Monday, May 29, 2006

Ordinary Souls. Extraordinary Acts

Their silent wounds have speech
More eloquent than men;
Their tones can deeper reach
Than human voice or pen.
~William Woodman

While I stand on the sidewalk during our town’s Memorial Day parade, I will fix my thoughts on the extraordinary acts performed by ordinary men and women on my behalf. I stand in awe at their bravery and wonder how they were able to stir up such courage in order to put their lives on the line for the ideals which they held so dear. They did it for me. They did it for you. William Woodman said it well: “their tones reach deeper than human voice or pen.” Words cannot convey —nor can the mind fully comprehend—the generosity and unadulterated self-sacrifice bestowed on us by ordinary people throughout the ages.

I urge you to pray for the men and women in our Armed Forces who are this day putting their lives on the line in far corners around the globe in order to protect our personal freedoms and to defend the liberties which we hold so dear. Pray for the families who are fervently praying and awaiting their loved ones’ safe returns.
Blessings on Memorial Day to you and yours.

“Are they dead that yet speak louder than we can speak, and a more universal language? Are they dead that yet act? Are they dead that yet move upon society and inspire the people with nobler motives and more heroic patriotism?” ~Henry Ward Beecher

A Quick Note

FourQ Press will close for the summer, starting today, Memorial Day, through Labor Day. I will officially re-enter corporate America next Monday. My new job, along with a new writing project, the Rocket Mom Society, our four kids and my husband (and dog and guinea pig and house) will occupy my summer days—and you will undoubtedly be too busy to read my Newsletters anyway! Please feel free to email any time! I’d love to hear from you. My weekly ROCKET MOM! Newsletters will resume the Monday after Labor Day. Until then, enjoy everything that the summer has to offer.

A Rocket Mom Society Note

The final society meeting of the school year will be held on Tuesday night, June 27 at 7:30 PM here at the Mother Ship. Our guest speaker will be Sherry Artemenko of Play on Words. LLC. She’ll teach us how to use games and fun, playful activities with our young children in an effort to increase language development.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Monday, May 22, 2006

Going the Distance

Without a doubt, the last few weeks of school are amongst the busiest in the calendar year. Graduations, recitals, concerts, sporting competitions and final exams all exert undue influence over the time and energy of students and parents alike. Most days find me traveling across the county shuffling kids to one event or another; May and June find me barely able to navigate the logistical gymnastics required for all of the above.

This weekend was no different. Batting clinics, lacrosse games and a year-end orchestra concert in which three of our kids played, took up most of our time. Thankfully, a quick visit (and fun May ritual) from my oldest friend from out-of-town provided just the fresh spark I needed to keep my enthusiasm level high throughout. It was a happy, happy weekend, filled with family, friends and fun.

Anecdotes throughout the weekend presented a resounding theme: going the distance is worth it. It’s worth the time. It’s worth the energy. It’s worth the driving around. It’s worth the work.

A visit to an antiques shop in Connecticut—and a wonderfully long chat with the owner—convinced me of the need to counter our “fixed in a flash” modus operandi with a longer term perspective on life. The antiques dealer winced at the notion that young people today desire their homes to be instantly furnished and decorated, using a few clicks of the mouse on eBay to supply them with everything from linens to lamps to dining room tables. Few young people today are willing to take the time and energy to wisely shop for their homes anymore. To scour antiques shops in faraway towns. To put in the time for adventure. To find thrill in “the hunt.” The pursuit, which used to take center stage, has been replaced in these bustling days of ours with “the catch.” We become satisfied with second-rate, because hunting for “wonderful” is just too cumbersome.

Friendships, too, take years and years to develop. They blossom eventually, through years of coffees and lunches, movies and trips, phone calls and postcards. They start as budding relationships, and grow and grow and grow if well-watered. Surviving a few inevitable bumps in the middle, like acne on our teens’ faces, they eventually develop into beautiful models of faith and trust and love. Like our children, friendships require years of nurturing. Of time and energy and good old-fashioned hard work.

Some of the most talented kids in our town performed in the end-of-year concert for the youth orchestra this weekend. My husband and I got lumps in our throats watching our own children play a Beethoven symphony in its entirety. No “fixed in a flash” model there. Obtainable only through years of lessons. Of weekly practices. Of discipline. Persistence. Vision. Determination.

I know that this month—heck, this week!—may find you physically exhausted. Parenting rarely finds a busier time of year. Class parties and field trips exert unusually high demands on our time. Our kids—and their teachers and coaches and conductors—tend to simply wear us out right about now. I hope that as you travel down the home stretch in these days and weeks ahead, that you’ll find renewed optimism in the knowledge that your energy invested in your kids now will find enormous rewards a few years down the road. It can be so difficult to see this through bloodshot eyes. But keep the course. Maintain the energy. Stay focused on the vision. For as parenting is wonderfully relentless, its fruits are wonderfully delicious. And you need to go the distance so that you’re guaranteed to taste them.

Blessings on your week!


A Rocket Mom Society Note

Join us this Tuesday for our monthly meeting at Chico’s on Main Street at Bailey Avenue, Ridgefield, CT, at 7:30 PM for a “Shopping and Sipping Soiree.” Chico’s has generously offered a 10% discount on all purchase made by members (and their guests) that night! Members, please bring a friend or two so they can see what we’ve been talking about. Guests will be welcomed at the door. Questions?

Monday, May 15, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play
Infusing Heart into the Hearth of the Home

"There is no reason, either in prose or in rhyme, why a whole house should not be a poem." Ella Church Rodman

With any luck, your Mother’s Day weekend was as wonderful as was mine. As one day cannot hold the full celebration, the “holiday” has been elevated—in my family anyway—to the entire weekend. It starts on Thursday night and extends ‘til midnight on Sunday. Extra lounging in an excusable indulgence, as is extra chocolate, extra newspaper perusing, and extra sleep.

And if that’s not quite enough, in this section of Connecticut where we make our home, kitchen tours have been perfectly calibrated to Mother’s Day “weekend,” and so I became happily transplanted to two different towns…with a third this coming week…all in the name of “Happy Mother’s Day.” Call it wonderful coincidence or perfect event planning: celebrating the hearth gets to us mothers’ hearts whether we like it or not.

These tours, quite spectacular in every imaginable way, go beyond the familiar house tour offered by many historical societies or trusts for historic preservation in cities across the country. They zoom in specifically on the most honored room in the house: the kitchen. Architects and kitchen designers stand for the duration of the tour, beaming with pride over the perfectly appointed rooms they have created for their clients. As they should. Most of the work is exquisite and deserves recognition.

And recognize we patrons did in full force. Attended by hundreds of would-be renovators scourging the tour for ideas, curiosity seekers anxious to see what the next-door neighbor has been up to, professionals simply checking out the competition, and HGTV and Food Network junkies by the truckloads, the kitchens on tour scratch our collective itch.

As a wannabe kitchen renovator (my oven is falling apart, my fridge door hardly stays shut and my stove is on its last leg), I had a strong desire to see what folks are doing in kitchens around my neck of the woods. Granted, Fairfield County, Connecticut can be a rather daunting neck to grasp; the most difficult part is simply getting my brain wrapped around the scope of the kitchens on tour. For we’re not talking merely ripping up vinyl flooring and replacing it with hardwood here. We’re talking six burner professional ranges, imported marble countertops, double Sub Zero’s, handmade tile backsplashes and handpainted friezes. Copper countertops and double-wide limestone farm sinks. Trips to Europe—with interior designer in tow—in search of that perfect armoire. Or vacations spent trolling through the Paris flea market for the grandest chandelier. One of the homes undertook a four-year renovation; granted, its 10,000 square foot size required a committed team of experts in order to eventually pull it off. But its final result—impressive, certainly—boggled my mind.

Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with any of these indulgences. We can call it “protecting our investment” or “infusing our home with beauty” or “doing careful research.” The kitchens on tour were, with few exceptions, veritable works of art.
And as a visual artist, I appreciate the need for transformative beauty as much, if not more than, the next person. Indeed, my need to fill my kitchen with things that I love, things that I find beautiful, is a highly motivating adventure for me. Ever in search of wonderful roosters or lamps or linens or candles: I’m almost always on the hunt.

But as I tromped through house after house, I remained inspired most by understatement, as always. By the antique and smallish house that didn’t scream “Look at me!” Which spoke to me through its quietly unassuming authenticity. Of wonderful proportions, clean color and organic materials. Of beautiful, yet simple, fabrics. I like things that are gorgeous. But I like them to come at me in the same way that nature does. “The earth laughs in flowers,” Emerson wrote, and certainly their beauty is inescapable for those willing to slow down long enough to fully appreciate it. But flowers don’t scream. They softly persuade. They whisper “Come hither.”

As I go about the initial steps towards a complete kitchen re-do, I hope I can translate my need for organic beauty to the designer with whom I will eventually work side-by-side. I hope my desire for open shelving, a rather common solution in kitchens across Europe, overrides designer’s dreams of expansive (and expensive) full-scale cabinetry. I hope that my desire for a glass-doored refrigerator, one which I’ve held for more than two decades, is not met with skepticism by well-intentioned planners who worry that children’s fingerprints and messy living habits will intrude on the assumptive need for impeccable order and cleanliness. I hope that my desire to impart my own stamp, through my collections formed over nearly a quarter century of marriage, will not be met with a “professional’s” desire for something less artsy. Or for something that appeals to his or her aesthetic, rather than to mine.

For the one thing I had hoped to see more of in these wonderfully designed kitchens was the owner’s handprint. Or that of their children. I would have loved to have seen a crumb or two. Or some suggestion that the owners actually cooked there. That dough was, on some days, actually rolled out on the marble countertop and that vegetables were stir-fried on one of those six burners. Indeed, the phrase “working kitchen” has evolved in order to distinguish between those kitchens which are designed to be merely beautiful versus those in which homeowners actually cook.

I’d like to think that some kitchens stand—from decades of use or from recent renovation—where roasts are basted and hearts are repaired. Where bills are paid and where lunchboxes are packed. Where we value the notion of nurturing: through meals and through conversation. With preparation along with presentation.

Few things tug at our heartstrings as do our kitchens. We have long recognized them as the hearth of the home. Let’s just hope that in the real estate frenzy—as well as in the overly-consumptive age in which we find ourselves—that we keep the heart in the hearth of our homes. And that we are able to translate it aesthetically so that our loved ones can benefit. Via fabulous aromas or soothing patterns and color. Through folk art collections or through hand-crafted dinner plates. Through pottery or placemats.

For therein lies the challenge. As always. Infusing the hearth with heart.

May you find beauty in your week.


A Quick Note

My wish for a new digital camera and photo printer was happily met by my husband and kids. They understood quickly—and precisely—my specs for an idiot-proof system, and we found one. Send me an email if you’re on a similar hunt, and I’ll tell you what we wound up with:

A Rocket Mom Society Note

Please join us at 7:30 PM on Tuesday night, May 23, for an evening of shopping at Chico’s. They are paying special homage to our Society by extending a generous discount on all purchases made that night. Bring a friend. You need not be a member to come. You just need to know one (that would be moi!)

Monday, May 08, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play

What Mom Really Wants for Mother's Day

When I told my fourteen-year-old daughter that what I really wanted for Mother’s Day was to hear her perform the Bach A-minor concerto onstage in Woolsey Hall at Yale University, she rolled her eyeballs and said in that teenage girl voice that only bona fide teenage girls can do: “That’s not what I had in mind, Mooooom.”

“But it’s what I really want,” I replied.

My completely earnest request was met with more eye ball rolling, swooshing of the hair over the neck, arms crossed under the chest and complete silence for most of the hour-long drive to New Haven.

We wound up going, my daughter and I, and, as far as I’m concerned, I got what I really wanted for Mother’s Day. She played beautifully and the afternoon concert more than filled my cup. So I don’t want the flowers. Don’t want the chocolate (okay, so maybe if it’s extra dark, I’ll cave in). And certainly don’t want the plush animal (seriously, who are the teddy bear companies kidding?!?)

My daughter had “in mind” a mani/pedi, my favorite indulgence on the planet…and maybe even in the entire galaxy. Give me freshly sculpted fingernails and fiercely loofahed feet and I’m one smiling mom. So I felt confident that, with the “what I really wanted concert” behind me and a possible mani/pedi ahead of me, that the week leading up to Mother’s Day would be smooth sailing.

And then a flyer poked out of the newspaper and a gadget caught my eye. Well, not really a gadget per se. It was a digital camera. Well, it was a digital camera attached to a photo printer, if you want to be exact about it. And it looked so, well, easy. It was small and slick and adorable all at the same time. And, most importantly, it looked like it was idiot-proof. It appealed—strongly—to me, the resident technology idiot.

Now, I’m not pretending to be an idiot. Not wanting to sound humbly self-effacing or anything of that nature. No. I’m a rather smart cookie and I’m proud of that. But technology? Well, you see, the tech craze just happened to coincide with my rearing of that fourth kid as well as the premature onset of menopause, and, while not using either as the perfect excuse for being technologically-retarded, given that the final push of childbirth (and the mere experience of pregnancy) depletes brain cells and that menopause in and of itself has been scientifically proven to cause severe lapses in mental prowess, heck: if it’s good enough for the American Medical Association, it’s good enough for me. Childbirth and premature menopause cause technological retardation, OK?

So spying an ad for an idiot-proof digital camera really sparked my interest. And I thought, “Now that’s what I really want for Mother’s Day.” I am dreadfully and hopelessly behind in organizing my “memories” (does anyone even use the word “photos” anymore?) and the whole conversion of film to disc to online storage to email ordering thing has really gotten me down. Just when I got the whole take-the-photos-to-the-drugstore (now there’s an archaic word for you)-to-get-developed ritual down pat, along came digital photography. (I think I was in childbirth #4 around that time). With fewer brain cells with which to figure this one out, I turned the photography division of labor over to hubby. He got a kick out of it, and about four digital cameras later, has a multitude of files stored on my laptop, which I can never quite find when I need them. But he’s convinced me that they are in there somewhere.

Now lest you think I have completely lost my mind, let me assure you that there is a whole segment of women in the universe who are in exactly the same age group/life stage/hormonal imbalance level who understand EXACTLY what I’m saying: we got caught between the proverbial rock and technology hard place because we failed to time life perfectly. We’re bright, highly educated women who desire more than anything to have perfectly preserved memories of our children’s happy childhoods—but we now have no clear idea how to do it. The lady I met at the “drugstore” a few weeks ago confirmed my observation: we struck up a quick friendship while scanning photos into the machine and kibitzing about the technology rock-hard-place thing. We commiserated with each other about the inherent difficulty of it all (and while we were at it, swapped cell phone data entry horror stories, too) and we shared ideas of how we did—or did not—do the new technology photo/memory bit.

What I really want for Mother’s Day is a new digital camera and a matching photo printer. I do not want the manual nor do I want to read anything; I want my husband to sit down with me for a half hour and tell me exactly how to do it. I do not want to know all the tricks of this new trade; I just want him to sit down at my laptop and tell me how to retrieve all of the files he created for me which I cannot find. And then I want him to tell me how to print them out so that I can organize them into the beautiful books I bought after childbirth #2 when I merely glued those suckers in and wrote captions out long hand. No stickers. No brads and studs. No countless, colored versions of the alphabet printed on plastic-coated sheets. Just tell me—or show me—how to take a picture, print it out and get it into an album. Show me how to go from the push of the camera’s button to the computer. Show me how to plug a very short cord into something so that by the count of “three” I have a photo not just in my hand, but archivally preserved into my album!

I figure that there are at least ten million of us moms out here (if I’m doing the math correctly) who will find ourselves in this predicament on Mother’s Day. We’re haplessly watching the technological world swirl by, fazed by our lack of familiarity with it and by our inability to tackle it, yet unfazed by whippersnapper moms who already have all of this figured out (for we have the luxury of recounting wonderful successes, albeit technologically un-savvy ones, accomplished over the past ten to twenty years that techie-guru moms strongly desire, even if they haven’t yet verbalized or consciously realized it yet).

What we mothers really want for Mother’s Day is a husband or a teen—or heck, even a toddler—to show us how to do this stuff. To move us, slowly and tenderly, out of the place in which we have so lovingly settled, and into the fast-moving technological world which frightens and confuses and amazes us.

And if I can’t get all of the above, what I really want for Mother’s Day is just a few great pictures of my family. You could throw in the mani/pedi just in case—and dark chocolate never hurts—but some pictures taken, printed and gosh, maybe even organized onto a page in my album, and I’d say that Mother’s Day would be just swell.

Happy, happy Mother’s Day!


Monday, May 01, 2006

this is an audio post - click to play

Keeping the Train on Track

“Talent is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration.” Thomas Edison

I experienced the privilege and joy of sitting back and watching my daughter perform in a Suzuki Festival this weekend at Yale University. In its glorious Woolsey Hall, oversized, magnificent gilded pipes for the front-and-center organ stared us parents (and more-than-proud grandparents) in our faces while we watched a couple hundred musicians balance pint-sized violins, maneuver mini-cellos and stroke lightweight guitars on stage. Classical and folk music filled the air, starting with Copland’s invigorating “Hoedown” and ending with the Suzuki signature “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” which we parents have enjoyed (or endured) anywhere from a hundred to a zillion times, depending on our length in the Suzuki program. But we sat there, all of us, mesmerized and busting with pride. To think that our kids could have multiple books of music permanently ingrained in their brains; that their thin little fingers could glide over the strings at lightning speed; and that they could produce such beautiful music with complete strangers in perfect harmony, their only bond being the study of the same music under the same pedagogical training, was almost too much to comprehend. It was nothing short of splendid.

It was a sadly striking observation—especially given the glory of the occasion—to note the high rate of “de-selection” out of the system as kids grew older. While dozens upon dozens of little ones proudly played “Twinkle,” only a handful of teens took to the stage for the advanced pieces.

Now, this could be said of practically anything. How many toddler girls enjoy all of that pink tulle for those first few years of ballet, after all, only to drop out right before going on to pointe? Or enthusiastically embrace early morning lap swimming with the neighborhood gang, only to drop out when the coach asks them to swim five hours a day? How many unused drum sets, guitars, easels and athletic equipment are collecting dust in garages across the globe as overly-ambitious pursuits—quick shots out of the blocks each one of them—fizzle to a grinding halt once the realization of all of that hard work sets into our youngsters’ collective consciousnesses?

Let’s face it: it’s a lot more difficult to stick with something than it is to get something started. Drumming up enthusiasm for a new project, be it taking up the oboe or taking up oil painting, is no harder for most of us than getting our fannies up and off the sofa. We order the new gear, new art supplies or new instruments, practically salivating at the vision. We enthusiastically walk into our new lessons, proudly toting new stuff, bubbling over with excitement and energy for the newness of it all. Like staring into a new baby’s eyes and understanding that this life holds such promise, we zealously embrace new projects, and realize, all too slowly, the terrific sacrifices demanded for growth.

One of the most difficult challenges of parenting is discerning how long we require our children to stick with something…keeping the train on the track…and knowing when it’s okay to let them jump off.

Do we decide at the point when the frustration level becomes unbearable that “now is the time”? Or do we grit our teeth and understand that this is all just part of the process? When our kids slam the door, stomp their feet and scream “I hate this!” do we take that as a sign that we should stop now? Or do we simply acknowledge that as a good time for a strong cup of coffee, a bit of dark chocolate and a time-out?

I have remained amazed—over these past almost twenty years—of the number of parents who throw in the towel too soon, as well as the ones who manage to hold on through their children’s mastery. I have taken my own fair share of well-intentioned yet unsolicited advice from honest parents who simply see things differently than I do. There is a great deal of difference here and it’s a tough one to sort out. And it was particularly glaring today.

As there are, of course, vast personal differences among children and families; in constraints on time, energy and financial resources; and in personality variances of pure persistence (or of pure stubbornness), one can’t devise blanket generalizations for keeping—or moving—the train on track. There are just too many variables in the equation. Regardless, one bottom line is true virtually across the board: children despise hard work, and anything requiring mastery demands hard work! As parents, we need to figure out when to chalk up something unpleasant—violin practice or spelling drills or swimming regimens or frustrated painting sessions—to hard work, pure and simple—or to “it’s time to get the train off the track.” There are few things couples argue more over, few questions moms ask me more frequently, and few things that cause me greater personal angst, than this issue.

I wish I had the answer. I wish every situation had a pat solution. I wish it was as easy as encouraging every parent to stick with it ‘til the bitter end! To battle it out until the final victory is achieved! ‘Til you hear “the” recital, witness the home run or hang the blue ribbon you’ve been waiting for. That you won’t let him quit until he finishes that tenth book of violin music or makes it all the way through the majors in Little League. That she has to take Spanish all the way through high school. Or must enroll in art school until she uses up all of her expensive supplies.

But it’s never that easy. Nope. Parenting is always full of surprises. Our kids can out-smart us, out-maneuver us and out-last us…and they will. Just when we think we’ve got this parenting thing figured out, we face another trick or challenge or dilemma and we feel like we’re back at square one. Or we realize that what worked for the first kid has no power over the second. Oh geez.

One thing I know for sure: mastery commands respect. As does consistency. Perseverance. Persistence. Stick-to-it-ive-ness. We reward singers who make it all the way on American Idol and athletes who make it to the Olympics. We love stories of persevering against all odds and of sticking it out even when it hurts. And so while that certainly doesn’t mean that it’s never okay to let the train jump off the tracks—because some times that truly is the right thing to do—make sure that you don’t trade common everyday impatience for quick fix solutions. For increased peace and quiet in the home. Or increased harmony. For less fighting or foot stomping or door slamming.

Remember, always, the dirty little secret of parenting: it takes far more nurturing, far more patience and far more energy than anyone ever warned you about. That it takes years of hard work and practice. That practice is hard work and that hard work is just practice. And that it will all be worth it when you receive the joy—as I did today—as you simply sit back, smile, and think: “We done good.”

Blessings on your week,