Thursday, March 31, 2011


Birthday celebrations are bountiful in our family during the month of March. We enjoyed a special birthday treat with Jeff this year - I got tickets for the five of us to go see a men's lacrosse game - UVA versus Ohio State. (UVA won, of course). It was the first sporting event we've taken the kids to see, and it was so much fun! Aidan thoroughly enjoyed the spirit of the game and was hollering and cheering along with the rest of the crowd. Leo enjoyed it... until we realized we didn't have enough cash for the $10 bucket of popcorn he wanted. He pouted and stamped on the stands, but no one minded - everyone else was busy stamping their feet, too, in loud appreciation of the fine showmanship of the lacrosse team! And Pax pretty much contented himself with snuggling in the Ergo and made a game of putting his pacifier into my mouth... over and over and over again. The game was great fun, and I love having a new event that the whole family enjoys (er, next time we'll bring wads of cash to throw at the food vendors....)

Run, baby run! Jeff and I ran the C'ville 10 Miler on Saturday, March 26. It was awesome! Even though Aidan is always disappointed that we don't win, (he explained his daydream of "freezing" all the other runners so that Jeff and I could make it to the finish line, then unfreezing them just before we crossed the end of the race) I love the example we set for our kids, a fit mama and a fit daddy racing together. We're coming up on our 10 year anniversary, so we ran the 10 Miler; a marathon at 26, perhaps?

Arse-kicking. That's what this semester has been for me. But I'm fighting back - valiantly - and am so excited to realize that I'm going to graduate in May 2012, with just 2 classes and summer clinic remaining. I'm looking forward, very much, to May 2, 2011 when I can finally breathe a little easier....

Snow! Can you believe it? Snow fell the day after our race, on March 27. Never thought I'd see my hyacinths covered in a layer of snow, but I never thought I'd get my arse kicked by my 60-something professor, either. (I might be exaggerating here. I'm confident I'll still pull out an A... just not the A+ I've grown accustomed to...)

Sandy (my aunt) and her partner Karen came for a visit! It was great fun to have them at our race, because I vividly remember marveling at my aunt when she was running long races herself. She'd come for a visit... and go running! In high school, when I had zero confidence in my running ability, my aunt worked with me at the high school track to run better and longer.... (I'm talking a mile here, people - she helped me make it to a mile!) How sweet to have her support me again, 14 years and many miles later...

So there you have it - B.R.A.S.S. (Make mine a Brass Monkey instead?!)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Simple Gifts

The world is bursting with turmoil and chaos and unrest and worry. The earthquake and tsunami in Japan continue to unfurl their devastation. The escalating conflict and unrest in Libya, and also in Bahrain, seems to have no end in sight. Closer to home, recent political decisions threaten the very essence of our democracy (Wisconsin's suppression of unions among public employees is just one example). And there's a very sick child in our community whom I worry about every day. I thought the end of February would bring relief, but in some ways, it did not.

During these times, I am grateful, more than ever, for the simplest gifts:

My family - always a gift. Even when Aidan is so hungry he has "the Jeffies" and is wicked mean to everyone in his path - because most of the time, he's one of the most imaginative and inquisitive people I've ever known. Even when Leo is so "four" I think I am going to fall of the end of my rope - for good - because he is the friendliest of social butterflies, greeting every old biddy we pass in the grocery store. Even when Pax spends one and a half hours per night, whimpering and crying, seemingly for no reason - because he still greets me with a huge grin come sunup. And Jeff - even when he forgets to take out the trash or clean the cat pan, he can make me laugh at the most unexpected moments.

But there are so many others:

Fresh cut flowers. I've started buying myself a bouquet every week. In the earliest days of going from two paychecks to one, fresh flowers every week was one of the first - and hardest - things to get cut from our discretionary spending fund. No longer - because I'm worth it. Each week, I present them to myself, to the side of me that feels particularly overtaxed: the cleaning lady; the financial planner; the mama-nurse. This week, the flowers are for the graduate student who posts to her online class forum while waiting for the water to boil for the mac n' cheese and for a call-back from the pediatrician..... because she's worth it.

Cool crafts and projects, and the kids who love to craft. Aidan and Leo spent an hour building and rebuilding with Dots and toothpicks. (Pax tried to spend an hour eating the Dots. Eventually, he contented himself with poking them with toothpicks, mimicking his brothers!)

Another cool project - dissecting owl pellets. It's a terrible picture, but a great memory. I want to remember, always, how earnestly Aidan dug into the pellets, literally, examining each tiny bone and the skull and the fur and the teeth.

"Catching" the boys reading past bedtime. Again - not a good picture - but when I went upstairs to grab the laundry, I noticed their room was quiet but not dark. It was past their bedtime. I peeked my head in, ready to admonish, but all I could do was grin. There they were, engrossed in their own world of wonder and adventure - nestled in the calm quiet of their beds with books in hand.

We went to the zoo. We bought some pet food to feed to the giraffes. I want to remember, always, that Pax ate the giraffe food and was furious when I tried to sweep it out of his mouth, furious when I pried the remaining kibble from his tightly clenched fist.

An 81 degree day in March. We celebrated by eating dinner out on the deck - the first time this season. (Also note the gorgeous blue sky in the background)

The gift of music. Doesn't this look awesome, all kum-ba yah and whatnot? Can you see us on our next camping trip, gathered 'round the campfire with s'mores and songbooks in hand? I'm determined to make it happen, determined to learn to play the guitar -- just look at the rapt and adoring attention I get from all these males!

And I return again to my most favorite simple gift. My family. Often, my heart is so heavy when I head to bed at night, heavier still when Jeff is working and I'm not able to unburden myself of my worries. Three loveys sit on my nightstand for that very purpose. For my birthday, Jeff bought a Monkey, Dog, and Ox (representing the Chinese birth years of Aidan, Leo, and Pax, respectively). Then he bought tiny recordable buttons and recorded the peals of laughter of each boy onto the buttons before painstakingly sewing each one into the stuffed animals. At night before bed, I play them, sometimes all at once and sometimes individually. I cannot help but drift off to sleep with a smile on my face, my heart lightened, after listening to their beautiful laughter and replaying it in my mind's ear, over and over....

"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter."
-e.e. cummings

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Family Tradition

(Okay, fine, this is utterly cheating. But I wrote this piece for my writing class, and it's fairly well revised and polished, and I'm feeling guilty about not blogging even though I have several drafts in the queue and so I'm resorting to cheating. But it's a nice tradition, cheating or no...)


My mother’s finest tea cups, Royal Doulton bone china laced with delicate flowers, lay before us on the table. At age 8, I could hardly believe my luck – it was Christmas Eve; I was up past bedtime (too excited to sleep, anyway); I got to use the fancy cups and drink tea with way too much sugar and milk. Best of all, seated around the base of the softly glowing Christmas tree were two of my most favorite women: my mom and her mom, my beloved grandmother. A tradition was born.

Each subsequent year, I looked forward to the Ladies’ Tea on Christmas Eve almost as much as I looked forward to everything else – the cookie making, the gifts, the magic of the season. I loved shooing out the men in our lives – my dad and my brother Adam– this was for girls only, we’d exclaim. They acted indignant, but it was all for show.

We shared tea for years and years and years. Our time together, like the tea we shared, was delicious and warm, infused with love. In 1994, when I was a freshman in high school, things changed. My beloved grandma died in the earliest hours of Christmas Eve, before we’d had a chance to drink our tea. It was not unexpected, yet the grief and pain of losing her on such an important and significant day shattered my heart like the fine china we’d sipped from. There was no tea that year….

….or the next one, either. I was angry that my grandma died on Christmas Eve, because the magic of Christmas was gone. Her death created a permanent stain in our teacups, one that refused to lift despite repeated scrubbing. Eventually, though, the stain began to fade, and our tradition resumed…

Many Christmas Eves later, when Adam was home for a visit and my future husband, Jeff, was staying with us, our tea tradition took a turn for the worse. Throwing our good sense down the drain along with the steeped tea leaves, my mother and I – the only women in the house – foolishly decided to allow the men to join us for tea, but only if they promised to be on their best behavior. We should have known that trouble lay ahead when they turned their noses up at our Darjeeling blend, insisting that their “tea” was a two finger pour of Glenfiddich. Apparently scotch and sugar cookies make for a boisterous pairing, because the tea had scarcely been served before my mother and I made a beeline for the door, away from the peals of laughter coming from the men. We loved them dearly, yet they had no appreciation whatsoever for the dignified, classy nightcap on our Christmas Eve. They’ve not been invited back.

In 2006, Adam, his partner Linsey, and their son Hugo joined us for Christmas; my mom and I were thrilled to have another woman join us for tea. Linsey had heard about this tradition before, and arrived prepared… with a new blend of “tea,” this one more of the bubbly and spirited kind. We exchanged our Wedgwood for Waterford, rose leaf tea for sparkling rosé. Although I was well past my 21st birthday, I had the odd sensation of feeling like that eight year old again, experiencing my first grown up tea with the fine women in my life; the rosé proved to be a whole new kind of grown up tea.

Since Linsey’s tea with us those years ago, we’ve continued to faithfully set out the special Santa tea pot each year - but we’ve abandoned tea in favor of one variety or another of sparkling wine. Yet I sense that the eve is approaching, soon, when the tradition will change again, when we will go back to tea with way too much sugar and milk, for there are up-and-coming eight-year-olds in this house. I have no daughters, but I do have three very fine sons who will revel in the opportunity to sip tea on Christmas Eve with two of their favorite women ever – Mom and Grandma. Our time together promises to be delicious and warm, infused with love.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hello Yellow!

The newly minted yellow belt, featured here with his Shihan and Sensei ("Master of Teachers" and "Teacher")

2 1/2 hours and 200 push ups later, Aidan earned his first belt in karate - his yellow belt. It was a proud day! Shihan, as he is called by students and parents alike, runs an impressive karate dojo. He demands excellence and respect - and through his own excellence and respect, he earns it. And so I loved what happened on the day of Aidan's belt test. As the dozen or so white belts were preparing to do their kata, the main part of the test, Shihan challenged them to do the kata one time only - no mistakes - perform the kata perfectly on the first try. Poised and ready, with parents looking on in eager anticipation, the tension was broken for a moment when Shihan added, "It's never been done. I don't want to dash your hopes here, but it's never been done in just one try." A chuckle rippled through the parents, and then silence resumed before the white belts began their kata. Once finished, they froze into their final position. There was silence, as Shihan stared at them all. Sensei Joey came over and whispered in his ear. More silence. Finally - Shihan said, "This kills me to say this. It kills me. But that was perfect. You are the first ones ever to do the kata in just one try."

Wax on, my karate kid!!