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Tuesday, June 29, 2010


This is our beloved Brady. The most gentle boy I know. Brady of the best friend category of Ella's young life.

Ella and Brady literally spent 7 days in a row together last week. They went to art camp together which included bonus time before and, often, after camp. Last weekend we took Brady and his sister Anna all day and then all the Smith's spent the night PLUS an all day trip to Bar Harbor the next day.

These two never once fought. They never once tired of each other.

Did I mention that they are like two peas in a slightly shy, super sensitive, intelligent, creative and with a flare for the emotionally dramatic shell? We comment all the time that each is like a mirror of the other in the opposite gender.

Here they are building a dam together. It's like watching two worker bees in a Utopian hive. They encourage, support and inspire each other. And they thrive.

Being that they are so similar, every now and then one of them will have a crisis of confidence and get a nasty case of the "I can't do it"s but usually the unaffected one tows the line and they make it through.

Here they are having lunch at Geddy's in Bar Harbor. Ella dropped her precious pink poodle on the floor and Brady, very chivalrously climbed down onto the dirty floor to retrieve it. I tell you, it's love.

Once last year, Brady told his parents that when he grows up he wants to marry Ella. Then he wondered, "I wonder who she will marry?"
Hard to say at this early age, but if you watch them closely, it looks like a whole lot of love to me.

the five-year-old teacher

This is our Ella.

She likes to follow rules, put together unusual outfits, equally adores doting on and and screeching at her little sister. If allowed she still likes to swing in baby swings and lobbies hard to wear a pull-up like Maya. She tells me she loves me 10 times when I put her to bed at night, speaks often about how wonderful the world is, how beautiful our house is and how blessed we are by the people we know and love. She likes to roam the yard naked, she sings and talks to the vegetables in the garden to make them grow and builds fairy houses in the perennial garden. She is, relatively, an easy child who needs no more than a stern look and if she thinks she has disappointed you she dissolves in a pool of tears.

And sometimes, she makes me feel like plucking my hair out of my head one by one.

We spent a super fun weekend with our friends, full on play the entire time with beach trips, meals out, staying up late and all sorts of ruckus. And this is how the scene unfolded when she got out of the bathtub at the end of the second day: she complained that I had not heated her towel in the dryer (a treat we do in winter because our bathroom is chilly). I explained that we don't waste the electricity in the summer when can go to the beach and eat ice cream cones. "But we didn't even eat an ice cream cone!" she protested. Now, in fairness she might have been stating a fact - we had gone to the beach but we had not had an ice cream cone. That day. She had had one both of the previous days. I was speaking in general about summer- we use the dryer less if it is warm enough to go to the beach and eat ice cream. What followed was me walking away and telling her I couldn't talk to her right then because I was really angry and her freaking out that I walked away.

What's a mom to do?

Likely it was a misunderstanding, but it didn't stop my quick fuse from being ignited. I have tried really hard to go for the calm walk-away approach instead of the screaming my head off approach. It didn't matter- the tired tears came streaming down (the inevitable cost of such a fun weekend) and she began yelling at me. For what it's worth, I have made enormous progress because my anger was contained and not exploding out. I did not argue or raise my voice. But even still, she could sense my emotion boiling under my fake calm voice, felt me pull away,and responded to it just the same.

I don't think it is a mistake that being a parent is so hard. I think it is some sort of built-in system to help the human race evolve- whatever limitations , faults, issues you bring forward in your life are exactly the ones your kids are going to set off in you. It's like the idea that your parents can push your buttons so easily because they installed them. I would also wager the converse. Kids know exactly how to get their parents going. Kids push parents buttons (intentionally or not) and, if this process is embraced, it is the prime growth opportunity for the parents to become better people.
See I didn't have easiest childhood. Our girls, by contrast to me, have it all. They have the love, comfort, security, possibility, encouragement and fun that was absent in my early years. As a result one of my biggest buttons (the one that sits on my chest with a big red blinking sign that says "PUSH ME") is when I think our kids are being ungrateful. It sends me flying each and every time. The awareness of it has helped, but all that has really changed is that I do less damage when I get upset. I aim to eventually just use those moments as teaching opportunities- speak with a calm, loving voice about why it isn't nice to essentially complain about a missed ice-cream cone rather than say thank you for all that WAS done that day.

I am one of the most impatient people I know. I like to have a plan. I like to be punctual. I like order and for people to do what they say they will. I like things to be clean and organized. Sure I like adventure and spontaneity too but I like to know their coming (hmmmm....) so I can relax into it and enjoy it.

Kids blow all of this out of the water. It seems like everyday, I am stretched further and further out of my comfort zone. And, for as uncomfortable as this makes me, I truly revel in it. I can now breath and wait for my children to climb on the stacked mulch bags EVERY time we get in and out of the car, appreciate their need to have a sock-puppet performance 5 minutes before bed, slow down and snuggle even though I have 100 things to do in half an hour, make 50 sand towers just so Maya can knock down each one and allow Ella to wear 3-4 different outfits each day. I have learned to be in the moment, sit still, go without a plan. Not always, mind you, but sometimes.
Essentially, my kids have (sometimes gently, sometimes with great and sudden force) whittled away my edges. Like sea glass that goes from sharp and jagged to worn and smooth. This process is at times incredibly painful while at other moments I feel like I watch my flaws emerge from the dark into the light of day and dissolve in the sunlight. I am better for it. As much as some days I wonder how I ever got into this job, and feel it is way, WAY too big for me, I like the person I am better as a parent. I AM more patient. I AM more relaxed. I AM more evolved.
I heard Ella come down the stairs for the day a few mornings ago and I knelt down on the floor with my arms open to hug her when she came around the corner. When she did, I almost feel over. My heart jumped ship into my stomach and the force almost knocked out my balance. She was Almost too big to fit into my arms easily. Almost too big to pick up, to carry. She paused and gave me a smile and then launched herself into my arms.
There. She is big. She is going to school all day next year. She has become, truly, a little girl. And I am still her mom, worn smooth from the wear and tear, the tears and love, the struggle and the beauty, with extra lines on my face and an even bigger heart because I am her mom.

all aboard the potty train II

We've been using some good 'ol fashion bribery in our house to move out of diapers once and for all.

Specifically 1 chocolate chip (Ghiradelli milk chocolate giant chips actually) for pee. Two for poop. Three if your an overachiever and you get it all done.

Maya earns these for herself for going. She also earns them for Ella. Yes, we are using the added benefit of peer pressure to insure success.

When we first started this a few weeks ago and Maya got one chip for going, she turned to me and said, "I want another." I told her she would have to go poop on the potty for more chocolate. In she marched and sat and sat and worked and worked. And wouldn't you know it...out it came. Cha-ching. Two more for each girl.

I think this is having the added benefit of improving Maya's likability quotient in Ella's eyes.

It took Ella about a full year to be potty trained. Maya being a quick study shoudn't be surprising but I find it astonishing. I am SO ready to be done washing cloth diapers and carrying poopy ones in my purse. We have been dealing with excrement in the pants for 5 1/2 years. To think we could be nearing the end...

So here she is, working hard...

with a chocolate face to prove her success.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

that music in my head

We have an old school ice cream truck in our neighborhood. If you can get past your fears about child abduction, it is really very quaint. It goes around probably 4 times a week, the tinkling of "The Entertainer" beaconing children forth for overpriced, frozen novelties.

Ella has developed quite an ear for this sound and, like a dog, she tilts her head to a strange angle when she hears it in the distance, a good 5 minutes before the rest of us. It's freakishly like that scene in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" when the child-napper lures the hidden children with the jingling of bells and the promise of treacle tarts.

Anyway...dark and twisty thoughts aside, the ice cream truck had gone by and about 30 minutes later Ella said, "I have music in my head. Can you hear it?"

I told her I could. (I'm not entirely sure why.)

She replied, "What does it sound like?"

I hummed the tune of The Entertainer. Her eyes got really, REALLY big.

"How did you do that, Momma?!" she asked.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Ange and I did a flower-pot decorating project with the kids a few rainy days ago. My camera has been on the wrong setting, likely something Maya reprogrammed, and I am unable to fix such technological maladies. All my pictures came out blurry (like the play dough ones below) but some are worth showing just the same.

Monday, June 21, 2010

general silliness

We have an ant problem that we have half-heartedly tried to remedy with chemicals. Ella vacillates between squashing them on the bottom of her shoe and running from the room screaming.

So what would lead me to believe she would do what she did?

If you look very, very closely (get our your magnifying glass) you can see the hullabaloo is all for a deceased ant. This, friends, is a VIP only ant funeral, attending by only the best. Notice Elmo flew in for the occasion. I think the ant speck is somewhere in between the line of horses and the windmill.

I'm not joking when I say the girls spent 45 minutes on this charade.

Moving on...

Ella, with her skank face on during a recent trip to Home Depot.

We had a 3 day stretch where no mommies had to leave for work and we spent them almost completely outside working and playing in the yard. This is the attire required for such heavy duty labor.

And, sadly, Ella discovered that she did in fact need glasses to see more clearly...

Maya has been singing her version of the Itsy Bitsy Spider ("The whitzy bitzy pider...") on a continuous loop. On the way to my sister's house for my nephew's 2nd birthday, Maya sang if for a solid 30 minutes, at times yelling with some angry force about how that spider had the nerve to once again attempt the climb up the water spout. Ella said, "If Maya sings the Itsy Bitsy Spider, it will be a GREAT party!"
BUT...all good things must come to an end.
Today, Maya was singing it again in the back of the car (melodically: "down came the rain and washed the spider out" and then gutturally screaming to repeat for dramatic effect: "DOWN CAME THE RAIN AND WASHED THE SPIDER OUT!") and said, "You sing it Ella." Ella started in the first few bars and then caught herself, "No Maya! I will not sing it anymore! You're giving me a headache!" Maya paused than launched into "Twinkle Twinkle" (the only part of which she knows are those 2 words and so she repeats them in a twangly, repetitive, almost drunken fashion). Ella sighed and said, "Now that's better."
Guess it's all relative...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

where the river runs

There are added benefits of long distance running. Such as finding this little gem of a place on a beautiful back road of Hampden. (I'm pretty sure no one but us, and the other couple that were there, know about it so I can't say where it is...)

When the weather soars to 90 degrees and you have little kids where do you go?

And swimming in 6 inches of water!

See the nets?

And the kitchen strainer?

Reed was very busy looking for "shrimp along the ocean floor."

Maya caught a lot of "fish." Otherwise known as dirt.

They got pretty good...

Ella insisted on bringing some home despite the knowledge that they would die. Last year on a similar beach trip we took with the Manharts snails were captured and I made her release them to prevent their unnecessary death. She was quite upset with my decision since Skyler was allowed to take her snails home. This time I let her decide and she watched her fish die their certain death in an old glass fish bowl. She seemed somehow vindicated and I wondered as a parent and human being just what to make of that. I asked her if she would choose that again having watched them die and she said, "I will take just one next time." I guess she can live with one death on her conscience???

Here they are in their last hours. R.I.P. minnows. Sorry to use you for parental teaching. Please forgive.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

breaking free

The girls and I go to the park. A lot.

We go alone. We meet people there. We make random friends (which isn't too hard when you have a child like Maya.)

But last week we decided to take someone with us. Meet my friend Scotty.

She is a spunky 80-something whose zest for life has always made me adore her. She has cute little purses, she calls the other ladies in the home where she lives "old biddies", often wears trendy jeans with her orthotic sneakers and says the most outrageous things- for anyone, but especially for a senior citizen.

She hasn't been so well this past year and can no longer drive so I thought she might like to go sit in the sun and listen to some kids laugh. Turns out I was right. It's hard not to have fun at the park.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

bed bugs

We got the girls some new beds. Ella needed an upgrade from the bed frame we made her and Maya needed an upgrade from baby to little girl.

Buh-bye crib.

Goodbye babies. Hullo big gilrs!

Lounging in their beds...

Very proud indeed.

And sleeping...

like little angels.

Monday, June 14, 2010

cooking camp know-how

Ella attended cooking camp after the normal pre-school calendar ended just before Memorial Day. Among other things, they made play dough.

They sent home the "edible" recipe and I thought: perfect, now I won't have to worry when Maya eats it.

Peanut Butter Play Dough:

1/2 c. creamy peanut butter

1/2 c. corn syrup

2/3 c. powdered sugar

1 c or more dry milk

We added some food coloring for fun. The only problem was the girls kept on eating it. I kept reiterating that "edible" and "should be eaten" are different concepts. No one bothered to listen. Who can blame them?

now there...

Our girls are not related with blood and they are incredibly different children. Sometimes it is hard to find the bond, in between the hair pulling, toy stealing, crying and general mayhem.

But, boy, when it's there, it's really there.

Friday, June 11, 2010

radishes can't keep me down

We belong to Fisher Farm (, an organic community supported farm in Winterport, and for 5 blessed months of every year we get fresh, organic produce every Tuesday.

It is wonderful.

Except for the damn radishes.

For 7 years now we have been members and every year the radishes get the best of me, taunting me from their Ziploc in the refrigerator, snickering about my inability to use them. I mean apart from a few slices on a salad, I don't really care for the radish. And I certainly am ill equipped to deal with 10 or 12 pretty pink ones in my fridge week after week in early spring.

Until now.

Meet the radish and orange salad:

Radish and Orange Salad

3 cups thinly sliced radishes
1 10 oz. can mandarin oranges, drained
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted;
1/4 cup sliced green onion
3/4 - 1 tsp dried crushed chilies

Chili Basil Dressing
3 T olive oil
2 T white wine vinegar
1 T chopped fresh basil
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/8 tsp each of ground coriander, salt and pepper.

Drizzle dressing over salad and toss gently.

It makes a zesty, spunky, fresh tasting salad. If I were Emilie Manhart ( I would have a picture. But I am not so I do not.

motherhood...discovery style

I've been watching the show "Life" on Discovery (it's like the sister show to my beloved "Planet Earth.") It is an incredible testament to how complex, rugged and yet utterly fragile life on Earth is and the cinematography is exquisitely beautiful.

It's also made me think about motherhood from a more primitive perspective. Here are my favorite examples of motherhood in the wild.

I don't know if you know this, but elephants live in groups of 10 or so related female elephants and their young. There is one matriarch, the oldest female elephant, and all the aunts and sisters help raise the young collectively. This is very helpful because inexperienced, still-sowing-their-oats new mommy elephants often do a less than desirable job. When this happens, the older, wiser, minivan driving elephants push the young mothers in the rump to move them out of the way and take over (so the baby doesn't die, not because the young mom gave an inappropriately placed time-out.)

And the whole time I'm watching these words criss- cross over my brain: helpful, easier, comforting, clever.

When the Pacific female octopus reproduces she does it in epic fashion, akin to Greek tragedy. She find herself a cave in which she will live for the next 6 months while she watches over her eggs. Not a mere few eggs, mind you, but over 100,000 eggs. They hang in smooth white clusters like grapes on a vine, under her belly and she rubs them clean of algae and protects them from other sea life looking to dine on caviar. She doesn't eat, she doesn't move from the cave, she just tends these eggs. When the eggs are ready, she gently blows air on them which allows them to pop open and the most adorable, transparent, rudimentary octopus flounces out. When she is done, some self-destruct gland activates and she dies in the cave where she gave all she had. Talk about maternal sacrifice!

There is a little red tree frog who lives in the rain forest (and happens to be less than an inch long) who lays her eggs on the forest floor but as soon as they turn into tadpoles, she goes to extreme measures to ensure their survival. She secures one tadpole to her back and then climbs high up into a tree and places her tiny charge into the watery pool at the bottom of a tropical Bromiliad plant where it will continue to develop, out of harms way of hungry predators. She moves 4-5 tadpoles like this, covering 1/2 a mile to do so. (Have I mentioned she less than half an inch long??) Each tadpole gets its own plant (communal bunking would result in them eating each other) and she lays an unfertilized egg for each one to sustain them. She climbs to each Bromiliad plant and lays a new egg every day until the tadpoles turn into frogs and jump out, on to the rainforest beyond, never to turn back and say, "Hey, thanks mom for all that." Jeesh!

To be honest, I'm surprised the tree frog doesn't crash and burn into self-destruction. Perhaps she is a marathon momma.

Then there is me- not in the wild, but sometimes feeling a lot like it- cutting crusts off toast, running to and fro to Target and Hannaford, shuffling clean and dirty plates in some circus dance with flying food and spinning drinks to sustain my young, baking bread and muffins, agitating laundry, folding it, putting it away, entertaining with silly songs and dances and antics, ingesting coffee all the while to maintain the pace, keep the time, make sure the whole delicate balance sustains.

Sure I'm no tree frog but, phew, all moms in nature do more than really seems natural, and sometimes even humane, all for the survival (and happiness) of their blessed offspring. We must be hard wired for it, otherwise there is no way anyone would apply for the job.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Ella decided to read Maya a book the other day.

Unfortunately, she had some trouble seeing and needed to don her eyeglasses. Sadly, she couldn't find them so she had to borrow some. From Mr. Potatohead.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

what you don't tell a mom whose daughter is about to go to kindergarten

I saw a guy I sort of know (my former hair dresser's husband- kind of remote) in the grocery store the other day. We exchanged some pleasantries. I asked him about his wife and his son, whose name I am only just now recalling. He asked about our kids. I told him Ella was starting school in the fall.

And like a knife to my heart, he said, "Well, it all flies by once they enter school. You can forget it. They enter kindergarten one day and the next thing you know they are 13."

And I had been doing SO well with the school thing. Now I am going to have to figure out if I should just keep Ella locked in her room at home, nary to step over the McGraw threshold, or if I should start giving her growth stunting pills.

Or maybe I should just take a deep breath and learn to be present for each moment that I have now before my little girl turns 13...

Damn, I hate it when my inner voice gets all wise and know-it-all on me.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

it's time

Today was the first day that I saw a runner out on the road and I got excited.

"GO RUNNER!" the girls and I yelled in unison in the car.

All week when I've passed a runner I've had a myriad of other thoughts:

Ugh, I want to throw up.

Wow, that looks like a lot of work.

Is it really and truly possible that I did that for 5 hours?? (And 15 minutes?!) For 26 miles?

Yup, after a week that started with soreness and ended in pretty nasty sickness, I think it's time to lace up the sneakers and hit the road again. The girls (running, not little) and I are already planning our next adventure. The word "triathlon" keeps getting tossed around and, despite my enormous fear of the water, I find myself nodding and saying things like, "I'm in" or "With the right medication I think I could do that" causing me to turn and look to see who is speaking on my behalf.

Friday, June 4, 2010


Emilie made this video of our journey, 6 women and 1 man, training and completing the Vermont City Marathon.

It is a beautiful tribute to the experience. Thanks, Em.

just a little bit more...

In case you didn't get enough marathon pictures...

Sandi, Emilie and I at Flatbread the night before the race.

The awesome beer menu none of the runners partook in...

The cow that was off limits...
Emilie blowing kisses to Matt and Ange when she saw the sign made for her... (and Sam, winning the gold star for husbands.)

The other half of the picture of Matt and Sandi photographing each other photographing...

And our beloved cheering squad, rosy cheeked and happy at the post-marathon, amazing meal at Three Tomatoes Tratoria on Church St. in Burlington.

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