Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Million Tiny Pieces

This Christmas, I realized a universal relationship that I hadn’t noticed before: the smaller the child, the larger the Christmas present. For example, Santa brought my 2-year-old daughter a toy kitchen that is approximately the size of my own kitchen, and a Barbie house that is larger than my first apartment (and contains significantly more furniture). My 21-year-old stepdaughter, on the other hand, received gift cards (approximate dimensions: 2” x 3” x 0.005”).

I also realized another universal relationship: the larger the toy, the smaller the pieces. And the more numerous. My two young children received a combined total of roughly 27 Christmas gifts. Those 27 gifts contained a combined total of approximately 7,953,246 individual pieces, the majority of which measure less than 1 cm in any dimension. Within any one square foot of my home at any given moment, I am likely to find 4 pieces of plastic fruit, 37 Legos, 23 Duplo blocks, 7 fireman or policeman figurines, 4 miscellaneous Barbie-related items, 14 erector set components, a minimum of 2 wheeled vehicles of varying size, and 3 magnets shaped like either articles of clothing or construction vehicles.

Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not upset that anyone gave these gifts to my children (the majority of them were either purchased or suggested by myself and my husband). It’s not like anyone in my family hates us enough to have given the kids, say, a drum set or a ride-on fire engine with functioning siren. And I love that my children love playing with these toys so much that they’re always out and scattered around. But I never realized how much longer it takes to clean up the contents of a 12” x 6” x 2” box containing 2,000 individual items (for example, a Lego building set) than it does to clean up the contents of a 12” x 6” x 2” box containing five individual items (for example, a Barbie doll wearing a bikini and high heels).

But what I also realize about toys containing a zillion components is that, much like cars and computers, they carry with them a kind of planned obsolescence. At least once a day, I step on and crush a Lego item which I must then discard. Several times since Christmas Day some pink plastic item from Barbie’s house has gone permanently astray for whatever reason. Various items have already succumbed to irreparable chewing damage. By my calculations, at this attrition rate, 83.6% of the toys my children received for Christmas will be gone by the time next Christmas rolls around. And since my children will be that much bigger, their toys should be proportionately smaller, so the annual net increase in toy volume will be only around 11.8%.

At that rate, by the time their toy collections increase enough that we need to move to a bigger house, my son will be ready to enter college and we can turn his room into a toy storage shed. Either that, or my husband and I will just move into his room. I figure he’ll have some really fun toys by that point.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Happy Dance

Kids who are too young to have the words to describe their emotions somehow have little difficulty expressing themselves. They don’t need words; they have their bodies. When you see a small child stamping her feet, there is no doubt that she is expressing frustration. When a little boy throws himself down and punches the ground with his fists, he is clearly angry. And when children spin around exuberantly, wriggling their entire bodies in sheer ecstasy, everyone around is perfectly aware of their happiness. Their joyful dance reminds me of a happy puppy. After all, puppies are perhaps the most perfect example of expressing emotion physically. What does a puppy do when it’s happy? It wags its tail so hard that its entire body follows suit. It wriggles joyfully. It prances and jumps and races back and forth. And small children do the same thing.

There are different degrees of physical happiness, of course. At meal times, my daughter often performs something our family refers to as the “Happy Tummy Dance.” It involves raising her arms in the air and shrugging her shoulders alternately. A particularly exuberant Happy Tummy Dance might include wriggling back and forth in her seat as well (this is more common when dessert is involved). A scrunched up nose is also occasionally part of the choreography, as is a head bob. My son, when happy or excited, tends to perform a full-body version of the Happy Puppy Wriggle: he races around the room, pausing only to stamp his feet rhythmically, wiggle his hips, punch the air, and even spin on the floor like a break dancer.

But beyond merely expressing emotion, I find that these physical expressions of happiness (and of sadness and anger, for that matter) tend to inspire that emotion. When I’m feeling a bit down and I join my kids in doing one of their happy dances, I immediately feel more cheerful. (More silly, but also more cheerful.) If I’m eating a rather boring lunch and I stop to do the Happy Tummy Dance with my kids, suddenly my lunch becomes more exciting and interesting. If my kids seem to be bored and listless, convincing them to take a few minutes to do a crazy happy dance instantly puts them in a better mood.

So the next time you’re fighting off the blues, take a moment to do a little Happy Puppy Wriggle. Toss your hair, throw up some jazz hands, shake your salsa hips, tap your toes, pirouette down the hall. And if anyone gives you the fish eye, grab them and get them to join in. I bet you’ll both walk away from that encounter with a smile on your face. Although you probably won’t walk. You’ll skip.

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Oh, Stuff It!!

Growing up, my favorite part of Christmas was opening my stocking. My mom was the world’s best stocking stuffer. Every year, my sister and I would get some kind of funny desk toy, cool band-aids, a CD or cassette (yes, I’m that old), a bunch of cheap earrings, gourmet hot chocolate or tea, a new toothbrush and our preferred brand of toothpaste, funny socks, crossword puzzle books, and an assortment of other random things that she collected over the course of the entire year. Although I can only aspire to my mom’s stocking greatness, I do have ten good suggestions for cool and unusual stocking stuffers for recipients of all ages – and all under 20 bucks.

Handmade Flavored Marshmallows

For a mere $7.95, you can get a whole box of handmade marshmallows in flavors like peppermint, bourbon, Guiness, s’mores, and more, from

Robotic Crab
This cute little robot will entertain and impress your office mates and your kids. It huddles quietly in dark places and scuttles away when the light is turned on; it scoots away from loud noises; it can even maneuver around obstacles thanks to sensors in its legs. And it can be yours (or someone else’s) for the bargain price of only $16.95, from

Funky Bottle Opener
The Drinking Buddy Bottle Opener adds a bit of whimsy to your bar or kitchen. And it has the added benefit of being made of shiny, festive chrome and will look adorable peeking out of the top of a stocking on Christmas morning. $10 from

I Mustache You to Close the Bag
At 4 bucks a pop, you can hardly NOT put these mustache chip clips in someone’s stocking. They’re funny AND practical; from

Connectable Drinking Straws

For only $9.99, you get two dozen clear straws in two lengths plus 20 various-shaped flexible connectors in your choice of colors. Who wouldn’t love seeing a collection of these in their Christmas stocking, whether they’ll be using them to drink chocolate milk or spiked eggnog? From

Magnetic Einstein Dress-up Doll

A modern version of the paper dolls you played with as a kid, Al comes with 28 different articles of clothing and accessories so you can dress up him in everything from a spacesuit to a tuxedo. $15 from

Bacon Band-Aids

Band-aids that look like bacon. Do I need to say more? Okay: “Free Toy Inside.” $7.94 from ‘Nough said.

Ninja Cookie Cutters
Ninjas are awesome. Cookies are awesome. Put them together and what have you got? A double dose of awesomeness from for $9.97.

Christmas Lollipops

A stocking isn’t a stocking without some special treats. This lollipop trio includes Santa, a penguin, and a reindeer with light-festooned antlers, each made of rice krispy treats and covered in rich chocolate frosting. They’re from so you know they’re worth every penny of that $19.95 price tag.

Oinking Pig Slingshot
Giving new meaning to the phrase, “When pigs fly,” you can send this bug-eyed piggy flying with a surprised “oink.” I’d recommend giving one to every member of the family, because doesn’t flying pig wars on Christmas morning sound like a blast? And for $6.23 from, you can afford a whole styful of oinking piggies.

And if these ideas don’t inspire you, try scoping around on the various tagged websites – these are only a few examples of the fun, creative, and inexpensive gifts that are out there!!

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Monday, December 2, 2013

How to Decorate the Tree, Martha Stewart Style

When I was a kid, decorating the Christmas tree consisted of winding a string of lights around the (real) tree, randomly tossing a hodge-podge of ornaments on, then throwing wads of tinsel at it. And it was pretty. I mean, it’s a Christmas tree covered in lights, ornaments, and tinsel; how bad could it be? But as an adult, I’ve learned that there are ways to get that Martha Stewart polish that really don’t take much effort.

So at the risk of sounding a bit snooty and know-it-all, I am passing along the lessons I have learned over the years. Feel free to take my advice or not; I’m sure your tree will be lovely no matter how you decorate it.

Lights Go on the Inside


When I was first married, my husband and I disagreed on the white vs. colored lights issue. He won, mostly because I had enough colored lights for a 3-foot tree and he had enough white lights for a 7-foot tree. (Honestly, he had enough lights for half a dozen 7-foot trees.) But what I learned from him about Christmas tree lights more than made up for losing that battle. He taught me the trick of burying the lights deep in the branches of the tree rather than simply wrapping them around at the tips. It takes a lot more time and requires a lot more lights, but the results give a depth of illumination that sets off the ornaments and gives the tree a beautiful glow that seems to come from deep within.
If you opt for a pre-lit artificial tree, as we recently did, be sure to get one with lights buried deep inside the branches. It’s well worth the extra cost.

Little on the Top, Big on the Bottom

No matter what type of Christmas ornaments you use, be it strictly glass balls or everything from kids’ creations to German blown-glass figurines, make sure they aren’t all the same size. Decorating a tree with similarly-sized ornaments all over makes it look disproportionate and top-heavy. If you already have a collection of various sizes, be sure to put the smallest ones at the top and the largest ones at the bottom. Like the magically growing Christmas tree in the Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker, this creates an optical illusion that makes your tree seem bigger than it really is.

This trick works best if you have similar types of ornaments in different sizes. For example, we use glass icicles all over our tree, and we have three sets: tiny, medium, and large. The tiniest ones dangle off the top branches, the largest nearly brush the floor at the bottom, and the medium ones fill out the middle. Ditto for our collection of various-sized snowflakes. The easiest type of ornament to do this with is the standard glass balls, which are available in many sizes. But if you have an eclectic collection of styles and shapes of ornaments, just put the smallest at the top and let them grow in size as you move toward the bottom.

Fill the Empty Space, Not the Empty Branch


This is a trap that is very easy to fall into, especially with a real tree. You see an empty space so you hang an ornament on the branch right in the middle of that space. But unless that ornament is a feather, it’s going to weigh the branch down and hang lower than where you put it. So fill spaces by hanging an ornament above the gap, let it settle, then see if it’s still in the right place. Heavier ornaments, obviously, will dangle lower than light ones; be sure to compensate for this. With an artificial tree, you can often bend the branches to tweak the ornament into exactly the right place; it’s a bit pickier with a real tree. Hanging the heavier ornaments first then filling in with lighter ones can make this technique easier.

Let ‘Em Dangle


Most ornaments are designed to dangle from a hook or loop of wire or thread; the crucial word being “dangle.” An ornament that’s resting awkwardly against a branch or hanging crooked because it’s bumping into something doesn’t look as nice as one that’s hanging freely. Adjust the placement of dangling ornaments so they aren’t propped against anything else. This is especially important for long or large ornaments, or anything with vertical lines. And it will allow glass and shiny ornaments to move slightly, making the tree's lights seem to twinkle warmly.

Don’t Overdo It



Finally, don’t pack on so many ornaments that you can hardly see the tree. This can be a hard rule to follow – I know it is for me! Every year we add another ornament or two to our collection, and it breaks my heart to not use any of them. But who says ornaments can only go on trees? I hang a few on the evergreen wreath inside the front door; you can make a nest of small ornaments around the base of a candle; tuck a few in a bowl of candy kisses; put them on an advent wreath; or strew them among some greenery on the mantel.

But however you decorate your Christmas tree, following these rules or not, it will be beautiful. Like babies and brides, Christmas trees are always beautiful by definition.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 25: Quirky

Most of my quirkiness is difficult to capture in a photograph. My quirks tend to be things like a hatred of talking on the phone, or a complete lack of a sense of direction, or the ability to come up with a line or lyric from a musical that fits any occasion, or a remarkable memory for remembering random actors' names. You can’t really take a picture of any of those things. But I do have one quirk that can easily be visually depicted: I love animal prints. Particularly leopard print. And it is a quirk which my husband loves to indulge (I’m not sure whether it’s because he thinks it’s sexy or because he thinks it’s hilarious, but either way I get leopard print stuff so it’s all good), so I do have quite the collection. I have a pair of leopard print ballet flats, a great leopard print shirt, various assorted leopard print undergarments, and even a pair of leopard print flannel leggings.

I’m not exactly a flashy dresser. In fact, there’s very little flashy about me. I’d much rather blend into the background than stick out and be noticed. And yet, every now and then I let my deeply-buried wild side peek out. And I love to do it with just one little flashy item of clothing. It might be my leopard print shoes, or my flashy retro leather jacket, or my bright red patent pumps. It might be my giant chandelier earrings, or my even more giant silver hoop earrings. One day it might be a pair of wacky socks, another it might be a T-shirt with a pithy saying on it, yet another it might be my screamingly purple capri pants.

It might not be the most interesting bit of quirkiness, but it’s my quirkiness. And I love being quirky. 

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 24: Word

“Word” is a hard thing to put into a photograph. I thought about taking a picture of the word “Home” in a wall-hanging I have that says, “Home Is Where Your Story Begins,” but I used that for a photo earlier this month. I checked out some words that were printed on a bunch of storage boxes that I was rooting through this afternoon, but nothing sparked my imagination.

Until I went to throw a load of laundry into the dryer and discovered that something that should have been in the colored load had made its way into the white load, and had turned it PINK.

One bath towel, three or four of my husband’s undershirts, several pairs of socks, a couple of hand towels, and a bunch of washcloths that were all formerly pure white are now a delicate shade of PINK. Even after a second washing with a generous dose of bleach, they are still undeniably, incontrovertibly, unchangeably PINK. 

The word “PINK” is, as of this load of laundry, a very hated word in my vocabulary. PINK is a pretty color, but it should not be associated with men’s undershirts, good towels and washcloths, or gym socks. Those things should all be as white as the driven snow. As white as a newborn baby lamb. As white as a standard poodle straight from the groomer’s salon. White white white. Not PINK.

And the thing that is MOST frustrating about the situation is that just last week I gave my husband a hard time for throwing something red into the laundry bin which ran all over a load of light-colored clothes, turning a number of them (including several brand-new pairs of my son’s underpants) PINK. In all my years of doing laundry (more than 30!), I had never turned anything PINK before, so I felt somewhat justified in yelling at him. But here I am, less than a week later, staring at a pile of PINK clothes which were never meant to be PINK. And  to add insult to injury, I still can’t even figure out what the culprit was. There was nothing red that snuck into the load; no wayward sock or balled-up t-shirt, no bit of crayon buried deep in a pocket, no escaped tube of lipstick. Only two many-times-washed pink shirts and a pair of relatively new white socks with bright pink stripes which don’t appear to have run. Even in hindsight, I can’t figure out what my mistake was.

So this photograph is an illustration of all the frustration, all the anger, all the hatred, all the powerlessness, and all the crow-eating that can be stored up in a single word which normally does not have any emotional associations: the word “PINK”.

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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 23: Simplicity

Remember during “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” when all the kids went trick-or-treating and listed all the great treats they got, then Charlie Brown said, “I got a rock”? We’re supposed to feel bad for poor old Charlie Brown, but when I think about most of the kids I know, they would think a rock was pretty cool. Kids love simple things.

Don’t get me wrong, my kids love toys that talk and move and make noise and light up and require batteries. They would both spend every day playing on my computer or my Kindle Fire if I would let them. But they can both spend an entire day playing with nothing but rocks and sticks and random bits of trash that they’ve found lying around somewhere, too. For example, my daughter has spent at least two hours over the course of the day today playing with this box. 

She puts things into it; she takes things out of it. She opens it; she closes it. She peeks inside to be sure that what she put in is still there. She trots it around to anyone else in the area and shows it to them. Occasionally she even hands it to them ceremoniously, announcing very solemnly, “Present for you.” Sometimes she informs her stuffed monkey, “Look, EE, box!” EE is a frequent resident of the box, too. She will often pack EE inside and then bring me the box and, with a twinkle in her eye, shout in a voice of mock horror, “Mama!!! EE gone. GONE!!!” And when I react with similar horror, she explodes into giggles, opens the box and says, “Mama, EE here! EE okay!”

The generic simplicity of a box gives it so many more possibilities than a toy that is specifically something. A cool toy pirate ship with a Jolly Roger flag that goes up and down and cannons that shoot Nerf balls and a loudspeaker that shouts, “Ahoy, mateys!” is fun and exciting, but it will never be any more or any less than a pirate ship. A big box, however, can be a pirate ship OR a rocket to Mars OR a speeding racecar OR a tent in the middle of a desert OR anything else a child’s imagination can come up with. Simplicity equals potential.

I think that’s why adult human beings are fascinated with children: because they have so much potential. The older a child gets, the more determined his path in life becomes. Every experience he has points him more specifically in a certain direction. Whenever he learns something new about himself, he becomes just a tiny bit limited by that knowledge. But a very young child, in his simplicity of thought and experience and education, is a beautifully blank slate on which can be written anything. If only we adults could have such simplicity!

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 22: Behind

According to the dictionary, “behind” has a whole list of meanings. It can be used as a preposition with five different meanings: at or toward the rear of; not keeping up with, later than; in the state of making less progress than; on the farther side of, beyond; and originating, supporting, or promoting. It can be used as an adverb with five more meanings: at or toward the rear, rearward; in a place, state, or stage already passed; in arrears; slow, as a watch or clock; and as a cause or often latent feature of. In addition, it can be an adjective meaning “following”, or a noun meaning “the buttocks” (tee hee).

There are a lot of “behinds” in my world in all the various senses of the word. I wipe behinds, I run behind, I find things behind other things, I am behind various causes, I frequently fall behind schedule. So when I considered subjects for today’s photo, there were a lot of different ways I could have gone. There are always a few interesting items that my kids have dropped behind the TV or the couch (Legos, socks, remotes, Matchbox cars, dust rhinos). They love to run around pants-free so a cute but tasteful shot of a naked behind racing past was an option. Their favorite hidey-hole happens to be behind a chair. They race around the house one behind the other. Come to think of it, most of the “behind” in my life has its source with my children, one way or the other.

But honestly, the first thing I think of when I hear the word “behind” is laundry. Somehow, no matter how many loads I run, I’m always behind on laundry. For a family that has a lot of clothes, rarely a day goes by when someone isn’t looking for some article of clothing that turns out to be in the laundry, be it in the laundry basket, in the washing machine, in the dryer, or folded in a pile on the stairs waiting to be put away. 

A pile of dirty laundry will always be foremost in my mind as a symbol of motherhood.

But despite the constant state of “behindness” of my laundry pile, there’s something special about doing my kids’ laundry. Matching up those tiny socks. Checking the pockets for rocks and bugs and acorns and other fascinating detritus of the day. Hanging up that fluffy party dress or that button-up dress shirt with matching necktie on a miniature hanger. Realizing suddenly that the baby clothes are looking more and more like big kid clothes. Replacing bibs with underpants. Noticing that the spitup stains have given way to grass stains. Recognizing that the clothes that I picked out are rarely seen and the ones they picked out for themselves are making more frequent appearances.

Laundry is a microcosm of kids growing up. Before I know it, they’ll be doing their own laundry for fear that I’ll ruin their favorite pair of jeans or that cool concert tee shirt. And I’ll be left with only my husband’s and my own laundry to do. I just hope that by the time that happens, I’ll be ready to leave their childhoods…behind.

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 21: I Wish I Had This

The irony of today’s topic does not escape me: take a photograph of something that I wish I had. Well now, if I had it, I wouldn’t have it to take a photo of, would I? I suppose I could “cheat” by posting a photo that I didn’t take, perhaps something from my Pinterest board entitled “Stuff I’ll Buy When I Finally Write That Best-Seller.” A fur coat, a pair of Louboutins, a Valentino gown, a jet ski, some really nice jewelry, a snazzy little convertible. But even that stuff isn’t really stuff I wish I had, at least not in the sense that I think about wanting it on a regular basis.

There really aren’t many tangible, visible, physical things that I want on a regular basis. I mean, I have passing wants. I want a glass of wine. I want a second cup of coffee. I want a pair of comfortable jeans. I want two potty-trained children. But those are all things that are well within my ability to obtain, if I want them badly enough and I’m willing to bide my time (okay, I’m starting to have my doubts about that last one, but I’m keeping faith that it will happen eventually). But I can’t think of any bit of “stuff” that I really, genuinely want that I can’t have.

I suppose there are intangible things that I want in passing, as well. I want to be able to play the piano well. I want my children to get along with each other. I want to publish a best-seller. And although I certainly have the ability to work toward making those things happen, none of them are completely in my control. I can improve my piano playing, but with a degenerative disease in my hands and limited practice time, I’m never going to be much more than a passable pianist. I can teach my children good manners and model interpersonal skills for them, but I can’t force them to be nice to each other every second of the day. I can write umpteen drafts of a book and send it to dozens of publishers, but if no-one want to publish it (or if they do, but no-one wants to buy it), I am simply not capable of making it a best-seller on my own. But it isn't really the end of the world to me if none of those things happen.

So what is it that I really, genuinely, continuously, deep-down, wish I had? I think, as so many moms of small children would answer, I wish I had more time

I wish I had more time to just sit back and play with my children. I wish I had more time to sit them in my lap and read to them. I wish I had more time to read classic literature and cheesy novels and young adult dystopian fiction. I wish I had more time to visit my in-laws and my cousins and my old college chums. I wish I had more time to work on writing that book and practicing piano and being in musicals and learning to cook gourmet meals. I wish I had more time to watch the sunrise and the sunset. I wish I had more time to stay up late catching fireflies and counting shooting stars. I wish I had more time to chat with strangers in line at the grocery store. I wish I had more time to get to know the other parents at my son’s preschool. I wish I had more time to snuggle with my husband in front of a fire with a glass of good wine in my hand and a symphony playing in the background. I wish I had more time to go see all my talented friends and family in their many performances. I wish I had more time to travel around the country and the world. I wish I had more time to take my kids to art museums and science museums and historical museums.

More time: I wish I had it.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 20: Communication

It never ceases to amaze me how communication has changed over the last century. One hundred years ago, the majority of communication was either face-to-face or by written letters. The telephone was just becoming common, and long-distance communication was more likely to be via telegraph. Within my own lifetime, we’ve gone from party lines and five-digit phone numbers (I still remember learning my phone number as “47398”), to seven digits, to multiple area codes, to e-mail and cell phones and texting and Skype and Facetime. My children have never even seen an actual rotary phone or any kind of phone with a cord attached. It makes me wonder what communication will be like when they’re adults.

But communication itself will never go by the wayside. Even though mail is not terribly popular, my kids delight in occasionally writing a “letter” to Daddy and leaving it in the mailbox for him to pick up when he gets home. They love sitting on Daddy’s lap when he Skypes with a friend far away. But most of all, they love chatting on the phone when anyone they know and love is on the other end. And by far, their favorite person to have on the other end of the line is Daddy.

Several times a day, at least, my daughter will pick up a phone (either one of our cordless phones or my cell phone) and chirp, “Hi, Dad!” She’ll even give it a hug or a kiss before solemnly and a bit sadly announcing, “Bye, Dad.” It’s reassuring to her to know that even when Daddy isn’t right here with her, he’s only as far away as the closest telephone.

And heaven knows, as a stay at home mom, I also find it reassuring that even though I may be at home with only my children for company, the company of a friend is only as far away as my phone or my computer or my Kindle Fire. I can give someone a call, shoot them a text, send them a message on Facebook, drop them an email, or chat on an online message board. Because of the wonders of modern communication, I am never far away from a friend. It’s a beautiful thing, communication.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 19: Where You Ate Breakfast

Yesterday’s Photo-A-Day was photo-centric rather than writing-centric, because I happened to take an especially artistic photograph. Today, however, will be the opposite, since today’s topic is rather self-limiting and since I ate breakfast in a less-than-aesthetically-pleasing place. 

This might just be the dullest photograph ever taken on the planet Earth. Or at least the dullest photograph ever taken by ME on the planet Earth. But this is where ate breakfast, so this is my photo of the day.

Well, to be honest, saying that I “ate” breakfast here is not entirely accurate. In fact, I drank my breakfast here. I often begin my day with coffee and e-mail, usually while my children are starting their breakfast in the next room. They finish their breakfast around the same time I finish my coffee, so by the time I get to the “eating” part of my breakfast, there is no single place I could take a photo to represent where I ate breakfast.

I suppose I could put together a video or a slideshow of all the various places where my breakfast eating takes place. Today it would have started with the kitchen counter, since my breakfast began by stealing a bite of the first half of my buttered English muffin while I was buttering the second half. This was mainly a self-preservation strategy, since as soon as I went downstairs to the playroom, my daughter (who has English Muffin Radar) attached herself to my leg chanting alliteratively, “Mama, muffin – me!” and because I am a sucker, I gave it to her. Sometimes she loses interest after a bite or two and I can reclaim part of it later from wherever she’s discarded it (this could be anywhere from on one of the couch cushions, to on the table, to the shelf in front of the TV, to the bathroom sink), but today she apparently polished off the whole thing. (Or possibly found a new hiding place. Eek.)

Since today is Tuesday, a day that my son goes to pre-school, I grabbed a bite of the remaining muffin half in between making sure he was dressed for school. I had to double-check that he had everything he needed in his backpack, so I also snatched a few bites in the front hall and in my son’s bedroom while I was digging out an extra pair of socks for him. We had a little time to play before Daddy took him to school, so a few more bites happened while building Lego towers and reassembling a Transformer.

Since I didn’t manage to retrieve a significant portion of my English muffin from my daughter, I grabbed a piece of toast after the boys left for school. My daughter (who also has Toast Radar) promptly came upstairs to the kitchen and begged to share my toast, but I turned her down because I am a Mean Mom. (Also, I was hungry!) But I did accept her pleas to sit and doodle around at the piano, so I broke my own rule about no food near the piano and played Chopsticks with her while I nibbled.

And I hadn’t quite finished nibbling when I realized how late it was getting, so I polished off the last few bites in my own bedroom while I got myself dressed to go out.

So, let’s see…that makes “where I ate breakfast” at my computer, in front of the toaster, going down the stairs, in the playroom, in the front hall, in my kids’ bedroom, at the piano, and in my own bedroom. Now aren’t you glad I only made you look at one boring photo instead of a boring tour of my whole entire house? Because pretty much my whole entire house is where I ate breakfast.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 18: Mirror

Being a writer rather than a photographer, I usually use the Photo-A-Day topic as inspiration for making some point about parenting, or family, or life, or for sharing some event that has happened to me. And even just a few hours ago, I fully intended to use today’s topic of “mirror” to show my children’s fascination with themselves and their faces and their bodies. I planned to take a few photos of them making faces in the mirror as they got ready for bed, or solemnly watching themselves brushing their teeth before bath time, as is their wont. But I got caught up in the usual routine and forgot to bring my camera upstairs until it was too late. So before I went to bed myself, I figured I’d see if I could catch an angle of my bathroom mirror that might reflect the toys and youthful detritus that inevitably remains scattered about after their bath. But before I got there, I walked through the darkened kitchen and this shadowed image, reflected in a different bathroom mirror, caught my eye.

I love the repeated rectangles, the echoing of the shape of the drooping tulip on its stem in the shadow of the doorknob and the soap dispenser at the bottom of the mirror. I love the tiny hint of blue in the door that shows it’s not a black-and-white photograph. I love the geometric lines shooting off at different angles. It’s just a mirror, a door, and a picture of a tulip, but the aesthetics bring a pleasure far beyond the mere subject.

Sometimes a picture doesn’t need to tell a story. Sometimes it just needs to be a mirror.

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 17: 5 O'Clock

It just so happens that today is not only Day 17 of the November Photo-A-Day project, but it is also my birthday. I began my birthday celebration last Wednesday, when my dear friend Amy treated me to a wonderful dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, and presented me with a fabulous birthday cocktail glass; it continued yesterday afternoon as my husband took me shopping for a dress for formal night on our upcoming cruise vacation and then to another wonderful dinner at another of my favorite restaurants; and it went on throughout the day today as my husband brought me coffee and an English muffin (my favorite breakfast) in bed, got the entire church to sing me “Happy Birthday” at coffee hour, presented me with a handmade present from my children, then made me the official “Birthday Girl” cocktail from the recipe on my new cocktail glass, IN my new cocktail glass, and is now making me a delicious dinner of pork chops.

So at 5 o’clock, I am happily watching my two beloved children romp and play while I am sipping a delicious cocktail and smelling the aromas of a dinner which I am not cooking wafting down from the kitchen, thanks to my fabulous husband.
I don’t mean to get overly maudlin, but it is amazing to me what has happened to my life in the past few years. Seven years ago, on my 38th birthday, I looked at an invitation to my 20th high school reunion and realized that I was not where I had intended to be at this point, and I decided to take charge of my life. I joined and within a year, I had met the man who would become the love of my life, my dear husband, and the father of my children. Within 7 months of meeting him, I married him; within a year and a half of that we had a wonderful son and within with two years of that we had a beautiful daughter. And now, two years after that, one of my dearest friends is someone I met because HER son is best buds with MY son; I spend my days playing with and teaching and loving my two children; I have a grown stepdaughter of whom I couldn’t be prouder; and I have a husband whom I love more than my own life. And I am a happy, alive, and vibrant 45 years old today.
Given all that, what else would I be doing at 5 o’clock other than making a toast? To Life!

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Photo A Day, Day 16: Play

Since I have small children, “play” is a large part of my life. My kids and I spend most of the day playing. We play games, we play with toys, we play with trucks, we play with dolls, we play dress up. We play board games, we play word games, we play playground games. We read, we build, we imagine. We have a whole toy box full of toys with which we play.
The toy box is like the wardrobe leading to Narnia: it’s small, but it leads to giant places. The boat at the right, especially when combined with the Barbie dolls, brings us to the pool, or the lake, or the ocean and teaches us fun and safety together. The tutus bring us to the ballet where we can spin and swirl and twirl to our hearts’ content, all the while learning about grace and posture and our bodies. The railroad track lets us build, create, and race, while we learn geometry and physics. The green ball and the bouncy glittery “eyeball” ball let us run and catch and learn yet more physics and fitness at the same time. The shape ball teaches us spatial relations and shapes. And playing together helps us learn manners and cooperation.
This toy box represents so much: childhood, learning, exploring, joy, sibling rivalry, sharing, parental love, imagination. All wrapped up in one single word: Play.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 15: In My Pocket/Purse

As the mother of two small children, the contents of my pocket and/or purse are varied and unpredictable. So when I realized as I was coming home from a dinner out with my family that I had yet to write today’s photo blog, I decided to take the “Come As You Are” approach and simply empty out my bag as is, with no adding or removing of items for the sake of a more interesting (or less embarrassing) blog entry.

This is the bag I brought to dinner tonight (the Chapstick is shown to indicate scale):

As you can see, this is a large but not enormous purse; about 12 inches across by 8 inches deep. But it holds more than you might think. These are the exact contents of that purse:

In this purse, I had two Kindle Fires, one with case; one diaper, size 4; one pull-up, size 6; three Matchbox cars and one Matchbox helicopter; two ballpoint pens; thirty-seven cents in change; a tube of cherry Chapstick; a box of Altoid mints; a hair elastic; a tube of lipstain/lipgloss; a bracelet; my cell phone; a pair of boy’s pants; a Richard Scarry board book; a barrette; a Kleenex pocket pack, nearly full; my wallet; four starlight mints; nine assorted crayons; and three used Kleenexes, not shown (you’re welcome).

Armed with this assortment, I could survive pretty much any unplanned outing with my children of less than a 6-hour duration. The cars, book, and crayons will keep them occupied for short periods of time and the Kindle Fires for longer; the mints (both kinds) will both stave off hunger and reward good behavior; the diapers, pants, and Kleenex will get us through most hygienic emergencies; the phone and wallet will get us through most other emergencies; and the bracelet and lipstain allow me to retain my grace and poise in any kind of emergency.

And that’s what’s in my purse.

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