December 2009

12 days of Christmas, in sound only.

We’re 6 days into the business trip, and here is where we’re at:

Twelve critical car failures
Eleven inside-out shirts
Ten broken pieces
Nine honey-soaked shelves
Eight groceries lost
Seven piles of cat puke
Six un-mailed packages

….Five sections of tree lights out!….

Four flat-tire helpers
Three more days of single-parenting
Two arguing children

Mi Familia

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Surviving absurdity

What is the use in getting worked up? Everything about it is ridiculous. Cans are clanking under cars and rolling into gutters. Milk is dripping off my chin. Pausing for a moment, I realize I can hear my kids arguing in the house, 4 doors down. It IS absurd! I start to laugh.


Something in our household equilibrium went array when Paul flew to Virginia for work at the start of the week. The whole sky had been falling on us for days, literally, so maybe the problems started much deeper? The basic balances of the entire city were off from the deluge.

Car troubles have been the theme of the week. The bottom line is that, at the moment, we do not have a fully working vehicle. We’re limping by with malfunction lights on through a sometimes-rough ride… it’s not clear whether it’s better to just trade the beloved station wagon in or get it fixed, and the work week was just too crazy for us to dedicate much time into thinking over it.

Then, this afternoon, after a wonderful morning, lunch, and playtime at Palmer Park Art Market, we tried to drive home and found that a tire on the still-broken car was FLAT.

Okay, then. I’m plucky and resourceful. So I start the work of changing a tire: moving all the holiday packages-yet-to-be-mailed under the kids’ feet, put the stroller on the sidewalk, and locating the spare tire and various tools. I was just setting up the jack when The Nice Guy walked by. In his early 40s, The Nice Guy knew well what a Man passing a woman with two small children does when he sees her changing a tire by herself. But this particular version of The Nice Guy is probably better suited to, say, assist in constitutional law review or maybe literary criticism. Changing tires? Maybe not. But chivalry is not dead, so just before reaching the end of the street, he spun on his heal and offered help.

To be honest, his outburst caught me off-guard. While I felt that not offering help most certainly presented permanent damage to his integrity, I paused to look around desperately for a burly Cajun man before admitting that I wasn’t in a position to turn away help. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could change the tire. It was that I knew taking off the tire would be difficult… those big bolts? They are TIGHT. I know this from experience… this was not my first flat tire.

Being The Guy, he had to be the one to use the jack. I tried to show where it was to go, where I was trying to put it when he approached. He missed, the car fell, and took off a piece with it as it came down. *sigh*

When dealing with mechanical issues, how can a woman politely tell a helpful man just where he should help without insulting him?

Eventually the car went up. Then we had to remove the tire.

I ended up flagging down people to come and give a jump on the bar. Eventually all 5 bolts were removed, the spare attached, and the bolts re-attacked. It took more than an hour to change the tire. The Nice Guy definitely didn’t want to spend an hour with me out there, but despite my profuse thank-yous and repetitive assurance that he needn’t blow his whole day on helping me; he stayed to the end. Bless his intact integrity.

We drive away on 4 tires and directly push our luck to make An Incident at FedEx. Peanuts. Multiple trips. Sleepy kids. Bathroom emergencies. Leaving with no packages sent. (Note: this had nothing to do with poor behavior from the children; they were quite good, all thing considered.

Then the grocery store. There was a finger caught in a grocery cart. Then a lady freaked out when Kate stood up to re-position herself in the child seat.

And then, finally home, two bags of groceries burst in the dark, scattering cans of red beans into the night and exploding milk on the street.

Absurd. Hilarious.


The black icing on this day was the loss of our beloved Saints, who seemed to forget up the appropriate start time for the game and missed the first half. Tragic, in the short term.


But it’s okay. Paul will eventually emerge from the Northern Virginia thaw and come home. We have jobs and health insurance (hooray!) and dental insurance (double hooray!) and get to live in New Orleans. If that means that things go all wonky every once in awhile, it’s okay. We’ll survive it. Even with milk in our hair.

Family Life in NOLA

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How to scratch your nose while cleaning.

By Will.  Age 6.

Mi Familia

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Joyeux Noel

Hail the holiday school party!


The report:

Girl child remained preciously cute and worked the tables for multiple brownies.  Papa Noel brought her a little snow globe, which is protectively located three inches from her face, lest it become stolen in the night.

Boy child remained the kid on stage who, while 20 others stand calmly and sing, proceeds to pick his nose, scratch himself, swing around, randomly throw in extra-loud lines of song, and even — oh yes, even this — lick his finger and stick it into the ear of his friend beside him.


I suspected tar and feathering were in the works, and though I did take pause for a moment, decided a getaway was better.  We snuck quietly out the backdoor, where a friend picked us up for the escape.

Life in New Orleans
Mi Familia

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My kids are going to FREAK.

We celebrate Christmas because it would feel strange not to, I think that is the bottom line. Also, I love the idea of the “season of giving” — and when we talk about Christmas, this is the way we frame it. We say that people, for centuries and eons and since time forgotten have had these mid-winter celebrations, all right around when the days are the shortest of all the year.

We have explained that some celebrate the life of a man named Jesus, who some believe was special because he did nice things for others. I’m pretty sure I use those words exactly. We hadn’t spoke much about God in the past, just “Gods” in the sense of mythology, with Christian myth as prevalent than those of Greece and Egypt. Then, God came into our household on the silver voice of some proselytizing child in summer camp. Initially we were troubled, but decided to take it in stride. It gave a good learning opportunity. That not all people believe the same thing and that this is okay. In fact, it can be very important… otherwise, how we would ever learn new to see new things?

I feel good about our celebration of Christmas, even as atheists, because I love ritual and celebration and delight in giving. Like it or not, Santa is a modern day representation of these things, so we have chosen to embrace him.

Does all of this justify my use of The Santa Threat during the holiday season? Maybe it’s appropriate that Santa represents Christian tradition, as I am definitely applying him within a fire-and-brimstone theology. Or, more likely, I am just really being lazy and need to step up on my parenting.

In any case, it’s been hot and heavy over the last day, These Threats. I feel badly about it. It’s bad parenting, sure, but it’s also working against my view of how we participate in this whole darn holiday. So when I saw Emmy had made these for her kids, I had to join in.

I give 50/50 odds that upon hearing her name in the first 3 seconds, Kate misses the rest in her excited squealing and that Will gets so worked up he has to run to the bathroom and miss the entire video.

Here’s Will’s.

Here’s Kate’s.

Mi Familia

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Twas the first night of Paul’s business trip

Twas the first night of Paul’s business trip, and all through the house,
The cat lay not stirring, reminding me of said spouse.
There were stockings somewhere… maybe in the front room?
But we can’t hang them or Kate will pull them down with a boom.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds
Because I tucked six blankets up to their heads.
After sitting up to watch Modern Family online,
I sat fighting the urge to calm my thoughts with wine.

Remembering this morning, when out of the blue,
The car coughed and bucked and made sounds like ‘poo-poo.’
In a flash, I called Georgia and then, in a jiffy,
She convinced me that things would turn out just spiffy.

So tomorrow I’ll go to G’s and find out more on the car
(while wondering why this only happens when Paul is out so far).
And thanking my wonderful friends, oh the many
Who are offering help, more and more, plenty, plenty.

So with this, I send one last thought off into the night,
Thank you thank you, one and all!  And to all a Good Night!

Mi Familia

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Holiday Photos and the Quest for Eerie Perfection.

Picture-portraits have been a key part of our holidays for the past few years.  Specifically, I take holiday portraits for families as a fundraiser for our beloved preschool.  There is always a little craziness around it — what is the best way to give families the most options of photographs, what to charge that makes enough money for the school to be worthwhile without being out of reach, how to minimize the amount of one-on-one coordination and money collecting, and so on.  This year, I think we struck gold in the set-up: weekend portraits scheduled in back-to-back 15-20 minute time slots over a few hours.  Families come, sit, have pictures made, and leave.  For a set fee, I send out one favorite JPG with all the bells and whistles of color enhancing, teeth whitening and booger removal.  The money goes right to the school, and each family gets a photo for their holiday cards.

Sounds simple, right?

Right, except that *I* am involved… and nothing I do is ever simple.  Part of the problem is me, myself.  I live to please and I love to photograph… a dangerous combination.

And then there is the insecurity around my inability to guarrantee THAT photograph.

You know what I’m talking about.  THAT photograph is the one every family wants.  It’s the one that you want.  It’s the one that I want.  The one where you and all your kin sit around looking lovely.  Everyone is looking into the camera.  Everyone is smiling their nicest, brightest smile.  It’s PERFECT, THAT photograph.  Eerily… perfect.

It’s not that it is always impossible.  THAT picture is much more likely once all kids are older and sort of get that it is in their best interest to look their bright and shiny best for photographs.

But when they are little?

It is even a realistic expectation?  And further, should it be?

Yeah, I can get that adorable little child to smile for a fraction of a second and be ready to capture it with my shutter… but I’ll promise you dollars to donuts that Mom or Dad or Sister Sue is talking, waving a hand, or closing their eyes at exactly the same time.  And we can fire photograph after photograph all day, but the bottom line is that kids can’t handle more than 10, maybe 15 minutes of posed portraits before they explode.  Literally, explode, right their in their parents laps.

The bottom line is that every moment of being a parent of a small child means, well, parenting that small child.  And the camera captures reality.  Not some eerily perfect moment with everyone doing exactly the same thing and looking in exactly the same direction and smiling their exactly the same perfect smiles in their perfectly beautiful matching outfits.  It sure looks pretty.  But our eyes know what families look like.  They are crazy and wonderful — arranging, calling, clapping, laughing, encouraging — all to make one moment of stillness and calm.   If it works and we see THAT picture, we know that there is something a little… surprising about it.  We wonder, How did they do that? How did they get that picture?  It looks pretty, but… what story does it tell?  And is the story it tells an authentic one?

I’m not sure it is.  Authentic.  How can it be when it comes from my shouting, LALALALALALALALA look heeeerrrrrrrrreeee babbbeeeeeee!  — MOM, EYES UP, DAD, DON’T TALK — LALALALALALA baaaaaabbbbbbeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!  And if I’m really lucky, this is combined with Paul in the background jumping up shouting PEAK A BOO from behind me.

All this, to get THAT photo.  It’s no wonder it looks eerie.

But still.  I work and work and work for THAT picture and beat myself up when it doesn’t happen.  I mean I really feel guilty.  I feel like it should be something I can do at will — that it should just HAPPEN.  I have the stuff… the toys in the bag, the comb and tissue and wet ones.  I have an eye to see when things are off and can fix them.  But still… I manage to capture reality.  I can’t seem to create that fleeting moment of eerie wonder that everyone wants.

And then?  I feel like I’ve let someone down.

Even with photographs of my own family.  Just look.

But.  Maybe.  Just Maybe…

… this is better?  Cheesy, yes, but gives a bit more personality…?


I mean, compared to this?

Don’t my children look miserable?  I mean, honestly, how can we expect them to SIT for FIVE SECONDS?  It’s no use bribing.

park (2)

That look below is suppose to be Will’s nice smile.  I will find a way to make him pay for this during his teenage years.  And where is Kate?  Also, might I consider getting a hair cut and touching up highlights more often than every 8 months?

Can you tell I’m running back and forth setting the timer on the camera?  (A remote trigger would be a nice touch, Santa.  Ahem.)

park (3)

So, maybe, instead, we should stick to this?

park (1)

It’s messier than the posed family shot, sure.  Personality over perfection.  Maybe I’ll feel better if I lead with my strengths?


With that, if I were to photograph you and your family — what would you want?  What do you look for in a photographer?  What kinds of photographs do you want after a sitting?  What do you expect to pay and what kind of flexibility do you want?  Is there such a thing as a good holiday photo that isn’t “perfect”?

Art & Photography
Family Photos

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Soundbite Edition.

Us: “Will, what’s that stamp on your hand?”

Will: “I got it because I read and spelled words right!”

Us: “That’s great!  What words?”

Will: “Um, words like… HER.  S-H-R.  Her.”


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He wants candy.

It’s been more than 15 years since I helped Grandma Betty do it.  For some reason, the bug bit a few weeks ago.  I collected what supplies I needed, waited for it to arrive, then pulled out Grandma’s molds.

First, I was just going to make peanut butter cups.  But it was taking a while to melt the semi-sweet chocolate, so I decided to go ahead and make some lollipops, too.

candy 1

Paul took these pictures.  I have no idea how he didn’t get Will in the frame.  The kid spent the afternoon sweeping around me like a nervous junkie waiting for a fix.  I was all ready to let him help, but his shakes kept getting in the way and we had to find him a distraction.

candy 2

I remembered a lot of little Grandma tricks, but missed something critical.  Because when they were set, some of the chocolate remained on the mold.  Bah.

candy 3

Soooo… I hand-painted the red bulbs back on by hand.  It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.

candy 4

Will ate one after dinner — thumbs up from little man!

End result.  If you end up getting some of these chocolates, know that while it is a symbol that we care about you and value you in our lives, the true meaning is that Will cares so much about you that he was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.

candy 5

Arts & Photography
Mi Familia

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Copenhagen, the redux.



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