Tuesday, February 17, 2009

2009 and a Pasadena day

Have you seen the Rose Bowl Parade? Maybe on TV? Maybe you've been there? I'm sure, at some point in my life -surrounded as I have been by my football fan family members - I've seen the Rose Bowl Parade on TV, but I don't have a specific recollection of oh wow, it's New Years Day, time to turn on the telly and watch the Rose Bowl Parade! So when my dear darling friend Jen of Jacksonville Beach heard of our travel plans and invited us to the actual Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, I thought, yeah well... we'll see, I dunno, I couldn't imagine waking up early and schlepping the children from the west side of LA all the way to Pasadena in traffic at 7:30 in the morning. I did not realize the magnitude of the invite. Jen's family lives less than a block off the parade route, her father spends the week before the parade keeping his chunk of sidewalk and median clear of interlopers by spray-painting a boundary line around their family spot, then the night before - New Years Eve, of course - hearty family members actually spend the night out there, camping out in their spot.

It is, as I found out, a huge deal to have the kind of access to the parade I was being offered. At the homeschool coop party the day before, I met a mama who planned to wake her family up and be out the door by 5am to get a decent spot and watch the parade. All I had to do was be in Pasadena by 8:30am, go directly to the corner of her street, call Jen and tell her I'm there, and let the policemen know that yes I can drive down this street, my friend is bringing my pass. And voila, it's like a backstage pass to the most anticipated parade of the year. We arrive at Jen's house and are ushered back the long driveway of a terribly sweet California ranch house, draped with Christmas lights and fronted by (what else?) rose bushes, and squeezed into the tiniest space we can get into in the back yard to maximize parking, in the yard, did I mention that? We found ourselves in the midst of an annual family extravaganza, the matriarch from Mexico, the patriarch from France, five daughters, dozens of cousins, brewed Starbucks coffee with heated cream and raw sugar, and a card table set up at the parade route with more coffee, local doughnuts and wonderful pastries. Who knew?

Lulu, Magdalena, and Augustus

watching the parade, sometimes napping
A couple of hours after the parade, after feasting and playing, we walked the two blocks over to the area where the floats were and with the tickets Jen's family had because they live there, we went and checked out the floats up close. That was anticlimactic at best, but the real treat was the climbing tower. Oh. My. Goodness. They're so so cool, and best of all it was free! Just requiring about a twenty minute wait in line and they were off!
Lulu took to the wall like she was born to climb, Magdalena put her skills to use, getting about 1/2 way up, and I had to cajole Augustus to actually get on the wall and stop using the harness like a bungee jump.

The best part of all of it, better than the parade, better than the coffee (and it was good), better than the rock wall, was the joy of a west coast playdate with one of our favorite families, some of our dearest buddies from Jacksonville all the way out there, in the middle of six weeks away from home. That was the best part, spending the afternoon sitting on the front porch with Jen, watching our children play their creative games together, and later, inside, singing songs and taking turns telling stories and listening to the children's stories. Just like home, just like life, out in Pasadena.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

happy Saint Valentine's Day to you

The work of Valentines is all about love, glue, cardstock, chocolate, sweet confections, flowers. This year, we managed to hit all the notes. Friday I was caught! No lace doilies, no red construction paper, no glitter! So we did it a bit different, and water colors, water -color paper, cardstock, glue and a pack of alphabet stamps later, we had our very own gorgeous Valentines.

Magdalena did each step of hers herself, the hearts, how she drew on them and decorated them, cutting them out, and designing her cards and gluing them together and they are stellar. I drew the hearts on water color paper for Frida and Augustus, they painted what they wanted - Augustus filled in every square millimeter, Frida doodled and did light gorgeous painting - then I cut out the hearts and they designed and glued them on. We don't have a shot of Frida's, but you can imagine them from her watery-blue painting, they turned out luminous and lovely. Inside, using letter stamps, they put their messages of Valentine love.

My Valentines came a day early, from my hard-working man. He came home early, we were all a-twitter, and he went back out to the van, returned bearing gifts - classic, Valentines bring-home-to-the-wife gifts, crazy beautiful arranged flowers in a speckled pink glass vase and our favorite box 'o chocolates from a local chocolatier. The chocolates were gone in a short order frenzy, and the flowers are just getting more beautiful as the flowers open more. Jeanna came over today and said, "oh my God! Look at your flowers!"
(notice, in the bottom photo, under the fern, a tiny Our Lady of La Leche statue, from my mom! I just had to sneak her in there. She brought her to me after she visited the shrine, she said Our Lady's dedication to motherhood reminded her of me. Ok, I'm faclempt, talk amongst yourselves.)

Today we were dedicated to the task of making our Valentines celebration of love and sugar complete with chocolate covered strawberries (Florida winter strawberries, from Plant City, are really some of the yummiest strawberries on the planet, except maybe for some summer strawberries I had in Vermont many years ago). And while I was busy in the kitchen putting together the cake, so I have no photos of the process, the children did these strawberries under Tita's watchful eye. They turned out so perfect, and the babes had a ball doing them, so proud they were of their handiwork they even waited until they had finished cooling off in the fridge before devouring them. Of course the evening was to be topped off by the yummy buttermilk heart-shaped cake with a beet-juice pink cream cheese frosting, lightly sprinkled with red sugar, homemade vanilla ice cream and homemade chocolate sauce but we were thwarted. At 7pm my man got a work call, 7pm on a Valentine's day Saturday. Sigh. Life calls. Anyhoo, the children are in bed, he should be home soon, and we'll have a late night dessert, together.
Happy Saint Valentine's Day to you all.

Friday, February 13, 2009

California begins

California, we have arrived! There was much woo-hooing and cheering and ballyhooing as we passed from Arizona into California, coast-to-coast, we were there! We drove an easy straight shot into San Diego and wanting to take a break, have some food, get gas, and have some run-around time, we pulled off the 805 freeway having no idea where we were, just looking for food and green space. We promptly got a bit, well not lost but confused because there were no gas stations in sight, only crazy urban suburbia spreading out before us. We persevered, found a gas station, asked the attendant the fastest way back to the freeway because we could not get on going north where we got off, and he pointed due west, said you can't miss it. Right before the freeway was a grocery store, bingo, now for that green space...well, let's just drive over the freeway a bit and see what we see...and we saw heaven. A huge park, a playground, and children running and jumping and playing. And ya know what? There was also a Starbucks right around the corner, ha! Boy do we love California.
The park was so classic California, a cross-cultural slice of our dense American pie. We set up a spot with our blanket and fruits and cheese and popcorn and sparkling water and off my little ones went to join the ruckus. Across the playground were concrete picnic tables, where the "old world" contingent of the large group of Muslim families set up. The older women were fully covered in flowing black robes and head scarves, faces covered except for their eyes, the younger women, with white or black scarves, still covered their heads but not their faces, had long robes on also, reminding me of the nuns I grew up with. Then young women, teenagers, hip young mamas, where wearing head scarves with beautiful, fitted long tops, but very hip jeans underneath, and the youngest of all, the little girls and boys, were running around indistinguishable for their clothes from the rest. There were hibachis and coolers, plates, cups and napkins, and I imagined a bit of oh-so-yummy food from their table, but I don't think they were looking for company, so I kept to my fruit and cheese.
Directly in front of me were the Latina mamas, big sisters, aunties watching their little ones. A row of gorgeous, young, dark haired and perfectly olive skinned women, in tight jeans and tighter t-shirts, laughing and watching, all heads turned toward me when Augustus falls, and I didn't even think they knew I was behind them. They knew, they clocked us, they knew who those little ones belonged to. There was a group of Asian-American families, the mamas following their little ones through the playground, pushing the swings, and finally, us and a few other random families, mamas with one little one, or one baby, taking it all in and really marvelling at who we are.

Then Los Angeles proper. Below are the principles of the homeschool group we slid in with whilst doing our LA gig. Saiya, Magdalena, Blossom and Maddy. I say principles because they were the big girls, the almost five and five year olds, the grand dames of the group, as it were. Some time last fall, Jessica, the mama/dear friend/partner in mama-ing, who we were staying with in LA, called me not completely convinced that this homeschooling thing was going to work out. She couldn't find the families that clicked, she was checking out park days, going online, but hadn't yet met her tribe. Trust, I told her, Trust. I was exactly the same - who were our friends going to be? Where were the mamas, the babies, the big kids that I was going to do this thing with? Who were we going to create this life with? And then, voila, at the library one day I saw them; I said, there they are, those are my people, those mamas and babies and big kids are the ones, and they were. So I said to Jessica, Trust. And she did, and they came. She called me thrilled one day, saying she had met two mamas who she got, who she knew before she even met them! She even said "I met my west coast Connor! She's lived all the same places as you, she totally gets me!".

Our first full day in LA (Culver City/Mar Vista-ish, feeling very Venice Beach) was New Years Eve, so off we go to the New Years Eve homeschool coop afternoon party at one of the family's houses. And doncha know, as I'm backing the Mitsu up to park and unload, out there, on the street, in Venice, CA, welcoming us to her house, was "the west coast Connor" and doncha know, as I stick my head out the window to ask for some guidance into the spot, I hear "Connor?" and I say "Claudia?" and who knew that the west coast Connor was an old friend of mine, actually, the woman who was partners with a really old friend of mine from Atlanta in owning the Three of Cups restaurant I bartended at back on 5th and Avenue A in Alphabet city, in NYC? Really? Come on, no way. Way. WOW. We both laughed at who we were and marvelled at who we have become. She said, did you ever figure me for a homeschooling mom? I never imagined you as one. I thought, but didn't say out loud, shoot, who knew I'd even survive NYC, let alone thrive? Will the miracles never stop? I'm betting on a lifetime of them, miracles that is.

Monday, February 9, 2009

a bit from today

No photos, I was a bit of a lazy mama today, but it was just such a lovely lovely lovely day at the zoo that I want to say what a lovely day it was! Funny, but I still feel like we're "getting back into the swing of things" and here we've been home for three weeks! No, wait, today was the first day of week four being home. Doesn't it feel like we should be well into the swing? I dare say, time does fly by. Ok, whew. I just checked the calender and today is the first day of our third week home, that doesn't feel quite so slow off the block to me, not quite as sluggish, if you know what I mean. Well, wrong again, it is the first day of our fourth week! Good heavens! So I have been home a full three weeks and still figuring out where stuff goes! But in our or rather my defense, we did bring home an entire car load of stuff that we did not leave with, which means an entire car load of stuff has to leave to make room for the car load of stuff that came because in somewhere around 850 square feet of living space there is not room for the new without letting go of the old.

I have two friends whose blogs I follow, you can check them out, they're both on the side bar, who recently posted about their weekly schedule. Hhmmmm....weekly schedule...hhhmmmmm...weekly schedule...yes, yes, uhhh, yes I do believe I've heard of those things, like, where a person or family or group of people do a similar thing each day or week together or separately, yes, I do believe I am familiar with that concept. Familiar, mind you, not a working knowledge of, but yes, familiar. HA!

But I digress. I was talking about today, the loveliness of today, at the zoo, with Eleanor and her two daughters Allie and Kimberly, Bianca a recent addition to our group of mama/women friends, Rose with darling sons Dominic and Franco, Shazza with her sweet Trinity, and clan Barnas (us, of course, sans Frida). It was mostly our homeschool crew from last year, minus a few, with a few new, and it was a gorgeous winter Florida day - bright blue sky, warm sun for the bones, and a bit of heat truth be told, I was starting to almost sweat running up and down the slides in the play area with Augustus. We all kept saying, oh how we've missed this! The familiarity of our children all running together, the mamas lagging a bit behind, Allie reading all about which exhibit we're coming to (her reading is off the charts!), feeding those crazy giraffes of the extra long blue tongues, just being together.

So there is my impetus, my directive to "get back into the swing of things" and pronto! We do want our homeschool life back in some semblance of order. There is laundry to be done, ground to prepare, a garden to begin, sewing and stitching and counting and art and craft to be done, and still the re-connecting continues. But then it just seems to be about seasons and reconnecting with life and patterns and rhythm. There was so much that I learned on the roadtrip, so many lessons I want to bring home into our life, such richness to add to the already-richness of our life here in Casa Rosa, casita rosita, the sweet little pink house. It's all here, it's waiting, it's all ready.

a few more bits from the road

But wait, I'm only like, halfway through the roadtrip, there's more! Like Christmas! Once we picked up Ethan in Texas, we were on a schedule and the trip seemed to jump into hyperspeed. We hit the ground running and didn't slow down for one second.

Christmas morning is just like, well, Christmas for the babes. They were so excited I thought they were going to jump out of their skin! Here they are with Auntie Delia, who, by the way, is the most wonderful 18 year old Auntie on the planet. Magdalena and Augustus are smitten, I say Smitten, with her. The sun rises and sets by her and she shines her love all over them.

After Magdalena and Augustus had their fill of good morning Christmas candy, off we went for a visit with the Huffman's for a bit of old friend/family love and hanging out. Gregg and Janet are two of the most beautiful parents we know. I've watched their children grow from little little people to college students and wild and woolly high-school students and am always inspired by how wonderful they all are, together, as a family.

the God-father, the papa, the daughter
Magdalena and Augustus helping Janet feed the fishy in their Christmas finery. Why is girl finery so much finer than boy finery? I see a velveteen jacket in Augustus's future Christmas wardrobe...

After Christmas in Albuquerque, we hit the road for Yuma, AZ to spend some time soaking up the desert sun with our Yuma family, Grandma Fran and Grandpa John. We spent one entire day at a park by Colorado River, it was an awesome, sprawling park, one could not ask for more than this park offers.

We had a wonderful morning, outside, playing at the playground. We spent the afternoon by the Colorado, looking across this small part of the river at California, getting our feet wet and standing under the train trestle, our ears covered against the deafening roar, watching as the trains passed overhead.

Yuma is where Ethan left the journey, heading on back to Texas to finish tech school. We stayed on and went on a perfect desert mountain hike with grandma Fran. Let's see...who's the seasoned hiker in this photo, and whose children look dressed for a party? Discuss.
Magdalena and Augustus had a high time with grandma, in her sewing room, designing their pillow cases custom made by grandma Fran. One minute, there is white fabric, then voila! Grandma Fran works her magic and we have custom "quillow" cases for all!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

the dream of a white Christmas

Many times during the last two years, Magdalena has asked me: "Mama, will it snow this Christmas?" and many times I have answered her: "baby, ya know, it just doesn't really snow in Florida that much, once in a blue moon maybe."
When we started planning this trip, I knew that if we were going to be in NM during the winter, we were going to find some snow by george. I thought to myself, I don't care if we have to drive to Taos for the day, we are going to find some snow. Who knew? Who knew how lucky we'd be that a huge storm would blow through just before we got there, and that what was rain where we were in the valley would be inches and inches and inches of fresh powder out on Sandia? Who knew? Magdalena, that's who. She new. She new we'd have a white Christmas like no other, out there, the day of Christmas eve, at Doc Long picnic area, under dressed like the Floridians we have become (well, like I have returned to and my NM family have become). She knew with the faith of a child that if she wished hard enough, there'd be snow a'plenty to play in. So play we did, under the bluest of blue New Mexico skies, making snowballs, trying to roll snow, stomping in untracked snow, eating snow, having a snowy big time.

Friday, February 6, 2009

sunlight and the Traveling Virgin

Her official title might be Pilgrim Virgin of Fatima, but we call her the Traveling Virgin. In the past, I put her in our bedroom, up on the dresser. For this visit we have her in the living room, in front of the window, bathed in late afternoon light. She sits on a beautiful white scarf that belonged to my mamaw, with a small handkerchief of my Tata Tita Isabel's, and Titi Feli's rosary. She is a blessing to have, and cuts quite a figure in our humble little casita. She is the ultimate Mother, and for me, her presence is a constant reminder of Motherly Love, absolute, unconditional, true love.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


I mentioned in passing just how wonderful it is to be home, but I don't think I gushed. So I'll gush now. The first week passed in a blur, just getting home and decompressing, unpacking, re-uniting with family and friends, and then the event - my man came on home. Ohhh the joy. The simple Joy of: the special welcome dinner and oh-so-delicious cake; homemade strawberry ice cream; shopping en familia at Target (totally not our M.O.); puttering and doing lawn work and regular home stuff; watching Ethan walk around the house, just the joy of laying my eyes on him here, in our home; listening to the children sqeal as they played with papa and just knowing we were all here, together.
This past Monday, I was in the kitchen listening to NPR and cooking our favorite turkey burger and homemade french fries dinner, the children were playing and Frida was here with us, it was a bit past five pm, the phone rang and it was Ethan saying "I'm on my way home honey, could you make me a cup of coffee?" and there may as well have been choirs of angels singing Amazing Grace. I was in absolute heaven, pure bliss, at this, this totally pedestrian, mundane moment that is a regular moment in my life. It was our first regular back to work day, and the perfection of my life, with it's normalcy and every-regular-ness, struck me as sacred. I realize our blessings and our gifts and while I didn't think I needed the 40 day/7000 mile trek to bring that to my consciousness, it sure did kick it in.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

more bits

Have I mentioned that our cross-country trip was a bit of a study of American family life, family structure, diet, and culture? And did I mention that my dearest and darlingest friends family styles/structures/diet/culture careen wildly from one end of the spectrum (whichever spectrum, pick one) to the other? From extremely low media exposure and no screen time (tv, computer, video game) to the full expression of America's marketing's finest and conventional screen time? I must say, we did manage to transition seamlessly from one to the other, and for that I credit my darling children's ability to make themselves comfortable wherever they are and our major road rule - the "when in Rome" edict I made at the beginning of the trip. Meaning, when we're in your back yard, we play by your rules. If you drink cow milk with every meal, then have some milk. If you must wear shoes to go outside (because of goatheads and whatnot), we wear shoes. If you can jump on the beds and eat outside the kitchen, well enjoy enjoy enjoy! If you can watch the Simpsons, well then of course...wait a minute, really? Allright, I did say...

From the rural mountain retreat-like hideaway of the LaShell family, we drove to Nashville for a glorious ruckus with Clan Downs - Jonny, Dara, Caolan and Ruairi, and glorious it was. We were presented with gifts of make-up and chocolate and footballs right off the bat, and need I say it was on? Magdalena and Augustus had been talking about Ru for weeks and there was no need for introductions.

Jonny, the talented and wonderful musician that he is, was singing some Christmas songs, playing guitar, practicing for a fundraiser for a local school that Dara signed him up to do, and Augustus was in awe! (uh, why yes, that is my son, Augustus, in the pink velour and purple tule with purple satin trim and fluffy pale green tule cap sleeved Disney Fairy costume, so good of you to notice!) Anyhoo, Augustus came silently down the stairs, slowly rounded the corner, and just stared at Jonny playing, mouth agape, until he processed exactly What. Was. Going. On. And that would be live music to dance to so dance he did!

Magdalena experienced her first Daisy Scout meeting with Ru, while I met my sister from another mother at a local coffee shop. We both bought our vintage glasses from the Bleeker Street flea market, we had lived in the same places, and we both love Fluvogs. What a lovely coffee, just a bunch of moms (and one manny) having coffee and chatting and laughing while the girls were in Scouts. Is that legal?
After not enough time and too much fun, we took leave of our darling Downs family and headed off to meet papa in Wichita Falls, TX. It took us two days to get there, and on the third day we headed, now with Ethan, to Alamogordo, our old home sweet home, for a morning and afternoon with some of our dearest dearest friends. As you can see, Magdalena and Augustus are dressed in full regalia and mixing it up with Maria.

Our Alamogordo family was witness to the most significant events of my life: my marriage to Ethan and the births of my children. These folks met me first as Ethan's girlfriend, welcomed me as his wife, and have been family to me and my children. They were my neighbors, confidants, support system, emergency childcare, and cat-sitters. This photo holds more love than I knew possible.

Monday, February 2, 2009

two more from the road

Second stop, Marietta, with my Georgia kin for family love, meeting the much bally-hoo-ed new girlfriend and Aunt Nancy's special friend. My cousin Constance (not pictured) recently wrote on our family blog/website that she loved our family, that she loved how we close we all are and that we come a'visiting more often than not, and with that, I must concur. My mom and her sister, my Auntie Nancy made sure we were together, all the cousins, as often as it could happen. Every Christmas; the random Thanksgivings; legions of New Year's Eve galas at the house I grew up in - long dresses for all the girls; weeks spent every summer shipped off to mammaw and pappaw's house in KCMO; the cabin in Balsam, NC for a weekend here and there, growing up I always thought our family was huge, but really, it was just full and frequent.

Next stop, western North Carolina, about 20-30 minutes from Waynesville, I think. We spent some seriously lovely time with Mark, Jessica, Ben and Maiya and what a gorgeous mountain-y time that was.

Maiya is the dirt-eating-est little one I have ever met. I mean really, she seeks out the red clay chunks and just pops 'em in her mouth, you'd think they were candy. For this shot she lovingly smeared her gorgeous face and fingers, after I retrieved a pretty large portion of the clay from her mouth. The LaShells live in the mountains without blinds on their windows and with a garden in front. We walked down the street, confident that we'd hear a car if there was actually traffic coming crunching the gravel. We got sprinkled on talking to the neighbor as his goat wandered to the fence, headed back up the hill, and marvelled at the mouth-full-of-marbles-ness that is part of the true western North Carolina rural mountain accent. Magdalena discovered the joy of kale after she and Ben harvested a bit for each meal, and is counting the days until we plant our own.