Thursday, May 28, 2009

Books we love right now at the Yellow House

One of the coolest surprises we found when we moved to Catonsville was its amazing library, especially the children's section. They have a fantastic collection of fairy tales and legends, a great selection of chapter books for all ages, and the best part is the 'new books' shelf, where I can keep up with all that is new and lovely in children's lit.

I think my most favorite book that we've read in the last 12 months is Small Beauties: The Journey of Darcy Heart O'Hara by Elvira Woodruff and illustrated by Adam Rex.

This has it all for me: Ireland, a small girl who 'stopped to notice small beauties wherever she went', the centrality of family, the departure from a beloved land, the act of remembering. There's been some talk recently in our house about the creation and telling of stories, so I love it when we find a book that incorporates the act of storytelling into the story itself.

It would be a hardened heart indeed that is able to get through the pages where Darcy and her family leave Ireland for New York, and the grandparents stay behind: "Now there is no farewell sadder than the farewell of forever, and so it was with many tears that the O'Haras bid their beloved Ireland good-bye." The grandmother tells Darcy that she's counting on her to keep the family stories vivid in their memories: "Help the others to remember, and not just the sadness, the hurt, and the hunger. Help them to remember all the beauty they left behind." Every time I read it (and we're on about the 46th reading around here) my voice catches, and the kids exclaim Mommy! Are you crying?!?!

Even better is when a beautiful story is aided by incredible illustrations: moving and evocative. I know my attachment to this story is perhaps more autobiographical than others, but I enthusiastically recommend it for anyone who loves small beauties, girls who are noticers, Ireland, or simply the lyricism of a well-told tale.

Now, as a counterpoint to the tugging-at-your-heartstrings historical drama, we found All in a Day by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Nikiki McClure on the 'new releases' shelf last week.

It is a simple read, but such an incredible idea. Rylant's book celebrates the possibilities of a day, and asks the reader to consider your day for all that it might be, and to celebrate everything that IS the day, instead of what was yesterday or will be tomorrow. A quote from Amazon's review page: "The word 'lovely' gets tossed around, but it seems to fit both the words and the art of this ode to the day."

The papercut illustrations are one of the real joys of the book: using black paper and an Xacto knife, Nikki McClure conveys incredible perspective and texture that really ping my little 'graphic-o-meter' in such a happy way.

I'll leave you with this quote from it: The past is sailing off to sea,/the future's fast asleep./A day is all you have to be, it's all you get to keep.

If only, if only! we were able to keep that focus in our daily lives. I just love kid's books so much.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Growing Pains

May is such a BIG month: invariably, it is filled with last-days-of, year-ends, graduations, teacher thank yous, recitals, shows, parties. Last week we went to a 'graduation' from 3 year old preschool, this Friday is Last Day of Kindergarten, and Saturday will be the Dance Extravaganza for the ballet/tap class.

I generally sail through The Big Moments dry-eyed: the first steps, the first day at school, riding a bike without training wheels. All of these have arrived with great joy, huge amounts of mama pride, but nary a tear. Not that getting a bit weepy would be the wrong response. Only, for me, those milestones feel so much a part of the Big Picture. They are but one moment in a lifetime of many huge moments to come, and in those instances of triumph or independence I can rejoice in their progress and celebrate - for them, for me.

For me, the tears come in the quietest of moments.

Tonight I was alone in the kitchen, putting away dishtowels. The space I needed was taken up by a stack of Annika's bibs: some inherited from the big kids, some given to her 'fresh & clean'. I fingered the stack, recalling an earlier conversation with Torbjorn that reflected Annika's violent and noisy distaste for all protective gear except one very specific lightweight model. (Luckily, it's cute.) It was time for the rest to go. And I couldn't make my fingers pick them up.

I touched the bright pink flowered bib, that Cecilie wore every meal for her entire 2nd year. And 3rd. Oh, and 4th. The one she'll still dig out if she's got an especially fancy outfit on - or her school uniform. Then I spied a little yellow cowboy printed bib that was Lars'. Oh oh oh, did the waterworks kick into high gear.

To me, this bandanna-edged bib holds all the moments that have slipped through my fingers faster than a wet naked toddler. This was my tiny boy that I can barely remember as a baby. This was my little man who made a holy mess on the floor at every meal. I have the most distinct memory of taking the cowboy bib off him, knowing he'd never wear it again. (The shrieking and tearing at the Velcro may have been my clue.)

This bib is all of the endless meals served to babies day after day, the daily routine of nourishment that a mom undertakes and doesn't register, and then all of the sudden she's done. Done with the tiny feeder spoon doing 'the airplane', done with pureeing 6 vegetables together for maximum vitamin efficiency, done with needing 46 bibs in the drawer.

Just like that, there is no more baby. There is a toddler who gets a sandwich along with the rest of them, there is a four year old boy who races his dad to eat the most spinach, there is an almost-first-grader pouring her own cereal quite happily.

I'll go ahead and admit I let the tears roll down my face for a good few minutes, till I was a great big runny-nosed mess.

These are the unique sort of tears neither happy or sad, but somehow your heart's marking of your passage through another stage of life. I remember tears like this when I drove away from a college boyfriend who was the loveliest, funniest person in my world, and I knew I was done with that time. There were tears like this, in fact, when I left England. Maybe one's heart gets growing pains too, even when it knows the next size up will be just as good, maybe better.

Tonight, my heart had growing pains.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


One of the BIGGEST events in the DC area each year is the Airshow at Andrews Air Force Base, 100,000 makes it for a weekend of rip roaring fun and a screaming good time...
The show is THIS BIG
The smallest planes doesn't even have a line to wait in before you get to sit behind the controls...
...and to just stand on one can be plenty exciting by it self
This was the plane that Uncle Jon learned how to fly in and well worth a 5 minute wait...
...but the highlight of the day was to be able to sit behind the control of Uncle Jon's helicopter - the CH53 - Super Stallion

The youngest one 've got the idea...

Oh yeah, in real life they use the Super Stallion to lift other helicopters:

Syttende Mai

How excited are we?
Once a year all the Nilsens that have them (that excludes the only full blood Norwegians among us) dons their bunads (national costumes) and we head to a park outside DC to celebrate the Norwegian national day
The celebration is beautiful (I would say that, wouldn't I...;) in its simplicity, the 200 - 300 that show up parades around a field
...and show off their stuff...

...and eat ice cream...
This year had the distinction of being a truly cold, muggy and miserable one, but ice-cream we HAD to have, don't even have to be Norwegian to enjoy that logic.

Happy birthday Norway.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

This child is my spawn?

I'm on a bit of a writer's high, after being published *for the very first time*!! You can see the article in Classic Play, a cracking bit of online publishing from EllieBellieKids. So while my brain (and my notebooks) fills with good ideas to maintain the high, I thought I'd bring you just a few of Cecilie's best moments over the last week or so.

Chatting up some new neighbors: "I was born in England. That's why I speak a lot of English."

With Mommy, on a quiet Saturday afternoon at home: "You don't have to work next weekend either? Hooray! That's TWO whole weekends of laughter and fun!" [make sure you read this with a tone of breathless delight in your head]

After losing her fifth tooth, her eye tooth this time. She is a little grossed out by the 'tooth falling out' process, and has to sever the final thread herself. A little tearily, she examines the admittedly tiny piece of dental memorabilia and exclaims "well! It surely is a baby tooth!"

In the car, we stop at a traffic light, in front of a rather nice home on a street we don't normally traverse. In the back seat I hear "Oh, I long to live in that house, every time I pass by it." [Me: Do you really?] "Well, no. Not really. I just think it's a nice house."

This evening, when asked to do Clean Up Time after dinner: "Mommy, 'Cecilie' does not go well with 'clean up time.' I think 'Catherine' goes better." [when I recover from the whole non-sequiter element of her comment, I guess it has to do with letter sounds - "oh, is that because Catherine is a hard 'C' instead of a soft 'C' like Cecilie?] "No, I really just don't like to clean."

She is an absolute delight. She is. We just have no idea where she came from.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Spoiler Alert: A bit New Agey

Ok, I originally stumbled across this on a random link on Facebook. In looking into this further (you know, all 30 seconds on Wiki) I found out that this guy's been on Oprah and all that. You can find out all about the book here.

But you know, I'm not shy to share something that seems to make sense to me. What do you think? Is this all malarkey, or is it a summary in 4 points of the way we should be living, Christian or non?

The Four Agreements:
Don Miguel Ruiz's Code for Life

Agreement 1
Be impeccable with your word - Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Agreement 2
Don’t take anything personally - Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

Agreement 3
Don’t make assumptions - Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Agreement 4
Always do your best - Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

An Obituary

There is nothing like reading an actual newspaper - I might be part of the last generation to say it and actually mean it. Today I am left with the feeling that my kids will be the last generation to even have a faint memory of what a newspaper is.

I went out to pick up the paper this morning and almost couldn't find it: it was so thin! There was a time when you could slam the weekend paper on the kitchen table with a solid "thunk", then it became a "kerplunk", and and now the poor old thing is down to a "whooshhhh".
Things are particularly bad here in Baltimore, where, after having lost our second-tier paper completely less than a month ago, the trusty Sun lost 10 more editors this week, as its owner, the Tribune Company, is working its way through bankruptcy. This morning's edition was a total of 21 pages, not counting the advertisements. However, things are bad all around, and I've even observed the progression from "thunk" to "kerplunk" with the grand dame of them all: the New York Times, reporting losses of nearly $75 million the first Quarter this year.

It is too easy to blame new media for this demise, for new media is just that: a medium. It might have provided some challenges in figuring out how to generate revenue through it, but it certainly is not single-handedly killing the newspaper industry. I believe the industry is killing itself in the way it has decided to counter new media.

American papers have never really satisfied my hunger for international news, and these papers' news as entertainment, or news as opinion just doesn't sit well with me. I have been mourning the loss of original reporting, investigative reporting and facts for a good long time. Luckily for me I can get online (new media! gah!) to get my norwegian news and there is always the BBC...
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