Monday, November 30, 2009

What We Did On Our Thanksgiving Vacation, Part 2

Or "Friends and Mushrooms"

We were so lucky to spend our Thanksgiving with dear friends back in Virginia. It was a week of remembered connections, renewed friendships, rounding up the posse and playing, eating, cooking, eating some more, and talking, talking, talking...I sadly do not have good photos of everyone, but you know who you are and have the some of the same images swirling in your brains as we do...

We learned a new grace for our shared Thanksgiving meal; it was led by a five-year-old, line by line, and I will always hear it in her voice, rendering it more moving even than it is as written:

Empty Bowl Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh
My bowl,
Empty now,
Will soon be filled
with precious food.
Beings all over the world
are struggling to live.
How fortunate we are
to have enough to eat.

I am thankful for friends to visit with, who care to dig deeper into life with us, listening and sharing and grappling and laughing, around a table, a fire, along a path. It was a wonderful way to celebrate this season of thanksgiving.

What We Did On Our Thanksgiving Vacation, Part 1

Helloooooooo! We're back!! And if Dan has his way, we won't be going anywhere for a good long while! Poor guy. The minute he was finished with his last paper, we took off for the east coast, where we visited with his aunt and uncle, zipped through the museum of Natural History in D.C., and spent a soggy day at Mt. Vernon. Here are a few photos of the first part of our trip...
hands-on Ammonite
Thrilled lover-of-tarantulas
Hissing cockroaches, wandering about their brave little hands
Front row for the tarantula feeding
Sculpture gardens

I won't post photos of Mt. Vernon - it was too sad!! We sat through the bloody violent introductory film (I held my hand over Eliza's eyes!!), which did prompt some good discussion ( Indians were fighting because it was their land, right? So...why was George Washington talking about the colonies fighting for the freedom of their land if it wasn't theirs? Wasn't he just doing to the Indians what the British soldiers were doing to them? Ouch, history is prickly that way.) It would have been a beautiful place to roam with the girls, had we had good weather, but as it was, we got soaking wet, and by the time the house tour was over, we were ready to run through the rain to the car and back to Dan's family's house around the corner for some warm cider and a movie on the largest television I have ever seen.

The best part was getting a better sense of who this part of his family is, sharing amazing meals, playing Clue and Monopoly, hearing the owls during our evening walk, and having the girls connect so easily with family. Eliza especially just loves the notion of family, the ownership of family, and she can just have met you and feel she's known you forever, if you're family...Not a bad way to begin a week of thanks...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Chaos and the Grace

My friend Stacy just wrote a post on what not doing everything looks like in her life, and the timing could not have been more perfect for me. I knew I had had a rough week when my friend M's 20 month old could be heard in the background of our phone call singsonging "Deddie's stressed OUT! Deddie's stressed OUT!" So, in response to Stacy, and in the spirit of finding the many lights in our week...yes, I can tell Dan has been in another world all week (the world called Graduate School) because three lightbulbs are out and no one has stepped forward to replace them (I do know where the lightbulbs are. It is one of those unspoken things in the house, though, you know? I clean the toilet and he gets to change the lightbulbs. I couldn't take that away, could I?); yes, our nighttime ritual of reading to sleep has turned into a wham bam thank you ma'am one book and lights OUT, in an attempt to eek out a bit of time for myself, to write, crochet, sew, or stare at the cats, ignore the dishes and decide I should really just go to bed myself; yes, I just ate the emergency bag of peanut M&Ms saved for our long car-trip to D.C. on Saturday - the one that distracts the panicked passengers for the last hour or so of the 9 hour day; and yes, it was a bad idea to take the kids to the library at 7:00 pm tonight to pick up our audio books for the trip - I mean, who wouldn't find the quiet exhilarating, inspiring speed and daring, and what four-year-old wouldn't want to play the harmonica she snuck in, up her sleeve? The chaos was deep this week, for all of us. I hit a parenting wall, let the floodwaters go, and cleaned the dungenous cupboard, throwing and then throwing out about 55 yogurt containers and their lids (does anyone else clean when they're upset?) (and you know I'm talking about the pit of pits kind of cupboard, right, not delicious northwestern crabs?).

So. The Grace. My husband was here for one and a half hours the day I had my little meltdown (and I was not the only one I might add), he caught it all, and he swears he still loves me and is grateful he was here, that it made him feel needed. I mean, the man comes home for some healthy home-cooked food and a little family love, and he gets Life, and he is still grateful. Grace. A friend let me drop the girls off for a couple of hours so that I could run several errands by myself, and I managed to eat a BBQ tempeh sandwich from the bakery that just sends me, and allowed myself 10 minutes to browse in the bookstore uptown. This respite, to me, felt like grace. Today was my day to not cook dinner; it was provided by our friend Laura, who has made us some wonderful, healthy, delicious comfort food in the past weeks - homemade mac and cheese with veggies and salad; green curry and rice, sweet potato pie and homemade whipped cream - but today? Today she arrived with a large plate of vegetarian sushi, complete with wasabi and pickled ginger; three kinds of egg rolls and a thai dipping sauce; and tom yum soup. I nearly wept at her feet, but she is a new mom and I want to give her some illusion that things get a little easier down the road (who am I kidding? She took one look at my half-naked crazy dancin' girls and knew the whole story) - I mean, really. I carefully put aside a healthy portion of it all for Dan and then the girls and I devoured every last bit. We made sure to drive the rest over to campus, just to make sure we didn't cheat and nibble his share!

The last bit of grace is something I'm not sure I can articulate. I am seeing my children in a different light. I am struck dumb by their beauty, by their creativity, by their gestures of love, by the way they are in the world. I have found myself several times this week staring at them, wanting to just bask in them. This doesn't mean I haven't raised my voice a million times this week, that I haven't had to apologize for losing my temper, that I haven't made poor decisions or frustrated them. It is just a small gift in a crazy time to be here, soaking up their light.
I love you, by Ani

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November 17

Today. We are hanging in there today. Today was about...
scrambled eggs made by Eliza
adding the hundreds
reading - first excited, then reluctant, then why do we have to read alllll the time?
ahem...all the time? well, I suppose that when you practice something like reading, it becomes easier and easier and then, I don't know, you might find yourself squirreled up in your room reading Harry Potter all on your own or something...minutes later, from the computer - hey, mom! You don't even have to read this game to me, I'm reading it myself! I believe the quote was, "reading IS helpful!"
discussion of exoskeletons over lunch turned into exploring vertebrae over lunch which led to feeling our backbones, digging up our sheeps' vertebrae and getting out Nestor Jolly for a little adjustment...
there was painting and intense looks of concentration, and Go Fish and quarrelling and making up and friends dropping in and a walk in the 'hood and roughhousing with Mama?! and quesadillas with black beans and spinach ("my FRAvorite!") and Old School Sesame Street and calling Papa to say good-night-we-love-you-did-you-remember-to-eat-dinner? and stories and...finally...there was bed.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

November 15

Does anyone else have a hard time getting anything done around the house when the weather is nice? If you've been looking at any of our recent posts, you'll be able to imagine what the inside of our house looks like...Finally, today, though the weather was just gorgeous, and we managed to get outside for a very slow uninspired walk (can you imagine that???), we decided we were really, well, tired, so we came home to our separate corners and I was able to tidy up a bit, do some purging and rearranging...anything to find a little order and mental balance this week.

Living Math

It was just a matter of time, after my "maths" post, until Eliza would flop back on the couch with a dramatic, "whhhhhhhyyyyyy do I have to do math?????????? I haaaaaaaaaaaate schooltime." I stiffled a bit of a grin, as "schooltime", which is a term we don't even usually use, consists of 10-minute segments of sitting on the couch with mom, reading through a few pages of a book together or working our way through this new math program. I said, hey, you are really getting this stuff quickly, so let's just stop for today! And, oh, hey, why don't you grab the bowl of change and count yourself out your allowance for two weeks (which brought another stifled grin, as I never remember to give out allowance, and she never remembers to ask for it!). And by the way, just a reminder, each of those dimes is worth ten pennies, and a dollar is worth 100 pennies. Go. By the time I had gotten her money tins down for her, she had counted out the money, using skip counting by twos and tens and sorting and resorting and then suddenly - "Hey! Mama! You're making me do math!!" This time the grin was spread all the way across her face.

Dan and I have talked about wanting our kids to know more about money than we ever have. I think that would be great, but I am also not interested in raising over-eager consumers, so I have laid low on the allowance front. With our family in graduate school, Eliza hears us talk about money in ways I wish she weren't, but she also does not feel want in our family; we are well cared-for, well-fed, and healthy. We realized at some point that she in particular was picking up on money anxieties as she would often spend a great deal of time concocting grand schemes for making money to "help out". I think this is part of what got us started with allowance - wanting her to feel like there was enough for her, enough to consider making her own purchases, for saving, and even enough for sharing with others in need.

After her real life math moment, Eliza counted out the few dollars she owed me for helping her buy a doll she found at our local thrift store - the kind set up on a shelf, with a stand, the kind she gets a little breathless about and visits several times a day up in her room. When she was done, she looked at me with bright eyes - "Oh Mama, I want to buy Ani the other doll we saw for Christmas. With my own money." I loved that this is where her mind went with her piles of coins before her. The doll was at the thrift store, and only cost $5 in her frilly-dressed silken haired finery, so she managed a sneaky purchase yesterday while I distracted her sister in the crazy battery-operated toy section a few aisles away. She hid her in my closet when we got home and all throughout the day she kept catching my eye, grinning, and giving me the "thumbs up" sign. She was sooo pleased with herself, with her secret, with how capable the whole experience made her feel. I decided not to rub it in that it was math that got her there...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lovely Lilting Language, Oh Best Beloved

When people meet Ani they are often surprised to find that she is four (and a half!); her vocabulary and turn of phrase are more advanced in some ways than Eliza's, though both girls remember and use new words that they are exposed to quite easily. I have had people ask what we did to produce such a child! Ha...I love that notion, that this wee person could be anyone other than who she is, regardless of the lucky folk who raised her. However, I usually tell them something that just seems so obvious for anyone raising children, but it's the only thing I've come up with: we read. We talk. We tell stories. We play with words. We rhyme all the time. Ani is also particularly fond of the pun, and will pick up on double-meanings, stopping conversation to say, "Get it, Mom? Get it??" She loves silly-sounding words, and was doubled over when we read that a star in my zodiac constellation of Libra was called Zubeneschamale. (We read this a couple of months ago, and she woke me up last week giggling and whispering in my ear: Zuuuubennnneeeschamaaaaleeeeeee)

I mentioned the other day that we scored some good books at the library. We were thrilled to find a book of Danish nursery rhymes called It's Raining, Said John Twaining, translated and illustrated by N. M. Bodecker. There is so much rhythm in the rhymes, and they have me read them over and over and over, joining in as they can. There is one in particular that adds more and more syllables to the names of the story until they are the ridiculous "Sipsippernipsipsirumsip" and "Skratskratteratskratskrirumskrat". Ani has no trouble remembering and executing this one; it's pretty funny. My favorite though by far is one whose refrain is "kritte vitte vit bom bom" - we chant it over and over...
It reminded us of another book we play with a lot, called I Can't, Said the Ant. This rhyming play enters much of our daily fun: "I can't, said the ant. You can, said the pan. You must, said the crust" and so on.

We spent several hours in the last two days listening to Jim Weiss' recording of Kipling's Just So Stories. I remember these from when I was a kid, and I see on Amazon that there are several audio versions of this collection, but we are enjoying this recording so much! The photos in this post show some of what we do while we're listening to the amazing language and rhythm and repetition of this telling.
There you are; if you are in a reading rut and would like the vocabulary of a four-year old, here are my current recommendations. Enjoy, oh best beloved...

A Good Day for a Dad-napping in stealing, not as in sleeping. That would be dreamy. No, it was just a stolen fifteen minutes in the middle of Dan's day. Did I mention that it's the last week of the quarter? Yeah...
So, we met him on campus after raiding the Farmer's Market and coaxed him across the green with the promise of a beeeeyoooootiful tree. The sycamore above was an extra bonus, but not the focus of this escapade. Ah, here we are - this flaming maple in every color of orange, yellow, red, peach, mellon, sherbet, mango delight...

And then we walked him back to his office, and left him with market goodies, some kisses and promises that we still love him, even if he has to be inside on a day like today...

Here is the girls' favorite part of the inside of Dan's building - it's an inner courtyard that they, um, access through an open window. It houses something I'd loosely call a sculpture and is inviting for obvious mischievous reasons.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Oh, Fall

Driving through the countryside around here, the girls and I sigh and try to remember the things we like best about the season before us...being able to see so far through the naked trees...seeing all the nests that are no longer hidden...well, that was about all we came up with for now, so we decided to just focus on today, where it is still Autumn, beautiful Autumn.

We hiked with friends along the Moonville Rail Trail. We hadn't been there before, but it was a lovely walk along the Raccoon Creek (and yes, into the creek. Which didn't end well - you might notice that Ani is wearing different clothes in the last couple of pictures?) up onto the old railroad, and through the Moonville tunnel, which is supposedly haunted. Today it was full of the shouts of kiddos and loaded with graffitti that made me grateful that these three are not quite yet proficient readers!! We managed to scare a few deer and say a few words of urgent prayer that they escape the bow hunters that showed up as we were leaving...tis the season, which is a bit of a bummer for us hikers and lovers of the woods.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

November 11

Ah, first we had building with blocks while Mama took Trixie to the vet for her "snipping"...then there was reading through the pile of books we brought home last night from the library (oooh, some good ones - I'll have to share in another post). Then there was painting...
while Mama made soup for some friends who were coming at the end of their busy Wednesday for some supper before heading home to tend to goats, chickens and cats.
While Ani was helping Mama build a makeshift litterbox for Trixie to use during her convalescence in the "kitty suite" (aka: the study), the vet called to say, um...."Surprise!!! Trixie is a boy!" Oops. We had had our suspicions, but weren't positive. I did get to rib my friend when she arrived for dinner - she's working on sexing chickens, and I asked if she was better at chickens than she was at cats, as she's the one who gave her to us. Yes, we are still calling her "she". We are thinking her as our little transgendered kitty.
Then outside. The compromise yesterday was biking on the bike path when Mama wanted to hike. Today the compromise was the beach to make fairy houses. Hmmm - not much exercise for me, but the girls were so convincing with their explanations of how much exercise they were going to get streeeetching their arms to place the shells and stones, and Ani very seriously showed my how they would have to twist their bodies to reach the leaves and sticks that would go into the construction...and it was so beautiful, how could I mind being at the beach?

The little nest of a fairy house
While waiting for feet to dry and sand to fall off (yes, of course their feet got wet - we were at the beach right? Never mind that it's November...), I pulled out some MadLibs that I'd gotten for our car trip this summer but never opened up. They found them hilarious and we spent quite a bit of time giggling over our silly stories...we're gonna have fun with these.
The day is ending with a visit from friends, good supper, making cootie catchers, new hand-me-down clothes, and best of all, a visit from Papa, who is mostly sequestered in the library this week, plowing through three papers (is that all, honey???) before the quarter is over. The evening holds some making for me - I keep attempting new-to-me crafts and not all of them have panned out the way I had hoped. I'm hoping one of my attempts will turn into something I can do during the day without too much trouble, so I don't have to wait until kiddos are in bed before I get down to it! Wish I could share some of the goings-on, but holidays are approaching, dontcha know...