I grew up a Navy Brat.  If you did not grow up as a military dependent, you really can’t understand how this has impacted my life.  One small way this affects me is that Memorial Day really means something; my father’s chosen profession is honored.

My grandfather, father, uncle, sister, and three cousins are all veterans.  My father’s favorite cousin was killed on the beach at Omaha.  Those are the kinds of sacrifices previous generations made to maintain our freedom.  The military is so small now, few of us are touched by the ongoing conflicts.  For that we should be grateful.  But for those who fight and to those who send their sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers  into harm’s way, we should be doubly grateful.

When I see a person wearing a veteran’s ballcap, or a veteran is identified to me, I often thank them for their service.  They are surprised and pleased by this acknowledgement.  I frequently say to parents of soldiers and sailors oversees or newly recruited, “God bless them.  And God bless you.”  They appreciate the gesture. 

Our citizenry made the mistake of not welcoming our Vietnam War veterans home as the war-weary warriors they were.  Instead, we treated them as criminals or pariahs although all they did was follow the orders of those we elected to power.  Hopefully, we learned that lesson. 

War is a far-away nuisance for most Americans; not a life or death struggle.  Let us not forget that even Afghanistan and Iraq are fought in our name.  Thank them.  They deserve so much more, but acknowledgement will go a long way.

September 16, 2011

I followed a vintage Volksawagen micro-bus up the mountain to work this morning.  It was a beauty; red and white paint job all shiny and well-loved; a matching vintage trailer; the dignity of a tortoise as it wound it’s way slowly, but surely, up the road.  I began to get frustrated.  I needed to arrive at work on time; not Volkswagen time.  I was not feeling farfegnugen.
As we made our way around the first hairpin turn on the 8% grade at 20 miles per hour I remembered: that used to be me. I took 10,000+ miles of road trips in a 1986 Volkswagen Vanagon–Wolfsburg edition, oohhh–at an average speed of 50 miles per hour.  I will admit that 50 may be a bit of an exaggeration.  In the days at the end of the first engine, we dropped as low as 10 miles per hour on a 9% grade in Colorado once.  I offered to get out and push. But we could hit 70 on a downhill with a tail wind.  It happened! Once or twice.
So here I am behind me on a mountain road.  It is a beautiful day.  The boss is out of town–and besides, very understanding about being slowed down by unavoidable obstacles.– The guy in the van is headed up to the Volkswagen festival. Of this, I am certain.  He’s not in any hurry…
And then I remember what that felt like.  Early on in our adventures, I realized that if I focused on the destination and timeliness, my head would explode.  I realized that being on the road in a Vanagon is very different from life as I knew it. Being away from the daily grind; looking at the scenery and really seeing it; no dishes in the sink; no bills coming in… That is a kind of freedom most Americans never get to experience. Time changes from a chain of linked events, each with a deadline, to a silver thread weaving it’s way down a two-lane highway of extraordinary beauty. Maybe that’s what they mean by “farfegnugen.”
So I let off the gas and eased off his bumper.  We crept up the grade.  I smiled and enjoyed the view.  The VW driver kindly slipped into a wide spot and gave me and the dozen cars behind us a chance to pass.  I yelled, “I love ya’ man!” as I went by.  I hope he heard me.
I lost the van in the divorce.  But if I lose the farfenugen, I’ve lost much more than transportation.  I don’t want to own my own microbus because I don’t want to become an auto mechanic.  And I don’t think an impeder on my Ford is going to have the desired effect.  I guess I just have to keep a shiny, beautiful microbus in my heart.

// //

// //

// //

The heat being HOT, Miranda and I met up with Anne and Connor for our Wednesday swimming hole run around 1 p.m. We hadn’t been to the Verde yet this year and Anne had a kid-sized kayak that Connor was testing out, so the Verde River was our destination.

Hauling kayaks is always a work-out for a woman my size. Luckily, Anne is a power-lifter so the biggest problem is that she tends to go too fast for me to keep the back end at pace.  In addition, we hauled the summer gear: a floatation ring–”floatie”–; life vests for kayaking; cooler; lunch bags; towels for all; water toys; small net for catching minnows or insects; sunscreen. Pretty much, the works. By the time we reached the water, the kids were ready to get in. So were the grown-ups.

Now, I will confess that I am a cold-water-wimp. The Verde is relatively warm though, so I was in, up to my knees rather quickly–for me. But Anne, Connor and Miranda were all swimming before my toe hit the water. They cooled off for a few minutes and then Connor climbed out and hopped on his kayak. Anne followed and coached him a bit. He was doing remarkably well (having learned to kayak myself several times, I know that it is not always as easy as it looks). They went up river a ways and came back. Connor jumped out and Miranda asked if she could try it.

I was a little worried because I didn’t want to have to ask Anne to swim to the far side of the river (50 feet, a wide spot on the Verde) to rescue her from the reeds. And yes, I am also a swimming wimp, truth be told. But I helped her climb in and helped her with the paddling motion a few times and off she went. In about ten minutes, she had mastered the paddling to a degree that she was making wider and wider circles around the river. Then I suggested backwards. That was comical. I tried a number of different ways of describing the necessary change in the stroke to go backwards, none of which she grasped. At one point, she put the paddle behind her head. I let it go and when she returned to shore, I helped her make the motion a few times. She figured it out after a few minutes though, “master” is not a word I would apply here.

The wind was windy on this day. Gusts of forty-five-miles-per-hour was the prediction. I’d say we got that. And the wind was blowing in opposition to the river with a tendency to the south. For the kayakers, this meant at times sitting nearly still on the water with a slight drift to the far shore. Occasionally, a gust would drive you to backwards and into the reeds if you did not paddle strongly. At one point, Miranda was stuck on the reeds on the far side and attempting to extricate herself by unsuccessfully paddling backwards. She didn’t seem too frustrated until I tried to coach her out of the spot so I let her figure it out. Figuring it out meant being pulled out and pushed into the middle of the river by a nice man swimming in the deep channel.

After a while, Connor wanted to go back up river and he and Anne took off and were gone for over a half hour. Miranda swam around in her life vest and played with some other swimmers on a boogie board. I finally went in up to my shoulders. At one point, her lips were blue and I made her get out and warm up for a while. The kayaks came back and Miranda asked Anne if she would go up the river with her. I was glad when Anne said that she was tired but maybe mom…

We launched and headed up river. Quickly the sounds of the swimmers were behind us and the sounds of red-winged black birds darting in the reeds filled the air. Miranda started out ahead but I caught up and pulled out front. Not showing off, just enjoying the feeling of strength pulling on a river to propel myself forward gives me.  The river bends ever-so-slightly and we were out of eye-shot of the swimmers.  We practiced a little backwards  and turning and reached the Tuzigoot bridge, a good 50 feet above us.  Only a few yards past it the river narrows considerably.  Miranda didn’t like the look of it and wanted to turn around.

The way back is with the current so the going was easier, at least when the wind didn’t gust. I encouraged Miranda to stay near the middle of the river as this tended to be deep and there was less chance of being blown into the reeds. We glide along and I ask her if she likes kayaking.  She tells me that she does and I tell her that I love kayaking.  She says, “I love kayaking too!” with much enthusiasm.

She begins to tire and rests for a moment. Once again, I am out front. A hundred yards or so from the swimmers, I notice in my peripheral vision a not-small animal entering the river on the right bank.  Looking directly, I see a large snake. Trying not to freak Miranda out and thinking that there are no venomous water snakes in Arizona, I calmly announce to her  that a snake has entered the river and we need to stop and let it pass.  She doesn’t hear me and keeps paddling asking what I said.  I repeat myself louder and she gets excited, paddling faster I think, asking where the snake is.  I point with my paddle and she catches up with me, she sees it too.

Around this time, I can see the snake’s back clearly as it glides powerfully across the river: diamonds.  Definitely diamonds.  The tone of my voice shifts into that ‘someone is on fire or bleeding’ tone that moms get sometimes.  She passes me on the left and I begin to insist that she back up.  She’s still paddling forward and I see the snake pass in front of me.  “Back up!  Back up!” I am yelling now.  The swimmers apparently hear me about this time and start watching us.  “BACK UP! BACK UP!” I am screaming.  She keeps trying but she can’t do it.  She can’t remember how and keeps paddling forward.  In a bizarre twist of body memory, I try to paddle forward, thinking I’ll push the water with my paddle and push the snake away and I keep paddling backwards.  The snake, by this time, has figured out that it is not alone.  As it nears Miranda’s kayak, sitting about 5 inches out of the water, the snake raises itself out of the water as much as it can, in what might have been a truly funny imitation of the Loch Ness monster under other circumstances.

There are over two inches of rattle on the tail. “BACK UP!” I repeat. Miranda is crying now and scooting around on the top of her kayak in a way that might have landed her in the water on any less-stable craft.  It somehow gets turned around backwards, though still moving forward.  It is not possible to steer it this way and the snake is looking like it might try to board if there is any contact made.  “Turn around, get your feet the other way!” I am paddling two strokes forward and one back.  The snake is between 2 and 3 feet away from the little yellow kayak.  Suddenly, he drops back down into the water and makes a beeline for the left bank.  I give thanks and praise to the gods and goddesses of rivers, kayaks, children and even snakes. I encourage Miranda to get back to the swimming area as quickly as possible so she can have the coming meltdown on shore.

“What kind of snake was that?!” everyone on shore wants to know.

“DID YOU KNOW RATTLESNAKES COULD SWIM?”  I scream.  They are silent for a moment as this information sinks in.  I suspect they would not have believed me, had they not seen the size of the snake themselves.  We arrive on the bank and they help us pull up.  I go quickly to Miranda and wrap my arms around her. “Wow! What an adventure you just had!” I tell her.

“What do you mean?” she asks between tears.

“When something scary happens and you live to tell the story, that’s an adventure!” and utter a prayer that this will not be our last kayaking trip. Sadly, there are not photos or video of all the excitement.  I suspect however, had I had any sort of camera in the kayak with me, it would have been at the bottom of the Verde River by the time it was all over.

Last year,  I introduced the concept of  “April Fools” to Miranda.  Now, she has a great sense of humor, if not terribly sophisticated.  But trying to explain the difference between joking and lying is tricky.

Realizing we were in dicey territory here, I quickly determined that an April Fools’ Day joke must not be unkind.  Jokes about not liking someone are just too cruel.

I gave up trying to explain what is funny; it’s just too relative.  I tried to offer examples but as I listened to them spin out of control in a five-year-old brain, I determined that her non-sequiters were really more funny than anything I was likely to come up with.

At five-years-old, her sense of time is still developing so when I suggested that she tell her teacher that she was leaving kindergarten to attend college next week, it came out, “I went to college last week!”  I thought it was hilarious.  Not sure if Miss Karen will recognize the April Fools Day joke within.

There was a time when I worked really hard at developing April Fools’ Day jokes–once I created an entire company newsletter as a spoof–but, given the demands of mothering, it’s more fun to enjoy those created by my daughter.  I guess that makes me her biggest April Fool!

I heard a radio reporter say, “…the most moderate Republican in the House.”  Can someone be the “most moderate?”  Is that an oxymoronic phrase?  Does being the “most moderate” make you an extremist?

Miranda

Not quite a chef's hat...yet.

The other night, I put Miranda to bed at 7:20.  At 8 p.m.,  I hear her door open and close.  I go check on her.  “Sweetie, what’s the matter?”
“”Nothing.” From the back of the bed.
“What are you doing?”
“Just lying here,” she says
“Why did you get up?” I ask
“I need to write something down.”  She declares with so much assurance you’d think she could write unassisted.
“What do you want to write down?”
“Yogurt. Cinnamon. Xylitol. And a protein drink.”  I have to think about this.
“Do you mean protein powder in the yogurt?” I ask.
“No.  Protein drink for the drink with the yogurt.”  Once again she’s so sure.  I realize this is a recipe.
“I’ll write it down for you and put it at your place at the table.”
“O.k., I’m going to make you breakfast.” I pause.  That could be messy…and inedible.
“No, that’s o.k..  Breakfast is already in the fridge. We can make the cinnamon yogurt another time.”  We go around about this a few more time and she relents.
The next morning, she gets up quietly and I find her in the kitchen stirring something in one of her school thermoses–one of the only bowl-like things she can reach. –She asks for xylitol.  I see cinnamon in yogurt in the thermos.  I add xylitol and thank god she didn’t try to get it herself from the very heavy glass jar.
She announces that she’s made my breakfast and takes a taste.  It’s apparently good because she won’t stop eating it.  I try it…awesome.  The child is a savante.

English is a really hard language.  I tried teaching it to English-as-a-second-language learners and this was really brought home.  Now, I am listening to kindergartners read for two hours a week.  They are doing great with hard material!  Ever tried to sound out “was?”  How about “you?” And forget about “folk” and “palm.”  Luckily, they won’t get that till first grade.

So, I see this ad for a Cervical Pillow.  I am a woman.  I think of my cervix.  I wonder…  Then I realize that a part of my spine is a cervix.  Oh.

I looked it up (thanks, dictionary.com).  “Cervix” is “neck” in Latin.  Some of us have “the neck of the uterus.”  I feel alot better now.  Except about English.

This morning I walked out to see three Western Blue Birds in the front yard.  They saw me and we all regarded each other briefly.  When they determined that I would neither eat them nor feed them, they went about the business of being blue birds in winter; they foraged for what they could find in the dead grass.  So delicate and pretty.  Yet so hardy.

I turned on the random iTunes and “Where Rivers Meet,” came on.  William Eaton Ensemble.  Glorious.  There can be no sitting still in the presence of such wonderful music.  I was suddenly a blue bird.

(For a while I tried to write a quarterly update instead of the annual update.  It seemed more manageable.  I just found one from from July, 2001.  It contains some deep thoughts and a snapshot of a period of my life which is mostly a blur.  Read on and you’ll see why.  It seemed a shame to let such a nice encapsulation of that adventure disappear, so I post it here for me and all eternity.  c. ;))

There are alot of things I’ve been curious about for a long time.  Like, why
are people only famous people in past lives? But, more importantly, why
would someone accept a challenge to duel?  Why was it considered noble and
honorable to stand in a field at dawn and let a guy shoot at you while you
shot at him? Where is the honor in that?

I recently had some insight into this question that I thought I’d share with
you, in case you’ve been wondering the same thing.  You see, I have a new
job.  It’s a monster of a job, in fact, last week I worked fifty-two hours.
And when I say, “work,” I mean run at high speed for most of the day. I come
home at night exhausted.  Brent fixes dinner, we walk the dog and get ready
for bed.  “Grueling” begins to get to describe my days.

My boss is a classic Type A personality; hard-charging, over-achiever with a
rolodex numbering into the thousands.  If he doesn’t have a phone in his ear
it’s because he’s dictating letters (for me to type) to respond to the day’s
calls.  The volume of information that flows across his desk is truly
amazing.  The out-box is stacked six-inches high everyday and dealing with
its contents is my job.  His job is trying to turn the Four Seasons attempt
at timeshare into a viable business after a less-than-hoped-for beginning.
So he’s the turn-around guy.  A tough position to be in.  But he likes to
clean up messes.

As I write that sentence, I realize that I am the turn-around guy at the
administrative level. The previous assistant was standing with her finger in
the dike but the crack was expanding faster than her finger grew. So I
inherited a river where there should be–to stretch this metaphor to the
breaking point–a road.  Or, an information superhighway, if you will.
Information isn’t information if it isn’t in a form that you can use so
there were lots of words on pages floating in the river.

I do not blame the previous assistant; I completely understand how things
got the way they are.  She wanted a life after work so she only worked 10
hours a day.  Not unreasonable by most people’s standards. But the boss
works 12. And he doesn’t eat. (Side note:  One day a noontime conference
call was canceled. He decided to drive to the local deli and get a sandwich.
He brought it back and sat at his desk and ate his lunch at a leisurely
pace.  “This is very human. I should do this more often,” he said to me. I
couldn’t agree more.) What is needed in the office is two assistants, or at
least one-and-a-half, to keep up with him.

So what does this have to do with dueling?  I should have known better. I
did the job as a temporary for 6 weeks.  I saw exactly what the situation
was.  I knew how much work was needed to get things in shape.  When I was
temping, people would ask me if I wanted the job permanently and I said,
honestly, “No.” But somewhere along the way, the challenge became
tantalizing. Could I do it?  Could I fix the problems and develop systems
that would make it manageable?  Am I really the hotshot assistant I think I
am or just another administrator shuffling paper? Maybe it’s time to test my
mettle.  We’ll just step into the clearing at dawn, point that gun and see
who flinches…

So here I am.  Only it may be that the gun is to my head and I’m the one
holding it.  I admit that this behavior may be indicative of a form of
mental illness.  I think maybe the difference between me and Hamilton is
that (legend tells us) he didn’t fire.  I intend to fire with both barrels.
Hell, I’m using a cannon.  And, I have a time limit. It is my intention to
stand in the clearing for not more than three months.  At that time, I send
up the white flag and ask for my own assistant. I should have everything
ship-shape by then so I can more easily manage the help too.  That’s my
theory.  You may not hear from me for a while but I’ll let you know how it
turns out.  Hamilton died after thirty-one hours of excruciating pain from a
bullet wound to the abdomen with the bullet lodged against his spine.  That
was three years after his son was killed in a duel.  Will some people ever
learn?
7/10/01

9/27/01 Passed my three-month probationary period on 9/25.  Worked 12 hours today.  Obviously not out of the woods yet.  But getting there. c. ;)

(The cake was a big hit with gluten-free and gluten eaters!)

Since we were going to a party today, Miranda wanted to wear what I call a “party dress.” –This is different from a “dress-up dress” which is play clothing which is not normally worn out of the house.  “Costumes” one might say if one were a native English speaker.–  Party dresses live on the upper bar of the closet so they cannot be accessed too readily by fashion-conscious five-year-olds. Since this party was a one-year-old’s birthday, I couldn’t see the point of wearing a fancy dress.  She couldn’t see the point of not wearing a fancy dress.

M pointed to several dresses on the upper bar in an attempt to wear me down. I, being an Aries mom, did not yield.  “Fine.  Then I’ll go naked.”  Not what I was expecting.  She’s getting remarkably savvy for one so young.  But hey, she’s five, what harm is there?

“O.K.”  I said. Pause.

“Alright.  I’ll wear clothes.”  I wonder if this technique will still work when she’s sixteen?

She ended up crawling on the floor with the babies and chasing a five-year-old boy around the house.  I feel vindicated in my clothing dictatorship.

Today’s energy was devoted to baking a cake for my special boy’s first birthday tomorrow. (He’s my special boy because I attended at his birth.)  His mom will bake a traditional cake but I made a gluten-free one for those of us who don’t eat gluten.  Mostly that would be Miranda.  Here’s an interesting recipe from epicurious.com that worked quite well, with my variations in parenthesis.  I used a mocha glaze for frosting.

Cake!

For coconut layer cake

* 1 3/4 cup almond flour (not almond meal)
* 2 tablespoons coconut flour (I used three heaping tablespoons)
* 10 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
* 1 tablespoon coconut or golden rum (I used vanilla extract)
* 2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
* 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (I used a heaping 1/4 tsp and added a tsp of baking powder)
* 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Preparation

Cake
Preheat oven to 350F. Line bottoms of cake pans with parchment paper.

In large bowl, whisk together almond and coconut flours.

In bowl of electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg yolks at high speed until pale yellow and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce speed to moderately low and beat in rum and all but 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar. Scrape down bowl, then increase speed to high and beat until pale and thick, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to low and gradually add almond and coconut flour mixture, scraping down bowl and folding in last of flour by hand. Set aside.

In clean dry bowl of electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat egg whites on moderate speed until very foamy, about 1 minute. Beat in cream of tartar, salt, and remaining 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar. Increase speed to moderately high and beat until whites hold stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. (My peaks didn’t stiffen but cake came out fine.) Fold 1 cup beaten egg whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then gently fold in remaining whites. Divide batter between pans, smoothing tops, and bake until layers are golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Invert pans onto wire racks and cool completely, at least 1 hour. Run knife around cake layers to loosen, invert onto rack, and peel off the parchment.

This made two 9-inch layers.

Chef’s notes: To keep the plate clean while frosting the cake, tuck 4 (3-inch-wide) strips of parchment paper under the edge of the cake. Pull the parchment off just before serving.

Have you noticed the smell which even “fresh” chicken exudes these days?  Rather putrid, to say the least.  I read somewhere that they are now flushing the packages with something like carbon dioxide.–I could be so wrong about what the gas is.–It’s supposed to keep the chicken fresher, longer.  O.K., food scientists, whatever you say.  It still smells bad.

So when the chicken in my fridge, purchased, on sale, at least 5 days before the ‘sell by’ date started to smell stronger two to three days before the ‘sell by’ date, I didn’t think much of it.  I was going to roast it on the ‘sell by’ date of January 17, but life got in the way.  I pulled it out to prep today (January 20) and it was really strong.  Thinking this is the new science, I forged ahead.

Cut off excess fat and skin; plop into nice shallow bath of olive oil and a splash of white wine; throw in oven at 300 degrees and run out door to retrieve daughter from school… Return an hour and a half later, after various errands TO HOUSE THAT REEEKS OF I can’t actually say what…dead animal maybe?  LONG dead animal?  You get the idea.  Putrid.

So I call the market where I got it and nobody there is very helpful because the manager is out to lunch.  I crank up the oven to 400 degrees and remove the lid because that’s what the recipe calls for.  I light incense and wait to see what happens.  The smell seems to dissipate.  I confess, I was wondering if I would kill any bacteria at the higher temperature and then everything would be edible.  I call the butcher department back.  I explain what happened and he says best advice is, “When in doubt, throw it out.”  So I did.

This story reveals something my spouse has long accused me of; fearlessness in the face of potential food poisoning.  Not necessarily something I’m proud of.  I might have even tried to eat it myself but I could not inflict such a nasty consequence of frugality on Miranda.  Unfortunately, the day was cold and it was not ideal for airing the house out.  Five hours later the house still smells of…whatever.

You don’t want a photo on this one.

Organic squash...now with plastic sticker!

Does anyone else see the irony of a plastic sticker on organic fruit?

When you have children, there are some stories you wish you didn’t star in…

I woke up this morning with a small pimple beside my nose.  Stress?  Hormones?  Who knows?  Life goes on.

This afternoon, Miranda was sitting at the computer watching Bill Nye the Science Guy.  I squatted beside her to check on the status of her allergies.  She looked down at me and leaned in to look more closely. “You have a pimple by your nose.”

“Yes, I do.” I tried to be matter-of-fact.

“It’s red all around…with a big white thing in the middle…I don’t like it.”  She stated this with much conviction.

Thanks kid. (Honestly, it isn’t that big.)

The wonderful evening described in the previous post ended on a somewhat sad note.  I didn’t want to spoil the glow by finishing the story there.

Without intending to, Miranda snuck up on a man in the gallery and he turned quickly, knocking her to the ground.  She hit her head quite hard. At least three people tried to attend to her so her father and I had difficulty getting to her.  One man, a local doctor, picked her up and lifted her hair to check her head where she hit.  She was crying hard.  After a few seconds that seemed like minutes, I was able to get to her and hold her and kiss her to quiet her some.  Her dad then picked her up and took her outside.

I went to check on them after a few minutes and Miranda was fixated on the fact that the man had knocked her down.  We kept assuring her that it was an accident.  Finally, she agreed that it was an accident, “Because a big person would never hurt a little child on purpose.”

I do hope she is able to believe that for a long time.

The upside of the accident was that she was quite taken with the doctor.  On the way home she was upset by the idea that she, “wouldn’t see the very kind gentleman again.”  She also called him “the handsome gentleman.”  I guess we are all quite taken when Prince Charming comes riding in.

In the film, Casino–not that I particularly enjoyed this dark, mafia-steeped movie–Robert DeNiro remarks at one point that he loved to watch his wife, Sharon Stone’s character, “work a room.”  In fact, he said there was nothing he enjoyed more.  I never quite understood that comment but it stayed with me.  The other night at an art opening, I realized I got it.  I was watching my five-year-old daughter work a room and I couldn’t have been enjoying myself more.  Let me draw you the picture…

Miranda arrived at the small gallery in new leopard-print fleece jacket which she insisted on taking off immediately so, “Everyone can see my beautiful dress.”  She went directly to the food table to scope out the treats because one needs sustenance before one can be fascinating.  She choose, with assistance, a chocolate truffle and then began to devour fresh pineapple.  Having satisfied her need to eat at art openings, she began to move around the room and look at the works presented.  She exclaimed over several and then turned her attention to the people gathered.

This is where the fun starts.  I don’t know how many of these conversations begin because I prefer to let her do her magic and not hover.  I observe from a respectful distance and watch for signs of misunderstanding or needs, like napkins.  From previous observation I know that she often leaps into conversations either by presenting herself, “I’m Miranda Rose.”  Or inquiring the subject’s name, “What’s your name?”

Questions often follow; “What’s your favorite color?”  “What’s your favorite food?”  She then volunteers her favorites if the appropriate inquiry doesn’t come quickly.  Some people are very active participants and others aren’t sure what to do with such a precocious five-year-old.  But everyone has a good time.  After a time, she discovered some postcards announcing an art opening in New York which featured butterflies.  She began taking people by the hand to lead them to the desk where the she presented  them with a “beautiful postcard.”

She had the room eating out of her hand.  She was stellar.  Of course, this isn’t anything new; she’s been developing this technique since she was three.

Although it’s hard to know it now, I was a pathologically shy child.  I could barely hold a conversation with aunts and uncles, let alone complete strangers, until I was well into my teens.  I had to work hard to overcome that natural tendency and probably would not have done so had I not been a Navy Brat and moved every two years.  A person who grows up in a small town does not need to overcome shyness.  So it was very important to me that my daughter begin very early to reach out to others.  So far, so good.

Now I just need to take what I’ve learned from her and apply it at parties and gatherings.  What’s your favorite color?

Ready to charm!

(Today was the first Monday of winter break.)

When I worked at Javadog, next door to the Old Town European Cafe, we used to get Miranda a croissant in the afternoon if there were no behavioral issues.  Gluten intolerance recently ruled that out.  Now, she loves the cafe and the women who work there love her so I suggested eggs as a food she could still enjoy there.  So this morning when I asked if she wanted to come to Tico to work with me, she asked if she could have a lunch of eggs at the cafe.  We agreed.

Around 11 a.m., she asked if she could go have lunch.  Before, when we were next door, I could just send her with a few dollars and Joy, Jessica and Rosie would set her up with the croissant and send her back when she finished.  Tico is across the street so that added a level of complication. I walked her across the street and we found three friends enjoying coffee.  I asked if Miranda could join them and then one of them walk her across the street when she was done.  They welcomed her company and I went back to Tico.

From the counter of the store, I could see her sitting in a chair by the window.  She was wearing her Santa hat and engaged in a very animated conversation.  She was clearly enjoying herself immensely.  I had to take a photo through the window, it was so cute.

After a bit, Mike, one of the friends she ate with, walked her back over to the store.  Mike wanted to look around as he has a daughter and a girlfriend to shop for for Christmas.  Miranda took him by the hand and was showing him around.  She came to the table of winter hats and suggested he try one on.  Mike demurred and I advised that it was too small.  She offered another. Same thing.  She found one that looked like it would fit, and being quite game, Mike tried it on.  It was pink fleece and quite comical.  She offered another, a blue and white kitted hat with a small pom-pom.  Now, “pom-pom” is probably not the first thing you think of for a hat for a sixty-year-old man.  But, Mike is a good sport and tried it on.  I thought it looked surprisingly good.  He did too. He stepped closer to the mirror and decided that it did indeed look good. “You know what Miranda? I’m going to get this!” He declared.

It was my only clothing sale of the day.

Around 2:30, Miranda disappeared into the dressing room and closed the door.  I was with a customer for a while.  When I went to check on her, she was sound asleep on the floor tightly clenching a stuffed reindeer Christmas decoration.

That’s good day.

Miranda enjoys lunch with friends

If I am to write here everyday, it has to become a habit.  Some habits are hard to get.  Most, the ones we don’t want usually, are insidious; we don’t notice we have them until it’s too late.  Regular practice forms a habit so here am I, habit-forming.

I recently had some success breaking a habit of my five-year-old’s; putting her fingers in her nose and mouth.  How!? You may ask.  I found a motivating factor strong enough to make her become conscious of her doing it and didn’t let her have the motivator until she’d gone one month without doing it.  (O.K., so maybe she goes in her room and does it.  But I don’t have to look at it.)

She really wanted her ears pierced.  She’s been asking about it on and off for over a year.  One day she asked about ear piercing and I’d admonished her to stop the offending habit repeatedly.  It suddenly occurred to me, “What if I make it a consequence of the behavior I want to encourage?”

We had a few start-overs; the first was day two.  But each time she went longer before slipping. Occasionally, I reminded her how close she was getting to a her goal. More often, she asked me.  Her memory is almost always better than mine.  So, we got to day 31.  The habit seems well broken.  She’s had bad allergies for a few weeks and very little finger usage to remedy the tickle.

If I can just be so successful with my writing here!

Miranda rides school Christmas parade float; me on right

Miranda rides school Christmas parade float; me on right

I recall that near the end of December I posted that I’d write something here 360 days this year.   Then I went out-of-town rather unexpectedly…and it’s the fourth and this is my first post of the year.  So, the first question is, if I double post some days, does that count as two?  These are the early days of blogging so the rules aren’t yet firm…so I say YES!  Although, it does have to be two very different topics.

And, writing about not writing is a pretty lame excuse for a post.

So, a more interesting topic…Why do I love Montessori school?

When we began to think seriously about school for my very bright, very active, not-yet-five-year-old, we knew we were beginning a process which would make or break her love of education.  (We knew this because I loved school and attributed that to wonderful teachers…and my husband always hated school.  Which he attributed to it being boring…which I attribute to bad teachers.)  O.K., so one bad teacher doesn’t ruin everything for your life, but in kindergarten, I think it can have a HUGE impact.  We had the benefit of the age-cutoff being five years, FIRM, for public school.  That eliminated a couple of choices.  We visited two Montessori charter schools.  Both seemed great.  One had an opening.  Dumb luck, really.  We stumbled into the perfect school for my daughter.  Ask, and ye shall receive?

But here’s why it’s perfect:

Montessori-style education was created by Maria Montessori, an Italian woman, over 100 years ago.  Maria M obviously loved children and wanted to foster what is best about them; curiosity, energy and enthusiasm, creativity, a sense of wonder and the ability to learn from everything.  She was also aware that we must create loving, respectful citizens.  She developed a teaching style in which the adults are there as guides to help the students focus.  Education is play.  Challenging play, but play nonetheless.

My daughter, as mentioned above, is a child with ALOT of energy.  I don’t see the point of testing for various labels as long as we all get plenty of exercise.  But I also don’t see the point of trying to force her to sit in a desk for hours when I know she won’t be able to.  In Montessori, the children can move around the room using the materials on different subject areas, sitting or standing.  When a child has completed a “work,” they can move on, quite literally.  In my daughter’s classroom, there are actually rooms for different areas–with half walls or support beams in between–so it feels like a real change.  Not all Montessori classrooms have this much geography to spread out over!

Montessori curriculum includes quite a bit of music.  The group sings songs every morning in circle time and the students in my daughter’s class have been learning about Mozart for a few months now.  Miranda loves his music!  Keep in mind, this is kindergarten and preschool.  It’s so much easier for them to be open to everything at this age.  When they are teenagers, exposure to classical music will be too late…until they are 25.  But now the door is open.

Montessori teaches values like respect for others, ourselves and the earth.  Montessori teaches that we must be good and kind to each to make the world a better place.  This is a humanistic approach to morality which I find very appealing.  Good manners are also taught.  Miranda learned to place her hand on the arm of a person she’d like to speak to instead of interrupting and she even does this at home…mostly!

The wonderful primary teacher, Miss Karen,–ably assisted by the assistant teacher, Miss Colleen–introduced “work plans” in the 10th week of school.  A work plan is kind of like a Daytimer for kindergartners. There are certain things they must accomplish–like one “work” in numbers, one in letters, one in science, for example– before they can do “free choice.”   Prior to week 10, they had free choice all day.  She did this because in the lower primary, 1st through 3rd grade, the teacher starts with work plans at the beginning of the year.  Miss Karen noticed that this transition can be tough for some kids.  Well, Miranda is one of those kids now.  Work plans ruined her day.  Several days in fact.  But we’re working on it.  When the fuss about work plans came up,  I realized that my daughter is learning time-management skills no one taught me until I was nearly 30-years-old.  And this is a critical life skill.  She’s getting this in kindergarten!  I consider this genius.

Yes, I love Montessori.  I will end with the caveat that not all Montessori schools are created equal nor are all Montessori teachers as brilliant and enthusiastic as Miss Karen and Miss Colleen.  So, do your own research on your options.  But DO give Montessori a try.

I expect I’ll revisit this topic as the years fly by.

My life has been filling up with pets and angels. In many ways, that’s a good thing. Mostly.

Miranda had a lizard jump onto her arm while she sat on the couch reading with her dad at his house. Apparently, it didn’t want to leave. She brought it home to me and I found myself wrangling crickets ($1.75 for +/-30 at the local pet store. Who knew?), moistening a tiny bit of sponge in a bottle lid twice daily and carefully adding and removing scraps of lettuce and apple cores every day. I had no idea a lizard would be so labor-intensive. That was October.

In November, Miranda’s dad said he’d get her a Betta for her birthday. I

He's the little guy inside the big fish.

agreed that if she wanted to keep it here, it could live here IF she helped care for it. She feeds it most days so she is upholding her part of the bargain. But it is the changing of the water that is a bit burdensome. Not that I want her to do that…

In December, a kitten appeared at the edge of my consciousness–which is a vague way of saying that a sign on the bulletin board at the local healthfood store caught my eye–. Since Miranda and I lost our wonderful cat and in-house comedian, Chiquita, last spring, I had been pestered about a new cat for several months. It seemed like a good time. Now, for years I’ve said I wouldn’t get a kitten, only rescued cats. But this one needed a bit of rescuing. We met her and fell in love. She seemed like a good match for my high-energy girl.

Sable enjoys the afternoon sun

The kitten meant the lizard needed to move back to M’s dad so that reduced my pet quotient back down to manageable. Oddly,   I miss the lizard, ever-so-slightly.  Although I don’t miss the crickets.  Caring for such a tiny animal caused me to feel deep compassion and a strange power; this animal relied on me to survive.  No one has needed me that much since my daughter was an infant.

As I type, the Betta, named Rainbeau (my spelling) by Miranda, hangs in his tank and waves at me.  He comes to the kitchen side when I’m cooking.  He never complains and always looks lovely.  The kitten, named Sable for her fur, sits by my monitor and purrs loudly without provocation.  It is a bit like being surrounded by angels.

My take on Raphael's angels

I finally finished a project I’ve been envisioning for about 3 years…maybe the pets inspired me.

I feed one small child everyday. It’s alot of work. But there are few things more pitiful than a hungry child. That’s why I’m posting here a link to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign. Their goal is that there no longer be any children going hungry in America by 2015. That should be achievable. If you help. There is enough food. So, sign the pledge and browse around the site and see how you can help. Miranda and I are going to make a monthly donation together. She wants to help Native American children. She can relate to hungry children.

http://nokidhungry.org/

I decided that today (September 20) would be a good day to shop for a Halloween costume: greater selection than when I wait till October 20; costumes still in relative order at Wal-Mart; possibly more which would appeal to my girl at the lower price.  I discussed this shopping trip with her and we agreed.  Then, over the course of the day it dawned on me; more choices might not be a good thing.

I stopped at the local children’s consignment shop to drop off some things and noticed she had her costumes out already.  I perused and found a few possible witch costumes which might work…for less than Wally World.  New plan:  stop there first.

I picked Miranda up from school and discussed the new strategy.  Thrift store, consignment store, then Wal-Mart, if necessary.  She agreed.  We launched.  I explained “power shopping” on our way to the first stop.  She vaguely grasped the concept of focusing on the goal items and getting out as quickly as possible.

First stop, I find size 1 Lands’ End maryjanes in new condition (which will fit in about 2-3 years) for $1.  Gotta have ‘em.  Search for costumes comes up empty but casual perusal of neck ties nets 6 which would work for a project I’ve been contemplating…so much for power shopping.

Next store is the consignment shop where I know there are costumes.  She power shops the rack like a pro and finds…a bunny costume!  Complete with little paw flaps over the hands and very stiff  ears on the hood.  She tries it on and I cannot believe how cute it is.  Store owner loves it.  Fellow shopper loves it.  Yyyyes!  I get another year of cute at Halloween. (As opposed to scary and possibly a little too grown up)

She reconsiders.  She informs me that she really wants to be a witch.  I am ready to cry.  I even offer to get the bunny costume for Halloween and she can spend her $3 and I’ll make up the difference and she can have the witch costume for dress-up.  No go.  I remember that it’s her costume and she is who has to wear it…I relent.  Witch it is.

She asks if there is a hat.  Owner has one.  It’s perfect.  She asks for a broom.  Wrong store.  I picture a twig-style, short broom with a handle light enough to not cause injury during the inevitable frenzy that trick-or-treating is.  I suggest we stop at one more thrift store.

We enter a crowded room filled with mostly out-of-date women’s clothing.  I ask for Halloween costumes and am pointed to a rack with a few weak offerings.  She asks the women if they have a witch’s broom.  Without hesitation the woman says, “Yes,” and points behind a rack…she hesitates…she rushes forward.

The perfect broom.  Perfect.  I’m not kidding.  Short, bamboo handle with the natural twig broom.  Miranda asks if it can be painted black.  I’m on a roll, “Of course.”  She asks if it can have swirls on the handle.  “No problem.”  In glitter paint?  “Oh yeah!”  To top it off, I offer some glow-in-the-dark swirls too.  I am the ultimate mom in that moment.  I only hope it will continue to be this easy.

The hat and broom which made me a hero for the day.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.