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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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 14: Eating

For dinner tonight, my kids had hot dogs and fruit. My son (who weighs just over 50 pounds) ate half a hot dog, maybe half a dozen grapes, and half a glass of milk. My daughter (who weighs about 25 pounds) ate two entire hot dogs, a whole pear, a full cup of milk, and a full cup of apple juice. Although my son often eats a somewhat heartier dinner, this is a pretty typical meal for my daughter.

I don’t know where she puts it in that wee little body.

What I do know is how she gets it into that wee little body: a wee little bite at a time.

 Her eating style could be described as both a “Crammer” and a “Choker.” She tends to stuff as much food as possible into her mouth, and she also tends to get things caught halfway down (the latter is quite likely related to the former). Because of that, we generally cut her food into small bites, as you can clearly see in today’s photo. Since she now uses a spoon or a fork to put each piece in her mouth, limiting the volume in each spoonful significantly limits her cramming ability. When you see all those pieces of food on her plate at the beginning of the meal, you would never expect that she would be able to finish all that food, but finish it she does, and often some of her brother’s, to boot.

It reminds me just how much a single person can accomplish when they approach something one small bite at a time. Whoever guessed there would be such a profound life lesson in something as simple as watching a small child eating?

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Photo A Day, Day 13: Part of Me

I am posting this a day late because, quite honestly, I just didn’t get around to it yesterday. And I may be cheating a bit by pulling out an old photo instead of taking a new one. But my immediate first thought on hearing the words, “part of me” was the lyrics to Billy Joel’s beautiful song, “Goodnight, My Angel.”

Goodnight, my angel
Time to close your eyes
And save these questions for another day
I think I know what you've been asking me
I think you know what I've been trying to say
I promised I would never leave you
And you should always know
Wherever you may go
No matter where you are
I never will be far away

Goodnight, my angel
Now it's time to sleep
And still so many things I want to say
Remember all the songs you sang for me
When we went sailing on an emerald bay
And like a boat out on the ocean
I'm rocking you to sleep
The water's dark and deep
Inside this ancient heart
You'll always be a part of me

Goodnight, my angel
Now it's time to dream
And dream how wonderful your life will be
Someday your child may cry
And if you sing this lullabye
Then in your heart
There will always be a part of me

Someday we'll all be gone
But lullabyes go on and on...
They never die
That's how you and I will be

I loved this song before I had children, but once my own children were born, it rang true to me in a way it couldn’t have before. I rocked my babies to sleep with this lullaby many a night, and it brought tears to my eyes every single time. My children represent my future, my way of helping the world to continue on. They represent to me the promise of the future, the potential of greatness. I love to dream of “how wonderful their lives will be.” Their happiness is my happiness. Because they are a part of me. The best part of me. 

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 12: Clouds

As I’ve been working on this month of Photo-A-Day blogs, I’ve gotten into the habit of reviewing the next subject the night before, usually right after I’ve completed the previous entry. Sometimes I’ll begin thinking of ideas right away, and sometimes I’ll wait until the next day and wander around with my camera in hand, waiting for inspiration to strike. With today’s subject being “clouds,” I couldn’t do much to plan ahead, so I waited until today, intending to go outside in the morning, find a suitable cloud formation, and start clicking away.

But I woke this morning to the sound of raindrops pattering against my bedroom windows, and a quick peek through a crack between the drapes revealed a dull gray sky and big, fluffy snowflakes mixed in with the raindrops. There was not a single distinct or defined cloud to be seen, only a mottled gray curtain from horizon to horizon. 

But although the monotone grayness was not much to look at in its own right, it was a perfect backdrop for the gracefully arching, nearly barren tree limbs stretching across in front of it. Its neutral gray highlighted the bright gold and deep reddish-orange of the few leaves that were still clinging tenaciously to the branches.

Had there been a bright blue sky and fluffy white clouds behind the trees, I wouldn’t have appreciated or even noticed the fascinating cross-cross of the branches or seen the jewel tones of those last few leaves. Sometimes, a bit of bland is needed to make us notice the exciting. Even if it’s just bland clouds. 

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 11: A Memory

Six years ago this weekend, my now-husband whisked me away to New York City for a weekend of good food, good theater, and good conversation. We even shopped for my engagement ring that weekend – at Tiffany’s!! (We didn’t buy it there, but it was fun to look.) We had hoped to see Phantom of the Opera, but due to a stagehands’ strike that closed pretty much every show on Broadway, we ended up seeing the Met’s absolutely spectacular production of The Magic Flute at Lincoln Center. We ate at Ellen’s Stardust Diner and Maxie’s Deli. We took in the city skyline from the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center. We had cocktails overlooking Times Square. We strolled through Central Park. We asked friendly strangers to take our picture.

Despite the brevity of our courtship (we met in September, got engaged on New Year’s Day, and were married in April), I have many wonderful memories of that special time. But that first trip together, the one that made me even more certain that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with this man – THAT is the most special memory of all.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 10: Book

I love being able to have dozens, even hundreds, of books at my fingertips in the memories of my Kindle and my Kindle Fire. I was adamantly against e-books when they first came out, because I love the look, feel, and smell of a book. There’s something special and wonderful about watching a beloved book become dog-eared, its spine broken so it falls open at favorite passage, a “Velveteen Rabbit” transformation that makes it become more and more real even as it literally falls apart at the seams. (I found it deliciously illustrative when a large chunk of the book of Job fell out of my last Bible.) So even though I carry my Kindle all over and stock it with my favorite books, there are certain times, and certain books, when nothing but a physical, paper book will do.

Over the past week or so, I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite series, the Anne of Green Gables books by L.M. Montgomery. These delicious tales, set on Prince Edward Island in Canada beginning in the late 1800s, follow the life of young Anne Shirley as she is accidentally sent away from the orphanage where she had lived for the first 11 years of her life and is taken in somewhat dubiously by a pair of older, unmarried siblings who had intended to get a boy to help with the work on their farm. Over the course of six or seven books, Anne “grows in wisdom and in stature,” becoming a teacher, going to college, getting married, and having children of her own. A few additional books focus on her children and follow their lives.

Every book in the series is full of funny and poignant moments, from Anne’s ridiculous childhood scrapes and embarrassments that break her heart and bruise her dignity, to her near-loss of the love of her life (both to disease and to her own stubbornness), to the death of her firstborn daughter only hours after her birth. But the most heartbreaking and poignant stories anywhere in the books have to be the ones set during World War I, as Anne sends all three of her beloved sons to war; only two of them coming home. I’m not much of a crier when I read, but I will admit that I sob out loud every time Anne’s daughter Rilla reads her last letter from her brother Walter, written from the front the night before his death, as he tells her of his premonition of his own death the next day. We see the death of a soldier in war as experienced by himself, his mother, his sister, and his dear friend and would-be sweetheart.

Which brings me to another reason that I love physical books, especially paperbacks: the cover illustrations. There are many books with cover illustrations that capture perfectly the most important part of the book, that give you a tantalizing glimpse of the stories within. The Harry Potter books, illustrated by Mary Gran Pre, are good examples, as are several editions of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. But I would include the covers of the Anne of Green Gables books illustrated by Ben Stahl among my favorites as well. His art on the cover of Rilla of Ingleside, which covers the years of the war, portrays Rilla herself, her pale, lacy dress blowing in the wind off the ocean, with a soldier in the background, both of them gently lit by a full moon and the light of a lighthouse.

The soldier might be one of her brothers; it might be one of her childhood friends; most likely, it is her sweetheart, to whom she may have become engaged just before he shipped out. His identity is as uncertain to the reader as his fate is to the characters in the book.

As I look forward to Veteran’s Day tomorrow, I am thankful for all the soldiers who have served their countries over time immemorial, and for the families who kept the home fires burning, waiting anxiously for news of the safety of their loved ones. Thank you all for your service.

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Terrorized by a Turkey

(This story actually happened to a person of my acquaintance. Incriminating details have been changed to protect the turkey-traumatized.)

Once upon a time, a woman got in her car to drive to work. It was an ordinary day, much like any other. As she usually did, she checked her messages on the way. As she usually did, she pulled into the parking lot of her place of business and got out of her car, keys in hand, ready to unlock the door and prepare for her clients to arrive. But as she approached, she noticed a sinister shadow lurking in front of her office door. She heard a quiet, ominous sound, rather like…gobbling. There, in front of her very eyes, shaking his blood-red wattle and cocking his beady orange eyes at her, she saw…a turkey.

She screamed.

She stepped closer to the turkey. He took a step closer to her and raised himself to his full height of one and a half – no, two and a half – no, THREE AND A HALF FEET!!!

She got back in her car. Quickly. She beeped at it. It ignored her. She beeped at it again, longer and louder this time. It continued to ignore her.

She called the police.

No, not 9-1-1. Calling 9-1-1 over a marauding turkey would be CRAZY. Calling the regular police station number, however, is apparently a valid option. Unfortunately, the police officer who took the call did not agree that this was a police-worthy situation. He did, however, offer to call Animal Control, but was unable to say whether they would respond and how long it would take if they did. 

She hung up.

Expecting her first client any minute, she became more and more desperate to rid her office entryway of this foul fowl. She recalled that this morning’s first client’s father was a detective. She was relieved at the thought. Surely a detective would know how to handle a turkey!!! Sure enough, a moment later her client pulled in with her father. As they got out of the car, she approached him and asked for his assistance. (She was vaguely hysterical by this time, and the detective explained later that her plea for help consisted mainly of flapping her arms, spinning in circles, and repeatedly blurting out the word “TURKEY!” while pointing towards her office door.)

Once he figured out what the problem was, he was happy to put his professional experience to work in ousting the unwelcome visitor. As he walked toward the turkey (it is not clear whether he was walking menacingly or just, well, walking), the turkey ambled away. The detective gallantly offered to stay for a while to be sure the miscreant did not attempt to return.

There have been no turkey sightings since that time. What was it that scared him off? Was it the mere presence of someone wearing a police badge? Was it the threat of physical harm by an able-bodied man? Was it the rapid approach of Thanksgiving?

The world may never know.

(But personally, I think it was the turkey dance.)

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Photo A Day, Day 9: Mine

My favorite line from Fiddler on the Roof (and there are many – oh, are there many) is when Tevye is introducing his daughters to a guest and informs him, “This is mine, and this is mine, and this is mine, and this…this is not mine,” the latter referring to his eldest daughter Tzeitel’s would-be suitor, Motel, who is constantly hanging about Tevye’s home. Tevye is proud of his daughters but has little respect for Motel – at least, not until Motel shows some backbone and claims Tzeitel for his bride over Tevye’s objections. Once Motel becomes Tevye’s son-in-law (in other words, “mine”), Tevye treats him very differently. Whether something is “mine” because I earned it, I sought it, I worked for it, or merely because I inherited or otherwise stumbled into it, it becomes more valuable and more cherished merely because of its “mine-ness.”

We all have a natural pride in things we can label “mine.” I am proud of my car, even though it’s not stylish or cool, because I worked hard to save the money for it. It is mine. I am proud of my children, because they are a part of me, and because I have worked hard to make them into polite and pleasant people. They are mine. I am proud of my writing, because I have put blood and sweat and tears into making it interesting, entertaining, and insightful. I have put my heart and my soul into it. It is mine.

Some things we call “mine,” though, we really can’t claim credit for. My house is mine, but I didn’t choose it, or decorate it, or furnish it; I simply married into it. It is mine, and I love it, but I don’t take the same kind of pride in it as I do certain other things because I didn’t work for it or make it what it is. My stepdaughter is mine, but it would be presumptuous (and disrespectful to her own parents) for me to claim responsibility for the lovely young woman she’s become; I didn’t create her or mold her. She is mine, and I love her, because she is an important and dear part of my family, but I cannot claim credit for who she is.

Another important aspect of “mine” is things that are a part of me, in some sense; part of me that will live on when I am gone. Children, art, and writing are three examples of “mine” that live on past their creator. My children will pass on what I’ve taught them to the next generation. They are mine in the sense of being my legacy. An artist who creates physical works of art such as paintings or sculptures will live on through their works, looked on by future generations. A writer, whether a novelist, or a poet, or even a lowly blogger such as myself, can look forward to his words being read and perhaps thought about long after the author is in his grave. These “mines,” in a sense, are our immortality.

So what is it that symbolizes “mine” to me? Is it my children? My writing? Something tangible that I own? I think that the one thing that is most uniquely mine is my story, my life. Whether I put it into words on a page, tell it to others, or simply live it, my life is that one thing that is absolutely, uniquely mine. It is what it is because of my choices. I have made this path. I have cultivated the relationships around me. I may not have controlled the situations I have encountered, but I have the sole responsibility for the decisions I made in those situations. It is my story. MINE.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 8: Someone I Miss

The most obvious choices for the subject “someone I miss” would be my parents. My dad passed away in 2003 and my mom in 2011, and I still miss them every single day. Every once in a while there’s some event that makes me miss them so much my heart breaks all over again. For my dad, the worst was my wedding day when he wasn’t there to walk me down the aisle. For my mom, it was the day my daughter was born and my mom never got to meet her. But there are small moments every day when I think about how much I wish I could talk to them or show them something. I miss my mom every time I make something from one of her recipes. I miss my dad every time I fix something around the house. They are definitely the people that I miss most in the world.

But I decided on a different subject today. The “someone I miss” is someone that I miss not only because he left this life too soon, but because he left it before I really got a chance to know him as well as I would have liked: my late brother-in-law, Glen. The third anniversary of his death was just a few weeks ago, and looking back over photographs of him and his family brought to mind once again what a special person he was.

The first Thanksgiving I ever spent with my husband, before we were married or even engaged, we spent at Glen’s home. Despite having met me only briefly prior to the holiday, he and his wife welcomed me as family (I’m pretty sure that by the end of the visit they knew that I was going to be family, and soon, but they didn’t know at the start). Glen was cultured and intelligent and charming and witty and could very easily have made me feel like a country bumpkin, but his kind and gentle manner put me completely at ease.

Because he and his family lived four hours away, we weren’t able to get together as often as either family would have liked. But whenever we did get together, the stories flowed freely: funny childhood stories, funny college tales, stories of both brothers as young husbands and fathers. Often a tale was re-told, but it was somehow funnier and more interesting with every telling. My husband's whole family, and Glen in particular, had the gift of storytelling and they work hard to out-do each other, which results in a very entertaining time for the listener. I loved sitting back at family gatherings and listening to familiar tales grow in scale and humor over the months and years until they became the stuff of family legend.

And I also loved the close friendship that Glen and my husband shared. We often joked that Herb was Frasier Crane and Glen was Niles Crane. Like the Cranes, they shared a love for the finer things in life, particularly good food and good wine. Both pairs of brothers dressed well, although the younger in both cases had a marked preferences for fine European fashion and hand-tailored clothing and shoes. Like Frasier and Niles, there was often a good-natured one-upsmanship at play. And, like Frasier and Niles, despite occasional needling, each brother took a genuine pride in the success and happiness of the other. One of my favorite photos of Glen, which is also one of my favorite photos from my wedding, shows that wonderful camaraderie and happiness as clear as day.

I miss you, Glen. We all do.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 7: Yes

Parents of small children deal with minor frustrations every day. Frustrations such as finding three left shoes but no rights in the child's closet; such as realizing you're out of diapers (or, even worse, baby wipes) in the midst of a major poopsplosion; such as your child announcing AFTER you've spent 20 minutes putting on his ski jacket, snow pants, snow boots, hat, and mittens that he needs to pee. But one of the worst - and most common - frustrations that parents of small children face is toys and games comprised of small pieces, without any one of which said toy or game is non-functional.

In my children's playroom right at this moment, there is a Thomas the Tank Engine matching game that cannot be played without searching through the cards to remove any odd cards missing their match. There are at least three puzzles which are missing one or more pieces. There is a pair of Barbie dolls wearing only one shoe each. And there is a brand-new game called "Angry Birds Mega Smash" which is my son's pride and joy, his favorite toy since he received it for his birthday a few days ago. It's a cool game, it's just challenging enough that he has to really work and think to play it well, and (best of all) he likes playing with it by himself as well as with Mom or a friend. But it has too many blasted pieces, which somehow never manage to be in the same place at the same time.

To add insult to injury, it came with the pieces tucked into the wells of a molded plastic tray. You would think that would be convenient, and it would be, if it were being put away by an adult. But figuring out which pieces nest inside which other pieces to fill each slot is simply beyond the abilities of the average 4-year-old. Which means that Mom gets to put it away. And which also means that certain pieces CANNOT be put away until certain other pieces are found. You can't put away the pack of cards until you've stacked the three short planks that nest under them. And you can't put away the three longer planks until you've stacked the little triangles that support them. It makes cleaning up at the end of the day, instead of an exercise in orderliness and satisfaction in a job well done, an exercise in futility and a cause of gritted teeth and muttered swear words.

But the flip side of that frustration is a masterful sense of accomplishment when not only did you find all the little pieces but you figured out where each one of them goes. And when you look at that little molded plastic torture chamber, with each of its nooks filled with the corresponding figurine or building piece, you can't help but pump your fist in the air and cry out a triumphant, "YES!"

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 6: Music

Music is an easy theme for me, since both my family of birth and my family by marriage are full of musicians and music lovers. My mother played piano and clarinet and sang. My father taught himself to play piano and guitar and had a beautiful bass voice. My father-in-law was a professional trombone player who played with the likes of Tommy Dorsey and Louis Armstrong, and who served as the Dean of the Boston Conservatory of Music. My mother-in-law danced and sang in the first national tour of Guys and Dolls and was a Radio City Rockette. And one of the first things that attracted me to my husband was the fact that he sings barbershop and musical theater and plays several instruments, including the piano and the French horn.

I found out that he plays the French horn on our very first date. It was one of many things we discovered about each other that day that made me sure, even on that very first date, that he was The One. Because it just so happens that I play the French horn, too. Had we discovered we were both pianists, or clarinetists, or trumpeters, it wouldn’t have been so surprising. But you don’t run into a fellow horn player on every corner. So our commonality of interests served to me as a sign.

And because of that sign, I have a special love for French horns that is even deeper than the one I already had. A French horn is a particularly lovely instrument in its own right, with its twisting tubing and flaring bell; more compact than a trumpet, more symmetric than a trombone, more sleek than a tuba. The repeated circles and arcs in its valves and tubing and mouthpiece and bell give it a geometric elegance unique to the brass family. But beyond its visual beauty, it produces some of the loveliest sounds of any instrument. (Well, it CAN produce lovely sounds; anyone who has heard a beginning horn player is aware that it can also produce…let’s just say, less than lovely sounds, as well.) And when you, yourself, are able to use that instrument to produce lovely sounds, the image of a French horn becomes inextricably linked with feelings of pride and of joy. The instrument itself is a source of beauty in many different ways.

And for those reasons, one of my favorite items in my living room is my husband’s French horn, which perches artistically atop our glossy black grand piano. Not only is it beautiful in its own right as a physical object and as a creator of aural beauty, but what it represents of the connection between me and my husband is more beautiful still.

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 5: I Collect...

A lot of people I know have collections of things. Some friends of mine collect unusual and funny salt and pepper shakers. Several have collections of antique teacups. Another collects Bakelite jewelry. My aunt has a gorgeous collection of carnival glass. Others have collections of shoes, or purses, or wine glasses, or theater programs. Somehow, I’ve never managed to develop a love for one single thing that was deep enough to want a whole bunch of them. I have a few coffee mugs, but not really a collection. I have several blown glass vases, but not enough to consider them a collection. As a child, though, I did have one beloved – and extensive – collection: My stuffed animals. My collection was so extensive, in fact, that my dad built a circus wagon toy box to keep them in. (Which my sister occasionally used to keep ME in.)

My own collection is long gone, sold in yard sales, donated to the Salvation Army, or given to friends, with one single remaining prized member still residing in my bedroom (Lady from “Lady in the Tramp,” in case you’re wondering). But there is a new collection of stuffed animals in my home, belonging to my daughter. My son passed on a few of his old “stuffies,” my grown stepdaughter even handed down her much-loved “Chow-Chow the Cow,” and the collection continued to grow with every gift-giving occasion (and many non-gift-giving occasions), until her bed is so full of stuffies that there’s hardly room for her.

This photo shows literally only about a third of her collection. The pink sock monkey has a brown twin and a big brother; the giraffe has a big-eyed baby and a larger mother; the bears have a family the size of the Duggar clan (including in-laws) in every color of the rainbow; the elephant is joined in the jungle by tigers and hippos; and although the cheery pink monster dubbed “Goo” is unique, she has many friends of similarly unidentifiable or questionable species. This collection is a menagerie of epic proportion.

As is the case with many collectors and their collections, my daughter has a few special favorites among the bunch. As I’ve mentioned in the past, Pink and her sock monkey brother, E.E., are her constant companions. Goo is a favorite naptime cuddler, as are the various assorted giraffes. But there are no beasties in her collection whom she doesn’t love dearly, none who are never bestowed with great affection, not one who is not missed should he/she/it fall under the bed or behind the couch.

And, as is also the case with many collectors and their collections, my daughter is not in the slightest bit averse to constantly adding to her collection. She has more than enough love to go around. Just maybe not quite enough bed. 

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 4: Table

I have quite a few tables scattered throughout my house. Like most people, I have a kitchen table, a dining room table, and a coffee table, plus various assorted end and side tables. In the kids’ playroom, there is a small round table that we do art projects on. My husband’s computer sits on a table rather than a desk, and our office also contains a 6-foot folding table that is currently covered with various bits of random detritus (including, at the moment, two wrapped birthday gifts, a sleeve of tennis balls, a roll of paper towels, a plastic funnel, a stack of blank CDs, a box of computer and video equipment, and a box of…boxes).

But the table that spoke to me most eloquently this morning as I considered subjects for today’s photo was this one. 

I never really finished clearing it completely after my son’s birthday party on Saturday, and it looks so forlorn with its rumpled, askew placemats and stubbornly cheerful sunflower centerpiece. A small stain on one of the placemats and a few unbrushed crumbs on the table whisper of the celebration past. An empty crockpot and a pair of salt and pepper shakers are the only remainder of a delicious meal shared by the family. And the sheer number of placemats reminds me of my delight that both my mother-in-law and my father-in-law were able to join us despite recent health issues.

It’s just a table – and a messy, uncleared one at that. But it speaks of so much more.

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Photo A Day, Day 3: The Letter "P"

Considering that it is only a few days after Halloween, it’s practically a foregone conclusion that the subject of a photographic assignment involving the letter “P” would be a pumpkin. And that was my initial plan. After all, I carved two pretty spectacular looking pumpkins this year. And said pumpkins are sitting on my front step, artistically decorated with a drop or two of rain from earlier this morning and mottled with sunlight filtering through the few leaves still remaining on the trees. But as I was picking up my children’s toys on my way to grab my camera, I came across a different subject that I thought was even more appropriate for the theme.

Not only is it literally the letter “P,” but it is also a Puzzle and a Piano. And if we want to get really crazy about the theme, it was also a Present from a Pal! A friend of mine gave it to my daughter for her birthday.

I love this puzzle because, when she first got it, my daughter was just barely beginning to learn her letters, so she only recognized a few. But over the past three months, she has learned the entire alphabet (and she’ll sing you the song to prove it), she recognizes every picture and will tell you the letter that each one begins with, and she can put the entire puzzle together without assistance in the blink of an eye.

This puzzle reminds me how quickly she’s learning and changing. Both of my kids are. As we celebrated my son’s 4th birthday yesterday, I reflected on how much he’s changed in the past year. How much have I learned and grown over the past 12 months? Not noticeably. But within those same 12 months, my son has learned to read, to dress himself without help, to use the potty (mostly), to say “please” and “thank you” without prompting, to use scissors (and more importantly, to use scissors SAFELY), to ride a bike, to swim without water wings, and to write his own name. And in the same 12 months, my daughter has learned to talk, to run, to do a somersault, to ride a tricycle, to put on her own shoes, and to color inside the lines (mostly).

So do you know what other “P” word this picture makes me think of? “Proud”!!

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Photo a Day, Day 2: I Did This Today

Today was my son’s 4th birthday. In keeping with my family’s tradition from my own childhood, I let the birthday boy pick a design for his own cake. A few weeks ago, it was going to be a robot, but a few days ago, he changed his mind and insisted he wanted a monster truck cake instead. Since we had seen his favorite monster truck, “Bigfoot,” in person some weeks ago, I decided I would make a monster truck cake decorated like Bigfoot.

Being too cheap to buy a new specialty cake pan every year, I found a photo of a monster truck cake made from a specialty pan and figured out how to approximate it using standard cake pans. Last night, I baked a cake in an 11x13” pan, trimmed out a couple of wheel-wells (perfectly-sized samples, one for me and one for Daddy) and above the hood, sketched out my design, and waited for morning. This morning, I “crumb-coated” the entire cake with white frosting (a technique I credit to too many cooking shows to mention), and then carefully laid out my various colors of decorator frosting and my diagram, took a few big slugs of coffee, and set to work.

In about an hour, I had a passable looking monster truck. A few Halloween candies for garnish, a carefully matched pair of chocolate glazed donuts, 4 squiggly candles, and – voila!! The piece de resistance.

Granted, it’s not quite proportioned the way it should be. I gave up on trying to write “Bigfoot” in script like it is on the real truck. It could have benefited from having a little cartoon driver. And there was more white frosting showing behind the blobs of color than I would have liked. But the way my son’s face lit up when he saw it and announced excitedly, “It’s a monster truck cake!! It’s BIGFOOT!!!!!” proved to me that none of that mattered.

He didn’t care that it wasn’t perfect. He didn’t care that it wasn’t exact. He only cared that his mom had made something very special, just for him, just like he wanted.

I did this today!

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