Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reading confidence

Eliza has been attending theater camp every morning for the past week.  She loves it - the people, the goofiness, the drama.  She was so excited for the auditions for the show they will put on, practicing the jokes she would tell over and over.  Then she came home on Thursday, with the wind knocked out of her sails: they had received their scripts that day and she had been given the role of a narrator, which was great, but it meant that she'd had to read her script. Aloud. Not so great. Eliza is still a fairly new reader who as yet lacks the confidence and patience to struggle through very much text, let alone in front of the whole camp.  She was mortified that she had to let the teacher read her lines, while she repeated after him.

I've talked about our road to reading a bit before, but in a nutshell, we are following her lead, giving her plenty of opportunities to read through games, love notes, and books like Mo Willems' Elephant and Piggie stories that are based on simple, funny dialogue, where we can each take a part.  It is low-pressure and intended to give her room to let her love of reading,  not mine,  grow.  I guess I could have anticipated this particular scenario, but she tends to deal with things like this with confidence and nonchalance, finding her own creative solution.  Not this time.  She was freaked out, dreading camp like I remember dreading going to third grade every day when my family moved mid-year.  I felt heartsick that she was experiencing this, and really over lack of confidence and practice.  She is a quick study and I knew she'd have her lines down the first day, if she could avoid letting her anxiety overwhelm her.  I internally beat myself up about it for a few days and then at bedtime on Sunday night she really let it all out, crying, anxious, nervous, wanting camp to be canceled  somehow, considering quitting... We talked about it for a long time, how she would quickly learn her lines by heart, how we would work on it with her, how her teachers were not expecting her to already know her part, how papa and I would support her with what she decided...I offered a possible solution, where she could tell them she was uncomfortable with the size of her role and ask for something with fewer lines.  She jumped at it, and practiced how she would say it over and over but just when I thought she was calmed, she would panic all over again.  

This was when I channeled a friend of ours from long ago who would call once in a while when he knew something big was looming over us, and tell us, "I got this.  You don't have to worry about this one, I've got it for a while."  It always made me laugh, and I could feel my heart soften and begin to breathe again.  I tried it with her - Honey, let me take this worry tonight.  You need a good night sleep without turning this over and over, and I'm feeling strong enough to carry this tonight.  She looked at me with big eyes and said, but mom, it isn't your problem.  I told her, no, but I love you and I care about you and I'd like to do this for you, and in the morning, we'll carry it together if you like.  She immediately let out all her breath and said, thank you mama, and within minutes was asleep.

The next day we followed our plan, the teachers were accommodating and encouraging and we managed to convince her to keep four chunks of lines.  She was a little apprehensive, but I asked her to just say "I can do it" for the morning, and if she still wanted an out, we'd figure it out. I probably don't need to tell you what happened, but I'm a really proud mama, so I will.  She came home with her page of script and proceeded to read the entire thing to me, then again with only her lines, then the whole thing again, then her lines memorized, then...over and over and over.  We finally glued the page to a piece of cardboard so she doesn't wear it out.  Her confidence soared, and I joked with her that I'm going to make her sign a piece of paper that says "I did it! I can do anything!!" so she doesn't put herself through this again.
The coda to this story is that Anika of course was on the periphery of all of this discussion and struggle.  At one point I mentioned (as she watched E demonstrate some cool tap move she learned) that next year she would be old enough to go to theater camp if she wanted.  Her response was to say, well, I'd better work on my reading! and lead me to the couch where she chose a book and started right on it...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer days...

Our days are full with summer.  Growth, water, sun...Ani traipsed in with a variety of flowers the other morning, and we spent a long while looking at them carefully.  We compared their structures, marveled at their colors...
looked at them under the magnifying glass, and then - gasp! - cut them open with a knife, to better see the different parts.  Where is the pollen? What part makes the fruit or seeds?
Dan and I got to spend HOURS together in the garden on Saturday (it was a DATE.  it was wonderful!! and, people, if you have a date with me, I'm telling you, you will end up working in our garden, no question.), and though I didn't get pictures then, he took a few a couple days later. With all the heat last week and the rain this week, things are really growing...
It makes me so happy to be there.  I just planted 11 little sweet potato plants and hope that they survive.  Friends of ours who live on one of the most beautiful ridges in the county invited us to pick blackberries anytime we want (yes, Seattle - the blackberries are ready already!), so the girls and I went out yesterday for an evening of picking...
Yes, I cringed at their bare arms, but they fared much better than I, sticking to the paths our friend had mowed.  It was a lovely way to celebrate a summer evening, amidst the butterfly weed and the milkweed and under a pinkening sky...

Monday, June 28, 2010


There are a few things I would love to be writing about this evening - blackberries, reading, and our garden for starters - but my camera battery "is exhausted", so while it is recharging, I will write about a plant we love that you should absolutely know about, if you don't already.

If you walked out to your yard right now, there is a very good chance that you would find one of the many varieties of plantain that grow in this country.  The two we see around here are Common Plantain (Plantago major), which has broad, oval leaves...
and the English or long-leaf plantain (Plantago lanceolata), which true to its name, has long narrow leaves:
Both leaves have fibrous ribs running the length of the leaf, and when you pick one you can see the fibers hanging out the cut end of the leaf.
Common Plantain in the middle and on the left; Long-leaf is on the right

According to my trusty Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and not so wild) Places, by Steve "Wildman" Brill,  there are many nutritional reasons to know about this plant;  it is high in beta carotene and calcium, and contains mucilage, a "carbohydrate fiber...(that) reduces both the L.D. O. cholesterol and triglycerides, helping to prevent heart disease."  The leaves are best picked for eating in early spring, before the plant flowers (which it is doing now around here, and in the photos above); any later and they become too fibrous to be fun (ooh - that's a good quote, huh?!) and a little bitter.

The reason why we love plantain here is for its soothing affect on the skin, in particular for bug bites and bee stings.  When the mosquitoes made their come-back this summer, the girls would pick several leaves from the yard before bed, and as I read to them or listened to lullabies, I would also be chewing the leaves and handing over little bits for them to place on their itchiest spots.  You can also avoid the chewing and just rub it between your fingernails to break it down a bit, but chewing is faster!  The effect is quick - I was standing with a neighbor outside at dusk the other night and she over the course of 10 minutes had several bites on her legs and was really getting bothered and I showed her the plantain and she picked it and applied it and was amazed at how quickly the itching went down.  This also works for bee stings - once you have removed the stinger (we use a card, like a credit card to scrape it out and away), apply the plantain leaf.  Apparently it will also work for poison ivy, perhaps even preventing an outbreak if applied early enough.  GOOD STUFF!!

I also like plantain because it is the most kid-friendly plant out there.  There are no poisonous look-alikes, and it is helpful for scrapes as well, so when my girls are out playing, they know to grab some plantain and stick it where it hurts.  In fact, Ani got bit by something the other day while they were playing with their friend Esme, and she told me later what a good friend Esme was - "Mama, she chewed the plantain for me!
(As I was writing this post, I realized that, ironically, I was also madly itching my arm where there appears to be a bite (oh please, not poison ivy...). I grabbed the flashlight, got a leaf from the yard, used it, and the itching is now gone...)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday My Town Shoot-Out: Water

 Friday My Town Shoot-Out features photos taken by people all over the world of their communities.  This week's theme is Water: Lakes, Streams - you can see more of this week's wonderful posts here.  These photos were all taken in and around Athens, OH. I wasn't planning on posting, and then I realized what the topic was, and we spend so much time with water here, I couldn't resist. The photos are from months past...
The Hocking River runs in a bend around our town.  There are a couple of place nearby that we can walk to to check on what it's doing.  Is it higher than last week? Browner? Carrying more debris? We had a month earlier in the spring when there was ample flooding, and the rise was easily visible.
Just under the bridge near our home, there is a pile of debris that grows with each rainy period.  This one has been there long enough for something fairly large to be growing on it! I can't tell quite what it is, but it looks a little like jewelweed.  We came across some utility trucks attempting to dislodge the pile one day, but as far as I could tell it had amassed its regular size within a week or so.  I appreciated the effort though!
There is also a brown muddy lake nearby that we go to in all kinds of weather; something about water draws us to it.

We have fished in this lake, but caught nothing yet.  The girls here discuss the size of the fish they might have seen.  We do see lots of geese and heron and the occasional turtle.
This is the closest option for "natural" swimming, meaning, not in a pool (not the other kind of natural!).  I think the water is pretty disgusting, but I'm spoiled by the memory of spring-fed crystal clear lakes of Wisconsin...sigh.  It does not daunt the girls in the least.
We spend quite a bit of time walking in and around and through the creeks around here.  
 Every "holler" has one, and most of the hikes we take have trails that intersect or follow one creek or another.  This is my favorite type of water around  - full of microscopic life, its vitality and movement draw me...
Water Strider shadow bubbles

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Right on cue, the cicadas began their insistent thrumming tonight...Eliza swears she heard them last night, and she probably did, but it wasn't until tonight that they caught my ear.

In tangible celebration of this first high point of summer's riches, Ani harvested a huge beet this morning.
It still boggles my mind that she put the seed in the ground, covered it, and 2 months later...a beet.
We don't have a scale, so in lieu of weighing it, she measured it.  Then she carved her name in the skin, and carried it around for an hour and a half, showing anyone who would stop and listen.  She was proud.
She was particularly taken with the beautiful color and pattern of the inside, but ultimately decided that eating it was going to be the best part.  It was.
Not to be outdone, Eliza's turnip patch produced this hefty root. From the garden to lunch in about 15 minutes. We were all buzzing a little from how awesome that is...

:: :: :: ::
Midsummer is such a time of bounty for us: it is not only Eliza's birthday this week, the Summer Solstice, the anniversary of the start of my life with Dan (17 years), and Midsummer, it is also the anniversary of our wedding, ten years ago today.  One of Dan's gifts to me was a new volume of poetry by my favorite poet, Mary Oliver, and in it I found this.  It reminded me of a walk I took this week under the beauty of an evening sky, from which I returned with a hand full of black raspberries for my love.

I don't want to live a small life.

I don't want to live a small life.  Open your eyes,
open your hands.  I have just come
from the berry fields, the sun

kissing me with its golden mouth all the way
(open  your hands) and the wind-winged clouds
following along thinking perhaps I might

feed them, but no I carry these heart-shapes
only to you.  Look how many how small
but so sweet and maybe the last gift
I will ever bring to anyone in this
world of hope and risk, so do.
Look at me.  Open your life, open your hands.
Mary Oliver
I am feeling so grateful for this life we are having. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hitting "Reset"

My kids are pretty social, gregarious wonders who love people...but even they get overloaded sometimes.  The day their grandparents left last week, we were planning on heading out to our friends' house.  We love going to visit these friends.  They are the fill-you-up type of friends. The never-run-out-of-things-to-talk-about friends. The we'll-feed-you-amazing-food-every-time-you-show-up friends. And as an extra bonus, they live far out in the woods, which means we get a nice long drive through gorgeous country, and a chance to have those always-interesting car talks that inevitably involve death, birth, or sex. Really. But I am straying from the point...We said good-bye bright and early on Friday morning and pretty immediately our day exploded. There was yelling, screaming, slamming, threatening, was an unholy mess.  Not the kind of day you want to blog about...Sometimes it is clear to me that the answer to such a trainwreck is to Get Out and change the scenery; this is most often the answer for us and always has been.  Friday, however, what we needed (and by We I am talking about myself and the girls) was connection.  Together.  Alone.  So I made a tearful call to my very understanding friend, telling her that the girls and I had talked about it and decided that we needed to focus on being together in a peaceful way, spending time loving each other.  While I knew that a lot of my cup would be filled by visiting for a few hours, I knew I would not see the girls save for the 10 minutes they would run into the house for a muffin or some carrots or to change their clothes again and the day would pass without any connection.  I felt confident about my decision, but wary about how the day would go.  What it meant was that I could not expect to Do anything but be there with and for my kids. 
Ani started with concocting while Eliza drew in her room for a bit.  No, this does not look good to me ( beans, coconut, raisins, nutritional yeast and black olives. EW!!) and yes, she ate it.
We coaxed Eliza down for a game of SET, and then we settled into our guest room (where the bed was still out and made up for the grandparents) and began the Chronicles of Narnia, which E received for her birthday.  We read 7 chapters of The Magician's Nephew, taking short breaks to watch the drama unfolding outside the window...
We watched this spider and her mate guard their egg sac for hours.  They also almost captured a huge wasp that blundered into their web.  When it was over the girls exclaimed, you HAVE to blog about this mom!, so here is the mini-drama: the female zoomed down to approach the struggling wasp.  She ducked here and there, trying to get close enough for a debilitating bite, but the wasp was strong.  Suddenly it looked like the spider had the wasp and was dragging it up towards a stronger part of the web, but no! The wasp had managed to grab ahold of the spider's leg in its mouth and the spider was struggling to get away! As the wasp freed one leg after another from the sticky web, the spider's leg finally detached, and she hurried back to the egg sac.  The wasp escaped.  It was Awesome.
We took a break from the reading and Ani wanted to sew - she had a million ideas all at once and by the time she had decided to work on a little pillow, Eliza had joined in and finished what she called an "amulet" for her papa for Father's Day.  

The day wove in and out of tears and frustrations and small corners of peace.  We are working really really hard here, and I felt exhausted and yet like we had accomplished something significant.  Eliza and I are both working on our tempers, working on how we speak to each other.  Let's just say that the day was devoted to Starting Over and trying again.  I feel like it is one of my greatest duties as a mama to know when to say "not today" and retreat from the world to figure things out on our own.  There are opportunities every day to see friends, go to the park, the library, meet at the beach, the pool...we could be busy, and not together, every day of the week.  It would not serve us well.  

By the end of the day there were kinder words being exchanged, and things being worked out.  There was this...
and in the waning hours of the afternoon, this arrived, by special teenager delivery (both the teenager and the delivery were special, that is)...
and what had been a long and challenging day became a little sweeter (literally) and lighter knowing that our friends had been with us in thought all along, supporting our need to retreat and reset.

Monday, June 21, 2010


It is true. The baby who made me a mama turned eight yesterday.  
Birthday flowers from her biggest fan, her sister
There is so much about her that remains the same as she was the day she was born, eleven days early and beyond ready to join us during one of the hottest months of that year.  She spiraled out into her papa's arms, her own arms outstretched and wailing.  She has not slowed down for much since that day, happiest when she can turn her love beams on you or throw you down for some serious wrestling.  She is a bit like a large and lovable dog, the one who hears you say, all right now, down girl, but can't believe you don't need MORE! wiggle wiggle, wag...She will blossom under your attention and is quick to forgive, wanting to be in synch...
Making birthday brownies
At eight there is so much she can do; I love how capable eight year olds are.  When she decides to adopt that air of responsibility she is so trustworthy and focused, sure of herself, and clear in judgement.

I have high hopes for eight. Eliza is the one people are speaking about when they say that your child is your greatest teacher.  I have so much to learn from my relationship with her;  it is so often like holding a mirror up to my deepest self, all the temper and huge unchecked emotions, the longing for connection and the need to belong.  I wish I had begun years earlier to work to understand the way my own brain and heart work, that I could better guide her, but instead we are working hard to do this together. Or not always together, but side-by-side. It is a huge challenge and a huge gift to have this opportunity for change and growth and connection.  
I have many wishes for you, my dearest girl.  I wish that you find a quiet place in your soul that fills you with peace.  I wish that you discover your power to affect the emotional climate of your world and use the power for good! I wish that you continue to find the world a beautiful and welcoming place, full of love and people who find you as funny as I do (the grandmothers for whom you are named would never cease laughing with you and your gift for humor).  I wish that you continue to find a place in your dreams for magic and wonder.  I wish that you feel the freedom to discover your strengths and interests and delight in whatever they are, sharing them with us and making our lives richer.  I wish for you the deep certainty that you are loved to your core for exactly who you are.
Happy Birthday, Eliza, we love you!
:: :: :: ::
It seems appropriate that Mother's Day often falls on Anika's birthday, and Father's Day often shares Eliza's birthday.  Fitting that they should be so closely linked, don't you think?  But alas, it also means that the parent often gets a bit overlooked...but it's not for lack of love. 
Eliza and Dan exchange gifts - 
for her a date to stroll uptown and pick out a new hat; 
for him, a hand-sewn "amulet" filled with lavender, 
to help him stay calm while he works so hard...
We love you Dan!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Summer visit

We had a great visit with Dan's parents this week, who were here from Wisconsin.  It was hot and humid all week, but we found plenty to do together inspite of the heavy air...there was a lot of shaded, fan-blown home time...
There was a beautiful trip to Old Man's Cave and the Lower Falls, which we'd never extended our hike to. It was so worth it!
And there was an early birthday celebration for Eliza, complete with a Papa (who has finished grading, is finishing various bits and pieces of the year, and started rehearsals for Into the Woods this week...), which meant ice cream, swimming and a pizza & movie night with grandparents!
G & D - Thank you for the time you took to visit us, for your willingness to fulfill every grandparental duty of reading piles and piles of books, playing board games, drawing together, playing piano, singing songs, taking walks, swimming for hours, and giving this Mama a little extra boost this week!