Reese and I arranged with Dillon and his mom for the boys to wear their matching "Feed Me" shirts to school today.
While looking at this picture just now, I considered how unbelievable it is that I never went to preschool, hadn't considered it for my own children until shortly before sending Griffin, and now it is such an important part of our lives!
How is it possible that a third of the summer is gone already? We are officially well past the cooler days of summer. Lettuce has bolted, the beans and peas are picked, we worry about drought and wait for peaches. The boys are growing, the weeks are slipping by, and already I'm contemplating organizational stuff for the preschool and how best to face the new year at the elementary school.
The bigger boys are at school. Xander and I are each doing our own thing, and I catch a glimpse of him down the long hallway. He is sitting quietly on the frame of the open double doors to the porch. A squirrel in the maple and a squirrel in the neighbor's yard are barking at each other and although Xander is sitting still with his back to me, I can tell that he is listening, and that his big interested eyes are moving from one squirrel to the other. I can tell that he is enjoying the feeling of the spring morning breeze in his hair and on his skin. He is silent, in a meditative way. I sit next to him, and we smile at each other, and then he laughs, the spell is broken, and he toddler-runs around the porch after a ball.
There is an awareness about him, a way of being very present, that has been a part of him since his birth - and probably before it, as well. It is the kind of thing that adults spend decades and fortunes trying to learn. It is beautiful to see in its native form.
1. I finally got the chance to talk to my friend Patience about photography and other topics! She and I have had this "boy, I think we'd be good friends" vibe since meeting last fall but have never managed to get together. All it took was walking the Monument Avenue 10k with Birth Matters VA! That should be easy to repeat, right? ;) She took amazing photos (click those words, really! go look!) of us and our surroundings. I was rather disappointed in mine and she graciously suggested that I'm going through growing pains.
2. I thought she was being kind, but my angst over my struggles with the overcast day and my zoom lens made me pick up my macro (which is easier for me to learn on than the zoom, for some reason) and start asking questions. I forced myself to play with the M setting (fully manual) and it opened doors into the relationship between shutter speed and aperture. Aperture is an old friend - well, the first thing I learned after buying my macro last summer, anyway - but I've never messed with the shutter, nor felt out the interplay between the two.
3. While searching for something else, I had the idea to look up how to photograph a silhouette. Et voila, the secret. Bonus: it reminded me of the existence of the Digital Photography School site to which the last three links in this post (items #2 and #3) lead.
4. I really, really, really, really want a portrait lens. Then a telephoto and a fisheye. And a wide angle. And, um, a 5x magnification macro and ring flash. Please? (Update: filed the taxes and I'm buying the portrait lens and a decent camera bag. 300mm telephoto or a 60mm macro next would be beautiful. Or a 40D.)
5. I'm trying to be less self-conscious about shooting in public places like restaurants or city streets, and about taking photos of strangers. Trying.
6. Something I read spurred me to completely reconsider my old notions about cranking up the ISO in dim lighting. I can't find it now, but did come across a cool page with photo examples. Knowledge is power, man. Defeat the grain!
7. Had a total breakthrough on April 1st regarding going fully-manual. Horrible confession: I have NEVER used my camera's light meter before. Now I'm bringing it all together. A lot of the photos I'm getting this way are AWFUL but I'm definitely learning a lot about exposure, focus, and light.
8. My zoom lens has a dust problem and I need to figure out how to resolve it. (Correction...it's probably the sensor, and I need to teach myself how to lock open the shutter so I can try blowing it, but if it's fused dust, I'll need to have it cleaned professionally. Sigh.)
Started while sick (and bored!) in bed on Saturday and finished during the Superbowl on Sunday...random snippets of stuff from our house, and links, and such:
Last week while Reese was riding home in Adam's car, A noticed that his Obama Rama car air freshener had fallen off the rear-view mirror. Before he could turn to look for it or mention it to Reese, Reese piped up from the back seat: "Oh! I found Barack Obama!"
I have finally learned how to do a screen capture and a partial-screen cap on a mac. Useful stuff!
Griff is enamored with the new PBSkids webpage for The Electric Company. I think it's supposed to be a rebirth of the show from my childhood, but it's virtually unrecognizable as such, aside from a few remakes of the syllable silhouettes.
I like the advice I read earlier this week to "call every bowl of ice cream a big one."
Celebrated free-thinking comic/musician Tim Minchin presents a 9-minute beat poem (audio only), Storm, which will tickle those of you who favor empirical data over superstition and know that there can be wonder without magic. (text version here)
Another back-seat moment: Dan handed off his piping-hot Cafe Americano to me for a moment in the car, and I sloshed it and burned myself. This, of course, caused me to exclaim and grouse over my burned fingers. Once I quieted down, there came a little toddler echo from behind us: "Ow! Ow! Ow!"
I love this adorable tooth fairy illustration from French Toast Girl, whom I discovered just this minute, totally by accident. I was looking for snowths. Reese is obsessed with snowths. Oooooh, I wish I could draw/paint like that. And I think the idea of a tooth fairy and fairy lamb living inside a tomato is wonderful.
Most of the time, regardless of what I'm doing, I wish I were making photos. I also wish I knew what I was doing while making photos. I'm mostly a pointer and shooter; I lack more than a thimblefull of technical knowledge and have only just started messing with aperature settings. I wish I knew how to get really amazing depth of focus. I wish I knew how to make colors look electric. I wish I could see just the right composition. I wish I could catch just the perfect expression. I wonder how much of this can be taught, and how much is born into you. Was enough of it born into me?
I cleaned the house like some kind of possessed person today. A week of illness was sitting on the house like a deep layer of dust. Ok, there actually *was* a deep layer of dust. Floors had gone unswept, bathrooms needed freshening. I got down on hands and knees to scrub tile. I piled furniture and toys on beds and swept in every nook and cranny, then damp-mopped all the wood floors. Everything is glowing now. I'm still sick, but the anxiety caused by the mess is nearly gone, and I know my head will be clear soon.
After all the cleaning, we took Griff (who is much better today) to a birthday party, and then D/X/R and I picked up a new bird feeder stand at Wild Bird Center, and tried the stracciatella at DeLuca Gelato, and bought cough syrup and fixins for grilled cheese and tomato soup, and got coffee. It was kindof like a date, but not. But fun!
I have finally vanquished the nefarious tub butterflies in our third and final epic battle. Final score: butterflies: 0, Jess: 25. Now for a bubble bath. Maybe tomorrow.
“Either once only, or every day. If you do something once
it’s exciting, and if you do it every day it’s exciting. But if you do
it, say, twice or just almost every day, it’s not good any more.” - Andy Warhol
“Anything one does every day is important and imposing and anywhere one lives is interesting and beautiful.” - Gertrude Stein
Ever heard of No Impact Man? I had forgotten about him until today when my friend Carolina linked to him on Facebook. Rather than explain who this guy is, I'll just cut and paste the subtitle for his blog:
A Guilty Liberal Finally Snaps, Swears Off Plastic, Goes Organic,
Becomes A Bicycle Nazi, Turns Off His Power, Composts His Poop and,
While Living In New York City, Generally Turns Into a Tree-Hugging
Lunatic Who Tries to Save the Polar Bears and The Rest of the Planet
from Environmental Catastrophe While Dragging His Baby Daughter and
Prada-Wearing, Four Seasons-Loving Wife Along for the Ride
Ye savvy? I think he's relaxed his lifestyle restrictions, but he's still pretty fringe, and therefore a great source of ideas for all things greener-than-thou.
Ok, so today Carolina, who is one of my crunchy, homebirthing, sustainable-living, super-consciously-living, idealistic Richmond peeps, linked to this post about the Japanese norm of not heating one's home during the winter.
Now, just this morning, I had been musing over my family's social abnormality while packing a lunch for Griff. Griff's friends at school who have bag lunches get things like Jell-O packs and Capri Sun juice pouches and Fruit by the Foot. I have this bizarre notion that lunches should be a) nutritious, b) not filled with artificial ingredients, and c) in reusable packaging. So those items pretty much triple-fail, you know? After much debate, we agreed as a family that on Fridays, I'll put a juice box (real juice, not Kool-Aid) in his lunch. And after he begged me all last week for a juice box (they're in the basement fridge, taunting him) and even told me how he would make something out of the package so it wouldn't be wasted, I'm feeling so frustrated that something as simple as wanting to reduce waste and eat good food makes me a freak, and makes him an outsider.
(Defensive aside: Griff is NOT deprived of the joy of fun goodies.
For example, he got fresh spritz cookies in yesterday's lunch and
cupcakes the whole week of Xander's birthday, and there's no lack of
other treats here.)
Right, so this morning, I was thinking about all that while washing grapes and stuff. My head's a busy place. And then later I saw C's link and read the article, and while the idea of not heating my house chills me just to think of it (and today was in the 30s and rainy and gray, brrr), it's provocative. Even more compelling: the idea of a culture in which this is the norm (according to the guest-blogger). And then I stopped dead at this:
We're not alone. Part of what makes this situation bearable is that
everyone does it. We're not making some sacrifice that everyone else
forgoes. I have no one nearby to envy.
How exactly, perfectly, did he just say the thing that I feel in my heart every day? Well, actually, what I'm feeling is the opposite of this, which would be something like this: I feel alone. Part of what makes it hard to maintain my idealism is that virtually nobody does it. I'm making sacrifices that everybody else forgoes. I - and my child - have so many people around us who do things differently, and sometimes we envy them. We want their shiny foil Capri Sun packages filled with colorful sweet fluid (I cannot really call it juice). We want to fit in, and we are torn between doing what everybody else does, and doing what is consistent with our values.
That sounds somewhat martyrish, although it's not intended to be so. It's just hard, and lonely, when your carefully, thoughfully chosen experience is so very different from the experiences that most of the people you meet choose for themselves. It's hard in our culture, to choose to birth without drugs and/or outside of a hospital, to be a champion of reusable products (I've totally failed at the moment on cloth diapering), to want to relate to children in a non-authoritarian manner, to aim for a constant reduction in one's consumerist behaviors, et cetera. These are not popular choices. Many of the things I do or want to do mark me as an alien, somebody to whom others cannot relate, somebody on the fringe.
The thing is, there is also strength to be found in that solitude, the Japanese concept of "Gaman".
It means "endure," or "tolerate" but
there's more to it than that. It ascribes value to enduring something
difficult. To Gaman is a principle, its a virtue. It's a cross between
hanging in there and fighting the good fight...Sometimes enduring hardship as a virtue when the situation could just
as easily be made more comfortable seems nuts. But as a cultural value,
doing your best and enduring hardship is refreshing.
This reminds me of the practice of hardening steel in fire. And as for cultural values? We are piecing together our own culture of like-minded siblings and friends. We encourage each other when being on the fringe feels hard. We inspire each other to pursue our beliefs to their logical conclusions, even if it means some sacrifice. We sit around the kotatsu with them, and then we head out into the cold.
From time to time I consider keeping a running list of things for which I'm thankful, although I never settle on a format (journal? blog page? meme-style?), so it usually gets done as a one-off or goes entirely undone. I did have a list on an ancient version of my web page titled Happy Thoughts, inspired by the Barbara Ann Kipfer book which I purchased on my 16th birthday (at a Hallmark store, with Valerie), and which shall forever be a favorite, if only for the fact that "the position of your head as you bite into a taco" is one of her happy thoughts. I added my own inside the cover and in the margins of the now-battered book, and kept the web list for a year or two before that version of the site passed into obsolescence.
As luck would have it, I was considering the idea again yesterday, and then some stream-of-consciousness browsing today (while nursing Xan down for a nap) led me to this guy's blog, where he has proposed a 365-day practice of gratitude: list 5 things a day for a year, starting any day you like.
I'll start today. I noticed that "Grace in Small Things" is GIST, which is kindof nifty (can't tell if Schmutzie intended that), so I'll title my posts thusly and create a gist category.
In January 2007 I wrote an entry on MySpace with the same subject heading as this post. The title was taken from my sloganizer message at that moment, which seemed a fitting phrase for setting out my goals for the new year and beyond. From that post:
the time was ripe for posting my resolutions-in-progress. I hestitate
to call them resolutions because the term seems to trite and this means
more to me this year than just the usual "go to the gym three times a
week!" promises we make to ourselves (although, I admit, there is one
weight-related item on the list).
are a collection of ideas I've had in my head lately about the way I
want to approach my life. Some represent major change, some are a
continuation of things I already try to do. The list is a work in
I then laid out my mission statement for self-improvement, which was organized into items related to tending myself, tending my family, tending my home, and tending the world beyond my doorstep. I intended to revisit them and evaluate their status periodically and to rewrite them the following January; I accomplished the former but not the latter.
This year I am cutting and pasting that mission statement and will attach it to this blog as a page (also linked in the sidebar). I'm posting it here not for accountability purposes - in fact, it annoys me when people quiz me on personal-project status, so please don't - but in order to put ideas out there. Sometimes seeing other people's goals inspires me, and something I add there might give you an idea or two. Or it might prompt you to comment with your own goals, which I might want to add to my own. You might have an idea that can help meet a goal; two years ago Lynz suggested a particular kind of reusable bag that I ended up purchasing and now use all the time (I used them this morning!). I like it when sharing something starts a discussion, whether trivial or deep.
So, if you want to read them, they're over there, and hopefully I'll remember to reassess now and then. I may pull a few out as post topics in the near future, too, and hope you'll chime in with your thoughts.
Griffin, the baby who turned me into a mother, is six. SIX. How did this happen?
He tells us jokes all the time. How do you know that there's a giraffe in your bed? By the G on his pajamas. Where does a snowman put his money? In a snow bank. Get it?
His teachers praise him for his industriousness, and seem both impressed and amused by his endless love of patterns. I bought him tessellating magnetic pieces for his birthday. I should show him some Escher images.
He's starting to read, and is spending more and more time climbing onto his top bunk with a stack of books. He says he can't read them, but we think he's reading more than he knows, and he's really close to that moment when things completely click and he can tear through book after book on his own.
A few weeks ago, he started putting away all the groceries by himself, unasked. It started when I needed to help one of his brothers upon arriving home from the grocery store, and came downstairs to find every last item put away in the fridge or the pantry, and the bags stashed neatly. He glowed with pride in his accomplishment.
He has a flowing mane of thick platinum hair, and insists on using hair conditioner in the bathtub now. While he's on the petite end for his age, to me he looks tall and skinny, and I can't get over these long, slim pairs of pants in the laundry.
He uses strange accents picked up from various classmates and from his father. I wonder, will he enjoy acting some day?
Just like when he was tiny, he wants to know how things work. He loves the connections between things, the explanations of their inner mysteries. He loves magic from a Penn and Teller point of view - look at how amazing that trick is...how did they do that? He loved the Nutcracker, and his favorite part was Herr Drosselmeyer's tricks. He chose a HD ornament for our tree as a souvenir.
He looks to us for reassurance and to touch base at the same time as he grows both more private and more outwardly social. He told me recently that he misses me all day when he's at school, that he looks happy, and he's a little bit happy, but inside he's very sad. Oh. Oh. I'm not sure he will ever know how much power he has over me, how he can strike me to the quick like that.
He is eagerly anticipating his first loose tooth, which I told him might happen when he was five, or six, or even seven. I was six. He is hoping for six. I have a tiny tooth fairy box put away for that day. Until then, as we saw on the dental x-rays a little while ago, all of his adult teeth are lined up, waiting for life to begin.
It is strange to know that we're about a third of the way to the time when he leaves the nest, and to know that from this point onward we will become less and less pivotal characters in his story. I wonder who he will be, and what roles we will all have?
While doing yardwork, I lined one of the windowsills of the little windows flanking our front door with cones from the giant shedding conifer (which, according to notes from the previous owners, is a Cunninghamia cypress).
Restoring the yard to order, collecting these bits of nature, lining them up on the sill filled me with calm. I added a sprig of holly that had been blown out of a neighbor's tree. While photographing them, I was reminded of how so many patterns in nature can be described using the Fibonacci sequence, and how this relates to the human fascination with spirals and labyrinths.
Suddenly there is this BOY living in my house. At school, he travels in a pack of his peers, playing games of their own invention. He mimics their speech and believes the wisdom of their older siblings. At home, he is an expert on everything, passing on information gleaned from his teachers and peers to his woefully uninformed parents.
He is becoming more private with his thoughts, more evasive of questions, and sometimes seems to tell me what he thinks I want to hear instead of what is actually happening inside his head.
He is turning outward, creating his own sense of identity, one that may someday only involve us in a peripheral way. I'm not quite sure yet how to relate to this boy. He's starting to read to himself a little, and I see the end of our days of curling up with picture books. He's interested in older toys, and I find myself in unfamiliar aisles of stores, uncertain who this person is for whom I'm shopping. It is at once terribly sad and lonely, and wonderfully exciting and, well, normal.
But, almost as if to toss his poor mom a bone, he has started touching base more frequently. He has created a code: one of us gives the ASL sign for "I love you" and the other signs "I love you, too." So this boy, who is suddenly too big for me to pick up, and almost too big to want my help or comfort, lets me know that he's still my baby. I tell him that I hope when he's grown, that we'll be good friends. He says he thinks we will be, and tells me that I'm invited to come to his house for dinner.