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Archive for April, 2007

My daughter has been really enjoying watching DVD episodes of Dora the Explorer. It’s a really simple concept, but absolutely perfect for a preschooler. Each episode is quite predictable. Dora and her monkey Boots have to accomplish some task, and there are always three places they have to go and things to do along the way. Dora asks her map to show her which way to go. The map will say something like: “You have to go over the snowy mountain, across Crocodile Lake and then you get to the Gooey geiser.” Of course, Dora and Boots always succeed in their mission and get to sing the “We did it!” song. Dora and Boots talk about their favorite parts and “ask” the viewer about his or her favorite part. Dora ends by saying “We couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks for helping.” The show is as interactive as a show can be. It also teaches a few Spanish words in each episode.

I have found Dora to make a great template for playful parenting. It turns out just about any task or favor I ask of L can be turned into a Dora-style adventure. Sunday night we picked up the living room as a family because all the toys had gotten scattered all over the floor. L would go after groups of toys and put them in their appropriate boxes. She would ask her map where to go, and Erik or I would answer something like this: “To get to the Lego box, you have to go past the tea set box, around the tool box and then you get to the Lego box.” L would follow those directions, deposit the Lego into its box and pick up the next toy. The game would start all over. We had her putting away stuffed animals and books in her bedroom that way… “You have to go down the long hallway, past the bathroom, and then you get to L’s room.” We got the living room picked up that way and it was so much fun for everyone.

It worked the same way yesterday when it was time for L to get her teeth brushed. She has an Elmo toothbrush. L did not want to brush her teeth and even when I started having Elmo talk to her, she moved dangerously close to a complete meltdown. Dora to the rescue. “OK, to rescue Elmo, we have to first go down the hall, then into the master bedroom, and then into the bathroom. Hall, bedroom, bathroom.” L was on it and Elmo got rescued and covered with toothpaste and L’s teeth got brushed.

Getting playful with my daughter, especially at the end of the day when I’m running out of energy, can be a challenge because it calls for a lot of creativity on my part that I don’t always feel I have. But because the Dora adventures are so formula, I really don’t have to think too hard to send L on Dora-style missions. L loves it, and I haven’t had to wrack my brains to come up with something original.

Today I went to a Mother’s Circle meeting. Three children from the same family had all brought their colorful umbrellas as it rained all day. L saw those umbrellas and wanted one of her own. “Can I have an umbrella, Mom?” I told her we’d go buy her one at the store. For the past couple weeks L has been making pretend umbrellas out of Legos and other toys, so I knew her desire for an umbrella predated her seeing the other children’s umbrellas. Anyway, we found her umbrella at Target–it’s a Dora umbrella, and she spent the rest of the day playing with it inside the house.

I’m usually more reluctant to buy a merchandise product like that but I was happy to buy the umbrella. First, I feel I owe Dora a lot of gratitude for the fun we’ve had using her template. Second, I’m inspired to dream that one day a mother will buy her own daughter an umbrella, or a towel, or a lunch box… with Juniper Kangaroo all over it.

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A couple weeks ago my husband started bringing Tintin volumes home from the library, and I’ve been devouring them. I grew up reading Tintin comic books–in the original French! Tintin is pronounced to rhyme with the sound you make to imitate a baby crying, not like a tin-tin can! And Tintin’s dog is named Milou, not Snowy. But European snobbery aside, it’s been lots of fun getting reacquainted with Tintin, his friends and enemies, and his adventures.

I remember Captain Haddock’s short temper and weakness for whisky. I used to laugh at all the multisyllabic words he used to express his frequent outrage at the large and small insults and injuries he encountered on every page. My favorite Haddock outburst took place in The Red Sea Sharks when Tintin and Haddock got the upper hand on a ship where they were being held prisoner and Haddock learned through a scheduled rendezvous that the African people in the ship’s hold were destined to be sold as slaves. The rendezvous was with the dealer. Captain Haddock just let loose on the slave trader and shouted after him as he was leaving. When Tintin told him the trader was out of earshot, Haddock got a megaphone and continued with the name calling. I remember as a child finding the words Haddock used to express himself to be absolutely hilarious. I mean, how can you keep a straight face while reading words like “ectoplasm” and “bashi-bouzouk?”

Reading these adventures as an adult, I realize that Herge, Tintin’s creator, intended to portray Captain Haddock as the stereotypical foul-mouthed sailor. Either by choice or because profanity wasn’t so accepted in the literature of the 30s and 40s, Herge did not have Haddock use actual profanity. Instead, he would draw an angry-faced Haddock spewing out strings of fifty dollar words or well-alliterated but otherwise meaningless phrases. Phrases such as “ten thousand thundering typhoons!” (“Mille million de mille sabords” in French), “Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!” and “Band of bashi-bouzouks!” As children, my brother and I would laugh over the outbursts and when our parents were out of earshot, would call each other the multisyllabic names Captain Haddock threw out so freely to anyone who so much as looked at him wrong. As an adult, I still laugh over the outbursts, and I better understand the picture Herge was painting. In real life, the words would be much different, and not repeatable in polite company. But who can argue with “orangutan?”

I generally have greater respect for an author or film director who manages to realistically portray a situation that would be rife with profanity in real life without actually using swear words, or at least only using a few of the milder ones than for a creator who puts all the dirty words into his work. I happen to believe it takes greater intelligence and creativity to come up with alternate words that still get the message across than it does to put in the curse words you hear all the time. I watched A Walk to Remember which dealt with teenagers on the edge of delinquency. The directors wanted it to be a PG movie, which meant that most of the profanity such teenagers normally use had to go. And yet it was clear to the viewer that these characters were a bunch of foul-mouthed troublemakers–at least they started out that way. The movie wouldn’t have been nearly as pleasant to watch had the actors used the exact same words real life delinquents use. And the Tintin series wouldn’t be as funny had Haddock used words an actual foul-mouthed sailor uses. Herge’s use of multisyllabic words to portray Haddock’s angry outburts was truly masterful.

At one point today, I got frustrated with something involving my daughter L and started to raise my voice at her. I caught myself and instead exclaimed: “Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!” That got her laughing hysterically, and made me feel better too. Profanity cannot give you that kind of lift no matter how much you try to justify its increasing inclusion in books, movies and songs. So, whether a character is meant to be comic relief like Captain Haddock, or a serious character with deep disturbing problems, an author takes the high road by choosing to not use profanity.

Thundering Typhoons! Where did the ectoplasmic time go?

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This morning I conducted what is becoming a monthly ritual in our household: the trip to the post office with the brown manila envelope in hand. Normally the girls and I walk to the post office, then stop by the park on the way back home. Today, the weather was bad, so instead I loaded the girls into their car seats and drove down the street. The post office has a big window facing the street. I parked the car there, left the motor running and went inside to mail off my manuscript. This one is My Baby Sister and its destination is the publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux. I’ve revised My Baby Sister a total of five times, making this manuscript the one in which I’ve invested the most effort. It’s also the one I believe in the most. I think it’s good enough to go somewhere and I’m going to persevere with it until it does. F, S & G will take around three months to decide if they want it. I’m hoping to choose a second publisher to submit it to well before that in the event that F, S & G rejects it. But other than that, it’s time to give My Baby Sister a rest, forget about it, and start working on my next project. If I need to resubmit it to another publisher, I can take a fresh look at it.

Once I returned from the post office and unloaded the girls out of the car, the day took on a more normal stay-at-home mom flavor. Both my girls have the sniffles, so we took it easy. We rolled a ball back and forth to each other in the living room, I let L watch a sesame street movie while I took a shower. I added some rye flour and water to my sour dough bread starter. I swept and mopped the kitchen floor. Recently we replaced our fridge and the floor was showing signs of the large appliance switch. I folded three baskets of clothes, finally declaring myself officially caught up with the laundry. While folding the clothes, L got silly and started putting various pieces on her head. She saw E take off her slippers and socks and put the slipper on her head, and thought that was a riot. I pretended to make a big deal out of it, “What? A sleeper on your head?” This only made L giggle all the more. Who would have known that minutes before L was crying in my arms over some upset?

I’m a techie at heart and actually have my household chore task list entered in Outlook. I’ve set the tasks to recur based on my ideal for how often certain jobs, like cleaning the bathroom sinks, get done. But the task will only regenerate when I’ve checked it off as done. This means that when I invariably fall behind from the ideal, once I do accomplish the task, I’m automatically caught up on that task and won’t see it again until the time I’ve set for it to recur. Each day I make a little game with myself to see how many overdue tasks I can check off. Today, I got to check off two.

For lunch the girls and I shared one of the pints of yogurt I made yesterday. I get two shares of raw milk which translates into two gallons a week, half of which I process into yogurt. Lately I’ve been skimming the cream off to save for ice cream, but this time I left the cream with the milk. It is such an improvement on the taste and quality of the milk and yogurt to leave the cream in. I dream of the future when we will have a family cow who produces enough milk that when we want extra cream, the leftover skim milk is considered waste–something to feed the pigs, not consume ourselves. In the mean time, I have many pints of creamy yogurt to enjoy.

I contemplate what to fix for dinner, and settle on soup using a turkey stock I made up shortly after this past Thanksgiving. I will throw in the leftover whole grains we’ve eaten for breakfast, the chicken, a pint of sauerkraut my husband and I fermented ourselves last month. Of course, I’ll start by sauteeing some onions, carrots and celery in a stick of butter, sadly purchased from the store. I think again about our future milk cow, who will give us enough cream for me to make butter.

Many diaper changes happen before and during dinner preparation. I’m late on starting and want L to go to bed early so I feed her a couple painted hard boiled Easter eggs just in case. I also let her chew the chicken meat off the bones as I cut up pieces for my soup. Surprisingly, she’s still hungry and does have a little bit of her soup, but only after Erik agrees to add some rolled oats and banana slices. As I’m sitting down to enjoy my soup, it becomes obvious that E needs to go down to sleep right now, so I move to the rocking chair to nurse her. As soon as E is asleep, my husband Erik and I help get L to sleep. We then sit down for some private time and E wakes up. Erik gets her settled back to sleep but then he can’t put her down without waking her up. So I prop up a Tintin comic book to read while I consume three bowls of soup. Erik is reading another Tintin book while holding E. The soup, by the way, is delicious. Adding sauerkrout to soup gives it an incredibly rich flavor. I make a mental note that in a pinch stock and sauerkrout alone will make a decent soup–more nutritious than boxed mac & cheese.

Before I know it, it’s time to start thinking about my own bedtime, and maybe I should clean up the kitchen so it’s nice for tomorrow. Nah, I’d rather be blogging. Or working on one of my writing projects (I have more of those than I really have the time for). It’s during the evenings after my girls are asleep that I can usually count on some concentrated time to write. I say usually, because both girls often wake up at night fairly often and need to be soothed back to sleep. Still, there have been enough uninterrupted evenings that it’s not unreasonable to hope this one will be like that. Then I have to decide between writing, catching up on housework, spending some quality time with my husband, or any number of other possibilities that get put on hold day after day. What will it be tonight? Whatever it is, it will involve homemade ice cream.

Such is the life of a stay-at-home aspiring author.

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