Saturday, June 30, 2012

June 30 Photo: A Friend

Since I am a stay-at-home mom and there aren’t many preschoolers in our neighborhood, my son doesn’t have the opportunity to make a lot of friends that he sees regularly. Fortunately, being a very sociable and outgoing kid, he is content to make friends with any other kids he happens to meet, whether it’s at a playground or in a store or out for a walk. But he does have one friend that he sees nearly every week when Daddy runs at Fresh Pond: Katherine.

Katherine is a few months older than Ryan, but was much more shy and less talkative than he when they first met over a year ago. But between getting a little older and coming out of her shell a bit, the two of them are now best buddies. Every Saturday, they run around together before the race starts and again after it ends. They hold hands and run through the grass, they examine trees to look for bugs, they play follow-the-leader across the stone walls, and they greet friendly dogs. But their favorite thing to do together is play with the tools.

I love to listen to them explaining to each other what the various tools are for, or watch them helping each other find a particular tool. This morning when I went over to check on them, Ryan was carefully hoisting Katherine up in the air so she could reach one of the tools that had been looped over the top of the rack and was just out of their reach. It’s always good to have a friend around when you need a little boost.

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June 29 Photo: Soft

“Soft” is another concept on the Photo-A-Day list that’s, well, a softball when you have a baby. You’re surrounded by soft clothes, soft blankets, soft toys, and soft baby parts. Soft feet, soft bottoms, soft noses, soft hands, soft hair. It’s difficult to choose which soft thing should be the subject of the “soft” photo! But of all the soft things I see around me, the one that I always find myself patting and snuggling and wanting to touch is my daughter’s fuzzy baby head.

My son had fine, soft, downy hair when he was an infant, but it thickened up and started to lose its baby softness when he was 4 or 5 months old. My daughter, on the other hand, still has beautifully fine, soft, baby-textured hair even at 10-1/2 months old.

I love her hair for so many reasons. First of all, because it is so soft. Second, because it has a magical way of retaining just a hint of that sweet, clean baby shampoo smell long after her bath. Third, because it is such a glorious buttery blond with just a hint of coppery undertones in sunlight. And lastly, because it picks up the tiniest bit of curl when it’s humid. And because of all those things, snuggling my face into her hair makes me happy.

In fact, it makes me so happy that on more than one occasion when I was having a rough day, my husband has handed her to me and ordered, “Snuggle. It’ll make you feel better.” And he was right, it did. Ahhhh, soft.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 28 Photo: On the Shelf

I have stuff on shelves all over my house. There are shelves of clothes, there are shelves of toys, there are shelves of vases, there are shelves of food, there are shelves of Tupperware and tchotchkes and DVDs and CDs and sheet music. But my favorites, by far, are the shelves of books. And my favorite shelves of books are the shelves of kids’ books.

My mom was a children’s librarian and my sister was an early childhood education major, so not only do I know all the great children’s literature from my own childhood, I’m pretty up to date on all the good stuff through the mid-1990s. And because my wonderful cousin Carol passed along her kids’ favorite books, I’ve even got some good stuff from after 2000.

This shelf is only the books we keep in the playroom – it doesn’t include any of the marvelous classics we keep in the bedrooms for naptime and bedtime stories. We’ve got it all: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Go Dog Go, Are You My Mother, all things Seuss, Make Way for Ducklings, The Story of Ping, Tikki Tikki Tembo, Where the Wild Things Are, the complete Richard Scarry Collection, Goodnight Moon, Chick Chicka ABC, There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon, Animalia, I Spy, Polar Express, half a dozen books involving trucks and/or trains, and Does God Know How to Tie Shoes? We have books about being a big brother, getting a big boy bed, and learning to use the potty. We have books with no words, a few words, and lots of words. We have books with a few pictures, a lot of pictures, and only pictures. We have some that we read nearly every night and some that I can’t wait until the kids are ready for them. We have books that make sounds and books that have windows that open and books that have different textures to touch.
Books are a window to the world around us. They introduce children to animals they have never seen, places they have never been, and adventures they have never heard of. Books teach them little words and big words and little ideas and big ideas. Books help them think and grow and learn and imagine.
It’s a shelf full of books, but it’s also a window to the whole entire universe – and maybe a couple more universes, just for good measure!
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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June 27 Photo: Bathroom

I grew up in a house with one bathroom (and an older sister). So personal space (and time) in the bathroom was always at a premium. When I got my first apartment on my own, having my own bathroom was one of the most satisfying rewards of being independent. And when I got married, one of the things I most appreciated about my new husband and my new house was that I got my very own bathroom.

And then I had kids.

And since my bathroom happens to be the one with the bathtub, it also happens to now be the kids’ bathroom as well as mine. And that’s fine. Honestly, I find it kind of fun that my shower has an Elmo faucet cover, and that I usually have to fish a few rubber duckies and a truck or two out of the tub before my morning shower. But I’m also very glad that I still have my own personal “girly corner” that is mine, all mine.

My girly corner is full of things that remind me that I’m not just a tired mom who hasn’t had the chance to wash my hair in two days and who smells like stale formula and Desitin. My girly corner is a promise that there can still be a hot, relaxing bubble bath scented of raspberries or a cool, refreshing tub scented of spearmint after the kids go to bed at the end of a long day. I have mousse and hairspray and pomade for those wonderful evenings when we get a babysitter who starts duty an hour before we’re due to leave so I can actually style my hair. I have a bottle or two of perfume that make me feel like a sexy woman and a loved wife and not just a child-herder.

My bathroom may no longer be completely my own, but it is still my haven when I need it to be. My girly corner tells me so.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26 Photo: Where You Shop

Going shopping with two little ones is a challenge, so I tend to limit my shopping these days to only that shopping which is absolutely necessary – in other words, Costco, the grocery store, and an occasional CVS run. The main difficulty in shopping with two small children is that your average shopping cart was not designed for a tall almost-toddler and an even taller preschooler who has exceeded the printed weight limit on the cart for nearly a year now. Even the Costco carts, which are designed for two children, are a little too small and a lot too close together for my two. (Remember fighting with your sibling in the back seat of your huge 1970s station wagon? Yeah, imagine that scenario in a Smart Car and you’ll have the general idea.) But we need to eat, so at least once a week or so I brace myself, bundle them into the car, and brave the wild world of the grocery store.

My daughter gets to ride in the cart. She spends most of her time kicking off her shoes, licking the handle of the cart, and twisting herself around to flirt with other shoppers. My son gets to “help” push the cart. He spends most of his time holding the cart back when I’m trying to push it, pushing it when I’m trying to stop it, and grabbing random items off the shelf and slipping them into the cart when I’m not looking. (Fortunately, he has yet to learn to drop things in the cart gently so the telltale clunk usually warns me to check my cart contents.)

There are an awful lot of benefits to going shopping with my kids, though. Because of them, people often strike up conversations with me: grandmotherly types who tell me about their grandchildren, fellow moms who ask questions or give advice about whatever phase my kids are in, store employees who offer them cheese or cookies or a chance to pet a lobster. But my favorite part of shopping with my kids is just watching people’s reactions to them. Many times I see a fellow shopper coming down the aisle toward me looking tired or grumpy or frustrated, but when they see my daughter grinning at them or singing happily to herself, or hear my son’s running commentary about the various foods he likes to eat, they break out a smile themselves, and as they pass by I see their step become a bit lighter, their posture become a bit straighter, their whole attitude become a bit cheerier.

Where I shop. It’s also where I sometimes get to make the world a slightly happier place for people, even if only for a moment. And that’s something you can’t buy no matter where you shop.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

June 25 Photo: Something Cute

“Something Cute” has to be the biggest no-brainer of all the 31 photo concepts in this whole month-long Photo-A-Day challenge. Seriously, I have a 10-month-old daughter and a 2-1/2-year-old son who are the most adorable and photogenic children on the planet. “Something Cute” is their life motto.

But as cute as they each are individually, their cuteness is beyond doubled when they’re together. Well, at least when they’re together and being nice to each other, which I’d estimate is maybe 20, 25 percent of the time. Fortunately, I happened to have a camera handy this evening when that 20 percent rolled around.

Katie loves to play with Ryan’s toys, especially while Ryan is playing with them, and Ryan is not especially appreciative of that fact. And if she takes one of his toys that he isn’t playing with, he usually develops an urgent and immediate need to play with it himself. Both situations often result in tears on one or both of their parts, whether or not I intervene. But this evening, after a bit of sparring, they managed to come to an unspoken agreement on their own. (Based on this photo, I think that agreement must have been along the lines of, “Ryan gets to play with all the toys and Katie gets to watch without getting smacked.” Hey, if it works for them, who am I to judge?)
What I find so cute about the photo is the expressions on each of their faces: Katie grinning and looking up adoringly at her big brother, and Ryan looking benevolently and (somewhat) patiently down at his little sister. He’s showing her how the toy works, and she’s listening intently. I wonder how many times in the coming years a similar scene will be played out between the two of them. Perhaps I’ll see similar expressions when he teaches her how to ride his old tricycle, or when he gives her the rundown of the rules of baseball, or when he shows her how to make meatloaf, or when he takes her to the parking lot of the church down the street and teaches her to drive stick.
They might lose a bit of their cuteness in the eyes of the rest of the world over the next dozen years or so, but in the eyes of their mum, I kind of suspect they’ll always look like they do in this photo: cute.
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Sunday, June 24, 2012

June 24 Photo: On Your Mind

Today’s photo is another slight cheat, but again, for a very good reason: Today would have been my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Obviously, I wasn’t there at their wedding, so I didn’t take any photos. But that is definitely what is in the forefront of my mind today.

This is absolutely my favorite photo from my parents’ wedding album. Both my folks are so obviously glowing with excitement and happiness. And they are truly surrounded by family and friends. Unfortunately, the only groomsman I can identify is my mother’s brother, my Uncle John (the one wearing glasses). The women are, from left to right, my mother’s sister Elaine (who was only 16 at the time), my mother’s college roommate Myrna (the matron of honor), and my dad’s cousin Carolee (who, I believe, borrowed my mother’s wedding gown for her own wedding not long after).

I love the men’s white dinner jackets, the women’s perky little hats, the beautifully draping flowers, and my mom’s lace gauntlets and voluminous ball gown. I love her beaded pearl headpiece that I would wear (upside down and backwards) at my own wedding, nearly 45 years later. I love the familiarity of the backdrop, the room being the Ladies’ Parlor of the church I grew up in, with the same mirror, the same wing chair, and quite possibly the same curtains that were there during my childhood.

I love seeing them when they didn’t know what life had in store for them. When this picture was taken, they had no idea that they would have two daughters, or two grandchildren. They didn’t know that they would buy a house and live in it for their whole entire lives. They didn’t know that my dad would work for the same company for over 40 years, or that my mom would be a teacher, then a stay at home mom, then a children’s librarian. They didn’t know that their funerals would be held at the same church that they were married in, the same church that their children were raised in. They didn’t know that my mom’s dad would live with us for a year while suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, or that my dad would eventually need hospice care in our home, or that my mom would live in a hospice facility in the next town.

But they knew that they loved each other, and they knew that they could handle whatever life threw at them, with help from each other and from God.

I may not live long enough to be married for 50 years, either, but I know that with help from my husband and my God, I can handle anything that life may throw at me during whatever part of that 50 years I may have left. And that’s what’s on my mind today.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 23 Photo: Movement

Today’s photo is a bit of a cheat, because I didn’t take it. (And I can’t lie about that fact, because I am clearly in the picture.) But since movement is really difficult to depict and since I love the way this photo captures it, I’m going to give my husband credit for taking it and post it anyway.
Most of the photographs that I take trying to capture movement just end up as blurs. (And with my kids, most of the photographs that I take are trying to capture movement!) I can’t blame it on my camera, because my husband used my camera to take this photo. Maybe he knows some special setting that I don’t (likely) or maybe he just has a better eye than I (extremely likely). But whatever technique he used, this photo captures movement exactly the way I wanted to capture it.
If you look closely at the lower left-hand side of the photograph, right under the surface of the water you can just make out the flesh-colored blur that is my son immediately post-belly-flop. He loves to stand on the side of the pool and hurl himself in, spread-eagled, in order to make the maximum splash possible. It takes an amazingly quick shutter finger to catch him mid-air, since he gives zero warning that he’s about to jump, so most of the photos of him jumping into the pool look a lot like this one.
And that’s a pretty good illustration of life with a 2-1/2-year-old boy: You rarely see the event, just the aftermath. You find the Legos strewn all over the living room after the 3-foot-tall tower crashes down. You mop up the puddle of soapy water on the bathroom floor after the tub toys have had an epic (and splashy) battle. You rescue the child with his head trapped between the bars of the fence after he squeezes the rest of his body through (photo below for those of you who missed it).

Yup, life with a 2-1/2 year old boy is pretty much constant movement – yours, his, toys, and time. It’s nice to have a photograph every now and then to freeze the action so you don’t miss it completely. Because you can’t stop the movement of the child or of the clock.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

June 22 Photo: From a High Angle

My son looks up to me. Literally, he looks up to me. After all, I tower over him. I’m no giant, but at 5 foot 8 I’m a relatively tall woman. And although he’s exceptionally tall for his age, he’s only about 3 foot 4, which means I’ve still got well over two feet on him. So I do an awful lot of looking down, and he does an awful lot of looking up.

But more than just literally looking up at me, he also looks up to me in a figurative sense. Here is another human being who is using me as a model for what human beings are supposed to be like. He imitates the way I talk – not only the words and grammar and intonation, but the attitude. If I’m rude to people, he thinks he should be rude to people. If I swear and mutter under my breath, he’ll learn to swear and mutter under his breath. But if I’m kind and helpful, he’ll grow up to be kind and helpful. If I work hard and carefully, he’ll be a conscientious worker, too.
So whenever I’m tempted to act like the kind of person that deep down, I really don’t want to be, and that I don't want HIM to be, all I have to do is look at that little person down there who looks up to me, and suddenly it’s not so tempting any more. He may be small, but he’s a big responsibility.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

June 21 Photo: Where You Slept

Last night was my first night back in my own bed after sleeping in a sleeping bag on an air mattress in a tent for four nights. And oh, did it feel good!
Don’t get me wrong, I love sleeping in a tent. I love the squishiness of the air mattress and the way it poofs me up in the air a tiny bit when my husband lies down on the other side. I love the feeling of toasty warm toes inside my sleeping bag and a chilly nose peeping out of it. I love hearing the lullaby of the frogs calling and the owls hooting and the wind rustling in the trees. I love the smell of campfires and sweet fern and pine as I drift off to sleep. I love waking up to the sound of birds singing and chipmunks chittering and neighbors going about their business.
But there’s something to be said for the familiarity of your own bed. I know exactly what angle to lay the pillow at to get my neck comfortable. I know exactly how many layers of covers I need to get the perfect temperature. I know exactly how much space I have to roll over in between the edge of the bed and my husband. I know my way to the bathroom without needing to turn on a light. I have my glasses and my tissues and my Kindle and my lamp right at hand. The familiarity is comforting.
It’s fun to go on a trip of any kind, and to sleep in new places. But it’s always so sweet to come back home and sleep where you know you belong, right in your own bed.
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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June 20 Photo: Favorite Photo You've Ever Taken

Being married to a semi-professional photographer with a great eye and even better equipment, I don’t take a lot of photos. And those that I do take aren’t especially spectacular. But as the saying goes, even a blind pig finds a truffle now and then. So I do have a few of my own photos that I’d call favorites.

Not surprisingly, most of my favorite photos that I’ve taken are of my kids. They’re photogenic as well as funny, so the skill of the photographer is a minimal contribution to the quality of the pictures. There are some where they’re doing cute things, or making cute expressions, or wearing cute clothes – or sometimes all three. But if I had to choose one single photograph that I’ve taken over the past few years that is my favorite photo of all, I’d have to choose this one.
I took this photograph in August of 2010. My mom had finished treatment for ovarian cancer that included two major surgeries and several rounds of chemotherapy, and she was finally beginning to feel healthy again. My son, her first (and at that time only) grandchild was the greatest joy of her life, and the feeling was definitely mutual. He was only 9 months old but he absolutely knew and recognized his Grammy Martha, and he adored her. My mom loved coming over and spending time with our family and especially with my son, and this photo was taken at one of a number of summer evenings that she spent poolside with us.

Sadly, her cancer returned a few months later and she passed away in April 2011, when I was pregnant with my daughter. Seeing this photograph makes me wish that I had a similar one of my mother with my daughter. But I love that years from now, I will be able to show this photo to my son and tell him about his wonderful Grammy Martha and how much she loved him.

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June 19 Photo: Imperfect

Today’s blog entry itself is imperfect, because I am cheating. I am cheating because I am posting a video instead of a photograph. A photo could not quite do this story justice, so please bear with me.

One of the hardest things for me as a mother is to let my kids do things themselves that they can’t really do yet. For example, my son is learning to put on his own socks, and they often end up either inside out or only half-on with the toes dragging on the floor. But he is so proud that he has done it all by himself that I have to bite my tongue and let his socks be. Or when he helps to wipe off the kitchen table when I’m getting dinner ready, and it ends up even stickier than it was when he started, and I need to force myself to thank him and wait until he’s out of sight to fix it.

If I never let him do anything imperfectly, he’ll never learn to do anything at all. If every time he tries something new, I tell him that he’s doing it wrong, or I fix it for him, he’ll get discouraged and convince himself that he can’t do anything. So we’re both learning to be happy with imperfect for now, and leave learning to do things perfectly until later.

Today I saw a beautiful example of his imperfection. He’d been helping his daddy fill our water jugs at the spigot near our campsite, and today when Daddy asked if he wanted to help get water, he announced that he could do it himself. So my husband laughed a bit to himself, handed him a plastic pitcher, and sent him on his way, expecting to hear a plaintive voice calling, “Um, Dada, can you come help me?” in a minute. But to our surprise, he came back a few minutes later, very solemnly and carefully carrying a pitcher about one-third full of water. We weren’t sure how he’d managed it, so the next time we needed water and he volunteered to get it, Daddy surreptitiously followed him with a video camera. This is the result.

We could have told him he wasn’t big enough to get water by himself yet. We could have told him we needed to help him. We could have told him we needed more water than he could get. But then we would have missed out on seeing that determined expression on his face as he carefully navigated around roots to avoid spilling his precious cargo, and his look of triumph as he handed it over. Sometimes, imperfect is way more than good enough.

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June 18 Photo: Something We Don't Know About You

A lot of people don’t know that I love to go camping. Growing up, my family went camping for two weeks every summer at a local campground, and then often took another trip somewhere farther away later in the summer. We had an old Cox pop-up trailer, with two wings that swung outward to make bunks. When I was very small, my parents slept on one bunk and my sister and I slept on the other. When my sister and I were old enough to object to that situation, she took the bunk and I slept on the floor. I’m still not sure why this was such an improvement in my mind, but I do recall that it was.

I remember my mom getting out boxes and lists from the attic. She carefully consulted her menu and packed dry foods in a green wooden box with a sliding top, and perishable foods in a heavy Coleman cooler with an aluminum latch that made a very satisfying CLUNK when you latched it. She had another green wooden box filled with yellow and turquoise plastic mugs, cheap cutlery and serving forks and spoons, and plastic bowls and plates. A large white jerrycan nested inside a white basin that was used for washing dishes and people. Ziploc bags filled with everything from damp washcloths to shampoo bottles to sponges to hot cocoa mix were tucked into the nooks and crannies of each box. And the dark green sleeping bags, one lined with plaid flannel fabric and the other lined with brown flannel fabric printed with flying ducks were carefully aired on the clothesline before being rolled, tied tightly with twine, and crammed into the back of our Plymouth Gran Fury station wagon, which already groaned under the weight of the aluminum Grumman canoe my dad had heaved on top and tied down with bungee cords.

It’s funny the details I still remember some 30 or 35 years later. And it makes me wonder what my own kids will remember years from now. Will they remember that we left them sitting in the minivan watching a DVD to keep them out from underfoot while we set up the tent? Will they remember that we always had a fancy dinner of steak and corn-on-the-cob with wine for the adults the first night of vacation? Will they remember the cool toasting forks with the thumb wheel that we used to toast marshmallows over the fire? Will they remember chasing fireflies after dark, or lying in the tent listening to owls calling, or looking up in the sky on the way to the bathroom at night and seeing a shooting star?

It may look like just a tent to you, but to me, it’s my kids’ memories in the making.

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June 17 Photo: In Your Bag

I’m always carrying a bag. I’m a woman, so I’m usually carrying some kind of handbag or purse. I’m also a mother of two children in diapers, so I’m usually also carrying a diaper bag. (And if I’m not, you can be sure the handbag or purse that I AM carrying is doubling as a diaper bag.) And since today I’m also a vacationer, you can bet there are plenty of bags around me right now.

Now that I stop and think about it, I’m not sure how many bags I do actually have at the moment. I’m in the process of moving my family from staying at a hotel to pitching a tent at a campground, so my minivan is impressively full of bags. As well as the previously-mentioned handbag and diaper bag, I have a bag with a full-size, three-room tent in it, complete with stakes and a rainfly. I have three sleeping bags. I have a pack-and-play crib in a bag. I have a suitcase full of clothes. I have a bag of baby food, a bag of kid snack food, and a bag of adult snack food. I have a bag of trucks and bubble stuff. I have a bag of extra diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream, formula, and bottles. I have a bag of pillows and blankets. But perhaps the most important bag of all is my bag of snugglies.

The blue-jammied bear with the saucy red curl (aka “Bear”) is my son’s current bedmate of choice. The dog on the right with the jingle bells and the wiggly bone (aka “Jingle Dog”) keeps my daughter entertained in her crib when she’s on the brink between sleeping and waking (in either direction). The owl with the built-in teething ring (aka “Owl”) keeps her entertained in the car (at least, it does until she catapults it behind her car seat where I can’t reach it). And the plastic cup with cheery Jessie the Cowgirl on it (you can see we do better with toys that come pre-named) keeps my son occupied in the car.
Without these four dear friends, long trips with two small children would be much more difficult and tear-filled. You could say there’s a little bit of travel magic in my bag.

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June 16 Photo: Out and About

Today I am in the Hanover/Lebanon NH area for a function at Dartmouth College. Actually, we attended a barbecue there last night, and this afternoon we will be attending a cocktail reception. But all day today my husband has meetings for the Alumni Volunteer Corporation of his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, so the kids and I are on our own for entertainment for a few hours. I decided that the best way to spend a few hours with small children in that area is the Montshire Museum.

The Montshire Museum is a marvelous science center that is geared for children of all ages. Their displays range from a special play area for under-fives with lots of tactile displays, narrow padded stairs with tubes for watching balls roll down chutes, a beach ball that floats on a column of air, tunnels to climb into, a corner full of wooden blocks, and lots of other toys and displays to keep littler ones happy while the older kids explore the other exhibits.

And even the more complex exhibits are designed in such a way as to keep all ages entertained. The bubble tanks, for example, have various sizes and shapes of bubble wands made of strings and straw or hula hoops. Toddlers can happily blow bubbles; older children can compare the different sizes, shapes, and colors of bubbles that the various wands make; and teens and adults can read about and experiment with the physics behind each type of bubble. There are tanks of fish, frogs, and turtles. There are chains you can spin and an air cannon you can shoot. There are balls and tubes and a fog machine and a stuffed moose and an ant farm. And that’s only the inside part! Outside there’s a water park with fountains and canals and musical tubes and acoustical sculptures and planets and all kinds of other wonderful things.

Needless to say, my son had a wonderful time exploring.

It’s fun to go out and about!

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Friday, June 15, 2012

June 15 Photo: Yellow

This yellow toy backhoe is one of my son’s very favorite toys. Those of you familiar with the technical terms of construction vehicles will immediately notice that this truck is not technically a backhoe. I call it a backhoe for the same reasons we still address former presidents as “Mr. President”: a) because they used to hold that title, and b) because both are due a measure of respect for their service.

It goes without saying that my son is pretty rough on toys. He is 2-1/2, after all. And his family nickname is “Destructo-Boy.” Fortunately, he does not seem to mind all that much when he slowly breaks his toys, bit by bit. He happens to be both bright enough and creative enough to find new ways to play with each toy’s current abilities.

For example, this backhoe originally had a front-loader bucket on the right and an excavator bucket attachment on the boom arm to the left. The front-loader bucket broke off first, and when that happened, my son used the truck as an excavator, parking it on top of the toybox and reaching its boom arm down below its own wheels, pretending to scoop up dirt. Once the excavator bucket fell off, he declared the truck to be an impact hammer, and happily made “rat-a-tat” noises while banging the barren boom arm on every surface he could reach. And when the boom arm itself falls off, as it does on a regular basis, he simply calls it a tractor and pretends to use it to knock down silos.

I love his creativity and cleverness in figuring out how to use each variation of the truck, but I love even more that he never stops to mourn the loss of a function, he merely finds new things that it can do. Wouldn’t it be great if we were all like that? Instead of whining or complaining or being disappointed about something that we can no longer do, we should all learn to rejoice in discovering what we can do – perhaps even things we never noticed we could do before!

Not a bad lesson to learn from a little yellow toy truck.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

June 14 Photo: Time

As the mother of two small children, my perception of time has changed drastically. Sometimes, time moves incredibly slowly, like when my 2-1/2 has a tantrum in a store or refuses to take a nap or when my 10-month-old screams from teething pain. Sometimes, it flies by, like when I watch my son ride his tricycle or help vacuum the pool or my daughter feed herself or say, “Mama,” and I wonder when they got so grown up.

As the mother of two, I have also learned to reprioritize my time. It used to be important to me to find time to do things like making my bed or putting on lipstick or shaving my legs or sitting down to eat lunch. Now, it’s more important to me to color with my son or help my daughter feed herself or play in the sandbox with both of them.

Today is a perfect example of how I prioritize my time. As I started writing this blog entry, I took a picture of the clock on the wall:
It’s about 11:30am. And as of fifteen minutes ago, I hadn’t showered or dressed or even brushed my teeth. Because with limited time, I decided I would rather sit and have breakfast with my son and help my daughter practice walking than any of those things. I didn’t wash my hair or put on makeup, but I did wrestle with an imaginary alligator, help build a tower of Legos, and learn the word “engineer”.
Time’s only value is what you choose to do with it. And I’d say I made a pretty good choice today. So if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear a dragon roaring in the next room. I don't have time to think about lunch when there’s a dragon that needs slaying!
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June 13 Photo: Art

I consider myself reasonably cultured: I’m genuinely fond of most literary classics, I’m relatively well-versed in – and enjoy - classical music, and to say that I love performing arts of all sorts would be an understatement. But when it comes to art, at least art in the sense of paintings, sculpture, etc., I must admit to having rather plebian tastes.

I took a class in college called “The Arts in Concert” that was a combination of music, drama, art, and architecture appreciation that gave me a small degree of understanding of art. I learned a bit about composition, painting styles, what to look for in a piece of art. But when it comes right down to it, my evaluation of most pieces of art still comes down to either I like it or I don’t, and I can’t always tell you why.

Generally, I like art that is realistic. I prefer da Vinci to Picasso (with the exception of his non-cubist works, such as “Woman in White”). I love Michelangelo’s “David.” Jan van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Portrait.” Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.” And yet I’m also a big fan of Jackson Pollock, although Mondrian leaves me cold. There’s no particular logic to what I like in art and what I don’t. (This will come as no surprise to my husband, who coined the expression “Sandy Logic” very early in our marriage.) So the artwork that I have chosen for my home does not fall into a single category.

Actually, choosing artwork for our home was a bit of a struggle for my husband and me, because our senses of what art is are very different. The painting over his fireplace was (and still is) a brightly colored abstract painting of musicians. The painting over my bed was a large, realistic flower blossom. And when we redecorated our bedroom right after our honeymoon, it took us nearly a full year to find a single painting that worked in that room that we both liked.

But the piece of art that is perhaps the most special to me in our home is a small stone carving of a pair of dancers that sits on our mantel.

I don’t remember the exact gift-giving occasion (it might have been our first Valentine’s Day together), but I do recall that it was a gift to my now-husband while we were engaged and taking ballroom dance lessons together in anticipation of our wedding and honeymoon. I knew I wanted to give him a sculpture representing a pair of lovers, and I pored through pages and pages of online art catalogs to find exactly the right piece. This piece has such beautiful lines and such a beautiful shape. It’s somewhat abstract yet it’s perfectly clear what it is intended to represent. The figures are separate yet moving in synch. The stone itself is nearly pure white, but with a few tiny imperfections that only serve to enhance its beauty. I love both the symbolism of the piece and its pure aesthetics. It is art.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June 12 Photo: From a Low Angle

I’ve always been tall. Well, relatively speaking, anyway. I was a long baby, I got an early growth spurt in elementary school so I towered over most of my classmates, and I’ve just generally always been on the leading edge of the bell curve, height-wise. So it’s been a very long time since I’ve looked at things from a low angle on a regular basis.

But now that I have small children, I do find myself spending a significant amount of time lying on the floor, looking at things from their perspective. I’m not usually paying much attention to anything but them, though, so for today’s photo assignment, I took some time to walk around the house and the yard and look at things “from a low angle;” as if from my kids’ perspective.

Things look very different when you’re looking up at them from down below. The underpinnings of a table are very different from the simple flat surface on top. You notice light fixtures overhead that taller people never look up at. You’re more likely to watch clouds, or airplanes passing by, or birds on the wing.

And sometimes, you just see things at different angles and against different backdrops. I laid on the ground next to my garden (which is in a slightly raised bed, for an even better low angle) and saw my lilies in a way I’d never seen them before. Instead of seeing their bright blossoms amidst a sea of dark green leaves, I saw them against the pale blue-gray of a cloudy sky. Instead of seeing the fence behind the blooms at boring, predictable right angles, I saw it at an interesting cockeyed orientation. Instead of noticing how their stalks are anchored to the ground, I saw their blossoms reaching up towards the open sky. It gave me a whole new view of things I’d looked at hundreds or even thousands of times before.

So if you happen to be passing by and notice me lying on the ground, don’t worry. I’m okay. I’m just getting a new perspective on the world.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

June 11 Photo: Door

A door is a pretty utilitarian kind of thing. It’s meant to keep out burglars, insects, snow, and neighborhood cats. It’s meant to keep in heat, small children, and non-neighborhood cats. It is often adorned with wreaths or flags or a brass knocker or a stained glass window. Some doors have no windows, some have large windows, and some are nearly all glass. Some doors lead from one room to another, some lead from outside to inside, and some lead to cubbies or closets or crawl spaces.

In books and movies, doors can lead to magical or foreign or even dangerous places and worlds. In the book “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” a door leads to another world called Narnia. In the book “The Indian in the Cupboard,” a door leads to the home of a tiny, living person. In the movie, “Poltergeist,” a door leads to the evil afterlife. In the television show, “SG-1,” a door leads to other planets. In the movie, “Monsters, Inc.,” a door leads to a factory where nightmares are made. Human beings are fascinated with doors and the idea that they can be portals out of our world.

But the best part of the reality of doors is often that they lead, not to someplace unfamiliar, but to someplace familiar, known, and comforting. For example, what is a more pleasant sight than your own front door after a time away from home?

This is my front door. It’s pretty, but it’s also pretty ordinary. It’s a bright, cheerful shade of green, and has lace curtains in the window panels on each side. There’s a welcoming mat on the step in front and an American flag hanging above. Sometimes there’s a holiday wreath or other decoration hanging on it. But basically, it’s just a door. And that doesn’t stop it from being an incredibly welcome sight when I come home. Because it’s my door, and it’s the portal to my home, and that’s better than any other world I can imagine going into.
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June 10 Photo: Best Bit of My Weekend

This weekend was a very busy one for my family. On Friday morning, we drove down to Pennsylvania in anticipation of my brother-in-law’s graduation from Army War College on Saturday. On Saturday afternoon, we toured the grounds of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center (USAHEC) near the War College campus. My son was fascinated by the tanks and helicopters; my husband was fascinated by the historical and technical information about each display; my daughter was fascinated by the bunnies running around in the field amidst all the artillery; and I was mostly just happy that everyone else was interested and entertained. On Sunday, we drove down to Annapolis for a quick visit with friends of mine who live in that area. We arrived a bit early for our lunch date, so we took advantage of our free time to wander through the harbor area and take in some of the sights. It was an unexpected pleasure, and it was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend for me, simply because of its unexpectedness.

One of my favorite moments from that little sojourn was a visit to the Alex Haley memorial square right on the waterfront. There is a beautiful statue of Haley sitting with a book in his lap, reading to three small children who are sprawled at his feet in rapt attention. My son looked dubiously at Mr. Haley but eventually shook his hand solemnly (judging but the shiny patina on his right palm, that’s a pretty common occurrence). And my daughter promptly crawled up to one of the children and plopped down next to him as if she wanted to listen to the story, too.

It was such a lovely and unexpected moment. There were many wonderful bits of our weekend, but I have to admit that this was one of the best.

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June 9 Photo: Your View Today

Today, we attended my brother-in-law’s graduation from Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I had no idea what to expect. Would it be similar to a university graduation ceremony, with long boring speeches and long dull lists of names? Would it be typical military, with crisp marching, salutes, and terse practicality rather than pomp? It turns out that it was somewhere in between.

Since we had two small children with us, I admit that I missed a good deal of the keynote speech so I can’t comment on whether or not it was boring, but I can certainly attest that even if it was, there were plenty of other interesting things to look at while ignoring it. First of all, despite its name, the Army War College serves students from all branches of the U.S. Armed Services as well as foreign military officers, so the graduates’ uniforms alone were quite a fascinating study in the varying styles of military dress uniforms throughout the world: Navy officers (including my brother-in-law) in pristine, crisp whites; Army men in gold-striped pants and flared jackets; Air Force officers with double-breasted jackets; foreigners in khaki or navy jackets with unfamiliar berets or hats (sorry, Steven – “covers”); and all of the above with shiny gold buttons, spit-shined shoes, and enough ribbons and medals to sink a proverbial battleship. And the families in the crowd reflected the far-reaching homes of the graduates. I noted several women wearing saris, a burka, a kimono, and a few gorgeously ornate Middle Eastern looking dresses that I don’t know the names of. Even the American women were holding our own, fashion-wise, in elegant sundresses and many of us (yes, US – me included) sporting fancy and colorful hats.

But I think that the most colorful display of all may have been the lineup of flags representing the nationalities of all the graduates in the class.
(I apologize for the fuzziness of the photo. I was unaware at the time that some small gooey fingers had been poking at my camera lens.)
In my mind, the international flavor of the event was one of the highlights. After all, this is a celebration of people who are learning the art of war, and there’s something innately sad that this world has a need of people with such knowledge. But the fact that people from other countries come here to learn about war from us and with us, reassures me that not only are they learning about war, but they are learning how to prevent war. And a world that wants to learn more about preventing war is a world that I want to live in. A world full of many different uniforms and many different flags, but all sharing the wish to keep that world a peaceful place for all of us who live in it.

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Friday, June 8, 2012

June 8 Photo: Six O'Clock

I am not a morning person. I have never been a morning person. I doubt that I will ever be a morning person. But I am the mother of small children, which means that I am up in the early morning a lot more often than I would like to be. And most of the time, it’s all I can do to drag myself out of bed, pry my eyelids open, and do whatever needs doing. But every once in a while, there’s some kind of reward for being awake at six o’clock in the morning.

Sometimes that reward comes in the form of a beautiful sunrise. Sometimes it’s especially beautiful birdsong, or a glimpse of a bright goldfinch or a scarlet cardinal having his breakfast at my birdfeeder. Once or twice it's even been a wild turkey in my driveway. And sometimes, it’s just the muffled quiet of early morning fog covering the world with a blanket of calm.

Sadly, this photo can’t do it justice, but the view out of my back window at six o’clock this morning was a masterpiece of color and depth. The bright green of my hedge faded into a more muted green of the trees behind, and then an even more muted green and grey of the houses and trees further in the distance, until all the color dissolved into the pure grey of the foggy sky. It made me wish I were a painter, able to capture every subtle gradation of color.
I don’t enjoy being awake at six o’clock in the morning, but if I have to be, at least I have moments like this to make it worthwhile.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

June 7 Photo: Drink

Most of the “drinks” in my life these days come in bottles and plastic sippy cups. Or occasionally half-full “big boy” cups. Most of the cups are covered with colorful pictures like Buzz, Woody, and Jessie from Toy Story, or cartoon trucks, or happy little ducks, or something similar. So on the special occasions when I get to drink out of a cup that breaks rather than bounces when it hits the floor, it’s a pretty big deal.

Last night was one of those big deals. My husband had picked up a couple of gorgeous steaks earlier in the week and the weather was finally cooperating enough that we could use the outside grill to cook them. So I fed the kids their own dinner earlier in the evening and while my husband was getting them bathed and put to bed, I started making our elegant dinner of fresh corn on the cob and red bliss mashed potatoes. He threw the steaks on the grill when he came downstairs and then picked out a nice bottle of red wine and poured it into a decanter.

We sat at the dining room table, just the two of us, with candlelight and soft music. We were able to have a conversation without interrupting ourselves to announce, “We do not dip our corn into our milk,” or “Stop hitting your sister,” or “You do not need to shout when we are sitting right next to you.” I had the privilege of eating at my own pace rather than shoveling in mouthfuls between shoveling food into the baby’s mouth. I could leave my steak knife to the right of my plate where it belonged instead of in the center of the table where neither child could reach it. At the end of the meal, my napkin was nearly pristine instead of being coated in mashed bananas and arrowroot cookie crumbs and baby snot. There was nary a toy truck nor a teething rattle anywhere in sight.

But the best part was that when we’d finished eating, there was no rushing to get up. We both simply eased our chairs back, stretched out a bit, sighed contentedly, and silently raised our glasses full of liquid bliss. Cheers!

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

June 6 Photo: Hat

When I was a little girl, one of my favorite things to play with was “The Dress-Up Box.” Since I had a mother and two grandmothers who sewed, knitted, occasionally purged their closets of old purses and shoes, and frequented yard sales, my Dress-Up Box was always well-stocked. I can remember a number of specific items very clearly: my mother’s white stiletto-heeled wedding shoes with the impossibly pointed toes, a pink chiffon bathrobe with ruffled trim, a black beaded evening bag with only a small patch of beads missing, a bright green fabric hula skirt, and a white satin tutu trimmed in silver sequins with matching tiara and star-tipped wand. With my Dress-Up Box, I could be a princess, a ballerina, a fairy, or any other lovely thing my imagination could conjure up!

When my son was born, I wondered if, being a boy, he would share my appreciation for dress up. I needn’t have worried. His approach might be a bit different, but he uses the same imagination and creativity that I did to become a pirate, a construction worker, or a firefighter. But instead of a Dress-Up Box, he has a Hat Basket. In his Hat Basket, he has a yellow hard hat, several red firefighter’s helmets, a policeman’s helmet, a batter’s helmet, and a racecar driver’s helmet. Throw in an old pair of cowboy boots, a fringed leather vest, and his daddy’s brown leather shoes, and he can become whatever he can imagine.

It’s not just a hat, it’s a magic carpet that can take him to anywhere and anything!

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