Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Basically, it's a bridge

There is a beautiful place in the woods near Houghton Lake...a little bridge looking over a small lake surrounded by a buffer of wetlands and then forest. M brought me there early in our relationship, and since then we've been there probably a dozen times to watch the moonrise, look for wildlife, or just to listen to the frogs.

A few years ago, when we brought my family there after a long day of driving and blueberry picking, we were all resting with our legs hanging over the edge. I spotted a beautiful butterfly resting on a log beneath us. From her vantage point, my sister-in-law E couldn't see it. "Wow," I said. "It's so incredible...it has these orange and black wings, it's almost irridescent." She listened to my excited description, thought about moving over to look at it, but instead dryly asked, "So, basically, it's a moth?" Heehee...she has such a way with words. :)

Last year when we brought Baby E to see the bridge, Daddy taught her how to use a walking stick. She picked up a beaver log that was as big as she was and clumsily crossed the bridge. Then she sat down in the dirt, and we got the first of many "Dirty E" pictures. She sat there for quite some time, throwing sand in the air, laughing, picking up tiny pebbles and picking grass. It was an absolute joy to watch.

We were back there this past weekend to do a geocache with E, Baby m and our nephew, J. After the find (a container hidden in the stump shown at the left), J was asking if we could go on to another one, and we said that we would look at the time because he had to be back at the cottage by four o'clock. Then M discovered a water snake, and we watched him slither around looking for a spot to come onto shore. J listened to us oooh and aaah about it, waited for us to take a video and discuss what kind of snake it might be...when I asked him what he thought about it, he said, "Nice. So I wonder what time it is." Very subtle...I guess that's as subtle as 7-year-olds get.

I'm thinking we need to visit the bridge on every trip north from here on out. There's something about it...basically, I love that place.

Bargain Hunter

Memorial Day weekend in Houghton Lake is FUN. Besides the parade, there’s a garage sale on every corner, Friday through Monday. Summer cottages and permanent homes alike explode onto their driveways, and let me tell you, you just never know what you might find. Right now in our house, two of my most prized possessions come from such explosions. The 1960s wood and metal camels on my bedroom wall were purchased after a small disagreement between M and myself before we were married…he didn’t like them, I pouted and possibly shed a tear, and two blocks later he turned the truck around and I bought them for a dollar each. We also have a beautiful painting of a field of orange flowers, done by a woman who lived on Lakeshore. When I bought that, it was in a not-so-flattering frame, so I made an offer to remove the frame and buy the painting at a lower price…together they were $5, so I offered $3 for the painting. The seller said, “It’s a deal! Just put the picture over there by the garage.” No, I explained, “I don’t want the frame, I want the picture.” When I took it out of the frame, she looked at it and said, “Huh. It really is pretty, isn’t it?” But I did not budge…a deal’s a deal. Later that day, we bought a beautiful frame at Arnie’s, and we get many comments on how gorgeous that picture looks on our art wall. I can spot a bargain, let me tell you.

This Saturday, while E was asleep and Baby m was in the care of Daddy and Grandma, I went driving for a whole hour, by myself, scouring the driveways and yards for treasures. I spent under $10 and came home with the following stuff…

  • A vacuum sealer and two boxes of bags for $1. I’ve borrowed L’s before, and it would be nice to freeze some fresh asparagus this spring. Let’s see if that really happens.
  • Two sets of stencils, numbers and letters for $1. I think E is almost good enough with a pencil to use these. If not, we’ll put them in the closet for later.
  • A pair of size 3T overalls for $1.50. They are in perfect condition, and I think she will fit into these now or in the fall.
  • Two homemade M&M cookies for 50 cents. A Clifford book for 50 cents.
  • The same Clifford book (I didn’t realize it) at another sale for 10 cents. Nobody’s perfect.
  • Two little pink chairs for $1.00. These are meant to combat the fights over the ONE kid sized chair at the cottage.
  • Three larger sippy cups, all in better shape than the ones she has now, for 75 cents.
  • Two coloring books, one old Christmas elf, and several beaded Christmas ornaments for $1. I plan on ‘un-stringing’ the ornaments, and letting E make new ornaments to give away next Christmas.

It may sound like a bunch of junk to you, but to me it was an hour of pure joy to me. Small price to pay for $7.35!

The Whole Fam Damily

When I was in college, I learned about Spoonerisms…little twists of language that make ordinary phrases comical. At the time, the most popular ones were those that mixed up curse words…like, “You bun of a sitch,” or “Go buck a fuffalo.” Spooner was apparently some guy who coined some funny ones, like "The Lord is a shoving leopard" (loving shepherd, that is). Well, he must have known a toddler. As E’s vocabulary grows, Spooner-ish things are creeping in, and boy do they crack me up.

If you can’t find E, look behind the door to her bedroom. You may find her there pretending to drive a car, using a piece of string as her “belt seat.” And the little bump on her arm is a “bite gug.” When she gets excited asking for a drink, she asks for her “sicky puck.” (That’s ‘sippy cup.’) But the best mix-up of all came last night, when Grandma Millie-moo said, “E, you’re so smart you could be president some day.” I wasn’t sure if E knew what Grandma meant, so I asked her, “E? Do you know what the president is?” She confidently answered, “Yes!” “Tell me,” I said. “Tell me what the president is.” “It’s Santa,” she said, and went back to wrapping Dee-Dee in her blanket. Huh? At first I thought she meant that Santa was the president, which would be funny enough, but further discussion revealed what she was really thinking…Santa comes at Christmas and leaves presidents under the tree.

So what do you want for Christmas? A McCain, or an Obama? Me, I’ll take a Nader, preferably in green.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Little Miss Grabby Hands

E went to her first parade up in Houghton Lake when she was just a few months old. She didn’t seem to register much except for the fire engines and the marching band, which had her screaming up a storm. Since then, she’s been to at least 5 more, which is (I guess) a testament to how much M and I love to watch people riding homemade floats and old guys waving from classic cars. Today, at 5 months, Baby m got to sit in the grass at the Moose Lodge and watch the Memorial Day parade go by. He didn’t catch any candy, but he did get a pretty green necklace to wear back to the cottage.

At past parades, E didn’t even notice the treats and prizes that the parade walkers were handing out. She was much more interested in the lights, costumes, and dogs dressed in clothes. But this morning, E got her first taste of the free-for-all grab-what-you-can derby-style parade experience. I asked her beforehand if she knew what a parade was, and she replied, “Yes. Candy in my bucket.” So I guess she knew what she was getting into. Thankfully, there was plenty to go around, and she was surrounded by her generous cousins and friends. She did not run into the road, and said “Thank you” whenever anybody gave her a treat. But afterwards, in the pack of candy-smeared rug-rats, she not only clung onto her bucket with white knuckles, but she tried grabbing what she could out of the nearest kid’s loot.

So what do we do about that? Next year, when Baby m is old enough to know better, we’ll be encouraging E to share, to hold his hand, to help him put candy in his bucket, to cover his ears when the fire engine comes by. It is a joy to watch her grow, and to experience life one parade at a time. When I asked her what her favorite part was, I expected her to say “Candy,” but she didn’t. True to form, her favorite part of the parade was the ambulance, pronounced “a baliance”…for now, that is.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Listening to a toddler talk has to be one of the great joys in life. Whether she gets her words right on or miles away, one of my favorite pass times is to sit back and listen to what E has to say.

The other day I was banging around some pans trying to find something in the cabinet. E called from the other room, "Mommy, what was that?" "It's all right," I answered. "I'm just making some noise." She came into the kitchen and patted me gently and said, "It's okay, Mommy. It was an ass-gannet." Huh? It took a minute for me to register that she was saying 'accident.' It was an accident. Later, I tried to get her to repeat the word...I asked her, "Remember before, what Mommy was doing in the kitchen? What was that?" She thought about it for a minute and answered, "A stake." A mistake. Wow. She has a baby-ism thesaurus in that brain of hers.

She even knows what she wants to be when she grows up. To anyone who will listen, she announces, "When I grow up, I can save people in a baliance." She says it with great emotion, like a little actress...and 'a baliance' means 'an ambulance.' E is fascinated by sirens. I think she dreams of being Dora or Diego, saving the world one baby jaguar at a time. Whenever she hears an emergency vehicle, she yells, "I can help!" and runs off in any which direction. Sometimes she grabs the little piece of string she calls her 'rope'. Presumably, she will use this to save whomever is in trouble.

As my husband M has talked about in his blog, I'm amazed at how quickly she is losing the charming little mistakes in her speech. She can sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" perfectly...no more missing words, no more pauses. She no longer calls my friend 'Camera', switching consonants at will. But worst of all, she has lost the extra syllable in 'chocolate.' Sigh. She will be graduating from high school tomorrow...how does this happen? How does the time pass? And WHO TOLD HER IT'S NOT PRONOUNCED CHO-LO-CO-LATE? Whoever you are, you are in BIG trouble.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

My Presence

When I was in graduate school, there was a time when I felt such a weight of stress on my shoulders that I was beginning to see myself as an unhappy person. I was having trouble sleeping, complaining all the time, snapping at everyone. It was not the way I wanted to live. I asked a friend for some advice, and she told me something that I've never forgotten...she said, "Be an un-anxious presence."

I've thought about this phrase a lot...it's like a motto, a quote to model my life after. For example, when I enter a room full of people, do they think, "Good! Look who's here!" or do they wonder, "Uh-oh...what kind of mood will SHE be in today?" I want to be a presence that makes everyone comfortable. I want to calm tensions, not add to them. My sister-in-law, L, has this down to a science. She's a natural at being un-anxious. No matter how late she's running, or what crisis is going on in the room, she never loses her cool. I can imagine her saying something like, "You know what? You need to put that fire out, and then go to your room. That was not a good decision. Get going, you know where we keep the fire extinguisher."

It is not in my nature to be un-anxious. I remember my music teacher in elementary school scolding me for worrying aloud about another student who was late to class. My kindergarten report card grades me down for trying to finish the projects of other children. But I strive, and sometimes even succeed, to be calm when I really want to explode. I did make it through grad school, through the exams and the edits, all the red pen marks, without having a breakdown. Sometimes I'm even proud of how I keep my cool with E, or confrontational students at work, or a computer that hates me.

I don't even know if un-anxious is a word, but this simple phrase has really helped me be a better person, sometimes. I keep it written on a sticky note in my office...too bad I didn't have it stuck to my forehead when I was going through a bad break-up or planning my wedding! Oh well. No body's presence is perfect all the time! I'm sure even L has lost her cool...but I'll bet she never threw someone's Christmas present at them during a fight. Yes, I actually did that. It was a lacrosse stick. Don't judge me. That was before I had the sticky note.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Family History

This afternoon, my sis and I were chatting about funny things her kids used to say when they were little. Her oldest son, C, would want "smaviches" for lunch, as in, "Can I please have a peanut butter and jelly smavich?" One of her kids changed the TV channel with the "mokey-matrol," and another called me "Muggy." (Which is NOT my name.) Well, the conversation got rolling, and we got into a "remember when" kind of conversation which had me really laughing.

For one thing, I have a very vivid memory of a squirrel finding its way into my sister's apartment...the picture in my head is of her daughter S chasing the squirrel around yelling, "Kitty!" while my sister follows closely with a broom. Nobody else remembers this occurrence, which leads me to believe that I either saw it in a movie, dreamed it, or made it up. It doesn't matter, really...because now that I have made it a family event, denying and insisting it happened IS the story. Fun, right? Try it sometime...just start talking about something that didn't happen as if it was real, and see how everyone reacts.

But my most favorite story really did happen...one Thanksgiving, my mother made an apple pie and she forgot to put a bottom crust into the pan. The pie tasted great, but it was more like an apple soup with a crust on top. The part that makes it extra fun is that she INSISTS that she put a crust in there. What happened to it, you ask? She says it got "absorbed" into the pie. Now, I'm no baking expert, but I'm sure that's impossible. I've eaten a pie with a burned crust, and a raw crust, but I've never heard of a crust just disappearing into the apples. Sorry, Mom, but that's one for the family history book.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Boys Will Be What?

I'll admit it...before we had Baby m, I was very apprehensive about the possibility of having a boy. We chose not to find out the sex of our babies before their birth days, so we were surprised in the delivery room twice! When the assisting doctor slipped and referred to Baby m as "He" during the c-section, I did not feel the dread that I thought I would. Instead, I felt joy and anticipation at the thought of M being the father of a son. I cried.

As Baby m has grown, I have hardly thought of anything but love for him..."Why," I ask myself, "did I ever worry about this?" After all, as he grows, we grow...it's not like someone just throws a twelve year old boy in your lap. Well today, at E's new playgroup, I got a not-so-gentle reminder of why I was anxious. A twelve year old boy is one thing...but a four year old boy, in a group of other four year old boys, is downright terrifying.

When E and I walked into the room, just one of the little guys was there, playing quietly with play dough. Not too bad...he shared, he spoke politely, he walked from one toy to the next. Then another one arrived. The energy level rose, the play dough hit the floor, E walked over to the play kitchen, keeping her eye on the growing problem. By 10 minutes into group time, there was a gang of four, tearing around the room and throwing the toys at each other. They were uttering guttural noises, overturning chairs, and smacking each other with flashlights. To their credit, their mommies were intervening as necessary to make sure nobody got hurt...it is playgroup after all, and boys need to be allowed some room to be boys. And to her credit, E played happily in the kitchen, waving a tiny frying pan and yelling "NO!" anytime they got close to her.

My guess is that in a few years, Baby m will be a true toddler boy, and E will be waving some pretend cooking utensil at him too. And then all will be forgiven...at the end of playgroup, boys and girls alike came together for circle time, and joined Miss K in a round of "The Hugey Wugey Spider." As we made our exit, the gang of four was lined up in the hallway getting ready to race to the parking lot. Today I shuffled my little girl out of their way...tomorrow I may be rooting for Baby m to win.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Our backyard makes me very happy. On Saturday, M cleaned up the pond...big time. He not only scooped out all the muckity-guck, he pulled the liner, scrubbed it, reshaped the edges, and refilled it with fresh water. Now the birds are very happy...the nesting robins are using the fountain as a whirlpool. Yes, we have nesting robins. There are three little baldy-beans in the nest, and when they open their mouths to beg they look like Baby m trying to nurse! Who knew that all the babies of the world look just the same?

We also have plenty of fat squirrels, wire-chewing chipmunks, cardinals, goldfinches and a horny pair of mourning doves. Soon, we may even have magical re-appearing frogs in the pond...they find us every spring, even though M redistributes them to overwinter in a deeper pond nearby. Really, I think we have a true wildlife haven. Our nearest neighbor has a grass plot as a backyard, with (seriously) not a tree, not a plant, not a weed, not a stick, not a rock, not even a leaf for a slug to hide under. The bunnies tear across his mowed field and take shelter under our shrubs and perennials.

E helped me hang a hummingbird feeder full of sugar water, and we've already had one visitor. Once the coral bells bloom, I'm sure there will be more. I so enjoy looking out the back windows and seeing life in our slice of the world. We're not in the country, but the doves don't need to know that. To them, our suburban "sitting rocks" are just as good as any country rocks to do their, um, spring business. Go doves!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


M is on strike. I think today is day 20. We are trying to enjoy it, and of course he is trying to "get things done." We are not hearing any news about the progress of GM and the UAW...it seems we are completely in the dark. It would be nice to know SOMETHING, so we could, say, take a vacation, or plan DINNER. But no...we can't plan a single thing, because M could be called back to work at any minute.

I have been so spoiled on maternity leave, with both of us taking the Family Leave Act...12 "extra" weeks off (without pay, of course). Now with this strike, we are getting even more time together in the evenings, dinners at the dinner table, and daddy gets to put E to bed. How will I adjust again to a second shift lifestyle? I put both the kids to bed tonight because M is on strike duty...the obligatory 4 hours required to get strike pay. I just have to keep telling myself, "Be calm. Be un-anxious. You will need to do this by yourself every night, and soon." And I MUST stick to the 2 book rule with E. She would have me read all night if I wasn't careful.

Truth be told, if we won the lottery tomorrow, I would not go back to work...and I'm pretty sure that M would not either. I never understood those big money winners who say, "My life won't change...I will got to work tomorrow just the same as yesterday." No. I don't know exactly what I would do, but this family time is priceless, and I would pay a lot for more of it. So thanks UAW, for giving me this gift.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Baby Pirate

E loves geocaching...for about a year, we've been searching the woods for treasures hidden by fellow geocachers, and E has really taken to it. We get her motivated to walk the trails by announcing, "Let's go find treasures!" When we find a cache, I open it and place it in front of her for the looting. She will pick out every last prize, setting some aside, flinging others over her shoulder, even trying to put some into her pockets. We need to watch that she doesn't walk away with the log book or the pen.

"I want sign it," she says, so I give her the pen and she scribbles some little "letters" as she spells her name out loud. Then we pack everything up, letter her pick one prize, and we leave something behind in trade. Today's cache went pretty well, considering that it was a quarter mile walk shortly after nap time. E was a real trooper, but she did NOT want to select just one prize. She wanted to take ALL of the marbles from a little ziploc bag, and I made her take just one. All of her screaming and rolling around did not change my mind....I needed to win this one. She may be young, but M and I are really trying to cultivate her already unselfish nature. "We need to leave those behind for someone else to find, sweetie." Scream, Scream, Scream, Kick. Seriously...she really does have an unselfish nature.

Oh well. We left with just one marble in her pocket, and a big frown on her face. When we got home, M helped her retrieve her treasure, and she ran off down the hall. I forgot about it until I went to put Baby m to bed. Walking to the crib, I felt something under the throw rug...E's stash. She had lifted up quite a bit of a heavy rug and put her marble underneath. I had to laugh. What a little pirate...stashing her loot. What will she do when she finds it missing tomorrow? I'd better watch my back.
Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr