Sunday, April 29, 2012

baking with children

I've long been a proponent of baking with children.


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Probably because I've long been a proponent of baking. 

There's something that's so warm and comforting about whipping up a batch of something to pass around and share. My favorite thing to bake is my mother's banana bread which over the years, has morphed in to chocolate chip banana mini muffins. This has become my hallmark recipe and they're always a sure crowd pleaser.  I've witnessed ten Daisy Girl Scouts and seven Tiger Cub Scouts, devour 96 mini muffins in less than five minutes.  That's approximately one mini-muffin per minute.

For five minutes.  

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Whenever possible, I try to involve the children in baking activities. I'll admit, this takes a great deal of patience because the cheerful vision of baking with children seldom matches the chaotic reality of baking with children. But over the years, as our children have grown up a bit, and have ceased trying to put their heads directly in to the mixing bowl, I've actually found joy in completing this activity together.

I'll let them measure out the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt ... and if I'm feeling particularly relaxed, I'll even let them crack the eggs.  Never directly in the bowl, mind you.  Usually in a measuring cup that I'll then strain for shell fragments, before it is combined with the rest of the ingredients.

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This weekend, I baked muffins with Henry. And as my four-year-old was spooning the contents in to muffin tins, I felt a feeling of peace settle over me.  Not once did I feel compelled to step in and clean the blobs of batter off the tin. And not once did my Control Freak take over and pry the spoons out of his little hands while cooing, "Why don't you let me do this...?"  

He was so focused, so determined, so thorough. And he did it all, by himself.  I'm not sure if I'm more proud of his ability to get the job accomplished...



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Or my ability to let him do it.  

Whatever the case, these are the days that I'm searing in to my memory. These precious days of baking alongside my chubby-cheeked preschooler. They are even more sweet than whatever it is we're making.

Friday, April 27, 2012

favorite thing friday (DB Johnson's "Henry" series)

I was born in Concord, Massachusetts.

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Before I could even read, I toured Louisa May Alcott's home and the land where Thoreau's cabin was situated on Walden Pond.  Every day on the way in to town, we'd travel a route that would take us past the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson and later, Nathaniel Hawthorne.

I've always had a strong connection to these great American writers, simply by virtue of the fact that I came in to the world in that exact locale and tread upon the very same ground as each of them.  And considering my family has a plot at Sleepy Hollow, there's a distinct possibility I may be laid to eternal rest just a hill or two away from my Concordian peeps.

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Our fourth child is named Henry David. We chose his name not just because Henry and David are two family names that Charlie and I both love; nor did we chose his name because we savor O'Henry bars. Although those things did factor in to the equation, our son's name was mostly chosen as a tribute to my hometown and one of my all-time favorite writers ... Henry David Thoreau. 

In recent months, I have found great inspiration and solace in the words of Thoreau.  The intellectual part of me really wishes that I could tell you that I've been devouring deep, insightful books like, "Civil Disobedience" and "Walden" but alas, I only have the mental capacity for children's books - like those of D.B. Johnson who has beautifully adapted Thoreau's writings in to terms that the young (and severely time-limited adults) can grasp and appreciate.

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Here's where I'd like to link all of these books to my Amazon library for posterity, but I've lost track of my affiliates account, and until such time that I'm able to recall: 1) Which e-mail account I used to set it up and 2) My password ... I'll just link to DB Johnson on Amazon here.

D.B. Johnson = WOW. 

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A few years ago, Kathleen (Charlie's father's wife and reader of great books), sent our little Henry all of the books within the Henry's series as a gift. And although I thanked Kathleen for those books when she sent them, let me take this opportunity to thank her for them again, now.

(Thanks Kathleen!!!)

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These are quite possibly my most treasured books in our children's library.  

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I will reach for them whenever I can because the stories are so pure - so true - so thoughtful - so inspiring.  And they are thought-provoking, even for our young children.   I have read almost all of them to our Girl Scout (and Boy Scout) troops during meetings and have asked them to think about the "message."

What are the really important things in life?

Well, they aren't actually "things."

Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called "comforts" of life are not only indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.

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Preach it, HD! 

If you're looking for a gift for someone (young or old), I would recommend one of these books.  If you take a visit to a library, check one out and tell me what you think.

My favorites are "Henry Hikes to Fitchburg" and "Henry Works."


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Although I also really love "Henry Climbs a Mountain" and "Henry Builds a Cabin." 

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And "Henry's Night" is just spectacular. 

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OK, OK. So I love them all.

I think you will, too.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

this definitely comes from my side of the family

One of our children has been struggling with bedwetting.

I've heard that bedwetting beyond the age of seven can be linked to genetics. Charlie has no recollection of such events transpiring in his dry-bed free life, but I remember my brother bedwetting until he was nearly 12.  And I vividly recall soaking the bed when I was at least seven-years-old. On more than one occasion, I'd have this totally clear dream that I'd wake up, climb out of bed and go use the restroom. But once I'd start to "go" I'd realize that OOPS, I'm not actually in the restroom, I'm still in bed.

But that wouldn't stop me, because I'm mostly asleep and I've got a nice warm sensation surrounding me and it feels like I'm in a cozy bath. Ahhh. Except a few minutes later it wouldn't feel like a cozy bath. It would feel and smell like I fell in to a cold sewer. So, that's when I'd wake up crying and would try to peel my icky, stinky saturated pajamas off.

The difference between me and my child is that they don't wake up crying because they sleep right through it. When they do wake up the next day, they're always so discouraged and they'll apologize. "Mom, I'm really sorry. I wet my bed, again, last night."

We've implemented a lot of steps to try and prevent accidents. We try to limit fluids after 6PM. We wake them up at night, before we go to bed, and put them on the potty. We give tons of encouragement for nights that are accident free, and we give tons of encouragement for nights when accidents occur.

"It's not your fault. Your body is still growing and changing. You will outgrow this. Please, trust me."

Unfortunately, none of those things have really helped and the discouragement lingers. Although our child had protested the wearing of nighttime Pull-Ups (those are BABY diapers!), and we stopped using them for a stint, after changing bed sheets at least three times in a week, for four weeks straight, we offered them no choice in the matter.

They're certain they are the ONLY CHILD IN SCHOOL who has this issue. Which I've tried to reassure them, they're most definitely not. Then, I'll point to the child on the Pull-Up box who looks to be at least two or three years older than them.  But they're still not convinced.

"How do you know they're not an ACTOR?"  

They very well could be. But would it make you feel any better to know that your mom - a few of her sisters - and your grandmother cannot be trusted with a really funny story and no bathroom in sight?

So, I'm currently looking at other solutions (not including medication) that might help get them through this phase. I'd recently heard about bed alarms that can be used to help train a child to wake up as soon as "wetness" is detected on a sensor that is clipped to their undergarments.  But there are so many varieties on the market, I'm at a loss as to whether the ones that are priced twice as much - are really worth the additional expense?  Does anyone have any experience on this, they'd be willing to share?

Me and my little puddle prone pal would be most appreciative.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

in honor of earth day

A few months ago, our children's first grade teacher asked me if it was true that I was a scientist. I told her that yes, it was true. By education, I am indeed a scientist.

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When she issued a follow-up question, inquiring on whether or not I'd be interested to come in and talk with the first graders about science, I jumped at the chance. When I told her that I'm an environmental geochemist, she asked if I would be willing to come in and present on the day that the school would be celebrating Earth Day, which happened to be this past Friday.

My birthday. 

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One of the managers in our company, that heads up the Technical Support group, has been very involved with volunteering at schools in the area and he has purchased a few interactive "groundwater models" that clearly illustrate the groundwater relationship between the surface and subsurface.  So I asked if I could borrow one of his models and bring it to my children's elementary school. Then, I recruited Charlie, a hydrogeologist and former community college geology professor, to come assist me in demonstrating this model to 25 first graders.

He, too, jumped at the chance. 

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So I told the teacher what we had in store, and she in turn, asked if I would be willing to present the model to the entire first grade. As in, all four of the first grade classes. She'd set us up in one of the large art rooms, and we would be able to talk to all of the kids at once.

Since I was planning to take the day off from work, I told her that would be great.  And then I added that if there were any other classes that would be interested in hearing our "science" talk, we'd be more than happy to talk to them, too.  All told, we ended up presenting to more than 300 children.  We covered the entire first grade, second grade and third grade classes. The only thing that stopped us from presenting to the entire school (through sixth grade) was lack of time.

I started off by asking the children why Earth Day was important.

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All of the grades talked about air and water and soil and trash and pollution and recycling. But then I asked, "Where would we go if the earth became so dirty we couldn't live here anymore?"  One of the children answered, "A moon colony!" and I laughed and said, "Are you rooting for Gingrich in 2012?"

(Yes, he was. Turns out, the DC area is a very politically charged environment and children are introduced to presidential rallying very young. Who knew?)

Then we talked about the water cycle and I taught the kids a little song that I heard years ago which is sung to "She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain." It goes something like this ...


Water travels in a cycle, yes it does!
Water travels in a cycle, yes it does!
It goes up as EVAPORATION...
Forms clouds of CONDENSATION...
Then rains down as PRECIPITATION, yes it does!

We talked about chemicals and how some chemicals are important, but if they are thrown away improperly, they become contamination that can enter the water cycle and effect our soil, water and air - which in turn, can really hurt plants, animals and us.

Then Charlie took over and talked about groundwater and how it moves differently, depending upon the soil type. It moves much faster through pebbles and coarse sand, than it does through sands, silts and clay.

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That was the segue to pull off the towel from the groundwater model, which we'd kept hidden from the kids. The room was instantly filled with "Oohhs!" and "Ahhhs"!

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Our little demonstration consisted of showing the kids how water flows through the subsurface and "recharges" rivers and lakes. We talked about wells and how groundwater gets in to those wells, and when we asked how many children got their water from a well on their property, nearly half the hands in the room shot up.

So we put forth the example that someone who lived down the street decided to paint their house blue. And then didn't know what to do with the leftover paint and rather than take it to the landfill, they decided to dump it down an old well that was screened deeper than any other well they had on their property.  We injected a small amount of blue food coloring in to the deep well and narrated, "What does it matter?  It won't hurt anyone. Right?  It's BELOW ground. No one will ever see it and no one will ever know!"

But then we showed the kids how the contamination quickly moved through the subsurface and how eventually, the water that they were "extracting" from their well turned BLUE.

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MAN WERE THOSE KIDS TICKED OFF. 

Apparently, no one wants to take a blue bubble bath?

Then we showed the kids that someone else decided to pour used motor oil in to a pit in their yard, under the same concept. No one will ever know!

But lo and behold, that motor oil (which we demonstrated with red food coloring) soon turned the lake, where they were supposed to go swimming and fishing that weekend, bright RED.

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It was quite a sight to see all of those little children get so ANGRY at the people who didn't dispose of their waste properly and were killing the fish in the lake.

HOW DARE THEY!

All of the teachers warned us that the kids might get uneasy and lose focus, but everyone - even the teachers - were totally captivated.  By the time Charlie and I finished talking, the blue paint had mixed with the red used motor oil and the river was purple.

We talked to each grade for about 20 minutes and then we had all of the children, all 300+ of them, come up in groups of 10 and help us to clean up the environment.

We told them they were geologists and engineers and their job was to figure out how to get the contamination out of the ground and asked how, going forward, they would protect the wells and rivers.  We had them lining landfills with clay barriers (i.e., Silly Putty) and abandoning old wells.

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The United States was once a powerhouse in math and science, but over the past few decades, it has slipped substantially. If we really want to improve the future of our country, we need to get kids excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and careers. Now, aside from the obvious, of raising our children the best we can; Charlie and I both feel like we've been on a bit of a quest, lately, trying to figure out what it is that we should be doing with our lives. After Friday, I think we've figured it out. Now, if we can just figure out a way to subsidize our costs of traveling around the country bringing science to schools, we're totally IN.

This is our calling in life!

We were high-fiving everyone and I lost count of how many children told me that when they grow up - they, too, were going to become scientists.  The teachers (and Principal) have asked for us to come back again, and over the weekend, I've bumped in to several families who we know through the neighborhood, sports and scouts, that have told me that their kids haven't stopped talking about what they saw on Friday.

While it certainly was great to hear all of those sweet little people sing me "Happy Birthday" the best part of the day was watching their faces (and ours) light up about SCIENCE.

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I honestly can't think of a more perfect way to spend my birthday.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

oy vey: for the love of the game

Seeing as I'm a third generation Bostonian (Massachusettsian?), it's no surprise my loyalty to the Red Sox runs deep.  That I gave birth to our children in 2004, the year that the Red Sox finally broke the Curse of the Bambino and won the coveted MLB championships, is to me, no coincidence.  That I gave birth to another child, three years later, coinciding with the Red Sox clench of the title again just proves it.  Yep, I've got a ... wink towards the heavens ... special connection.

For as much as I love the Red Sox, I've found it interesting that some of my favorite people are actually Yankee fans. I always think it's funny when I meet some one who is totally cool on every range of the spectrum, only to find out who their favorite team is. So I'll tell them, "You really are so wonderful, except for that "one" tiny character flaw.  Come on. Can't we do something about your baseball allegiance?"

As we were walking back to our hotel from one of our outings in New York, William commented to me that he liked the man's hat, walking in front of us.  The man's hat was actually a yarmulke and the man, overhearing us, turned around and smiled at my seven-year-old.

"You like my hat, do you?" he asked. 

William smiled and held my hand a little tighter. 

The man slowed down and walked next to us, and soon, we were engaged in a conversation. It turns out he was a native New Yorker, and he asked where we were from. William, never letting go of my hand, told him that he was from California. That prompted a whole new conversation and I'm not entirely sure how it happened, but that conversation eventually turned to baseball. My son mentioned that he loved baseball and was a BIG Red Sox fan. And the man, who had been smiling happily, suddenly furrowed his brow. 

"Red Sox?!  You're a RED SOX FAN? That's a problem..." He shook his head, turned his palms up to heaven and said, "Now, now, now. Have you ever heard of a guy named 'Mickey Mantle?'" 

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His face lit up again, and for the next 10 minutes, we stood in the lobby of our hotel and talked to this man, an absolute stranger, and quite possibly, the world's greatest Yankee fan, about baseball.  He was a walking encyclopedia about Mantle. He told us about how Mickey was ambidextrous and could bat both right and left handed. He then demonstrated to our family, how during one game, Mickey stepped up to bat and hit the ball right out of the park. And he saw it all happen, because he was perched on a nearby rooftop. It was one of the most memorable days of his life. 

Once we said goodbye and parted ways, William asked, "How come we talked to that stranger? Weren't you afraid he was going to take us?"  I considered his question for a moment and replied, "You always have to be careful. Always. But there are a lot of good people in the world and taking the time to slow down, smile, and acknowledge them can be a gift for them - and for you."

I added, "But of course, I wouldn't want for you to talk to an adult without me or your Dad around. In an environment like this when we're both here and I'm holding your hand, you're safe. Even if that man was a Yankee fan...." I gave a fake shudder and playfully squeezed his little hand. 

William looked up at me and very seriously said, "Mom, you know, I've been thinking about that and I think I need to change sides. I'm going to be a Yankee fan from now on. ESPECIALLY if it means I can wear a nice little hat like the one he had on."

My son, a Jewish Yankee fan?

I never saw that one coming. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

easter: take II

A few weeks ago, I went shopping and bought all of the supplies that we'd need for Easter baskets. But then, I debated taking those supplies with us on our recent road trip because there wasn't an excess of room in the car for such supplies and if the children spotted them prematurely, we'd be in trouble.

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Around these parts - the Easter Bunny is alive and well.

Also, I was thinking that maybe we'd be home on Saturday night (Easter Eve) and I'd have ample time to put the children's baskets together and hide Easter eggs around our home.

But that didn't happen.

Because - although I haven't written about it yet - after we were in New York, we traveled up to Massachusetts to see my family. And on Saturday, there was an Easter egg hunt at my father's assisted living facility. Following that, we visited with my brother, Frank. And by the time we got on the road, it was almost 4PM. And there was no way we were going to make it from Massachusetts to Virginia before Easter morning. Especially since we were planning to stop in Pennsylvania's Amish Country and rendezvous with my sister, Janet.

En route to Pennsylvania, we stopped for dinner in Davenport, Connecticut and I noticed that directly across the street - there was a Pier I imports. And lo and behold, from all of the pastel signs in the windows, it was obvious they were having a BIG Easter sale. So I'm thinking that because we're not going to be home in time for me to pull together Easter baskets, we'll just make a quick stop and I'll grab a few little things for the kids so that we can continue to perpetuate the Easter Bunny fairytale for as long as possible.

We pull the car up to Pier I, and I hop out while Charlie gets the kids dressed in their pajamas. We still had another four hour drive to our destination and we knew it would be much more comfortable for the children (and us) if they were already ready for bed when we arrived. As Charlie's dressing the kids, I discreetly dart in to Pier I.

Within 10 minutes, I'd stocked up various toys and supplies for two baskets - one for the girls and one for the boys. Because there wasn't THAT much stuff and because most of it was made of paper or cheap wood, it came as a surprise that my total was $96.84.

I hesitantly hand the cashier money - she hands me my receipt and I walk out of the store, examining my receipt and feeling like a dope because everything that I bought wasn't on sale. Except the Easter baskets.

Almost instantly, that feeling of regret sets in. I most definitely shouldn't have bought this stuff. For Pete's sake: we're on a road trip. We don't need this stuff in the car in addition to all of the other stuff that we have in the car. We're in financial savvy mode and forking out close to $100.00 for a bunch of imported toys that are going to:

1) Add to the clutter in our all ready overstuffed car
2) Be fought over and/or broken within 10 minutes (which will prompt me to)
3) Throw them out as soon as feasible

Is dumb.

Especially since there are more necessary things I could do with that money.

Summoning my husband to the back of the car and closing all the doors (so the kidlets couldn't hear us), I show Charlie my merchandise. I express to him my concern over buying these things, when we have OTHER things at home and we're trying to save money. Charlie convinces me that we should keep everything because tomorrow is Easter. And can you put a price tag on happiness when it comes to our children?

THINK OF THE CHILDREN, JEN.

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Okay. Fine. I'm thinking of them. And my gut is telling me I still should return everything. But we need to get on the road. We've been eating and shopping for close to two hours now and that's just delaying our arrival. However, just before we pull out of the parking lot and continue on our way, Elizabeth informs me that she needs to go potty.

And oh by the way, when we were visiting my brother, Frank, earlier that afternoon, Elizabeth was jumping on his trampoline (for the record: I really don't like those things) and landed awkwardly and I'm convinced that she has re-fractured her ankle. At that moment, she could not walk. So I pick her up and carry her in to Pier I, with William and Carolyn who tagged along to help open doors. As I make my way to the counter with a visibly hurt child in my arms, and two small children dressed in their pajamas, I very politely ask if we could use their restroom. And the cashier says, "I'm sorry. We don't have a restroom."

What? "You don't have a restroom?"

She shrugs. "Nope. Sorry..." She stares at me for a moment before continuing, "The closest bathroom is at Bed, Bath & Beyond off the (some unknown road) behind (some unknown restaurant)."

I wasn't sure how to respond. Finally I stammered, "So, what you're telling me is that you don't have a bathroom, anywhere in this store?" She gave me a smug smile. "Sorry..."

Of course they have a bathroom. They need to have a bathroom for their employees. And also, every other Pier I I've ever been to has a restroom. The one in San Diego had one of the nicest public bathrooms I've ever visited. There was fragrant potpourri and pretty pictures and wicker furniture. They don't have a restroom?

She might as well have said they don't have candles. Or glassware.

So I walk out to the car, deposit Elizabeth in her seat, and summon Charlie to the back of the car, again. "Apparently, they don't have a restroom. Or at least, they don't have one that they'll allow us to use. Do they think that I just WANDERED in there? Do they not realize that I am a customer who just stropped close to $100 in that store?"

In my totally fumed state I said to my husband, "Give me that bag. I'm going back in there and returning ALL of that overpriced junk. I'll just tell them that since I'm going to Bed, Bath & Beyond - I'll buy all of my Easter basket supplies there. I'll also use one of my 20% off coupons."

Pfft!!

Charlie shook his head. "Come on, Jen. Seriously, we have to go. If we're going to get to Pennsylvania before 2AM, we need to hit the road. And Elizabeth has to go to the bathroom. Forget about it. Besides, the kids will LOVE this stuff..."

Only because I didn't want for us to be driving all night, nor did I want my child to wet her only pair of pajamas, I said "Fine - I won't return it, NOW. But we are NOT giving this stuff to the kids. Couldn't they see that I had an INJURED child in my arms who had to use the bathroom - and they turned us away? That's immoral. Especially since I just spent a lot of money in that store on stuff I didn't even need!! Even if it was a PRIVATE bathroom, I'd consider a paying customer carrying a pajama-clad child with a foot wrapped up in bandages would be considered an EXTENUATING circumstance. To heck with them!"

Ultimately, we found another restroom. And then we drove four more hours to our hotel. And as I was going to bed, I was thinking that the kids probably wouldn't be that disappointed on Easter morning, especially since we were staying at a great hotel with an indoor swimming pool and hot tub. They'd be far too distracted to get up and go jump in...

Those were the justification thoughts floating through my mind as I dozed off.

Early the next morning, William was up first. He jumped out of bed and started looking all over the room. He looked under his pillow - in all of the drawers - under the bed. And then, he came over to my bed and very sullenly said, "Mom. The Easter Bunny didn't come. The Easter Bunny forgot about us." And he collapsed in to tears.

That woke up his sisters, who collapsed in to tears. It was the saddest thing, ever … as Charlie rolled over and looked at me and said, "So, is this worth $100 to you?"

"Yes. It is," I replied.

I'm trying to simplify my life. Those trinkets from Pier I are the antithesis of simplification. Moreover, Easter isn't about candy and toys and Easter baskets. Our children need to understand that.

Nonetheless, when the sadness didn't dissipate, I told the kids that maybe the Easter Bunny would come that night. Once we returned, home.

Wouldn't you know, that appeased them. But by the time we got home and unpacked and ready for bed, I completely forgot. So Monday morning was a repeat of Sunday morning. The kids woke up, eagerly checked for gifts left by the Easter Bunny, and dissolved in to tears because once again - He Stood Them Up.

That darn bunny.

SO UNRELIABLE.

Just like the Tooth Fairy who has forgotten to stop by on the first night, for five of the eleven teeth we've lost.

This week, my plan was that THIS weekend, I would redeem the faithfulness of the Easter Bunny. I would totally surprise the kids. So last night, I used the gifts that I'd bought before (more practical gifts like paint and sidewalk chalk and not just junk that will break) and I put together their Easter baskets which I placed in their rooms. And then, Charlie and I were up late in to the night stuffing close to 200 plastic Easter eggs with little toys, money and chocolate candy.

Before we turned in to bed, we decided that it would be best if we hid the eggs at night. Because in the morning, the kids would probably be up before we were and they'd totally see us, sneaking around the yard. So in the pitch black of night, with our headlamps guiding us, my husband and I set out and deposited 200 eggs all around our property.

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We climbed in to trees to put the brightly colored eggs on branches, and we shimmied down the banks of the creek to perch them on stones. Once we had distributed all of the eggs, we smiled and high-fived each other.

Our sweet children will be so happy.

Carolyn was up first. She wandered in to our room and climbed in to bed with me. I sleepily asked her, "Did you hear that noise last night? It sounded like something was trying to come in to our house. Louie was barking and I heard a 'thump! thump! thump! coming down the hallway…" She whipped her head towards me with eyes like saucers, "NO. Oh my goodness! Do you think it was a robber? In our house?!"

"No, no," I reassured her. "I don't think it was a robber. I think it might have been Peter Cottontail, coming back to visit those children he missed last week." The words no sooner left my mouth and she flew out of bed and to the window. Her eyes squinted and strained trying to pick out anything unusual in the backyard. As her focus fell on the tree house, where we'd staggered eggs up the steps, she started to scream.

Scream, I tell you.

"OH MY GOODNESS, YOU GUYS!" She yells out as she took off running out of our room. "Carolyn!" I whisper. "DO NOT WAKE ANY ONE UP, YET!" She stops and looks at me. "Oh, okay, Mom" she responds. "I'm just going to go in to my room … for a minute."

She walks around the corner and I can hear her whispering, "Elizabeth! Elizabeth! Wake up!! WAKE UP!! The Easter Bunny came to see us!! Squee!!!!!!"

Within less than 10 seconds, all four children are standing in our room, fully dressed, with their Easter baskets (the contents of which they'd dumped out) ready to go on an egg hunt.

I'm thinking that I should hide Easter eggs every school night, so that I can get them up and dressed in the morning. Honestly, I've never seen them get ready so fast.

Charlie and I heave ourselves out of bed. We pull on some clothes, lace up some shoes, and walk outside with the children. Immediately, we can tell that something is amiss.

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It appeared that almost all of the eggs had been cracked open. There were little candy wrappers scattered on the ground. The only eggs that remain intact are those that were hidden in the mailbox or which have toys and money inside.

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The kids are confused, we are confused.

As I walk over and pick up an egg, I see that it has tiny little teeth marks all over it. As I'm inspecting the egg, Charlie asks, "So, do you think it was a deer?"

"A DEER?" I ask. And then I have to stop myself from laughing hysterically because it's early and my husband hasn't yet had his coffee. His mind doesn't function properly until he's had his french roast. "No, I don't think it was a deer. I think it was a squirrel..." I tell him. "A deer would have to STOMP on an egg to open it and I don't they could peel back the tinfoil on a Hershey Kiss. But squirrels, well they've got those tiny sharp claws and teeth..."

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The kids weren't too disappointed because the Easter Bunny still did come, after all. He visited them and the woodland animals that live in our yard. Those little woodland animals that probably consumed twice their body weight in chocolate. We're now on the lookout for totally plump, hyperactive squirrels zipping around on a sugar-high.

Remember this?

Our children have always had good reason to distrust squirrels.

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They're nothing more than candy thieves!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

we'll debate this … forever

Charlie has a new favorite band … they're called "Blackberry Smoke."

He saw them on Palladia.

Tonight, once the children were tucked in to bed, he cranked up some of the new Blackberry Smoke music he'd downloaded and I immediately said, "Charlie! Since when have you been interested in country music?" and he said, "Jen, this isn't country music. This is SOUTHERN ROCK. There's a difference, sister."

Really? Because this < (hyperlink) sure sounds like country music to me.

In my opinion, once you start referencing "Two-six packs of Shiner" and "Woo!" in your lyrics it automatically falls in to the country music camp.

Then again, what do I know, considering I didn't even realize it when I'd bumped in to one of country music's most famous personalities a few years ago. I thought he was a football player.

I do like Kenny Rogers, though.

"You got to know when to hold 'em. Know when to fold 'em …. Know when to walk away and know when to RUN!" has become my mantra.

If you're so inclined, I've got a poll to the left.

Blackberry Smoke = Country or Southern Rock?

We need a tie break.

me and my sweetie

Princess, you kiss me and then, we're married fohever. Okay?

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I know I won't always be the absolute love of his life.

But right now I am.

And it's adorably awesome.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

this one's for uncle ed

I know I've written it before, but it bears repeating that my mother is the youngest of nine children. The oldest child, Francis, died of adhesions from his ruptured appendix in 1923, when he was six-years-old, 10 years before my mother was born.

There is a 15-year spread between my mom and her seven older siblings: Edmund, Bernard, Carolyn, Ann, the twins (Raymond & Robert) and Grace. Yet despite the age difference, they were a very close knit group. Let me rephrase that, they are a very close knit group.

With oh ... just a few minor exceptions.

(Grace, you always thought you were SO funny!)

When my mother was born, her father was almost 54-years old. So my mom, and her sister Grace, both remember that their big brother, Ed, was like a second father to them. Mom recalls that he'd swing her up on his shoulders and proudly carry his little Mary Lou around.

Ed was in the Navy during World War II, so he was brave. And handsome. And strong. And kind. And gentle. And well, pretty much everything that an older brother should be.

He was a pretty great uncle, too, considering he would show up to whatever family gathering he was invited, including but not limited to, nieces' and nephews' high school graduations, weddings, birthday parties and great nieces' and nephews' baptisms. And once, he very patiently sat through my "Born to the Hand Jive" gymnastics routine four times straight ("Oops! Sorry Uncle Ed. I messed up, again!! *Smile.* Can I start over?") when I was eight-years-old.

After that, I didn't see him for another 10 years.

(It's no wonder.)

Uncle Ed married Aunt Bunny (whose wonderful recipe I posted here) and they had five children together. For the past 35 years or so, Uncle Ed and Aunt Bunny have made the pilgrimage from Massachusetts south to Florida to escape the cold New England winters. Their two eldest daughters, Donna and Nancy, are only a few years younger than my mom and as it turns out, they live less than 10 miles from where my mother and Jim vacation every winter, in Florida. So for the past few years, whenever I'd visit Florida to see my mom, I'd usually be lucky enough to also see my Uncle Ed, Aunt Bunny and cousins.

The last time I saw Uncle Ed, he was recovering from a bicycle accident. Although he was 90-years old, he was still doing yoga every day and would ride his bike whenever possible. Apparently, he'd been out for his daily bike ride and some youngster cut him off. He fell off his bike, fractured some ribs and had to slow down for a little while. But soon enough, he got right back in to his exercise routine.

Because that's what an awesome 90-year old man does.

Tonight, I was combing through my photo albums, looking for a picture of Uncle Ed. I find it hard to believe that although I've taken close to 50,000 pictures in the past few years, the most recent picture I could find was from our wedding day in 1994. Wow, time goes fast. Now, when I look at this picture, it strikes me that we've lost four of the eight beautiful people who were seated around this table. Uncle Ed is sitting second from the left.

Wedding Photo

Last year, Uncle Ed was diagnosed with leukemia and this afternoon, I received the call that he'd passed away, earlier today. He was 92-years young and he will be missed by all who knew him. Most especially, I believe, by his doting little sisters who to this day, still think he is one of the greatest guys to ever live.

Rock on, Uncle Ed.

Thank you for being such a decent man and good friend to everyone. And thank you for sitting through an hour of my eight-year-old gymnastics routine. I'm sure you're well aware that there really is a special place in heaven for people like you.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

times square

I'm certain there is no place else on earth like Times Square.

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When we arrived in New York on Sunday night, checked in to our hotel, and had gone out to a quick dinner with four deliriously tired children, we decided to take a quick detour through Times Square on the way back to our hotel.

The lights!

The energy!

The masses of people!

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At 9 PM on a SUNDAY night?

Mamma Mia!!

I can't even imagine what the electric bill from that place must look like.

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Our children were instantly revived by all of the excitement and told us that they weren't tired anymore and could stay up all night. Despite their pleas to stay out for just 5, 10 ... 30 minutes longer - and my desire to soak it all in, I've got this nagging maternal instinct that compelled me to lead my children straight back to our hotel.

"I'm so sorry kids, but Mommy isn't going to let her first graders and preschooler stay up all night dancing in the middle of Times Square with the Naked Cowboy. Yes, I know you want to. And yes, I know I said this is the City that never sleeps. But you my little friends, do."

We made our way back to our hotel, tucked our children in to bed, and they were asleep before their sweet heads even hit their pillows.

But the next morning (after Rockefeller Center and our prayers for eternal forgiveness at St. Patrick's Cathedral) we went back to Times Square to see it during the day and it was just as awe-inspiring as it had been at night. I was so very happy that I'd made the decision to pack the children's bright yellow jackets, but wished I'd pursued my idea of tying ropes around all of them, and back to myself. There were so many people, moving so quickly, that if I let go of one of their hands, I was certain they would have been swept away in an instant.

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Once again, even in the daytime, I was struck by the intensity of this place. The advertisements and marketing, bombarding every sense. I was truly in awe.

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I have no idea who this man is. He wandered in to my frame as I was about to snap a picture of the Hershey building.

Hello there, sir!

I like how your camera matches your coat!

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We were stopped by a team of Maybelline models who asked for us to vote on a beauty contest, being held in Russia, where various women were trying to win an all-expense paid trip to New York. They'd be treated to a shopping spree, make-over and modeling shoot.

So we stood directly beneath the jumbotron and watched the beautiful Russian faces pop up, voting for those we thought should win. We wound up casting a vote for six different women because they were all beautiful, and in our opinions, all deserved this once in a life-time adventure.

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As we stood there, looking at the various contestants, the screen suddenly switched to this...

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See that little mob of yellow right in the middle?

That's us!

Another benefit of bright yellow jackets (that match the McDonald's arches?)

Distinct visibility on the Times Square jumbotron.