Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Visiting day

aunts and uncle

I was shy and standoff-ish. Nothing like my children. Visits from family seemed to present only the best opportunity for failure. To be annoying and underfoot. Not these kids. They are confident and assured in ways I'm still struggling.

I learn a lot from my children.

They have no trouble sitting -- dripping wet and sunscreen slicked -- on the laps of distant relatives they'd only just met to pose for a picture.

They ask a thousand questions and get a thousand answers.

They had no trouble offering hugs and sad good-byes when it was time for the party to move onward.

They can't wait to visit them, where they live ... especially if it's near "Disney Channel World."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Nearly done

The pool renovation is 98 percent finished.

pool rehab 98 percent complete

Unless you add landscaping into the mix. ... Then we're probably down to 22 percent done.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Published in 1945 ...

You Can Write Chinese

Borrowed from the school library on Tuesday.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Location, location, location

The Champ made his first Lego vehicle ...

Lego off-roadster

Daddy helped with the wheels but the boy installed the passenger cabin ...

installing gps

and the GPS system.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

At least you won't be bored this summer

craft books

Ah ... 'Tis the season: Teachers are doing their super secret happy-dance on the grave of another school year; parents will soon be pulling out their hair for want of activities that will keep their kids independently entertained; and publishers are promising a carefree summer vacation if you buy their activity books.

Here's one thing I can honestly tell you about that last part: If the book involves crafts or cooking (and your kid is under 10) there is no way in hell you won't hear your name called at least 15,000 times in that familiar sing-song whine that makes you wish you could legally sell them to gypsies. ... So choose wisely.

IF YOU CAN'T STAND PAPER DOLLS do not buy "Paper Fashions Fantasy," Klutz, $22. Although this book is clever -- offering a bunch of different templates for tops, bottoms and accessories your budding designer can trace onto prettily printed papers, you will go out of your mind trying to figure out how to hang the fashions on the tiny wire hangers, which are provided.
Mom Rated: *Mommy Dearest Comes to MInd*
Kid Rated: *This is Totally Styling*

IF YOU HAVE A THREE-YEAR-OLD don't get "Eye Q Picture Puzzler," Downtown Bookworks, $12. It may actually keep the older one enthralled as you travel, but if you forget it's in your luggage and your graffiti-artist toddler finds it, you may be needing a visit from room cleaning service.
Kid Rated: *I Found the Rabbits!*
Mom Rated: *Where's the Pen?*

IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BUY SOCKS take a pass on "The Lonely Sock Club" by Laurie Goldrich Wolf, Simon and Schuster, $17. Because for all its "Green & Groovy" cache, your kid will not be satisfied until you part with some actual cash. The way she sees it, the cats made using old "dryer-ate-the-other-one" and "used-to-be-a-nice-color" socks will pale in comparison to the creatures featured in the book. Another tip? Ignore the no-sew directions if you want to save your sanity.
Mom Rated: *Thank GOD Target Sells Socks*
Kid Rated: *I Will Populate the World with Sock Kittens*

One final warning ...
Though your kid may not be able to MAKE the projects in the sock book without help, she WILL be able to dress them. You can estimate the resulting fashion show will keep you busy for at least an hour.

Monday, May 23, 2011

No boundaries

I know we all have a love/hate relationship with the internet and the speed at which we careen down some of its pathways. We lose boundaries we wanted to be free of only to realize without limits there really is no liberation.

Trying to predict all the possible outcomes can make your head hurt.

The good always comes with the bad.

But then there are times when you have to stand in mouth-gaping amazement. Such as when your kid writes a letter like this:

In her book, meeting a Caldecott Medal winners is better than meeting a rock star.

Dear Miss Emily Arnold McCully,

I met you today at the Book Fair at Ichabod Crane Primary School. I wanted to ask you what is your next book? I really liked meeting you today, but I forgot to ask this question.

I really like the books that you write because they are amazing.

Your friend and fan,

- Annabel

And a few hours later receives this:

Dear Annabel - Wasn't that a great event? I enjoyed meeting you very much. At this moment, I am working on pictures for a book written by a ballerina who was very famous long ago: Allegra Kent. Her story is about a swan who joins a girls' ballet class! It is charming. But books take a long time to be born and it won't come out until 2012 or 2013. Later this summer I will do the pictures for a story of my own: STRONGHEART, The First Movie Star Dog.

I hope you have a great summer, filled with books and drawing and writing -- an playing!

Thanks so much for writing.

- Emily A McC

Friday, May 20, 2011

More than stuff

These are our bears ...

While his hoarding tendency means that he, literally, brought more to this relationship than I did, when it comes to the important stuff, we somehow manage to balance.

He brought Maggie.

I brought Maddy.

And we both brought our childhood teddy bears.

His, "Paddington," is on the right.

Mine, uber-creatively named "The Bear With The Bell In His Ear," is on the left.

Each bear somehow made it through the trenches of our messy childhoods -- despite matted fur, patched-up holes and glassy-eyed stares -- mostly intact. As their reward they now perch just beyond the reach of the next generation of sticky-handed, would-be eye pokers and ear tuggers.

Paddington and Jed used to do a lot of skydiving together. Well, Paddington -- stripped of his raincoat and hat and instead wearing the latest styles designed by mom and grandma -- would skydive with a parachute and Jed would push him out of the plane. They were inseparable friends until one dangerous adventure when Paddington skydived into a lamp, got stuck and burned his little bear backside.

You can't replace friends like that.

Which is what I was thinking as I recalled my most vivid nursery school memory: Bringing my prized Bear With The Bell In His Ear to show-and-tell. I was so excited to show and tell all about its amazing, stupendous, unique secret -- that he did, indeed, have a bell in his ear. (What can I say? I've always had a flair for the obvious). But instead, found myself listening to the hiss of a tow-headed little girl, wearing a smart, navy sailor suit, as she threatened to remove his jingle with her safety scissors.

Poor bear. He never left my room again.

That is until recently when he and Paddington went to stay with a neighbor of ours, who has a gentle way with well-loved toys.

Nursery magic, as The Velvetine Rabbit can tell you, makes toys real. But Margot Curran makes them immortal.

I do believe our bears' best days are yet to come.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

National Public Relations


Strapped in his car seat, we were ready to roll ...

The radio was tuned to NPR, which was airing a story by Neda Ulaby about a publicity stunt by the Frito-Lay company. The company was hawking its products in a test kitchen on a Times Square billboard, arguing that as many as half of its snacks were by legal definition "All Natural."

I was kind-sorta-not-really listening, but The Champ was listening intently as Morning Edition's host Steve Inskeep said:

"The company was trying to send the message that Fritos, Cheetos and Doritos are healthy."

I could practically hear the grin cracking open the lower half of his little face.

"See, I tol' you."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Drawing on inspiration


Whenever you see something that inspires you.


Put it down on paper.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Angry bird

he always purses his lips when he's concentrating.

We say our peace. And it starts a war.

There is no right answer. Not really. There is only a seemingly endless list of opinions, and everyone has a version of one or the other that can't be altered. No one can hear the tone of a voice and there's nothing to read between the lines.

Moments of weakness stretch out for seasons at a time.

It may start with an idea gone awry. A slapped wrist. A hurt feeling. A joke that falls flat. Ultimately the teller is the responsible party.

Introspection. Resolve. Back tracking.


Monday, May 16, 2011

What rainy days are made for ...

I know it's the most cliched thing going.

I've said it before. Many, many times.

But it's so true:

never under estimate the entertainment value of cardboard box

Even when you think they've outgrown it, there's just no telling what fun a box can be.

never under estimate the value of a plain cardboard box on a rainy day.

Here's a few more things you can do with boxes this week while you wait for the rain to go away.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

So when the attendance office called on Friday ...

Wondering why Ittybit wasn't in school ...

So when school called to find out why she was absent on Friday ...o

What was I supposed to say?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Don't sugarcoat it

If your kids are fascinated by horrifying things ... or if you are planning to buy hamsters ... I highly recommend this book.

It seems harder and harder for parents to swallow stories without their sugar coatings.

I had a good laugh when I went online and found a few reviewers had given "The Great Hamster Massacre" one measly little star for being too graphic for sensitive children.

They either judged the book by its cartoon cover illustration or were so enthralled by Kate Davies' artfully written and detailed warnings contained in the first few chapters that they didn't quite believe she would describe a "massacre" in similar detail.

... or they've never done research on hamsters as pets.

Still, I could understand those parents feeling a little disappointed that they would have to close the book and return to reading from their library of cloyingly brutal unicorn and fairy tales. Overuse of words like "sparkle" and "glitter" can make a parent testy.

Thankfully, I have one of those fabled Viking seven-year-olds who savored Davies' story in all its macabre glory. "The Great Hamster Massacre" proved to be page-turner filled with witty dialog, interesting characters and a perfectly plausible adventure.

Also ... it helped change her mind about wanting a hamster.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Mixed-Emotions Midweek

my babies

Because sometimes things have a tendency of making me feel happy and sad at once.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Haiku for the laundress

sock in the dryer 86/365

Persnickety son

Must have socks flecked in batter

Pity, I washed them

Monday, May 09, 2011


planting pear trees

Mother's Day. Breakfast made a seven-year-old and delivered at the crack of dawn with the help of her father. French toast and hot coffee in bed.

Breakfast-skippers be damned. You will eat the delicate little heart-shaped toasts and they will be delicious.

It's a little daunting, though, when the whole family is perched on the end of the bed staring at you as you lift the fork. Extending the plate, I offer one of the toasts to those who are salivating.

"Maybe we can go to the place where mom's present is today," says the husband, who is slightly behind on his Mother's Day shopping but still has a few days left on the birthday shopping. "This is a Mother's Day-Birthday-Fourth-of-July-Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas and New Year's present, too."

I had dropped a hint that I would like an iPad.

"You know ... I think I might actually like an iPad," I said when he asked what I might want for my birthday. "I don't know. ... I'm just thinking that I'd like one for reading books. I read so rarely since the kids were born. And there are so many books being distributed electronically ... I'm just thinking ... maybe it's not as bad as I thought. Maybe I'd actually read more if I didn't worry about collecting books or library fines ... "

It was more of an inner-monologue gone astray than a hint, but he got the message.

He was smiling at me.

"You got me an iPad?" I said with the tiniest bit of apprehension. His answer was all important: If he HAD ordered it I would have be thrilled and going online immediately to check out available titles. If he hadn't, I would be relieved.

"I didn't order it yet. I was trying to figure out whether we should get one that's 3G or not."

"Please, let's just forget it. Don't get an iPad. As it is, with the phones and the computer, I'm already distracted enough. I don't want another screen for the kids to have to compete against. You say all the time how much we're missing ..."

Although I knew he agreed with me, I could see him deflate. He still had the problem of being the only father in the known universe who hadn't even gotten his wife a card.

"I'd be happy with a tomato plant," I said. "Really. We could go to the plant center."

He's a stickler, though. A $4 plant I would likely kill within 48 hours wasn't going to cut it for him.

"Let's go get a tree. What do you think? Wouldn't it be nice to have a fruit tree?"

I was a little skeptical. Trees are expensive ... and you probably need two if you want fruit ... and then there's the thing of planting them ... and caring for them. ... Maybe we should just research this a little before we jump in.

"You Google, I'll get the keys."

Before I knew what was happening, there we were at the plant center peering at rows of fruit-bearing trees and shrubs as the kids careened down the stone-covered walkways, dragging the garden center's big-wheeled wagon behind them.

"What I don't get is what's the difference between the apple trees and the pear trees," he said in all seriousness.

I blinked. "Really! Really?"

He just smiled and said he was going to find someone to help us.

"OK, but please don't ask that question at The Genius Bar."

Friday, May 06, 2011

Help keep every mom in the picture

help keep moms in the picture

"Don't worry, mom" is a slogan that makes most of us chuckle.

Worry is what we do. It starts before the pregnancy and last through our dying breath. ... Which most of us have taken for granted will happen long after these babies we've made make babies we can spoil.

But the truth is every day 1,000 women (some of them only girls) die in childbirth. And for each of those women who die, another 20 are injured, suffer infection or disability from maternal causes. The numbers are shocking. One in 14 women will die in childbirth in Somalia as compared to 1 in 15,200 in Italy.

Many children born to women who die in childbirth will not survive more than two years following her death. This includes children she bore previously who were as old as 10 at the time of her death. Without mothers the world's children suffer economically, educationally and poor health. Without mothers the world suffers.

The worst (and perhaps best) part of this tragedy is that these deaths are preventable. It only takes increases in skilled health care and better access to family planning ... and the political will to make those changes.

That's where The White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood and CARE International come in. They've embarked on a campaign to raise awareness about why governments should care about the health of mothers, and how, by doing so, they can strengthen their nations' future and prosperity.

We also need to remain vigilant that the political will to protect the health of American women and their families isn't diminished by the loudest squeaking wheels in the system. According to Amnesty International, maternal deaths in the U.S. have increased significantly during the last two decades. Constricting access to effective family planning we will surely see more maternal death and more poverty.

We can't end the worry for all mothers but we can make it less worrisome for those who are most in jeopardy.

I can't think of a better gift for Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Chapter One

Buddy L

Scene: Chance encounter with much beloved teacher of the Marilla Cuthbert Academy for Unspeakably Charming Children.

Excited to see his teacher walking a dog, he waves frantically at her and yells: "Hi!"

She returns the wave and replies: "Hey, Bud!"

Struggling against the leash and the excitement of the confection-colored canine in her care, she steers the charge away from her tiny student.

The boy deflates. His chin touches his chest as his shoulders slump.

"What's the matter? Why are you upset?"

"She called me 'BUTT'!"

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Small things

"Mommy! Mommy! Guess what I found!"

I was afraid. She was gently cupping something in her dirt-ground hands.

I hope whatever it is it hasn't been dead long, I say to myself with complete disregard for the child who stood before me beaming.

"I can't guess."

"Try. It's not fun unless you guess."

"OK, let me think. ... It's not the neighbor's cat ..."

"MOM! The neighbor doesn't HAVE a cat!"

"Yeah ... that's why I've ruled that out. Smart, right?"

She squints in playful exasperation. "Really? OK ... I'll give you a hint: It starts with an E. What's your guess?"

"I dunno .. an earthworm."

Her mouth twists into the unmistakable expression of surprise deflated: "Oh-how-soon-yo-adult-types-cop-out-of-this-very-fun-game."

"So you give up then?"

"I give up."

Her hands open like a flower and inside is a tiny porcelain elephant.

"I found it buried in the garden."

"Wow. That's amazing," I said as I plucked the tiny treasure from her hands for inspection. "And my guess was so close, too."

"You said earthworm. That's not close at all."

"Yes ... but it begins with an E."

treasure garden

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Picture imperfect

mad boy

I feel this way a lot lately.

Eyebrows trying to meet eyelids.

Hiding the frown as best as I can.

It never fools anyone.

People tell you to "smile,"

Which only makes it worse.

I haven't been interested in taking photos lately.

Which ... I'm not sure is usual.

Which is to say I'm not sure it's unusual either.

I can't tell if this feeling is the backlash of a year of daily snapping ...

Or the aging of my subjects and their apparent desire to be left alone ...

Or something else. Something within me that's had enough.

The thing I'm starting to notice, though, is an inkling of wanting to get it back.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Not time for celebration

Amazing Grace -250/365

Where were you when you heard planes had crashed into the World Trade Center -- or the Pentagon ... or that that one had crashed in a Pennsylvania field on its way to a Washington landmark, possibly the White House -- on Sept. 11, 2001?

We know where we were and remember every detail of that day and the days that followed because it was more than somber, it was sobering. It changed everything.

Today, nearly 10 years later, we mark a new memory in our minds' indelible ink - the killing of the man largely blamed responsible for the terrorist events that killed nearly 3,000 people on US soil.

When I heard the news last night I was watching the end of an episode of "Treme," an HBO series depicting New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As I watch TV these days I find myself a slave to my smartphone: obsessively turning it on and off to allow the programs for email and text messages to update. (It is a demon I'd like to cast out.)

My children, just barely ideas before the the first anniversary was over, were now asleep upstairs.

At 10:43 p.m. the New York Times email alert said "Osama bin Laden is Dead."

For a moment I wondered if his previously reported health problems had caught up with him. But opening the email I saw the word "killed" and realized it was not incidental.

I didn't feel anything. Definitely not the celebratory vibe that took hold overnight and lasted well into the morning. I don't even feel a sense of relief.

It's not over. We haven't closed the book on terror, or even finished the chapter. We've just torn out one sheet of paper as the wind fans its other pages.

But it's not fear I'm feeling, either. It's just tired of moving in circles, refusing to even see our own mistakes.

There seems something inherently wrong about celebrating a murder, regardless of how reviled the character.

Today is not a day for jubilation. The day we all stand together without this hatred for each other, that will be the day to celebrate.