Wednesday, December 17, 2008

His and Hers, Part One

Each of us has so many thoughts about our decade of life together, that we'll have to split up the blog posts. In Part One, K will focus on our recent anniversary trip to New York City...

Since it's impossible to see all of New York in just over 48 hours, we decided the focus of our trip would be culture.  Art, music, theater, all the grown-up stuff that we could really enjoy without the kids.  We'll have to do food, historical sites, ethnic enclaves and parks another time.  Maybe in 5 years the kids won't be cranky standing in lines?

So, we arrived Thursday afternoon and spent the whole afternoon wandering gloriously in the Met.  Incredible Greek, Roman and Asian sculptures.  (K. really likes sculptures.)  We had to find food eventually, in the basement cafeteria, which tasted very marvelous and reminded us of the rare time or two we ate at the Museum Cafe as BYU students.  

That evening, we dressed up for Carnegie Hall and heard the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform the Rite of Spring.  It almost wouldn't have mattered what they played, we would have enjoyed being in that beautiful concert hall and hearing live music together.  We've only gone to one other concert in our marriage, and that was years and years ago when K. worked at a classical radio station and happened to get some free tickets, so this was really an occasion.   

Friday we slept in a little and then spent the day doing all things modern -- modern art, that is.  We pulled off both the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Guggenheim and enjoyed, among other greats, an all-you-can-see buffet of van Gogh's paintings, which was K.'s special favorite part of the whole trip.  It's amazing and wonderful how moving some oil on a canvas can be in person.

We also found time to wander around a little, to see Times Square and the Rockefeller Center's giant tree both in daylight and lit up at night.  We took a look inside Saks Fifth Avenue that day too, and bought a little reindeer bell ornament to commemorate our anniversary.  As an added bonus, it's nice and indestructable.  We had looked at ornaments at the Met store and loved some pretty glass ones, but they were much too expensive and breakable.  A $4 brass Rudolph was a much better fit.

Friday we also stood in the half-price TKTS line and got tickets to a show for that night, The 39 Steps.  K. voted the play her second favorite thing about the whole trip, after the van Gogh.  It only had a cast of 4, with two of the actors playing dozens of characters, sometimes nearly simultaneously, which was hilarious.  It has been described as Hitchcock meets Monty Python, a spy novel cum comedy.  Very fun.  Noir and comic at the same time was just the right style for our taste.

Saturday was our last few hours in New York, and we headed up to the top of the Empire State Building to see the city in the clear early-morning air.  Then we walked through Macy's to pick up some Christmas cheer from the crowds and lights.  In fact, around lunchtime all of a sudden we saw hundreds of people dressed in Santa suits out on the streets.  They appeared to be about college-age (both genders, the girls in short red skirts) and spoiling for a party.  It was memorable, and a fun indication of what S. liked best about the trip, which was just being in the city and knowing that there was always something going on.  

A special shout goes out to K.'s dad, who was the unsung hero in this adventure.  He drove all the way out from Michigan to stay with the kids so that we could kick up our heels without them.  And K.'s mom, who could spare him at this busy time of year and managed to very gracefully swallow her jealousy at not being a direct part of the anniversary event.  Thank you, thank you!  And we've tried to spare you too much mushiness and bragging -- or at least postpone it until Part Two is published -- but wow, what a wonderful 10 years with the best marriage on earth!  We wouldn't trade it for anything.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nora's Corner: Boing Boing

Nora has been something of a pill these past few weeks--getting an early start on her terrible twos in the fine family tradition.  Still, there are also days like this:
Keep turning on the charm, kiddo.  Maybe we'll keep you for a few more months.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sage's Corner: Turning Seven

My birthday party was on the 15th, one day before my real birthday.  I invited Cathy, Kaitlyn, Marie, Sara, Madeline, Ashlee, Jack, Sam and Ella.  First we decorated foam pumpkins.  The theme of my party was "the Olympics," so we had lots of contests like jello-eating, pinata, Twister, chinese jumprope, dancing, chinese whispers, and sock-stealing.
This is me and my friends decorating foam pumpkins with "pom-pons" (that's what they were called on the package).  And we decorated them with little shape stickers.  We wrote our names with letter stickers on the back.  We could have two, there were so many, but I didn't have time to have two. 
Here is me eating jello in the jello-eating contest.  You couldn't use your hands.  The jello was raspberry.  I won first place in the jello-eating contest.  I ate fast.  We had to wear towels so it wouldn't get on our clothes.
The pinata was purple and blue stripes.  It was shaped like a balloon 'cause it was made out of a balloon.  It was homemade.  I hit it first.
When it was pinata time, Curio was outside.  She climbed up our tree with the pinata.  When Dad made it go up and down, Curio tried to catch it.
In this picture we were playing Twister.  We couldn't sit down.  It was sweaty and hard.

I got a little package of string and beads to make bracelets and necklaces.  Some were shaped like sweet things, like bubble gum, ice cream, just a candy, and a cupcake.  I also got Clue Jr. and a Tinkerbell water paint set.  I got a card to go to the mall and build a Build-a-Bear--it was from Cathy--and a Webkinz platypus.  I named her Patty.  That's all the presents I want to mention.

I'm done. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ian's Corner: Update

Check out The Poem of Mossflower (October 19)--it's finished now.

Monday, November 10, 2008


It started with the scale: I'd earned enough reward points from my law school research provider to garner a high-tech scale that not only measured weight down to a tenth of a pound, but also used electrical impulses to measure body water, body fat, and body mass index.  The scale told me I was overweight, that I had been for some time, and that my body was going to remain in a holding pattern between 197 and 200 pounds for the foreseeable future.  I'd made occasional efforts to exercise (when I remembered) and watch what I ate (when I felt like it), but the difficult reality was that my body was accustomed to weighing what it did, and had gotten quite good at absorbing sporadic attempts to push it out of stasis.

This year, January 1st came and went without my having decided on a desirable, attainable goal.  I had thought of making another effort at losing weight and making the most of my physical prime while it lasted, but I just couldn't see how this year would be any different.  I talked about this with my friend Dave and he gave me some very wise advice: Achievable change comes not so much from changing our natures, but rather by setting up a system that anticipates and compensates for our failings.  Self-control was going to be my weakness; how could I plan around it?

At Dave's suggestion, the first thing I did was set up a system of accountability--I spent the better part of a Sunday afternoon drawing a chart that measured both my weight and the remaining weeks in the year.  My first rule was that no matter what I did during the week, I would have to weigh myself every Saturday morning and mark it on the chart.  That would make it harder for me to ignore any sustained period of ineffectiveness.  I read somewhere that you could lose a pound per week by maintaining a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day, so I thought that losing 25 pounds over 50 weeks was an achievable goal.  I agreed with K. that the reward for attaining my goal by the end of the year would be a trip to visit my friends Dave and Steve--I told both of them to make the goal less tentative and more actualized.  I posted the chart on the wall next to my closet, where I would see it at the beginning and end of every day.

To run up a daily caloric deficit, I tried to think of a daily exercise that I would be able to sustain habitually.  Past experience had shown me that the gym was usually too far away to make a gym membership a reliable habit, but there was a 22-story stairwell right outside my office, so my plan was to get to work half an hour early every day and walk the stairs before starting the day.  Best of all, I found out that walking up stairs, minute-per-minute, burns calories faster than just about any other form of exercise (including running).  I planned to get a cheap CD player and listen to books while I exercised every morning.

My office was on the 16th floor, so my routine was to walk up to the landing on the 23rd floor, walk all the way down to the ground floor, and then walk all the way back up to 16.  After this got easier, I started to do this once in the morning and once before leaving for home.  Then I consolidated my efforts into a single, 30-minute workout (two whole trips up and down), first thing in the morning.  By late summer I was able to run up three flights of stairs, two or three steps at a time, without getting winded.

On the diet side, I tried to think of an easy thing to give up, so I cut out butter-as-a-condiment.  This meant that I could still eat things that had been cooked-in/cooked-with butter or margarine, but I couldn't add it to bread or rolls or anything I prepared for myself.  After a few months I got impatient with my progress, so I gave up candy for the rest of the year.  I could still eat cookies, desserts, and things with chocolate baked into them, so this was actually a pretty easy vow to take.  Lest I sound too independent, K. helped immeasurably by planning meals that were low on carbs and animal fats and high in whole grains and legumes.

You can see from the chart that I had two weight spikes: the first one coincided exactly with the visit from both sides of the family for Ian's baptism, and the second one followed a trip to see K's family in Michigan.  One might argue that family is bad for your health, but I think it's more reasonable to conclude that visits with family are simply altered states that disrupt personal habits for good or ill.  Staring at the second spike, I decided I needed to accelerate my weight loss in order to meet my goal by the end of the year, so I did five push-ups and started adding a single push-up per weekday until I was up to sixty a night.  K. tells me I should start to ease off.

Last month, having plateaued a few pounds above my goal and starting to get impatient, I added the arbitrary rule that I could only eat one serving at dinner--I could put as much food as I wanted onto the plate, but there was no going back for seconds or thirds, and no snacks afterwards.  This was the real breakthrough: after all my efforts to eat responsibly throughout the day, I'm pretty sure I was undoing most of my work through third helpings and late-night snacking.  Once I added this last limitation the last few pounds went pretty quick.

Reaching my goal has been sort of anticlimactic because I've seen it coming for so long.  There was no hail-mary pass or last-minute turnaround because I've been repeating the same simple things over and over again.  From this year's experience I take away the following lessons: 
1. Charts that show measurable progress can be a powerful way to visualize and motivate.
2. Once you force yourself to measure your progress, you become more and more willing to make sacrifices in the name of achieving your goal.
3. There is little that cannot be accomplished by forming a simple, faithful habit.

That's enough sermonizing for one night.  Next goal is 160 pounds, which will take me completely out of the overweight range for the first time in my adult life.  See you there.

Meet the New Boss

Borrowing a page from our civic-minded friends, the Seals, we held an election-themed family home evening last week in which various members of the family campaigned and voted for important positions like Brownie-Giver-Outer, Official Tickler and Emperor of the Family. As the incumbent, I thought I had this last one in the bag, but ended up in a tight race with a promising young candidate several decades my junior. I argued, somewhat persuasively, that despite my distinguished opponent's many inspiring qualities, a vote for me was a vote for superior experience in enacting and enforcing the rules of the household. I emphasized my superior height, my comparative advantage when it came to hand size (making the spanking option a viable deterrent), my years of service to the family, and my history of working across the aisle with Mom in matters of familial importance. Ian displayed great skill as an orator (really, he did), making compelling promises without describing in great detail his qualifications for office.

Despite my best efforts, a late poll showed us neck and neck, with Ian galvanizing the hitherto apathetic youth vote and me maintaining a tenuous hold on voters ages 9 through 32. After a second round of speeches--really a rehash of points already raised--I lost the all-important soccer mom demographic and Ian rode a popular mandate to victory, becoming the family's newest Emperor-elect. Even in my defeat, I really can't see how an untested candidate with no executive experience was able to defeat a proven leader with little more than a glowing vision of change and hope. I'm no great lover of either major party, but maybe you see where I'm going with this.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Altogether Ooky

So there's this local tradition where kids are supposed to dress up in costumes and demand candy from strangers. In Connecticut, where I grew up, there was a similar holiday called Halloween, and it was held on October 31. Where we live now, they practice something similar, except it starts around October 20, and the candy-eating lasts until about Thanksgiving. First, there is the making of costumes. Then, there is the making of a second set of costumes for the school parades--don't ask me why the kids can't just go in their trick-or-treating costumes, but our school assigns themes like "Environment," "The Human Body," and "Politics" which may or may not be compatible with your own Halloween themes (e.g. "What Your Sister Wore Last Year" and "This Was On Sale").

The first night of trick-or-treating occurs sometime in the last week of October, and takes place in a church parking lot. This allows your children pass through an entire cycle of sugar highs and lows before Halloween even begins, thus insuring that their sugar crash after October 31 will be all the more spectacular.

Speaking of crashes, K. and I sacrificed a couple of white shirts and went as a couple of grownup boogeymen--Global Warming and the Economy:
And yes, we're aware that K. looks pretty morose in this picture. In light of our gloomy statistics we were both supposed to be frowning, but I forgot to turn off my default picture settings. Our disparate faces still make sense if you pretend that K. is a polar bear and I am a bankruptcy attorney.

We hoped to grow our own pumpkins this year, but we didn't water them enough and the biggest grew to about the size of a baseball. Instead, we bought some from a small farm located smack in the middle of an upscale neighborhood near our house. For family home evening K. helped Lucy carve her trick-or-treating monster, Sage and I carved a ghost, and Ian carved "two Pokemon and two Musms." Ian just explained to me that "Musm" is his own term for a Mutant Organism. I was lucky enough to find a pumpkin shaped like Boris Karloff, so my carving pretty much took care of itself. (Trivial Aside: Did you know that Boris Karloff's real name was William Pratt? Also, he wore lifts. What a faker.)

I forgot to comment on the kids' costumes. Nora was our fourth child to wear the (suprisingly clean) white unicorn costume, Lucy wore Sage's Sleeping Beauty dress, Sage was a very winsome cheerleader, and Ian went as the Invisible Pedestr--er, I mean--the Grim Reaper. Not pictured is the plastic scythe that completed his eerie look. More that a few houses saw Ian's featureless shroud peering through the front window while slowly tapping it with his scythe. It suprises me that he didn't get more candy.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Ian's Corner: The Poem of Mossflower

[Update:  The last three verses you see were added on today (November 16), but I made them a week ago.]

One day I was bored. I started drafting Valentine's Day poems but got bored of that, so I started a Redwall poem. Redwall is basically like Medieval-time stories but with animals. There are different books. I was writing the poem about the book Mossflower. Here's what I wrote so far; I have three verses to go.

Oh, this is the tale of a victory
Over vermin men;
And if you really want me to
I'll sing it oe'r again.

(Chorus) Dah mah nah nuh nah nut nah!

The tale's of Martin the Warrior;
A sturdy-built young mouse,
And though he wasn't wealthy,
He lived in an abbey house!


He battled Kotir soldiers
With his teeth and paws,
Which later would outpower
Tsarmina's wrath and claws!


He was put in Kotir dungeons
With Gonff the mousythief,
Who let them both escape from there,
And gave them great relief!


They joined the mice of Loamhedge,
And Bella of Brockhall,
Then hired Chibb the robin
To spy oe'r Kotir walls!


They joined a mole named Dinny,
To look for the mount of fire,
To search for Boar the fighter,
Of whom they just might hire!


At Kotir they discovered this,
And sent three soldiers out,
To capture the three travelers,
Once they had found their route!


The travelers, they marched steadily on,
Though they had noticed them,
The soldiers, when they found a pond,
They lost one of their friends!


The soldiers, though they lost a comrade,
They fought gamely on;
The trav'lers found a young shrew boatman,
Who invited them on!


After a waterfall crash,
To Bat Moundpit they went;
And after they found Marshgreen's tribe,
To northwest they were sent!


They found a beach with seagulls many,
An' shifting sands abide;
They found the mount of fire
On the beach's sandy side!


Guided by the hare,
They entered the mountain of fire;
Then met old Boar the fighter,
A strong and noble sire!


Boar questioned Martin's broken blade;
Martin lent him it,
Boar used a piece of falling star
To forge and make it fit!


They fought a band of sea rats
Who set up an ambush;
They sailed away in their ship,
(It took a little push)!


**They sailed on back to Mossflower
To win the woodland back;
The woodlanders, they saw the ship
And thought 'twas an attack!


They flooded Kotir first and then
They mounted an attack;
Martin slew Tsarmina Greeneyes
And won the woodland back!


So if you're passing by those woods
Those glades of woodland green,
Remember that they weren't always
The best you've ever seen!

(Chorus and Finale)
[Editor's Note: Ian started writing this poem two days ago. As you can see from the photo below, they only changes I made were to add capitalization to the beginning of lines and to some of the proper nouns. Everything else is pure Ian. Looks like we have another writer in the family.]

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Lucy's Corner: Happy to Be Here

Our cannonball of happiness had a birthday this week. We got a video of her waking up, freshly 4 years old, but I have an unhappy hunch that it is too long to upload successfully. So instead, here are a few pictures of our lovely Lucy Q on her big day.

Here, she's happily doing a puzzle at the library.

I love so many things about Lucy, all of which are reflected in this photo. She's talking on the phone, ogling her big cake, and wearing a dress that proclaims "CHEERFUL". She's such an amazingly friendly, energetic and yes, cheerful kid. And she's been talking about when she would eat her cake for days in advance of her birthday...

This last photo was two days later, but I'll include it in the birthday montage. She's the first of our kids to be in any kind of organized sport, and we're enjoying it greatly. The coaches have one game they play with the kids in which the coaches "try" to kick the kids' balls away from them. It cracked me up when Lucy and another little friend went to the edge of the practice square, squatted whispering for a minute, and then covered their balls with their shirts. They were such a cute little pair, thinking they were outwitting the big guys.

We sure love our Lucy!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Very Sketchy

It might be an uphill battle, but I'd always hoped that we might instill in our kids a desire to be not simply passive consumers of childish diversions, but producers as well. I'm half convinced that children come wired for creativity already, and only succumb to mindless viewings of Disney, Barbie, and Pokemon with the tacit permission of their parents. Parenting is time-consuming and difficult, and passive consumption is a tempting choice when you're looking for the path of least resistance. Thank heaven for Sunday, when church and quiet time push our children onto the road less traveled out of sheer boredom.

Lucy drew the [above] picture of Curio a few weeks back--K. and I were surprised to find that she was finally drawing representational art that we could recognize. A week or so later she drew Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber, and the French Peas:
Derivative work, but still pretty good, right? My personal favorite is on the bottom row, third from the left.

A couple Sundays back I amused myself with this cartoon:
Drawing anthropomorphic balloons was something of an artistic breakthrough for me. By limiting my range to circles and lines, I too could be a famous cartoonist!(And in all seriousness, do yourself a favor and never watch Killer Klowns From Outer Space. When it comes to mental images, I find some truth in the saying that you forget the things you want to remember and remember the things you want to forget.)

Ian has been re-reading the first Harry Potter and today penned a comic about Harry's lesser-known relation, Jack. [click to enlarge]Characters named "Jack" turn up in a lot of Ian's stories. I guess we all have our favorite fictional names. When I taught high school grammar, "Leroy Brown" became the subject of many model sentences.

Sage liked my balloon cartoon and came up with her own.It always interests me to see how well we reveal our true natures in the things we create. Please note that Sage's cartoon has many pictures of dogs, friends, and smiles, and draw your own conclusions.

It's funny how often creativity springs from limitations. The poet Richard Wilbur wrote very structured poems in a time when free verse had become the norm, but explained that "the Genie gets his power from being trapped in the bottle." When you have absolute freedom, filling a blank piece of paper can be very daunting, but impose a few arbitrary limitations and suddenly your mental energies have a channel through which to flow. Maybe that's why I'm having so much fun with my balloon people, and why it's becoming easier to sketch an autobiographical cartoon than it is to actually write in my journal.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Traveling Light

We're back from a week of camping which means, as my friend Dave puts it, that we will now be doing laundry "for the rest of our natural lives." Whenever I tell people at work that I spent my precious time away from work going camping with my four children, they have tended to be incredulous or say things like: "Wow. You're brave." K. and I get the "wow-you're-brave" response to a lot of things--having four kids by our early 30s might have something to do with it--and it gets tiring when you realize that what the response really means is "I sort of admire you but not really because a normal person would not have made the choice you made."

When people have asked why we go camping, my stock response is to admit that while I enjoy camping as much as the next boy scout, my wife is the driving force behind these trips, and I think that's a pretty accurate statement. My inner aesthete likes untamed nature, but it also likes showers and sofas and carpet and all kinds of things that you can't get in the wild, so while I'm amenable to camping, I'm less likely to suggest it on my own. K. wants our kids to form the kinds of good memories and associations that she formed while camping with her own family, but has also realized that, as a child, she was spared most of the extra costs of camping that naturally fall on parents. I have no great love for the logistics of packing, unpacking, and endless cleaning, but I guess a big part of being the grown-up is accepting that you are the one who needs to suck it up and do unpleasant things for the good of others. Then you get to watch your children play in the sand:
Sherando Lake in the George Washington National Forest has a shallow beachfront full of imported sand, and I think it's safe to say that Ian and Sage could have spent the whole trip there, in and out of the water. Ian continues to be fearless when it comes to water, and Sage with her ever-present floaties will go just about anywhere he will. Lucy was often the odd one out, unfortunately, but campaigned tirelessly until she was adopted into one play group or another. Nora, still a novice wader, needed a little more convincing:
There was an island not too far off the shore, still shallow enough for a walk although I preferred to swim.
Our first day at the camp a friendly old man named Henry Alan came over and offered us his extra firewood and showed Sage the proper way to roast a hotdog. I was reminded how good it is to be back in the South where first reactions are often less guarded and hospitality seems to come more naturally. Henry, his wife and grandson were traveling from North Carolina to a VA hospital in Richmond where they hoped to save Henry's arm from infection and possible amputation. I hope they did.
Mid-way through the camping week we took the kids on their first real hike up a mountain. We wisely chose to take this picture early in the hike, when spirits were high and countenances were still bright.
This is* how we completed our ascent to the craggy peak of Humpback Rocks.

Even the kids agreed that the view from the top was worth the climb. We had a fine picnic and soaked up the countryside.

A thunderstorm dumped on us all night, but the next day everyone pulled together and scrounged up enough dry wood to roast a delicious foil dinner.
Taking a baby camping is an exercise in futility, because there is absolutely no place you can leave them where they will not make an unholy mess of themselves. In one of her rare clean moments, Nora got religion.
For several years now, my homing instinct has pointed back to Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains, but I think this trip may mark the the turning point in my geographic re-orientation. Coming back to Virginia used to feel like coming home, but this time I felt more out of place, like someone walking into their childhood home only to find that someone else is living there. Maybe it's true that we have no home but the present, and can revisit our past only as strangers. In general I think that it's better to be pulled towards the future than mired in the past, but for whatever reason I've found that lesson increasingly bittersweet. What is it about this world that makes me so restless even while I long to be at rest?

*definitely not