Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Force is strong with this one.


Thanks to a $1 paper mask off Ebay and the magician's cape Brian's mom made him as a boy, Aidan is ready for Halloween '08...assuming this Star Wars phase last that long!

This week he's all about Planet Heroes, thanks to the Wallings. Check out the free DVD offer on their site. Thanks to the characters, Aidan can now name all the planets (even poor Pluto, the non-planet).

I had a post in my head all day yesterday. And it's gone now. But that's okay. What is that line of Blake? Thanks to Google, here it is:

He who bends himself a joy
Doth the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.
--- William Blake

Hopefully this site can be my attempt to kiss joy, as treacly as that sounds, as it flies.

Brian and I spent Friday in Grand Junction. I am in great debt to Pregnancy_portrait_in_mirrorAmy for watching my boys during several of these prenatal dr appointments.  And to Brian for taking time out from work to join me. I forgot to ask any of the questions I had for our doctor, but it is just nice to hear the baby's heartbeat. I've had requests to see the growing belly---or as Aidan and I refer to it, my watermelon. I still hope to get a shot with Brian this weekend, but here's one I took in our closet mirror this morning.

"Annie" was our Friday night movie, and the next day Sean carried around his toy dog calling it Sandy and being Annie:-) Sunday Brian had to work, but I drove the boys out to see his prescribed burn after church. They were already in awe just seeing him walk in the door most evenings last week with his face black from ashes and smelling of smoke. Luckily the wind was blowing so we didn't have to breathe smoke, and the boys loved seeing the flames, the trucks, and Bri's coworkers, whom they think are their buddies.

There's a funny story here about an evening snowfall, dispatch miscommunication, and our local fire department, but I'll leave that to Brian to tell...

This weekend we also learned that my sister Maria is having a BOY! Yay! So excited that these two cousins will have a pal...assuming they ever get to see each other! And I can just imagine Elizabeth's little girl, Maria Anne, bossing the two of them. My brother John had a baby boy in October, so my parents will have FOUR grandchildren born within 12 months of each other. Wild!

Okay, I'm worn out from all that exclamation mark use. I have ten minutes left of "Super Why" before Sean demands some interaction. We're off to the post office with small packages for Russia...something from my December to do list that never got done...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Thank God for Girlfriends

5sislateformarket                      Late for Market by Charleen Martin

Lines (possibly) overheard Thursday night:

"I'd be wearing a BIDEN bumper sticker for a bra!"

"Steam some onions and rub that on their chest..."

"Then she fell from the ski lift..."

"Someone please take this chocolate away!"

"Don't they all look the same once they're excited?"

"only it was Daniel Craig washing the dishes..."

We all have different things in common with each other, but in many ways we are a diverse group---different backgrounds, nationalities, religions. The main two things we have in common:

1. We all gave birth for the first time six years ago (give or take a few months).


2.We make each other laugh. A lot.

What more could one want?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Overlooked #1


Got the camera out this morning. So much to learn. I'm going to try to do the Overlooked  challenge, which offers a prompt each month to photograph a specific everyday item. Your Favorite Mug is the current challenge, and this is mine. A gift from Erin many years ago. I'm not a Starbucks fan, or even a coffee fan, but when I have tea or cocoa, this is the mug I reach for.

Love that it is big enough for me to not spill as I carry it to the table:-) Love that it reminds me of our old hometown. Brian gave me a similar sized one that says Utah, which comes in a close second, with third place being another Erin gift: a Greta Garbo one that says "I want to be alone." I just wish I could add the footnote "for just five minutes" to it, because I don't really want to be alone. Just want to finish at least one cup of tea while it is still hot at some point.

I love the idea of noticing the little, everyday things in our life more, but I also prefer people in my photos. So I turned my camera on an innocent boy who was eating breakfast next to me. As soon as he saw the camera, he turned into Buzz Lightyear:Morning015

Note to self: next time, move the sippy cup.

I couldn't get him to stop making serious Space Ranger faces and smile,Morning016

until I remembered a tip (can't remember from where though, maybe Lisa Russo) to get a natural smile (instead of the fake "cheese" smile) from a child by telling them to NOT smile.


He's such an obedient boy, he tried really hard then to not smile.


Dude, come on. Stop smiling. Seriously now. Oh no, I see what's coming...


Yes, the uncontrollable, throw-your-head-back-and-laugh fit!


Here's to never saying, "Cheese!" again.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Weekend Highlights

Simple and sweet weekend here. Lots of little things accomplished. Love that feeling.

Ten little things I'm grateful for:

  1. Freezer space, now that we used the broth and dark meat from our Christmas dinner to make Turkey Gumbo, using a combination of recipes from Emeril and No Food Left Behind. With Angie's yummy sweet potato biscuits.

  2. Having things back in their pre-holiday spots, even though I really enjoyed having some empty space for the past few weeks.

  3. Bumber lanes at the bowling alley. I need them as much as the kids do! Bri got 4 strikes in a row at the end. Is that normal or am I living with an undiscovered bowling talent?

  4. Sean's little victory dance after every turn. Whether he knocked down one or ten pins, he'd flex his muscles and wiggle.

  5. Little boys who like brown rice.

  6. Watching Aidan watch "ET" for the first time Friday night. Magic.

  7. Sean pointing to me and saying "You incredible lady!" all weekend. I know what he really means is that he's Mr. Incredible and I'm supposed to be Elastigirl, but he hasn't seen the movie and I'm not going to correct him:-)

  8. Role-reversal on Sunday morning. Bri was running late for a change---it was good for me to get a taste of how frustrating that can be. Let's just say I wasn't half as patient as he usually is.

  9. Getting take-out for lunch after church, setting the kids up at the table while we watched taped political shows. I love round-table discussions...maybe they remind me of my family growing up.

  10. Brian's willingness to hear me out on our basement plans. He spent much of the weekend framing walls. He's doing all of the work himself, and yet he still is open to collaboration.
But, when does collaboration become compromise, and compromise become surrender? My worst  fear is that the entire space becomes nothing but storage/utility rooms surrounding a huge flat-screen TV. And that just might be Brian's dream!

Meanwhile, Sean's things have finally found a Readers_2home in Aidan's room and his old closet is now empty and ready for Baby #3's things to slowly come out of storage. One of my goals this week is to print out the list of suggested names and our favorites from when we were expecting Aidan and pin Brian down on a name for this babe. So Friday is your last day to enter the baby name game here!

Since a post without photos just isn't the same, and because I still haven't tamed my new camera, here's an oldie but goodie from this summer. They were unusually quiet so I went to check what they were up to, and found this scene. My advice to all parents--have your camera ready and accessible at all times. I'm very thankful for the chance to capture moments!

Friday, January 18, 2008


Inspired by MA, I got up at 6 am and hit the treadmill. At 31 weeks, more like descended on the treadmill. There was a slight morning stall between the boys' breakfast and actually getting dressed, but then we made Angie's yummy winter salad and took it to Brian's work for a retirement party, visited the library, picked up "Brother Bear" at the video store, and did the week's grocery shopping.

None of which is that impressive, unless you consider how each stop entails a very preggo woman conforming herself to buckle a very-energetic two-year-old into the car seat of a Subaru wagon. Seriously 5x the workout of the treadmill.

Now we are home and they're watching the movie with a big bowl of popcorn between them. I put away all 101 boxes of breakfast cereal I bought, because that is all Baby #3 seems to want, and now get to blog for a moment, even though I obviously have nothing to really say.

But this footnote is for SW:


Dude, you made me question my memory. So I had to go look it up. At that time you thought it way inferior to Owen Meany.

I really like the name Owen, and it was on our potential baby name list, but then I kept imagining everything the child said being in ALL CAPS.

I tried to talk Brian into a spontaneous trip to Denver this weekend. He and Aidan could ski, we could car shop, and I could see my two favorite people in Colorado, Maria and Kris. Bri doesn't like to say no, so he said, "Not this weekend", even though Aidan has a 4 day weekend and...as Kris pointed out to me, my bladder isn't going to like a 5 hr drive as we get closer to Delivery-Day.

So I'm bummed, and considering all kinds of insane ways to get us out of the house this weekend, despite how cold it is here...thankfully Mary Alice made my week with a package of Happy Mail, several DVDs of movies we had no hope of ever seeing on the big screen. We couldn't wait and already watched "Juno" during the week. Oh so good. So rare to see something unpredictable! So if I can't have Mimi, at least we have The Great Debaters tonight.

I'll make the spinach dip and Kevin's punch if you join us, Mimi.

Greener Than Thou

Image_previewMy friend A. recently asked me if I get annoyed with people playing "greener than thou." She was specifically referring to old friends of hers who are having solar panels installed. Despite driving SUVs and living in the city, in a house twice the square footage of hers, they thought they'd educate her about the benefits of their 30K improvement.

There is so much more we could be doing, that we want to do...eventually, that I'd never be tempted to engage in such a competition. Still, maybe it is a good sign. If people are silly enough to be competitive over their green habits, at least they are making efforts to help the planet.

There are things I feel good about, and things I feel bad about in terms of our impact.

The good: Living where we do, I normally fill my gas tank once a month. Outside of winter, we can walk to most places. Our water comes from the surrounding mountains instead of the Colorado river (alleluia!), we grow veggies in our garden using a drip system, and conserve water with a xeriscape garden out front, we can buy locally-raised meat at the butcher shop (thank you 4H!). We recycle what we can here and take the rest with us to Colorado once a month or so.

Thanks to Bri, most of our light bulbs have been switched out to compact fluorescents. I have to give him all the credit for training the boys--and me--to turn off lights. I remember him walking me home from a date and looking up disapprovingly at the light still on in my empty apartment.

He also gets points (man, I hope he doesn't read this) for encouraging me to wear a sweater instead of turning up the thermostat. 

The bad: we don't compost, at least not yet. And we're about to buy a mini-van.

The ugly: disposable diapers *sigh*

Aidan wore cloth diapers for the first six months. With Sean, I didn't even try.

On a more positive note, one of my favorite green purchases this year:

Cherriesetc Aidan's bento lunch box, I love it:-) Definitely more expensive than a lead-containing Spiderman box, but with all the ziplocks we've saved, I think it has or will pay for itself. And there is just something more appetizing about opening your lunch box and seeing your food, compared to pulling it out from a sack. The little compartments also encourage me to provide him with smaller servings and more variety. Aidan loves it. At the beginning of the year, he wanted to have a hot lunch (via the school cafeteria), but after trying that twice, he now only wants his lunch box.

Ours came with an insulated case, ice pack, and waterbottle.

I have to say I am SO proud of my little man for not losing any of it (so far!). 

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Almost Six

Aidan Is it just me or does he look more like 16 in this photo?

No_david At school this week, he discovered No, David! by David Shannon, and was determined to write and illustrate his own No, Aidan! this evening.

But he had to stop and give me a little lesson in the fine art of book making, Aidan style (which involves lots of little pieces of paper all over the floor, some ofAidan08_2  Momma's favorite pp for the cover, and staples). By then it was time for pjs, so we'll have to see what kind of mischief his alter-ego creates tomorrow.

I'm such a non-football fan that I feel compelled to mention that the cute pullover is a hand-me-down from my good friend Kris.

Meanwhile, even though he still (of course) looks cute, I am missing Sean's long locks.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

That is the opening line to Michael Pollan's "Unhappy Meals", an article I read in the NYT's magazine last year. I jokingly told Mimi that it should have been on my 2007 list since it was one of the best things I read last year.

20184185 Now Michael Pollan has published it as a book, In Defense of Food. I haven't read it yet, but the reviews haven't mentioned anything yet that wasn't in his original article. That first line seems simple, but the catch lies in how little actual "food" we eat these days. I loved his advice to avoid any food that makes health claims---because to do so, it must be in a box, while the veggies still silently by, not waving any nutrient-flags.

We have a long way to go in using meat "as a flavoring more than a food", but it dispelled numerous misconceptions and is a voice of reason in a culture where the medical community changes their advice weekly.

Check it out.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

new haircut


Sean got a haircut today at Miss Laura's. He never stopped talking the entire time he was there, telling her the details of his Christmas, his new bedroom, and the plot of "Toy Story", including his favorite line, when Buzz tells Woody, "You are a strangle little man."

I unfortunately laughed hilariously the first time I heard him say that in his play, and now he says it to everyone in hopes of a big laugh.


Guess who's getting his cut tomorrow?

We'll see if Aidan says more than "Hi" and "thanks" to Laura.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Best of 2007, Part V: Moments

I'm limiting myself to 10, because this post will still be too long and I'm anxious to be focused on moments in 2008. Inevitably I will post this and then think of moments that deserve to be remembered more than those listed here. That's the nature of all best lists, and I'm happy just to have any record.

1. Seeing my mom and dad in their beautiful new home, last January, and actually getting to cook for my mom instead of the other way around for a change. While my mom was in the midst of her battle against breast cancer, it was inspiring to witness my parents' love and support of each other, and the life they have created together at this stage.

And it is a rare treat to spend time with my siblings. Karen screamed when she first saw me, and had me laughing all weekend.  Erin and her children picked me up at the airport and took me out for an amazing dinner. I remember watching in awe how her 18-year-old son Liam helped his younger brothers and sisters, and the way Erin and Liam were able to talk and joke with each other. Isn't that every mother's wish?  With Eileen I got to exchange teaching stories and see how her baby has grown into a little girl. We love living in the west, but I do feel that our children pay the price in not seeing their three grandparents or knowing their cousins back in IllinoisBoys_3.

2. Our week in Tucson. Brian had a conference there, and we made a vacation out of it.  I always find  February a difficult month, just before the warmth of spring arrives. We stayed at a great hotel and the boys and I had fun exploring our old town before meeting Brian for dinner each evening. Angie and her three kids joined us midweek, as did Mary Alice. Such a gift to see our kids playing together! On Valentine's day, Angie kept our boys overnight at her mom's and Brian drove us out to Gates Pass where he had proposed fifteen years previously.  Being back in Tucson, I felt so grateful for the history we share, as well as the future that awaits us.

3. My dad's 70th birthday. I wasn't able to be there for the party, but putting together a book for him, with all my siblings, was a highlight of the year. I'm grateful to have such a great dad.

4. Fourth of July at our house---a very kid-friendly party with lots of food, toddler pool, sparklers, and frozen margaritas, yum! The kids grabbed instruments and had their own little parade around the neighborhood, with our friend Gen playing his trombone. Living so far from family, I relish that sense of community. (Most of these photos were taken by Amy Walling)


Halloween at the Wallings and Thanksgiving with the Rockows had that same sense of community.  We miss our families-of-origin, but we are also grateful for the one we have created piecemeal out of friends.

5. A September weekend in Phoenix with Angie. It was ungodly hot, often over 100 degrees even atAngieanddokphoenix  11 pm, which only added to my 1st trimester state of nausea, but it was an incredibly fun time. Even if I did lose a few meals, the ones we shared were great, and the conversation over them even better. We went to a scrapbooking tradeshow/conference, where I bought beautiful paper and learned lots of stuff, none of which would have been half as fun without Angie there to laugh with throughout it--and take silly self-portraits with:-)

6Aidan_5_years_maria_2_days_2. Our Texas roadtrip. In Wichita Falls the highlight was welcoming Maria Anne to the world and witnessing my little sister Elizabeth and her husband Gabriel in those early days of parenthood. We stayed with them at the beginning of our trip, and when we returned a week later, one would think they had been parents their whole life.

I also loved seeing how interested and gentle our boys were with their baby coAustinblogusin.

In Austin the boys got to play  with their Keating cousins, Makenna, Cole, and Ava, as well as take a little hike, explore a kids' museum, and watch bats fly out from Congress Bridge.

In Houston, my dad and five of his siblings--flying in from Chicago, Ireland and England, gathered for the celebration of their sister, Carmel O'Malley, and her 50th anniversary as a Sister of the Incarnate Word. It was such a beautiful thing to see them together, and I don't think there was a dry eye in the room when they toasted to their late parents. So glad we were there.

8. Learning we were expecting a baby!

I'm a planner, a list-maker, a goal-setter. With my previous two pregnancies, I was testing way before you're supposed to. This one came as a surprise, and there are moments now when I feel I've just gotten used to the idea I'm pregnant and have yet to comprehend that a baby is coming.  But the best things in my life have all been unplanned---meeting Brian, making a home in Utah, and now this child. I feel excited, a little nervous, but, mostly, greatly blessed.   

Crocs_sure_sign_of_summer_cropped 9. Aidan and Sean becoming friends as well as brothers. Obviously seen in little moments throughout the year, but I saw it mainly click this summer. Sean got older and we had time to explore, swim every day, go to the waterpark, play at Mill Creek. I love knowing my sons will always have each other.

10. All the little moments. Aidan's excitement over riding the school bus and learning to read. Sean's ability to talk (and then never stop). The small kindnesses of Brian that brighten my day. Emails from former students of mine. Weekend mornings with the four of us snugged in one bed. Hot cocoa, working in the garden, movie nights. More. That is all I can think--I just want more of this. Please let us all stay healthy and enjoy more of these moments.

Hopes for 2008:

  • a healthy baby

  • a warm and loving home...with lots of house projects completed!

  • learning new skills, like how to raise three boys, how to sew (I can't even sew a hem), how to use my SLR...many things.

Mainly I want to cultivate an eye for all the blessings in my life and an attitude of gratitude. That alone adds so much to my life. So I hope to, at least weekly, stop and give thanks for the big and little things, and actually write or photograph some of the things I'm feeling especially grateful for at that time.

And shorter blog posts!  There's a good goal. Here's to a year full of great small moments!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Best of 2007, Part IV: Music

61lnd7euxql__ss500_ My mother is a great music lover, and growing up we were in awe that she knew the words to any song we named. It took me a long time to realize the only titles we knew were her favorites. I played her albums endlessly, especially the Broadway musicals and one particular Jerry Vale album. How did she resist the temptation to hide or destroy that album, which usually led to my singing "Man of La Mancha" or "The Shadow of Your Smile" in the dining room with an earnest and extremely off-key voice?

Eventually I noticed though that among all the Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and great Irish groups, there wasn't one Beatles album. Her music collecting ended abruptly with motherhood, and didn't really start again until we were all grown. 41n8e6kd4tl__aa240_

Music was so central to my relationships and memories---screaming Ethridge's "Somebody Bring  Me Some Water"  in a library study room with friends in college, celebrating our first Valentine's day at a Paul Simon concert in '91, dancing to "I Will Survive," and singing along while someone strummed "Closer to Fine" on a guitar-- that I was sure motherhood would never have that affect on me.

And yet I struggled to name even five songs in our annual best lists those first few years of Aidan's life.

This year I had fifty in my letter to Mary Alice and Angie (I was kinder to my siblings and limited myself to ten). How did that happen? Probably because our boys are a bit older now, because of roadtrips in Bri's pickup with Sirius playing, because of Mary Alice, who sends recommendations as well as CD mixes, and because we accidentally signed up for Yahoo Unlimited (long story), which is not an expense we will renew but does allow you to listen to any CD in full as many times as you want. I'll miss it when it ends.

Nonetheless, Aidan might someday scan our CD collection and make the same conclusion I did about my mother. Money priorities are different now, while a 99 cent download gets more playtime on the computer than any CD on the stereo anyway. And, with a symphony of two little boys playing most of the day, silence has become a rare and great pleasure.

Songs I obsessed about/overplayed in 2007:

  1. "Long Way Round" by Stereophonics

  2. "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" by Stars (ignore the first 3 seconds, and make sure it isn't the remix); "I'm not sorry I met you/I'm not sorry it's over/I'm not sorry there's nothing to say"

  3. "See the World" by Gomez

  4. "The Story" by Brandi Carlile. I loved the whole CD, such a rarity.

  5. "More Than This" by Peter Gabriel

  6. "Bad Day" by Daniel Powter

  7. "Paperweight" by Schuyler Fisk & Joshua Radin ("Last Kiss" also a GREAT soundtrack61cscu06ujl__ss500_); "Every word you say/I think I should write down/don't want to forget/come daylight"

  8. "Secret Sun" by Alex Heffes

  9. "Naked as We Came" by Iron & Wine

  10. "The Part Where You Let Go" by Hem

and even though it was new to no one but me, "Late for the Sky" by Jackson Browne is now a permanent favorite.

Honorable mentions: "Right Moves" by Josh Ritter; "Come Undone" by Robbie Williams; "You Got Yr Cherry Bomb" by Spoon; "Let Me Go Easy" by Indigo Girls; "New Slang" by the Shins; "Are You Alright" by Lucinda Williams; "Last Request" by Paolo Nutini; "I Will Follow You into the Dark" by Death Cab for Cutie; "Simple as It Should Be" by Tristan Prettyman

Okay, I'll stop. Some are probably old to many of you, some probably got overplayed on the radio. For me, they were companions while writing in the office, working around the house, or driving to Texas/Colorado/Arizona this year.

Best of 2007, Part V: Moments (and the final one, alleluia) coming next week...

Best of 2007, Part III: Nonfiction

One of my best "discoveries" this year wasn't a book but a website about books: Goodreads. Great way to share what your reading with friends, and to get their recommendations, though it can be addictive for  compulsive list-makers like me.  Actually I love having one place with all my book related lists (list for the library, wish-to-buy list, list for the boys, etc).

13783847 And it was from goodreads, specifically Wendy Smedley's list, that I rediscovered The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Bloom. I first read it in 8th grade, during a phase of reading Holocaust memoirs, but found it just as moving today. Corrie, her sister, and father were part of the underground resistance in Nazi-occupied Holland, and were eventually sent to concentration camps. Corrie is the only one who survived to tell their story---especially the story of her sister Betsie, and of the power of perspective and faith even when surrounded by hell itself.

It's All Too Much by Peter Walsh is a book I wanted for a long time, but couldn't0743292642_3  justify buying when its central theme is to acquire less. I gave in on a roadtrip, and am so glad I did. Like those TV shows that deal with debt, part of the pleasure is hearing about people who have a much bigger challenger than yourself. Suddenly the over-flowing file cabinet doesn't feel so shameful when reading about people who can't use rooms of their house. I've never seen "Clean Sweep,"  his show on one of those home improvement channels (our cable includes C-SPAN, WGN, TBS, and that's about it), but I really enjoyed his writing style and tone.

Unlike most organizational books, he says getting more boxes or systems or organizational tools aren't going to solve the problem. Clutter is caused by having too much; you have to get rid of stuff. I know this, but I still can't hear it often enough (especially since everything else in our culture is sending the opposite message: "you need this"/"you need more").

I also loved his point that while it is great to have a few objects that hold memories for you, or that are about future plans, the majority of things in your home should be about the present. Glad I bought this one, because I need to constantly remind myself of these lessons.

7b1e35b97f97d446c480f1768e72250fc27 Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver was a library check-out, also a good decision. Otherwise I don't believe I'd have finished it. As much as I enjoyed learning about the mating habits of turkeys and the creative solutions her family arrived at during their year of trying to eat locally, I was equally annoyed with her often smug attitude and inaccuracies.

She makes sweeping generalizations about Americans, suggesting that few people and "none of our children" could answer any of her basic agricultural questions, such as when various fruits and vegetables come into season, or when to expect the last frost in spring. Maybe she just lived in a big city for too long...I don't know one person who couldn't answer those questions in our town.

Her intentions are good, and I'm glad I read it. I still buy bananas and pineapples (the "Humvee" of produce) on occasion, but I ask more questions about where our food comes from, especially our meat. She has all the recipes posted on a website, and her pizza crust has become a Friday night staple in our house. She even has me considering an asparagus bed in our garden.  I still love her prose, especially her explication of Thanksgiving as Creation's birthday party. Yet any recommendation would have to go with a warning : Condescension ahead.

A library check-out that I wish I owned is Harold Kushner's When Children Ask about God. I'm a big227494_when_children_ask_about_god  fan of Rabbi Kushner. The second chapter's title reads, "If God isn't a bearded old man in the sky, then what is he?" I love his acknowledgment that no one has all the answers, after all we are finite beings attempting to understand the infinite. Therefore all these discussions with one's children are open-ended, and children are given permission to learn as they go, to develop their own relationship with their creator, instead of establishing a "grandfather" relationship of being expected to simply inherit their parents' beliefs and conclusions. I know some people are turned off by the title to Kushner's classic, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, but if you haven't read his very personal battle to understand the pain in the world, you're missing out. Skip all these titles and go get that one.

Honorable Mentions: Understanding Exposure (for SLR-newbies like me), Siblings Without Rivalry (because it's never too soon to prepare) , The Forest for the Trees, and A Mind at  Time (which I read out of order and still need to finish...).

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Real Time

We interrupt this series of retrospectives to give a brief update.

I'm in love.


With these two guys, and with this camera.

And, as is the case in any new relationship, the object of my affection is a complete mystery to me. At this stage, that's still enchanting (if that's still the case in six months, it will be annoying).

The guys, on the other hand, are a little more predictable.


Sean wants to be five, and to do anything his big brother does.  He spends much of the day telling me: "Me not boy. Me man." Okay, sometimes he will use the pronoun "I" but inconsistently. And I just don't understand where the need to prove oneself as a man comes from, already obvious at this age. Do little girls really go around wishing they were a woman?

I wish the motivation for manhood had a direct impact on Sean's motivation to give up diapers.

Like his brother at this age, Sean is obsessed with Children of the Forest by Elsa Beskow. It's a beautiful book following a tiny family through the seasons in the forest and their adventures with other creatures. I think Sean loves it because it scares him a little---the father battles a snake at one point, the two brothers get stung by ants, and there is even a laughing troll. I can see Sean enjoying figuring out "fear" in this safe setting.

Aidan still asks if he can join us when he sees Sean carrying this book to me. While making Nana's jello with me this evening,  Aidan asked me what stories my mom told me when I was little. I can't help but think that question came from Beskow's scene around a campfire where the father tells his children stories about far away places from his own childhood. Definitely want to look for more of Beskow's classics.


Two other happy reports---Brian finished the bookcase for our upstairs landing. There was quite a bit of wasted space there, and stacks of books overflowing in the office. Solution found. It really is a difficult space, with odd angles and without any straight lines, and no bought bookcase would have worked. He did a beautiful job, and for all my complaining about how long it takes to get anything built (because we usually just talk about it for years), he did it very quickly.

His sons are as impressed as I am, and I keep finding books placed on the (wrong) shelf as they wanted to play a role in filling it up too.

They get that talent from me:-)


The last bit of news is that I finally have a name I love in mind for Little Boy Keating #3.  And Brian didn't immediately veto it as soon as he heard it, so that is a good sign too. Only eight more weeks! Wish me luck finishing half of the unfinished projects around here before then!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Best of 2007, Part II: Fiction

Not a great reading year for me. People always  tease that you might lose your interest in sex after having kids, but it was my drive for fiction that diminished with each child. I got my groove back during the summer, and then didn't read any other novel for months.  It's a difficult balancing act for me---with a good book, I can easily disappear for a few days, which doesn't really work when kiddos are looking to you not only for meals and structure, but to be present. At the same time, I know I am a happier and saner mom when I get time to read and escape a bit.

Nonfiction and short stories have been my compromise, but I miss great novels.

13777373_2  Best novel of the year: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

He has become one of my favorite authors, with Angle of Repose one of my all-time favorite novels now. While that novel is greater in scale and ambitions, its flaws are greater as well. At first I was slightly disappointed in Crossing to Safety's smaller scale, but what it does, it does perfectly. It does not try to contain whole lives, whole families, or whole landscapes in the way Repose does. Its focus is on the marriages of two couples, and their friendships with each other.

Even in the novel, Larry asks, "How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these?" This is not an Irving novel; it has none of the bed-hopping or the betrayals one expects in a novel centered around four people. Instead Stegner makes a book one wants to read by creating characters as real as the people closest to you, and examining the demands and gifts of relationships. No other novel that I've read has so accurately portrayed the potential for both a heaven and a hell within a marriage.

One of my favorite passages: "I didn't know myself well, and still don't. But I did know, and know now, the few people I loved and trusted. My feelings for them is one part of me I have never quarreled with, even though my relations with them have more than once been abrasive."

Honorable Mentions:

0140435387_01_lzzzzzzz Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy; I loved and hated this novel. Sue made me crazy, and men who allow women to treat them that way make me crazier. The worst is that Jude would often describe exactly what drives Sue, show that he knew exactly what she was doing, and yet, still do whatever she bid. And then Jude, indulging in his dreams again, while his family stands homeless in the rain. Yet, I was engaged enough to be enraged and did care about these people. Until it became melodrama..."Done because we are too menny" --oy vey.

Overall, there were many lines, paragraphs and ideas that made me flip to the front to confirm it was published in the late 1800s. I can only imagine the urgency and boldness one felt reading it when it first appeared.

41qsnf53val The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger; A fast, enjoyable read set in Chicago that has a unique spin on the whole notion of time-travel. I preferred the first third, dealing with Henry's visits to Clare's childhood. I found their marriage scenes much less developed, and intriguing aspects of the dynamic Niffenegger sets up unexplored. Several supporting characters are flat or stereotypes. What has stayed with me though is the dilemma Clare faces, having already fallen in love with the mature Henry, when she meets him as an immature man. She's in love with who he isn't...yet.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; This has been waiting patiently on my412esm0qcl  shelf for years. I know people who love it, and others who hate it, so I was reluctant to begin. Yes, it is extremely repetitive, yes, it isn't necessarily original, and no, it doesn't deserve all the comparisons to The Little Prince. I don't understand how any American woman can read it and not be shocked that he hadn't returned for Fatima, "his true love", before going to the roots of the tree.

That said, repetition may be exactly what's needed when the message is to follow your dreams. The aspect I liked least were all the omens (such a subjective temptation), and my favorite was his dialogue with his heart. Love this passage:

"My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer," the boy told the alchemist...

"Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity."

Up Next...Part III: Nonfiction

Monday, January 7, 2008

Best of 2007, Part I: Movies

One of my resolutions/goals for the new year is to be more in the moment, especially since I tend to focus on either the future or the past. So I'm anxious to finish my Best of list for last year and be focused more on 2008.  With my siblings and best friends living in five different states, reading their lists is always a highlight of the new year. Love that peek into their lives, as well as getting recommendations. And as the years blur, I like looking at the old lists.


Brian and I saw more movies on the big screen this year than in any year since we became parents, thanks to finding a new babysitter, and even more so, in thanks to good friends and family who let us take advantage of every opportunity for some couple-time. When I look at these movie titles, I also think of where we were when we saw them and who was watching our kids…

  • “Knocked Up”—in Texas, with Elizabeth and Gabriel watching over the boys. We were pregnant at the time, and didn’t know it. Can’t help thinking we would have laughed a lot harder had we known. Cute, with enjoyable actors, but not great.

  • “The Departed” ---in Tucson, while the boys slept over at Carmen’s house with all the Rockow kidsJ  I enjoyed it, despite all the violence and bit of a let-down ending. Liked it even more after I saw “Babel” (which I disliked greatly). I wasn’t a fan of Leonardo until this one.

  • “Breech”—in Utah, with Amy watching the kids for our anniversary date. We could not have picked a less romantic movie, but it is really good… in a depressing way.

  • “Dan in Real Life”—in Flagstaff while the Rockows and MA once again watched over the boys.  Enjoyable actors, but annoyingly false at times. Steve Carell is a genius, and watching him play “Let My Love Open the Door” sent me into full pregnancy-induced crying.

  • “3:10 to Yuma” –in Utah, with my favorite discovery of the year: our new babysitter Tori. Strong performances. Predictable and cliche-filled, but entertaining.

  • “Michael Clayton”—Utah. Sharp and well-paced. Several great scenes---the horses, the scene in the hit-&-run-driver’s kitchen, in the car with his son. Clooney at his best, and Tom Wilkinson is always a favorite.

  • “Golden Compass” ---Utah. After Brian’s Christmas work-party, we thought we’d go for broke since we had a sitter, and saw this. It was fun, but I can’t imagine how anyone who hadn’t read the novel got a sense of any of the characters---too much plot and too little character/theme development. We came home to find Tori fast asleep on the couch, poor kidJ

  • “National Treasure 2”: --here in Utah, thanks to MA. I’m embarrassed to admit I chose this over “I am Legend” but sometimes you just know yourself too well. No zombies for me, thank you. Ridiculous plot and dialogue, but when your expectations are low, just enjoying fresh popcorn next to the guy you love is a great time.

All were fun in their own way, but the only two I'd highly recommend are "The Departed" and "Michael Clayton" ---neither were profound but both were expertly done and completely entertaining---a rare enough achievement.


“Into the Wild”: This is still in some theaters, but thanks to MA, we saw it at home. I found it moving and sad, and it has stayed with me since then, evoking more thought than I would have predicted. An infuriating story in some aspects, but told so well, with great care and great music. One of the best of the year.

“The Wind That Shakes the Barley”: I loved this one so much. Cillian_murphy3 One casting mistake (the main female, in my opinion) but great acting, great plot, and the best dialogue. Haunting, realistic portrayal of politics and an illustration of how violence as a means to peace only begets more violence.

"Stranger Than Fiction":Everyone else saw it last year. We saw it in January and I’d like to see it again. Great casting, so original, just wonderful

"Children of Men": I knew nothing before hand. So much care, so much relevance to our time (with those bloody “illegals” everywhere). Love the anti-hero running in his bare feet. Love the plot tuTalladeganightsdvdposterrns. Brilliant.

"Talladega Nights": I'll forgive it for leading us to  “Kicking & Screaming” which was unwatchable, only because it made us laugh out loud. Great combination of stupid jokes with smart satire, without any of the snarkiness of Christopher Guest's movies. Favorite line: “If we wanted some wussies, we'd have named 'em Dr. Quinn and Medicine Woman!”

"Dear Frankie" : sweet, compelling, probably predictable but I enjoyed it fully. Good tunes and great acting. I recommended it to my brother Kevin, who declared it a chick-flick.

"Thank You for Smoking": Perfect satire

"The Painted Veil": Surprisingly effective. Makes me want to revisit Maugham

"Everything is Illuminated": Wish it came out sooner, some of the book's most original ideas had already been “done” by the time the movie was made. Again, great performances, well done, quirky movie..

"Away From Her": Julie Christie--wow. Touching portrait of a marriage and letting go.

"49 & Up" : Just love this whole series.

"V for Vendetta": On a big screen the comic-book-style violence would have been too much for me, but I was enraptured by it on DVD. It has silly aspects, but serious ones too and I thought it was original and smart at the same time. Great illustration of the power of media/spin.

“Blood Diamond”: strong dialogue and acting. Insight into the ugly world of diamonds. Leo's character reminded me of leading men from old movies---a role Bogart or Mitchum were never young enough to play, but which would have suited them as well.

"Long Way Round": BBC series with great music that captured the bizarre nature of adventure in the Far East.

“Once”: this one is growing on me with distance. I had way too high of expectations, having waited forever to see it. Modest in its intentions, which is part of why it is so endearing. Great acting, nice detail to scenes, very sincere, but ultimately, not that much there beyond the music and its portrayal of loneliness.Once_filmstill1_iw

Honorable Mentions: Akeela and the Bee, Capote, Flags of Our Fathers, Half Nelson, Starter for Ten, Murderball

Worst: Running with Scissors, Holiday, Because I Said So, Pursuit of Happyness, Sicko (which might not deserve to be listed here, because it was good...but the wasted potential of being great if it had less of Michael Moore's ego and love of hyperbole infuriated me)

Kid Movies we saw on a big screen: My rating is based mainly on how much Aidan enjoyed a movie, and how much it stayed with him. “Bee Movie” and “Ratatouille” didn’t leave much of an impression, whereas “Robots” (which we saw at a public library in Wichita Falls, but it was a big screen) and “Meet the Robinsons” have had lasting influences.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Top Toys #1- 4

Trying to tie up loose ends from '07... click Kid Reviews under categories to see toys #6-10.


Toy #4: Mr. Potato Head

Okay, maybe not for everyone but this is our list after all, and all I can say is this toy gets a lot of mileage around here. Aidan may have more Potato Head parts than a collector, thanks to his grandparents (who gave him Space Potato Head and Spiderman Potato Head, among others) and to my own excitement at the challenge of fitting as many unique Potato Head accessories as possible into a bag at Once Upon a Toy.

Mr. Potato Head also makes a good sidekick to several superheroes, so he gets pulled out often. So there is usually a stray arm or hat under our couch...


#3: Wooden Food SetImg_0142

Love this one. Tiny ones gnaw on it (see the Melissa Doug website for info on their products and their assurance about paint, etc. No lead-paint recalls there!), little ones cut it up with the kid-friendly wooden knife, and big ones serve you lunch with it. We pack it up every so often, but it always comes back out. Definitely worth the $.

#2: Power Tools and Tool Bench

They are Brian's sons after all. Aidan received his Craftsman tool bench from Santa when he was 2 years old. It's all plastic and batteries and realistic noises, not my kind of thing at all---but they love it, as does every boy who enters our home.

I've seen some sets that are too 'task-oriented' so that they require an adult's help, and other sets that offer nothing for a child to *do* (besides push that noise button). This one is a good balance (though there must be better ones out there).


For my guys, it was and still is all about the safety goggles:-)

#1 Top Toy:  Arts & Crafts Supplies!


Okay, maybe that's a cop-out because they aren't really toys, but man, if they ain't loved around here.  Gramare gave the guys a big plastic jar filled with pipe cleaners,googlie eyes, and popsicle sticks----and they were in awe! These two can never get enough of paper or freshly sharpened pencils. I'm always being asked if Aidan can dive into my stash of ribbon, buttons, or brads.

I have a friend who saves every paper towel roll, etc., for her boys' craft closet, and when she told me that, I did feel a pang of guilt. Then I read Camp Creek Press's post about creating a kid-friendly studio and felt even more guilt . Of course I also read Peter Walsh's It's All Too Much last year, so I've found a compromise. I've given Aidan some space, where he can "collect" all the household found objects he wants for his creations---until the designated space is filled. Then you gotta use some before you add more. Because space is limited, even if buttons are not:-)  And this is a kid who won't let me throw anything away---the cup cozy from take-out chai is essential for "something" he wants to make.

Still, nothing makes Aidan happier than making something or creating something or---lately--just drawing up plans for the things he's going to invent when he's older.

And there are no batteries required:-)

Finally, 3 Honorable Mentions:

Thanks_auntie_angie3. Superheroes/Action Figures

Because I'd be misleading you if I didn't mention them.

Sean usually has one in his fist throughout the entire day.

2. Stuffed Animals

I always favored them over dolls as a kid, but as an adult, they just seem like germ-collectors to me. And we have WAAAAY too many of them. But these boys have so much love to give.


One of my all-time favorite photos. Aidan was four at the time and I grabbed my camera when I saw he had set up all his friends with him to read on the couch.

Hug_for_pootie Pootie  Seans_dog_yellow



Sometimes I think they just really need a dog. Give me two more years, guys, I promise.

While not a toy, the last is more essential than any toy or object. Save the $ you'd spend on toys and let your kids play with this as much as possible:

#3. Wide Open Spaces



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