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Archive for February, 2008

counter-licking good

Ava and I made Coconut Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies together. When I opened up the oven to stick in our mounds of sweetness, Ava ran to the drawer to retrieve a spoon. I stood up and saw this:

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That soon gave way to this:

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So the day that I posted about how Ava shares her candy, which I realize was a while ago now, Ava and I had a little candy incident. I was going to write this addendum earlier, but then I got sick. Then Ava got sick. And then Nate got sick. Obviously, sharing runs in the family.

To be honest, I feel like there is a huge neon sign outside our door flashing, “vacancy” to each and every virus that has come into our neighborhood this winter. In the battle between vitamins and flu vaccines, vitamins are sorely losing. On the bright side, there are puddles on our streets again, and soon the sun will melt away these insidious colds that have plagued us since the first freeze in November.

We are on the mend. Nate is back at work, Ava is in preschool, and our home is no longer raining tissues and throat drops, so now I can tell you that back when I was about to tell you all about Ava and her candy benevolence, Ava was being naughty. It was one of those rare days when she actually had a sucker in her mouth. And to tell you the truth, I felt a little funny pushing publish on a post about her lack of candy at the very moment that she was savoring a lollipop.

She crawled up next to me and started to kick my laptop. Now granted, I’m rarely on my laptop when I’m with her and I never write when she is awake or around. For one, I stay at home to be with her, and two, she wouldn’t let me. So on this particular day, I was trying to quickly read over the post that I had written late the previous night, before sending it out into the big, wide world.

Now, in my case, this is quite a worthless endeavor, as I cannot see any mistakes in my own writing until at least four days after I have written it. My brain simply refuses to acknowledge what my eyes see. In some bizarre power play that continues to mystify me, my brain literally takes over and confesses to see what is truly not there. People, in my last post, I had described Ava’s new Norwegian fairy friend’s previous costume as a “pink leopard customer.” For two days, it said, “leopard customer” and no one said a peep. Clearly, I meant costume and clearly my confounded brain was in auto-correct overdrive. But come on, leopard customer! Ugh. When I read my old posts I vacillate between hanging my head and laughing out loud. If nothing else, it keeps me humble. Humble and embarrassed.

Okay, where was I? Oh yes, Ava kicking the laptop. So there we were, I trying to post an essay about one of her beautiful qualities in the face of sugar depravity and she was trying to get my attention while sucking on a sugar stick. Could we have more irony?

I told her to stop, and that I was writing a beautiful story about her. I told her that I was almost finished and then I would read it to her. She swung her legs up and crashed them down on my keyboard, splattering letters all over my freshly written story. With one hand, I pushed her legs off the laptop and with the other I reached over and pulled the sucker right out of her mouth.

She was horrified.

“Mama, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for kicking the computer. If I’m a good girl again, can I have it back?”

“No, Ava, you can’t have your sucker back.”

“Mama,” she asked with tears closing in on her blue eyes, “Mama, can we put it in a baggie and then if I’m good again, can I have it later?”

Today, sitting in my warm cozy coffee shop, sipping Monk’s brew tea and writing uninterrupted, I wish that I could tell you that I said, “yes” or at least that I took that time at that moment to talk about it with her. I didn’t. Her tears flowed freely down cheeks as she ran into her room.

Having no where to stick my sticky contraband, I placed the wand in between my teeth and clicked on the publish button. I sat there trying to comprehend all the irony of all that had just occurred: my tribute to her, my enjoyment of her sweet sharing spirit, my burden to teach her healthy eating habits, her disobedience, my reaction. Was my response wrong? Was my reaction tainted with a disappointment that she wasn’t sweet in every respect? Was I really responding to fact that I want her be perfect, maybe not forever, but at least for the space in which I write that she is good?

With the weight of these unanswered questions I walked toward the sobs that were besetting my small child. I found her sitting on her rocking chair hugging Bubba and her favorite blankie. I knelt down to her eye level and before I could ask, “why are you crying?”, Ava answered.

“Mama, God doesn’t like it when you do that. Daddy doesn’t like it when you do that.”

“Do what, Ava?”

“Take my sucker. God doesn’t like it when you steal.”

“Ava, I didn’t steal your sucker.”

“Yes, you did. God doesn’t like when you do that.”

I scooped her up and sat down on her chair with her in my arm.

“Ava,” I said gently, “what did you do to Mama’s computer?”

“I kicked it.”

“Did I ask you to stop?”

“Yes.”

“What did you do?”

“I kicked it.”

“Why do you think that I took your sucker?”

“Cause I kicked your computer, but Mama, God doesn’t like it when you do that!” she repeated, erupting into a fresh set of tears. I kindly explained the result of disobedience and reality of consequences as I wiped away her tears. I filled her up with hugs as I attempted to talk away the injustice that we both felt. We left her room more cheerfully than we had entered it and continued our day of reading books, telling stories, and making more valentines, punctuated with lunch, snacks, and dinner. All in all, it was a good day. A happy day. A day that said amen to the cheerful giver post.

Since Nate had to work late that night, I was the one to read her bedtime Bible story. We snuggled up with Bubba in her big, blue rocking chair under her favorite blankie, and I read to her about Joseph and his brothers. The brothers had come back to Egypt to ask Joseph to forgive them for selling him into slavery. Joseph forgave them and saves them from starvation. At the end of the story, there are review questions and a prayer.

I prayed, “Dear Father, please forgive me for not obeying you.” I pronounced my amen and opened my eyes to find a familiar pink mouth rounded in a great big “O” that matched her similarly widened eyes.

“It’s cause you stole my sucker, isn’t it?”

…..

Ahh, the simplicity of her faith and understanding is both confounding and convicting. She understood that morning that there was a consequence for her actions, but that consequence came tainted with irritation and frustration. While God is always just, I am as fallible as she. So yes, Ava, forgive me for snatching your sucker without an explanation. Forgive me, that my actions are not always pure. You felt it in your being and you were right, “God doesn’t like it when I do that.” Ava sweet, I love you and want you to learn how to obey. With His help, I will try to correct you in love and not as a killjoy.

Before all of you start scrambling for an envelope and stuffing it with suckers to send our way, remember, today is Thursday. In a few minutes, I’m picking her up from preschool and we are heading to the bank to get a shiny, new sucker.

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Back in October, a sweet little girl in Norway saw a picture of the Fairy Princess Ballerina,

and traded in her pink leopard costume for this:

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Quit an impressive knock-off.

Late last week, Grandma Penny was strolling through Paris and saw this:

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Notice anything? Look again.

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That looks remarkably similar to this:

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Poor Grammy thought her Ava had come for a surprise visit to Paris.

Her coat has made it across the deep blue sea, perhaps the rest of her is soon to follow.

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show and tell

Why would a three-year-old choose this to bring to show-and-tell?

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So she could tell her class that this is where her grandma has moved to. Well, not exactly the Eiffel Tower, but a few blocks away from it.

About three weeks ago, Ava and Grammy’s weekly visits turned from this:

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to this:

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I have delayed in telling you this, as I hardly wanted it to be true. The week before Nate’s mom boarded the plane to join her husband for their two-year European adventure, I was in a state of near depression and panic.

In the words from Ava’s opening monologue this morning: “Grammy, what are you thinkin’? You are supposed to be here with me and Katelyn!” Of course this is followed by many “I love you”‘s, “You’re so sweet,” Where’s Grandpa?” and “Can you see my foot?”

And what is Penny thinking? Precisely what I would be thinking if Nate was offered a two-year position in Paris with continental travel benefits. Believe me, I’d have all three of our bags packed before he could drive home and fill me in on the details.

And I was the one cheering them on to take advantage of this opportunity until they actually decided to take advantage of it and made plans to leave us.

Ah, I kid. I could not be more excited for them as they embark on this incredible adventure together. And truly I could not see a more fitting entry into retirement after twenty years of faithfully teaching special education in an inner-city, middle school.

Four weeks ago, I brought Ava as show-and-tell to Penny’s retirement/we-are-so-jealous-that-you-are-moving-to-Paris party hosted by the sweet staff from her school.

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The Fairy Princess Ballerina twirled her pink polyester through teachers, gumdrops, gifts, and cake, sublimely unaware that that basket of French imports was not merely more goodies to be sampled, but an indication that her grandma and grandpa would be soon headed to their home of origin.

Even though It’s been several weeks since her plane headed east, I still have to remind myself that she isn’t in her classroom down the street from our home. And I still instinctively grab my cell phone when Ava says something that would make her smile, like when Ava told me that her cousin Katelyn was really, really sad that Grammy had left. I asked her if she was sad, and she replied, “Nope, she’ll be back.”

These days Ava wakes up declaring that “it’s light out! Now it’s dark where Grammy is.” She’s learning how to call Grammy on Skype (through the computer) and to check for new pictures on their blog. Ava has also packed up her menagerie and taken a dozen or two planes rides to Paris, courtesy of Couch Lines International.

Over the river and through the woods has now become over the ocean and through the plains to Grandmother’s flat we go. Hopefully. Still have to find a way to redeem Couch Line flight vouchers.

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31 flavors

So I’m not one of those people who likes to blog about things that happen in the bathroom. Remember, I like paper hearts and sparkles. It’s my personal philosophy that what happens in the bathroom should stay in or rather be flushed out of the bathroom. Yuck.

So while I didn’t venture into the bathroom, here is what I heard from the hallway.

“You guys better not come in here. It smells yucky and you won’t like that.”

She’s got that right. Thanks for the fair warning, Ava. I’ll make my way to the kitchen.
“It smells like corn on the cob and vanilla ice cream!”

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I have a confession to make. I was going to make it on Saturday, but late Friday night an insidious sore throat wrapped it’s spiky fingers around my neck, and I have been curled up in my bed ever since.

After extra helpings of hot tea, deep sleep, and warm baths, I finally able to sit upright and hold my laptop, so here it is:

I love Valentine’s Day.

I do, I really do. I love the hearts, the pink, the red. I love the cards, the candy, the flowers. I love it all.

You probably already realized this, but I like to pretend that I don’t appear to the be the hopeless romantic that I am.

I like to pass it off as Ava, but I have a feeling that you see right through the charade. So I’m just going to go on and confess now what you already know.

Cause really, someone had to buy her this skirt:

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and this sweater:

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And someone had to help her cut out these hearts:

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And she can’t very well hang these by herself:

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And she certainly didn’t acquire all this alone:

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And I’m fairly certain she didn’t wrap these up:

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I am somewhat embarrassed by these pictures. As ridiculous as it is, I love Valentine’s Day. I really do.

I love the idea of having a special day to express your love with hand-made cards and flowers. And apparently, I’m a tremendous sucker for glitter and hearts.

And before anyone out there starts covering their mouth and yawning, “Hallmark holiday, Hallmark holiday.” Let me just mention that Mr. Geoffrey Chaucer first jotted down the romantic appeal of Valentine’s Day in a love poem in 1382 (a tad bit before the Hallmark rumor started).

“For this was on seynt Volantynys day

When eury bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

[Translation: for this was on Saint Valentine’s Day

When every bird comes there to choose his mate].

Oh, and Shakespeare and company were hitting the boards with allusions to St. Valentine’s Day long before any covered wagons were making their way across the Mississippi to the prairie home of the famed greeting card company. See, literary history. It comes in handy.

As for Chaucer’s poem, it is true for me. Ten Valentine’s Day’s ago, the sweet love of my life arrived at my college dorm with an armful of tulips and an evening chock full of romance. I swooned and the rest is history.

So, while I savored our family breakfast of raspberries and pancakes, enjoyed Ava’s preschool party, and loved Lydia’s Valentine’s birthday, the highlight of my day was coming home.

The dining table was set with for two under a canopy of hearts. There were red tulips flanked by candles, and a card with my name on it. There was French Muscadet and hot loaf of ciabatta…

and this man was in the kitchen:

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Yes, those would be snow crab legs. And yes, he did make them along with broccoli rabe with lemon shallot sauce and mashed red potatoes.

He’s pretty much the best.

We seasoned our dinner with laughter, memories, and a heated discussion about whether or not he was nervous on our first date. He spilled an entire bag of licorice snaps on the theatre floor. You decide.

I read his love note and I swooned once again.

As I sat by the crackling fire, listening to intoxicating sound of my husband cleaning up the kitchen, I realized that what I love most of all is my valentine, then:

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and now:

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Happy Valentine’s Day, Babes! I love you!

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ctrl + enter

I just pushed send on an e-mail containing four devotionals for a local publication. This is the first paid creative writing job that I have had since I left work to stay at home with my new babe nearly four years ago. Even though it is a small project in the scope of writing for hire, I feel a bit dizzy with the completion of this project.

I mention this not to toot my own horn, but rather so that I can say thank you to you. Thank you for reading this silly, little blog about badgers and bears that go “poof.” The fact that you come here to hear what I have the say baffles me. It also prompts me to write and to write regularly. You are my accountability and for that I say, thank you.

Even more than that, thank you for encouraging me. You have inspired me with your affirming words and I feel such an affection for you. I just received another e-mail from a mother who has endured the pain of the loss of an unborn child. To read how my experience encouraged her encouraged me even more so. Thank you for your comments, e-mails, cards, and packages–I mean, seriously, you send me Uggs!

And of course, thank you for making me laugh. Out loud. You are a funny lot.

And last, but certainly not least, thank you to Michelle, who recommended me for the job. I feel quite indebted to you!

I can’t believe how cathartic writing this blog has been for me. It is not natural for me to be publicly vulnerable and forthright about what is happening in my life, and especially on this big, scary thing known as the internet. Yet, I have found a joy in sharing that I never would have expected. Truly, if reading what the Lord is teaching me helps one other person, then the vulnerability is worth it.

And doing these devotionals has been a joy in itself. Jonathon Edwards is credited for seeing all the world as a metaphor for spiritual things. It has been such a blessing to be forced to pause and look afresh at the ordinary things in my life and see an extraordinary hand working in and through them. I want to be faithful to proclaim the good things that God has done. The Psalmist David writes, “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul” (Psalm 66:16).

I echo this and say the Lord has blessed me through you, and I praise Him for it.

(For those of you not in the know, “ctrl + enter” is the short-cut for sending an e-mail in Microsoft Outlook. Shortcuts–learn them! They are your friends.)

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shiny happy people

A couple of months ago, Ava was telling me about her friend at church. Generally these conversations consist of what Ava and her friend did together and what type of shoes this particular friend was wearing. This time her description ended with “and she’s black.”

“She has black shoes?”

“No. She’s black.”

This was the first time that I had ever heard Ava make any reference to someone’s skin color and to my knowledge the first time that the subject of race had ever come up in front of her.

So many of the children in our church, our community, and Ava’s preschool are of different ethnicities than Ava. She was born in a hospital that speaks sixty-some different languages on any given day and has been surrounded by myriad of colors ever since.

My early childhood was pale in comparison. Any subtlety of color stood out on a palette of white. So I have often wondered if she would ever notice the variations of skin tones. And if so, how would she articulate them.

Now here it was. Ava wasn’t talking about a new friend, but a girl that she known her whole life. A girl she was dedicated with and now accompanies her to preschool. I have heard many descriptions about this friend, but this was first time that she had called her black.

I wasn’t sure if someone had told her this or if she came up with “black” on her own, so I asked her, “Well, Ava, what are you?”

She tilted her head and laughed at my absurdity.

“Mama, I’m shiny.”

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It would be fair to say that my child is slightly sweets deprived. She thinks Lucky Charms is a finger food reserved only for her birthday party and is delighted when she is allotted a swirl of maple syrup on her old fashion oatmeal.

In the world of children, the commodity is often candy. And in this world, Ava would be impoverished.

When she was potty training I rewarded her with 1/7 of a candy corn each time she went to the bathroom. I actually cut pieces of candy corn into seven equal parts and doled them out individually. She was so excited each time to put that morsel of sugar to her lips.

While sugar treats are rare, she does get a sucker every Thursday when we go to the bank. And yes, going to the bank is a highlight of her week.

Recently we visited our local butcher. While I waited for the butcher to slice pork chops to the one and half inch width that Martha’s recipes demand, Ava was kissing their wooden pig, Albert. The butcher thought this was so adorable that he awarded her with a Tootsie Roll.

A pinkie-sized Tootsie Roll.

Ava wrapped her fingers around the candy and cried out in glee, “Mama, look, I got a big chocolate. Let’s put it in your purse and save it for later. Maybe after dinner we can all have some. Daddy can have some. Mama can have some. And Ava can have some.”

Her delight was not merely in the receiving of the gift or the sweet pleasure the gift would benefit for her, but the ability to share that gift with someone else.

Later that night, when Nate came home he brought her a treat from the office. It was a very, very small packet of SweetTarts in the shape of Sponge Bob or some sort of strange sea creature. She was delighted; two treats in one day.

“Oh, Mama, look!! There is one for Mama. One for Daddy. One for Ava. Maybe we can all have one after dinner.”

“Yes, Ava that would be nice.”

“Oh, Mama, I have an idea. Maybe we can share the other ones with my friends. Would that be nice, Mama?”

Sure enough, after our bellies were full of pork chops and apple-raisin chutney, Ava peeled open her packet of six raisin-sized SweetTarts and gave one to each of us. Then she carefully stored the remainder of her treat in her purse.

The next day as we were getting ready to visit her friends, Sammy and Anna, Ava asked if she could bring the candy to share with them. All through the morning, Ava kept telling Sammy and Anna that she had brought “CANDY!!!” for them to eat after lunch and weren’t they “so excited?”

Did I mention that they were the size of one shriveled up grape?

You can just imagine their surprise, when Ava removed the minuscule, previously opened packet from her purse and proceeded to distribute one tiny candy to each of them.

“Mmmm, isn’t it good guys?”

While her friends were a bit dumbfounded by the diminutive size of the promised prize, Ava was overjoyed with the experience of sharing something of great value to her with her friends.

I have often been mystified by people who out of their poverty give what little they have willingly and with great joy. I remember visiting an extremely poor orphanage in Mexico with my youth group. The children lived in cinder block dormitories and the cooks slept in shanties constructed with cardboard boxes. They depended daily on the mercy of God and charity of others to feed and care for the children who lived there.

We had come to paint their dining hall, and bring fresh supplies of toys and clothes. After working in the heat that is only present in the desert, a lavish banquet of Mexican specialties and fine foods was spread before us. The orphans and workers lined the walls as we were seated in front of their expensive food. They refused any food until we had finished and they insisted that we all have two helpings. I remember looking over at the children expecting to see resentment or envy that the rich Americans were eating their precious food before they had any. Instead, I saw joy.

The same joy that I see in Ava’s face when someone is enjoying the gift that she has given. Those children, like Ava, were delighted to give what was precious to them.

Last night, my parents were in town and after we had finished our dinner, my mom pulled out some peanut M&M’s much to the delight of Ava. Within moments there were only two left, and Ava politely asked her Mimi if she could have them. Mimi agreed.

Ava scooped them up and smiled down at her treats. Then before the candy coated shell had a moment to melt in her hand, Ava asked, “Daddy, do you want one? There’s only two left.” She handed him her prize and then turned to her grandpa, “Papa, do you want one? It’s the last one. Do you want it, Papa?” She gave her candy to her grandpa and then watched in delight as they ate them.

“Is it good? Do you like it? Isn’t it so yummy?” Her mouth moved up and down as if she was savoring it with them and in fact, she was.

Even though it is likely that several months will go by before Ava comes in contact with peanut M&M’s again, she was more excited to share and watch “the boys” enjoy the treat then relish it by herself.

As her mother, I am often occupied with how to train her and teach her, how to correct this behavior and encourage that behavior. Sometimes, I forget to rejoice in the good work that has already begun in her. So last night and again this afternoon I am pausing to enjoy that at the precious age of three, Ava understands the truth that is far better to give than receive. May she never forget it.

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