.

We recall the astonished look on the faces of the hurt and bleeding: a
look that says, "I'm only 19—I can't die."

The wounded and dying don't talk of the cause or the campaign. Most
ask to go home. They ask for mom—tell her I love her, that it's

But please don't leave me on this god-forsaken hill.

It has always been so. From the carnage at Gettysburg—the bloody
beaches of Normandy—the frozen Chosin Reservoir—to the steaming jungle
of the Ashau Valley.

Our best and brightest have marched into eternity with one request.
Please don't forget us.

On last September's bright blue day, horror came out of the sky and
our enemies cut down the innocent only to give names and faces to
heroes. Men and women challenged death in falling towers and doomed
airliners that others might be spared.

Abraham Lincoln observed that it's too great a task for us ordinary
people to memorialize these brave Americans. Lincoln noted their
sacrifice was too great, too magnificent, too noble for us, caught up
in our everyday lives, to honor in a meaningful way.

But do we daydream and imagine that if the opportunity presented we
too would do the heroic thing? Don't we think we'd storm the hijackers
on our doomed plane? Race into the collapsing skyscraper? We'd face
enemy fire to save a friend--- wouldn't we?

These things we ponder—we pray for courage. As the daydream fades we
find ourselves paying the same bills, worrying about our children, and
wondering how the man in the mirror got this old.

The job of honoring our fallen warriors might seem too great until we
remember them as ordinary people who did extraordinary things.

The truth for us is that we will probably never be thrust onto the
stage of great things.

Those everyday people who fell for us weren't thinking of great ideas
at the end—not of the cause, the campaign, or the issues.

They talked of home. And home is here. Home is
you and me. Home is where we live, work, love, and join the human
condition--the USA, where we pray for God's grace to make a place for
us at the end.

Here is where we honor our fallen. By doing things denied them when
they were cut down in the spring of their lives.

What can we do? First, let's imagine them as they might have become.
Maybe he's a mechanic who would fix our car; maybe he'd be driving
that truck or patrolling our streets, or planting a field of corn.

Then, let's do this: Let's do kind things in their name. Let's be good
citizens, let's volunteer and be optimistic. Let's encourage a young
person and visit an old one. Let's do ordinary things in a special

We can do it for them and thank them for their sacrifice. So let's
meet here each year and remember them. Let's carve their names in
granite and visit their graves. Let's also carve their names in our
hearts and honor them by living our lives in a way that they might
have lived theirs.

Thank you.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Run, run, as fast as you can...

It was overcast on Monday; not raining but-might-as-well-have- been kind of day. When Ava woke up I asked her if there was anything in particular she wanted to do that day, she answered, "I want a gingerbread man" as if she'd been waiting hours to say it.

I told her we didn't have any, what could we do? She suggested we make some, so, we did. (From a box, not from scratch).

After we cut them and made sure they had all their hands and feet, we put them in the oven where Ava gave them some words of encouragement. I can't remember exactly what she said, but it was something along the lines of (and in a really high pitched voice), "Hi gingerbread men, I'll see you in just a minute. Would you like a book? Yes? Okay. Here you go."

Hence, the books. I guess she figures they'd like to pass the time in the oven the way she likes to on the potty, reading.


A lot of times we'll be playing or reading and she'll say, "Just a minute. Ava will be right back. I have to do something."


So, she'll head into another room, careful to notice if she's being followed, which she isn't. I'm not sure what she does (one of these days I will follow) but she comes back less than a minute later, ready to settle right back into what she was doing before "something" called. It's very funny.


Spent Tuesday in NYC at the National Stationary Show, in support of LobotoME and Bird Dog Press. Can you imagine it, being surrounded by paper, paper, paper? All kinds of beautiful paper in all kinds of textures and incredible designs? Sigh.


A Small Step

Today I am going to drink a lot of water.
Shoe Splurge

I bought a pair of shoes on Friday night's girls night out, but I think I'm going to return them.

Monday, May 19, 2008

E for Effort

On Thursday and Friday I attended a conference sponsored by the US Department of Education. The conference was follow-up to a report that was just released by the National Math Panel, which was convened by the President to a) understand how the US can regain its competitive advantage in the math, science, and engineering fields and b) to provide recommendations on how to make math more accessible to everyone. That’s right, even you and me.

There was a lot that came out of the report, and by association the conference, much of which we already kind of know one way or another when it comes to education. In short: that the quality of a child’s teacher matters to the quality of that child's learning

But there were a couple of other things that came out of the report that I’m not sure we know:

  1. That EVERYONE can do math (That's right, even you and me).
  2. That we must stop making excuses for our mathematical limitations, especially as a way to accept the mathematical limitations of our child, student, neighbor, little sister, etcetera (that is, "I can't blame him for not doing well in math, I was never good at it either!").

I deduced one thing from those two things that could be applied to most aspects of life. To illustrate what I deduced, I am going to tell a story. A true story that actually took place about two weeks ago, before I even knew a math panel existed at all.

I was talking to a friend about high school teachers—ones we liked, loathed, maybe laughed at. Math teachers came up repeatedly as by and large good teachers, when my friend said, “I was good at math up until 9th grade and after that I sucked at it.”

He was good. He was good enough to be in advanced classes in middle school through 10th grade, at which point he’d met his requirements for a diploma and saw no reason whatsoever to continue down the path of mind numbing theorems and quadratic (quadratic sounds like something big and green that skulks in a sea and every now and then raises its fifteen heads out of the sea to slime and scum everything around it, doesn’t it?) equations, which he was naturally bad at.

I accepted his belief at face value: he just stopped being good at math and it was as black and as white as that.

Only after thinking about a couple of things I heard at this conference, I am not so sure that is true.

Because what I deduced is that natural ability will take you so far, like the 9th grade, but then you have to kick in some effort to get the rest of the way (which, of course, will vary according to individual).

There are some things that come to me very naturally: like knowing when I have a really good cup of coffee in my grip (though not knowing what, exactly, makes it good), like seeing gaps in things (arguments, concepts, teeth) and flashes of how to fill them in, and, making up alternative endings in my head to movies with really bad ones.

But I’m going to be especially conscious of putting in a little extra effort to push beyond what comes naturally and see just where it can take me and my family (I’m thinking bigger than just adding a twist to our breakfast for dinner standby).

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to go crazy with effort, just going be a little more conscious of it (and continue to shower my husband with respect because he is one of the few who pushed on with mathematical effort when natural ability ran out).

One Small Step

I'm going to start with trying really really hard to get birthday cards out on time and even sending random how are ya doing notes to friends and family once in a while.

Splurge, Soil, and Spray

We now have, finally, a respectable (though I wouldn’t quite call it manicured) flower garden in our front yard. Thanks to: Leslie W., Lowes, Frank’s Greenhouse, and, of course, day laborer Pete (husband). We bought, he dug, he planted, we sprayed. Everything. A lot. (Don’t forget, little love has mastered the righty tighty lefty loosey concept, which she applies regularly to the hose).

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

splashes and splurges

We've had rain for the past 36 hours but I didn't even mind it. I got the laundry washed and folded (that's right, it's not put away) and caught up on my black sea of emails. I had tea parties with little love and out of the rain, we found ourselves some trains (our bookstore has a train display for little ones and Ava spent more than an hour playing with it and even then I had to prod her away).


LobotoME gave a sneak peak of some must-see products that are soon to be released. You must check them out.


I've decided that cup holders are to a car what storage space is to a house: they are easily overlooked when you're busy falling in love with with the ooh ahh elements but are quickly discovered when the honeymoon is over (or maybe not even started). Agree?


A small step

Yesterday little love was frustrated because she couldn't screw a top back on the bottle (mind you, she's JUST two). Her poppy taught her "lefty loosey, righty tighty" on vacation and she figured it out on the hose within three tries. Now she's moved onto bottles, which are a little more difficult because it requires some exaction on the line up. Anyway, when she gets frustrated she does this shaking thing with her hands--sound doesn't usually accompany it because she's too busy holding her breath while she does it--so I decided that it is not too early to teach that little one to breath. So all day yesterday we breathed in through our nose and then out through our mouth. I told her that every time she started to feel frustrated, that is what she should do instead.

So today, I'm going to take my own advice.

Splurge Session

I signed up for a writing workshop with the author of The Writer Mama. It starts in August and I can't wait!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Measure of a Vacation

Vacation is so good for you, but it can be oh so bad for you too.

I'll start with the bad and stick with the major (as opposed to the minor, like finding sand in places I didn't know existed for the next three months).

The Bad

Most who know me well know that I love breakfast (make the "o" extra long in love). I especially love eating breakfast out, like at one of those Formica counter-topped diners with big streaky windows and pictures of famous people who are not famous to me hanging crooked on the walls. Those places.

So when my husband asked me if I wanted to go to one of those places for breakfast this morning in honor of Mother's Day and I said "no" he studied my face like he did when we first fell in love. Not in the "you are the most perfect person in the world to me and I want to know everything there is to know about you" kind of way--but in the "I know everything about you already but you saying no to breakfast out makes me think I ought to pay a little more attention" kind of way.

It's not that deep though--he doesn't need to worry. I said no because we are ten hours back from a week long vacation that, sure, was filled with sand and sea salt, flat fast runs and fresh smells; but it was also filled with too much cheese and extra fries, a little nacho here and a little nacho there (which, adds up to lots of nachos period), and an ice cream cone (or two) on top (figuratively, of course).

Ta da, major bad number one:

When it comes to vacation. what is lost in stress can easily be gained in fat.

Applied: Just the thought of breakfast out after vacation makes me want to binge on water and muesli. (I don't really know what muesli is, but if it is how it sounds then I'm thinking grainy and earthy .)

The Good

Now for the good, which there is plenty of but it's not nearly as dramatic, so I'll keep it short:

1. I read two novels. I haven't read A novel in more than two years and I will say that even if I have to wipe out my 2008 goals to read two more, I just might do it. The two I read (and I selected them because I snagged them for $3 a piece in the overstock pile at the bookstore) included:

  • Harvesting the Heart, Jodi Picoult. A good hard story that had me shaking my head in disbelief (and disgust) on one page and feeling a bit of sympathy on the next (a wee bit). I didn't "relate" to most of the main character's decisions, but that is where I disagree with many on what makes books good: I don't have to relate, most of the time don't want to relate. Give me another experience, one that I haven't had or won't ever have and make me believe that someone else has.
  • Love Walked In, Marisa de los Santos. Okay, I picked this book up because of the price and because of the cover (I know, I know, two very shallow reasons). And it was good. I loved the tone, the style, and the tempo of this story but it had too many holes to make it into the great category (which, so far, is owned by Mark Haddon's Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time). Again, it gave me some experiences I've never had and most likely never will, but I wasn't satisfied with the character's preparedness for and response to those experiences (boy does that sound risk management-y).
Good number one: Vacation should be renamed Relax.

Applied: Relaxation--it's the purpose, it's the point, it's the pleasure. Reading is a pleasure and I'd forgotten just how much. Vacation helped me to remember and I'm going to try hard not to forget.

2. Little one had a smile on her face from the minute she woke up in the morning until the minute she fell to sleep (she might have even been smiling then, but it was dark and I couldn't see). I get peaceful at the ocean, but always peaceful and happy little one became even more so, if you can imagine it. I can't attribute who she is to anything or anyone in particular, but I do know that sunshine, Mother Nature's rhythm, and family at every turn enhanced the rays of her light.

Husband felt it too. He doesn't require much, never has. But when we were sitting at the beach he'd turn his head and look at me (I think he was looking at me, he has these fancy sunglasses that make it difficult to tell) and just smile and not say a word and then look back out at the water again, I knew he felt that everything he has is just the right amount. Not too much, not too little, just enough. That is satisfying.

Good number two:

Watching those you love love the moment they're in.

Applied: Whether on the beach or the backyard, we have a lot to learn from people who know how to love the moment they are in. It's just that vacation gives us that opportunity to see how life can be everyday when you put first the big things, like loving and being loved.

3. Vacation has meant the same place for the past 15 (or is it 16 years). It's something my parents started for us as kids and that we've all kept up as adults. Tradition. And while there are all kinds of new and exciting places to explore, sometimes all you want, all you need, is the one place that is familiar.

Good number three:

Protected time and space to spend with those you love.

Applied: We've been going on vacation to the same place (different houses though) for more than 15 years and we keep going back. We look forward to it together, we experience it together, we remember it together, and we miss it together.


A Small Step

Making more time to read

Splurge Sunday

I do feel like a hot drink from the coffee shop, but not coffee. So I'm going to get myself a tall decaf skim extra hot mocha. Six words seems like five too many where a drink is concerned, doesn't it?