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Introductions — "Lucy-Style"

“Lucy can you believe that four years ago today Daddy drove Mommy to the hospital and you came out of my tummy?”
“Mommy, was I tiny like a germ?”
“Well, you were small, but not quite as small as a germ. Nana and Papa were there, and we were so happy to see you and we all cried.”
“Did I cry?”
“Oh yes, you cried.”
“You know what Mommy? I cried because I didn’t know who you were.”

Happy Birthday Lucy!

Dear Lucy,

You are 4 years old today. You have become an amazing little girl and although all parents think that about their children I KNOW that I am right. You are wonderfully curious and literal. You want to know how everything is made, who made it, their name, address and telephone number so you can send them a personal note of appreciation. I mean EVERYTHING – “mommy, who made the road?”, “Mommy, who makes cars?”, “mommy, who made the computer?”. When you realize I don’t know the EXACT person who made anything you seem to be rather disappointed and irritated with me.

Recently I was going through the pictures on my cell phone and came across about 50 photos that you had taken of the world. And suddenly I saw life as you see it. There were wonderful pictures of the shopping cart, Max, the carpet, toys, baby dolls and this self-portrait:

Family is everything to you and you get so excited when we decide to do anything all together as a family. When Daddy and Max met us at the mall the other night you exclaimed “family hug” and insisted that we all stop and hug each other. Although socially awkward we complied.

You have also become Max’s guardian — you are the first one to greet him in the morning and the one person who looks out for him more than anyone else. You make sure he has his blanket, his pacifier, his snacks, toys, etc. You are also his biggest irritant – poking him, pushing him and routinely stealing his toys.

If I had to describe you to a complete stranger I would say you are a passionate rule follower. You will follow any guidelines, rules or instructions given down to the last letter and are quite dismayed at anybody who would see fit NOT to comply. This is the biggest area of conflict between you and your brother. While Max doesn’t understand the need for rules you are worried that the Earth will spin off of it’s axis if rules are not strictly followed. As a result we rarely have to punish you but you constantly try to punish Max.

Although you are physically petite for your age you are well advanced intellectually. You can count to 20 – although 17 seems to be a sticking point. You know all your letters and their sounds and you can read and spell some words. I’ve begun the process of selecting a school for you to attend and I must admit that I’m dreading the day I must send you. I have enjoyed and am enjoying every moment we have together at home.

You are my angel, my sweet baby girl and I am so lucky to be your mother! Happy Birthday Lucy!

Gymnastics or Torture?

Today was the first day of gymnastics for Lucy & Max. Initially only Lucy was going to take gymnastics. The thinking was that she would enjoy having a “big-girl” activity and the class environment might be a good experience for her. However, when I went to sign her up the gym also offered a toddler “mommy & me” class at the same time. In that moment it seemed like a great idea for Max & I to sign up as well. I had visions of us all holding hands and going to gymnastics together — possibly even singing. If only I had stopped to think about MY children and not the imaginary children I apparently was thinking about.

We arrived at the gym in cutely coordinated sweatpants and shirts. We were all ready. The kids were excited and eager to start. Max instantly started pointing to other kids and exclaiming “Who That?”. Lucy kept asking “Can we start now? how about now? NOW?” The young coaches came out to the waiting area and gathered up the “older” kids and started herding them to their class.

Lucy waved bye and walked away.
I beamed proudly at my well adjusted 4 year old.
Max collapsed in a ball of tears at his sister leaving.

They then took the mommy’s and toddlers and we went to the trampolines. Oh, I knew Max would love this and he did take right to it. He jumped, he ran, he fell – he completely ignored the teacher. Every instruction was as if she was speaking to everybody else but him. All the other mommy’s gently guided their children into compliance but me. I could get Max to only do the opposite of what was being required.

After this session we walked over to an open mat and sat down for “music-time”. Well, in order to reach this mat we had to pass the “big-kid” class which included seeing Lucy. Max, excited to see his sister wanted to join her class and when he realized he couldn’t he collapsed into tears — again.

He cried through music time.
He briefly stopped to make a mad dash across the gym to find his sister.
He cried through tumbling time.

And just as I was about to surrender to his sorrow and long after my vision of us all enjoying this experience had been dashed across the rocks of reality they began playing on the rope swing. This activity actually looked mildly dangerous for a 2 yr-old, which I’m sure is why Max liked it. Basically they let kids hang onto a big rope and swing/fall into a giant pit of foam blocks. When that stops being fun they get to climb up on a large square block and jump off of that into the pit of foam. Well, Max thought this was worthy of his attention. He loved it and jumped, rolled and frolicked in the blocks and periodically screamed “Sissy!!” – as if somehow Lucy would appear and share in his joy.

I had just started to think that just maybe he might adjust to this whole gymnastics thing when they announced “sticker-time”. Now, Max loves stickers and I thought this will be a great way to end this experience. However, they didn’t mean stickers – they meant stamps – as in rubber stamp their hand. For a boy who thinks nothing of coloring his head, mouth, ears and nose with a marker he completely fell apart when they decided to stamp a light hue of a mickey mouse on his hand. He shrieked in horror that ink had been applied to his hand. At this point the other parents were all politely laughing as if to indicate that this behavior was somehow cute. Cute? Really? My son has cried through at least 50% of a 45 minute gymnastics class WHICH IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!!

We met back up with Lucy and her coach at the end of class. Lucy’s instructor sweetly explained to me that Lucy is a natural. That in no time she will be able to move up into another class and that she followed every instruction.

And only now, hours after our return do I realize that this is the beauty of having two children. Max is younger and he is a different kind of child than Lucy. His sister is his best friend and right now at 2 years old – he needs her in a way that Lucy needed me when she was 2. best friends: Lucy & Max.

Oscar Nominated Chris

Nobody teaches because of the money. I teach because I love my subject and I love my students. Seriously, my students are interesting people and I’m honored that I have the opportunity to meet them, and to teach them. Most of all, they keep me young. Periodically you find a student who you know is destined for something bigger than your little classroom. I recently had such a student and today he told me that he was leaving school to pursue his dream. Although I’m sad to see him go I also know that he needs to go.

Chris is a film student who is headed for the Seattle Film Institute. You wouldn’t think much of Chris when you first meet him. He is quiet, still and slight of build. However, he is singular in his purpose. He wants to make movies – he wants to tell stories and I admire his dream.

I wanted to share with Chris my meager advice about story-telling and to wish him well on his future. So, Chris, this one is for you buddy….

1.) Good movies are good stories. Good stories are about good characters. Good characters are a lovely combination of reality and perfection. We want to see the best version of ourselves mixed with our biggest weaknesses. As an audience we want to know that we could be those people, we are those people, or we care about those people.

2.) Remember the epic hero journey. Your characters need to grow, evolve and to have changed somehow at the end of their journey. It may not seem “epic” to anybody else but them, but it must be significant.

3.) Even if you have no desire to be a screenwriter — write. Practice and hone your storytelling now. Sketch – even if you aren’t going to be a cinematographer. Practice the art of telling your story.

4.) You’re only as good as the people around you. Making a film is a team effort — always strive to have the best people, the best talent you can either afford or is available. When you find somebody who is talented, easy to work with and you like them – KEEP THEIR NUMBER. Be nice to them and continue to give them work. Be loyal and supportive of your team and they will go to the end’s of the Earth for you.

5.) Work on communication – no matter what role you play you will need to be able to communicate your ideas and your vision. Work on being able to tell your story, sell your ideas and convince people that your vision is the right vision. Be passionate and don’t be embarrassed to show that passion – share it with whoever will listen.

Your aspirations are those that people often laugh at, belittle or think it isn’t possible. And perhaps you won’t end up at the Oscars like we always joke about, but let your talent and your aspirations lead you. Follow the bliss and the money will come. Good luck and when you do win that Oscar remember your English teacher from that tiny junior college in Texas.

Home again, Home again

I love teaching literature because I always seem to garner some new inspiration after every reading. No matter how many times I read some of these great stories they always seem to have something new to teach me. This time around it was the great Odysseus that has provided me with some new things to think about — the grand idea of “going home”.

Epic heroes go on great journeys – they go far away to learn a lesson, to overcome personal failings, to change but they ALL come home and they all desperately want to. I’ve often stated that “the Wizard of Oz” is a modern day epic poem and it struck me more so than ever this time that it is. Odysseus wants to go home – he yearns to go home and yet the gods conspire against him. Dorothy wants to go home – her entire journey is based on the motivation that she wants to go home and yet she too must overcome meddling supernatural beings. Two great journeys — two great heroes.

Dorothy’s obstacles are the personification of her own fears and insecurities – she’s afraid she isn’t smart enough, courageous enough or loving enough to face the troubles in her own life. She literally runs away, refusing to face them. And yet, her journey through strange lands forces her to face those very fears and insecurities that she fled. However, like Odysseus she is singular in her desire to “go home”, exclaiming at the end “there is no place like home”.

Odysseus faces the same journey. He too has weaknesses – he is prideful, arrogant and selfish. He is forced to look inward to humble himself before the gods in order to return home. He doesn’t want to leave his home to begin this journey and as soon as the war is over he is eager to return.

These stories endure because of their great heroes. We, as readers, can identify with their weaknesses and we can identify with their longing to return. Home is eternal for all of us. Whether we grew up in a good home or a bad home there is a foundational quality about home. Home is a reflection of who we are at our core, it is a place of love, of acceptance, of security of comfort. To be dragged from this cocoon and harshly challenged to face our demons is frightening. As a reader we feel the vulnerability that Odysseus and Dorothy must be experiencing. The spiritual nakedness that they endure while on their journey makes us cringe. And when they return home – we are emotionally exhausted with them.

When we look at modern story-telling today – films, TV, books, music, etc So much of it is heavily influenced by this epic poetry format. In particular the theme of “going home” – this animal instinct to want to return to “the den” – to our emotional protection. And yet, we all seek to leave – we want to return better, we want to return improved, we want to return having experienced something we haven’t before.

Diversity, America and My Christmas Vacation

I just returned from spending Christmas with my family. Spending the holidays with my family is an exercise in tolerance and diversity. I am the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Methodist father. I was raised celebrating both sets of holidays and believing in one God – the Judeo-Christian God. My sister married a wonderful black man who through hard work and discipline escaped his inner-city youth. They have two wonderful boys who are crazy smart, athletically gifted and gosh darn cute. My cousin is married to a sweet gentle woman who is from China and immigrated to the United States as an adult and is also a Buddhist. My Uncle has been married for over thirty years to a wonderful Hispanic woman and they have three boys ( my cousins).

I had a wonderful holiday vacation. I say “holiday” because to say “Christmas” in my house would be excluding some people. I have sweet pictures of my son with his yarmulke lighting the Hanukkah candles and wonderful pictures of my kids tearing open Christmas presents. We ate prime rib and potato latkes for Christmas dinner.

Most people are amazed when I tell them about my own personal “rainbow coalition” but I often wonder is that not really the American dream. Aren’t we a “melting pot”? Isn’t the purpose of America to come together, to celebrate our diversity, to “melt” into one another? Shouldn’t more American families look like mine? What good comes from us only being with other people that are like ourselves? What are we so afraid of?

Is it easy to squeeze all those different types of cultures and beliefs in one family? No. We have our conflicts but I think we all feel we are more understanding, more tolerant, more supportive and overall better people for having this type of diversity in our family. Why, after all these years aren’t there more families like ours? and is this going to be the norm in the future? I sure hope so.

Christmas 2007 — Gift Guide

I wanted to pass along some of my favorite online locations for gift shopping this year.

1.) American Spoon Foods

There are a couple of things that remind me of my childhood home in Michigan and American Spoon Foods is one of them. American Spoon foods is based in Traverse City Michigan and they make some of the best jams, jellies, fruit butter, etc. Just the thought of their Pumpkin butter makes me want to drool. They have great gift boxes as well as a wide selection of individual items. They come in these quaint little gift boxes with their own unique label. You won’t be disappointed.

2.) Dale & Thomas Popcorn

I must admit that Oprah listed this as one of her “favorite things” first, so at this point I’m just a copy-cat, BUT I have to admit this is the most amazing popcorn. These people do things with popcorn that I didn’t think was possible. Any of their chocolate flavors, cinnamon and they make a creme brulee flavor that is out of this world. Again, the packaging is wonderful and makes a great long-distance gift.

3.) Etsy

Etsy is really a marketplace for individual artisans to sell their custom made goods. I purchased some adorable earrings for my 10 yr. old niece from this website and have found several beautiful hand-crafted ornaments for our tree. I will warn you though, this is a bit like ebay, once you start looking it’s hard to stop.

4.) Busted Tees

I have two teenage boy nephews and every year they are the most challenging people to buy for. I guess I’ve finally reached the age where I no longer know what is cool. However, these t-shirts seem to always be a hit. They are usually pretty funny and unique. The boys like them because it isn’t anything you can find at the local mall, but their captions are still quirky and hip. Beware though, some of the slogans are a little on the trashy side.

Happy Holidays to my readers — see you in January

Thanksgiving Day & The Tragic Cheesecake

This Thanksgiving season started like most do, with a flurry of emails amongst women dividing up the cooking responsibilities. This year I got away pretty easy. I only had two tasks; pick up a Honeybaked Ham and bring my Praline Caramel Cheesecake. I felt guilty and yet gleeful knowing that I had not been saddled with cooking a turkey, or bringing the sweet potato casserole.

The Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving I called my local Honeybaked Ham store and asked if I needed to pre-order the ham or if I could just “run-by” the store and pick one up. The store clerk sounded casual and relaxed as he said; “Oh, you can just come by the store we have plenty of hams here”. Well, that just sounded too perfect. I put Lucy and Max (my two toddler children) in the back of my mini-van and off we went to go pick-up a ham. It never once occurred to me that other people might also like to eat ham on Thanksgiving and that most likely many of them were also planning on going to the store to purchase one. As we pulled into the parking lot I realized that there were a lot of cars – an unusual amount of traffic – and then I saw it. The line. A line that stretched from the meager Honeybaked Ham storefront all the way around the entire strip mall and towards the back. Hundreds of people all waiting for a tasty morsel of Honeybaked ham. Instantly, without hesitating, I made the decision that we would NOT be having ham for Thanksgiving.

Although my Thanksgiving day preparations suffered an initial set back I wasn’t concerned. I had made my Praline Caramel Cheesecake several times and it always looked and tasted beautifully. Besides the family was still planning on turkey and the ham was just an “extra”. The cheesecake – my beautiful cheesecake – would be my stunning contribution to the meal.

I returned home and carefully prepared my cheesecake. When I finished it, it was a thing of beauty. Recipes rarely, if ever, turn out like they appear in cookbooks but this cheesecake did. It could have been featured in Martha Stewart Living magazine. I was so proud of my crowning culinary achievement that I took a picture.

My heart filled with pride. Look at this glorious thing I’ve created. I carefully and meticulously placed it in the refrigerator. The next morning I rushed to the refrigerator to check on my prized cheesecake. What I discovered would be the beginning of this most tragic tale. I did not realize the night before that when I put the cake in the refrigerator it was not level and when I checked on the cake in the morning some of the caramel had spilled over a small section of the edge. It was no longer perfect. My creation had a flaw. I was disappointed. However, it still looked beautiful it just had more of a “homemade” look to it now and that was okay. I carefully packed the cake for travel and we put it in the car.

Three hours later we arrived at the family lake house in Winnsboro Texas. I was eager to bring my cake into the house to show off my stunning accomplishment. After bragging that my cheesecake was a sight to behold I unveiled the glorious item. I’m not sure words alone can describe the horror that was before me. All of the caramel and the pecans had completely slid off the cake and had pooled inside of the cake carrier. I was stunned, shocked, speechless. My aunts, recognizing that I had gone into a culinary shock quickly stepped in to rescue my creation. They reassured me repeatedly that “nobody would know”, that we could “repair the damage”, it was still “lovely”. We scooped all the caramel and the pecans into a bowl, reheated it and reapplied the topping to the cheesecake. It now no longer resembled the glorious item that had first come out of the oven – it didn’t look anything like the picture in the cookbook. It was a normal, homemade cheesecake. God had fully humbled me. There was nothing left to be proud of – I had made a cheesecake.

Had the story ended there it would be sad, but far from being tragic. It would be just another funny story of a culinary mishap. But the story doesn’t end there.

My cheesecake had yet to make it’s final journey from the lake house to the farmhouse, which was only 2 miles away. I picked up my son and my husband grabbed the cheesecake. We took two steps out of the lake house front door when I heard behind me a crash and my husband exclaim; “OH!”. I spun around and there it was — on the ground. My cheesecake had suffered the final blow, it was upside down on the sidewalk. I felt warm tears pool behind my eyes as my husband deftly and gently picked up the cheesecake put it back on the plate and said; “Oh sweetheart, I am SO SORRY. You know, I don’t think you can tell. It looks okay – let’s serve it. We’ll tell everybody the truth after they eat it.” He paused, looking into my eyes to see how I was handling this painful attack on my ego. And from deep within I started to laugh. It was, after all funny – he had dropped my cheesecake. My cheesecake that within a matter of 36 hours had gone from glorious culinary perfection to being upside down on the sidewalk.

We took the cheesecake to Thanksgiving day dinner. We served the cheesecake. It tasted great. Everybody loved it. And as we all sat back from the table with full bellies and warm hearts I confessed my sin.