Monday, December 22, 2008

Robot Love

First you must know this: When we put on Wall-E for Ayla and Indy a few weeks ago, they barely paid it any attention.

They showed only the slightest, passing interest in the little robot and his sleek robot girlfriend (Ayla took a moment to obsess over whether or not Grammy had the movie at her house, remember?)before turning to each other to scream and fight and laugh and hug and wreak general havoc while mom and dad slumped on the couch and turned up the volume.

So I didn't even consider buying it for them for Christmas. They weren't interested. Right?

Then, two weeks ago, Grammy mentioned to me that Ayla had been talking about Wall-E and Flushed Away. And I know Ayla does love Flushed Away. She asks for it all the time. If she sees a picture of that mouse creature in the British-flag blue jeans, she points to it and says "Mom, you forgot to get me this!", all put out and accusatory-like.

So I bought her Flushed Away. (Don't worry mom. Ayla can't read this). And didn't really give another thought to Wall-E.

But then it began.

Driving in the car one day, Ayla announced: "My name is Eva. And Indy's name is Wall-E".

That was fine.

Then she started imitating those little robots. Have you seen the movie? There is something highly addictive about the way they croon one another's names, back and forth at each other,their voices electronic and unhuman: "EE-va!" "Wall-EE!". Yes, Ayla was repeating it. And she wasn't the only one. Suddenly, every time I went out anywhere, I heard at least one child repeating the sounds, like a pre-Christmas litany, an unholy pagan chant offered up to the gods of consumerism (if you're feeling cynical) or maybe just to the gods of good story-telling (if you're not).

"EE-va! Wall-EE! EE-va! Wall-EE!"

Should I get her Wall-E for Chrismtas? I pondered aloud to Noah. No, says he. We already got her Sleeping Beauty AND Flushed Away.

What kind of parents give their four year old three dvd's for Christmas?

Next thing I know, Ayla is actually introducing herself as Eva. "Hi boy, What's your name?" she chirps at the children's section of Barnes and Noble.


"Hi Alex I'm Eva. And my stitcher's name is Wally." (Stitcher being sister in Ayla-speak).

And then. Last night, tucking Ayla into bed, nestled all snug with her new Wall-E blanket and pillow (thanks, Aunt Sophie), what does the little elf utter?

"I hope Santa will bring me Wall-E for Christmas."

Well that was it. End of story.

Wall-E is on the way to our house. On his way this very moment, thanks to Amazon. Target and Borders are sold out. What did parents do before Amazon? How did you survive it?

And why do children wait until three days before Christmas to tell you what they REALLY, TRULY, want the most?

Merry Christmas, baby.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Christmas Toast

Do you know what that is?

It depends. If you are an incredibly independent-minded four year old, that is a beautiful Christmas ornament.

If you are her bemused mommy, it is breakfast.

This morning Ayla and Indy had cinnamon toast for breakfast. (We won't discuss what mommy had with her coffee, since it was composed almost entirely of butter and powdered sugar).

At nap time, that is where I found breakfast. I had a good chuckle.

Ayla's other unique Christmas ornaments include books:

And princess necklaces, for a perfect tree topper.

Here are some other things to toast this December. Indy and Ayla are beside themselves with excitement, and need some things to toast.

Toast wandering around in your nutcracker pajamas with your hair just a bit mussed:

Toast licking the frost left on the inside of the windows after the overnight temperature hits thirteen degrees below zero:

And maybe toast the intricate patterns in the frost:

Monday, December 15, 2008

When Mama is Away at Sea

And Noah, the good father
Takes the little girls outside
To keep them happy still
And never tires.

And the goblins come.

They push daddy around
And pile daddy in snow
Until they have another daddy, all made of ice**

This is what Noah and the girls are doing.

Saturday mornings while I am either working at Paying Job.

Or out at Caribou.

(In case you were wondering)

Working Hard:

Freezing in the snowy blue world:

Playing little house in the snowy wood:

Eating snow:

Throwing snow:

And laughing:

Thanks daddy.

We love you.

**Adapted from "Outside Over There" by Maurice Sendak.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ayla Cassat

Ayla wants santa to bring her paints. A big, big, big one. A big wheel of paints. That spins and spins like that. And makes all the colors, makes MANY colors. So she can PAINT ALL DAY.

Glee lights in her eyes as she tells me this. Joy, at the idea of painting all day.

Ayla's rendition of Wilson from Castaway:

And Ayla, in a mad, painting frenzy:

Monday, December 8, 2008

They are not here. . .

We: Decorating the tree last night.

Ayla: (Holding a strip of jingle bells and pretending to be santa)Hohoho, merry christmas!

Mom: Oh, Santa is here! Santa, did you bring me the Nintendo Wii and the bracelet from Tiffany's that I wanted?

Santa:(fake deep voice) I don't have those things!

Mom: Can't you have the elves at the north pole make mommy a Wii and a Tiffany's bracelet?

Santa: No!

Mom: Why not?

Santa: They're all dead!

Mom:(stifling laugh) What did they die from?

Santa: They died from the north pole!!

Mom: (pictures workshops and cold and noisy, busy little people with high pitched voices eyeing your inferior progress on making Bratz dolls all day long): I think the North Pole would kill me too.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Britt Recommends: December

Working at a bookstore is fun, because people ask me to recommend books, and usually, unless we're in the mystery/thriller section and they've already read "In The Woods", I can come up with a good one.

Here's my good one for December. If you're a fantasy reader, you must read this one. Even if you don't read fantasy, I recommend it. I discovered it when I was, hmmm, maybe 15. I didn't read alot of fantasy back then. But this one swept me away.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It's the Arthurian legend (think Guinevere and Lancelot and Camelot) retold from a female perspective. Traditionally, Morgan Le Fay has been a figure of evil, a wicked sorceress. I remember being shocked to see her so misaligned in that arthurian movie with Sam Neil as Merlin in it. Bradley's Morgan Le Fay (or Morgaine, in this book) was the first encounter I had with the figure, and in Mists of Avalon she is our protagonist, a woman trying to navigate her way through a turbulent time in history, when Christianity and the Romans were invading the British Isles.

It's a long book, and somehow reading about misty forests and ancient pagan rites and warrior women and men and great romance seems to be the perfect sort of book for December. A wonderful cosy up before the fire and immerse yourself kind of book. In my mind, Christmas and December are inextricably linked with Celtic religions and rites, and I have my parents to blame for this. They raised me on equal parts traditional Christmas hymns and songs with pagan origins, written to drive the dark away. Songs and 'Christmas' albums that recognize winter as a time to take notice of the cycles of death and rebirth, a time to find quiet and solitude in your soul; a time to be still, as the earth is still.We celebrate Jesus' birth in winter, a time when everything else is dying, and this sounds confusing at first, but is pretty neat symbolically, when you think about it. Jesus is, of course, the light in the darkness.

But I think, ironically, this terrible pagan music my parents played in my childhood, thereby unknowingly instilling in me a secret desire to dance with fir boughs and burn a yule log and eat a boar's head and wassail and recognize the solstice only deepens my understanding of the Christian meaning of Christmas. I mean, Christmas has been tied in with the old solstice celebrations since it's origin, and it's silly not to recognize this. And when you do, you start to understand about winter. About the symbolism of spiritual death to create new life. That we need the dark, as much as we need to drive it away. That dark is not synonymous with evil. That darkness can mean death, but the darkness of winter also reminds us to be quiet, and find stillness, and solitude, and reflection, and that is all necessary for spiritual rebirth and renewal.

Which, I think, is why some people tend to get sad around the holidays. Here is the earth, the cycle of life reminding us to take a time to be quiet within ourselves, and yet we spend the whole season bustling about, overstimulating ourselves with shopping and crowds and florescent lights at Wal-mart and long lines and nowhere to park at the mall and sometimes we stop to think: why do we put ourselves through this? But then we park and get out of the car and shop, because it's Christmas, damnit! And at Christmas we give gifts and drink a cup of cheer and we all act very jolly and carry on and on. And lord knows I am glad you do it, mom and dad. Because I do love getting those gifts so very much.

So. I leave you with these lines, from my favorite Pago-Christian cd, The Christmas Revels:

So the shortest day came.
And the year died.
And everywhere, down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people, singing! Dancing! To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees
They hung their homes with evergreen
They burned beseeching fires all night long to keep the year alive.
And when the new day's sunshine blazed awake, they shouted,
Reveling! Through all across the ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us.


All the long echoes sing the same delight this shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land
They carol, feast, give thanks, and dearly love their friends
And hope for peace.
And so do we
here now, this year and every year
Welcome Yule!
Welcome Yule!

And this, Fra Giovanni's lines, 1513 AD:

I salute you.

There is nothing I can give you which you have not.
But there is much that while I cannot give, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today.
Take heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant.
Take peace.

The bloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy
Take joy.

And so at this Christmastime I greet you with the prayer
That for you
now and forever
the day breaks
and the shadows flee away.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Notes to Grammy


Ayla misses you.

Last night we were settling on the couch to watch a movie. Ayla asked when we were going to grammy's house.

In three days, I said.

Ayla sighed. "I don't even know what color grammy's house is anymore. Or what flowers are there."

She actually said that.

Then Wall-E came on. "Oh! Grammy has this movie I sink," said Ayla. "Oh wait, no she doesn't. Does she? Does grammy have this one?"

We told her no. She was quiet for about a minute.

"But mom? Do YOU sink Grammy has this one? With da robot?"

No Ayla. Grammy does not have this one.

"But she does, I sink. I sink grammy does. Or maybe I sink she doesn't. Have dis one."

On and on it went. For a full five minutes Ayla discussed with herself. Topic: Does Grammy or does Grammy not own Wall-E?

See you Thursday, grammy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hodge Podge

O magazine had a write-up about this incredible story of strength and unity in war-torn Liberia:

I think that there are alot of awful things in the world but I think there is alot of good too.

I think this one looks good as well. Both of these documentaries are stories of tragedy but it looks like they both manage to send a message of hope:

Have you heard of Young At Heart yet? It's on my blockbuster list. I haven't watched it yet, because I have to be in the right mood for a documentary. But I think it looks great:

Well. Indy is crying and pulling at my robe. So that's all for now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Things We've Lost in the Twilight Zone

Isn't it funny how memory works? Yesterday it was so warm, the girls and I went out to the front yard. On the porch was a huge splat of white goop. It looked like paint. But how could white paint have ended up on our front porch?

I think it had to be bird poop. Don't worry, I told the girls not to touch it.

I mentioned it to Noah, as we were dozing off in bed and my mind was in that soft, malleable state where thoughts and memories and ideas drift in and out and you jot something down--some sentence or title or idea--and wake up in the morning and read it.

And think, what was I thinking?

Anyway, he said he thought it was poop too. Which led me to mention how I almost--ALMOST--got pooped on in New York. Which led Noah to mention how he did get pooped on in high school. Which led me to mention that so did I.

Which made me remember this:

Starring Sally J. Freedman, As Herself.

How could I have forgotten?

Judy Blume was one of the most important writers for me, growing up. I read this one when I was in about 4th grade, I think. I read alot of her other ones too. Freckle Juice, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Otherwise Known As Sheila the Great, Superfudge, and of course, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

Judy Blume has drawn some heat because she never talks down to her readers. She writes for children, but she doesn't try to protect them from truths about their own lives. I don't remember ever being shocked or disturbed by anything in Blume's books. I just remember I loved them.

Sally J Freedman is about a little girl living in America after WWII. Sally had cousins that died in the Holocaust. She dreams about them often.

She is given to spinning off flights of incredible fancy (that's why I loved her).

In one, she meets Hitler. She bravely refuses to succumb to him as he badgers her for answers. The tone here is fantastical and fanciful. It's not dark to you, as a child. Looking back as an adult, it sort of is.

Sally is sent down to Miami beach to spend the summer with her buhbeh (sounds like babi, if you're Czech)while her older brother recovers from an infection.

Sally is convinced her neighbor is Hitler in disguise.

Sally J Freedman gets pooped on. Bubeh says it is good luck.

Sally is in love with Peter Hornstien. With a name like that, you know he is gorgeous.

Honestly, that's about all I remember. I have a hankering to re-read it now, but I haven't read it since I was about 9 (I looked up the boys name. No, I did not just recall it). But I know I loved it back then. I loved all things Judy Blume.

If you haven't read her yet, you might want to get around to it.

More Things We've Lost in the Twilight Zone books to come.

What were some of your favorite books as a child or teen?

Monday, November 17, 2008


Calls Santa "Hohoho".

She says it quick, each syllable a descending note. Just the way santa laughs, if you rushed it all together.


Indy won't come out of her room when nap time is over. She'll stand inside her door and knock. Gently. If I don't open it soon enough, she'll lay down on her bed and whine, softly.

Indy. Will cradle your face in her soft, puffy hands. Stroke your cheeks. Pull back and gaze at you adoringly. Press her lips hard to yours and go "mmmmmmmmmmmmmmWAH".

Indy will sing to you if you're sad.

Indy is really good at saying thank you. For feeding her. For changing her diaper. For opening a door she can't. For giving her a toy. For putting on Curious George. "Dase you, mom." (dase = thanks)

Indy also says no thanks. In a way that destroys all my parental authority. As in, "Indy, let's put on your shoes."

"Um, no ganks."

"Indy, time for bed."

"Uh, no ganks!" (grinning)

"Indy, stop hitting your sister."

Indy cocks her head. "No ganks!"

Indy will smile and flirt with and talk to and charm strangers.

Indy is terrified of: loud noises, being held upside down, and Ayla pretending to be a monster.

And apparently, of cupcakes:

Indy calls the Doodlebops "Poopybutts".

(Ayla calls Betty Boop "Boop-i-dee" and Popeye "Pie-pie")

Indy loves candy.

Indy picks up the kitty by wrapping her two hands around its neck and squeezing. We are trying to teach her not to do this. But you should see the way she grins, as she does.

If Indy drops or breaks something, she turns to you and draws her breath in sharply-- "Huh!"-- and makes her mouth a round little 'o' that somehow manages to smile and shines her eyes at you. And you can't be mad.

When trick-or-treating, Indy marches right up to the people handing out candy, for the second, or third, or fourth time, and holds out her bucket and smiles and says "More Please!" and they give her more. How could they not? And mom doesn't have the heart to stop her. Mom can't help it. Mom is impressed.

Indy is so stubborn it impresses mom even when she's being naughty: Flying down the highway with nowhere to pull over and Indy has wriggled out of her seatbelt and mom is pinching Indy's leg and saying "put it on! Put it on!" and Indy is crying from having her leg squeezed but still shaking her head and saying "No! No. No."

Indy. Calls her cousin. Eyes.

Indy's first word, at 9 months old, was "Awa! Awa!"

Indy was named after two characters. A female character from a book, and a male character from a movie.

Indy loves to talk on the phone. Mostly she says "An Aye-uh. An Aye-uh si Aye-uh. An mommy si mommy. An daddy no hose. An daddy si. An uh Aye-uh, an si NO NO!"

Indy makes perfect sense to herself.

When mom says no to Indy, Indy will turn to Aye-uh and say "Aye-uh?" and make a sad face and open her arms for a hug.

Indy looks like Papa:

And her mom's Grandma Hartke.

And Mercy.

(before Mercy wore eyeliner. when Mercy was still blonde).

Sometimes I look at Indy and think: How did that child possibly come from me? Where am I in her? This sugar-cookie-haired smiling singing chubby tyrant? This outgoing, engaging, charming little live-wire with eyes the color of the sky in October?

She gets her personality from her dad, I guess. Or maybe my mom. Both. And from her. The bit of her that is all her, and no one else.

But not from me.

I see me alot in Ayla. And almost never in Indy. And I think both ways are pretty cool.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

On Election Day

On Election day, I found myself at Ground Zero.

I didn't mean to go to Ground Zero. Before the trip I had thought, I'd like to see Ground Zero. But then there were museums, and restaurants, and galleries, and skyscrapers, and I realized our agenda was packed already, and Ground Zero wasn't high on the priorities list.

We had thought about seeing the Guggenheim on Election Day. We only had a morning before our plane left at 5:00. But we were tired of museums and wanted to get outside and be in the city for our last day there.

We took the subway down to the Brooklyn Bridge stop. When we got out and emerged into the sun, we paused for a moment to look at the skyline.

"Britt," my dad said. "It brings a tear to my eye. Right there is where the twin towers would have been."

I looked for a moment but I didn't feel much. It's hard to miss something that isn't there, that you've never seen. My dad knew what the skyline was supposed to look like. We were just across the street from his college dorms. But I didn't.

We walked out onto Brooklyn Bridge.

We walked down to the NYSE, and across from it was this sculpture of George Washington. Lots of asian tourists were there, smiling ear to ear, posing in front of him.

It was cute. We waited our turn.

There were lots of tourists out that day, and in that area. People speaking French, German, Swedish, Japanese. We wandered down a street on our way to Wall Street. I looked up and saw this sign:

Wow. Election Day and there it was. Reminding me of the first women to fight for my right to vote. I didn't know yet that that day we were about to elect Barack Obama. I didn't yet know that his election would be driven heavily by the women's vote. That a higher percentage of women than men would vote Obama. Looking at the sign and thinking of Stanton and Anthony, it made me proud that I had voted. (I mailed in my ballot early). This was the first election I have voted in. Without these women, along with Lucy Burns and Alice Paul, I may not have been able to vote at all. Did you realize that black men received the right to vote before women did? Do you know what our foremothers went through to win us this right?

You must watch Iron Jawed Angels.

Thank you Stanton and Anthony, and Burns and Paul.

From there we walked down the street and passed in front of an old church. We were going to pass it without going in, but I stopped to read the plaque. This church, it said, St. Paul's, survived the great fire of 1776. George Washington visited there. And in 2001, it survived the attacks on the World Trade Center.

So we went in to look. Little memorials and plaques line the chapel.

Peace Cranes sent from Japan after 9/11. Children's drawings of firefighters climbing up ladders into burning buildings, carrying people to safety, reading "Thank you for saving people". Hundreds and hundreds of badges. It turned out we were standing in a place where workers had congregated in the days following 9/11. Firemen had come there to sleep. One plaque on a scuff-marked bench said that they had clutched donated teddy bears. Their boots had blackened the benches and the decision had been made not to clean them off. People had come bringing food, prayer, giving massages, coffee, blankets. Love. It made me teary to see it all. See what an amazing outpouring of love had taken place there. We walked around, but not for long. Then we stepped out the back door.

And we were looking at Ground Zero.

There was the graveyard, and then a street, and then a giant, gaping, fenced off space where the towers had fallen.

I had no idea we had been that close. That the church was literally in the tower's backyard.

One tree had been damaged by a piece of debris when the towers fell. It stood just feet away from the chapel walls.

It was very moving. Very disturbing. It upset and saddened me more than I thought it would have, to see it there. There were buildings and stores all around it. I wondered what it would be like to go to work every day and look at that. It was an enormous hole with debris and machinery in it. Still clearing it out. Still trying to level the ground. We couldn't see it well.

All around me people were affected. People speaking French and German and Swedish and Japanese. They walked around the memorials. They climbed a staircase to get a better look at the hole. They were reverent. Not too somber. But appropriately respectful.

We left ground zero behind us. Turned our backs and walked away down a dirty New York street where vendors were selling gyros and hot dogs and sweatshirts and fake designer handbags. Found the colonial Fraunces Tavern that must have some history, but I wasn't quite ready to absorb it yet. Walked down the the seaport where we could see the statue of liberty and Ellis Island. Half of America has ancestry that came here through Ellis Island. That day across the country voters were turning out in record amounts to elect Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America. That night around the world, people would celebrate--people from Africa, and Italy, and France, and Japan. That night he would give a speech that would make me cry. Cry with hope and pride. And strength, and unity.

On Election Day, I saw a monument to Washington. I saw a street corner named after Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. I felt grateful to them. I felt proud that I voted.

On Election Day, I saw the church that survived. And I saw the massive empty space of ground zero.

And on Election Day, I turned and walked away.

Toward our future.

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