Thursday, December 24, 2009

Constructive Criticism

No matter how constructive you try to be, criticism is hard to take. And at first, constructive criticism always seems destructive.

Bianca is my music lover. She plays beautifully on the piano. Not only is she good at playing, but she just gets it. There’s something in her brain that allows her to feel something—to create—with her music that’s just not there for everyone. I played the piano for ten years in my childhood and never once thought that I could actually “create” out of what I knew—the notes on the page that signified a key, the timing, the key signatures. All that. But instinctively, Bianca creates. She has to have her muse (some days it’s far, far away but others it’s there and she spends a morning composing a new piece). She has this little folder full of her compositions and it shows the progression of her musical understanding. Now that she’s getting better, her pieces are getting more interesting—key signature changes, more complex rhythms—and more difficult for her to play. I thought it was funny that the song she wrote (and won) in Reflections this year (called “Birds' Chorus”) she had the hardest time playing.

After Bianca had been playing piano for two years, she decided she wanted to try out the orchestra at school. She learned to play the viola in a class setting. The problem with this is that the instructor doesn’t really have the time to individually help each student. While she’s learning the notes okay, her form isn’t great. She doesn’t use a lot of her bow and many times her bow slides off to the side, which makes her play more quietly and the sound is less pure. I noticed this at the Christmas concert last week when watching her in comparison with some of the other students. But now, as I try to encourage her to “use more bow” or to “slide straight up and down,” Bianca has just had it. She told me that moms aren’t supposed to criticize but to support their children. I understand what she’s saying. I really do. But how can I sit back and watch her doing something wrong and not correct it? If I don’t, who will?

I told her about my writing group. How I turn in my work and then I go and each person “constructively” tells me what I’m doing wrong, what I need to fix, and I leave most nights a little heartbroken. Yes, I’ve even cried on my drive home a couple times. It hurts to be criticized. BUT after a day or two contemplating what I’ve been told about my story, I start working. I rewrite and fix. And always, always after I’ve spent the time with my story, it’s better. It just is. And then I know that yes, I need to be a little heartbroken to get better.

Bianca listened to my story. I don’t know how much she related to playing the viola. I’m trying to back off. I guess I just need to let her learn on her own. But I still can’t get over that she’s going to learn some bad habits on her viola that are going to take her forever to correct if we don’t fix it soon. I know I’m a controlling mom. I know I push, sometimes too hard. But I feel like Bianca has been given a gift, a musical gift that not just everyone gets. I didn’t. I want her to live up to her potential. I want to build her up, but sometimes doesn’t she have to be broken down first? What’s acceptable for a mom to do? I want her to be the best she can. Is that so wrong?

Playing viola

Friday, December 18, 2009

Family Traditions

Ever since we moved Portia out of the crib, we've had hard nights. She now had her freedom. With that freedom, I guess she felt she could get up at any hour and play. I'd been awakened many nights with Portia playing in her room with her toys. That wouldn't really bother me too much, but she can't play quietly. Portia's playing involves a lot of singing, "talking" her friends, and opening & closing doors. Wandering through the house. We've had to take her bluebird nightlight away countless times.

Yesterday morning, after Eric left around 5 in the morning to work out, I couldn't sleep. So I got out of bed and saw that Portia's door was open. I looked all over and couldn't find her. I panicked. I worried that maybe Portia had slipped outside when Eric was leaving and he hadn't seen her. I imagined her roaming the cold, dark morning with barefeet in the snow, freezing. I imagined much worse things too, but I don't want to relive those now. Finally, I went downstairs and checked every room before I opened Bianca's door. As I did, I saw Portia in Bianca's bed snuggling with her. Bianca was still asleep.

I pulled Portia up and hugged her and hugged her. Thank goodness she was okay! And in retrospect, it's really quite sweet. Portia wandered downstairs and climbed into Bianca's bed. Bianca told me later that she had been in her bed about an hour. They both fell asleep.

Yesterday, I told Bianca about how my sister and I used to sleep in the same bed on Christmas Eve. I don't remember exactly how many times this happened, but I do remember specifically the night Susannah came home from being away at college that first year and how we were so happy to see each other again that we spent that night in the same bed. Bianca thought this might be the year that she and Portia can sleep together on Christmas Eve. I guess I don't see the harm in it. I love to carry on traditions. Like eating ice cream after recitals and performances (which we did on Wednesday after Bianca's viola duet). Family traditions are important. I hope someday that my kids will carry some of those same traditions on with their own families.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Just a lazy, cold afternoon--nothing to do but twirl in dresses. I should have insisted on brushing the girls' hair first, but what do you do? They had fun nonetheless.


Still dancing

Sunday, September 27, 2009

There's screeching in the house. . .

and it's not from the witches in the Halloween decorations we put up yesterday. It's from Bianca's viola. She started orchestra two weeks ago.

We decided on the viola because a friend of mine told me that there are shortages in orchestras of people who play this instrument (the lower-voiced big sister to the violin), so I thought it might be another college scholarship opportunity (I'm always looking for another "option" in bringing down the cost of college and I might as well start now). So here it is. It's really quite cute. Bianca totes around her little viola with her everywhere she goes. She loves the thing. She has been playing Mary Had a Little Lamb, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (as shown in the video below), and the Tarantella (sp?) which she came up with on her own. It's not so bad, if you can hear beyond the screeching. At least the viola's notes aren't as high as the violin's.

When I was a kid, my mom decided she wanted to learn to play the violin. Something she'd always wanted to do, she said. I don't remember how long it lasted, but it wasn't long. Our little dog Cuddles would sit near her when she practiced and howl--as if she were speaking back to some poor innocent, tortured fellow animal crying from within my mom's violin.

I guess I shouldn't complain about the screeching. With practice, it'll get better. And at least Tigger doesn't howl along.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I'm sorry

I'm quick to apologize. I always have been (to most everybody but my husband, he'll most certainly say). At my last job, this guy once referred to my willingness to apologize--even for things I have no control over or wasn't ultimately responsible for--as a weakness. I've thought about that for a while. I apologize to my kids when I need to (I'm a firm believer that kids need to hear their parents apologize or how else are they going to learn to do it too?) Despite what Eric believes, I apologize to him. I try to apologize when I've done something to hurt someone else. And I always apologize when I cut someone off at Wal-Mart with my cart (and we all know how brutal Wal-Mart shopping can be).

Today I took my girls to the new McDonald's at The District, since I had coupons. The place was a madhouse. My kids were golden (seriously, I don't know how I got so lucky to have such great kids). After Bianca finished eating, she went into the "basketball court" in the play area that was laden with children. Bianca had a basketball and was throwing it up into the air. When it richocheted off the backboard and began bouncing into the other kids there, she promptly apologized to each one she came near, "Sorry, sorry, sorry." I realized my weakness had rubbed off on her.

I'm still not convinced that being willing to apologize is a weakness. Isn't it a politeness? A couple minutes later, a boy about Bianca's age came in and started throwing the ball around, knocking over toddlers like he was bowling and then bumped into Bianca. No apology, not even the turn of a head to acknowledge that he ran her over. He kept fumbling around with his ball and rolling over children like a bulldozer. This is the part where I am glad that I've instilled on my kid a weakness: I would much rather have a polite child who is overabundant in her use of the phrase "I'm sorry" than a rude kid who has never used the phrase in his life.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kids make strange bedfellows

It was time for our second annual Shakespeare Festival weekend with our friends Rachel and Conner. Last year was special because we saw Taming of the Shrew (Bianca's namesake play) and this year was special because it was As You Like It, the play off which I'm basing the YA novel I'm currently working on. I know this play inside and out, like the back of my hand. I'm close to these characters and I know their stories.

We headed down Saturday morning, checked into the hotel, went swimming, to dinner (which Winger's seems to have become a tradition), and then headed over to the Green Show and the play. Last year Bianca chose a tiny porcelain doll at the gift shop and this year she chose a dagger. It's a real knife. This one was especially cute because it had a smaller little knife in a smaller little pocket in the carrying case (she said for her bear Leah).

Last year, Rachel and I decided on separate hotel rooms. The idea of sleeping in a bed with Bianca is terrifying. We start out with heads on pillows in the right direction, but halfway through the night, I feel Bianca's feet pressing into my stomach and she's perpendicular to me and pushing me off the bed. Not intentionally, of course, but boy is she a kicker. This year, in an attempt to save a couple bucks, we decided to share a hotel room. But that would require sharing a bed with Bianca. Turns out, Bianca didn't push me off the bed this year, but I did wake in the night with her paddling her arms into me. As if she were swimming. Maybe she was dreaming about swimming. Who knows! But my goodness, next year I think I'm going to have to insist on separate beds.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Writing Conference

Literary “summer camp” is how explained my week away from my 7- and 2-year-old daughters. And that's exactly what it was—summer camp for adults. Several of my writing friends and I have been planning this for several months. We signed up for the same workshop at the conference, studying writing under Julianna Baggott. We rented a condo nearby. I flew my mom in to take care of my kids. We planned everything. Christie even wrote a ridiculously detailed itinerary (which I loved, by the way) about what our literary week would be like.

And it hasn't disappointed. Ninety-five percent of the conversations have been about writing and reading and reading about writing. We have free writes each morning, where one of us chooses a topic and we all write with our pens (not on our computers) about that for several minutes. We've attended readings, book signings by the resident authors, afternoon panels about getting published and creating and perfecting our “craft” as they like to put it here.

I even got up today and read in the open mic session. “Who here are you ever going to see again?” was one of the comments that gave me the courage to pencil my name in on the list. Well, that and Julianna Baggott told me to do it (If someone tells you to jump off a bridge. . .) Oh yeah, and there was one other thing that gave me the courage—the fact that the agent I met with on Tuesday (beautiful Eve Bridburg) wants to read my entire 82,000-word manuscript. So I did it. I got up there and I read my opening line about hating flowers and the next two pages. It was scary and my voice shook and I stumbled over some words, but I did it. And it feels good to have done somethng that is so uncharacteristic, kind of like jumping off a bridge and the adrenaline that goes along with that.

My head is so crammed with good literary advice, motivational stuff, metaphors, images, descriptions. I just want to get home and continue writing, writing, writing. But my head's spinning and I'm having a hard time concentrating. I want to read—oh, but I want to write. And I kind of want to make this week I've looked so forward to last just a little bit longer—even though I miss my kids with a fierce passion I've kept kindled inside. I can already picture the joyous reunion tomorrow afternoon—there's hugging and kissing and hugging and laughing and maybe a little crying. Whatever, I'll take it.

And I'll take home all that stuff I'm learning—about the “what happens” not being important but “how it happens,” where a novel should begin, and all those marked-up copies of my first chapter of “Isle of Arden,” my take on As You Like It for young adults. I'm currently on page 154. It's a light airy thing, something that's really fun to write after spending the previous three years working on something so dark that my eyes watered as I explained the plot to the agent. “I know this is unprofessional,” I'd said to her as I wiped my eyes, “but it's just so close to me.”

“Send it to me,” she'd said.

“You mean like the first three chapters?” I'd asked.

“No, the whole thing. I want to start reading and not stop.”

I don't think she could have known how she just made my world. As I explained to my writing friends shortly after as I was nursing my headache of happiness later that afternoon, the beginning of my list of priorities goes something like this: “my family” and right underneath it is “publishing the book I spent the last four years petting and primping and loving and holding so close to me I had a hard time breathing.” Way after that comes my house, car, the closets full of European designer clothes for my girls, and all the rest of that materialistic stuff.

Well, for now I guess I'm going to have to halt on page 154 of Isle of Arden and start thinking about polishing and shining the manuscript because Eve wants it in at least a month. I've got to get going on that. I'm anxious and excited and can't believe I almost backed out of coming this year. I thank my talented writing friends Christie and Rachel and Annalisa for coming too. And for being my friends and as E.B. White says at the end of Charlotte's Web, “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.” My writing friends are both.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Music, Always More Music

I was reading in a book recently (it was Devil in the White City, if you're interested) and the author was describing someone (I think it was Olmstead, the landscape designer from the Chicago World's Fair) as someone who was a musical prodigy because he sang before he could speak. I don't necessarily think that my baby is a musical prodigy; however, she was singing and humming long before she could speak.

It must have something to do with all the music in our house. Bianca practices the piano once a day, I practice once a day, and then there's usually singing (sometimes by me) or Steve Songs on PBSKIDS or Backyardigans any other time.

Portia loves music and she's always singing. When I put her to bed or down for a nap, she usually doesn't fall asleep right away. But she doesn't cry either. She's usually singing until she falls asleep--any number of songs like the Chipmunks Christmas Song (yes, still), Rubber Duckie, Do As I'm Doing, or some Portia-original.

She doesn't always love when I sit down to practice the piano though, because that means I won't be holding her (although believe me, I have played with her in my lap in the past). But most of the time, she cries when she hears the first measure of the Nocturne I'm learning. I figured out how to get her to encourage my practicing. I sit down right after lunch, when she knows that it's time for her nap, and I ask her whether she'd like to take a nap now or hear a lullaby. She says a lullaby, which I begin playing, while she runs off to play with her toys. As soon as the last chord is hit, Portia runs out and says, "I like that song," and then politely asks for "More Lullaby" or "More Nocturne." I can usually get a good half hour of practice in with her encouraging me each time while she's getting out of taking her nap. This works before bedtime too.

My other favorite time Portia sings is right before I put Portia to bed, I sing her a lullaby and rock her. Just once. And most nights, she sings along with me. I posted a video below of our nightly ritual on the evening of her second birthday. (I apologize in advance for my singing; I said I like music, not that I'm good at making it!)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My Talented Young Writer

Last night was the Talented Young Writers program. Bianca shared a poem she wrote:

Flowering Forest

I chase the trees, tree after tree, to the flowering meadow.
I'm not chasing trees, flowers are chasing me! in the flowering meadow.

They come and they go, every ripe pretty tulip.
They hear and they see, they can chase after me, in the flowering forest.


Monday, May 4, 2009

My Miranda Tulips

Shortly after Miranda died, a group of women in my neighborhood came over with spades and shovels and bulbs. One of them had found a tulip in a catalogue called a Miranda tulip. They dug and planted and the next spring, my beds were overflowing with white and red tulips. They were beautiful and they come back every year right around Miranda's birthday and I treasure them.

Last spring, I was a wreck when I went outside and saw most of my tulips without their heads. I couldn't believe it. I wondered who the heartless kids were that had cut my tulips. The stems were chopped off in a straight line, looked like they had been cut with a scissors. I realized a little later that of course it was the deer with their straight teeth. The deer devour my strawberries and tulips are edible (and I guess delicious, which is a good thing to know in case of an emergency).

This weekend, we had quite a storm. It rained and hailed and Bianca noticed yesterday that a lot of my Miranda tulips had snapped near the heads and were hanging from their stems. Bianca and I went out and gathered each one of them we could find and filled up bowls with water (as the stems left on the head were only about an inch long and regular vases wouldn't work). They're beautiful still, and I've decorated my house with them. I've got a trifle bowl filled with them in my kitchen, and Portia, Bianca, and I each got a single tulip for our bedrooms. In a small way, I feel like I'm decorating my house with little reminders of Miranda. Like our house is filled with her presence (or presents, whichever way you want to look at it).

Bianca thinks the crevices fill with water and so it made the tulips too heavy for their stems, which sounds about right to me. Bianca played a big part in the rescue mission and for that, I'm grateful. I wouldn't have known they were there if not for her venturing out in the rain yesterday to check on some mother's day present she's storing out there (don't tell her, but I know she's steeping some flower petals in water trying to make me home-made perfume).

I noticed some more hanging this morning as I returned from jogging. So I grabbed them and filled another bowl. I don't know if my attempt to save every bit of life related to Miranda (including these tulips) is the result of my guilt at not being able to save her life almost four years ago. It probably is. I still wonder if I made the right decision--if I had kept her on life support just a little longer maybe she would have made it through. I know what the doctors told me, but I can't help but wonder.

I know she's gone--for now. But I still look forward to springtime, her birthday, when a little bit of life (in Miranda's name) peeks through the soil and surrounds me with beauty. And I'll try to keep it around me as long as I have the power to.


Monday, April 27, 2009

A different birthday celebration

Each year, I get a recorded phone message on April 27. It's Geoffrey the giraffe (from Toys 'R Us) singing happy birthday to Miranda. The first year after she died, I thought it was just plain mean. Now, I don't get angry. I actually listen to it and hang up the phone quietly. And that's when Miranda's birthday begins.

It's always a sad day for me. I try not to do too much. I try to think a lot and look back at pictures and read about Miranda. It's the one day of the year that indulge myself in the memories of Miranda that I try not to let affect my day-to-day life.

Tonight, we'll eat a little dinner as a family, eat some cupcakes that have become a tradition on Miranda's birthday, visit the cemetery, bring her little gifts,talk about her a little more than usual. And we'll be sad. Not because we can't enjoy the good memories of her, but it's just impossible not to think and wonder about what she'd be like today. Turning five. Going into kindergarten next year.

And that's it. That's our celebration (or mourning really, if you want to be technical) that I let myself have every year.

I once thought about calling Toys 'R Us and asking them to please stop calling on her birthday. But now I look forward to it, Geoffrey the giraffe hasn't forgotten Miranda the way most of the world has. I guess I'll just let that be for now.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Portia's Two!

Yesterday was Portia's second birthday. We did a small family party (just the four of us). We had pizza for dinner, which is one of the only meals I can consistently get Portia to eat.

Portia and Bianca right before birthday cake

In lieu of a birthday cake, we did a Razzleberry Pie. Portia loves pie and that's what she said she wanted when I asked her if she wanted cake or pie.

Then came presents. Since our present was her big-girl room, there wasn't much in wrapping paper. Fortunately, Bianca's been working on Portia's present for the last six months. Here's Portia with the owl that Bianca made for her.

Portia after opening her present from Bianca

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Thank you much

I pride myself on having polite babies. I used to hear it a lot when Bianca was a baby--how polite she was with her please and thank you(s). I taught them by saying please and thank you to them; they likewise learn to be polite. It's been a bit rough with Portia. She started saying "thank you" early on but then turned to saying "welcome" every time she needed to say thank you. We understood what she meant. She finally went back to saying thank you. But she doesn't just say thank you, she says, "Thank you much." It reminded me that the word "very" is actually superfluous. We don't really need to use it as often as we do.

It also reminded me of this quote by Mark Twain that I have listed on my goodreads profile: "Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."

Maybe she's a step ahead. She's cutting out the superfluous word before anyone need tell her. I should be grateful she's not saying damn. That wouldn't be very polite, now would it?


Thursday, March 26, 2009

I cried four times yesterday--Four Times! No wonder I had a headache all day. I hate the days I'm emotional; it's embarrassing really. Especially when the next day they seem like such silly reasons to cry.

I felt the need to apologize to my friend Rachel who had to sit through me crying my heart out explaining why Jude the Obscure (one of my very favorites books) was so tragic!

I cried again because ten minutes before my writing group was to arrive, my stupid dog thought he'd go in and use the couch as a potty pad! I hate the dog--I started to shove his nose in it and beat him (I couldn't help it; I was having an emotional day) and he bit me in the hand. I had to hastily move all the food down to the family room and am now planning to buy a new couch or get rid of the damn dog.

The last time I cried last night was because I was moved to tears by an act of kindness to my daughter. I was a little worried about what Kate would think when Bianca paraded in all her homemade purses when she arrived for Writing Group. I warned her to expect it. I considered offering her some money under the table so that it wouldn't hurt Bianca's feelings if she had just been kidding about wanting one of Bianca's purses. But sometimes people amaze you and she did last night. Kate came in and asked to see Bianca's purses. Bianca turned into this shy girl, hiding behind my bag clutching onto her four remaining purses. [I must mention that when I'm offering something creative of myself, like my writing, I wish I could cower behind my mom's back because it's just safer there.] But anyway, I nudged Bianca forward to show them to Kate, which she did finally. Kate asked if she could buy all of them. And when she asked how much and Bianca said $2 each, Kate replied, "That's not enough." She gave her $20 for the four remaining purses, and Bianca skipped off happily down to bed.

After my group left, I found a new purse on the steps where Bianca must have been cowering and stitching together her last bits of scrap felt to make another purse but too afraid to offer it up. I saw it discarded there before bed and picked it up. And I cried. I don't know why, perhaps for the kindness that Kate showed my daughter or for the sweet little girl who is trying out her creativity and is hoping that someone will love what she creates--or her for creating it, which I do. Maybe I was crying for me because everytime I send in some more of my writing, I hope someone will finally love what I'm offering. That my novel will be accepted, that I will feel it was worth the three years I put into it.

With morning, though, brings clarity. And while I still think my daughter is the sweetest girl in all of the world, I now think I see her intentions a little more clearly. Yes, Bianca was offering up another bit of her creativity but she realized that this group paid well. And I'll bet she was clamouring for some more money.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Purses, Purses Everywhere!

It all started with this


Bianca has been stitching away and she made me this purse so that I'd have a place to store my keys and cell phone (since I'm losing it all the time). I brought it with me to dinner with some ladies from my writing group. It's a little bright so it didn't take long for them to ask me about it. I told them my daughter Bianca made it and they asked how they might be able to get their hands on one. When I told Bianca about this, she started going crazy--stitching, cutting, threading away. She went a little too crazy and made a ton of these purses and asked if I'd start a store on my blog to see if we could sell some. So, here are some of her latest creations. They're one of a kind. You won't find another like them anywhere in the world.



"I Love a Bird" Purse ($3) SOLD


And last but not least, the creme de la creme of hand-stitched purses, the 3-D Bird Nest Purse ($4) SOLD


Get yours today!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Colossians 3:14

"And the most important piece of clothing you must wear is love."

I ran across this "scripture" on a listing on ebay for a dress I've been watching. It's long been known to me (and confirmed last week when I went to see the Shopoholic movie) that I have a problem. A buying problem. Buying dresses for my girls, especially.

I want my girls to be well-dressed. That's it. I remember wishing for clothes when I was a kid--only to be handed down both my older sisters' very used leftovers.

As a mother, I think I've modeled a lot of my style around my own mother. But the clothes issue is where I've run completely to the other side of the field. I want my kids to have it so very different from I did. I've seen this with my sister too. And yes, now our kids are well-dressed. But where does it stop? There has to be a limit. Portia has so many dresses that at most, she wears one dress twice. I know it's too much, but I just can't stop. And it increases my pleasure twofold if I can get said dress(es) for a good deal (yes, I remember the fight the protagonist in Shopoholic had over the half-priced boots).

In my defense, however, this all started when Miranda died and I realized that I hadn't bought her enough clothes of her own (translation: If I had bought her more, she would have felt more loved). I justify this by saying that the amount of dresses my girls have equals how much I love them. I know it's not completely rational, but at least I have an excuse. My intentions are good. And when my girls are all dressed up for church, they are cloaked in my love.

Admitting the problem is the first step. Next step, tomorrow I'm going to try to go a whole day without looking on ebay. Let's see if I'm strong enough. I have to keep telling myself that I love my kids regardless of what they're wearing. I do know that my mom loved me even when I was wearing those footie pajamas with my toes poking through.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I always thought that my daughter would be a gymnast. It's what I wanted to do when I was a little girl so much that I thought I would die if I couldn't do it. And I didn't get to do it. So, when I found out my first baby was a girl, I just knew that she would be a gymnast. I just knew it.

However, when I put her in gymnastics when she was three, she didn't really show much interest. I thought I'd wait and try it again when she was five. I tried. She didn't like it. So I pulled her out again. Finally, at seven, she started doing handstands around the house. I thought this is it! So I enrolled her again and we've been doing it for several months and I'm watching and she's just not showing any natural ability.

It's taken a lot of money and a lot of rollercoater emotions to figure this out: Bianca's not a gymnast.

However, there are some things that she does and does well--play the piano and write. She's being creative and writing songs (something I never realized I could do with my ability to play when I was younger).

A couple months ago, Bianca woke up on a rainy morning and sat up in bed. She was listening to the rain and this poem/melody came to her mind. At eight o'clock (when she's allowed to wake me up each morning), she came storming in to my room to tell me about her poem. That entire morning, Bianca sat at the piano bench and came up with the notes on the piano. She took her regular notebook and drew her staffs and wrote the notes. It was amazing to see her creativity flowing like the rain water through the streets.

I've finally accepted that she's not a gymnast as I'd hoped, but she's something much more. She's her own beautiful, creative self and I couldn't be more proud.

Friday, March 6, 2009

How Not to be a good date

Eric and I went out last weekend. He got free Jazz tickets--you know the ones with all the frills, the dinner before, the drinks and nachos and popcorn during halftime, the great lower bowl seats. My favorite part is the nachos. I asked Eric beforehand and he said I could absolutely NOT bring along a book to read during the game. Fine. I was trying to be a good date, after all.

As I sat in the arena, I was bombarded with all the overstimulation I could handle--the bright lights and colors, the music and cheering drilling into my head, the smells of the food everywhere, even the heat of sitting so nearby many, many people.

I tried to pay attention to the game, but all I could think about was this Jazz game was the very reason why people don't seem content to sit in the stillness of nature anymore. It's all this overstimulization. We get it everywhere--TV, fast-food restaurants, stimulate, stimulate, stimulate. I wish there were some way to save my children from it. But it's too late already. Portia's been overstimulated by Barney--those dinosaurs are every bright color you could possibly think of (I don't know who turned that on for her). =)

I couldn't help but make my snarkey comments to Eric all through the game about the overstimulization. He put up with it. I guess he just expects this from me anymore. He probably wishes he had just let me bring the book.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A sad day and a day of laughter

Last Monday, Bianca came home from school with a list of interview questions. She was supposed to pick one of her parents and interview them about what they do for work. She was excited to tell me that she picked me. I answered her questions about the skills a person needs to write for the newspaper and what my favorite thing about writing was. She was supposed to bring an object along as well to represent what that parent did (a copy of the newspaper).

It was that night that I found out the Salt Lake Tribune would no longer be taking stories from the correspondents. In an effort to save a little money, the full-time Tribune staff was going to be carrying the Close-up section from now on. I stared at the email from my editor in shock as I read that I was no longer going to have my job. I didn't cry until I told Bianca that she may want to interview Eric instead. Her little lips quivered as she said, "You lost your job?" And then the tears started flowing--hers and mine.

This was a dream job for someone like me. I got to write articles only when I felt like it and on the topics I wanted to write about. I got to see my name in print for a high-profile newspaper. It was exactly what I needed. And now it's gone.

I am sad. I know it won't affect my day-to-day. I was only writing articles every other month as I've been busy with my baby during her needy stage. And I didn't need the money. I did this for fun. I won't look for anything to replace this. I loved this job, and apparently so did Bianca. She went on so many of my "outings" with me when I'd write--like Christmas parties, plays, I even did my last article on her chess club. I guess she was proud of me.

When Eric asked Bianca why she chose me instead of him, I laughed. It's long been a joke around our house that nobody really knows what Eric does. Words like operations and analysis and data cannot be brought along to second grade to show your classmates what your parent does for a living. As a joke, I asked Eric to explain to Bianca what he does. So he explained about operations and data analysis. Her eyes were glazing over. When he finished, I immediately asked her what her dad does at work and she replied, "He makes models of electrical studies." I about died laughing. She's really a smart girl, but even I still have a hard time explaining to anyone who asks what he does.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Creating a memory

I have this memory when I was a child of sitting and watching a professional ballet. I'm not certain, but I think it may have been the Nutcracker. I don't remember why this memory seems so vivid to me. But I remember sitting on the left side and watching the stage all aglow. I don't remember much--just that I loved being there and I felt special that I was there.

It's this slice of a memory that enticed me to take Bianca to the ballet on Saturday. We saw Ballet West's production of Madame Butterfly. And I wanted to do this thing right. We got all dressed up (I even straightened Bianca's hair), went to the ballet, and had dinner afterward. My friend Christie and her daughter Hailey came too. The girls were great (and excited). And I only hope that someday Bianca will remember back on her childhood and think about how we did some really cool things together. Even if it's just a little slice of sitting in a chair in an important place and feeling special.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The other night, while I was putting Portia in her jammies, she insisted on having both her Webkinz chipmunk (which she named Aloop after the plane that "loops a loop" in the Chipmunk Christmas song) and her Curious George. She started making Aloop and George kiss. Bianca thought it was funny and asked what would happen if Aloop and George got married. I said they'd have baby "chipmonkeys."

I thought I was quite funny and called Eric in to hear my joke. Bianca then said, "No, they'd have chimp-monkeys," which I thought was even better.

Eric said we had used every bit of laughter possible on such a ridiculous joke. But I disagreed. I thought I'd share it with you too. . .


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My mornings with Portia and hot cocoa

When I started getting serious with my boyfriend (who would eventually become my husband) in college, we had a little glitch in our relationship about the future. We were sitting in his Pontiac Bonneville in the underground parking beneath my apartment building, arguing about having kids. We weren't even close to being married but I guess we thought we should probably figure out if we have the same goals in mind before continuing on. I explained that I didn't really want any children. I wanted to do the career thing.

This was a completely unsatisfactory answer. He wanted them; wouldn't mind four. And I can't honestly say that I didn't, but fighting with him was one of the things that made us tick. I was sometimes argumentative for argument's sake.

I don't remember how this all played out; I succumbed eventually. My several years of work had been a disappointment and finally, we were married.

I've dabbled with "professional" work since, working part-time editing, writing, even working full-time editing when Eric lost his job for a while back in 2004. But the truth was, I wanted to be home. I, who didn't even think I wanted children, chose to be home with my kids.

The other night at my book club, we were talking about what the one thing we loved most about being home with our kids (and of course we covered the thing we hate most as well) but the more I thought about my answer, the more I've been enjoying my mornings with Portia drinking hot cocoa.

A typical morning for me starts at 7 a.m. when Bianca sidles into my room to tell me it's time to get ready for school. I stumble through the dark house and eventually turn on a light three rooms away (I hate light in the mornings) so that I can get Bianca's breakfast and pack up her lunch. That's when the whirlwind begins--there's spelling words, brushing teeth, fixing hair, finding socks and socks, piano practice, packing up the backpack. Somewhere in the middle of all that, Portia usually screams from her crib "Hot cocoa." Bianca and Eric hurdle out into the car and leave for work/school. That's when I sigh and start the cocomotion.

I know I started Portia early on hot cocoa, but until now I've never known anyone who loves hot cocoa as much as I do. Extra chocolately. With whipped cream. Portia has her own porcelain tea cup that she handles carefully. And we sit. And she asks for "More hot cocoa." And I get her more. And I drink my hot cocoa. And I love that I got everything done for Bianca that she needed this morning. And I love that I have this time to myself and to Portia. And I really do love being a stay-at-home mom.

Photobucket Portia

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Change in Perspective


I was recently asked/called to play the piano in church. I told them I'm not good enough. But I'd try. After all, I took ten grueling years of piano lessons from the time I was six until I was sixteen. Then I took a nearly twelve year sabbatical, when I had not a piano anywhere near me. Sure, I'd mess around when I'd visit home but I wasn't much good. I remembered several songs that I'd played a lot when I was younger (mostly new age--don't ask me but I'm still reminded of them everytime I get a massage and David Lanz is playing in the background), but give me some sheet music and I stunk. In fact, my Aunt Sally once said to my mom (unbeknownst to her that I could listen to their ongoing conversation in the kitchen AND play the piano at the same time), "That's what happens when you stop practicing."

Then last winter I decided I wanted a piano. Eric and I did a little shopping and picked up a "previously owned" upright. It was great. I bought some sheet music of Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera and Billy Joel and Evanescence. I played almost every night for fun. I'd even play Harry Potter music while Eric and Bianca were reading for bedtime, book four of the Harry Potter series (don't ask me which one that is, I couldn't tell you). I was actually playing because I loved it, which was the first time this had happened to me. When I was a kid and my mom was giving me lessons, I fought her every step of the way. Which is probably why I turned out to be the worst of all my brothers and sisters at playing. But that's okay. It wasn't something I really cared about--at all.

Well, a couple months ago, the doorbell rang while I was playing "Piano Man" by Billy Joel. At the doorstep stood my neighbor Geoff Short who was 2nd counselor in the bishopric at my ward/church. He needed to borrow some butter. No problem. I had butter. But two weeks later, I was so kindly asked to play the piano for the Relief Society in church.

I've been doing it for a little while now and I practice every night for the preceding week. It doesn't matter if I have the songs perfect at home, I go to church and I mess up all the way through. I'm terrible. I feel like everyone is laughing at me. They all pat my back in encouragement as I leave, whispering they're just glad it's not them, but I wish it weren't me either.

Now I spend all my time practicing church hymns instead of playing stuff I want to play. I bought this piano so that I could enjoy myself, not so that I'd be stuck playing in church. I'm not good. I've accepted that. But now it's not fun anymore.

I laugh when people tell me I shouldn't waste a talent like that. As if everyone who learns to play the piano has a "talent" for it. Since when has something that you work and work at been a talent? If I'm not mistaken, isn't a talent supposed to be something that comes naturally to someone? I know people--have a couple friends even--who have a talent for playing the piano. Who can play by ear. That's talent. What I'm doing is merely reading notes off a page. I don't feel the music. I don't hear it oustide what the clunky notes are actually saying to me. Which isn't much more than that I'm not good at this.

I'll never tell them I won't play anymore. I'm hoping that my music is so bad they finally find someone else who will do it. Really, it won't hurt my feelings. Anything to get out of playing hymns every night.


My mood? Totally disappointed and depressed. I know the way things work with callings--you have them for a while, you learn from them, then you move on to something else that will stretch you.

But why do I feel so hollow? Maybe I started enjoying the hymns I was playing. Maybe I liked hiding behind the piano--I didn't have to teach anything, or stretch too much. I was completely comfortable there.

I'm trying to look at the upside of this: The constant practicing has helped me improve, a lot. But now what? Do I go back to playing Billy Joel? There's not as much satisfaction now as there was before. Maybe I'll run to the store and pick up some new music. I still LOVE playing the Pride & Prejudice music. There are actually some hymns that I grew to love, that I play for pure enjoyment. And the plus side is that I can actually play them quite well now. Eric leaned over to me after I told him I was released and said, "I'm going to miss the hymns playing in our house." I think I'm going to too.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bianca's Project

In January, I always get a bit of cabin fever. My way to get through it is with projects. I like to have some sort of project around the house that I focus on. This year, it's getting Portia's big-girl room ready (which will be her 2nd birthday present this year). And I LOVE theme rooms. So we're doing birds.

I've been sorting through the best bird bedding online, hoarding bird things (you should have seen all the Christmas clearance bird and owl stuff they had at Target this year!), and compiling a file of "room" ideas from potterybarn kids catalogues, Internet ideas, etc.

Bianca got on board too. She wanted to make something special for Portia for her birthday. Portia's birthday isn't until April, but Bianca finished her projects--a stuffed bird and owl made from felt. I helped cut out the shapes, but she did all the sewing and stitching herself. She's becoming quite good at sewing!


I'm a little anxious to get going on her room, but am forced to wait. Portia's still very happy in her crib, and while she's happy, I'm happy. We'll wait on most of the big-girl room stuff. Anyway, I've still got a lot of projects to hold me over through the winter, even if I can't put them all up yet.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Four-Leaf Clovers

When I was a kid, I considered myself a “lucky” person. I'd win random things, I'd find find four-leaf clovers everywhere in the lush, clover-ridden grass of my childhood neighborhood. To me, being lucky meant I was God's favorite child.

I'd land in a back bend—one of the thousands of back bends that stretched me from being just another child from that big Watters family to a distinct girl who actually had a talent for gymnastics, even if it was an expensive sport that my parents couldn't possibly afford to support—and find these four-leaf clovers staring up at me. Just waiting to be plucked. And I couldn't resist. I'd lift one arm and pull it, all the while still arched catlike and upside-down in the acrobatic fervor that came naturally to me, like a smile to a happy child or a joke to a funny one.

I would disrupt my personal tumbling practice—that was my daily ritual, much to the chagrin of my yard-loving neighbor whose spacious hill was riddled with the yellowed, stamped grass my flipping left behind—and place it between the crisp pages of the dictionary to wait the several days it needed until it was smooth and flat and ready to be added to the red cardboard box along with the rest of my collection of four-leaf clovers that had singled me out.

It was nice to feel special; I didn't know it was unusual to think I was God's favorite. There was nothing individual enough for me to stand out from the rest of my four siblings in my family: I wasn't the smartest one, or the most athletic, or the cleanest or the friendliest. I had a suspicion of which of us were my parents' favorites, and it wasn't me. But at least I was number one on God's list. And I kept his green morsels of love hidden in my red box, to pull out when I needed them.

As I grew up, the clovers stopped finding me. Maybe I stopped looking for them. I found my box again recently, in the daisy-carved cedar chest that holds all the pictures of my childhood, my pasted-together books about gymnastics, my handmade cards to my mom for mother's day or my dad's birthday. There they sat, brittle and curled around each other, broken and ignored. Forgotten. Untouched because I was afraid I'd break them after all these years. I didn't think I needed them. Maybe if I could go back to them now, I could be God's favorite again. Maybe—if I could get through the many years when I felt God had ignored me. I don't know if he'll love me with four-leaf clovers again. Clover doesn't grow here like it does in the midwest, freely and openly with their big juicy purple blossoms. They're scarce and hard to find and when they do grow, they're quickly squelched with weed killer. It's going to take a lot more from me to find them now. But I'll try to muster the hope it takes to see if I can re-awaken my luck.