Monday, December 28, 2009

Clio Grace, Florist

To her long list of creative pursuits, Clio has recently added flower arranging. I believe she had a lesson on it at school, after which she asked Dave to buy her some flowers to work with; he took her to the supermarket and let her pick out one of those mixed, $10 bouquets.

Here's what she came up with:

Not bad, huh?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

School Performance

Yesterday we attended Clio's first school holiday performance. As we ran out the door, we discovered that the video camera battery was dead, so you'll just have to imagine her class's rousing rendition of "Favorite Things" from the Sound of Music. I love that Clio, at 3 1/2, actually sang the whole thing. And that, when the curtain first opened, she spotted Dave, waved excitedly, and called out "Hi Dad!" And that, at the end of the song, she bowed from the waist but kept looking up, her eyes trained on the audience.

After the performance, there was a christmas cookie pot luck, and someone had the good sense to bring a jelly belly 100-falvor variety pack. The children swarmed to this like those seagulls that steal your hot dog at the beach, and the sugar high was instantaneous: Clio ran in circles around two rows of chairs for many long minutes, stopping to refuel every third or fourth turn.

It took some major maneuvering to get her out of there and up to her classroom to retrieve her backpack and her holiday gift- a snowglobe swathed in cotton and housed in a paper bag for safe transport. she explained to us that "it is glass because it is breakable" and was unmoved by the parental and teacher suggestions that perhaps she had this backwards.

I'd say she's a big fan of the holidays already, and we're only getting started. Unless, of course, it turns out that I did not manage to get tickets home to MN- an issue I just confronted when I went looking for our flight information and found none.

Fingers crossed that, this time tomorrow, we will be just landing in Minnesota.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Happy Birthday to moi

Well, I'm 35. Thirty-five. That's basically, practically, nearly 40.
But you know what? I'm okay with that.

The last five years, my birthday hasn't been much of a celebration. I turned 30 two weeks after an emergency appendectomy (and the loss of Dave's grandmother). The next four years went like this: pregnant, nursing, pregnant, nursing. And not just pregnant, but first-trimester, so tired I could hardly keep my eyes open, so sick I subsisted on cheese toast, pregnant. Then not just nursing but pumping-around-the-clock nursing. (I know I complained of this just a few posts ago, but hey, years of both Thanksgivings and birthdays and Christmas holidays have been compromised by the rigors of growing and rearing babies).

In fact, I haven't been much for celebrating much of anything about myself. When I left my job after six years, I refused all offers of Board dinners or cocktail parties, and only reluctantly submitted myself to a staff breakfast on my last day at the very last minute (and then turned the whole thing melancholy with my tears.)

But you know what? It's time to celebrate. This year, I feel as if life is moving forward. I feel like saying, okay, let's celebrate me.

I had a preview tonight when Dave and his parents cooked up a delicious dinner to my specifications: flank steak with chimichurri sauce, mashed potatoes, spinach salad with hard-boiled eggs and bacon, butternut squash (Dave's addition), and, for dessert, pumpkin cupcakes and mint-chocolate-chip ice cream. Oh, and Pete got me a bottle of Mommy's Time Out red wine, which I am polishing off right now (don't worry, I shared.) Clio and Eleri made me drawings. Dave got me a throw pillow I was dying for but which was cost-prohibitive (he got it 70% off!), and I got to open early Christmas presents from Barb and Pete. And it's not even actually by birthday yet!

Tomorrow, I get to indulge in one of my favorite activities: sitting on an airplane, reading a book, with no obligations and no one to bother me. (That's right: the girls are staying here with their grandparents. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts ever, though not actually intended for my birthday.) I'll surely watch the movie, no matter how bad, and drink the complimentary diet coke. (It's the little things).

Then, I get to spend a weekend in NY, with my husband, and to remember what it is like to go to bed when we feel like it and wake up when we feel like it and feed ourselves whatever we want, whenever we want. I get to do some Christmas shopping in an actual store. I get to get my haircut. I get to have dinner with my mom's group. And another dinner with my aunt and uncle and cousins. And then, when all of the celebrating is done, there's one more celebration to come: we close on our house on Monday.

And then, the following week, reunited with my children who will almost certainly be even cuter and smarter and funnier and sweeter than even I ever knew, we will all head off to MN, where I will celebrate again with (more of) my family.

And to all of that, I say:

yes, please.

A Dave's-Eye View

Dave is a wonderful photographer- he is the reason that we end up with beautiful photo books at the end of the year, and why about half of the photos on this site are a pleasure to behold (he thinks about light and mechanics, I think about narrative and composition). Before he trained his lens primarily on his daughters, he took pictures of the world. Sorting through photos from the year, I was reminded that he has a very particular point of view.

These pictures were taken last Christmas, at his grandparents house, and they capture both the sense of melancholy we felt then, when Eleri had pneumonia and PaPa was in the hospital, and that we feel now, with PaPa passed on, MaMa in a nursing home (at 93), and Barb and Pete preparing the house and 40 acres for sale.

So much of this blog tells of his life through my point of view. I wanted to share a bit of his.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Too Much Information

Want to freak yourself out?

Just head on over to the parenting section of your local library or neighborhood bookstore. There you will find titles like Your Dieting Child: Is She Dying for Attention? And Too Much, Too Soon: The Rise of Early Sex in Youth. And Early Puberty. And Why Kids Lie (actually, considering Clio's recent penchant for Little White Lies, I might actually read this one.) For every phenomenon we fear, and for all those we never thought to fear, there is a book.

I suppose this is a good thing: should one of the girls (god forbid) become a "cutter" or battle an eating disorder, I'll be glad for resources. But for now, it is simply too much information.

I did, however, take out a book called Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy, and I'm planning to read it today.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The 500th Post

I will never forget the day that my college friends Dina and Jocelyn uttered two words that changed, in short order, the way I thought of myself.

We were on the path from the campus townhouses (or "THs" if we're going to use Vassar lingo). It was winter. I was wearing baggy pants, a vintage blouse, and a tight little sweater vest and I had recently cut my hair short and dyed it aubergine and topped it with my silver-sequined beret (it was a look.) I was telling a story about some crazy thing that had happened over the holiday break. We were probably heading to a Sociology class. But maybe Ijust remember it that way because they were about to give label to my essence. The words they uttered: Drama. Queen.


I literally stopped in my tracks. I probably rolled my eyes or flipped my hair (oh wait! no hair to flip) or stomped a foot or two for emphasis, or planted my hands on my hips and harumphed my shoulders, all the while protesting, "I am not a drama queen."

They laughed. In my face. Then asked me, in disbelief, if this was the first time anyone had ever told me this. As if it was impossible that I did not know this about myself. As if it was so obvious, they could only be shocked by my shock.

Allow me to consider.
I do think of myself to be an altogether practical, down to earth sort of a girl (oh, okay, cue laugh track), but I suppose I do, on occasion, embellish for dramatic emphasis. Dress for dramatic entrance. Make use of the dramatic pause. Sigh, dramatically.

If a girl can be labeled in this manner based on the number of feather boas and wigs she owns, or the percentage of her wardrobe that includes animal print or metallic thread, or the wind power generated by her hand gestures while telling a story, or the number of semi-colons and colons she uses in a single blogpost, then fine, perhaps I have had my moments in the drama queen department. Although I prefer the term "Maximalist."

I hadn't given this much thought recently, until I saw these pictures of my own progeny.

And I thought to myself, oh my, it's genetic.

And then I realized that I had been plotting for weeks (months!) what to do with this, my 500th post (500!)

And now, with it written, I feel I should have done more. But there's no special effect in blogger for glitter, for feathers, or for a sidelong glance coupled with a STAGE WHISPER.


Sunday, November 29, 2009


I'm thankful for so much, really, truly. The obvious: my partner, our health, our kids, our wonderful, generous families, the relative ease of our new life. In this moment of the thanksgiving weekend, finding myself very fortunate, I had various posts in the works about privilege, about family, even--bittsersweet--about the people we have lost this year. But tonight, I find myself thankful for something simpler: a break.

Over the past four years, Thanksgiving has found me pregnant, nursing, pregnant, nursing, and working on top of that. Last year, the holiday break from my day job included reviewing student papers for my teaching job and taking calls about a legal issue related to my Board position. This year, I'm not pregnant, not nursing, and I did not check my work email (for my one and only job) once.

For months, there has been something constantly hanging over our heads. Big things to do, like selling our house, on our own, at the bottom of the real estate market, or planning a cross-country move with two small children; deadlines for work projects; a job search; the rigors of starting a new job (or, for Dave, school). And smaller things too, like choosing side tables for the living room (although, arguably, this took nearly as much time and energy- if not stress- as the former two.) In any down moment or time off, we have been running off somewhere: to visit family, to visit Boulder in preparing for the move, to weddings and to funerals. But this weekend, there was nothing that we had to do. And I remembered what I've been waiting for for ages: that feeling of being settled.

For months, it feels like I have dreamed of a time that I could just sit and read a book. This weekend, not only did I finish the wonderful Pulitzer-prize winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, but I read (in two days) the wonderfully trashy Prospect Park West, a novel that both made me glad to have left Brooklyn and sad to have it portrayed thus, a novel that paints many of the challenges of motherhood in sympathetic, if unflattering, light. Reading both a book that educates and illuminates something about the human condition, and one that, in a way, holds up a mirror and asks you to look at who you are: what a luxury to go both places in one weekend!

This weekend, we also saw friends--friends!!--in Boulder, including some neighbors we met at a party (their daughter, about Eleri's age, is "the other Ellery") as well as a friend-of-friends, which feels like an accomplishment in three short (long?) months here.

We enjoyed Boulder, taking Clio ice-skating on a small rink downtown, taking walks in the neighborhood, heading to the playground, and driving this morning to the Children's Museum in Denver. But also leaving plenty of downtime in which, I must say, I really enjoyed quality time with the girls, and quiet time in our house. Last night I started editing the year's photos for the annual Christmas photo book, and I noticed something: all year long, it looked like we were in the midst of moving, and not even most so when we actually were packing up the house. While our upstairs in Brooklyn came together quickly, the main level--where we spent all of our time--never quite did. As much as I obsess over home magazines, love decorating shows, and want to live in a space that makes me feel good, the constant stream of paint chips and half-made decisions in Brooklyn was part of the constant looming to-do list. I don't think I realized this until our neighbors invited us over to see the work they were doing on their home--doing themselves--before they ran off to Home Depot, joking, as they left, that all they really wanted to do was go to the Butterfly Pavilion, a nearby attraction that they have not been able to visit in their few years here, though we have in our few months.

Over our 5 years on 30th street in Brooklyn, we acquired investment pieces slowly- the beautiful solid cherry farm table that Dave's Dad made for us, the Phillipe Starck white Ghost chairs (the largest splurge we've made), the orange rug bought with Amex points- to mix with the "heirlooms," such as the white tufted "boudoir" chairs and 60s cabinet from my grandparents and the Asian armoire (and headboard) from my parents. Every time something new came in, something else felt wrong, had to be changed, and the process felt unending. The process was unending: we never finished it for ourselves, but instead finished it for potential buyers, making choices that were more "neutral," less personal. In the end, there was one bonus to this: when we left Brooklyn, the house had not yet sold, so we left it staged, opening the opportunity to finally (at long last!) replace the no-longer-white sofa that was purchased a decade ago, long before kids were in the picture.

In Boulder, with all the major pieces in place, decorating was just a matter of the smaller touches: new curtains, a dining room rug, a desk chair; I researched sunburst mirrors (for above the couch) and side tables (for beside it) obsessively but quickly, and I love that, 3 months in, I can look around the living room/ dining room and think: done. (Well, almost: I'd like new throw pillows on the white chairs, a yellow leather or lacquer tray on the coffee table, and some glammy frames for family photos on the end tables, but that's all just fun stuff, anyway.)

So let me amend: this weekend, I find myself grateful for the simple thing of having a break, and enjoying it in a house that is itself settled.

How ironic that it is a rental!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

Dave and I hosted Thanksgiving this year. Between a trip to NY last month for my cousin Patrick's wedding, another one next month to close on the Brooklyn house, and then Christmas in MN, I was in no mood to get on a plane--with the girls. Plus, Thanksgiving has typically been a driving holiday, with my Aunt Missy and Uncle Jim hosting us in Connecticut more often than not over the past 16 years. When I found myself complaining to Missy that we would be lonely on the holiday, that we would really miss being part of their thanksgiving, she gave me sage advice (as always): make it your own. Start with some good recipes and build from there. This is, of course, not a problem for Dave and I, and I must say the results were delicious. In fact, our guest Amy voted it her best Thanksgiving meal to date.

Here's the menu:

Peterson Farms Roasted Turkey with Giblet Gravy
Dried-Fruit Stuffing
Mashed Potatoes two-ways
Sweet Potato casserole with hazelnut topping
Green Beans with Toasted Garlic and Almonds
Pan Carmelized Brussels Sprouts with Applewood smoked bacon, lemon, and brown butter
Gingered Cranberry sauce
Parker House Rolls

Bourbon Vanilla Pumpkin Tart with Whipped Cream
Gingerbread Cookies with Vanilla Ice Cream

Because Dave is Mr. Artisenal, and because I recently read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which has an entire chapter on Turkey husbandry and the superiority of heritage breeds, Dave ordered the turkey from Peterson Farms in Minnesota, through our local organic meat purveyor, Herb's. After much research, he brined it overnight in a recipe of his own making, which he calls "part Alice Waters, part Alton Brown"; roasted it with a fairly basic butter baste, and made stock from the giblets as a base for the gravy. Allow me to remark that there is nothing hotter than a man who knows his way around a turkey, and will not only carve it, but cook it, for Thanksgiving.

As for the sides. We recently read this funny pair of articles in the NY Times facing off a food editor who believes Turkey is King with another who is all about the sides. While we did not ultimately choose any of their recipes, we did get inspired by the multitude of gorgeous side dishes. For a bit of tradition, I made one of my mom's favorite stuffing recipes, from Bon Appetit circa 1997, and got the simple cranberry relish from Sunset Magazine ("The magazine of living in the west": I'm soooo susceptible, and rarely need more of an excuse to buy a new magazine at the grocery check-out). The potatoes- all three dishes- came with the Desautels-Steins (Justin and Dave have been making things "two ways." Actually, they recently made chicken two ways, two ways. While it's simple math it doesn't seem quite right, so let me clarify: four different chicken dishes over the course of two dinners.) The brussels sprouts came from NY Magazine, where the picture (and the ingredient list) had us both drooling, and the green beans are Dave's classic, from the Gourmet cookbook, though the link above seems very very close. Same with the parker house rolls, a light yeast roll that Dave made from scratch.

We have no buffet, and not a lot of room in the kitchen, so we all served our own plates from pans on the stove and platters on the washer-dryer, leaving me to capture the spread really only on my plate...with a little toddler interference. But yum, right?

For some reason I'm always making desserts from Cooking Light, and our Thanksgiving treats were no exception. I don't know if this is some kind of balance thing (I'll have seconds; at least it's "light") or if it's simply that this is the only cooking magazine I read and therefore it is my primary exposure to dessert recipes. The filling for the pumpkin tart was divine (though the crust soggy- I didn't have a spring form pan, so who's to say if it's the recipe or the equipment?) and the cookies, which Clio and Dakota helped make last weekend, never quite got iced, but have been gobbled up.

Missy gave me one other helpful piece of advice: to think about what we really wanted from the holiday and do away with traditions that didn't make us happy. This came in part in response to my complaints about all my good china being in storage. As I thought about it, I realized that a pretty table IS important to me, but a formal one is not. So I used what I had on hand, including a mix of casual dishes with finer stemware (and silly vintage glasses for the kids), rough linen napkins which I tied with some vintage grossgrain ribbon from the craft drawer, and finer linen placemats which I did not bother to iron (nor will I ever: who cares?), and put together a pretty little centerpiece from a $10 grocery store bouquet.

In trying to engage Clio in a little craft project, I also ended up tracing some leaf-shaped cookie cutters on old, faded construction paper; I was planning to decorate some printed menus, but instead used the pink leaves as place cards.

The clean room and pretty table made me unspeakably happy; it signals a special event for me when the toys are all put away and the table sparkles--in fact, it was always my job to set the table for big events growing up, and I never tired of polishing silver or sorting through napkin rings to find a complete set.

More importantly though, I love that we spent the day cooking together and taking turns running after the girls. That we got to host our friends Justin, Amy, Dakota, and baby Noah, without whom Boulder might be a very lonely place. That Dave and I wrapped the night watching 30 Rock in front of the computer. And that the dishes were done and everybody in bed before 10.

I'm also pleased that Dave and I took on the tradition of a delicious Turkey dinner. While Amy and Justin debated whose family produced a worse Thanksgiving meal, I realized Dave and I could never have such a conversation: our mothers (and families) are excellent cooks, and Thanksgiving--turkey AND sides--is no joke, in either household.

Finally, i love that Justin suggested--and nearly succeeded in capturing--a Peterson family portrait. The only two photos that I'm aware of with all four of us are in the hospital after Eleri was born and in Chicago when Dave's parents came to babysit the gilrl while we went to a wedding.

These, while a bit unruly, are also merrier.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Curious Incident of the Doggies in the Nighttime

Eleri is obsessed with dogs.

But it's sort of a strange obsession, because if an actual dog actually comes near her, she freaks out and demands to be picked up. So it's more the idea of a dog, Plato's shadow-on-the-wall dog, if you will grant me that latitude. We tested the theory by showing Eleri some puppy videos on YouTube: yup, the girl loves dogs- on video.

She especially loves this book that Barb ordered for the school library where she was librarian for many years: when it turned out to be not quite as educational as Barb expected, she passed it along to Clio as a gift. This is one of those touch-and-feel books, where most of the dogs have a little furry patch you can pat or a sticky tongue, or a pull-tab makes the dog's head wag or leg scratch. Eleri can not get enough of this book.

The other night, she woke up around midnight, crying, inconsolable. This never happens. We tried everyhting: more milk, in case she was hungry. Some oragel on her gums in case she was teething. A steam in the bathroom to relieve the congestion from her cold. While in the bathroom, out came her one sentence: I want Daddy. Now considering the hour, I thought this was a great idea, and roused Dave from bed, only, when he came in to see Eleri she shook her head and said "uh-uhn" in that charmingly emphatic way she has. So we had to think: not Daddy.... (you see where this is going?) Yes, Doggies. We got the doggy book, put Eleri on the bed between us, and for the next 15 minutes she jumped up and down on our bed, laughed, waggled paper dog heads and tails, and generally tried to engage us in play, all woes of moments before forgotten. I swear, you would have thought the girl was at the circus eating ice cream while taking a bath. (have I mentioned that the bath is Eleri's favorite place? That she likes ice cream enough to trot out her never-used sign, "more").

Anyway, after 15 minutes of this, Dave deemed her ready to go back to bed, and sure enough, not another peep.

I want Doggies, indeed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Girls Behaving Badly

We're not exactly sure where we went wrong, but lately it's like girls gone wild around here (toddler edition.) Clio's infractions include yanking her sister by her neck, putting her feet on everyone, saying "poop" at the table as often as possible, telling us "go away!" and "I don't want you!" and making a major scene every time she has to leave a playdate. This weekend I had to literally pry a toy out of her hands and carry her kicking and screaming to the car; yesterday, at the end of a post-school date at a school friend's house, she apparently ran into the basement and hid. At least she is well behaved DURING these outings.

This is the only moment I have captured on film, and while you could mistake this for a little pre-bedtime rest, those in the know should recognize it for what it is: the calm either right before or right after a classic, fist-pounding, wailing tantrum.

Eleri, on the other hand, is less tantrum-prone than she once was, so busy is she getting into anything and everything. We love her reaction when we catch her at it: simply say her name, and she will jump 5 feet in the air, throw whatever contraband she is holding, and crawl quickly a few feet away, as if distance alone can dissociate the criminal from the crime. While we have not captured this jumpiness on video, I do also love her expression when caught in the act of something a little more minor, where she looks up as if to say, "what are you going to do about it?" and then goes right back to unloading my wallet (or the dishwasher) all over the floor, emptying out my facewash (she has mastered the art of climbing into the bathtub and it is her favorite place to be, after "outside" of course), or throwing her dinner on the floor.

Makes a parent proud.

Sadly, I'm at a loss when it comes to correcting this behavior. There are moments when I refer to the very scientific methods laid out in Stan and Jan Berenstein's Berenstein Bears forget their Manners, only instead of setting up a clear system of reward and punishment, as Mama Bear does, I find myself just calling my kids "Noodle head," a name-calling no-no in the book. I'm tired of threatening. I'm tired of Time Outs (in fact, I don't do them anymore; Dave's a one-man Time-Out Machine), and I'm more and more inclined to let them work it out on their own. I don't know, let's take a vote: am I being wise, or just plain lazy?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Photo Shoot

Clio got her haircut at Lollilocks yesterday, and in celebration of the fancy hairstyle they do with little twisted ponytails and butterfly clips and glitter ("Mommy, I got gold sprinkles!"), she allowed me to- GASP!- take her picture.

I'll tell you, it's a good thing she gave in. Because I've seen the way she'll pose and ham it up for the camera- when our friend Justin (Dakota's dad) is holding the camera. Head on over to his flickr site to see Clio actually smiling on Halloween (but prepare yourself to wade through a sea of cuteness- baby Noah arrived two weeks ago). Or hiking the Betasso preserve- AFTER getting carsick, no less. And wait until you see her school pictures!

So it was clear she could pose and smile and say cheese like the best of them, she just wouldn't ever do it for her mother. Imagine my surprise when I asked, out of routine, and in a dejected tone, giving up before the fight began, "Clio, can I take a picture of your butterflies and glitter?" and her response was an enthusiastic yes.

Always the art director, she carefully chose her backdrop of dining room curtain and sliding glass door, and her pose, kneeling and flashing her belly. Charming. No, the teen years did not flash perilously before my eyes. No, I did not suddenly picture American Apparel advertising slash kiddie porn.

And she proceeded to mug. And her mother the former photo editor selected only the tamest of shots.

Then this little model got an idea. We would photograph this marble, and we would photograph it now.

Perhaps I should not mention that she (accidentally?) stole this from the toy store next door to the hair salon?

Mums the word.

P.S. Not sure what's going on with the photos- according to blogger, these are large and centered, though they look awfully small and left-justified to me. I re-loaded them twice and all looked normal until they were published. But if you roll over them with the mouse, you should be able to get a better look. Technical difficulties!

Packing for the Mayflower

In school, Clio and her classmates are learning about the Pilgrims.
They were, apparently, asked to make a list of what they would bring on the Mayflower for the long journey to America. Here is Clio's list:

Peanut Butter
Toys for Eleri
Pack a lunch, with sandwich and apple juice
Fishing rod and string
Spices for Daddy (because he likes them)

Mostly, I think this is hilarious: she doesn't particularly like peanut butter, she rarely plays with blocks, and the fishing rod, while genius, is really out of left field. A part of me is just a tiny bit envious of Daddy's spices and Eleri's blocks, and flirting with heartbreak that she did not think to pack anything for me. Of course, it doesn't help that Eleri's first sentence, as of yesterday, was "I want Daddy." It's hard to say whether she is just so excited to have put some words together in a meaningful way or whether she really, really wants Daddy, but she keeps saying it.

I spent a long time with top parental billing around here, and I have to admit, I kind of like getting a little break. Let Dave have the glory- and all the headaches that come with it. It's just amazing to me how quickly the pendulum of their affections swung: I've been back at work for just over a month.

I guess it just goes to show: kids are fickle.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Mysteries of Childhood

Not long after arriving in Boulder, a big green blot showed up on Clio's new, polka-dotted pillow sham. A similar smudge of green started turning up on the shoulders of Dave's shirts. Then we started noticing little trails of green around the house- as if we had a mouse, and it had gotten into the food coloring. Finally, when washing Clio's hair in the tub one night, we saw the water flow green and thought -- yes!-- we found the source. And in fact, there was a large green patch on the back left side of Clio's head, buried deep, really the bottom layer of hair. This explained the pillow and Dave's shoulders (just about head height when holding her), but what about the bright little worm trails in the kitchen? And why, exactly, was Clio's hair green in the first place?

We thought of the obvious sources: she loves watercolors; could she have gotten the green cake loose from its case and somehow mashed it into her hair? Were they only using green tempera at school? Was it, in fact, the food coloring, which was at the time (but not longer) housed in the lazy susan and fully within Clio's reach? When pushed on the subject, Clio seemed as mystified as us. The green patch stuck around for a while, but it no longer had the power to change the hue of the bathwater. Was it semi-permanent hair dye? Was she really thirteen and getting her hands on some Manic Panic to torture us? To experiment with her identity? (But no, at three she is hopefully a decade away from such things; she would not understand several of the words I just used in that sentence, much less would she go out of her way to articulate the concepts behind them.)

And so the hair faded to its normal color, and my curiosity waned. But tonight, while I stroked Clio's head in my lap, I saw it again. Same green patch, same exact spot in her hair. And my musings grow crazy: is our little girl somehow radioactive? Did she ever swim in the Gowanus canal? Are there aliens at work here, marking her to be taken? It does, in a way, remind me of the bright orange paint that marks places to cut, things to take: a tree to come down, a road to tear open.

And I think of the last line of a poem that I came upon that year in Switzerland when I was seventeen, a quote that has always set me on edge: at the end of the day we must accept that not all mysteries are solvable.

But really: any ideas?

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Way We Walk

Eleri is walking like it was second nature now, with a posture so distinctive, it reminds me of that scene in Dead Poet's Society where Robin Williams has the boys walk in a circle and calls attention to what their walk says about them: the punch line being the boy who walks groin first. With Eleri, it's all in the belly. Belly out, shoulders back, arms behind her, stomping along. In fact, her jackets get hiked back on her shoulders just seconds after you pull them forward, hiked up enough that the belly might show- just a sliver of skin. If she were an animal, sh might be a penguin.

Clio was always more delicate, arms out to her sides for balance but also as if she might just curtsey at any moment.

Dave is a strider; I can never keep up.

And me? There was a time when I thought my walk was sexy; now, I see the pigeon toes. Clio might have them too.

My favorite thing about all this walking in Eleri's insistence on holding her sisters' hand. And Clio's willingness to oblige her, most of the time.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The iPod Project

I love music. I do. But I am not a music person. I don't need to see bands live, I don't follow the trials and tribulations of rock stars, and I don't own a single concert t-shirt. It is something of a joke in our household that I can listen to the radio on scan without really noticing, and I prefer the comfortable predictability of the original recording- no live bootleg or "unplugged" version for me, thank you very much. I grew up with folk music, and my senior quote in the yearbook was from a John Denver song; not even one of the classics that everyone sort of kind of loves despite themselves; no. It was from a little known John Denver song, from his last album. It rhymed.

Hell, let's just lay it all on the table. Earlier that same year, I visited my ex-boyfriend at his new college dorm and thought it was so cool that he had a Nirvana sticker over his bedroom door, that he was invoking the Buddhist concept of peace of mind, or "highest happiness," for his personal space. What's that you say? Nirvana is the name of a band? That's right: it was 1992 and I had never heard of the band Nirvana. In fact, I still sometimes have to check myself and make sure that that was the one with Kurt Cobain. (My husband is blushing deeply in shame reading this, as are, I would guess, plenty of my friends.) My Junior year in college I similarly failed to recognize a Grateful Dead sticker pasted to the wall of my own dorm room- aren't those little bears cute? I asked a friend.

Need I go on?

The understanding that music is related to cool, and that shame in not knowing, in being outside of music culture, is something I encountered first at Vassar. I remember senior year my friend Hal, who was a DJ at our college radio station, talking about the identity-projecting power of music; how carefully he had considered the first album- the first song- that he would play upon setting up his stereo in his dorm room. I tried to think what my first song would have been, but couldn't remember: I had been too busy deciding between my various cheerleading t-shirts to announce myself at orientation, and what I remember about projected identity was Stacy Billis's choice of striped socks.

But I still remember that my freshman year roommate Emily's favorite band was called Trip Shakespeare and that, like me, they hailed from the Twin Cities. That my other freshman roommate, Jen, listened to rap. (Rap!) I associate Hal with Yo La Tengo and Fugazi, and Sarah and Chris with Dolly Parton- perhaps not directly "cool," but coolly ironic, in a way. I think it's telling that I cannot associate any friends before or since with one particular musician, except Marni, whose intense and everlasting love of Bon Jovi has led friends and family to buy her onesies with his likeness for her baby boy. I do know that my college friends wanted to talk about music a lot, and that I was not only unable to compare this guitarist to that one, but I had, in most cases, never even heard of the bands they played in. I didn't really understand the whole band thing, if truth be known; I was more of a singer-songwriter kind of a girl. I was enamored of a particular one at the time (no, you haven't heard of her), and when asked I would name her as a favorite musician, sensing that James Taylor was the wrong answer (and wondering if I should bury the evidence, as it were: there were 13 of his albums organized in alphabetical order in the sleeves of my CD case.)

At various points, I did try to learn, but music was a foreign language to me, despite having a vocabulary of treble clefs and crescendos from years of playing the flute. Music culture was its own language, and it went deep into iconography and subgenres and the band-hopping of various bassists. I was unequipped to discuss the differences between The Cure and The Smiths, or The Smiths and Morrisey, though I did learn that Morrisey was the latter band's former lead singer. I still do not understand the difference between house and hip hop, or the various divisions of electronica. It makes me nervous not to know how to talk about something, I feel vulnerable not to be a native speaker, and because of this, I gave up. I shut myself down to music.

My husband Dave started to open me back up. He introduced me to many bands, and never judged when I did not remember or could not recognize their style from one song to the next. He made me guess the band when we heard various songs on the radio to demonstrate how much I did know, to rebuild my confidence, and he did not laugh when I got it wrong, even when the band had as distinctive a sound as Green Day or Guns n Roses. He paid attention to what I seemed to like, and found more in the same vein. When we moved to Boulder, we decided to leave our TV behind in Brooklyn; for me, this had something to do with wanting more music in our lives. To simply remember the pleasure of it, and to pass that on to our daughters from an early age.

A couple of years ago, I asked for an iPod for Christmas. This was a funny request, because in addition to not being a music person, I am not a gadget person: I lose them, I break them, I can't be bothered to learn how to work them. I went through as many cell phones before giving up as I went through retainers in my youth, before my dentist finally glued a bar to the back of my front teeth, which have a tendency to gap. I also hate to have anything in my ears, prefer to listen to ambient sound and overheard conversations on the subway and the street, and was generally against what I saw as the tyranny of the iPod ad campaign. So why did I ask for one? In my memory, Dave did a whole big sell on me, talking me into it (for some reason, he did not want one himself, though I suspected he wanted to have access to one and would use mine when I did not.) But Dave claims that, after many protestations against the iPod, I suddenly, out of the blue, said I would like one. But not for music: no; I was going to listen to podcasts. It would be for education, for information.

My parents were nice enough to get me a shiny white Nano in a hard plastic display case, where it would remain, unused, for many many months, until Dave finally uploaded some podcasts from The Moth, a storytelling group in New York that I have long loved, sat me on the couch, and forced me to listen to them. It was funny to sit in my living room and to go on this private auditory journey. Yet back in the box it went.

Recently though, I started commuting 30 or more miles--each way--to my job in Denver, and readers of this blog might remember that the antenna in our car was stolen during our last days in Brooklyn. Out of necessity, the iPod project was born. Using one of those tape cassette converters (yes, the car has a cassette deck), I can listen to music (or, i suppose, podcasts) during the commute. And you know what? Something wonderful has happened. I do listen to music, and I decide whether or not I like it.

I know, this does not sound revolutionary. But because I have spent the last decade or more feeling like I was missing something where music was involved, feeling like my opinion was not trustworthy, it is a revolution for me. Without the album art or even the artist's name to go on, I have no pre-conceived notions of what I will hear. I don't have a clue whether I am "supposed" to like it, whether or not it is popular--even revered. I feel the freedom of making up my own mind. Every day, I have these little revelations: That's Antony and the Johnsons? I don't get the hype. Blonde Redhead's sound surprised me: for some reason the name evoked something much harder than what I actually heard. And you know what? Yo La Tengo is everything everyone said back in college, and it occurs to me to wonder whether I ever actually listened to them then.

Now, of course, there is a filter for all of this: Dave is loading the songs, and Dave has very good taste. But he is also experimenting, putting things on there that he doesn't know much--or anything about. Every morning, I email Dave a report when I get to work, telling him what I like and don't like. And every evening, when I return from work, we talk over the reviews of the day. And it's fun. It's fun because Dave actually likes to talk about music with me-- me, who does not speak the language. Who will likely never be able to classify anything by genre. Who will probably continue to mix up Peaches and The Moldy Peaches, even though they have nothing in common except that I kind of like them both. It's fun because there is no right or wrong. And of course--silly me--because it is music, described as a joyful noise; banned in some religions and cultures because it is too powerful, too inciteful, too likely to lead to dangerous pleasures; held aloft in boomboxes in movies-and sometimes daily life--to express something we feel deeply when we do not have the words.

Because sometimes speaking the language is beside the point; the pleasure is in the experience.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

All Hallow's Eve

I love Halloween. I always have: mostly, it's the costumes. I love dress up, I love the game of being someone else, so I love the day that we all do these things, natch. But I have to admit, Halloween has been something of a bummer the last few years. 2 out of the past 4, I was just barely pregnant, and sooooooo sick. When I was pregnant with Clio, I was so wiped out, I couldn't even think about a costume until the say of, then, I ran madly from one idea to the next, trying to find the right balance of "fabulous" and "I can put it together from my closet." After coming very close to a good Mary Poppins, I ultimately threw in the towel and stayed home, tearfully. When pregnant with Eleri, I had a similar run-down, only that time there was a kid to think about. We dressed Clio as a not-convincing Chucky (we couldn't find red hair spray at the last minute, and tried to color her hair with markers- with mixed results) and sent her off to a babies party with her Easter Bunny dad (and Tooth Fairy mom stayed home.)

This year was good. It was very good. Which is funny, because it was fairly unplanned and ultimately low-key. (This is like a completely new things for me: the fact that "good" "unplanned" and "low key" can all be used to describe the same day.) First: the costumes. Because that's what it's really all about. I found this adorable ladybug for Eleri at Marshalls several months ago, hung it in the back of the closet, and was pleased to discover today that it fit.

Clio insisted on being Ariel. There was a while there that she talked about going as the Rose Fairy: Granddad and Bonnie had a special Fairy Tale book made for Clio's first birthday, where the fairies, searching for a child to crown as princess, spell out the name Clio Grace Peterson, with each letter standing both for the fairy (R for Rose) and for a quality (Resourceful.) Clio is particularly enamored of the Rose gown, and I had elaborate plans for recreating it. I must admit, I was little disappointed when she changed her mind, and gave some serious thought to making an Ariel costume, but you know what? She LOVED the one we found at Target, and Dave convinced me to let go and do it the easy way. (Is this where I recount my junior year at Vassar, where I labored over a Falcor costume- the Luck dragon from the Neverending Story- dissembling a feather boa and hand-gluing feathers to cardboard for wings, creating the wing's ribs by sewing and stuffing narrow tubes of blue velvet, transforming the sleeves of a vintage wedding dress into the "inner" wings, and so forth? Guess what? The costume was fabulous, but no one had a clue what I was supposed to be; meanwhile, my friend Sarah bought a second hand dress and did her hair just right, and everyone knew she was the Empress from the same movie. Lesson learned.)

To up the Ariel authenticity, we did get a bright red hair extension and sprayed Clio's actual hair to match; this, together with some "mermaid makeup" was plenty to make a convincing Disney Princess.

But better than the get ups was the day we had. I checked online this morning and discovered the Day of the Dead festival at the Longmont museum; off we went to make paper flowers, decorate sugar skulls, take a gander at the amazing costumes of Native American dancers, and eat delicious beans, rice, tortillas, and Mexican hot chocolate.

Back at home, we designed and carved pumpkins. Clio and I had the chance to make one at Dakota's house last weekend, but Dave and Eleri stayed home sick; in fact, today felt like the first just-us family time in a while, after our trip to NY, a visit from Grandma and Grandpa, and last weekend's work events for me. It was great to hang out and do a project. Clio designed the little guy with the big mouth, Dave made the one that looks like he was beat up, the traditional one was form Dakota's house, and we all collaborated on that big sinister guy.

Clio and Eleri went trick-or treating with Dakota and the dads (and then I took a last lap with the big kids when Eleri went to bed); they sprinted from house to house, belted out "Trick or Treat" and helped themselves to more than one piece of candy per house. In fact, at one house when I suggested Clio take one, she thought that was fine- she was going for one on each kind.

Afterwards, Clio was allowed to sample a few pieces of candy, and we watched It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown on the computer. (Dave is a genius with bitstreams or flobots or whatever it is you have to do to download video that isn't readily available online). I haven't seen it since I was a kid, and I was amazed by the sophistication of the humor and the vocabulary, the long interludes (Snoopy hunting the Red Baron), and the fact that it ultimately ended in disappointment. They just don't make cartoons like that anymore. (I also loved the amazing 60s furnishings in the background!)

I thought Clio wouldn't want to take off her costume or wash out her hair, but she didn't mind. She thought it was pretty awesome that her hairspray turned the water pink, and she went to bed without a fuss. I suggested that we read the library Halloween books one last time, but she chose that fairy story instead. On to the next, I guess.

And one more thing. When I was out going door to door for candy, Justin and I were talking about past halloweens, and I remembered that Clio kept saying something really funny last year--but I couldn't remember what it was. I knew I would come home and look it up on the blog, and I remembered the original purpose of this thing, and came face to face with it's value.