Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I arrived at my precinct at 4:45am to find a line already formed in the lobby area. By the time we opened for voting at 6:00am, the lines were extreme. We handled an optical scan machine going down, then a touchscreen machine going down, and we processed an incredible number of voters in the first three hours the polls were open. After the morning rush, we saw a steady but manageable stream of voters. Spirits were high, as was turnout - we saw over 60% of our eligible voters come through the door today, and that doesn't include the record high number of absentee voters.

At 7:00pm, we closed the doors and began the closing process. Two hours (and a little more) later, we completed our work, calling in Democratic victories across the board that contributed to turning Virginia blue in this election. Our little precinct was jumping today, and I was so proud to be a part of it.

I came home absolutely pumped to watch the returns, and I had a feeling that perhaps I wouldn't go to bed wondering who our next President would be. Eric and I shared a bottle of Virginia wine and some dark chocolate m&m's and spent the night watching returns come through on MSNBC and Comedy Central. We opted for CNN for the President-Elect's speech in Grant Park as it was coming through in HD.

I was a bit choked up and feeling the power of the moment leading up to the speech, but that was nothing compared to the power of seeing President-Elect Obama and his family greet the crowd at Grant Park. I said to Eric, "Look at this. They don't look like us, and yet they completely look like us." As President-Elect Obama spoke, I just plain lost it. I spent nearly 17 hours today working to make this election a positive experience for thousands of voters. I, along with close to a dozen other election officers, succeeded; I know we did. I watched the fruits of that labor from my living room tonight, and I watched my dearest hopes of this campaign season edge ever closer to reality.

I have said to friends over the past several months that I fervently wanted Anna and Tessa's first conscious memory of a U.S. President to be of Barack Obama and all the promise he brings to the office. Well, here it is, and I couldn't be happier about it. It's not hyperbole to say that I feel as though the sun has begun to rise after years of dark days, and I am incredibly optimistic about my girls' future in a way I haven't been before tonight. Inspiration,'s all there in this guy. It's time to get out there and help get it done.

But first, I'm going to get a good night's sleep. It's been one hell of a long day.


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

It's 4:37am, and I'm just about to head out the door to go to my local precinct, where I will spend the next 17 or so hours. I was so worried about sleeping through my 2 alarms this morning that I kept waking up every half hour or so. But I'm pumped, ready to get this thing going at long last. I have a cooler full of snacks and drinks and an awesome husband who's going to bring me a yummy hot sandwich from Panera that may or may not still be hot when I get to eat it. I don't know what kind of break schedule I'll be on, but I'll try to send updates during the day via Twitter (lizeta).

If you haven't already, go vote.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus

From the Washington Post on Sunday:

Tysons Mall Not a Grinch Anymore: Protests Lead to a Deal for Longtime Santa

Tysons Corner Center and Santa -- a.k.a. Michael Graham -- reached agreement in principle to return him to the Santaland in the Fairfax County mall where he has dazzled tens of thousands of children for 18 years, both sides said. After an angry and impassioned outcry that included thousands of e-mails, phone calls, an online petition and the threat of a boycott, the mall reversed course, giving the drama a happy ending that seemed to have been snatched from the screenplay of "Miracle on 34th Street."

So we'll be there, red dresses and black patent leather shoes and all! Of course, all this means that we're probably looking at even longer lines than usual...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cause one at a time doesn't always cut it

I joined Army of Women today. Army of Women is a national organizational movement designed to bring more women into the breast cancer research fold. From their FAQ's:

"Like many women, Dr. Susan Love was becoming increasingly frustrated by our not having made more progress in figuring out what causes breast cancer and how to prevent it. Scientists told her that they did not know how to find the women who would be interested in taking part in the studies that were needed to end this disease. Dr. Love realized the problem wasn’t that women didn’t want to participate in these studies, but that they didn’t know that they were needed. In short order, the idea was born of an Army of Women ready to serve science."

"Women who are interested register on the Love/Avon Army of Women website, providing very basic information such as name, age, city, and state of residence. Army staff notify volunteers via email about studies that need volunteers. These emails describe the study, criteria to participate, and what is involved. Women who fit the criteria respond to the email to express their interest. Army staff then contact these women to let them know how to take part."

Before you guys get all up in my grill:

"We are starting with women since breast cancer is more common in women. After the initiative gets underway, we will consider adding men. Meanwhile men can support the initiative by donating to the Army of Women, purchasing a pendant, and encouraging women they know to take part."

I have no family history of breast cancer. With any luck, I'll never have breast cancer. With more than luck - with full-speed-ahead research and innovative work on prevention and cures - maybe my daughters will never have to worry about getting breast cancer. I think it's safe - and sad - to say that we all know someone (or more than one someone) who's been affected by breast cancer. This is another way to get involved, and I'm all over it. If you have two X chromosomes, please think about signing up.


Say it ain't so, Santa!

Anna and Tessa have never visited any Santa but this one, and he's the best Santa I've ever encountered. It's a silly thing, probably, but I've been more than happy to drive the extra few miles to visit this guy over the one in our closer-to-home mall. I was already looking forward to this year's visit, as Mr. Graham is a delight with the kids. I tried to call Tysons this morning to register displeasure, but the lines are busy. Go figure.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Powerful Stuff.

Look, I know that by letting a few of my political rantings and ravings slip through here, I'm going against my intention for what this blog would be - basically, a chronicle of the girls' lives seen through the filter of their mom. But as this election approaches, I have realized something.

I voted in the last Presidential election when Anna was a mere 6 weeks old. We walked over to our polling location and waited in line for a long time, but my vote was important to me. Four years and another beautiful daughter later, there's more going on in my head this time around. My vote isn't just for me anymore. It's for Anna and Tessa, too. With every attempt not to be cliched about this, I honestly feel that I'm voting for their future, their well-being, their prosperity. I'm not so naive as to think that one change in the administration will bring all this about, but I do believe that we're on the cusp of something huge here. I also believe that the fork in the road offers two pretty distinct choices.

Something I read today nailed it for me. I'm probably preaching to the choir for most of the people who read my ramblings, and no-one reading this will be surprised to hear that I support Barack Obama over John McCain for a whole host of reasons. But this, by way of Dooce, put one of those reasons into perfect focus. I couldn't have said it any better myself, I'm glad I don't have the personal experience of this writer to need to say it, and I hope with every fiber of my being that my girls never have the need for this argument.

That's enough out of me. Be well.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dear Anna: Four Years

Dear Anna,

Last month, you turned four years old. Four years old! In all likelihood, you'll be in kindergarten this time next year, a fact that comes pretty close to blowing my mind. But I'm not writing to tell you how the last four years have gone faster than I'd ever have imagined. Or to elaborate on your many developments - new skills, new understandings. These things will all likely become evident as I write, instead, about your birthday celebrations.

Heaven forbid you have just one - no! We began with a party with your class at school on your actual birthday. The in-house cook pulled together brownies, ice cream, and lemonade for your class (and Tessa, who was delighted by the ice cream cup). Your school has a strict nut-free policy, and, rather than ban parents from bringing in various treats that may or may not have bumped into a peanut at some point, they've instituted a party-planning service of sorts within the school's kitchen. It's great and makes planning a low-key celebration for 30 preschoolers - dare I say? - manageable.

So Daddy and I added on party hats and pinwheel favors and - voila! - instant birthday party. You, as the fortunate birthday girl, were the recipient of - not a brownie (although you ate one of those anyway) - but a giant cookie with sprinkles! Even you couldn't finish it.

A few days later, with Grandma C. in town, we went to your party at the local bounce house. You were joined by some friends (a few from school, a few not) and spent a very happy couple of hours bouncing and sliding and wearing yourself out before being ushered into the Party Room for pizza and cake. The cake design was a closely-guarded secret, and you were delighted to see Ariel smiling coyly up at you, complete with a few candles sticking out of her hair.

The Party Room is quite the scene. There's a long table where the kids congregate for their pizza and cake, and every child seems magnetically drawn there when they get into the room, despite the large throne also in the room. Yes, the throne. It's the seat of honor for the birthday child at various points during the party, and it dwarfs most honorees, no matter how much cake they eat.

That same evening, we corralled your gifts so you could bury yourself in a frenzy of wrapping paper and celebrated once more, at home, with just the 'rents, Tessa, and Grandma C. I think your favorite gift was the stuffed Dumbo - and his pal Timothy T. Mouse - the first present you specifically requested when quizzed ahead of time about your birthday gift desires. After the Great Present Unveiling, we had a (relatively) quiet dinner together. And, yes, I made the homemade cake for that dinner.

I love this cake, and there remains something meaningful and important to me in baking you a birthday cake. I wouldn't want to bake one for a bazillion screaming 4-year-olds. I wouldn't want to transport one from home to the location of your party and risk its destruction at the hands of one hard stop.

But I do love the mechanics of this project - starting up the mixer, pulling out the cake pans, enjoying the cake smell that pervades the house while it's in the oven, whipping up the frosting, and icing the cooled product. All this is truly done out of immense love for you. It's been so since your first birthday, and I imagine it will be so for many birthdays to come, certainly well past the point when it's cool to have your mom make your birthday cake, pink sprinkles or not.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Dear Tessa: Unbirthday

Dear Tessa,

Your big sister turned four years old a few weeks ago. You're just old enough to get involved with celebrations and just young enough not to care that you aren't the center of the party and the one getting all the presents. My best guess is that this will last approximately another two months, just in time for you to share in the Christmas explosion of wrapping paper and your second birthday less than two months later.

You attended Anna's birthday parties at school (brownies, ice cream, and party hats - hooray!) and at the local bounce place, where we entertained a smaller group of sugar-fed four-year-olds for a few hours. You were the consummate guest - riding the slide with Daddy or me, not planting your sweet little fist into the Ariel cake we procured for Anna's delight, and then shoveling cake and frosting in like a pro.

In other news, you started coming home from day care with fine little geysers of ponytails on your head. Two, with an immaculate part between them. I'll admit this hit me where my mommy inadequacy resides, so I took up the task as well. Your hair grew in very differently than your sister's; you both had fine, silky baby hair that came in blonde with just a hint of strawberry. Anna's came in over her face, rendering her a tiny Cousin It by the time she was 14 months old. We've been on regular haircuts ever since. Your hair grew down the back, leaving your face unobscured, and I will resist your first haircut as long as humanly possible.

I've since learned that the perfect part produced at day care is the result of your hairdresser getting your hair damp first - it's just too fine to actually part cleanly otherwise - which makes me feel a little better. There was that one morning when I got your little fountains installed while you were fully on the move. I was so proud of myself but was dismayed to learn later that, when Daddy picked you up at day care, the teachers asked him with raised eyebrows whether he had done your hair that morning. Now I try to catch you when you're having breakfast in your high chair.

You're almost 20 months old. You'll be two before I know what happened, and the last vestiges of this baby stage will be gone. I feel every day like I'm trying to grasp onto a stream of water in wishing I could make this last longer. Even though I know how much fun stuff is yet to come - Anna is walking, talking, singing proof of that - I am so afraid of forgetting what a joy it has been to raise you even just to this point in your life. I know the finer details will inevitably slip away over time, but I don't think I'll ever have to reach very far to remember the absolute delight.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Dear Anna: Dancing Queen

Dear Anna,

In the interest of seeing if you can focus and follow directions in an artistic setting for 45 minutes and of seeing if you like it at all (or if we should give up entirely and go for rumblin' tumblin' gymnastics), we enrolled you in a Tiny Tu-Tus "ballet" class at one of the county rec centers; it began earlier this month. You had the privilege of missing the second class for your birthday party (more on that in another letter), but the first class was, well, interesting.

You were all about your beautiful ballerina outfit. You were so excited to go to ballerina class. You're even still excited about going to ballerina class, despite your experience of the first class. Mistake #1 - we arrived too early. You were pasted to the window of the class studio, watching the younger set in their class, all the while getting antsier and antsier about starting your class. Mistake #2 - we did not plan on a substantial snack before your class. Your class that begins at 12noon. You were famished and none too pleased about it. You didn't realize in the moment that you were hungry; you just knew you weren't about to follow all those directions and fall in line with the other teeny ballerinas.

Oh, you started out just fine. Cute personified, raising your arms up and turning around. I watched from outside the studio - your first such activity without parent participation! But as the class wore on, you petered out. By the end of the class, while the other wee tufts of pink were happily dancing around holding hands in a circle, you were firmly planted on the floor, away from the circle, glaring at me through the window as though you were a caged animal at the zoo.

Grandma is bringing you to your class on Saturday, and Daddy and I are loading her up with tips. Get there just in time. Give her a Lunchable in the car, or she might eat a ballerina. Try not to watch the full class from the other side of the window - she can sense your fear. I do think it'll be just fine - really, I do. And hey, if you don't like this one, we'll try something else in the spring. Something tells me you'd love to do somersaults for 45 minutes straight.

As a complete aside, I have to show you this picture. In the midst of your various Disney obsessions, you've become a big fan of Peter Pan. I'm shocked at the movie every time we watch it, particularly at the now-considered-appalling portrayals of Native Americans (whom you refer to as the "scary sweethearts" - ??). But you love the adventure and the villainy and the crocodile and Michael's little teddy bear. I took this picture one evening right after you watched the movie and right before you went to bed.

The movie ends with a cloud version of the pirate ship, now under Peter's command, sailing away past the moon, and, in this picture, you are ardently searching the skies outside our house for the ship. You're going to lose so many of these flights of fancy and magical beliefs, but I hope you're always looking for the ship in the sky.


Dear Tessa: Not one little bit reticent

Dear Tessa,

Well, my sweet girl, you are talking. You are pointing out anything and everything that crosses your path as well as many things that don't. You began around 15 months with simple wordlike creations (still not sure how I feel about "mama" for "banana"), and now, four months later, you can create simple sentences and could land a talking head job on CNN for your running commentaries on all things great and small.

You're signing a bit, too, mostly at mealtimes, but your signs for "more" and "please" largely complement the words you've developed out of them ("mo" and "peezh"). You repeat absolutely everything, and it only takes one or two practice runs before you can pretty well count a word as part of your vocabulary.
Animals are high on the list of your words. One of your favorite books is That's Not My Monkey, which we scored on a recent outing to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Your representation of the title goes something like "At Ott I Ukkey!" When we ask you where the mouse is (a wee white mouse, friend to monkeys, makes an appearance on each page), you sometimes point, sometimes don't, but you always say, "Eeeshhaaa!" Which we take to mean, "It's there!" or "I see it!" or "Why are you wasting my time with such trivial matters as finding a mouse in a book? Good God, woman, don't you know there's a financial crisis on?"

Other words have caused Raised Eyebrow Syndrome in older strangers and Knowing Smile Syndrome in other parents of toddlers. "Ocean" comes out quite clearly as "Oh Shit," and that's all there is to say about that. Except that we are working on "sea" instead of "ocean" whenever possible until your pronunciation clears this one up a bit.

You can accurately answer most "yes" and "no" questions and haven't yet fallen into the preschooler (ahem, Anna) trap of giving false answers so as to confuse and disorient your parents. You love saying "yeah!" as though this proposition is just the best idea since nightlights. Sometimes you start in on a hearty "yeah!" and then realize that, no, you actually don't want an apple, so the answer is a delightful, "Yeaa---! Noo."

When we're reading, you like to point back and forth at various pictures - one of your favorites for this is the last page of The Going to Bed Book. The last page reads, "The moon is high; the sea is deep. They rock and rock and rock to sleep." When I'm done reading that line, you point from the moon to the boat to the sea to the air to the stars to the moon to the boat to the moon to the boat to the get the idea. And each time you point, you stop and wait for me to name that at which you're pointing. I can almost see the sponge that is your language development center soaking these labelings up, and, sure enough, out come the words shortly thereafter.

You have some extremely particular pronunciations, which probably come from our own emphasis of words we very much want you to understand. One especial favorite is "hot," which comes out with an exaggerated beginning "h" and an exclamation point of a final "t." You're getting the concept, too, which is the whole point, but it's adorable to see you lean over something at your high chair, look up at me, and slowly exclaim, "HhhoT." "Hat" gets a similar treatment, although, to be sure, the dangers inherent in your millinery aren't so great as those in an overheated batch of mac and cheese.

Lately, you've added your own name to your ever-expanding mix of words - you've answered to it for some time, but now you can label yourself: "Tesshha." You also label your most favorite possessions: "doggie" (one of the first and probably the favorite), "pashi" (paci, for pacifier, for those who prefer the "binky" terminology), and "Arieooo" (translated: Ariel, the Little Mermaid - she's your faaaavorite).

I haven't heard you talk about your toddler room classmates yet, but Anna is still "Amma," and you are most put out if she is not present for your amusement when you wake up or when we pick you up at day care. Daddy is now "Daddy" (he'll be the first to tell you that took forever), and I am Mommeeeee, which suits me just fine. You call out to us in delight when we arrive to claim you from your crib in the morning or at the end of a day care day, but it isn't until we arrive home or the restaurant or wherever we're going that it seems to sink in that we're all together, and you exclaim, very much in the tone of one making introductions in a group, "Amma! Daddy. Mommmeeeee." It's a lovely way to be rounded up at the end of the day.


Friday, September 12, 2008

When the highlight of your day is a new mousepad, perhaps it's time to go home.

It is a nice mousepad.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Dear Anna: SING, Sing out LOUD...

Dear Anna,

It will come, perhaps, as no surprise to people who know your mama that you are becoming quite the little singer. You sing everywhere - to your stuffed friends at naptime and bedtime, in the bathtub, at meals, in the car - you name it, you've sung there. Your songs are often ones you've learned at school or at home, but you also make up songs that sound remarkably like chanted liturgy - little recitatives about your activities and surroundings:

I am a baby puppy
I am playing at the pool with Tessa
Puppies play at the pool
Puppies eat canteloupe and
Puppies take baths with Tessas

You have your favorite learned songs, too, most of which are by a certain Ralph Covert, of Ralph's World fame for others in the children's music know. Ralph's songs are catchy and fun, and you're very concerned that we all have our favorites. Yours is a song called Surfin' in My Imagination. I know this because each time we get a couple of tracks from it in the car, you announce that when Surfin' comes on, you will sing Very Loud. And you do, especially on the little Beach Boys-esque vocal riff in each chorus.

You've had a few group performances - this summer's "Academy Awards" at school saw your class perform a rousing rendition of Down by the Bay. At the end of each verse, a few kids hollered out their assigned silly lines (Did you ever see a snake baking a cake?! Down by the BAY!). You got so caught up in the singing that you missed your shout-out line, and when the song was over, you were positively distraught, insisting, "They forgot me!" Oh, my little diva, you sounded beautiful to me - I heard every note.

I love that you can sing on key at this young age. I love that you learn lyrics and melodies so easily. I love that you make up your own narrative tunes. But more than these talents, I love that you love music. It's such a huge joy in my life that I could never quite imagine it not being one in yours, too. To each her own, of course, but I am over the moon every time I hear you singing a song to your little sister, or just to yourself.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

For the record...

It's been an honor and a delight watching The Daily Show's coverage of the conventions. This shouldn't surprise me in the least, but it's been just lovely. I'm currently an especially big fan of Samantha Bee's "choice" piece at the Republican convention.

And to pull from a comment I heard on NPR today, how is it that the "fake news" is the only broadcast of note to go side-by-side and back-to-back with footage of one person making completely contradictory remarks on central issues (Bill O'Reilly, I'm looking at you! Among others.)? It might be the sheer entertainment value that keeps it off the "real news," but it's some of the most telling footage I've seen through this seemingly-interminable campaign season.

Finally, let's hear it for the community organizers out there. Think you were unsung before? Hmm...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Moot Point

So, Sarah Palin. Do I really have to spell this one out? I didn't vote for Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama because of Senator Clinton's gender. I voted for Senator Obama for my own, internally-thought-out reasons, reasons with which I'm very comfortable. I'm not voting for McCain-Palin over Obama-Biden because the GOP claims to have forged ahead and shattered the glass ceiling. Last time I checked, Governor Palin stands on the opposite side of virtually every issue I hold dear - censorship, the right to choose (And can we please stop calling this pro-life and anti-abortion? I don't know anyone who's actually anti-life and pro-abortion. Let's call it what it is - pro-choice and anti-choice. Thanks.), thorough sex education for our kids in their schools, and the list goes on. Nothing on that list has a damned thing to do with her family, her choices in raising her family (there but for the grace of whatever you believe in go I), or the choices her family makes.

So let's be clear. Should McCain-Palin gain the White House in November, I will not be taking one iota of comfort or joy in the fact that a woman has attained the vice-presidency. I will be working counter to McCain-Palin's every move against my personal freedoms and those of my daughters.

Monday, July 14, 2008


Terror is getting a call at work from the babysitter taking care of your nearly-17-month-old daughter telling you that the toddler fell while loping around the kitchen, whacked the back of her head, and is now uncharacteristically drowsy and loopy. And not crying. Further terror is making the 20-30 minute drive home without the cell phone that died the day before, not knowing what your husband has now heard from the pediatrician about whether or not you'll be breaking for the ER when you get home.

Immense relief is getting home and finding your wee daughter laughing and playing her usual games, using all her words, walking steadily, and eating normally. Our babysitter (my boss's daughter! In for a temporary gig this month) handled everything beautifully, and all Ascos are breathing a big sigh of relief. Mr. Asco also came home to see Tessa's normalized state for himself. I stayed home long enough to see Tessa through lunch, read her a story, and put her down for a nap about an hour and a half after the bonk. The sitter will be peeking in on her periodically during naptime and will call me back when she's awake later.

I think my heart rate is back to something resembling normal now.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Pet Peeve

In the world of Freecycle:

When Mr. Asco and I have done a major housecleaning, and I do a huge set of offer posts to Freecycle in an effort to give away things we're no longer using (or, really, never used), I really hate when someone who doesn't get something writes back to question my deciding to give something to someone else. It's FREE STUFF, people. Come ON. Get a little more trigger-happy on the send button, or just realize that you're not going to "win" every race to the poster's inbox. Sheesh.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dear Tessa: Master & Commander

Dear Tessa,

Somehow, it's been two months since I dropped you a line here, and I have to admit - a lot of that time has been spent simply keeping up with you. The last time I wrote to you, you'd just started walking. You haven't looked back since, and now you're starting to express yourself as you cruise around the house.

Your earliest words include "Mommy" (spoken as "Mum-meeeeeee"), "mine," "apple," "Elmo," "doggie," and "Emma" (for Anna). I didn't realize what an emotional whallop it would be for me to hear you call your sister's name. You adore Anna, even when she's doing her utmost to keep you away from a toy or book she's temporarily claimed as her own. When you see her after a long day, or see a picture of her, you point, light up, laugh, and call your version of her name. And she hugs you and kisses you, and I think, there just isn't anything else in the whole world as sweet as this.

Look at you - you're walking with so much confidence. You're talking and even signing a bit to fill in the gaps where you don't yet have the words. But you're still my sweet baby with that round face and those impossibly airy curls at the back of your head. You won't be at this in-between stage for long, and I'm trying to drink up every bit.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Dear Anna: Lassoing the Moon

Dear Anna,

Sometimes the simplest moments come together with your developing understanding of the world and your uniquely three-year-old way of expressing yourself, and the result is so precious and perfect that I couldn't have possibly scripted it any better.

A couple of nights ago, we came home from an evening out. It was past your bedtime, but you were in pretty good spirits, albeit a bit tired. It had rained for much of the day, but the late afternoon and evening were gloriously clear, sunny, and warm. You ducked into the house from the front step, then turned and came back out to admire the moon. "It's a ham moon," you said, referring to the fact that when you take a bit out of the little round piece of ham in your on-the-go snack, the remaining bit looks like a crescent moon.

Then you said, "I will catch the moon when it comes down behind the houses. Before the sun comes up, I will catch the moon when it comes down." And time slowed down for just that minute and let me appreciate you in all your perfect knowledge and optimism. It let me hold that moment up against the life on which you're embarking, a life in which I know you will catch the moon and do amazing things with it.


Monday, May 5, 2008

Dear Tessa: Look Who's Walking

Dear Tessa,

Well, there it is! You took your first steps for us on Saturday, April 26th. You've been cruising with very little support for some time, but crawling is still your preferred method of getting from point A to point B. I think you stepped almost inadvertently - you were standing unsupported and seemed to forget that you were upright.

So off you toddled for a few steps before realizing your state and pitching over. Fortunately, you're still pretty low to the ground and replete with natural padding, so these topplings aren't too distressing unless you hit something (like the coffee table) on your way down.

Way to go, little walker! We'll really be chasing you soon...


Sunday, April 13, 2008

The 2007 Book List

I am SO late in putting this list up. It's been sitting on my desktop since the end of the year. The delay has nothing to do with the fact that I didn't actually make 50 books last year, really. I came close, though, and I'm still pretty proud of the list I compiled last year, especially given the arrival of one sweet little baby Tessa and the continuation of two salaried jobs. People, it's a wonder I read anything but street signs. Without further ado, here's the list. My favorites are in bold.

1. Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons – Lorna Landvik
2. The Guy Not Taken – Jennifer Weiner
3. The Golden Compass – Philip Pullman
4. Ruby in the Smoke – Philip Pullman
5. Shadow in the North – Philip Pullman
6. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott (re-read)
7. March – Geraldine Brooks
8. The Known World – Edward P. Jones
9. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
10. Fever Pitch – Nick Hornby
11. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith (re-read)
12. Tiger in the Well – Philip Pullman
13. Out to Canaan – Jan Karon
14. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk – Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
15. A New Song – Jan Karon
16. In This Mountain – Jan Karon
17. The Other Boleyn Girl – Philippa Gregory
18. Getting a Life: Stories – Helen Simpson
19. A Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks
20. B is for Burglar – Sue Grafton
21. The Sunday Philosophy Club – Alexander McCall Smith
22. A Death in Belmont – Sebastian Junger
23. True History of the Kelly Gang – Peter Carey
24. Tears of the Giraffe – Alexander McCall Smith
25. Stardust – Neil Gaiman
26. A Piece of Normal – Sandi Kahn Shelton
27. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – JK Rowling (re-read)
28. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – JK Rowling
29. Baby Proof – Emily Giffin
30. Morality for Beautiful Girls – Alexander McCall Smith
31. Summer at Tiffany – Marjorie Hart
32. Veil of Roses – Laura Fitzgerald
33. The Kalahari Typing School for Men – Alexander McCall Smith
34. The Full Cupboard of Life – Alexander McCall Smith
35. The Big Rumpus – Ayun Halliday
36. In the Company of Cheerful Ladies – Alexander McCall Smith
37. Blue Shoes and Happiness – Alexander McCall Smith
38. Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
39. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive – Alexander McCall Smith
40. The Sunflower – Simon Wiesenthal
41. The Dispossessed – Ursula K. LeGuin
42. To Feel Stuff – Andrea Seigel
43. The Fourth Bear – Jasper Fforde
44. The Spiderwick Chronicles Book One: The Field Guide – Holly Black
45. The Stupidest Angel – Christopher Moore
46. The Birth of Venus – Sarah Dunant
47. Winkie – Clifford Chase

I'm behind the pace for 2008 so far, too, but I'm confident...

Dear Anna: Butterflies

Dear Anna,

Today, we went the National Museum of Natural History because we wanted you - little miss butterfly princess herself - to see the real live butterflies flying around the museum's special exhibit. You were the very picture of patience as we waited to enter the walk-through butterfly house. Before we went in, an entymologist briefed us on the house - careful where you step, don't try to touch the butterflies, etc. In we all went, and the display didn't disappoint. You were enthralled by the vast numbers of butterflies, their pretty colors, and their equally colorful environment.


One butterfly flew your way and landed right on your face. It was the first time in your whole life I have heard you scream in fear, and your little face was all saucers for eyes and terror as you grabbed on to me. I knelt down by you and told you that the nice butterfly had just wanted to give you a kiss and didn't mean to scare you. You were not entirely convinced.

But, later, you acknowledged that, yes, the butterfly did kiss you, and it was a little scary, but you were okay. And then you ate an enormous butterfly cookie, which may or may not have been a warning to butterflies to watch where they land next time.


Dear Anna & Tessa!

Dear Anna and Tessa,

Well, my beloved girls, I'm changing up the way I write to you. Here's the deal. I work on keeping lists of all the cool stuff you do month-to-month (quarter-to-quarter for Anna) and then try to recall every last little bit when I write your letters. Anna's last letter was such a huge challenge because there was just so much to tell. So from here on out, I'm off a schedule. I'm going to write to one or both of you when events warrant and when the mood strikes. As a result, I think you'll find much shorter letters, yes, but also letters that contain more detail about what I'm trying to capture for you. I hope this works for you!


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dear Anna: Month 42

Dear Anna,

When I decided I would write you a letter every three months instead of every month, I thought I was doing myself a favor - that it would be easier to keep up somehow. Ha! You are a constant whirlwind of activity and change and funny stories, and I can barely remember every little thing long enough to jot it down on my list for your letter. (You'll only wear dresses. You love blueberries and Welch's Fruit Snacks and ice cream. You can write your name and Tessa's. You're putting more words together. You're figuring out child-proofing devices. Ack!) But, nonetheless, here we go. You turned three and a half earlier this month, and you are ever more an independent-minded, crazy, wonderful little person.

For the first time, you've started consistently testing the limits of bedtime. We tend to allow you some activity post lights-out (well, not the butterfly night-light), but your recent ventures have gone everywhere from bouncing off the walls - quite literally - to reading out loud to your stuffed animals to banging on the door to be escorted to the potty. We tried allowing you free egress for a while, but we started to worry about wearing out the hinge on your door after the first few nights. We might be getting there again soon, though, as you've made incredible strides in your potty-training and can now do everything start to finish on your own.

These past few months marked an entry into food projects, largely centered around holidays. Our busy weeks don't translate to you helping to make dinner (although you're very helpful about bringing your plate to the sink when you're done!). We did make some cut-out Christmas cookies and decorate them, and just a couple of weeks ago you helped dye your first batch of Easter eggs. We talked about what colors you liked and which colors could be combined to make new colors, and you put stickers and drawings all over our beautiful eggs, which we then displayed on the kitchen table in a round vase, where you can always see the egg with your name on it.

You received a kid-friendly digital camera for Christmas and have been a little household paparazzi every time you take it out. It was pure magic to you at the beginning - you would take a picture, pause, look at the screen, and chuckle to yourself, "There you are..." It would be downright creepy if you weren't three and having such a good time.

Music is becoming a bigger part of your life. You've always enjoyed it, but lately it's become painfully obvious that you have a good ear for lyrics and melodies. It started innocently enough with our playing at the piano. I showed you the A-G scale, and you were adamant that H still came after G, even on a piano. We sorted that out, and you can generally plunk out A through G and then begin at A again, occasionally even on the right keys. Sundays generally find me singing with our church chorale, and you are a bit of a mascot, sitting with the group during warm-ups before going to your preschool class. A few weeks ago, as you were settling into your Sunday afternoon nap, I heard you singing to yourself and realized after a moment that you were replicating our warm-up scales.

But by far the most entertaining aspect of your newfound vocal skills is hearing you sing songs you've come across during your day, either during dance time at school or while riding in the car with Daddy or me. You're too young to know what some of the more complex lyrics mean. When you sing, "L is for the way you look at me, O is for the only one I see..." or "It's all right, I'll be fine, don't worry about this heart of mine, just take your love and hit the road," there's some sense that you might know what's going on there. But when you came out with "Them baggy sweatpants, Reeboks with the straps, she turned around and gave that big booty a smack, she hit the floor, next thing you know, Shawty got low low low low low low low," I was ever so grateful that we can move on from this song without your ever comprehending its actual meaning. And yes, for the record, I'm far more amused than mortified.

Beyond singing, you're talking a blue streak. You run a constant narration of everything around you, and the turns of phrase you've adopted are really cute and often very funny. For a while, I became "mimama," and you figured out how to keep me close at bedtime with a well-placed "Don't go, Mommy!" At school, your teachers tell you that you are great and fine, and we've adopted this as well. You tell us, though, that you are just fine and that it's your best friend Nora who is great. When you're putting on your shoes, you'll start to put a shoe on a foot, pause, and ask, "Yes? Or no?" You sound like a tiny Heidi Klum. Here's a sampling of other things you've said I don't ever want to forget:

"Oh, that's not good..."
"The blueberry is nice and juicy, Mama?"
"We have to go to the drunk store." (CVS - the drug store)
"I used to nurse on Mama but I'm a big girl now." (to whomever will listen)
"Nufting." (translated - Nothing)

Your pretend play has taken off, too. You transform in a moment to whatever captures your fancy. Lately, this is either a doggy, a butterfly, a fairy, or a princess - or some combination thereof. You now accessorize to play the part, too. When your father and I went away for a weekend trip recently, you requested that we bring you back a butterfly ring, presumably so you could better be the butterfly. I found you a princess crown at Target not too long ago; when you put it on, you decided you needed to see the effect in the mirror. To say you were over the moon about the effect would be a complete understatement. You've gotten into the classic (old and new) Disney movies big time; your favorites are The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, and 101 Dalmatians. No wonder - princess, fairy, doggy...there they all are.

You adore your little sister. In case you're reading this at a time when you find her the very bane of your adolescent existence, let me assure you that there was a time when you would make every effort to make her laugh when she was sad, kiss her good-bye at day care, and hug her to within an inch of her life. Some of this affection seems to be a generalized baby effect, though; when you visit Tessa's room at school, you will often go around hugging and kissing all the babies. Aggressively, enthusiastically hugging and kissing all the babies. Until they fall over and cry, on occasion. Tessa's used to your advances, and she loves it. No-one can make her laugh the way you can, and I hope - as I have since the day I knew you would have a little sister - that this is the foundation for a life of closeness. You are one incredibly sweet little kid, with a heart of gold that I see on a daily basis, and anyone in your path is better for having been mauled by you.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dear Tessa: Month 13

Dear Tessa:

Earlier this month, you turned thirteen months old. You're a solid one-year-old, although most other parents of wee ones who ask how old you are reel back at the response and say something along the lines of, "Really?! My seven- (ten-, four-...) month-old is already as big as she is!" You might be little, but you pack a punch. You're loud and proud, and you'll tell anyone who cares to listen all about your baby views.

I expect you'll be walking soon. Up until very recently, you were content to cruise and then drop to a mile-a-minute crawl to get to your next destination. Lately, though, you've been taking more liberties with your mobility. You'll cruise one-handed, and you'll allow me to hold your hands while you step along. You have that stepping thing down pat. Sometimes, you'll be doing your one-handed cruise, and you'll let go and stand independently for just a second or two. In that second, you're like Wile E. Coyote after the motor dies on his flying contraption. You're blissfully oblivious of your unsupported state, then the realization kicks in, your face changes just a bit, and down you go to sitting or crawling.

You're talking a blue streak and experimenting with the sounds that come out of your mouth. You figured out about making bubbles and also about the sound that comes out when you flip your tongue across your teeth. Your best word right now is "Uh-oh!" This is also your favorite game; your big sister shows infinitely more patience with you on this one than your parents do... You can somewhat reliably say "doggy" and "daddy," but we're not sure there's much of a difference in your mind at this point. Once in a while, you toss a "mama" my way, but I think your comprehension still outstrips your expression by a mile, and I don't take it personally when you call the Cheerios "mama."

What I also don't take personally (much) is that you're weaning yourself, a bit earlier than I'd have preferred. I know this means you're getting what you need elsewhere, and you're doing just fine - and that I can still be so proud we went over a year - but I will miss this. I still give the nursing thing a shot on a daily basis, but, more often than not now, I get nipped for my trouble. The one in four or five times that you snuggle in for a nursing session, though, keep me going. I think I could stop offering entirely without offending you, but I'm just not quite there yet. It makes me a little sad that you're ready before I am to call it a day there, but I love seeing you dive in and try new foods with all those new teeth, too.

I also love seeing you start to enact things you've seen done through your play. Anything that remotely looks like a phone (play phone, remote control) becomes that thing we talk into for you - you hold it up to your ear and babble away. The box of musical toys is one of your favorites to pull off the shelf. You're becoming quite accomplished on the harmonica, but I was so proud of you the day you figured out how the kazoo works. Watching you play a triangle by banging it on the floor is my reality check when I start thinking you're the second coming of Mozart.

As much as I try to keep you from seeing television, some exposure is inevitable with a three-year-old in the house. For the most part, you just don't seem to care about what Anna's watching. But last week, Anna opted for an episode of Johnny and the Sprites. You took one look at those furry little muppets, and you were a goner. If I guess at a translation for your babbling: "Whoa! That thing is little! And round! And fuzzy! And a pretty color! And it sings! There's another one! There are ten more! Whoa! There's a bigger one! With antennae! Did you know about this?!" That last is the part where you turned around while still pointing at the screen and babbled at me with such incredulity that I lost it on the spot.

On a more serious note, we were in a minor car accident this month. Someone sideswiped us after hitting another car and did the most serious damage to the door right next to your car seat. You were asleep at the point of the impact, and the first thing I heard after the collision was you screaming. In that instant, my heart dropped right out of my body. I don't even remember getting out of the car and opening the door behind me to get to you, but I know I'd have torn it off if I had to. As soon as you saw me, you calmed down considerably. I got you out of your seat and could see immediately that you were okay. I watched you for days for any signs of trauma and saw none. For all the inconvenience this accident has caused, I'd triple it or more if it meant you would still come out of it unscathed. So for every time you bite me when you don't want to nurse, or wake up in the middle of the night despite sleeping through most other nights, or throw your sippy cup to the floor for the tenth time at dinner, thank you. You're exactly who you should be, exactly as you should be, and far beyond what I dreamed you would be.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

For the Record

Something's been bugging me for a couple of days now. In the lead-up to Tuesday's primaries, I saw a lot of news coverage, largely about the two Democratic candidates for President. That's not what's been bugging me.

One news story covered a specific group of Clinton supporters - all were women in their fiftues or sixties. As they talked about why they were supporting Senator Clinton, one expressed her dismay at the lack of support for Senator Clinton by younger women. She felt that younger women were not supporting a female Presidential candidate because younger women had not been in the trenches for women's rights and therefore didn't understand how much it took to get a woman to the point where she could be a serious contender for the highest political office in the country.

Hang on.

First, wasn't the whole point that we womenfolk would actually get to decide for ourselves where we would throw our political support rather than falling in line with what someone else told us we should think? I don't much care who's doing the dictating - I don't care for it no matter the source.

Second, have we really come so far that we can be considered out of the trenches? How many nursing moms do you know who got more than a few dirty looks for feeding her baby in public (count me among them). How about the abysmal state of maternity leave policies in the U.S.? I'm not going to turn this into a full-blown rant on those (and plenty of other) issues, as much as I'd be happy to do so, as it takes me away from my point.

And my point is simply that, while I appreciate how far our society has come and value every opportunity I have as a result of the hard work done by many before me, I think we still have miles to go. And I will make up my own mind, thank you very much, as to which candidate I find best able to lead us there. My candidate might be the one these ladies were espousing, or perhaps not, but he or she is just that - my candidate, of my own determination.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dear Tessa: Month 12

Dear Tessa,

Ten days ago, you turned one year old. I've been meaning to sit down and write you this letter since that day, but two things, I think, are intervening. First, part of me just isn't ready to admit that you're a whole year old already and that your babyhood is slipping away from me. Every day with you is more fun than the one before, but I am certainly feeling nostalgic for your teeny-tiny days. Second, you're moving so fast that I need all my energy to keep up with you! And when you finally call it a night, I'm ready to crawl into that crib with you and knock out several hours of sleep, too.

When last I wrote, you were still resisting a full night's sleep (to be nice about it). Daddy and I decided that you would probably be better served by missing the bathtime with Anna you so enjoy (we'll bring it back, I promise) and going to bed earlier. So you and I started a new routine of washing your face, "brushing" your now-ten teeth, reading a story, and nursing. Now it's clockwork: halfway through nursing, you sit up and rub your eyes. We switch sides, and when you're done, you claim your paci and arch a bit for your crib. In you go, and you roll right over, hugging in your little doggie blanket. I set the sleep timer on your iPod (kids today), and you're out within seconds. The first few nights we did this, you woke up a few hours later and fussed yourself back to sleep. Then you woke up again between 3 and 4am, and I fed you; you'd then go back to sleep for a couple of hours. A few days in, you dropped that first waking. A few days after that, you dropped all the wakings. A normal night for you now consists of going to bed by 7pm and waking up between 5 and 6am. You have become a solid sleeper, and I think I now just have to find a way to go to bed at 7:30pm to take full advantage.

You started doing some really cool stuff this month. You figured out how to make kissing sounds, and you love doing this to elicit the same from Daddy, Anna, and me. You play a mean game of peek-a-boo, and your laugh has developed into such a rollicking expression of pure joy that it ranks as one of my favorite sounds of all time. Anna can make you laugh at the drop of a hat, just about, and we use her shamelessly when we need to focus your attention while we change your diaper (ever more of a challenge as you refuse to settle for being still). You started singing this month, too! You arrived home from day care one day, crooning "E-I-E-I-aaaahhhh" to anyone who would listen. And your babbling sounds ever more like actual speech as you play with new consonants and combinations. It won't surprise me one bit to hear your first true word any day now, especially with Anna talking a blue streak at you.

Your favorite toy at the moment appears to be one that you haven't figure out how to operate yet - the jack-in-the-box. The first time I wound it up for you, you didn't have a clue what was coming, and you about jumped out of your skin when the pop topped. As we continued to show it to you, you smiled, sang, and bounced along with the music and still started every time the little clown popped out for you. Now, as soon as the clown is out, you grin at us and look expectantly back at the little guy for a repeat performance. You've tried working the handle yourself - you understand what needs to happen, but your motor skills haven't caught up with your brain on that one yet. Once that happens, I'll never get "Pop! Goes the Weasel" out of my head, or the house.

Table food has opened up a whole new world for you. Not long after my last letter, you began to flat-out refuse to eat jarred baby food. Organic or not, I can't say that I blame you. So we packed the remaining jars and baby oatmeal out to a local family shelter and dove headlong into the world of "real" food. You started in on yogurt, which might be your favorite thing since, well, me. I'm buying three six-packs a week of the stuff, and you're taking them down. You'll try anything, and most things seem to be going over pretty well. You love spaghetti and Annie's mac & cheese, and you're doing really well with the little mixed veggies we pile into the mac and cheese. Cheerios are a mainstay, and you pop them with abandon - and feed them to me, too. You're also a huge fan of the microwaved frozen pancake. Soft, delicious, and easy to manipulate - it's right in your wheelhouse. I can give you one in the car and not find a single crumb when we reach our destination.

But the best would have to be, of course, birthday cake. We cheated with you, and you had some cake before your actual first birthday cake. That just served to make you a pro when the real deal showed up along with a bunch of singing grandparents and a big "1" candle your sister couldn't wait to extinguish for you. You're a champion cake-smusher.

You're still nursing, which is great - I'm so proud of us for maintaining that relationship for so long under logistically tough circumstances. I retired the pump this month, and I don't miss it one bit. But when you decide you're done, I will miss that incredibly special time we have together. I know it'll be replaced by more stories, more tickling, more games, more laughter, more snuggling, and countless other good things I haven't imagined yet. But I will always think of this particular relationship - as I do the one I had with Anna - as one of the best things I've ever had in my life.

Happy birthday, sweet baby girl. I love you more than I could ever know how to say.