Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Shore Thing

I am a beach lover descended from a long and multipronged line of beach lovers; both sets of my grandparents loved the seashore; my parents vacation there; my husband loves the coast. So my children were given a high likelihood of being beach-y-keen. Unlike most things they have to share (a birthday cake, a room, adult attention, etc.) they did not have to divide contents of this gene – they have enough, that I’d wager, its available in concentrate.

It should come as no surprise that we all are buried up to our necks in sand this time of year - and are blissfully visiting friends, family and all of rabbit’s relations in Ogunquit, Maine. 

Having only made brief day trips to the ocean since they were born, its part anthropological experiment to watch day in and out, tide in and out, their unmitigated shoreline access.

So far we’ve been reminded that Sophia is an artists through and through – the beach gives her the excuse of having a limitless (and self-cleaning) canvas. Indeed, she is up to the task of answering the artistic call by creating from sunup to down. Henry finds the challenge of such a vast construction site quite compelling. I’ve read their copy of National Geographic’s Sand so many times that I can easily win a trivia contest on where each color of sand originates.

They also play this infectious game – Tony traces their shadows in the sand using the side of a shell with the sun (it doesn’t matter the time of day) and their shape, they figure out why and how it looks this way. Occasionally, we add the smile.

Does it look familiar? I was thinking of the Edvard Munch painting(s) The Scream. I find it quite inspiring.

I’m not going to lie and tell you I like the beach at such-and-such a time. I like it all the time. In the middle of the day; at high tide when people are scrambling to move their chairs and umbrellas to dryer ground; early in the morning when everyone is overturning a rock or a thousand in a tide pool; in the evening when the more sun-sensitive excitedly tuck in with a blanket and hot fish dinner in a to-go container that’s so hot and sinful that the whole beach smells like fried food. We happened to take these shots in the late afternoon – when Sophia’s canvas was just right, the light forgiving, and the angst-provoking but essential sunscreen was stored in the beach bag for another day.

And we found ourselves echoing the phrase slipped underneath many hotel and short-term residences this time of the year:

Happily filled.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"...may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever"

Three weeks ago, my beloved grandmother died.

This weekend, while I was trying to find a simple piece of biographical information, I was stunned to discover her name and dates appearing in a genealogical database. Like she hadn’t just passed away. Like I don’t have a homemade quart of sugar-free-vanilla-ice-cream sitting for her in my freezer. Like she had moved from a warm living to a cold archived memory.

I'll admit, I was a annoyed that this archaic practice of "when a woman's name should appear in print (when she is born, when she is married and when she dies)" had been done to her. But I feel like I can cut History some slack; together, my grandmother and I liked it more than the average person. 

Like Gramma, I appreciate old things – and like her I’m not overly fussy about the reproduction-aesthetic. But while she would collect items, I would prefer to make them. But it never really mattered. 

She would endorse them all. 

Shortly after my parents told me of her unexpected passing, I was completely overwhelmed with all of the powerful memories I have of her. I immediately thought of the aforementioned ice cream I had and coupled it with a song she sang to me more times than I could possibly count (and was one of the ones I taught Henry and Sophia as quickly as I could). The song, Henry Clay Work’s “My Grandfather’s Clock” flooded in and seemed so desperately sad and highly appropriate. I was momentarily panic stricken because I thought that I may be the only person left in the world who knew it (btw, I'm definitely not). I both cried and laughed, because I knew she would. 

Shortly after my grandmother retired from her independent business she became a student of mine. She told me she wanted a patient teacher who wouldn’t make her do scales and other boring things (!); and so I refreshed my grandmother in the art of how to play piano. She was a careful student who held herself to high standards; her favorite song to play was “Edelweiss” and I can still hear her near-perfect version of it. The one where she would just hum over the parts she couldn’t quite play – and ask when/if it was okay to press the damper pedal. And yes, as I type this I am singing it out loud, for her:

Edelweiss, Edelweiss
Every morning you greet me
Small and white, 
clean and bright
You look happy to meet me. 
blossom of snow
May you bloom and grow, 
bloom and grow forever...
Edelweiss, Edelweiss
Bless my homeland forever

The more I think about it, the more humbled I am with her dying so close to the Fourth of July. Growing up, my grandmother was always an advocate for the Greatest Spot for Firework Viewing. This involved moving around chairs and blankets until we managed to procure the most ideal location to watch the show.

Perhaps then my grandmother’s passing right before the holiday was her way of making sure she got the sky-side best seat in the house. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Making Way – for Ducklings


There are many charmed life moments with three-year-olds. Their understanding of distance is pretty unparalleled (to live far away is either Brimfield. Or Egypt. Nothing in between); their questions are intensely-stumping (why don’t spiders get stuck in each other’s webs?); and moments you’ve (silently) been longing for turn out well worth the wait.

Ten years ago today, Robert McCloskey, author of the 1941 Boston Public Garden-centric picture book Make Way for Ducklings, passed away. A careful artist, McCloskey decided on brown ink for the final product and actually drew his copy on metal sheets which were set onto the press. This allowed his beautiful illustrations higher clarity.* 

When I was young (and even more so now) I was sold by page one.

I’ve been waiting for this chance to bring Henry and Sophia into Boston where we could journey to this anticipated location – at an age when they could start to better see how the leaves of books and those of the physical world can occupy the same page. I also think I was unintentionally trying to recapture a moment when the city was brought to a standstill for reasons other than those this spring.

So for this exercise I tried to take on a child’s eye view and document our day (in homage to McCloskey, with brown). Acting the part is pretty easy (minus the height requirement), but I started noticing everything from short opened gates, trees as tall as clouds and paved trails just desperate to walk you through a story. 

And then – then, of course, is the silently gliding centerpiece.

As is identifying the still-present elements of the story, “There is the water!” “There is the island!” “The bridge!” “The swan boat!” 

We found them all.

We also saw artists sharing their work; we fortuitously saw eight ducklings and a poised swan; we admired the recently bloomed roses, held back the willows’ leaves so they wouldn’t fall into the water; we climbed on the Nancy Schön bronze replica and read Mrs. Mallard and her ducklings the story (because I’m sure they haven’t heard it enough). 

Last Fall, as my final-elective, I took a children’s literature course. It was out of this world. I had a few opportunities to meet and hear authors and illustrators as well as have copies of their works signed for the twins.

My (awesome) professor remarked, “Your children will have quite a collection.”


Though part of me is (unrealistically) sad that Henry and Sophia will never have an inscribed Make Way for Ducklings to add to their little (but growing) collection, after making this pilgrimage to his Public Garden, I guess I feel like he already did sign their copies. 

* Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2004 p. 30-1.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


I find little comfort in the words, “Her pain is over” or “You gave her the best life possible.” While these might be true, they’re not soothing. But I’ve kept that to myself this past week.

I want to hear, “How is it possible for you to breathe?!” or “I just bought you this massive punching bag.” Now those are cheering words. Actually, my good friend Mia brought me a king size chocolate bar to work with a note that said “here is what I use for medication.” That melted my heart I had pre-sworn would be frozen forever.

I like to think of myself as someone pretty happy and who isn't bothered by a whole lot. The first time I read Harry Potter I was (admittedly) bland in my impressions of the Mirror of Erised. Maybe I wasn’t sure (and wasn’t interested in exploring) what I’d see in it.

I think I know now. 

We lost Cappy (unexpectedly) on Tuesday which was also Tony’s 35th birthday. That fact alone would have completely destroyed me, but he soldiered on. We tried to have a subdued party with cake at his work, presents, tears and pictures. But each moment was punctuated with a little three-year-old voice whispering, “My doggie is in heaven.”

I’ll confess, their questions are quite sophisticated for their age. As is the way they are unpacking it. A few people have said, “They’re not old enough to get it.” And I think, “But…no, they really do.”

Art has definitely helped us. Okay, okay me. It helps me tell them stories where words just give up. Sometimes what I say and what they hear doesn’t quite match. I mean when I said, “…and the little lamb wailed” they heard: 

The outpouring of cards, thoughts, prayers, {chocolate} and photographs of her has been overwhelming. Apparently she was followed with the camera more than my children (which I actually thought was impossible).

The day after Cappy died, Henry laid his blanket in the space where her bed was until the night before. He then took his stuffed puppy and faced it out the window “To look to the sky. To Cappy.”

I know, you weren’t actually interesting in wearing eye makeup today.

I keep telling them:


This is the hardest thing in the whole world.

During that horrific week this past April I created a playlist to keep the twins and I focused and distracted. At the top of the list was a single called “Runner” by Dustin O’Halloran.

I’ve found peace in its recurrence, and the twins were happy for me to keep it on repeat. Its title and cadence seemed to keep us coming back to meditate on what happened in Boston. Even for that week they knew something was happening. We spared them the details but did give them the outline.

This week I’ve found myself listening to it all over again. Perhaps for different reasons now. For another runner. A twelve-year-old retired racing greyhound.

When we meet again Cappy, I promise, I’ll be there. With a sign. At the finish line. Calling your name. Cheering you on.

And we’ll see then who is running faster. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

End of the Year Celebration - Parent-Child Home Program

This week I had an amazing opportunity to do a reading and activity at the Parent-Child Home Program (PCHP) graduation ceremony in Worcester. The program is a brilliant one which advocates for early childhood literacy through school readiness and pairing children and families with a trained paraprofessional. There are books and toys and home visits involved; AND smiles, proud parents and an elated group of supportive staff. It is tear-jerking-ly-homemade-chicken-soup-feel-good. 

So on Tuesday night, about thirty-three children enrolled in the program (some who, sniff sniff, graduated from it) attended with their families. When I talked to the coordinator about developing an activity, I was pretty much given free-reign (hooray!). As each child left with a copy of Goodnight Worcester, I kept our hands-on art project centered on the book and its content. And since so many of them were from Worcester, why not do a map project?

What started out as way-overly-ambitious was whittled down to something more appropriate. Looking at a few maps of the city, I decided to recreate and draw some of the main streets and highways and then pull out four scenes for the participants to place in circles. We decided too that the children and their families could match the scenes in the book (if they wanted). I selected Elm Park, the Ecotarium, Shrewsbury and Water Street to have them stick onto the map. 

Why maps?

I like maps. A lot.

I like the way they visually work. The way they are never and always wrong. The way you can interact or just study them. Or how they show everyone’s interconnectedness. The way we cross. That we’re all moving targets. We can web, branch out and come back together. They are lovely and powerful tools.

Right. So the one I made isn’t entirely to scale. And some identifiers are missing. But I allowed myself some artistic license. For the stickers I used Avery-craft sheets (intended for labeling canned goods), scanned the original artwork, edited/sized them and ran them off through my printer. Each child got a set of four (and a few more stickers to take home of the Art Museum, Armory and skyline); Henry and Sophia insisted that the maps (printed on cardstock) also be used as coloring sheets.

So the children could select. Um. Crayons. Um. Colored Pencils. Or. Ta-da! Watercolors. I tend to plead and push for watercolors + young children. I've been known to carry gallons of water, boxes of Ball jars, mini-easels, watercolor paints, paper and other sundries around the park just so young artists can have the full watercolor experience. 

So I am a watercolor-believer. Sink or no sink. Ability to clean up efficiently or inefficiently. Soaking wet paper and paint filled hands everywhere. I love it.

The Verdict? YES.

Can you guess what almost every child selected?! Like a moth to a flame. I joked the other night that I would like for every child in the City to be a watercolorist convert.

And, if they are anything like this group, I think they *all* will be more than happy to comply.

Friday, April 5, 2013

An open letter to David McKee

So this is somewhat of an elephant-test – I’ll know what it is when I see it. Or better yet, when Henry and Sophia do.

They will let everyone know.

But we have a bit of a situation with a friend/creation of yours. He’s sort of everywhere. And he’s forcing us all to see a bit of our own true colors – that we’re all a bit unexpected, colorful, original and fun-loving. 

Its not entirely your fault. We have somewhat of a reading-problem in this house. Not me, of course. I am strictly monogamous with my books. But Henry and Sophia? They’re all over the place. Nonfiction one minute and Elmers the next. And some days they’ll pile them up and read parts of one and merge it with another. Its almost….patchwork.

Backstory: for those unfamiliar with him – Elmer is a patchwork elephant. As in Red. Orange. Black. Green. Blue. Pink. Purple. Yellow. And he lives with a herd of Gray elephants. And he is subtle. And lovable. He saves his friends by “escaping” predatory hunters on stilts (right? brilliant), in another tale he literally blows away, he saves teddy bears, and shows his friends the many-benefits of things like snow.

AND he is hilarious.

The books are all filled with a rich and deep laughter that is a signature of three-year-olds (which is probably why mine like them so much – they’re well-matched). And each title will DELECTABLY surprise readers with everything this large, witty, colorful, mammalian-comedian can dish out (and lest not forget his ventriloquist cousin Wilbur, he’s only black-and-white, but equally as unpredictable - as in, he ends up stuck in a tree - and we're left to imagine how this actually happened).

But Elmer has really been the elephant-in-the-room for some time – I try to pretend that our obsession with him is just temporary. But he becomes a part of our everyday art projects, a crafty inspiration (we make mini-versions with square-cut tissue paper) – we even have regular Elmer Day Parades (and situations to dress up in BIG colors). Yup, the dog joined in too. I know in the books the parades are merely annual events, but we’ve seen-the-elephant and it continues to be just as important with each encounter, with each turning of the page. 

He has even infiltrated our baking. Outside of your Elmer books, our other weakness is eating/creating/sharing baked goods (okay, okay, there are more weaknesses). So, yeah, we went there. We created an Elmer Cake – only one that is patchwork on the {inside}. We'd be happy to send you some.

So, Mr. McKee, outside of thanking you for creating and sharing such a happy-go-lucky character, I have one question to ask on behalf of my children: my daughter asked me the other day, “When IS Elmer’s birthday?” And for this, I appeal to you. I would guess that it is April 1st because Elmer is such a trickster, or perhaps it is April 2nd being International Children’s Book Day – but if you know our multi-colored friend’s date of birth, please – I beg of you – share it with me, so I can share it with the twins.

If not, we might just have to make this (and sing to him) every day.