Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Into the wild, blue, freaked-out yonder with dear old Dad

Dad takes the helm
Next month my dad turns 70. Since he and my mom are too busy to celebrate next month (apparently retirement agrees with them), my siblings and I and the spouses and kids all descended last weekend for a little celebration. Since my poor dad got overlooked in all the Love Thursdaying of everyone else, it's his turn today.

When he was growing up, he wanted to be a pilot. He still has all his old flight plans and logbooks and even a leather jacket and one of those crazy leather helmet things. Eventually he learned that his eyesight wasn't good enough for him to fly professionally. He instead become a professor of education, specializing--starting way back in the '70s--in how teachers could use technology.

He always had fond memories of his flying days, so for their 40th wedding anniversary, my mom bought him some more lessons, which he took last fall. He still had some time left over when we showed up for his birthday, so he decided to take us all for a ride--with an instructor. My sister and I went up together. It may not be obvious from this picture (she's the one on the left, beaming!), but she was terrified.

Does he really know what he is doing?

Truth be told, my dad was terrified too. But he pulled it off.

Despite his successful career (the on-the-ground one), his true calling has always been music. He grew up in a musical family (we have a picture in which his dad, my grandfather, is playing a jug next to another guy playing a washboard) and became passionate about traditional (or Dixieland) jazz. In his 50 years as a banjo-player he has worked with dozens of bands across the country, recorded I don't know how many albums, and amassed a huge library of recordings and sheet music. Next month he'll be performing at jazz festivals in Oregon and Hungary.

I grew up going to see him perform and one of the bands he was in for many years played at my wedding. For the longest time--I must have been 10 or 11 before I got a clue--I thought that the style of music he played was all there was. I had no concept of contemporary or popular music because it was never, ever heard in our home. More on his music tomorrow.

I've heard that Chelsea Clinton once told the school nurse to "call my dad. My mom's too busy." I loved that quote because it reminded me of my own childhood. My dad was frequently the one who picked us up at school or took us to doctor's appointments, at a time when none of the other dads would ever do such a thing. When my brother and sister were in their last years of high school and my mom got a job in another state, Dad stayed behind so they wouldn't have to switch schools. His job as a professor was flexible so he was home a lot--so much that they used to tease him about whether he really was gainfully employed.

I love that he signs birthday cards "D.O.D."
I love that my son worships him.
I love that he still has his plaid, bell-bottom Christmas pants and wears them every year.
I love that he is extremely supportive of my mom's career.
I love that he calls the innermost underground part of his basement the Bat Cave.
I love that he saved the shredded, ragged bits of all three kids' security blankets.
I love that he's my dad.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Hidden treasure found in half-bath

When I was growing up, my parents had a TV in the corner of their room. It sat on top of a miniature chest of drawers. I remember sitting two feet away to watch, my back pressed against the side of a dresser and my bony butt growing numb from the hardwood floor. I never gave much thought to the little doll chest.

Two houses later, the chest ended up in the downstairs powder room, with an array of tchotchkes, soaps, and hand towels on top. One of the drawers still holds a stash of Barbie clothes that my sister and I inherited from our grandmother's second husband's daughter, who'd played with them in the late 60s. My parents entertain a lot and I always thought that anyone snooping in those drawers would be pretty surprised to find a collection of 6-inch-long minidresses and fur coats.

So this weekend we went to see my parents and Jo discovered the Barbies for the first time. The dolls themselves live in the toy bin near the kitchen, but someone remembered the clothes in the bathroom and brought them out for Jo to play with. It seemed easiest to bring the whole drawer over and dump its contents onto the table.

That's when we found the writing on the underside of the drawer.

Do not destroy

This doll clothes cabinet built prior to 1895 for Kelly family children who lived on a farm near Eau Galle, Wisconsin.

Catherine Ellen [that's me] C__'s great-grandmother Mrs. Anton (Kelly) W__ (of Durand, Wisconsin remembers it was used in her childhood and prior thereto by older children.

(Some repairs and paint made by Carl A. B__, Catherine's grandpa.)

Mice made this hole --->

I was amazed. I'd lived with this piece of furniture for 18 years, but I never knew this was there. There is a notation from this same grandfather on my dining room table, but it basically scolds anyone who comes across it that the table must remain in the possession of my mother or one of her children. This note on the doll chest was a real effort to pass along a piece of family history. I love that he decided the best way to do so was to write directly onto the wood (and of course, he was right).

Furthermore, the Barbie clothes rocked.

Ken wigs over the beautiful babes

Thursday, February 22, 2007

It's safe to be a sturgeon again

Today, as I looked beyond my laptop and out my front windows, I was amused by the endless procession of pick-up trucks towing ice shanties away from the lake. We're starting to thaw.

By this past Monday--President's Day--it had been a very long week. Opie came down with a mild fever the previous Monday, so that meant no school for him for three days. Friday is my regular day off and Monday was a holiday. Of course! I love! spending time with my kids! but maybe not so much time for so many days in a row.

What got me past the wall of this particular marathon was that the temperature finally approached freezing (instead of being below zero), so Monday afternoon we hauled out the wagon and took a walk. First we checked out the lake and the ice-fishing. Further up the shoreline, a few families had cleared off enough snow to create a rectangular ice rink. We waved to a dad (hi, anesthesiologist on whom I once barfed) on skates who was pulling his two daughters behind him on a sled. We waved to two more boys in full hockey gear making their way down to the rink. Turning the corner, we approached a different, thawed area of the lake. Instead of ice shanties, here we found what seemed like hundreds of Canada geese taking a breather. Soon we were talking about migration, about what geese eat and whether bugs live in the water, and of course about all the goose poop we had to dodge on the sidewalk.

Back near our street, Jo started spotting birds’ nests, including a curious, smooth, round ball in one of our next-door neighbor’s trees (I chose not to mention that it might house hornets instead of songbirds). This soon led to a discussion of how the trees have no leaves in wintertime and then to speculation about all the things trees are good for.

Thus I regained the strength for the tantrums that followed seconds after we walked in the door (hot cocoa denied, etc. etc.) and the dinner and the bedtime and the laundry and the dishes and whatever else.

And if you need strength or a restoration of faith, don't miss the comments on my last post. Y'all are a bunch of superior monkeys, for sure.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I would like a human head

If I had a dollar for every time I put money into an automatic carwash and drove away with a still-dirty car, I'd have at least $5. Which I would probably then be dumb enough to feed into yet another automatic carwash.


The title is inspired by Suebob. A long time ago my brother saw a celebrity interview in which the celeb quoted a child of his acquaintance (details remain fuzzy) who, when asked what he wanted for his birthday, replied: "I would like a human head." Thenceforth my siblings and I always answer the question "What do you want?" with "I would like ... a human head." (This is another occasion in which sound would be useful; because there is a very particular inflection that must be used when repeating this line.) Does your family have any taglines of its own?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Judgment calls: More playing, fewer French fries

Nothing gets my inner sanctimommy more riled up than seeing a two-year-old drinking from a baby bottle ... filled with soda. Or a relative telling me that her toddler goes to bed at 11 p.m., “because she’s not tired before then—she just refuses.” Or overhearing a parent say that the only furniture in each of her children’s rooms is a bed, a TV, and a Playstation, “because they’ll destroy everything else.”

In times like these, what I need are a few copies of Good Kids, Bad Habits: The RealAge® Guide to Raising Healthy Children, by pediatrician Jennifer Trachtenberg (new from Collins), to distribute. Then I could stand back and let the good doctor sensibly, succinctly describe why kids need to eat healthy foods, get a decent amount of sleep, and stay active—plus offer a pretty realistic plan for helping them do so.

I can’t say that I learned anything especially new in this book, save a few tips on boosting nutrition (example: challenge kids to pick out a rainbow of fruits and vegetables at the supermarket—eating a variety of colors pretty much guarantees a healthy dose of vitamins and antioxidants). But maybe that is the point. The advice here is not gimmicky or instant-fix. It’s solid, straightforward, and sane. It’s also convincing, especially the sidebars listing both the short- and long-term effects of “bad habits” such as poor nutrition, couch potato-ism, and slacking on preventive care and safety.

I wouldn’t suggest reading this book all in one go, lest you feel overwhelmed by the changes you probably ought to be making. Start with a chapter or two and incorporate some of Dr. Trachtenberg’s tips. Once they’ve become a good habit, move on to something else. You can use the RealAge Healthy Kids Test, either in the book or online, to figure out where you need the most help. (But if you’re anything like me, you already know—you just need a kick in the butt to remind you to work on it.)

What I liked: The book features several helpful charts and checklists, many of which you can find online if you’d like to print them out. There is also an excellent set of questions you can use to assess your child’s self-esteem. One useful chapter provides brief profiles of chronic conditions (from asthma to autism to cancer), with overviews of their prevalence, symptoms, and treatments, plus links to organizations where you can get more detailed info. Another chapter offers short reviews of more than two dozen other helpful websites.

What I didn’t: Simple is good—to a point. Sometimes Dr. Jen (I know—yuck) gives off too much of a breezy, easy-for-you-to-say vibe. Her advice on quitting pacifiers and thumbsucking—vices with which I am well acquainted—boiled down to cold turkey for the former and sticker charts or gloves for the latter. Dude, we are so beyond that point.

Who it’s for: Any parent who’s resolved to instill life-long healthy habits in her kids—or change some not-quite-so-healthy ones. I will caution you, though, that it’s very mainstream. There is nothing here about delaying or refusing vaccines, alternative or Eastern medicine, reducing kids’ exposure to chemicals, or even eating organic (except one short item about milk).

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Out of the beaks of babes

Downy Woodpecker by Keith Tate

In the car, the conversation turns to birds, varieties thereof. Jo begins to reel off a list: "There's bluebirds, there's peckernoses..."

Jeff nearly veers off the road.

"Um. Peckernoses?" I ask. "OH. Do you mean woodpeckers?"

"Yes!" She replies. "Peckernoses. Because they peck their noses into a tree."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love is a man who...

...does the dishes

... and the laundry

... and then shares his clubhouse with his sister.

Happy Valentine's Day. I hope you were showered with flowers, jewelry, calorie-free chocolate, and whatever else your heart desired.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I told you I lived in the frozen North


I took this picture this morning about 300 yards from my front door. The white stuff on the bottom half is a lake covered with snow and ice. The white stuff on the top half is the sky. The black dots in the middle are ice-fishing shanties. Like this:

proving the existence of both the shanties and colors beyond black and white

It's currently sturgeon-spearing season here (she says, revealing yet another clue to her supersecret location). I am weirdly and utterly fascinated by this. I know everything there is to know about it that you can learn by reading the newspaper (and not actually doing it in person, because hell no). First you have to cut a hole in the ice (no more than 48 square feet please), then place your ice shanty over it. Stock the shanty with a heater, a hot plate, and several thermoses of coffee. Position your spear so it's dangling into the water. Then: sit and stare at the hole. Wait for a fish to swim by. If it does, drop the spear and stab the sucker.

There are tons of rules about when and where and how you can spear these prehistoric-looking beasts, which can live 100 years and grow to 6 feet long and over 100 pounds. I'm not sure why I find this topic so endlessly entertaining (seriously: last year our paper published recipes for how to make your own caviar from the sturgeon's roe), except for maybe the fact that it's one of those vestiges of regionalism that are so hard to find. We all eat at the same chain restaurants, shop at the same stores, watch the same TV shows, use the same slang. But how many of us have ever speared a sturgeon? Or even just pushed our kids down to the end of the block in their strollers to see how the season's going?

you've been warned

(My West Coast sisters: "Registering" means taking your fish to a designated spot--usually a bar!--so it can be measured and counted. No oaths, anthems, or civics exams.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Supermodels, supermoms, you and me

In my magazine days, the directive was clear: The reader wants service. All stories must have service. Push the service on the cover. Service, service, service. So everything we published had to be full of tips, how-tos, solutions, advice--you know, all the "8 easy ways to get your toddler to beg for brussels sprouts" and "10 top weight-loss tips from coke-addicted supermodels" and the like. It was exceedingly rare to publish a personal essay. ("It happened to me" disease-of-the-week or crime stories were the exception, of course.)

Fast-forward to now and the burgeoning blogosphere, and especially the mom-and-dad-o-sphere. Everyone seems to be writing and reading and commenting, and most of what we're all posting falls into that "personal essay" category. Is it that we are an entirely different audience from those magazine readers/subscribers? Is it that blogs are free, so our requirements are different--we don't feel such a need to get our $2.95's worth of advice?

Or is it that those magazines had it all wrong, all this time? That we were craving personal stories, unfiltered thoughts and ideas, and were just waiting for this medium to both express them and consume them?

I wonder.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

24 hours of decadence

1. 8 hours alone
  • Mostly in the car, marinating in NPR.
  • Especially charmed by a story on This American Life, about a boy who idolized his late father so much that he decided to build a time machine so he could see his dad again. He spent more than 50 years studying quantum physics so he could figure out how to build the machine. (TAL's web site doesn't allow me to link directly to the story but it's called "Tragedy Minus Time Equals Happily Ever After"; the subject of it also wrote a memoir).
  • A large chai tea latte consumed entirely by me with no one pestering me for a drink of it.
2. 8 hours asleep.
  • Stayed up late.
  • Slept in cushy hotel bed.
  • Woke up at nine-thirty a.m. and read People magazine before taking a hot shower while not also listening for someone yelling "Ma-MAAAAAA!"
3. 8 hours with Julie.
  • Drinks, and appetizers, and an attempted pick-up by a really drunk guy at an Irish bar. I mean, I think Julie and I are cute and all, but we had like 15 years on this guy and were both wearing wedding rings. A few minutes later he was involved in some sort of altercation and was escorted from the bar by a pair of cops.
  • Slept through breakfast, proceeded directly to lunch.
  • Had chocolate fondue for dessert at lunch. Fondue, as in molten chocolate.
Yeah. It was a good day.

P.S.: I didn't include this at first because it technically happened outside of the 24 hours, but the icing on the day's cake was finally, finally meeting my fellow Mayberrian Movin'Mom! I vow that another six months will not pass before it happens again.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A real snot-freezer

God, this sucks. I can't seem to stop eating, our last gas/electric bill was $429.71, and I have huge fights with the kids every time we have to go outside. Typical exchange: Jo refuses to wear her mittens; I tell her she has to; she refuses; repeat until I am yelling "If you don't wear them you will get frostbite and a doctor will have to cut your fingers off!!!" (no, I'm not proud of that one).

The last time I can rememer being this cold was when I lived in France in college. I stayed in a house just outside of Grenoble, a town in the mountains of Savoie that hosted the Winter Olympics in 1968. Grâce à Dieu, some friend of my parents had a daughter who'd spent time there, and she urged me to bring some long underwear. I had one pair, the silk kind, and I wore them day and night for weeks. I slept in the long johns, flannel pajamas, a hooded sweatshirt, two pairs of socks, and a bathrobe. My bedroom was on the ground floor and jutted out from the front of the house, with three walls and the roof exposed, so it was even more freezing than the rest of the place. (Also loud: A few mornings a week, my host mother's son would drop off his small children for her to babysit. He'd open the front door, just outside my bedroom door, and shove the kids in, shouting Maman! Je les laisse!! at the top of his lungs, and then leave.)

To get to the university where I took classes, I'd have to walk a half-mile from the house to the bus stop--uphill, naturellement--then take the bus to the tram. If I knew how to upload audio I'd give you my imitation of the disembodied Tram Lady Voice saying "Attention à la fermeture des portes! Ce tram a son terminus à Gare Europole." I assure you, my impression is dead on.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Dream on

Updated: see answers below!

Match the dream with the family member who recalled it this morning:

1. I was coming home and I was flying in a lawn chair to get there. But I came down too early and landed in a little stream far away from home.

2. I ate 100 carrots.

3. I was graduating from high school and I gave my vice principal 88 turtles, because I didn't like him and I wanted him to have to take care of them for 100 years.

Answer choices: A. Jeff; B. Mayberry Mom; C. Jo. For extra credit, supply analysis.

...and the correct answers are: 1-B, 2-C, 3-A. While I'm pretty sure Jo was just trying to keep up with the Joneses, Jeff's and mine are the real deal.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Kickin' it, preschool

When this DVD arrived for review, I frankly did not have high hopes. Opie's attention span for television is limited to the length of the Bob the Builder theme song ("Baaaa the Bill-er: Ca' we fissit? Yeh we CAN!"). And Jo, while a complete sucker for anything emanating from a screen, firmly resists attempts to break the fourth wall. She refuses to help Dora or Diego by jumping over crocodiles or rowing boats or even peeling bananas, no matter how much they ask for ayuda. She won't even lift a finger to push the buttons on Shane and David's remote.

So the first time we watched "the soccer ball show," as the kids later named it, I wasn't surprised that she didn't budge from her usual position on the couch. But she wasn't immune to the DVD's catchy songs and friendly footage of kids at play (this isn't an instructional video--more of a showcase for the sport). A few hours later, she found a dying helium balloon on the floor of her bedroom. She immediately scouted out a goal--aha! a kid-sized table was perfect--and booted that balloon into it like a mini Mia Hamm. Gooooaaaaal!

Opie, too, surprised me by paying attention to nearly all 30 minutes of the DVD at our first viewing. He loved watching the big kids and guffawed as a small dog, complete with tiny sneakers on all four paws, scampered after a batch of black-and-white balls with the smaller children.

The next day, both kids cheered when I asked if they wanted to watch the show again. This time, I tossed a small soccer ball onto the floor near the TV. That did it: They were on their feet for most of the length of the show. (Luckily for Julie, Kristen and the folks at athleticBaby, neither of my kids has a strong enough leg to do any damage to my furniture--yet.)

So the mayberrymom family gives athleticBaby: Soccer! two big toes up. (Grooooaaaaan.)

What we liked: Seeing a diverse group of real kids playing (I especially appreciated the butt-kicking girls' team doing drills at soccer camp) and the fun music. We're still singing "Acappella Acappella sing to us/You're the best vocal hippopotamus," although we're not entirely clear on a) whether those words are anywhere close to right and b) what the song has to do with soccer.

What we didn't: Lessons on colors and numbers shoehorned into the mix. I give the creators an E for effort for trying to work in some learning, but these vignettes felt forced and weren't necessary.

Who it's for: Believe me, the irony of using a passive medium to encourage kids to be active is not lost on me. So although it's labeled for babies 3 months and up, I'd probably save this for a child who's at least old enough to walk, so you can encourage him to get up and move. It would be ideal for a little sib who's dying to join an older brother or sister on the soccer field, or for a first-timer who'll soon be joining a team. (After watching, Jo expressed interest at strapping on some shinguards herself this spring.)

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