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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Integrated Life

It's been a heckuva year, and it's hard to believe it's coming to a close. Wasn't it just BB's 2 year old birthday? Golly. As I do that traditional "take stock of the old and contemplate the new" thing, I find myself thinking about a phrase that our good friend M used recently to describe what 2010 should be like for us.

As many of you know, next month we will be moving to subsidized faculty housing on the campus where S works. It's an exciting opportunity. It will have challenges, of course, but on the whole this move should be a very good thing. Aside from the financial bonus, which will be considerable, the change should allow many other benefits. S will be steps from his office. BJ's preschool is less than a block away. The grocery store is right across the street. We'll be within an easy walk from the library, farmer's market, post office, ice cream shoppe, several good restaurants and coffee shoppes, and who knows what other neighborhood treasures. When I told our friend M about this, she said, "That's so great! You'll be living the integrated life."

And that phrase has really stuck with me. M went on to say how she actually grew up during a time that almost everybody lived a life like this. Suburbs, long commutes, residing in one place and working in another and doing your shopping/playing/living in still other distant locations -- in other words, living the way most of us live -- that's a relatively recent phenomenon for people, really. I'm not going to make official resolutions for 2010, but as I look forward to the New Year, I look forward to living The Integrated Life. I think it will be a very good thing for me and a very good thing for our family.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Inch Bedinch

BB has added another character to the household population of individuals, imaginary and otherwise: Inch Bedinch. S has suggested that Inch Bedinch has the makings of a children's book; we shall see. This much is clear: for BB, the adventures of Inch Bedinch follow one of the typical plot arcs from children's literature. "Inch Bedinch was bad. Then he turned out to be good!"

It's been great fun hearing her talk about Inch Bedinch. He fixes kids' toys, sleeps, eats, plays fun games, and makes mischief in general. The other night, she told us that she'd made up a song about Inch Bedinch. And then proceeded to sing it, naturally. What was interesting to me was that she sang the same song, almost word for word and with the same tune, several times in a row. It truly was something she'd "made up," not just something she was doing impromptu on the spot. Of course I couldn't resist trying to record it for posterity -- and she was happy to cooperate by repeating it for the camera. Yay!


Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Recap

Another Christmas has come and gone in a flurry of gifts and goodwill and general chaos. It was BB's first Christmas here at the house (her first one was spent on the East Coast and her second was spent with Nana J in Southern California). Santa had no trouble finding us, I'm happy to report. BB's Belle doll and BJ's orrery were both under the tree, much to their delight.

S and BJ got to work putting together the orrery right away while BB worked on the candy in her stocking.

For some time now, she's been asking about chocolate candies (the kind that are an assortment in a box) and wouldn't ya know it, but Santa brought her a box from See's!

And here she is showing me her candy cane kisses. (Don't ask me why the coy pose along with it!) She's seen them at Target a few weeks back and had longed for one. "Maybe at Christmas," I said. Is Santa smart or what? ;-D

Our "big" gifts to the kids: a rocket ship play tent for BJ and a dollhouse for BB.

Pop-pop and Giki had sent along some darling Calico Critters furniture and a little cat family to populate the dollhouse. BB has been having a wonderful time setting everything up!

Lest one get the impression that BB has turned entirely into a "girly-girl" with her dollhouses and princesses, let me point out that it was BB who insisted that BJ's new snake (dubbed Slithery) should join them in blasting off into space. Slithery was a stocking gift. As S put it, "A little boy can't have too many rubber snakes." I beg to differ but wasn't going to argue the point, especially when BJ was clearly delighted with the newest member of his serpentine family. Slithery was so special that he gets to sleep in the gorgeous treasure box that Grandpa D made for BJ!

Grandpa and Grandma gave some very special gifts indeed. In addition to BJ's box, Grandpa had made BB a wooden doll cradle. He's such an artist with his woodwork! She really likes it. Bonus for the vintage Cabbage Patch doll and handmade bedding (thank you, Grandma C!) that just rounded out the gift perfectly. Naturally she set about undressing the doll right away and tucking her into bed.

Grandma had also sent a nifty talking solar system "computer" that instantly became the control panel for BJ's rocket ship expeditions.

Other highlights of the day:

I was very pleased to have finished making the doll clothes for BB. I'd repurposed them from some old clothes of mine, a pink silk shirt, cotton skirt, and blue knit shirt. I keep meaning to get a better pic; for somebody whose sewing skills are still those of a fair beginner, I was quite proud!

A gears toy for BJ from Pop-pop and Giki. He was thoroughly fascinated!

A neat princess hat for BB -- thank you, Auntie B, Uncle R, and cousin B!

The kids got jewelry for me -- with S's help, BJ chose a pretty pair of opal flower earrings and BB selected an enamelled necklace in blues and aquas.

I also got the scanner I asked for (thank you, S!) and look forward to having fun with that.

S received several games and neat t-shirts. (As well as his early gift to himself, the custom made top boots that he's longed for ever since first going to a Ren Faire as a teenager. I've yet to spend as much on any pair of shoes for myself! But I was glad to see him splurge.) I was pleased to have found this clever shirt at the shop of fellow Etsian Broake & Thumb. S laughed aloud when he opened it, which is always a good sign. The caption says, "Beware the Smiling Dungeon Master."

For the first time in a long time -- perhaps the first time since we started to cohabitate back in 1996! -- it was just us for the holiday. Us and the kids. Every other Christmas has either been spent at one of our parents' houses or spent at our house with one or more parents visiting. Odd to be on our own, but nice in a quiet way.

And probably a good thing it was just us, given how dinner turned out. I had decided to make the traditional "Happy Birthday Jesus Cake" on Christmas day instead of Christmas Eve. My mom always made it on Christmas Eve, and now I think I know why: all about the scheduling.

As I was working on the cake during the afternoon, my heart sank when the 7 minute frosting failed to set up. I've had trouble with this frosting recipe for several times in a row now, so I ended up making a second batch of frosting after an emergency call to Mom to try to troubleshoot what had happened. Second batch worked out -- I think it was a slight bit of oil remaining in the Circulon pan which I'd used the first time, as well as every other time I've made this recipe. Using a stainless pan seems to have solved the problem! But by now I was running into the time I'd set aside to make Christmas dinner. Frantically trying to frost the cake and get the ham glazed and start the sweet potatoes cooking.

Rushing in the kitchen is almost always going to go badly, in my experience. Not only did I misspell the inscription on the cake -- and not realize it until it was time to cut the danged thing!

But, even worse, I turned off the stove so it had no heat during the last 45 minutes that everything should have been cooking. The ham had been baking for an hour when it was time to glaze it and start the sweet potatoes, and in the process of turning on the timer for those last crucial 45 minutes, while I was running around trying to finish the cake (see above) I apparently turned off the entire oven.

And didn't realize it until I went to pull everything out 45 minutes later. Instead of everything being done, everything was lukewarm. Oops.

Thank heavens for the microwave! It salvaged everything, at the expense of a dry ham, and dinner was only 25 minutes late. But at least we were still able to eat.

I still had my knickers all in a twist about the near-disaster of dinner when we got a phone call from my brother-in-law -- which put everything very quickly in perspective. The entire family had been hit by the flu! And if that wasn't bad enough, M had been at the hospital all day with his 8 month old daughter K because she was so dehydrated that she needed an I.V.

In comparison with that a healthy, relaxed day at home with a dinner time comedy of errors to conclude it suddenly seemed like exactly what Christmas should be. I knew I had lots to be thankful for before M called, of course, but as I got off the phone with him I felt especially grateful. So many Christmas blessings! I am a very, very lucky woman indeed.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas Eve!

In a little while, when the kids have finally fallen asleep, S and I will retire to the living room to wrap a few more presents while we do our annual viewing of It's A Wonderful Life. It ended up being a nice Christmas Eve, though it had a rough start -- I was up at 4 a.m. with BJ because he'd had a nightmare, and I never really got back to sleep. So I didn't have as much patience as I would have liked today.

Nevertheless, we managed to have many nice moments. Such as this one, when BJ came up to me while I was doing dishes after dinner and said, "Mommy, let's cuddle!" Thanks to S for snapping the pic.

I was very glad to feel fairly on the ball today, in spite of being tired. I'd finished a few last errands on Tuesday -- while BJ was at preschool (his last day before the holiday) S watched BB so that I could have some solo Get Stuff Done Time. Amazing how efficient I've gotten and how much I can get accomplished when I don't also have to watch one or more short people!

Today's big task was another batch of gingerbread cookies so we'd have some to leave out for Santa. Here they are in the middle of the table, along with carrots for the reindeer (8 of them, as requested by BJ). The kids are having bedtime snack and doing the last flap on their advent calendars.

This evening, we did our annual family tradition of the one gift on Christmas Eve: new pajamas for everybody. Here are the kids showing theirs off:

I'm not going to make baklava after all this year, considering that BB can't eat it yet (no nuts until age 3) and BJ had announced he doesn't like it. Even when I give lots away, there's lots left over, and we aren't having any company this year. So S and I don't really need to eat all that buttery goodness all by ourselves, I decided. Also decided to buck family tradition and make the Happy Birthday Jesus/Welcome Winter cake tomorrow!

By the end of the day, both kids were pretty danged wound up. Case in point: this little video clip of The Christmas Dance. Excited much???

It will be interesting to see how long it takes them to crash. I don't hear antics in the bedroom, but that doesn't necessarily mean much. I'm looking forward to tomorrow, a relaxing family day. With lots of gifts (in spite of our promises to keep it small... sigh) Here are the kids eyeing the loot!

Merry Christmas Eve! May tomorrow be full of joy and love for those of you who celebrate Christmas! (And for those of you who don't, too!)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Darkest Day

It hardly seems possible that today is the solstice already -- yet here we are, on the darkest day of the year. I wasn't able to do much beyond lighting a candle tonight. But all day I've been thinking about darkness and the symbolism inherent in the day, and all day I've been wishing I could do more to notice the turning of the wheel of the year. (Well, not all day. In truth, most of the hours were full of the quotidian realities of caring for the kids, the necessary distractions of being a mom. Which is probably a good thing, given my typical thoughts on the first day of winter.)

Among other musings, I found myself thinking about poems and poetry. Several times today, I could almost feel that that faint, once-familiar itch, just out of reach -- the subconscious sensation that once upon a time would have meant a poem was near. The stillness that would allow me to hear the whisper of the beginning of a poem is not, at present, part of my life. It's been a long time since it was.

The fact that motherhood does not, for me, for now, inspire poetry is a painful thing to acknowledge. Yet there it is, and that's how it's been for years. Nearly five of them. I anticipated that I would write less once the kids were born, especially during their younger years. Of course I did. Granted, I didn't fully understand how radically my life would change when I became a mother (among other things, as the ninth month of pregnancy with BJ approached I found myself thinking things like, "Gosh, I can't wait for this baby to be born so I can get comfortable in bed again and finally get some sleep!" HA!!!) but I wasn't so naive as to think I'd be able to court the muse on a regular basis. At least not while there were newborn babies in the house.

But I didn't expect that poetry would all but cease to be part of my life once my children were born. While I was pregnant, I'd think about poets who wrote achingly beautiful poems about their children, about babies, about motherhood, and I'd tell myself, It's OK. It's possible. Motherhood and poetry can mix. (Then again, if pressed for an example, more often than not I'd cite Sylvia Plath's Morning Song. Not the best model there, in the larger picture of things, even though the poem itself is beyond lovely.) So it was a surprise, and a sad one, to realize that my muse had gone almost entirely silent when my babies arrived.

I trust that, someday, the poems will come again. I have to trust that much. Because here, now, if I didn't believe in their return then this would be a dark, dark day indeed. Sometimes it is an acute sense of absence, a longing for quiet and focus. More often, it is a lingering feeling of loss -- but more and more I find myself missing it, the harmony that is living alongside the song of the muse.

I still consider myself a poet. Among other things, I maintain a poet's awareness of detail and a poet's fascination with musical language. I've played with rhyme and meter in the drafts I've written as I explore ideas for children's books, and that's done something to keep myself from despairing that I'll ever write poems again, but it doesn't feel at all the same as trying to hear the quiet melody of my own muse singing. Mostly, I've dealt with the absence of poetry in my life by keeping my hands busy (with making jewelry, doing beadwork, knitting, and other crafty pursuits -- not to mention the less exalted busy work of being a mom and keeping the household running somewhat smoothly). I've also dealt with it by blogging. Blogging helps. Helps quite a bit, actually. Much more than I'd thought it would. But it ain't writing poems.

Much as I enjoy dashing off nearly daily entries, and glad as I am that I'm keeping this family record, it just isn't the same.When I found myself itching to jot down lines today, I almost didn't recognize what was happening. At first, I just felt irritable. (Granted, the stir-crazy, cabin-fevered kids, stuck inside thanks to the pouring rain, were doing their part to contribute to the general aura of annoyance.) But then, as the kids were momentarily engrossed in their own little play projects, I had a small space of focus to pay attention to what I was feeling. And I realized it was the itch to jot down lines, to play with words, to net an image in the weave of words. And almost as soon as I'd identified the urge, the kids demanded my attention again, and the moment was gone.

It feels both alarming and exciting to sense that perhaps the poems are nearer than I'd imagined. When I sat down tonight at the computer, I thought at first that I might be able to recapture the afternoon's impulse towards poetry. But nothing doing. Instead, I found myself writing up this post and browsing back through old files, reminding myself that once upon a time I was a poet who actually wrote poems.

Few things are as fundamentally true for me as the cyclical nature of existence. The wheel of the year is a comforting image, both in its specific symbolism for the passage of time and in its reminders that change is constant, that pattern and balance continue -- dark and light, death and life, destruction and creation. All those familiar dualities, always shifting. On this darkest day, I'm remembering that tomorrow marks the return towards the light. It might also, it seems, mark the return of poetry. In honor of that, I thought I'd close with an old favorite that I found in the files tonight. Happy Solstice.


It need not be exotic
as a pomegranate
or permanent as death.
It need not drag you down
against your will into the dark,
into the depths of Hell.

Yet it can begin with nothing
more than the small, hard seeds
of sorrow, deliberately swallowed.

You have been lonely for a long time,
so long the orchard of your body
chokes with weeds. You have considered
poison. You stand at the kitchen sink,
knife in hand, eating a smiling slice
of what seems like an ordinary apple.

Devour the fruit, seeds and all.
The cyanide in an apple
is found in the seed, not the flesh.

Then, wait.
Even the bitterest pit
can germinate. Rooting within you,
it will branch throughout your body,
until the fall, when your heart hangs
as heavy as ripening fruit,
bearing more on the bough
than you ever thought possible.

Do not hoard the unexpected yield
against the emptiness of winter.
It will blossom again.

And again. In snow.
In summer’s drought. In spring’s wet embrace.
This is Persephone’s hard lesson:
if you’ve eaten the heart’s own harvest,
the season of love can last all year.

After the first descent into darkness,
you know to wait for what will grow.
You learn to find love where there is no light.

-- Jennifer Johnson, 2003

Saturday, December 19, 2009


It's been a bit crazy around here for the past few days -- the usual holiday preparations, of course, combined with the fact that I was laid up for all of yesterday with some strange sort of something that had me coughing and exhausted all day. Luckily, S was able to be home so I could sleep the day away. (And sleep it away, I did! Apparently, I really needed the rest.) It had come on really suddenly, and it seems to have left about as quickly. I was feeling much better this morning. Weird.

Is it really possible that Christmas is less than a week away? Golly. Thank goodness for online shopping. (Not just because it keeps Mama's Magic Studio in business!) Thank goodness, too, for the fact that I was pretty on the ball about things so didn't have to pay outrageous last minute shipping. I'm all but done with my shopping! Almost all of my gifts this year are either made by me or bought online (and many of those are from fellow Etsians). It's a good feeling to know that I didn't have to fight the crowds. The big downside: our bedroom got all but taken over by stacks and stacks of cardboard boxes. Over the last few days, I've started unpacking the boxes and wrapping stuff to put it under the tree, but there are still some boxes to open and deal with! I think we've had a delivery to the house every day except one for the past two weeks.

Other holiday miscellany worth noting:
  • BB, for some reason, has decided that angels are not called angels. She is calling them "mermaids." This is particularly true of a little stuffed snowman angel that Nana J. gave to her as an early Christmas gift. She calls it her snowman mermaid.
  • I have yet to make my baklava. I'd hoped to do it Friday but got sick. We'll see if I'm up for it soon....
  • We had a nice time earlier this week decorating gingerbread cutouts with our friend C. Her little brother O is scooting all over the place now, which fascinates BB and BJ. Both my kids had some baby love going on. Very cute.
  • We pulled out the Little People Nativity play set that my folks got for the kids last year, and it's been fun to see the kids play with it. BB likes to have little conversations with the figures, moving them about in typical kid fashion. BJ is more interested in setting up exact replicas (he likes to follow the picture on the box) and he's been reading enough Christmas stories that he now knows there "should" be three kings in the scene. The kings were not included in the set, so he borrowed two kings from our Little People castle. We don't have a third king so he settled for having King Three played by the Little People Robin Hood. Pretty funny to see that little setup around the tiny plastic Baby Jesus.

We have yet to make it down to Christmas in the Park downtown, which I hope happens soon (if the weather cooperates). I think the kids would really enjoy it. We also hope to go see some Christmas lights sometime after dark. Christmas cards have yet to be ordered, a few more stocking stuffers need to be purchased, and much wrapping of gifts is yet to be done. So there's plenty to fill up the few days left -- but all told, I'm feeling pretty relaxed about it all. Probably much of that is because for the first time since we've had kids, it will just be us for Christmas. It will be a low key kind of day (aside from the excited kids, of course) and that's just fine with me. After all, when we'd have Christmas at home in Delaware, the family tradition was to stay in our PJ's until well into the afternoon!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

So THIS Is What They Meant!

All through my pregnancy with BB, as I chased around my not-quite-2-year-old BJ, people kept telling me, "Oh, it's so much easier with two! And yours will be so close in age, they'll be able to keep each other entertained. Trust me -- it's SO much easier with two!"

And I have heard variations on that reassurance running through my head, with a steadily ironic tone, all through having two kids in diapers, all through trying to keep a 2 year old occupied while breastfeeding a baby (again, and again, and again), all through night after sleep-deprived night with two kids who didn't sleep through the night, all through feeling like the only way I could possibly survive being a parent of two kids 22 months apart would be to clone myself....

Day after day, night after night, with no Mommy clone in sight, I kept telling myself: It will get easier. It has to.

Only within the last 6 months or so had I begun to see glimmers of what those well-meaning folks might have meant. And just now, as both kids were driving me wild by being underfoot while I'm trying to make dinner, I finally got down to their eye level and said, not unkindly, "That's enough! You two go play together for half an hour! I'm done!"

And, without even the slightest hesitation, without even a peep of complaint from either one of them, BJ grabbed BB by the hand and they galloped off to the kids room. They have spent the last 20 minutes deeply involved together in some elaborate scenario that (as best I can tell from eavesdropping a bit) seems to involve re-enacting The Lorax (incidentally, last week's movie night choice for BJ) while also setting up a zoo all over the living room.

I know it won't always be like this. Hoo boy, do I know it well. But 20 minutes of playing together contentedly simply because I asked them to? Enough time for me to get dinner going and check email and even write up this blog post?

The heavens might as well open up above me now, with a full choir of angels singing "Hallelujah!"

Monday, December 14, 2009

On Nicknames, Monsters, and Robot Reproduction

Exciting nicknames have never been my strong point. It seems there's only so much one can do with "Jennifer Johnson." Most grownup folks call me Jen these days, unless you're chatting with me online for Etsy, which leads to the predictable handle of "Mama." Hardly inspired, I know, and merely one more variation on the Mama/Mommy/Moooooom! label, which I get called most of all, given that BJ and BB use it heaven knows how many times a day. When I was teaching, I was "Miz J." If you knew me before I was 5 years old, you can get away with calling me Jenny. For a brief, ill-advised time in middle school, there was a halfhearted attempt made at "Jeffer." I know, I know. Hardly the stuff of which memorable monikers are made.

Finally, thanks to playing pirates with my son yesterday, I have a nickname to be proud of. He dubbed himself "Bad Head" and then asked me what I should be called. I made the (admittedly rather lame) suggestion of "Big Mama."

"No," he said. "You can't be that. Pirates don't have mommies." And then he went on to dub me Bad Bully McMeanie.

Even S was jealous of that one when I told him!

But that's OK, because I'm kind of jealous of the book that BJ made for S. S has been gearing up to play Dungeons and Dragons again, after a hiatus of a good 15 years (which is the worthy subject of another post entirely, actually) and his preparations are really interesting to the kids. Minis! Books with neat pictures! Monster manuals! It's all very cute. Over the weekend, BJ made S a book called "Masters of the Dungeon," in which he created an alphabetical list of all the monsters he had imagined along with scribbled drawings. My favorite: N is for Nut-nu. And lest anybody be worried, he made sure to inform us that all of his monsters are friendly and will help fight off the bad monsters. So there you go.

One other thing I wanted to note about BJ's quirky creativity this week. He was holding forth at length a few days ago in the car, telling us all about the robots that he was going to create when he became a scientist. I don't remember even half of the details that came from his imagination in a torrential rush -- but I do recall the gist of his explanation about how the robots would make baby robots. It would involve a worm and a rock, and the mommy or daddy robot would somehow ingest these, and it would make a little baby robot. Interesting symbolism, eh? To my knowledge, he's not yet been given any "birds and bees" facts about sperm and egg. (I sure hope that at age 4 he's not getting that information from anywhere other than conversations with me or S, and I know we've not mentioned it yet.) Almost enough to make ya believe in a collective unconscious, isn't it?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Noun Girl Vs. Emily Elizabeth

For some time now, we've had a rivalry escalating here in the Mama's Magic household. Not sibling rivalry, exactly -- though it is manifesting itself as a contrast in preferences between What BB Likes and What BJ Likes. No, not something as simple or predictable as sibling rivalry. It's much quirkier than that. (Which, given our family, is perhaps not too surprising.)

To be specific, BB has taken a shine to Emily Elizabeth (of Clifford fame). And BJ has declared that he likes the Noun Girl from Schoolhouse Rock. BB likes Noun Girl OK, but for BJ, Emily Elizabeth is anathema. In fact, almost all things Clifford related are likely to lead to him launching into a diatribe about how much he dislikes Emily Elizabeth. (Apparently, this issue has shown up even at preschool -- the teacher informed us that the last time she tried to read a Clifford book to the class, he turned his back on her and every other kid in circle time, declaring, "I don't like Emily Elizabeth!")

Now one wouldn't think that these two fictional characters would have to be in competition with one another, but clearly that's the case in BJ's world. It took only a little prodding to figure out why -- to his mind, they are too much alike. As far as he's concerned, Emily Elizabeth is no better than a knock-off Noun Girl wannabe. Granted, they do have their similarities:

Never mind the fact that Emily Elizabeth is much better known .... for heaven's sake, she actually has a name and doesn't require elaborate explanation as to whom she might be! Whereas Noun Girl.... you can imagine the conversations I've had when BJ gets going about all this. ("Remember School House Rock from the 1970's? Those cartoons they used to play to teach kids? Remember the ones about grammar? No, not Conjunciton Junction. That was one of my favorites, too. BJ likes the one about Nouns. Yes, nouns. He especially likes the girl who is in the video....") I really try not to make him feel silly as he's overhearing my explanations, even though I often feel silly holding forth about it. (The other version of this conversation goes somethig like, "Oh, that's right, you weren't born back in the 1970's, were you? Well, there were these cool cartoons about grammar. Yes grammar....")

In spite of puzzled looks, his heart belongs to Noun Girl and that's all there is to it. It's been that way for weeks (if not months). The boy is nothing if not an individual.

I'm just grateful that BB is mostly patient with his insistence. And while the preference on his part is still strong, he showed a glimmer of flexibility last week when we were at the book fair at his preschool. He saw a Clifford book on the shelf (The Smallest Snowman) and asked if we could get it for his sister. "Because she likes Clifford and Emily Elizabeth!" Surprised, I pressed him for a promise that the book wouldn't pose a problem. I told him I wasn't going to be happy if we brought it home and it ended up causing him to fight with BB. "I won't," he assured me. And he's been true to his word!
Apparently, the addition of winter clothing and polka dot boots is enough to differentiate the two images in his mind. He'll even sit with us when we read the book, which is something he still refuses to do for other Clifford books. Who knew that accessories could be so important to a four-year-old boy?

Whatever the cause, I'm not complaining. Honestly, the whole thing is so odd and funny that I usually have to suppress a giggle even when it escalates to screaming between BJ and BB (which has happened more than once). I have to say, I anticipated doing some refereeing when I became a mom, but I never imagined I'd be negotiating this particular debate. Heck, I didn't even know the Noun Girl Vs. Emily Elizabeth debate existed!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Visit to Santa

We visited Santa today! Here we are getting ready to leave. (Tia M, note the pink purse! BB loves it! She'd stuffed it full of things to show Santa, important things like puzzle pieces, a pirate eye patch from the dress up box, a stuffed fabric coin....)
When we got there, we didn't even have to wait in line. Santa was hanging out as though he'd been waiting just for us! The kids warmed up pretty quickly and had no problem telling The Man In Red what they'd like for Christmas. BJ said, "I want an orrery!" And then went on to explain to Santa, just in case he didn't know (and frankly, I'm not so sure that the explanation was unwelcome!) that an orrery is a model of the solar system that moves around and has the sun and all the planets. BB's request was more firmly in typical preschooler territory: she wants a Belle princess doll.

Here's what happens when you tell our kids to smile for the camera:

Because you know, that visiting Santa ordeal is a grim business!

Here's my favorite one of everybody but BJ:

And lastly, this one was voted by the family as the best picture of them all. We plan to use it for holiday cards this year. Which we do have every intention of sending! We're just waiting to hear about our P.O. Box which will be our new address once we move on campus, so we can let folks know about that at the same time:
I can hardly believe Christmas is just two short weeks away. Most of my shopping is done, thankfully -- this year, almost all of it was done online. I'm making a fair chunk of the gifts this year, which is fun, as well as purchasing several gifts from other handcraft artists. I'm not yet ready to go full-on with a handmade holiday, though that's an admirable goal. Maybe someday!

Next up: baking! Baklava! Praying the rain breaks so I have good weather to make meringues!


Ah yes, the yearly sugar rush that is December. The kids have been eager to begin the holiday baking projects, and they could no longer be put off when even the advent calendar insisted that the sweetness should begin -- as I mentioned, we've been following a lift-the-flap Peanuts calendar that has daily suggestions for holiday activities. (Thanks again, Giki; we've been really enjoying it!) On Wednesday, the idea was to "make a holiday treat to eat."

I whipped up a batch of gingerbread for cut out cookies, since both BJ and BB have been clamoring for those, but both kids were impatient to make something right away. Our pantry was a bit bare, but I managed to scrounge up something fun and sufficiently sweet. Impromptu marshmallow snowmen!

A very easy, transitory treat: large marshmallows are the "snowballs," chocolate covered sunflower seeds for decorations (any small candy would work), and fruity licorice laces for "twig" arms. I gave each of the kids a small dish of honey to use as glue and let them loose!

I had some colored tube frosting on hand, so we used a bit of that for decorating as well. They didn't stand on their own for too long, because the honey tended to slide, and we found out when BB wanted to save hers for later that after a while the honey flavor is a bit much and does odd things to the marshmallow texture. If I were to do these again, I'd probably make a stiffer white frosting to use as adhesive. But for a small eat 'em right after you make 'em project, it was perfect!

Later that afternoon, the kids had a lot of fun making gingerbread cookies.

Especially because I didn't make too much of a fuss about the fact that they were as interested in eating the frosting as they were in icing the cookies.
BB has the sniffles, so I'd already decided to get territorial about the cookie creation process and separate out his from hers (and theirs from the ones I made for me and S) so that germ sharing would be as minimal as possible. So having decided as much, I figured what's a little extra spoonful of sugar here and there? Especially if it turns your teeth bright red, much to BJ's delight. It's a Christmas color after all!

Friday Feature -- CalKat the Jewelry Junkie

This week's Friday Feature is also the featured Etsyblogger for the month of December -- CalKat the Jewelry Junkie! Actually, there are several shops associated with the incredibly creative team of Carrie and Kathy: CalKat, Ametista, the Clay Shoppe and YogaFairies.

I had a great time checking out all these shops full of pretty shiny things, and was utterly charmed by the Yoga Fairies, particularly this purple Namaste pose!

CalKat was kind enough to take time from their busy holiday schedules to answer a few questions. Enjoy the interview!

1. Please tell us about the items in your Etsy shop. What do you make? How did you learn your craft? What is involved in your creative process?

We make one of a kind artisan jewelry. We use only high quality gemstones and precious metals. In our other three shops we work with polymer clay as our primary medium along with recycled glass and wood.

We began 7 years ago designing and creating artisan jewelry under the tutelage of our dear friend Suzanne Colucci of Belandaria Designs. What we didn't learn from Suzanne we learned from books and experimentation.

Our use of polymer clay was a progression in to a more flexible medium, something that allowed us to be creative and widen our spectrum of items.

2. To which Etsy Teams do you belong?

EtsyBloggers Team

Polymer Clay Artist Guild of Etsy (PCAGOE Team)

Etsy Dark Side Team

3. How did you get involved with Etsy?

We heard about it and fell in love with it. It seemed to us the perfect venue for our artistic offerings.

4. What inspires your creations?

The miraculous mind of Tim Burton, A.D.D., our love of all things shiny, Halloween, vintage inspired anything, the artwork of Dr. Seuss, the amazing imaginations of Lewis Carroll and JK Rowling, nature and the endless possibilities provided via polymer clay and pmc (Precious Metal Clay).

5. What is your biggest challenge related to your Etsy shop?

Getting noticed amongst so many talented artists and making a name for ourselves.

6. What is your favorite item in your shop (currently for sale or previously sold)?

Our signature Zodiac handcrafted pendants in CalKat. In Ametista, Night's Grace Artistic Apothecary Bottle and any of our Monster boxes, in our Yoga Fairy shop, we love them all.

7. Why is it your favorite?

In CalKat it's our Zodiac necklaces. These pieces are extremely unique, everything from the hand carving of the mold to the firing of the PMC is done by us. Each necklace includes corresponding gemstones to signify ones sun, moon and rising signs. Our customers who wear these personal talismans tell us that it is their favorite necklace and rarely take it off.

In Ametista it's "Night's Grace" as it embodies the look and the idea of Ametista,which is a darkly whimsical shop in which old is made new and uniquely re-purposed. We like to incorporate the use of recyclable glass and wooden boxes to create our artistic oddities.

Our Yoga Fairies shop just makes us giggle every time we look at them.

8. What advice do you have for other folks selling or buying on Etsy?

Be persistent, don't give up, try new ideas. Check out your favorite stores, find out what makes them sucessful and then follow their lead. Make things that you love and it will show through in your work.

9. Tell us two (or more) other interesting things about you.

A. One of us is an avid photographer and the other one has a beautiful singing voice.

B. The whole reason we decided to work for ourselves, was so that we' never have to wear pantyhose EVER AGAIN.

10. Where else can we find out more about you and/or your creations?

Facebook search Ametista Artistic Offerings

11. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your shop or your work?

We're excited to be working with PMC more in the upcoming year. We have a number of ideas we canĂ¢€™t wait to manifest.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Family Movie Night

For a while now, we've been doing a Family Movie Night on Sunday evenings (or late afternoons, depending on how the day has gone). It started almost by accident, when S showed the kids The Love Bug (the original 60's version, of course) while I was busy on a Sunday. They LOVED it. As in, came running to me on the computer to insist that I had to come see! The Bear In The Car! The Car Hitting The Cactus! Much laughing, much fun.

I'm still pretty uptight about the kids and screen time, but I'd been cherishing a notion about family traditions, so I suggested that we make the Sunday movie part of our regular schedule. S, not surprisingly, was all over this idea. The man is a collector and a cinephile, so he's accumulated shelves and shelves of family-friendly films that he's eager to share with the kids. This is, after all, the same guy who has plunked down the kids more than once to show them Astaire & Rogers clips on one pretense or another -- I can't even recall what! And of course, the kids were fascinated.

If we had a do-over, we'd probably choose to start the tradition with something less likely to lead to weeks of Herbie sequels and re-runs. We'd decided to let the kids choose the movie, trading off weeks, and I suppose it's hardly surprising that they would have chosen to watch The Love Bug several times, interruped only by Herbie Rides Again and Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. We finally had to insist on a new house rule that we would not allow the same movie to be chosen three weeks in a row. Which led to BB choosing Cinderella.

Given that BJ was well into his "I don't like princesses" phase, it was interesting to see him wanting to be with us and watch the film but also wanting to preserve his aloof disinterest. He went in and out of the room, mostly leaving when Cinderella began to sing. (And I confess I rather agree with his tastes; the music is not the strong point of that rendition, if you ask me.) But the neat thing for me was that BB was able to actually sit through the whole movie for the first time. For all her interest in the princess character by that name, she'd not been able to bring herself to watch the film. The stepmother was simply too daunting, I suppose -- we'd tried a few times and every time she'd get so far as the point where Cinderella goes into the stepmother's bedroom and demand that I turn it off. I was certainly not going to force the issue, so I did exactly that.

I have my issues with Disney and The Pink Princess Vortex that seems to engulf so many preschool girls. We're still on the edges of that whirlpool, but I am definitely seeing the effects of the pull. I try to remind myself: the first movie I ever saw in the theater was Snow White. I was 3 years old. My mom likes to tell the story with an emphasis on the fact that I was so little I was unable to physically hold down the theater seat with my weight; she had to sling her leg over the arm rest that separated the chairs and hold down the seat with her foot for the length of the movie. (At which point, now that I'm a mom myself, I find myself wondering -- if I was that light, why not just sit me in her lap? Did I insist on having my own chair like "a big girl"?) And here's the kicker: when the movie was over, my mom asked me what part I liked best. "The Witch! " I exclaimed.

So much for the attraction of damsels in distress! Both my mom and myself have pointed to that moment as evidence of my latent feminist identity. At any rate, I cling to it as proof that The Disney Effect need not be entirely bad. (Then again, back when I was a three-year-old, there was hardly the same kind of marketing machinery in place.)

But I digress. This post is supposed to be mostly about this last weekend's movie, which was easily the most enjoyable one to date from the parents' point of view. It was BB's turn to pick, and S nudged her towards Kiki's Delivery Service.

Both S and I adore this film. (As we do most any Miyazaki film.) When BJ was about BB's age, we'd reached a lax point about screentime issues (sometimes that's what the household needs to function, even I will admit that) and allowed him to watch the movie. We ended up watching it in heavy rotation, sometimes once a day, for some time. My memory may be faulty, but I recall it being a few weeks at least. He loved it. And then became obsessed with it. And then grew increasingly upset at the film's climax (spoiler alert!) to the point where he would ask several times a day about Tombo and the dirigible, and how did Kiki rescue him when he was about to fall, and were we sure that it was all going to work out OK? It began to disturb both S and I how much BJ had taken the movie to heart, how deeply he was concerned for Tombo's welfare. That pretty much single-handedly ended our early effort at something like a regular family movie time, and we didn't watch that movie with BJ (or almost any other feature length film) for quite some time.

So I admit I was a little nervous when S led BB to choose the film. I asked BJ if he remembered ever seeing it, and he said no. Both he and BB were enchanted from the very start. I think BJ started to recall some of it, especially Gigi the cat, but he didn't seem distressed in the least. We watched together, all four of us having a very pleasant time.

Miyazaki films are on my life gratitude list. I'm so happy that they exist. They have such heart and humanity, grace and gratefulness, both in the narrative and in the imagery. I watch them and have a sense that, yes, for all its flaws, the world is indeed a wonderful place. ("There are a million ways to kneel and kiss the ground," says Rumi. And these movies, for me, are many of those million.) So it's a true joy to share them with the kids.

And even more touching to have seen BJ at the end of the movie, bursting into tears and exclaiming, "I'm so sad and happy at the same time!" He has a tender heart, just like his mom. (And a predilection for crying at movies, which he gets from both parents.) He was really overwhelmed with emotion as the credits started to roll. Interestingly, he was also able (and wanting) to articulate all that, even as he cried. He seemed a little concerned, but we were able (I think convincingly) to reassure him that what he was feeling was okay, that the mix of joy and sorrow he was feeling was something we felt too, and that some of the best stories in the world make you feel that way. He cuddled up close to me, still sniffling, and I had a profound feeling of closeness and yet separateness: understanding the feelings he was having, grateful to have shared this with him, and yet amazed that this little person -- no longer a baby, for sure! -- was growing up so fast to be able to have that reaction and also talk about it in the moment.

It will be interesting to see what happens next Sunday, when it's time to choose the weekly movie. It will be BJ's turn, and I'm very curious to see if he'll want to watch Kiki again. Part of me wonders if his strong reaction to the film didn't tap into some deep pre-memory of his earlier anxieties regarding the narrative. He's shown none of that reaction this week, and I doubt that he will. Time will tell.

And I do admit (S are you listening?) that for all my strictures about screen time, I'm very happy that we're watching movies together. Both S and I eagerly anticipate being able to share more of our favorites with BJ and BB. And, someday (sooner than we realize, I'm sure) they will be old enough to do things like go to the Stanford Theater with us. And even watch It's A Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve. Certainly something to look forward to.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Friday Feature -- Foxy G. Knits

This week's Friday Feature is Foxy G. Knits, a witty textile artist and fellow Etsyblogger member. I had great fun learning more about her and her craft! As a beginning knitter myself, I truly admire her skill with yarn. (As I have said more than once to my customers when talking about my handmade knitting needles, "I'm a better needle maker than a knitter!" I know enough about knitting to know that they are a good tool, but don't ask me to make a cable stitch or follow a pattern!)

I love all her Goddess Shawls, especially this one -- After the Rain. Aren't the colors amazing?

Enjoy the interview!

1. Please tell us about the items in your Etsy shop. What do you make? How did you learn your craft? What is involved in your creative process?

Foxy G. Knits features hand-knit, one-of-a-kind shawls, wraps and scarves that are versatile and designed for today's woman. My items encompass comfort and style, and you don't have to give up one for the other.

Knitting is my passion that has its roots in childhood. I learned from my mom, way back when we were carving our needles out of dinosaur bones. And then, sadly, I fell off the wagon and embraced needlepoint and counted cross stitch for countless years (pardon the pun). However, being a woman of true grit and strong character, I saw the light and found my way back.

2. To which Etsy Teams do you belong (if any)?

Etsy Bloggers Team
EtsyTwitter Team
Etsy North Georgia Street Team

3. How did you get involved with Etsy?

For a long time, knitting was an avocation and not a vocation for me. While others expressed their creativity through cooking or gardening or painting, I was clicking away on my needles. In sheer and utter desperation, friends and family finally convinced me to open a store on etsy. I just know that they were getting so tired of receiving scarves, shawls, baby blankets and hats for birthdays and every other special occasion! In September 2008, I took the plunge and opened Foxy G. Knits where everything is knit by hand – from my heart to yours.

4. What inspires your creations?

My inspiration comes from colors and textures in the everyday world around me. My favorite part of the creative process is coordinating and blending various yarn colors and textures. I have the ability to conceptualize and see various colors, textures and designs before they are actual completed items.

5. What is your biggest challenge related to your Etsy shop?

I would have to say that my biggest challenge related to my Etsy shop is finding my niche. What I think will sell does not always. And what I think might never sell sells quickly. While I can get the Etsy demographics, I do not yet have a good handle on the demographics of Foxy G. Knits shoppers.

6. What is your favorite item in your shop (currently for sale or previously sold)? Why is it your favorite?

My favorite item could change with my mood, so I will go with the first one I thought of when I read this question: Hand Knit Lady in Red Scarf

I love how it looks in photos and sounds in the description: You are saucy and sassy, sultry and sexy, stylish, smart and oh, so sophisticated. Just showing up in this elegantly simple, femininely tailored scarf makes words unnecessary. You will mesmerize anyone within eye shot.

7. What advice do you have for other folks selling or buying on Etsy?

As a seller, run your business like you are the customer – be that customer. What makes you want to shop in a particular place – service, attention to detail? And do get comfortable with promoting yourself.

I know that many artists and artisans do not like to promote themselves, and I truly understand. However, if you don’t promote yourself, it is like throwing a party and not sending out invitations. I bet no one shows up. But there are ways to promote yourself that are not distasteful. I use a variety of methods to market or promote Foxy G. Knits, and they all involve building relationships and trust. I am a member of three teams and share useful information with them at every opportunity. I have a blog and promote members of my teams, as well as other etsy sellers. I am also on twitter.

8. Tell us two (or more) other interesting things about you.

How I chose my shop name: I have a little granddaughter who is 2 ½ years old. When we were selecting our grandparent names, I joked that I would be “Grandma Lo” by day and “Foxy G.” by night. When I was trying to come up with a name for my shop, Foxy G. Knits was a natural!

My magnificent obsession: When I am not knitting, I am collecting weird, old ashtrays. Currently, I have more than 3,000. (They live in my master bedroom, and I inhabit the west wing!) I also have cigarette cases and boxes, lighters, old magazine ads, sheet music and many promotional pieces that were put out by the various cigarette companies. My goal is to one day curate an exhibit of the 20th century as seen through these items. I am in the process of building a blog for my ashtray collection: Reflections on an Ashtray Collection

Marketing idea that really worked: Recently, I wanted to build a Facebook Fan page and get to 100 fans so that I could secure my vanity name. So, I offered to knit a children’s scarf for the local homeless shelter for every new fan I received from July 15 – August 15. And I posted that information on my Facebook page as well as tweeted about it. I thought that it would take me a month to reach 100, but it took only four days. By the time the promotion was over, I owed the shelter more than 200 scarves!

9. Where else can we find out more about you and/or your creations?

Blog: Foxy G’s Den of i-KNIT-quity
Facebook biz page:


A few recent memorable moments:

BB, after giving me a big kiss: "You can keep that one, Mommy." She's taken to saying this on a regular basis with great satisfaction. She's really gotten the hang of giving a smooch -- she'll gently put one hand on each side of your head, position your face where she wants it, and plant one right where she wants it to go.

BJ, as reported by S via email today: "I had a funny conversation with BJ on the way to school this morning. He suddenly said, "I'm a really busy kid." I asked what he was busy with. "Because I am so busy playing and collecting." What do you collect? "I collect nature and news." What kind of news? "Daddy, what is news?" It's information about things, so there's news about the weather, about what's happening in your town, what's happening in sports, blah blah blah.... "I collect news about the weather! Today will be foggy and cold!"

BB has finally figured out the trick of a tricycle and loves pedaling down the street to the little neighborhood park. She still benefits from some help with the push bar when her legs get tired, but in the last week she's mastered the physics of steering. BJ, however, continues to show little interest in anything with pedals. He prefers his scooter.

Tonight, getting ready for bed, the kids wanted to know where Daddy was. Thursdays he typically doesn't get home in time for their bedtime, because he stays on campus for a philosophy club. The kids know this, but they still ask where he is. They also know the name of this club: Cafe Socrates. This evening, they wanted to know why the club had that name. I explained that Socrates was a famous philosopher and so they named the group after him. "Is Cafe his name too?" BB wondered. When I said no, BJ asked, "Well, then what is his nickname?" We decided this would be a good question to ask Daddy tomorrow morning. Then, BJ offered, "Maybe his nickname is Tees."

Baklava, Mama's Magic Style

So here we are, three days into the last month of the year, and I'm already craving holiday sweets. Since this round of the Etsybloggers carnival has "holiday recipes" as a topic, I figured it would be fun to share one with you.

Every December, like many folks, I go on a baking spree. In addition to many other sweets, I've made it a tradition to bake baklava. It's a bit of a pain to work with the phyllo, but the results are worth it! And even though most directions for working with phyllo insist on keeping it covered with a moist towel, I've found that it was only really necessary to do that when we lived in arid Arizona.


For walnut filling, combine and set aside the following:
4 cups (1 lb) finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Make the phyllo/nut base.

1 1/4 cups melted butter
1 16 oz package of phyllo dough, thawed. (Timing the thawing of the dough is critical to the success of this recipe! If it is still frozen, it will not unfold well. If it is too warm, it will be frustrating to work with. Follow package directions exactly for thawing it out!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Brush melted butter over the bottom of a baking pan (15X10X1 inch). Carefully unfold phyllo dough. Layer about a quarter of the sheets in the pan, brushing each sheet thoroughly with melted butter. Allow phyllo to extend up the sides of the pan and overlap as needed to deal with any tears in the dough sheet if the phyllo isn't cooperating. Sprinkle about 1 1/2 cups of the walnut filling over the phyllo layer. Repeat layering buttered phyllo/nut filling 2 more times.

Make a final layer of phyllo sheets, continuing to brush each sheet with butter as you layer them. This recipe doesn't pretend to be low-cal, so don't stint! Drizzle remaining butter over top layer. Trim edges of phyllo to fit pan. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut through *all* the layers to make pieces. They can be shaped in triangles, diamonds, or squares. I find diamonds to work best.

Bake in 325 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes until lightly browned. Slightly cool in pan.

While the phyllo is baking, make the honey syrup.

Stir together in medium saucepan:

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup honey (or a little more -- use the best honey you can find and/or afford! The year we brought back Greek honey from Navplio was the unbeatably best batch of baklava I ever made. Sigh.)
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon finely shredded lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 inches stick cinnamon

Bring to boil, reduce heat, then simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove cinnamon. Pour honey syrup evenly over warm baklava in the pan. (I find it easier to transfer the syrup to a large, spouted pyrex mixing cup for pouring.) Cool completely and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


This morning, BJ and I got to talking about religion. He knew that we are not Jewish, knew that Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, knew that we celebrate Christmas (duh, the tree was right there in all its sparkly glory). So, he wanted to know, are we Christians?

No, I said, explaining that Christians believe Jesus Christ is the son of God and their savior. We don't hold that belief. (Not that he really understood what that meant, of course, but he took it in stride.) We've been reading about the Christmas story and the birth of Christ, so I wasn't too surprised to be having that conversation. (I'm still really liking Tomie's Little Christmas Pageant as a good, matter-of-fact telling of the tale.)

You could practically see the wheels spinning in his big four-year-old brain. We weren't Jewish, not Christian.... "So what are we, Mommy?" was his next question, of course.

And before I could say anything, he answered his own query: "We're Californian. That's what we are."


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Maya In The Sun

BB continues to be quite a musical little creature -- she loves to sing and make up songs. Often, they are fairly incomprehensible, given the speed and strangeness of her pronunciation (combined with the fact that she is often dancing and whirling about while singing). But yesterday, I had a rare opportunity to figure out what she was singing.

BJ and I had been working on his "Song Book." He's discovered that if he doesn't know the words to a song he can ask me or S to look them up. "Can you Google it, Mommy?" Then we print them out and he carries them around with him. "I'm learning the song!" he'll declare as he sings it aloud (sometimes a cappella, sometimes accompanied by the song on the stereo). So far we've made print outs of "Jingle Bells," "Rock Around the Clock," and John Denver's "Country Roads" (a song that he sings at preschool, apparently -- he was enormously satisfied to figure out that it's the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah River). Stapled together, they have become his Song Book.

BB was watching us as we worked on this task, and she asked if I would print out the lyrics to one of the songs she made up. Of course I agreed! It took a few attempts to get it right, and I wasn't entirely sure that I'd heard everything correctly, but when we'd finished I read the whole thing aloud to her and verified that each line was written as she'd sung it:

Maya In The Sun

Maya in the sun.
Then and in the barn.
Then up in the sky.
Then burned your hand in the sun.
Then had a shadowing.
Then it had a bum.

And then it had a barn.
Then it had lots of shadows.
Then it had lots of friends.
Then it made fun of you.
Then it got number to two.
Then it had a burner.

The End.

I'm pretty sure that the "bum" has nothing to do with a scruffy guy on the street and has everything to do with her typical way of ending a song or verse (she likes to intone, "Bum, bum!") She paused there at first, giving it a bit of a fake ending. But she wouldn't confirm this interpretation and didn't have an answer when I asked about the bum. And don't ask me who Maya might be, because I'm at a loss and BB was not inclined to explain! When I inquired, she gave me the equivalent of a two-year-old's, "If you have to ask, you'll never know" look, so I didn't push for an answer.