Saturday, January 31, 2009


Dear Dash,

Sometimes I start a running list of the things I've learned the hard way. If you're anything like me, you'll learn it the same way. I'm hoping you're more like your Daddy & just take note.

1. Everything needs a place. Every bill and pencil and Lego. Every time I bring something into the house I take a minute to think about where it belongs and where I'd be most likely to look for it. Then, I put it there. Every time. Without fail.

2. Make all your bills due on the same day. People will totally work with you on this. Every time you open an account just call the 800 number (do they still have 800 numbers in the future when you're reading this?) and change the due date. You'll never have to worry about late payments and you'll never need one of those horrible bill organizers. I make bills due on the 15th, and I pay the mortgage on the 1st. Easy.

3. Have a plan for when things go smoothly. Also, have a plan b, for when things don't. If you're anything like me, you'll spend a lot of time worrying about "what if." If you don't address the things that scare you, they'll make you nuts--things like: what if I lose my job? what if the car breaks down? what if nobody picks me for softball? Sit yourself down and talk it out. With us, or with your wife or with your dog.

4. You don't have to know how to fix everything. But you need to have fixed enough stuff that you're not scared to take things apart and see what's what. Your Daddy is doing this now. He wasn't particularly handy growing up, so he's just getting his chops. But this morning he fixed the washing machine. And tomorrow he'll fix the water heater. Every success adds to his confidence that he can do it, whatever it is. It'll work that way for you, too.

5. Learn how to bbq. Even if you never learn how to cook anything else, being good at bbq will bring you glory at every summer party, and will likely get you a pass on everything else.

6. But if you do learn how to cook, that would be awesome.

7. Every weekend, write down your menu for the following week. Keep the recipes nearby and take inventory in the pantry and fridge as you review them. Write down any groceries you'll need as you go.

8. Don't buy imitation leather.

9. Write the thank you notes within 7 days. Same day is better, but seven days is the outside limit. Any longer and you'll start to wonder if they're really necessary, and start making excuses about how nobody really sends thank you notes anymore, anyway.

10. That said, it's never too late to send a thank you card. Seriously, even if you totally forgot and it's been a year. Send the card.

11. Most people don't mind seeing other people chew gum. But some people (me, among them) will be unable to talk to (or even look at) you if they see you chewing. Its impossible to predict who's who. So just avoid the situation all together by not chewing gum in public.

12. A walk before dinner is always nice.

13. Good manners centers mainly on kindness. Etiquette centers mainly on making people feel inferior. Focus on manners.

14. Everyone likes a good pirate joke.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Real Life

I read a lot of what I call, "Mama blogs." Blogs written by mothers whom I admire as writers or crafters or homeschoolers or raisers-of-lovely-children. I am inspired every day by at least one or two things that I read, and I aspire to be the kind of mother that many of these women are.

But. But sometimes it can all be a little daunting. I'll never knit as well, sew as well, cook as well. I'll never be able to bake bread every single day. I'll never be able to whip up a Zorro costume for Dash at a moment's notice. It's very, very unlikely that we'll be able to build a tree house in the backyard in a weekend and with twigs we find laying around. I occasionally feel so overwhelmed, so inferior that I'll clear my entire Reader in a fit of despair & certainty that I'll never measure up.

So when I saw this post, I just felt completely grateful. Grateful for Stefani's honesty about the less photogenic parts of her life. Grateful for her generosity in showing us that not everything has to be idyllic all the fucking time. Sometimes things are ugly. Sometimes there are piles of clean laundry waiting so long to be folded that the dirty laundry overtakes them. Sometimes your beautiful child, for whom you sacrificed everything and about whom you obsess endlessly, will try to sock you in your nose. Sometimes your windows get so dirty you can barely see through them. Sometimes you give them hot dogs for breakfast.

Anyway, Stefani has created a Flickr Pool called "In Real Life." I've posted a few of my favorite Hall of Shame moments there, and I encourage you to post a few of yours, as well. The women who populate the group are warm and reassuring and I've never felt better about not measuring up.

Thanks, again, Stefani, for all of the endless inspiration and encouragement.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Nature vs. Nurture

Dash requested an accordion. Out of the blue. Neither one of us even knows how he heard of such a thing. We took him to the store just to show him what an accordion looks like. "Yes, that's it. I can have it?"

Nerds, apparently, are born, not made.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

January 20, 2009

Dear Dash,

This morning, the world watched President Barack Obama speak these words during his inauguration:

"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted--for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things--some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

"For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

"For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

"For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction"

Those words are especially meaningful for our family, because it wasn't some generations-ago ancestor who packed up their lives and crossed oceans for our prosperity, but your Baba. She traveled from the only home she had ever known in the Soviet Union to this country, where she had no friends, no language and no prospects. A three-year-old me was with her on her journey-- just a few months older than you are now. She brought me here for exactly the reasons our new president says: so that I, and later, you, could have a better life. She sacrificed everything in the hopes that her gamble would pay off. And, of course, it did. We live in a cheerful home, full of whatever books we choose. We are free to say whatever we please, and we have never had a moment of wanting for anything in our lives. Because of her. And because of millions more like her, the dream of this country came true, and can continue to come true for generations to come.

As I watched our 44th President swear to defend the Constitution of this great nation I felt, for the first time in a very, very long time, like we are, once again, set on the path to fulfilling this country's promise. For you. And later, by you. For your children. And theirs.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Calling all Superheroes

This should probably be, like, three separate posts. But I'm tired and it's late so it's just going to be one gigantically enormous entry.

Dash has been obsessed, and I mean obsessed, with superheroes for a couple of months, now. I have always been opposed to "licensed" birthday party themes, but I really couldn't figure out a way around this one. So I just went with it. Maybe next year we'll do a twigs and sky theme, just to even it all out.

The invitation. I found a picture of some cool superhero Pez & doctored it in Photoshop to make it look like a comic book. Then I added Dash's mug & voila. The invitation said, "superhero costumes encouraged but not required" and nearly every kid stepped it up & arrived in character.

Favor bags. Did you know that Pez lost the Marvel license? We ended up with "Klicks." I kinda can't believe Pez hasn't sued them as they're almost identical, but I guess that's not really my problem.

My only contribution to the favor bags. I found really cool vintage images of superheroes online & printed them onto label paper, then I used them to tart upsome plain notebooks.

The Friday before his birthday, we sent cupcakes to school. I used the same images from the notebooks to create cupcake picks.

Because I'm not a particularly nice person, I stuck the images onto lollipops. When I apologized to Dash's teacher for the extra sugar, she just laughed & informed me that the candy would be going home with the kids that night. Sorry, other parents!

We had an impossible time finding a cake design. Everything was either about just one superhero, or would require me to actually possess some cake-decorating skill (which I do not). So we designed the above image in Photoshop & had a comapny print an edible cake picture. We took it to the bakery & they placed it & designed around it. It was pretty cute in the end.

Apparently, three-year-olds require some entertainment in addition to cake, so we came up with a few things to occupy them. First, I bought some plain plastic "superhero" masks & glittery stars, letters & jewels to decorate them.

Then, I devised a scavenger hunt. I bought a bunch of trinkets & hid them all over the yard. Each kid got an illustrated list of things to find and was set off.

At first I hid everything in plain sight, but then Josh explained to me that although they are three, all the kids are perfectly able to see, so maybe I should consider actually hiding the stuff rather than just tossing it onto the lawn.

Worked out much better.

Also, ALSO! I came up with a game called "Heroes vs. Villains." I found pictures of bad guys online & printed them onto card stock. Then I glued the pictures into some boxes and tacked them onto a board.

Each villain had a corresponding hero, whose image I printed onto iron-on paper & ironed onto some cotton fabric. I then sewed beanbags (stuffed with barley because we're all natural, yo.) The idea was to throw the hero beanbag at his villain (ex. Batman is hucked at Joker, Superman at Lex Luthor.) Zero kids were interested until I started to bribe them with prizes of sticker books and Wonder Woman tin boxes. Eventually they came around to the idea that they were being encouraged to throw crap as hard as they could.

Of course I could have skipped everything and it would still have been the awesomest party ever because we had this:

So, you know, in the future, don't aggravte youself. Just spend the $100 and relax. They'll wear themselves out right-quick and have nothing but the fondest memories of your party. Oh, and the kids will enjoy it, too.

Pre-party set-up:

Yeah, that's right, Cheetos. At least they're the baked ones.

I tried to make shapes & letters our of the cookies, but my test batch puffed and swelled and was unrecognizable so I made circles. Still tasted good.

Eventually there would be mac & cheese & turkey wraps on these trays.