Getting Ready

August 29, 2008

Strange sense of deja vu as we prepare for Hurricane Gustave. Three years ago Noah and I were visiting from Japan when we had to evacuate for Hurricane Rita. Yesterday I had to go to three different gas stations before I found one that still had gas left (and the storm still hasn't even entered the Gulf of Mexico yet!). Water and batteries are getting hard to find on store shelves, boards are going up on windows, and people are debating whether they should stay or go. I am pretty sure the kids and I will be leaving so in anticipation of that I am doing laundry and starting to pack....clothes, fireproof safe with all of our important papers, books and more books, snack food, bottled water, night time bunnies, games, puzzles, and anything else that might things a little more comfortable. I still need to bring our plants and outdoor toys/furniture inside. I also need to get more cash and write down important phone numbers in case I can't access my cell phone. Not sure when I'll be posting again, but please send good thoughts to the Gulf Coast.

On a different topic but related to Louisiana... Noah's class has been studying the ocean. He has come home with all sorts of interesting facts and questions about ocean life. And today they completed their study of the ocean with a seafood feast. As with most things Louisiana it seems to come back to the food! So instead of doing something predictable like a field trip to an aquarium or beach, they had a fun afternoon eating shrimp, crabs, fish, and an ocean made of blue jello, gummy fish, and cool whip waves! Only in Louisiana.

Body Art

August 27, 2008

Another recipe from The Ultimate Book of Kid Concoctions: "Magic Muck". Noah picked the recipe because of its transformative properties (alternating between a solid and liquid state). It is really strange stuff. Noah and I played with it for a little while but Camille was the one who really loved it. She decided to use it all over her body and I am happy to report it was very easy to clean up. Wouldn't say it is my favorite stuff to make, but I really loved watching how entranced Camille was by the strange texture and patterns she created on herself. Reminded me of a book we discovered at the library a few weeks ago, "I Ain't Gonna Paint No More!"...about a little girl who can't stop painting herself from head to toe. There is something so wonderful about children's natural curiosity and creativity.

Here's the recipe if anyone wants to try it out:
  1. Mix 3/4 cup cornstarch with 5-7 drops food coloring [you can skip the color]
  2. Slowly add cornstarch to 1/3 cup water and food coloring mixture. Do not stir!
  3. Let the mixture stand for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Pick up a handful of Magic Muck and squeeze it until it forms a hard ball. Open your hand and the Magic Muck will turn from a solid ball back into a liquid. (or cover your body with it like Camille and see what happens!)

Lego Pain

August 26, 2008

Is there anything more painful than stepping on Legos with all of your weight in the middle of the night? I have been trying to encourage Noah's renewed interest in Legos because his recent obsession with Transformers has been driving us crazy. More about that later, but seriously I thought stepping on Matchbox cars hurt, but that's nothing compared to little Lego bits. Shouldn't that be part of the toy development process? A pain scale for each toy? I am convinced that toys are designed by people who have never had children living in their homes. They have never had to endure horrible battery operated noises, extract small items from children's orifices, or seek medical attention for Lego induced pain. Ugh.

So any advice on ways to deal with Legos? Right now they are in a big box with a lid but they always end up on the floor during his search for the perfect little piece. I am trying to encourage him to put his pieces on a tray while building things but he isn't always crazy about that. He'd like to curl up on the couch and create. So what do you do about the Legos? And why is it that there are so many parenting books out there, but none of them have concrete advice like how to cope with Legos (organizationally and physically!).

And yes, I realize this is in direct contrast to my post last night waxing poetic about being outside. But this is our life right now...a series of contrasts, bliss, frustration, natural, and plastic.

Natural Antidotes

August 25, 2008

Water, Roots, Shadows
Building with bamboo and eating popsicles in the rain
A walk in the swamp yesterday, pulling carrots from Aunt Janet's garden, feeding ducks in the park today....all outside and all so good for us. Being outside for the majority of the past few days has been the perfect antidote for crankiness, worry, boredom, consumerism, and loneliness. We all needed a good run and a good reminder that there are so many amazing things just outside the door. Finding mushrooms, chasing shadows, and building structures out of bamboo are way more thrilling than the new, desperately needed toy that barely keeps their interest on the way home from the store. Exploring together is much more fun than bickering over who gets to pick the first book for during night time reading (amazing how few sibling squabbles happen when outside...perhaps we should camp outside every night? except I don't think we would stand a chance against the mosquitoes).

I have recently checked out a ton of parenting books. I do this when I feel overwhelmed by some sort of issue. I start to feel so inadequate and ineffective that I convince myself there must be some perfect solution out there that will suddenly make things "right". But after overdosing on those reads, I always end up pushing them aside, taking a deep breath, and jumping back into parenting with gusto. And getting muddy and sweaty with my kids in the past two days has been the best "solution" and reminder that they are good kids, that I am a good enough mama, and that we are all so much better when we are running around outside together.

Fay Update

August 23, 2008

Just talked to our neighbors and the house is fine....very relieved and very grateful to have such great neighbors.

Day 50

50 days into this deployment and things continue to be an adventure. We are waiting to hear how Tropical Storm Fay treated our house. We have amazing neighbors who spent yesterday sandbagging and pumping out water from our back patio...if they hadn't done that our living room and our newly installed wood floors would be sitting in water right now. So this morning I am anxiously waiting to hear from my neighbor and hoping the water didn't get in over night. I alternate between thinking "we are so lucky" (lucky to have such great neighbors) and "it's not fair" (why do crazy things keep happening to us?). So Day 50 could turn into one of great relief that the house is still in good shape or it could turn into a day of distress as I try to figure out how to repair a house three states away.

In contrast to the soggy situation in Florida, Adam seems to be doing well in the desert. He has started playing soccer (on a sand field) and that always makes him happy. We have had multiple Skype phone calls which always amaze me....feels like we are living in the time of the Jetsons! He has also discovered that for $3 a month he can make phone calls to my cell phone using Skype so that has been very nice. His work situation has improved with the arrival of more help. Eases my mind to know he is doing well.

And I think the kids and I are doing pretty well although we are eating too much junk food and I am caving into too many impulsive buys, especially for the kids. I was so determined that we would be living simply and frugally during this deployment, but feels like just the opposite is happening. I know it is a combination of convenience, exhaustion, and desire for "quick fixes" (like maybe this toy will bring about sibling harmony and endless joy!). The good news is the kids are enjoying school and I am also enjoying those windows of time for myself. Hope the next 50 days go by as quickly as the first 50.

A Sad Summer

August 21, 2008

I searched in vain this morning for the right sympathy card, but I didn't find it. I don't think any card will ever be the "right" one. A friend of ours died suddenly yesterday leaving behind a wife and two young daughters....what words will ever soothe their pain? This has been such a sad summer.

Paint Balls and Garden Sticks

August 19, 2008

Our apartment is a little more colorful thanks to the recent addition of acrylic paint balls and garden sticks. The paint balls are from my dad. He used acrylic paint and at the end of each day he would wad up all of the leftover paint on his pan, form them into balls and dump them into buckets in his studio. Ever since I moved away from home I have kept some of those paint balls with me. They have traveled the world with me as a little pieces of home. On Sunday, we spent the day at my mom's house and Noah selected these paint balls to bring home. They are now on our kitchen table along with a vase full of freshly harvested rice.
In addition to selecting paint balls, we also used the time at my mom's house to create these colorful garden sticks. Inspired by these Canadian ones originally seen on The Crafty Crow, we decided to create our own version using bamboo and other sticks collected in the yard. We primed them (used gesso but any white paint or primer would work)and then got to work painting them (using acrylic paint...from my dad's paint box). It really was a great activity and I hope to make some more soon. I think they would make fun gifts and my mom decided to hang a couple in her kitchen where they look just as striking as the ones in our little garden.

Does She Speak English?

August 18, 2008

Today was another first, but not a good one. It's one that I have been dreading for awhile. An older boy chanting "Chinese girl, Chinese girl" while pointing at Camille. I didn't hear it or find out about it until driving home in the car with Noah and his cousin. She reported that one of her classmates was making fun of Camille. My heart sank and my inner mama bear roared. I was proud of how Isabella told him to stop and we discussed how to handle future incidents. But several hours later I am still mulling it over. The whole thing kind of transported me back to childhood when I would also mull over teasing incidents. Feeling sad and mad and thinking of all the great things I should have said. I know that all children get teased at some point about something and I know that my children will not be immune from that especially because of their minority status in terms of religion and/or ethnicity, but it doesn't make it any easier.

I think the incident also feels even more raw because I have been very conscious of the fact that Camille is clearly in the minority here. I haven't seen any other Asian faces in the small town where we are temporarily living and only a handful in the larger surrounding towns. Last week while taking a walk around town an older woman with a strong Cajun accent stopped her car in the middle of Main Street to shout out "Is she one of those adopted ones?" Startled I replied "Yes" and took note of the traffic starting to line up behind her. She then smiled and said "Mais, chere she's so pretty". Then she asked "Does she speak English?" I quickly answered "yes" and then started to pull the wagon along the street. She smiled, waved and drove off. I kept walking down the street with two sweaty children bickering in the wagon. It was such a strange exchange and another one that left me thinking about how I could have/should have responded. It seemed as if her interest was sincere, but at the same time I also felt as if we were a moving cultural exhibit on Main Street and that didn't feel so good. I was grateful that Noah and Camille were too busy jostling for a better spot in the wagon to really take note of the conversation in the middle of the street.

Both of these incidents are ones I have thought about and as much as I have tried to read or prepare for them it always seems to catch me off guard. I am just not as eloquent or quick witted as I would like to be. Both of these incidents also feel like the tip of the iceberg of what is ahead for us and for Camille. I wish it wasn't so, but it is. But the conversation I had in the cell phone store last week (yes, I had to get another new cell phone...that's for another post!) has left me reeling with revelations on a very different level. The woman at the counter made the comment "she must really look like her dad" without thinking I responded "I imagine so" (stupid me, why did I say that?). And seeing her puzzled look, I added "she's adopted". She smiled and went about giving me another poor quality phone to replace the new one I bought that barely lasted a month,while I stood there and felt as if I had been hit in the stomach with a bag of bricks.

Camille will never know her birth father as I knew mine. She may never know anything about him including what he looks like. One of the reasons we chose to adopt from Taiwan is the ability to have contact with her birth family. But at this point that is only her mother and her mother's family. We don't have any information about her father. That has always made me sad, but it never really hit me on such a guttural level until that moment in the cell phone store. I am sure my response is more intense now as I am dealing with the grief of losing my father, but I think it is also heightened by Camille's recurring statements during the past few months: "I lost my daddy (deployment). I lost my grandpa". She is struggling with the absence of two of the most important men in her life and yet she is too young to realize that there is another man missing in her life. The one who shares her genes, her looks, and perhaps her love of reading, eating, and dancing.

So, yes,she does speak English but some days I wish she didn't. It would be so nice to somehow protect/insulate her (and Noah) from all of the sadness, cruelty, and loss that is a part of our world and her story. But I can't and that is one of the most painful aspects of parenting.

Homemade Watercolors

August 16, 2008

A rainy morning of watercolors. We used our favorite concoction book to make this easy recipe:
3 Tbs corn starch
3Tbs baking soda
3Tbs vinegar
1 1/2 tsp of corn syrup
food coloring
small containers

Mix first four ingredients in a bowl. Enjoy the fizzing combination and then pour small amount into little containers. We used empty applesauce cups.

Add 6-8 drops of food coloring. Mix well.
Have fun painting right away or allow the paint to harden in the containers for future paint days.

Jesus Was Bad Today

August 12, 2008

I am happy to report that Noah has joyfully leaped into the labyrinth of formal education and his first two days of kindergarten have been good ones. He is quickly making friends. He is especially excited to have a new best friend who sits next to him every day. He doesn't know his best friend's name yet because as he told me "I just ask if he wants to play. I haven't asked him his name yet"...if only all relationships were that easy!

He does know the name of one of his other new classmates. A boy by the name of Jesus which has resulted in some very interesting discussions. "Jesus" has been a popular topic of conversation since our recent move to Louisiana. Being in a predominantly Catholic area, many yards have religious statues. Even the public library has a large grotto dedicated to Mary. This is where our recent religious conversations first started:

"Mama, what's in that cave? And who is that girl?"
"That's Mary, Jesus' mother".
"Who's Jesus?"
(keep in mind this is a little guy who has grown up in a Jewish home, attended synagogue, and Jewish pre-school)
"Jesus was a very wise and kind man. He was a very important teacher"
"Oh you mean he was a good swim teacher?"
"Well, yes, I guess he did teach a lot of people how to "swim"

So now fast forward to Noah's first day of school(did I mention it was an Episcopal school?) and his introduction to his new classmate, Jesus (same pronunciation as the famous guy!). Noah came home wanting to know if his class mate was the "swim teacher guy?". And today he climbed in the van and announced "Jesus was so bad at school today! He was on red (class behavior chart) all day." I can only imagine what the next few months will bring as Noah adjusts to being one of the only Jewish students in a Christian school with his new friend, Jesus (who by the way is Buddhist).

Day 36

August 11, 2008

We have made it through our first month of deployment. Like most intense alternating moments it feels like time is both flying and crawling by us. We had our first skype session this morning since Adam's arrival in Kuwait. It was so nice to see his face and Camille was so excited she started dancing around the room for him! He was able to "show" us around his new digs. When Adam first arrived in Kuwait, I have to admit I felt a little jealous...his reports of free Baskin Robbins and full laundry service made me wish I was the one getting deployed. But after getting a glimpse of his bunk, the shower curtain he has hung for privacy, hearing reports of power outages (not fun to live in a desert setting without air conditioning), and seeing how exhausted he looked...I am no longer jealous. I think I have been so focused on keeping things together on this end that I haven't really been able to comprehend what he might be experiencing. I am so grateful to have him in a relatively safe place that I just think of his time away as sort of an adult version of "going to camp"...but having a visual this morning I am realizing his "camp" experience isn't really that charming or appealing.

Tonight I am in the midst of getting things ready for Noah's first day of kindergarten. Feels kind of funny to have butterflies in my stomach, but I do. A mixture of excitement, tension, and sadness. Seems strange to be doing this milestone alone and I am sorry Adam won't be here tomorrow to bring Noah to school or hear his report of the first day while eating dinner together. Missing this small event makes me think of all the other deployed parents out there missing some of the most amazing "firsts" in their children lives...first smiles, first steps, first driving tests. I don't always support the actions or decisions of our government but I am always in awe and I always appreciate the sacrifices our soldiers make...sacrificing their safety, but also sacrificing some of those "firsts" that happen while they are gone. When I think about it that way, there will never be enough free ice cream to make up for missing those extraordinary moments.


August 8, 2008

Two recent searches have left me scratching my head. The first happened a few weeks ago. Silly me I thought I would pick up a couple seed packets. Both stores informed me that the seeds were already moved out for the season because the garden center needed to prepare for the incoming Christmas stock....July in Louisiana? Christmas? The growing season is long in Louisiana but obviously Christmas items are more profitable and shoppers need to get their Christmas shopping started in the summer.

The second search has been equally frustrating. Raincoats. Both kids need new raincoats. They are outgrowing their current ones and it is on their school lists as something to be kept in their backpacks at all times. Once again I hit several stores only to find out they are a "seasonal" item. How can this be? It rains in Louisiana all year long. Children grow and need new raincoats all year long.

Turns out money not only makes the world go round. It also defines the seasons.

Marking the Day

August 6, 2008

My dad always said "women are the keepers of civilization" meaning they are the ones who maintain the annual and life cycle rituals like birthdays and weddings. He said this both jokingly and appreciatively because he loved these rituals. It was always important to him that we gather as a family to mark an occasion. Even during his last month in the hospital we had several family events (my birthday, my mom's birthday, Mother's Day) and somehow in the midst of his pain and the days blending together in the middle of an ICU room, somehow he was always keeping track of the dates and made sure we marked the occasion. Today is my dad's birthday and I don't know quite how to celebrate it. I am still in such a mixed up state of denial and sadness.Words and images seem to give me the most comfort lately. I find myself looking through family photographs and repeatedly returning to the poem a family friend wrote about my dad. This gives me comfort today. I think part of "keeping civilization" is also marking days like today even if it brings a strange mix of comfort and pain.

Where Land Meets Sky

“Where Land Meets Sky”
for Elemore Morgan Jr.
By Darrell Bourque
He loves this place he’s fallen into:
his skies of smeared lilac, his clouds spun
by muscled ether, congealed air so newly blue
it’s hard to tell it from the sky we knew once
and loved so. After shot-silk sky, what else?
All the earth and all that’s creatured in it. Tongues
of irises from the swamps, big lazy trees, bells
on boats in creeping rivers and cows like peace
flags grazing in the prairies, or lying in wells
of cow dreams making milk. He loves the creases
and the blur: stalks filled with rice to falling,
water rushing from pipes, and a leaf in wind. Leases
on anything that takes us to the places these converge,
a line in all we see and know, oh holy curve and surge.

(from the 2005 collection of poems The Blue Boat. Bourque is the Louisiana Poet Laureate.)
“Vertical View” by Elemore Morgan Jr., 2008, acrylic on masonite


August 4, 2008

We have a tropical storm off the coast which made today pleasantly breezy so we spent the morning outside blowing bubbles. We experimented with different items from our recycling pile and found some great bubble "wands". Today the pie pan (cut a hole in the center), tin can (remove both ends of the can), plastic cups (cut off the bottom) and six pack drink thingie worked the best. We used store bought "bubble juice" but we have also had success in the past with making our own. Here's our homemade recipe:
2 1/2 1qts water
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 cup liquid dish detergent
Mix water and syrup until blended, then slowly stir in detergent
And at the end of the bubble party just hose everyone and everything off. Super easy summer fun!

Olympic Stories

I am starting to get excited about the start of the Olympics. I am not a huge sports person so it's not really the competitions that get me excited. It is the stories. I love hearing all of those awe inspiring stories about the athletes that usually make me feel all pumped up, proud to be a human, and yet sometimes also make me feel like an old, lazy, underachiever. It is almost like those Hallmark ads. I get so emotional listening/reading about these athletes who have worked so hard to become the best at their sport. I heard my first "story" tonight about a 15 year old diver (can you imagine being in the Olympics at 15?!) who is scared of heights yet is able to do some of the most challenging dives in the world from the 10 meter board (3 stories up). Amazing.

We saw some other amazing feats this weekend at the Circus. Camille and Noah's first experience at a Ringling Brothers/Barnum Bailey Circus. We went with my cousin and her family and we all had a great time. It was nice because it was a smaller circus (not their typical three ring affair....I am sure it takes a lot of gas to transport a circus, can you imagine their travel expenses?). Before the show started, we were able to meet some of the performers and see some of the warm ups while standing around the ring. I am sure it isn't an easy life in the circus, but it is one that has always fascinated me....especially those families that have a multiple generations in the circus. Pretty inspiring to see what people can do when they have the talent combined with hard work and lots of practice.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

August 2, 2008

Ever since my first taste of strawberry freezer jam (thanks to Shanea) I have been wanting to make my own...and now seven years later I am finally doing it! It actually turned out to be a great activity with the kids. We all had fun chopping, mashing, mixing, and sampling our final product. Ours is a little chunkier than expected because we didn't have a potato masher or food processor, but it still tastes great and will be good over ice cream, waffles, toast, angel food cake, get the idea.

To Savor or To Capture

August 1, 2008

I have this on-going conflict. I hear my father's voice directing me to "never leave home without your camera". He never did. When I was little his camera bags were two leather boxes lined with a soft, velvety material. He would frequently pull over on the side of the road if he something caught his eye. He is rarely in any of our family photos because he was always the one gathering us together to record the event. My mother is also a amazing photographer. She is especially gifted at capturing personalities on film. And my grandfather was a well-known documentary photographer. So in some ways my "conflict" is part of my genetic composition. I have a strong urge to capture moments, scenes, and people around me.

The first signs of my "conflict" came during Noah's first preschool performance. It was a Fall performance and the audience (ie parents) crowded into their seats eagerly waiting for their cuties to take the stage. As soon as the music started, so did the clicking. I had this surreal moment of realization. I put down my camera and turned to look around the room. Just about every person/parent in the audience had a camera or video camera in front of their face. I was struck by the view the children must have from the stage...instead of proud parents beaming it was a sea of metallic eyes trying to get the best shot. I turned my camera off and tried to enjoy the moment instead of capturing it. And the conflict has continued.

I want to have a record of my children's childhood. I love looking through my dad's slides and our family albums. I don't have baby books for my kids and now in the age of digital I rarely print out photos (although I really need to do that). I keep the blog and once a year I put together a photobook with highlights from the past year. And yet there are some moments that I miss because my camera isn't with me or because I choose to experience it instead of capturing it.

One of those moments happened two nights ago. While eating dinner the kids and I watched an enormous great egret walk around out back yard hunting for his dinner. After dinner, we walked to my grandparents house (a few blocks away) and while checking out their tomatoes we all turned in surprise to see the same great egret. We pulled up lawns chairs and sat down to watch the show. Thirty minutes with my children, my grandparents, and a big beautiful bird....even with the occasional sibling squabble it was one of those magical experiences that I want to remember for a long time. I don't have any photographs because I left my camera at home. I am glad I didn't have a camera with me because I don't think I would have been able to savor that experience. I would have been adjusting the camera, thinking about the light, the bird's movements, etc, but instead I was able to sit in a purple lawn chair mesmerized and happy to be right where I was.

I think this conflict will go on for a long time. Anyone else struggle with this?

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