Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Things Your Children Do When You Aren't Watching

This is one of my favorite moments of 2008 and I wasn't even there to witness it. This occured when we were visiting Chicago on Labor Day weekend (remember warm weather?). We were waiting at Hegewisch station for the South Shore Line to take us into the city. The adults were on the platform and the kids were in the shelter. Ellis' dance moves are amazing and I'm grateful to Nate for his video skills in capturing this.

Monday, December 22, 2008

One more hymn to the darkness before the light returns...

Back on my birthday I vowed never to not be distracted from the beauty on the West River Parkway during my evening commute. Shortly after that, the position of the northern hemisphere in relation to the sun, coupled with the end of daylight savings time, plunged my commute into darkness. At first I was unsure how I would keep to my guiding principle when I could barely see and when my affect had also sunk into darkness as happens each year when I'm starved for sunlight. I thought my main goal would have to be to avoid a crash, literally and figuratively. However, as we come around the bend of the winter solstice and the light is about the return, I can safely say that the commute remains beautiful, even in the dark. Here's a list of a few of the things I noticed:

1. The new 35W bridge glows like a beautiful blue wave lit up by LED lights.

2. The stainless steal walls of the Weisman Museum shimmer like an ice palace.

3. The west bank of the University of Minnesota stands like a dark fortress on the bluffs above the river. It reminds me of William Blake's "dark satanic mills" - in a good way.

4. Joggers with reflective tape provide a trippy sort of black light show.

5. The river now frozen and snow covered enough to reflect light reminds me that even big and mighty things must sleep.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

C is for Christmas, C is for Craft

The best thing that has happened for me this holiday season has been the final clearing of junk in our fourth bedroom that has now become my workroom. Add to that wonderful space a new, functional sewing machine and I am in heaven this season. One of my first projects was some bibs for Charlie: some in reversible flannel, some with a cozy chenille backing. Thanks to Chickpea Sewing Studio for the pattern:

I have also sewn initial ornaments for each of the boys for a stocking stuffer.

Finally, I knit stockings for each of us, stamped our names on canvas and sewed on the name tags. Some of us got special finishing touches. I call this one, "Death Takes a Holiday." Ellis worries that Santa will not fill Nate's stocking because he will think that it's a Halloween decoration. I assure him that Santa is familiar with teenagers.
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Friday, December 19, 2008

What Does Snow Taste Like?

"Wish water. You make a wish and then you eat the snow and your wish falls from the sky."

-Ellis, age 5

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

December Morning

The failure of the Civic to start on yesterday's below zero morning had to do with more than a dead battery. While the mechanics tried to figure out today what is wrong with the old car's electrical system, I took the bus to work. The temperatures climbed slightly above zero and the sun was shining for the first time in days. The golden glow of the sun sitting low on the horizon and the crisp wet air sublimating off the snow inspired me to grab my camera and make the most of my day sans auto.

Today reminded me that until about seven years ago, I didn't own a car. Life where your major means of trasportation are bus and your own two feet causes you to know your surroundings in an entirely different way than when you are driving. You have a more intimate understanding of your environment on a micro level. The city, once a ribbon of highways, becomes a collection of small details.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Ellis pretty much speaks a running monologue regarding his activities for the day. Because it is so continual, I often half-heartedly pay attention to what he is saying. His words fade into the background of our house like ambient noise. Sometimes I am surprised by little things he has done to our house.

This morning, I found these little pictures marking each of the doors to the downstairs rooms. The top one marks my office, which he likes to call my sewing room. The bottom pictures show the way to the bathroom and to the parental bedroom across the hall. Seeing these, I vaguely remember him talking this weekend about signs showing the way to places. I loved stumbling upon this window into how his mind works.

I hope that when he is grown and has moved out, I will continue to find traces that he has left throughout the house.

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December Sky

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Thursday, December 4, 2008


Now that Ellis has reached school-age I am starting to have strong memories of things that I really enjoyed during my childhood. I had forgotten that I enjoyed anything about it as I had taken to assessing it with adult eyes through the lens of all my baggage. Looking at it through my child's eyes, however, I am once again excited by the simplest things. Ellis and I made this construction paper chain to count down the days until Christmas. I made the rings and stapled them, he wrote the date on each ring, as well as an E for Christmas Eve and a crown for Christmas Day. The black ring in the picture is my creative contribution. It marks the winter solstice.
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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thanksgiving, Part II

End of November and its chalky colors fading into sleep, into dark, into December.
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Thanksgiving, Part I

I was thankful for the easy rhythm of cooking dinner with Josh, placecards made by Ellis, Charlie enjoying mashed sweet potatoes, and Nate's offers of help.
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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Craft Catastrophe/Craft-stravaganza

Last week in the middle of cutting fringe for a poncho that I was making, I accidentally made a little cut in my Paper Denim & Cloth jeans that I splurged on because they were on sale at Anthropologie. My first thought was that the universe was telling me that my flirtation with premium denim was not sustainable. While this may be true, I soon went into problem-solving mode and began searching through etsy shops for a cute patch that will make the jeans still wearable in public settings. As I was shopping, I remembered how I used to make my own patches back in high school and realized there was nothing for sale that I couldn't make myself. This got me thinking that it was also about time for me to order that replacement manual for my grandma's old sewing machine and learn how to use it. Now I'm excitedly waiting for the weekend to hit the fabric stores so I can add some little sewing projects to my knitting as the cold weather creeps in. Problems and solutions are often found in the same place.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Busted Dreams

How does a kindergartener go from extreme elation to deepest sorrow in the course of an evening? 1) Win enough tickets to buy a whoopee cushion at your school's fall festival 2)Learn that a whoopee cushion makes fart noises when you sit on it 3) Sit down a bit hard on the whoopee cushion so that it pops 4) Learn the hard lesson that there are some things that can't be fixed.
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It's a strange time in life when you hit ages that you remember your parents being. Here's a list of my favorite things from this birthday:
1. Figuring out how to play Ellis's school song on the piano and giving him an impromptu music lesson.
2. Feeding Charlie rice cereal and having him actually eat some this time.
3. The court papers ending a nearly year-long custody battle, signed and saying that he's ours.
4. The surprise birthday cake made by Josh's mom.
5. Listening to Josh read "Many Moons" by James Thurber to Ellis at bedtime.
6. Finding a little time to take pictures and knit during a day home with the little boys.
7. Wearing my "Obama Mama" t-shirt for the first time.
8. The mix cd made by Nate with some awesome new music and some of my old favorites that he discovered independently of me.
9. The fact that the morning started with Josh's car emitting blue smoke and that the the evening began with me going grocery shopping without my wallet, and I still think it was a great birthday.
10. Birthday wishes from old friends on Face Book.
11. Feeling the deep pleasure of stability - how well I know these cities, the deep sexiness of being completely familiar with one person, the way I seem to know the right things to do with my children.
12. Identifying a governing priciple for the next year: never letting my internal monologue keep me from noticing the beauty of the West River Parkway during my evening commute.
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Monday, September 29, 2008

Waiting for the Bus

We have a complicated schedule of pick ups and drop offs for all three children during the week. We created a chart and posted it on the refrigerator to keep everything straight, and we still make paranoid phone calls to each other during the day to make sure someone doesn't get left behind. I recall the story of the man who left his baby in the car all day in his work parking lot and think, "There but for the grace of God go I."

Within all the insanity, two or three days a week, I have the pleasure of waiting for the bus with Ellis. On those mornings, we walk up one block to his bus stop and I listen to him chatter on about whatever is on his mind at the moment. I hold his hand as he climbs up onto the retaining wall on the side of our across-the-street neighbor's house and balances on the stones all the way to the end until he jumps off with a feeling of great satisfaction. At the stop, he spins around in a circle holding out his backpack - a "magic trick" he learned from one of the other boys. We play games, I observe the other children, sometimes, I talk to the pastor of the church located on the same corner. Then the bus comes and I say, "Here comes the bus. Remember to get off at your stop. I love you. Have a good day!"

Perhaps, once winter comes and the dewy mild fall mornings end, I won't always leave the house earlier than we need to. For now, though, I appreciate the way this act of waiting makes me feel as if I have somehow stepped out of time. Waiting for the schoolbus gives me the freedom to linger, to be completely in a moment with my sweet kindergartner, before we both get swept up into the busy flow of the day.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Three Boys

At work, I stop often to look at pictures of my children. I love them so fiercely and am amazed at the things they have been able to accomplish this fall with a greater nonchalance than their parents who worry over every aspect of their lives. Ellis rode the school bus by himself this morning for the first time and told the teacher "It was great!" Charlie maintains his reputation as mellow little man at childcare, confirming my opinion that he is the easiest baby on Earth. Nate seems to be making great strides from last year on the school front, and I take our recent need to upgrade our cellphone plan to unlimited messaging as a good indicator that he is building a good group of friends.

What was officially meant to be a summer for Charlie and me, was also a summer for Ellis and me, and Nate and me. My relationships with each of these boys opened me up to things hard and wonderful and furthered along my development and theirs.

First, Charlie. It started when I was pregnant with him - this overwhelming feeling of inner peace and tranquility. It's good to live in Charlie's world because Charlie is unruffled by much of the drama of everyday life. He set the tone of quiet easiness that marked this summer and I feel like carrying him and mothering him has created in me a freedom from worry that didn't exist before.

Next, Nate. This summer Nate managed to put me back in touch with an earlier version of myself - the me of my late teens and early twenties. And while, there was definite turbulence to that time, I look back at it fondly because those were the years that I spent defining myself as my own person. It seemed every time he got into something new, it was something that I liked in the early 90's or evoked something I liked at that time. I have passed two treasured mementos onto Nate from that time - my dog tags from high school and the corduroy jacket that I wore in college that I inherited from my stepfather. Quintessential Charlotte, quintessential Nate.

Finally, Ellis. This summer was a rough transition for both of us. Ellis went from being my one and only baby to an insecure and needy older brother to a brilliant self-possessed kindergartner all in the course of three months. This summer I learned that even the best relationships have rocky points, but they grow because of that. I learned about the horrible conflicted feeling that comes when you like and dislike someone you love at the same time. I learned that the voice of insecurity that makes you grasp at people desperately is a voice that needs to always be checked against reality. Above all, I learned to work harder to be patient and to not let the voice of worry and concern be expressed through anger.

It is hubris to think that our main job as parents is to teach our children. Better to remain open to learn all the things they can show us - the lessons we didn't learn the first time and the things we've never noticed before about the world or ourselves.

Soundtrack to a Transformative Summer

I spent the last half of my summer with Old Man Luedecke's album Proof of Love on heavy rotation. There are many artists who reach a deep spiritual place in me, but I have come across few who seem to have an almost identical spiritual vision to mine. He sees the importance of fully embracing this world and this life with a sense of hope and faith that comes from experiencing the rough and the beautiful aspects of a life lived to full intensity.

The words from the song "Just Like A River" have become another motto for my life: "Hard work and hope trump hard luck and trouble. This world is it. We will make it our home."


Monday, September 8, 2008

Reflections on a Summer

In seminary, they often talked about the importance of taking time for reflection. The concept lay in the twin pillars of praxis and reflection, which were meant to ebb and flow in a successful professional life. Being a person who lives mostly in the realm of action, I never really took the calls for reflection seriously. Maybe it was the methods employed in that environment – too touchy feely like journals and group debriefing. Maybe it was that in my mid-twenties I didn’t have as much to reflect upon. Maybe it seemed like there was always so much to do that there wasn’t room to sit and think. In any case, I officially admit that I have learned the value of reflection as a complementary twin to praxis. Ironically, I have learned it at the end of a summer spent almost entirely living in the moment.

As my time at home has drawn to a close, I find myself wanting to capture the things that I learned in some sort of concrete way. The posts over the next few days will be an attempt to capture some of the wisdom that I gained over the past twelve weeks.

First Day Back

When you drop your baby at daycare for the first time, you cry like you are taking him to his execution. Your brain knows that his caregivers are wonderful and that his older brother thrived in that environment. Your heart doesn't care one bit about what your brain knows, though. It feels the separation of a few hours with the same acute pain as if he were going away forever.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

More Art Around the Neighborhood

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These signs are part of a project called "The Art of Traffic Calming" produced by Saint Paul Public Works. I noticed them by chance one day while driving up Thomas Avenue. Once again confirming my opinion that St. Paul is such a cool place to live.

Four Children

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Tourist in My Original Hometown

Labor Day weekend was spent in Chicago. We seem to be getting the hang of road trips with the kids and I was able to sneak in a few photos at the Hegewisch train station and around Millennium park. It peaked interest in me to spend some more concentrated time there enjoying the architecture and the general vibe of a much bigger city than I've been used to of late. Perhaps I'm starting to warm a bit to the city of my birth.

Perhaps most fun was seeing the kids connect with their cousins and other family members. There have been times in the last few years that I didn't think that such a thing would really be possible, but this has been a summer that has brought many pleasant surprises.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Surviving the Tornado

Ellis insisted that most of the big rides at Como Town were too scary for him. I pushed him a little to try one ride with Nate. For agreeing to ride the Tornado, I made him a special challenge medal: "For bravery on the Tornado and conquering your fears."
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