Family Stories

Louisiana Afternoon

On one of those fantastically delicious hot and sticky summer days, like last week*, we took the kids waaaay out to the Louisiana countryside to feed wild geese.

Oh, okay.  We went to City Park.  That’s the New Orleans Museum of Art in the background.  FUN FACT: NOMA does not allow strollers.  So we’ve not been, kind of as a point.  But Will went on a field trip earlier this year.

We had about 4 bags of bread — collected from frozen ends of loafs and other assorted stale varieties that I stock pile in the freezer for days like this.

And the kids went at it.

So did the birds.  Will, who had recently discovered the delicacies of duck, suggested we bring one home for dinner.

Just kidding, buddy.

This was only a few months ago, but I can’t believe how much smaller they look, especially Kate.

Then, we realized that a new group was interested in sampling our wares.  Momma and her 5 babies.

Don’t these two look like they are playing “Cee Cee My Playmate?”

Fast moving, with sharp little teeth.  And very bold.

But cute.

Sort of like Kate.  Fast moving, sharp little teeth, and bold.  We were a little afraid that she would try some of her favorite playtime activities with The Cat, Scout.  Things like sitting on his back, pulling his tail, and zerbering his tummy.  He’s a pretty chill cat.

Paul is ready to scoop her up if needed.  Will, on the other hand, wanted to stick to the ducks.

When they had their fill, they climbed up on branches right over our heads…

… and went to sleep.

*Actually, it was in early August.

Art & Photography
Family Life in NOLA
Family Stories
Special Family Moments

Comments (4)


The Mommy and the Study

(Writ in the style of “The Piggy in the Puddle” — my favorite children’s story to read out loud.)

See the Mommy.
See her study.
See the Mommy in the middle of her silly little study.
See her cruddy, see her bloody
in the fuddy, duddy, study.
See her muddy, down and ruddy, in the silly little study.

See the Daddy,
chummy-tummy, chummy-tummy, chummy-tummy.
“Don’t you get all crummy, dummy, Mummy, Mummy, Mummy!
You are much to smart and sassy to be in the down and ruddies.
Research is oofy, research is poofy, research is oh-so oofy-poofy!
What you need is lots of HOPE.
But the Mommy answered, “oofy-poofy, oofy-poofy, NOPE!”

See her Babies.
Cutey-tooty, cutey-tooty, cutey-tooty.
“Just stop that writing – lighting, nighting, fighting, miting, citing!
You are much too Mommy Dearest not to be so often near us.
Research is willy, research is nilly, research is oh-so willy-nilly.
What you need is lots of HOPE.”
But the Mommy answered, “willy-nilly, willy-nilly, NOPE.”

Now they all stood by her research,
Right beside the murky research.
And they looked into the ‘search,
What a messy, murky, murch!

There was Mommy, cruddy and bloody,
getting beat up by her study.
She was reading, she was writing,
she was drinking to be wired.
She was listening, she was talking,
she was very very tired.

Said the Daddy,
Mummy-Mommy, you have made me very proud.

Said the Babies,
Mommy-Mummy, you are a sun behind a cloud.

Said the Mommy,
I thank you, but for this I am avowed.

See the Mommy and her study
with her family in a huddy.
They are loving, they are listening,
to the very daunting study.

Said the Mommy,
“Oofy-poofy, willy-nilly, oofy-poofy…
Indeed,” said tired Mommy,
“I think we lack in hope.”

But Daddy and the Babies answered,
“Oofy-poofy — NOPE!”

This post is a Monday Mission, to write a post in the style of a children’s story, as inspired by The Painted Maypole.

I’ve been feeling uninspired lately and needed to remind myself of a few things.

Family Stories

Comments (4)


Today is a hysterical day*.

My PapPap Charlie was the only child of a rough, Swedish woman. He was well into his forties, unmarried, and childless when he met my divorced Grandma in their jobs at the Department of Commerce. He was quiet, having suffered great abuses as a POW during the Korean War, and whether due to this trauma or his peculiar personality, was incredibly socially awkward. He loved classical music almost as much as he adored my vivacious, life-of-the party Grandma, who seemed to be the light that saved him from his Charlie Brown-like days and thrust him into the wild world of our family. He died of a massive heart attack when I was 10, but my Grandma tells me that before he died, I won his heart.

Oblivious to the awkwardness he had with children, I embraced him with the all assumed adoration of a grandchild. I followed him around, chattering through the sounds of gentle classical music, invading his space when he went to be alone in his basement retreat. Years later, Grandma Betty would tell me that these were the highlights of his life. That he would sit perfectly still and simply listen, puffing away on his cigar, terrified of doing or saying anything that might offend and cause me to leave. He was in awe of me with absolutely no idea of what to do or say, so he simply sat and took in all my chatter and energy with patience and surprise.

Later, when Grandma Betty and I became roommates during my high school days, she filled these stories with more intimate ones about their marriage. Describing how he made her feel and the things that made their relationship special. My favorite antic dotes were the ones that showed Charlie’s softer side, the jokes that made my Grandma laugh. He had a dry humor with a curmudgeon twist, and like my own husband, made jokes from words.

For example, a historical time or place, to Charlie, was an** “hysterical” time or place. Gettysburg, or the Fourth of July, or the Declaration of Independence were all “hysterical” parts of U.S. History. He described the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, Virginia, the place where my Grandmother chose to have me, her first grandchild, baptized, as “a hysterical church.”

So when I approached the polls this morning and entered my vote, PapPap Charlie was foremost in my mind. I could not shake the thought of how hysterical the moment was, that I was casting a hysterical ballot on a hysterical day, a day that will go down in hysterics. I think about telling my grandchildren about what it was like to participate in the election of 2008, of getting to vote for the first Black President of our country. About how good it felt, as if our country and indeed, the world, was at a turning point and suddenly the winds were picking up to bring us back to a place of safety and honor. I wonder if they will be awed to think that I was a part of such a hysterical day.


* Just in case someone wonder about the grammar here, I looked it up. Using ‘an’ before a word starting with the letter ‘h’ is reserved for when the word has a silent h sound… ‘an honor’, versus ‘a horse’.

** Okay, I know the rule. But really, doesn’t “an” just sound better??


UPDATE: It seems my parents found the new blog. I know because they’ve called me several times a day over the past two days to dump on me offer rewrites for my posts. (Hi, Mom!)

My Grandma Betty was known to weave a few tails… and as the first grandchild and one who lived with her for a solid year to finish high school and then again off and on while I worked in the area after college… I was the one who heard her stories. Charlie worked a desk job in the Navy and never was a POW — these were Grandma’s embellishments. The whole thing is very Grandma Betty. I wonder if she wanted to jazz up his past for her own enjoyment, or to simply make a dull story more interesting, or if it was her way of making him seem more memorable to me. She knew early on that if anyone was going to keep our family stories alive, it would be me; Grandma was aware of the need to leave a verbal legacy through me.

So Grandma made up information about Charlie’s past. Really, I think it’s sweet. A testiment to how much she cared for him, that years after his death she would weave danger and mystery into the gentle, quiet, and reserved man she loved. So Charlie wasn’t a POW, he didn’t become ill in Korea (the story was that he contracted some type of illness and was denied medical attention while a POW), and had job with a Navy supplies department. That’s one story. The other one is of an ordinary man who was loved so much by a vivacious woman who saw him as her hero. That’s the story I like best.

Family Photos
Family Stories
Mi Familia

Comments (1)


Those who wear the dolphins

While in Pittsburgh last weekend, we (Paul, me, the kids, and my Dad) visited the fantastic Carnegie Science Center. The Center is one of the nicest of it’s kind that I’ve ever seen, with wonderful science exhibits, an incredible under 5 play space with clever kid-sized machines, and a WWII submarine in the river. My Dad was a submarine guy in the Navy, so this was a must-see stop on our Museum tour.

So it was interesting to visit this submarine with my Dad. (A note: the structure on the top of the hull is the sail… it’s much bigger than one would think.)

My Dad sacrificed quite a bit to work with subs. As the story goes, Dad graduated from the Naval Academy an okay student and was sent to Pensacola for flight school, where he was at the top of his class. But he wanted to go to sub school, so he applied to the Navy’s school for sub training, in Groton, Connecticut. He didn’t get in. A year went by and he applied again. He didn’t get in. At this point, his superior officer brought him in and said that the fact that their star pupil was repeatedly applying for sub school was making their flight program — in itself a top program — look bad. He delivered a warning: if my Dad were to apply again for sub school and not be accepted, they’d have to kick him out, sending him to surface duty in Hawaii (to the undesirable post no one wanted.) I was born about a year later in Pearl Harbor, which explains what happened on his third try.

So while Dad completed his long tours at sea, leaving my Mom alone with me as an infant on an island in the middle of the Pacific thousands of miles from everyone she’d ever known, he continued to dream of subs. He figured he needed more education, so he managed to get accepted (after two tries, if I remember right) to a Master’s program the Navy had with M.I.T. We moved to Boston, where my brother was born, and where Dad studied Ocean and Mechanical Engineering in between playing Candyland games with me. After three years in the program, we moved to South Carolina, where he had more surface duty and repair work. Finally, a few years into his Charleston service, he was accepted to the program in Groton. I remember visiting him at school… the drive up from South Carolina, swimming in a New England lake (it was cold and gross) and going to see Ghostbusters at a movie theatre. Once he came back from sub training, he did repairs on nuclear subs of all kinds and often went out to sea with them to monitor the repairs. Being at sea then was very different from now, with internet and phones and more detailed systems of family communications. When I was a kid and Dad was at sea, there was no contact, no information. I remember asking about where he was, wondering why we couldn’t call him or send letters. It was puzzling and we missed him. I knew that he was under the ocean, but the thought was too strange to really understand. Honestly, I did not think that it had much of an impact on me until the Kursk sank in 2000; when I had nightmares about my Dad for more than a week. I realized then that his being under the water in a silent, heavy, capsule had a great impact on me, lighting fears that I never knew I had.

So with all that history, I was excited about getting to see the sub with him. I guess I thought it might let me get a vision of what the majesty of submarining meant for him, this thing he worked so hard to be a part of — the life he led when he was not with us. A military family is a family that understands sacrifice; it’s what we do everyday. I thought maybe I’d get an idea of what that sacrifice was all about.

We entered in the front of the sub, into the torpedo room. A volunteer from the Center was there to answer questions; he had served on nuclear submarines, he told us through a very heavy Russian accent.

“Really?” my Dad said, “I served on many nucs, myself. Which ship did you serve?”

“I am not at liberty to say.”

My Dad looked at us with a goofy grin. He’s good with a game.

“Okay, which class?”

“No, I cannot tell you.”

“Wait,” says my Dad, “which SIDE?”

“Zee other one,” Mr. Retired Russian Submariner says. My Dad jovially answers, “Yeah, I thought so. I recognized your voice. Heard you over the radio. We always knew where you were.”

He’s joking, it’s his way of being nice and it is. Paul asks the Russian guy a thoughtful question, which he also evades, and I sort of drown out the sound. It hits me that all those days and weeks and months at sea were much more serious than I really had ever considered. It was during the Cold War. They were out listening and monitoring as War Games. My Dad is an engineer, he fixes anything that runs on water — things I had never connected with images of conflict, despite the purposes of the machines he occupied. The human weight of it, the risks, the threats, and how it fits into my love of peace… these are bigger pieces I’ve not really let myself ponder. I’d always thought of my Dad as an engineer more than a sailor, machine geek more than soldier. I wonder, is that how he saw himself, too?

Covering the walls of the torpedo room and every available space otherwise, are large cans of ketchup, relish, and chili sauce. Bright and happy cans lining shelves above huge torpedoes. Everything in a submarine is back to back on a line between what you need to stay alive and what could kill you. Even the smell of diesel, what my Dad called ‘the smell of a submarine,’ is a constant reminder of the metal at work around you. The taste of the air was like taking in a piece of the machine with every breath. I got the sense that if you were down there long enough, you would breath in so much of her that you would be forever locked in her service. Like a first love you can’t forget.

The tiny sub packed in three movies for it’s sailors to watch in the mess deck (the kitchen). They hoped to meet up with another sub to trade movies when in port… otherwise, they were back at sea with the same picks. When they grew tired of the repetition, they played the reels silently and made up alternative words (the inspiration for Science Mystery Theatre 2000). Living quarters consist of a bunk with storage under the mattress for the crew, with closet-like spaciousness for the commanding officer. My Dad is over 6 feet tall and thick with muscle; there is no where on a submarine where he comes close to fitting. I watched him struggle through the doorways and tried to imagine a hurried fleet of men rushing through during an emergency maneuver. I couldn’t.

Still, he walked through that ship like a kid in a candy store. Pouring over the thousands of dials, reading the diagrams that framed the walls. I admit, the engineering of it all is astounding. But the physical experience? The heat, the steam, the sweat — all of the discomforts that were so obviously part of the experience of the men who served — if these were on his mind he didn’t share it. He seemed generally enthralled with how it all worked, how it provided the foundation for the vessels he would later repair and deploy upon.

The tour gave me even more appreciation for those who go into military service, who rise to the occasion to do things that I could not bear to think about, let alone do. And an increased wonder for my Dad, this mysterious guy who worked for years for the opportunity to be a part of the most physically uncomfortable and psychologically terrifying calls to duty that I can imagine.

Family Stories

Comments (4)


4-Year Old Listening Skills

Paul and I have been married for almost 8 years and in that time, we have developed an excellent relationship based on great communication. For example, this afternoon, I heard Paul say to me: WE HAVE A WORKING LAUNDRY. TOMORROW, I WILL MAKE DINNER FOR NEXT WEEK AND PUT THE KIDS TO BED.

And it’s part true. He said those words. I just didn’t hear what was in between them: WE don’t HAVE hot water in the back, but we are close to having A WORKING LAUNDRY. I need to be under the house working on it all day TOMORROW, so I can’t handle WILL with me in the back. Also, I’ll need you to MAKE ahead some DINNER FOR NEXT WEEK when you have your board meetings. Remember that I’m working tonight AND you’ll be alone with the kids. I’m sorry that I can’t help you PUT THE KIDS TO BED.

This may explain why he reminded me repeatedly that he needed to go to work when I insisted he put Kate to bed. He’s a very good sport.

Similarly, when I told Paul about us having a naked salad with no dressing and chicken breasts for dinner, I’m pretty sure he only heard the words “NAKED” and “BREASTS,” which is maybe why he looked disappointed when he came in for dinner.

So maybe it stands to reason that our children do not hear anything that we say to them. Perhaps hearing the words people say takes the same kind of time and practice required for something like learning to read or riding a bike. Until they develop those skills, maybe it’s unfair to hold them accountable for their actions. Maybe it’s not that they are choosing not to hear, but just absolutely cannot hear due to a completely underdeveloped skill not yet at maturity.

So when we tell Will, “Wash your hands and sit down for dinner,” maybe then it’s not that unreasonable that he would hear “DUMP OUT THREE MORE PUZZLES AND TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS.” Or when we ask him to “Help Kate put on her shoes,” he hears “GRAB KATE’S SHOES AND RUN AWAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN. THEN TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS.”

It could be a completely developmental issue. So we can stop beating our exasperated heads against the wall.

Family Stories

Comments (1)


Kate. Loves. Dogs.

When walking with Kate, one must be very careful. This is because she will move, as fast as possible, toward any animal she sees… especially if it’s a dog. This includes, but is not limited to, dogs walking down the street, dogs walking across the street, dogs in a house down the block, dogs whizzing by in a car, and dogs that Kate makes up in her imagination.

To interrupt Kate’s love-fest with a dog, you will need to physically remove her from the animal. This will result in THE POUT.THE POUT may last an especially long time, at least until she is re-united again with her animal love, or is found a suitable replacement. Her brother qualifies as a suitable replacement. As does her family “gato,” Scout. Her Daddy and Mommy do not.

When faced with THE POUT, one needs constant vigilance. THE POUT gives her certain super-powers aimed at circumventing all attempts of control. This includes, but is not limited to, kicking, running, fussing, wiggling, and going boneless. Note picture below: she is Assuming The Position. Prepare for defensive maneuvers.

Family Stories

Comments (3)


Life with a three year old…. continued.

Will (walking into the front room, after his bedtime): “Mommy, I had an accident.”

“You had an accident in your pull-up?” (He sleeps in pull-ups. We are so not ready to tackle night potty training for Will, who sleeps with an intensity most NOLA folk save for Ash Wednesday.)

Will: “Umm… I’m wet. My bed is all wet.”

“What do you mean your BED is WET? Do you mean your pull-up?” (You can start to hear the fear in my voice.)

Will: “MY PANTS are wet. I had an accident.” (I look closely. The sides of his pajama shorts are a bit wet. I’ve put it together and am not ready to accept it.)

“Will, you wear your pull-up to bed so that you don’t have any accidents. What happened to your pull-up?”



Speaking softly with his chin pressed tightly to his chest, shamefully looking to the floor in growing remorse, “itookitoffandtinkledonmybed.”

Family Stories

Comments (3)