fears

For awhile now Lux has told us of her fears. They weren’t there, and suddenly–snap–there they are. Or they were there, but she couldn’t articulate them quite as clearly as “That is scary to me.” They were initially almost comical in their tiny, specific scope: the sound of the water pipes in the bathroom, dried seaweed at the beach, tree roots that look oddly alive in the grass. They seem to pass over the weeks like overcast skies, never staying for long, just acknowledged, frowned at, and then quickly forgotten.

And yet they are sobering for me to hear from her, in the depth of consciousness they signify—the murky underlayer I will never truly know or predict or control. It reminds me of when I began to worry with my mom-friends if our infants were capable of having nightmares. Is it possible? we said to ourselves, when one of them had woken up crying furiously.

Lux continues to be mildly obsessed with skeletons in any form, mostly dinosaurs and human ones. (Hence the gift of a package of x-rays for her 3rd birthday.) And I’m all about those bones too. But she happened to fall in love with an idea that people take and twist. They pop-up randomly as we adventure around town: over-the-top halloween junk, a poster for a moody band, a book meant for twelve-year-olds not preschoolers, sci-fi magazines at the drug store. Gory, creepy, scary skeletons.

She likes the friendly ones and I get possessive when we encounter the scary ones, their articulation altered ever-so-slightly to ruin them. It was OUR skeleton and YOU PERSON ruined it. It WAS innocent and awesome, and YOU MARKETING OBSESSED NINJA blew it.

On top of her minor passing fears, there’s the ever-present concern not to transmit fears of mine to her.

I’m sure at one point in human history this was an important aspect of maternal education—watch out for cougar tracks as they will eat you. But these modern days it seems more important not to mention my personal fears. They will only slow her down. A girl afraid of snakes? Do we really need another one of those? I squashed a brown scaly spider crawling near Joan and went to scoop it up with a tissue. Lux said she wanted to do it. I was impressed, but also wanted to intervene–did she get the pinch-n-dump maneuver this situation was calling for? Did she see how crawly and weirdly dried up this thing was? I remained totally nonchalant and stepped back. “Sorry Mr. Spider, you can’t crawl near Joan” she said, and dropped him into the bin. She walked away and never mentioned it again.

I think the appearance of fear really shakes parents because when do you grow out of fears, really? They stick with you; greasy fingerprints of something that passed by once. Your own subconscious murmur, representing the unpredictable things that got through to you. Later in life they help you empathize with others, they are one of the quickly-built bridges that can connect two strangers almost instantly. “Oh, I was afraid of those too!” goes the refrain.

I remember as a kid being deeply afraid that my parents didn’t have any money. I would tell myself that they way we had lived that day was a farce, and tomorrow they would tell us it was all over. These thoughts always occurred to me at night when I was falling asleep. My mom would come in and reassure me that it wasn’t the case. Looking back, I can see that this might have been an early predictor of my habit to get the “big picture” or step back from situations and see what I can solve before everyone else. I thought I knew more than everyone else around me about what was happening around us. I still often think that.

Lux is turning out to be a brave soul, Tolkien style. Mighty little, mighty ambitious. She seems to seek out frightening things until she understands them. “Mom, I like scary things,” she tells me constantly, as we read of Carabosse, the evil fairy in Sleeping Beauty, for the 30th time. As we read and re-read, different elements seem to step into her mental spotlight. They are examined, pivoted, and then they step away and something new steps in. I’ve always had a soft spot for writers who laud the value of fairy tales–Einstein, L’Engle, Chesterton, Neil Gaimon. I couldn’t do the true Grimm tales because of the incredibly unique violence they introduce (or just yet, at least? I do respect their place in the canon). But the wisdom of encountering malicious forces coming head-to-head with the common girl, that rings true.

Perhaps I am old-fashioned but I think it is particularly important to encounter these tales in their written form. That way your imagination can only take you as far as you’re ready. For me as a kid, all of Disney’s enemies were just a bit too much. A few treads too far on the sinister track.

Lately I’m more grateful to hear what Lux is afraid of. Now that I’ve seen the fears wave up and subside, I don’t have that panic of it’s my fault! I should never have…They give me glimpses of the odd discomforts that stuck in her brain, and they give me a chance to talk over something that might have happened too quickly. They are windows into what she is still thinking about from the days that seem to fly by us.

#momlife

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joe: Wow, such a cool fort. Did the girls just sit in it and play all day?

rachael: Um no, they ignored it and laid blankets in another part of the room and pretended they were at the beach.

on the plus side, I discovered an awesome reuse for these copper wire lights I originally bought for our Christmas tree. They are so lightweight you can suspend them anywhere without needing support, perfect for forts (loved or ignored).

Ballerina on parade

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Here’s a day from December we are still talking about. My mom was in town to visit us and see the holiday lights. Before she arrived I reserved tickets for the Sugar Plum Fairy Tea at the Ritz Carlton in Boston (they sell out every year about two weeks ahead of time). After the tea Lux and I took the train to Cambridge to see the Jose Mateo Nutcracker with friends of ours.

US Angels had recently sent Lux a ballerina dress. We saved it for the occasion and she wore it proudly and grandly all day. The dress is such a beauty–it has two tiers of tulle, a line of cloth-covered buttons down the back and comes with a ribbon belt for cinching.

Of course one bunny was invited to come along as well.

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There are a few holiday teas around Boston for families looking for festive occasions–the Ritz Carlton tea was beautifully done. The Nutcracker theme was a total dream come true for Lux; at this point I think we’ve played the Nutcracker orchestra performance on our tape player over 100 times, easily. There was even a young ballerina performer from the Boston Ballet Nutcracker there for photos. Lux watched her with awe and went up for a photo three times (contrast that with her Santa experience where she wouldn’t get within ten feet of the guy).

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The food was so charming and elegant: things like cucumber sandwiches made to look like Christmas trees, tiny circles of salmon on toast, peanut butter and jellies carefully sliced and stacked, and (my favorite) tomato, mozzerella, and pesto ciabattas. A bowl of marshmallows sat ready for scooping next to the hot chocolate alongside chocolate-covered-strawberries, red velvet cupcakes and trays of scones. They had stacks of gingerbread cookies for the kids to decorate, plastic tiaras and crowns ready for pretend play and glass containers full of pink and purple glittering star wands for the taking.

You can imagine why Lux is still asking if we are going again next year!

The Ritz had also three craft opportunities set-up for kids to make ornaments for local shelter’s holiday trees in partnership with the organization Catching Joy. I loved the moment when Lux realized she was not keeping the crafts. She stopped and looked dismayed, then looked around and saw everyone crafting away anyway, and jumped back in.

After frolicking, snacking and several hot chocolate refills, we gave one last longing look at the professional ballerina, and we headed to the T to meet our friends Johanna and her daughter, Haruka.

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The Jose Mateo ballet program is housed in a beautiful church just outside of Harvard Square. Their theatre is the old sanctuary of the church, an intimate and friendly space. To my eye there is no bad seat in the house. For the 2pm performance that Saturday the whole place was full of children! Both my friend Johanna and I had brought silent snacks for placating the girls if they got antsy, but as soon as I saw all the kids, I realized we didn’t need to worry. Even so it was silent audience for most of the performance. It was such a treat to sit through the whole thing, and really nice to have it be more affordable. Some day I would like to take Lux to the Boston Ballet performance, but for now it’s perfect to see it on a slightly smaller scale.

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All in all, it was a day I want to do every year (and next year, Joan will be invited…I think!). Certainly it ran more expensive than what we’d spend on kiddo-fun in a typical month, much less one day! But still, it was the perfect time of year to take advantage of such fun opportunities.

 

review: the smartest kids in the world

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My friend Ashley lent me The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley before Christmas and I ate it up as we traveled. It compares education in South Korea, Finland, Poland, and the US by following exchange students from Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota. Along the way she discusses international testing, interviews teachers and students, and gives a sense of what it’s like to be a kid learning in each of these countries.

Before I read it, when I thought about education and my little family, I imagined us focusing on reading together and verbal comprehension stuff before formal schooling began. Reading together is probably one of the activities that comes to me the easiest in child-care. Joe has mentioned to me before that it might be nice if I started doing math with Lux, and perhaps science experiments, once in awhile. I told him I thought those things came in time. Maybe intuitively? Maybe when they were six? It was all vague and far away. Perhaps I wouldn’t even be the one to introduce them to math at all, I thought to myself. Suffice to say, it wasn’t on my priority list.

Now I know through Ripley’s book that this is a specifically American view: that one learns math through story problems and osmosis, certainly not through worksheets, repetition, or emphasis. I had heard rumors that the US tested miserably on most fronts in comparison to other developed nations. Now I recognize that in the context of math, we don’t seem to take it seriously, we don’t think it’s an applicable life skill, and we’d rather our kid took an easy test and did well than get a bad score and feel bad about themselves.

Which led me to wonder how I could help my kids be as good at math as they were at reading. How to be as casually conversant in equations as explaining a new vocabulary word. How to value rote memorization and convey its value. How to make numbers as familiar and intriguing as a new library book.

This is all on my mind right now because after Lux hit 3.5 years, she’s able to focus a bit more and has really got that sponge quality to her. I can actually imagine us sitting down to work on something for a bit, or learning and reviewing something over a couple of days. We’ve recently done a couple science experiments, things like vinegar + baking soda + balloon, and they were really fun.

Anyway, it’s a fascinating read and helped me correct my sights a bit on education. Since reading is a given for us, I’m going to be more aggressive with integrating math and science into our days. To start, I ordered this simple workbook to do with Lux for twenty minutes or so, when Joan is napping. I’m hoping it will help me familiarize myself how she approaches these things and give us a shared language.

 

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My friend Anna came over yesterday to take some photos of our family. It was a last-minute thing and turned out to be such a beautiful evening. Joan was feeling sick but she had just had a good long nap, and Lux was game for the adventure. We walked down from our apartment, through the Garden, all the way to Copley Square, and then finished with margaritas (and hot chocolates!) at the Oak Bar.

When Anna first texted me that she was available, I immediately wanted to hop in the car and head to Walden Pond, or a field & forest somewhere. The exotic always occurs to you at these times. But of course it made the most sense simply to walk around this little city, the spots we’re always walking. What a treat to celebrate and document them for an afternoon.

I feel so lucky to have these, thank you Anna!

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all photos by Anna Burns

your tradition

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Last year around this time I went to mom’s group that was run by older moms. They were so much older that most of them were already grandmothers. On this date a year ago, instead of the typical morning talk, they set up a roundtable and discussed their favorite holiday traditions. They each had called their adult children and put the question to them: what do you remember of our family holidays as a kid?

You could feel some of the anxiety in the room. Many of us were moms to very young children. Making a sandwich was a struggle, much less a fleet of reindeer cookies. The idea of creating new traditions for the next generation to carry on, traditions somehow built among the remains of the dusty shredded kleenex and fishy cracker crumbs we’d left behind on the floor that morning, well, it sounded almost impossible.

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Some of the women said they’d cried on the phone, because asking their adult children about this reminded them how often their young working husbands had been gone during that time, or how tired the women had been, or what high expectations they’d had for themselves.

There was one surprising revelation from the phone calls: the things their kids loved and remembered were usually not the ones the mothers had intended. Not the three-tiered cookie tray that showed up on the right day, but the fact that the kids got to pick the food coloring colors for the frosting. Not the getting of the tree at the charming corner store, but the bag of chips they were allowed to pick out for the ride home. Not the deluxe Christmas meal, but how many candles she managed to light around the room each year. Not the gifts, but the fact that their dad built a fire every Christmas eve.

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The talk instantly reminded me of how my mom let us have donuts and orchard cider with cheese and crackers for dinner on the night we decorated the tree. In any order we wished: crackers, then donuts. Donuts, then cheese. Hands down it is one of my favorite memories of annual traditions. I vaguely remember that she sent out tins upon tins of cookies each year, vaguely recall the Advent calendar that was different and creative every year, have a fleeting image of all the lovely hearth decorations, but the thing I remember most: cheese and crackers.

I wonder if it was the thrill of a snack for dinner, or the way dinner formality bowed to decorating hubbub, or just the fact that I could tell my mom was happy not to worry about dinner for the night. It doesn’t really matter, anyway. I love that memory.

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To sum, they told us, you do the best you can and they end up remembering the oddest things anyway. Which I think we should take as, do what sounds wonderful and rewarding to you, and skip the rest.

It sounded really really nice to follow up on a promise to Lux and go to cvs and buy candy, so much candy, and then make a little graham cracker house that looked just like the one in Martha Stewart’s kids craft book. And it was.

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p.s: the dough in that top photo is the weelicious graham cracker recipe. It’s delicious and easy. It makes cookies for munching, not housebuilding. I found it in this fantastic cookbook.

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I’m very pleased with my new-found maternal energy for decorating and all things Christmas-y. Truly when I say to you that last year the extent of our decorating was a bare branch, hung delicately around a bare lightbulb, with six ornaments hanging on it, believe me that whatever dwr sickly-modern image comes to your mind is exactly what it looked like. At the time that seemed perfectly apt to what we needed, given that we travel over the holidays and arrive home in January. And yet, this year I believe I’m following, at the very least, two people on Pinterest who have entire boards devoted solely to twinkly lights. This makes me very happy. I have already informally polled most of my city friends about where they buy their Christmas trees. While I was away in Florida, Joe even bravely attempted a melted-peppermints-into-ornaments DIY. It didn’t turn out whatsoever but we are not deterred.

However, I seem to be one accurate Amazon order away from the reality of all my seasonal daydreams. I don’t like to pull the trigger on Amazon orders too quickly, so I often just pile my cart full of things I definitely need, add one or two things I’m not quite sure about, then mull over the lot of it for a week or two. Each day it sadly occurs to me that the very thing I need is waiting for me in my Amazon cart.

For example, right now we have only one child size spoon even though both girls like using child size spoons. We had three or four at one point in my recent memory, and I can only hope they’ve made their way to a good home because they are with us no longer. Every day I think about the pack of six bamboo spoons I have waiting in my cart. Then, as the presiding arbiter in the household who makes decisions based on complete whimsy and then sticks to them like honey on the bottom of a cabinet, I dole one spoon out to one girl and hand the other girl a fork. After weeks of this, they now eye each other’s utensil closely and then examine their own with some suspicion. It’s not always evident who got the better deal (is pasta better with a spoon or a fork?), and isn’t that just like life, my young grasshoppers? Keep your eyes on your own bowl and you’ll be much more content.

Speaking of other people’s bowls, Boston has yet to be added to these cities where Amazon is hiring butlers to run things to your car or small children to pull red wagons with deliveries or whatever else they are promising to young people in San Francisco who only order iPhone cases and bulk packages of green tea anyway. Between chatting with my brother in NYC and my brother in SF, things seem to be dramatically more efficient for them there, but in a mystifying way. Which is to say that even if I could ask someone to bring over those spoons right away, I’m sure I’d still find something to hem about.

South Beach Itinerary

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This past weekend, I went away with some mom friends from my neighborhood. Joe volunteered to watch the girls, the very same girls who ended up being sick all weekend. Alas, poor abandoned family. At least I managed to pack the fridge completely full beforehand (bbq chicken, chicken salad, cottage cheese pancakes, hummus, hard boiled eggs, raspberries).

All the women on our trip have young children around the same age and are usually chasing children at the playground so what. a. treat. to have uninterrupted conversation and truly TALK to each other. I dropped in at the end of all the planning emails, so the rooms were reserved, most plane tickets booked, and dinner reservations already made. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of females trying to plan a trip via email, then you know how nice it is to skip most of it and just show up.

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I spent some time on Pinterest before we left so I had a hit list of South Beach places to see. Total side tangent: pinterest has become an incredibly effective travel itinerary guide. Personally I trace this back to their partnership with Foursquare which allowed them to pull all of Foursquare’s user location-tagged photos. These days even the most wayward cute gas station is discoverable on there. I suggest it as a first stop when planning a trip, even before food review sites or magazines. Thanks to this helpful blog post, this interview by Garance Dore, and many enticing photos, I put together a list I was excited about. I ended up visiting only a few of those places, but I was happy to have options ahead of time. (If you’re traveling to South Beach soon, here’s the board I put together from these recommendations.)

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I went out early one morning and watched as men from each hotel hauled out the beach chairs, then the chair pillows, then the umbrellas, tugging everything into even rows up as they went. The chairs spent the day as proud striped bandstands lined up across the sand, only to be completely dismantled and put away every night.

The water was extra-specially-blue and WARM.

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We stayed at the Ritz, which had wonderful service as always, and good food; though the style of the hotel wasn’t at all beachy which felt like a missed opportunity, and the food was overpriced. However, their pina coladas were excellent and their beach-food-delivery was shockingly fast. The Ritz has the type of service where you might be sitting in a hot tub (a rather glorious thing one can do when not-pregnant, right?), wondering about how to perfect the situation and get a cold beer, and minutes later, someone hands one to you.

I had hoped to visit and take a long soak at The Standard’s spa with their stylized ancient baths, but I called ahead and learned one needed to do a spa service for $135 in order to use the baths, which didn’t feel quite worth it when I already had so many fun things to do.

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Just a block or two down from our hotel was The Raleigh. Gosh what a wonderful treat to the eyes. I couldn’t get enough of the spot. I guess I’m more of an art deco type than a sleek hotel type. We had breakfast by the pool there one day, and another day my friend Jenny and I just sat on the front porch and people watched while sipping the delicious smoothies sold through their diner-esque cafe in the lobby.
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One hot afternoon after sweating in the sun for awhile, a few of us caught a cab down to My Ceviche for cheap delicious ceviche, roasted corn, spicy popcorn, and, if I’d only had room: a basket of stone crab claws. They don’t have tables, but if you order a drink from the bar next door, they let you use theirs.

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I personally didn’t make it to Under the Mango Tree but I sent some friends in their direction and they loved it. A bit of a hole in the wall, but very friendly and delicious. Smoothies, breakfast sandwiches, acai bowls, it is a perfect destination after a long walk on the beach.

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Our first night we had dinner at Casa Tua. This hip Italian spot felt very Hollywood, beginning with the tall hedge framing the whole unmarked restaurant. Gorgeous flickering lights and greenery welcome you in, once you finally find the entrance. Somewhat burly, hustle-y waiters frown when you ask for a custom cocktail. Amazing burrata and perfectly-done pasta, with a strong showing of seafood.

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The Sandwicherie: I confess, I circled this place and but didn’t eat there! It looked amazing and I love that they are open for 24 hours. I also love that (according to reviews) they drizzle vinaigrette on your sandwich. This spot was only a few blocks from our hotel, a great walk in any direction. I regretted that I didn’t make it to any Cuban food spots, though I got the feeling I would have had to head back into Miami to find the good ones.

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Thinking of our kids back home, all of us found ourselves watching the families on vacation around us. It seemed like a great spot for them. The sand was silky, the pool was warm, there was umbrellas and accessible food in abundance. Mentally I compared it to St. Thomas, though South Beach is definitely cheaper overall and with better food. For East Coasters, it would be about the same three hour direct flight as the Virgin Islands. Trust me when I say this is on my mind as I return to temps in the 30s here in Boston! Yikes.

Post script: even the H&M was glam:h&m

in November

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There are many ways November tells you you can’t do it, beginning with the election days. Find yourself attached to a small item on the ballot, just a flimsy thing that seemed like a good idea, only to find it scorned by most of your state. It’s passively discouraging.

There’s also something unfathomable about a shift in weather and we worry we can’t make the leap. I’m missing the confidence boost of a larder full of canned peaches, a pantry full of preserved honey, or blueberry jam gathered in August. I can’t look at my pantry of pickles, the wood pile in the backyard, and say: yes I’m ready. Certainly in the past this would have bolstered a homemaker peeking around for encouragement, no?

And if you haven’t yet flown lightly over a grey, long, freezing week with everyone still taking naps and not crying most of the time, you might wonder: can it be done? Perhaps this why fiercely persevering peer-encouraged challenges happen in November, like no-shave-month or write-a-novel-in-a-month (NaNoWriMo).

So many times in motherhood there’s a new corner up ahead and a voice appears like genie smoke in our mind whispering “you can’t do it.”

.I can’t handle four days by myself.
.I can’t handle both of them sick at the same time.
.I could never do it if if we couldn’t go outside.

.I couldn’t do it if she started sleeping badly again.

I don’t know why we set these parameters for ourselves but they fall into place before we’ve even noticed and then we’re stuck dreading the next change. Naturally we end up arcing over these challenges like fillies in the mud, kicking up our heels. But the genie in your head will never tell you that.

In the face of this shark-toothed-month I have mayonnaise to keep me company. I will never, ever, relate to those food writers who say “I can’t understand why people buy mayonnaise it’s so easy to make!” I can’t understand why you would make mayonnaise, it’s so easy to buy! Hellman’s and the American flag are inextricably linked as our national anthem for me. Egg Salad, call me back girl. Tuna melts, comin’ attacha.

Here’s a deliciously satisfying, nearly-evil snack, depending on your feelings about ms. mayo, that Joan and I eat whenever Lux is eating something boring like animal crackers. Chickpeas from a can, drained, rinsed and poured into a bowl. Dolloped with a spoonful of mayonnaise and sprinkled with garlic salt from the spice drawer. Microwaved for 15 seconds or so and stirred to a smooth sheen holding each chickpea within it. So satisfying and you’ll eat a whole 14 oz can this way.

What else is helping, while we’re at it: a glass of wine with dinner prep even if it begins at 4:30pm in the pitch dark, smiling happily at the sun up so early in the morning, a Spotify station built on “What Else Can I Do” by Kat Edmunson, looking at homemade Christmas decorations on pinterest, this funny cop show from last year, Louisa May Alcott’s cozy Thanksgiving short story.

 

Fix-It

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I received an email titled “Our Fix-It Diaries” and thought: YES. Because it’s been the theme for the past few weeks. First, shoes to the cobbler to sew up and clean up. I don’t know how I manage it but I always pick the most pessimistic cobblers. “This is just a do-our-best and see what comes of it job.” “No, I wouldn’t count on that one coming out matching.” “I’ll fix it but it won’t last forever.” 

I recommend not calling a cobbler if you need a new campaign statement any time soon. Sweaters in otherwise good shape except for tiny holes that threaten to widen. I tried to leave a sweater to get a little hole stitched up at the dry cleaners and she told me I should just do it myself. I wanted to say but didn’t say, “Would you tell a male customer to do that?” Was there something about the way that both girls were clinging to my ankles that made me look at loose ends for something to do with my hands? Sigh.

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Packing away things. Pulling old friendly things out. Remembering how lovely it is to wear a warm sweater with jeans and no coat. The coat stage is coming, but the-just-sweater stage always reminds me of how you actually see sweaters advertised. You get to be warm and not look all buttoned-in. Whistling to myself the passing wish that I had a brand new winter coat and a brand new winter hat. What do we think is the best winter hat trend this year? I would say: mono-color with furry pompom on top. Yup. Forgive me if I’m officially 12 months behind trends. It takes me awhile to warm up to them. haha.

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There was a lull in the land where I forgot what I wanted to do during nap time besides stay utterly and absolutely silent. It’s ironic that I can’t find the words to describe how much chatter fills my day except to say that sometimes people stand near me for  minute or two at a street corners, waiting for the light to change, and then turn to me and ask, “is it always like this?” Yes sir, it is always like this.

I just sat here for three minutes trying to come up with a way to describe Lux’s vocal companionship right now… The image that comes to mind is this tank at the aquarium filled with sting rays that we visited last week. The sting rays have had their stinging-rays trimmed (“Just like your fingernails,” the guide crowed to us), and so denuded, circle the tank like a rapidly flowing tributary of soggy pancakes, bobbing up every ten seconds or so, to brush against your hand. If you move your hand too much they sense the vibration and slink off course ever-so-slightly, and then eagerly swim on, only to circle back a minute later. That’s the best visual my weak brain can muster of my three year old’s conversation in my life right now.

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So besides absolute silence for one hour which falls upon my ears like a soft flannelly manna from heaven–I had a breakthrough yesterday which was: bars of chocolate. I think I forgot about them all summer. And now: they are back! In all their faintly caffeinated glory.

Photos from picking zinnias and finding pumpkins at Parlee Farms two weeks ago. It was raining; it was glorious. Thank goodness for things like child-backpacks. I’m not exaggerating when I say this situation would have been a disaster if Joan had been wandering on her own in the mud. If you go, stop at Dream Diner on your way home.