Wednesday, December 23, 2009

All Thai-ed Up

This is some SERIOUS fair trade, my friends. This is a gift I ordered on eBay; it was made in Thailand, upcycled from already used materials. I can't say more but ask me on Saturday, and I can give up the secret. It arrived EXACTLY like this. The box was tied together with two pieces of what Duncan referred to as "candy cane string," and the top of the box was completely unsealed, the contents wrapped in one small piece of Thai newsprint. I'm dumbfounded that it arrived here, intact, from across the world.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I always wanted to have two trees, and we never had space for them until we lived in Connecticut. That house was great for trees, but I couldn't talk Jamie into two. I did eventually score this miniature tree, which we have used for our tiniest ornaments. It's a lot of fun to put it up in Duncan's room. He loves having his own little tree, and it's nice to have his bedtime stories under the glow of Christmas lights.

Decorating 101

I always think that decorating the Christmas tree with Duncan is going to be a Norman Rockwell experience, complete with hot cocoa and followed by a nice dinner. Surprise, surprise. It never turns out that way. In my vague memory, there was a lot of occupying Duncan (who was itching to start) while Jamie got the lights on the tree and then shifted all the lights because he strung them to close together at the top.  What followed was a fair amount of "don't touch that" or "that's too heavy." Eventually, I was forced to abandon my Martha Stewart ideals (damn you Martha for setting me up for failure) and abandon all hope, and that was probably when we started to have a good time. At one point I looked down to realize Duncan had an entire box of breakable ornaments, and I had an entire box of things made of felt and yarn. I feebly suggested a trade but then just let Duncan do it. It turns out it's a beautiful tree (aren't they always?), and the memory of the afternoon is a pretty happy one. I thought I'd share with you Duncan's #1 tree decorating tip: bunch as many ornaments together as possible in one place.

Luckily, Jamie touched it up a little while Duncan and I were getting ready for bed.

Oh Tannenbaum.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Freeze, Trees, and Santa's Knees

Last Saturday, we made our annual pilgrimage to Battenfeld Christmas Tree Farm. Just in time, the weather cooled enough that it felt seasonal to be out hunting for trees. Just in time, we got in, selected a tree, and headed home before the snow began. Shockingly, it never takes us long to find a tree although I am pretty indecisive. We narrowed our field down to two pretty quickly and then again to one and dug out our saws. I'm always tempted by the less traditional trees - the white pines and concolor firs; then I consider the commitment of living with that tree for three weeks.  What if it's just ALL WRONG. And then we wind up with a white spruce or a balsam fir.  (I don't know these trees by name. I just cheated and looked them up on Battenfeld's website. Just in case you wondered.) I do love the look of those long, shaggy ones; I simply cannot commit. Santa made an appearance at the farm, but Duncan was still too shy. Duncan picked out our wreath instead.

Sunday, we gave Santa another chance. He rode to the Amenia Library atop a fire engine festooned with Christmas lights and then entertained the children's wishes. The line was long, and I am certain that the two-room library's maximum occupancy was exceeded by parents, children, library board members, and the Elks' Club; however, everyone remained in pretty good spirits. The ample supply of cookies and punch helped. Each child received a book and a photo of him/her with Jolly Old Saint Nick. Duncan still would not sit on Santa's lap, but he did talk to Santa and agreed to stand next to him for a photo. The weekend could only be topped off by a viewing of The Charlie Brown Christmas. The Christmas season is off and running.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Festival of Trees

Duncan's preschool has an intergenerational program with the local retirement community, Noble Horizons. Ever other week, the preschool kids go to Noble Horizons for activities and snacks (always, it seems, graham crackers and apple juice). Noble Horizons also hosts an annual festival of trees. Residents and local schools and business people donate decorated trees, which are displayed during the week after Thanksgiving. Then the trees are sold in a silent auction. We stopped at Noble Horizons last weekend to see the tree that Housatonic Child Care Center decorated, and Duncan tried to show us which ornaments he made. It was fun to see the wide variety of decorating styles.

Here's the HCCC tree:

And a few of my other favorites...a pressed flower tree.

A Tiger Woods tree, which probably netted a hefty profit after the scandal:

My favorite was this organic, entirely natural tree. If we didn't own so many ornaments with sentimental value, I'd be tempted to do this myself. Maybe some year I'll decorate a small tree like this one.

On our way out of Noble Horizons, we ran into none other than Santa himself! There was an awkward moment as he was dressed in his suit but carrying his street clothes, but Duncan didn't notice, and Santa took it in stride. Duncan was a little too shy to talk to him, but Santa admitted he hadn't received Duncan's letter yet. We said we'd see him this weekend (at the Amenia tree lighting). That Santa gets around. For the rest of the afternoon we chuckled about how funny it was to run into Santa at Noble Horizons. What a great way to ring in the holidays!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Meaner Than a Junkyard Dog

I don't know whose junkyard critters these were, but they took us by surprise when we dumped our garbage at school last week.  Someone with a sense of humor obviously posed them appropriately in the top of the dumpster.  What a find!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Turkey Cookies

After our disappointing Halloween and the onset of yet another little-kid-bug, Duncan and I needed a pick-me-up. On one of his sick days, we headed outside to collect leaves for a turkey collage, but I could never motivate him to make it.  (note to self - give up and throw away the leaves that are flattening in the kitchen)  I had seen this cookie idea in a few different places and thought we'd give it a try instead. I love baking but don't have much patience for cookies that need to be rolled out and decorated. Once I accepted the fact that it would be messy, and I would have little editorial control, we had a lot of fun. I think I am still cleaning sugar cookie dough off the floor, and I'm not sure if we'll have another go for Christmas, but the turkey cookies did help bridge the dark and gloomy time between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Small Steps

This morning, Duncan and I were eating oatmeal for breakfast. If you don't have children, you may not be aware of the mucilaginous quality of oatmeal. If an adult drops a little oatmeal, s/he wipes it up.  Done. When a Duncan drops some, it's more than a little. When you attempt to wipe it up, each molecule sticks to something else, and you end up with an impressive, sticky mess. Duncan and I tried to wipe the oatmeal from his pajamas, to no avail. Oatmeal stuck to the napkin and to the table and then restuck to the pajamas in a vicious, ever expanding loop (or so it felt at 6 a.m.)  Finally, I said "How about I just put this napkin in the hamper and get you a paper napkin?" My angel-child looked at me incredulously and asked quizzically "A PAper NAPkin?"

Duncan is about 3 1/2; I gave up paper napkins about 16 months ago. He has almost forgotten they exist. These steps seem so small on a day-to-day basis, but they are already teaching my child that we don't have to (and indeed, shouldn't) live in a disposable society if we want to "save the planet, Mama."

(And yes, Mom, I am rinsing out and reusing Ziploc bags.  I'm sorry if I ever mocked you.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Who Pantsed Santa?

*  Note:  The following post is slightly explicit and, some might suggest, sightly irreverent...however innocent.

Duncan and Jamie were writing Duncan's first letter to Santa Claus today. Asking for gifts didn't seem relevant to Duncan. He invited Santa to visit and said he hoped he'd see him soon (at Amenia's tree lighting ceremony). He decorated his letter with stickers and a drawing of Santa.

Jamie:  What's that, Duncan?

Duncan:  That's Santa Claus' penis.

Jamie (trying to decide what the appropriate response is, and going with logic):  OK.  But usually people keep their penises in their pants.

Duncan:  But I didn't DRAW the pants yet. Santa is naked.

What we wish for you this Christmas is that Santa will be wearing pants (or not...however you prefer).

Monday, November 9, 2009

Duncan's Halloween Dinner

Fun, hunh?

Boys and Ghouls

Halloween was a bit of a letdown at our house. The good part was that Paul came to spend the weekend with us, and that was the end of the good part. Duncan didn't have much of an appetite on Thursday or Friday.  On Saturday, Paul, Jamie, Duncan, and I went to Dasi Hill Farm to pick out pumpkins and then out to lunch at Four Brothers. Duncan squirmed, hemmed, hawed, crawled under the table, and engaged in a wide variety of avoidance behaviors. At the end of our collective ropes, we announced that he would not get any candy until he finished the last three bites of half of his grilled cheese sandwich. He ate three bites, lifted his plate to show us he had finished, turned his head, and vomited on the booth.

After we cleaned him up (and the booth) and took him home, he napped (yes, you read that correctly) until around 4:00. We asked him if he still wanted to go trick-or-treating, and he chose to stay home. We gave him a BRAT-ish sort of dinner (he doesn't like bananas) and embarked on about 4 days of stomach bug. We decided that jack-o-lanterns don't care about calendars and carved pumpkins on Sunday (Nov. 1). Duncan wound up staying home Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before he was finally back to normal.

We didn't even get a picture of his Halloween costume. He did get to wear his costume at school on Friday and did a little trick-or-treating. He chose to be an old-school ghost (of the Charlie Brown variety, bed sheet with eyeholes cut out) in a blue sheet with a striped, knit hat to keep his sheet on. It was a costume of his own design. I haven't been able to get him back into it for a picture; it's our first Halloween to live in infamy. It was still great fun to have Paul around, and he turns out to be fearless when it comes to preschoolers and their body fluids. Unfortunately, Paul spent the following week sick was a Halloween that kept on giving.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


As I was heading out the door this morning, I was struck by the changes that had taken place in the house in the short period of time while I was in the shower. I didn't know how or why that duck was on the couch, why that Valentines' Day card was propped on the dining room table, or why the collage Duncan made yesterday was moved from the sideboard to a prominent place on the refrigerator. Well, I DID know, actually. All those changes result from a small person with a developing psyche wanting to make his own mark on his environment.  The misplaced objects all tell their own stories; sometimes they are shared family stories, and sometimes they are an individual's stories. They are everywhere, and yet they go largely unnoticed and undocumented.

In my World Series, sleep deprived, state, I mused about the hundreds of tiny stories around our house, stories that an outsider (or even an insider) would never know. I am fascinated by the way objects move about the house, alighting in areas, spending a little time, and moving on. We are as tidy as we can make time to be. Eventually everything goes back where it belongs, but some things stay in strange places a little longer than others.

This is Ducky, who was an Easter present from Nana, and "bug blanket," which was a baby present from Uncle Vernon's mom. Ducky came downstairs this morning while I was in the shower and settled in on the couch. Apparently, he was having a sick day.

This is an octopus Duncan drew yesterday. Duncan is going through a huge drawing and writing phase, a renaissance of sorts. He INSISTS on displaying his work all around the house. Yesterday, we were running a little low on wall space so the octopus was displayed in the bathroom.

The pumpkin was a project the preschoolers did in the spring (go figure) at the local retirement home. I unearthed it last week to use it as a decoration, but Duncan moved it to the lamp to share space with the star art that he did with Jamie earlier in the summer. It hung on the window in his bedroom until it moved down to the lamp. We have a similar piece in our bedroom.

When I made paper cranes for Christmas ornaments last year, Duncan really wanted to make one. His skills were not quite up to origami so I told him that if he colored the paper, I would fold it into a bird. I thought that within a few days, we'd toss it in the trash, but he wanted to hang it up, so it hovers in the kitchen door.

Yesterday, when Duncan started to recuperate from his stomach bug, he developed some cabin fever. We went outside to do some light yard work and collected pine cones and leaves for a project. The pine cones lay in waiting on the kitchen table.

As I mentioned above, Duncan is newly obsessed with writing. He has a renewed interest in drawing as well, but he will write, undisturbed, for 30 minutes at a time. The time between our return home and dinner is turning out to be a great time to practice writing, and I try to slip in a little light reading instruction as well...This is one of four pieces in our dining/living room. (Some of the writing is mine...don't be too impressed).  In the bottom, right hand corner, he turned an f and an h into mailboxes. On the bottom left, he turned my h into a b. On another piece (not shown), he turned the letter k into a teeter-totter.

This concludes my little tour into the landscape of our daily life. Take a look around yours. The artifacts are all around you, especially if a child spends time in your life. What can you learn from them? What do they say about you? I don't care if ours say that we're untidy. I care more that they show that a child's work is valued, that he has enough confidence in himself to want to display his wares, that we appreciate the outdoors, that we endeavor to bring the outdoors indoors, that our child is developing a sense of agency, and that he appreciates the time we spend together. He is the newest curator of our house and our personal history, and there is so much to learn from his exhibits.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


"Ugh.  I don't kiss you with lipstick on Mama."

How quickly we move from "I will still love you even when I am a man."

FYI.  I don't wear lipstick at 6 a.m.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Collector

There is a rock on my dresser. From where I am sitting on the couch, I can see a rock on the bookcase in the hall. There is a rock on the kitchen table. There are several in the car. Everywhere we go, Duncan needs to pick up a rock. "It's for my collection, Mama." I have read that three is the age for this kind of thing, and it's interesting that the desire to amass objects of a similar kind can begin so early. I suppose it could be worse than rocks. It could be yarn or shoes...or Vera Bradley bags.


Two weekends ago, we went apple picking at Ellsworth Hill Orchard and Berry Farm in Sharon, CT. It doesn't provide the "agriventure" experience of Barton Orchards, where we like to go for the whole "fall festival" feel, but it's nearby, and it's our "go-to" apple farm. We picked apples and blueberries in record speed; the sun had come out after a few days of rain, and the farm was covered in gnats. Duncan likes picking, but he likes eating even more. I love watching a kid eat apples like candy! The blueberries are in the freezer, and we've been eating apples regularly. As soon as I get a few free moments, I'll make some apple sauce for the freezer. You just can't beat an apple orchard on an Indian Summer day, even if you have to battle the gnats to get to the apples!

Friday, October 9, 2009

I Heart Duncan

A picture is worth a thousand words.  One of Duncan's teachers took this at preschool - probably way back in February.  It's one of my favorite pictures of him.  Sorry I only just got around to scanning it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Duncan thought this was an exhibit in the museum. I snapped the photo because he is probably right; in the not-too-distant future, pay phones will go the way of typewriters, manual cameras, and Kodak slide film as we replace them with newer, more exciting technology. Much as the children I teach do not remember record players, cassette tapes, or VHS tapes (and don't get me started on The Beatles), a child born in 2006 recognizes a wireless phone and a cell phone but has no context for a pay phone. How many years will it be before we are fitted with microchips in the backs of our necks?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Word to the Wise

We learned a valuable lesson at the American Museum of Natural History. We had lunch at the museum cafe, and when we paid at the register, we let Duncan select his own drink. The cafe had a nice selection of Vitamin Waters, and we assumed they would be harmless. Duncan drank his with lunch as Jamie and I drank Diet Coke, and we continued with our day. At some point later, as I was carrying the Vitamin Water bottle around, I looked at the ingredients. I'm not sure you can see them on this photo, but bold as day, it says CAFFEINE. I wondered if Duncan would have difficulty sleeping that night, and indeed he did. Of course, the stimulation of a day with the dinosaurs could easily have kept him awake until close to 10 p.m., but I have a feeling the caffeine had a lot to do with it. Lesson learned:  read labels.

Monday, October 5, 2009

'Dem Bones, 'Dem Bones, 'Dem Dino Bones

A boy must have his dinosaurs. One of our more exciting excursions this summer was to the American Museum of Natural History. The dinosaurs were our first order of business. Since the museum is too big to see in one day we settled on just two other exhibits to visit - the frog exhibit and an exhibit of extreme mammals that included the biggest and smallest mammals, mammals that can fly, mammals that lay eggs, and other mammalian oddities. Duncan adored the dinosaurs; his favorites at the time were flying dinosaurs, and we found a few of those. The T-Rex and the long necks (allosaurs, brontosaurs, brachiosaurs, barosaurs) were also among the favored dinos. What I found most interesting was the range of dinosaur sizes and exhibits about how the skeletons were reconstructed. Unfortunately, Duncan's passion did NOT also lend us the time to read all the literature, but as he grows older, I'm sure we'll get to do that as well. The frogs were numerous:  colorful; camouflaged; minuscule; shiny; wet; dry; fat; huge; squat. Name an adjective, and there was a frog to modify. The exhibit was crowded and difficult to maneuver on that day in mid-summer, but it was well worth the extra admission fee. By the time we hit the extreme mammals, Duncan was finished for the day. The extreme mammals also included less common animals, and we didn't have time to read about them so they did not live up to our hype. We stopped at the barosaurs again in the lobby and then headed home. It was a long day of cars, trains, and subways, but walking in the footprints of the dinosaurs made it worthwhile.