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  • Never Dull

    December 30, 2009

    The other day Sean and I had a couple of errands to run.  It was an ugly sort of day, a day much better suited for staying home, but we had some things that had to be done, so off we went.

    As we were driving along, we made up a game to see how many words we could come up with to describe the day.

    I started with the obvious, “Damp.”

    “Gray,” he countered. It was true. It was a monochrome day, gray from ground to sky.

    “Cold,” I added.

    “Still,” he said slowly.  The world did seem particularly still in spite of the traffic.

    “Um, let’s see…melancholy.”

    “What does melancholy mean?” he asked.  I told him that melancholy is sort of like when you feel damp and gray and still on the inside.

    “Oh,” he said satisfied. “My turn.”

    The car fell silent as he looked out the window and searched for another word to describe the day.

    “Dull,” he finally said.

    “Dull indeed,” I said. Dull was the mood of the sky.

    “You know because when it’s sunny, the world is shiny,” he explained.  “But when it’s cloudy, the world looks a little dull.”

    When I pulled up to a stop light, I turned to look at my little boy in the backseat.

    He was looking out the window at the dull sky.

    As we waited for the light to turn green, he pointed out a coyote slinking along the railroad tracks under the fog.  He wondered out loud where the coyote lived.  He spotted a shoe along side the road and wondered how it got there.  He thought about the person who was missing a shoe.  He pointed out the white plume of exhaust rising off a tall building and a line of black birds resting on the power lines.

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    This boy reminds me that from time to time, the sky may be dull, but the world around us never is.

    Eyelashes

    December 28, 2009

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    Having Myself A Merry Little Christmas

    December 25, 2009

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    I am just popping in to say hello and season’s greetings and merry Christmas and all that good stuff.  I hope your holidays have been bright thus far.

    We have had a Norman Rockwellian sort of Christmas here at the House of Antique. We had a lovely snowfall on Christmas eve and even built a snowman.  We have had company and baked cookies and sang carols and thoroughly enjoyed the sparkle and light a six-year-old brings to the season.

    I got a robe for Christmas, not a Rob as I was led to believe. Guess I’ll have to run my own errands.  Sean got an archery set and not a Barbie Dream House as I led him to believe.

    In the years to come, I doubt that we’ll remember the gifts or even the snow, but that we were well, warm, fed and all together; that we lacked nothing.  It doesn’t get any better than that, does it?

    * * *

    The picture in the snow globe is one AD took today of Sean and me while we were out walkin’ in a winter wonderland.  I made the snow globe in Photoshop using the  PanosFX snow globe action, a free download.

    Flailing Not Failing

    December 23, 2009

    Sean was born six weeks early and spent the first week of his life in the NICU.  He was teeny tiny, but was never in any danger, other than being sent home to live with two clueless people.

    Before we left the hospital, the nurse showed me the proper way to wrap my baby in a blanket. She stressed the importance of keeping his arms tucked in tight at all times. She said he was used to be being curled up in the confines of my womb and he would prefer being swaddled.  She said that if he were allowed to flail his arms freely, he would feel insecure thusly destroying his sense of well-being and possibly leading to a life of crime.  Only the worst kind of mother would allow flailing.

    Perhaps all that was implied, I don’t really remember.  In those days, uneven hormones along with the dauting task of caring for an infant made everything seem reallllly critical.

    I felt a measure of confidence as I watched the nurse swaddle my tiny new baby because I had made burritos before and I recognized that she was merely making a yummy baby burrito. Nothing hard about that.  Having passed swaddling 101, they released us to take our baby home.

    When we got home, the first order of business was to change his diaper and then wrap him up in the prescribed manner at which I was an expert.

    I laid him ever so gently diagonally across the blanket.  Just like the nurse, I folded the bottom of the blanket into a triangle and pulled it up and over his feet.  I then pulled the right side of the blanket tautly over him, rolled him forward a little, tucked it under and then repeated left to right.

    Voila!  I stood back and admired my work. All that was missing was a bow!  But then, like Houdini, he began to twist and squiggle until he had freed his right arm which he began waving over his head like a flag.  And then he pulled out his left arm.  And then he began flailing both arms with all his might.  He seemed to be saying, “Look at me! I’m flailing! And you can’t stop me!”

    “Stop it baby!” I cried, “Stop flailing! Do you want to end up in jai!?” At which point he wadded up the blanket and threw it across the room.

    I retrieved the blanket and rolled him up in it again and again.  No matter how tightly and expertly I swaddled him, he pulled his arms out in record time.  When visions of duct tape began to dance in my head I conceded.

    On my very first day of motherhood, I learned this very important lesson:  You can swaddle a baby but you can’t make them keep their arms in. Without duct tape.  I also realized that when it comes to babies, expert advice is really only a suggestion.

    Six years later, nothing in that regard has changed – I swaddle, he unswaddles, I tuck, he untucks, I wrap, he unwraps, I do, he undoes.  It’s the pattern of our lives.

    Nearly every night I peek in on Sean just before turning out the lights to find him sleeping with his arms outside the covers.  I lean over him and kiss his forehead and then like a good mother, I pull the covers up under his chin and tuck his arms securely under the blanket.

    And when I turn to take one last look before leaving the room, he pulls his arms out and flops them on top of the blanket.

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    You can tell from the look on his face that he is plotting how to get out of the swaddle.

    Fake And Sparkly – Still Not A Bad Thing

    December 20, 2009

    This post is from last December.  It is still applicable.

    * * *

    One day last week, Sean and I spent the afternoon putting up Christmas decorations.  I used to really enjoy decking the halls, but I have come to a point in life where it seems to be more work than fun.

    As I root through box after box of stuff, I wonder if hanging fake glittery stuff on a fake tree only to be removed and boxed up again in 30 days is a good use of my time and energy, both of which seem to be in short supply these days.  Sparkle and glitter and garland is not really what the season is about after all.

    But then I look at my little five-year-old boyfriend who is totally into Christmas and the decorating and how he is thrilled with each ornament, even the cruddy ones. I realize then that it’s worth it because one day too soon he will be too busy or too cool to spend an afternoon decorating for Christmas with his mama.  And oh how I will rue the day.

    That thought however did not stop me from lying down on the living room floor in an attempt to stave off that spinning sensation of being overwhelmed that often comes with the holidays but this year seems to be magnified in light of the economy and world and personal events.

    As I lay there on the floor trying to create some order in my mind so that I might create some order in my life, Sean wanders over and straddles me with his hands on his hips.  I feel like the worker who has been caught napping in the janitor’s closet.  He  plops down on my tummy.  He leans over and looks me square in the face.  He searches my face with a furrowed brow, lips pursed in concern.  I’m afraid that he knows, that I’ve not done a good job of keeping my adult worries and cynicism to myself.

    “Mom?” he asks as he leans over me.

    “Yes?” I say, bracing myself.

    “Did you know that you have farkles on your face?”

    He draws his face closely into mine and like a surgeon,  he ever so delicately plucks a dot of glitter from my cheek.

    “See?” he says, holding his be-glittered finger one inch from my eyeball, “Farkles!”

    He jumps up, ready to keep going.

    “C’mon mom, let’s keep decorating!” he cries with glee as he tugs on my arm.

    This boy, he is good medicine for a bad attitude.

    I decide that for him, that I would do a better job of at least pretending to find joy in the fake and sparkly, that I would be careful not spoil these few precious years in his life when the world is small and uncomplicated and magical.

    So for now, for the boy, my attitude shall be like my tree — fake and sparkly.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    More Fun With Photoshop

    December 19, 2009

    As I mentioned in a previous post, last Sunday our church held its Chritmas gathering and one of the big draws was a visit from Santa and the Mrs.

    As you can see below, they had a lovely winter vignette set up with a sleigh and trees and gifts and all that festive good stuff. They also had a real photographer.  But that didn’t stop me from standing off to the side and capturing the cruddy photo you see below.

    But!  As always, my trusty Photoshop came to the rescue!

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    Basically this photo stinks. I’m too far away, the lighting is awful. There is a hideous shadow and the flash reveals the folds and wrinkles in the night sky, not to mention part of the lobby.  And? It’s blurry.

    I do however like the way Mr. and Mrs. Claus are looking at Sean and I like Sean’s expression, so I cropped it close. Cropping is the number one way to make a cruddy photo into one you want to keep.

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    After I cropped it close, I still didn’t like the background, so I used my Topaz Remask filter and cut it out.  Topaz Remask is awesome and makes masking and cutting out the background super easy.  If you like to mess with your pictures at all in Photoshop, I  also recommend Topaz Adjust for some very cool effects with just a click or two.

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    Anyway, after I cut out the blue background, I played with some patterns.  I liked this red one a lot, which was a free download from somewhere, and I replaced the crinkly blue sky with this red damask.

    Then I put another layer of the red damask on top of the picture, only this time I enlarged the scale of the pattern.

    Next, I used the eraser tool to reveal Sean and Santa and Mrs. Claus.  In art school they call that a subtractive technique. But you can just call it erasing.

    When using the eraser tool, I used a large soft-edged circle brush at about 50% transparency which left the edges partially transparent and I like that effect.

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    Here is another version of the same technique only this time, I used a green background with retro stars and then on top of that I used a plaid pattern.

    Have a merry weekend y’all! Go out and take some pictures!

    The Christmas Bonus

    December 18, 2009

    One of the things I miss the most about having a toddler around the house is the spontaneous and exuberant affection.

    As a toddler, Sean was given to fits of passion.  Without warning, his teeny tiny heart would seemingly erupt with unrestrained and irrational love.  All that slobbery affection had to go somewhere and I was his favorite target.

    PhotobucketI miss the days when he would stand in my lap, giggling and bouncing on fat little legs.  I miss how he would wrap his ams around my head and gnaw on my face.  I miss the leg hugs.

    It seems the days of unfettered expressions of love are gone forever, but every once in a while one will come out of no where.  And it’s like getting a bonus — a little end of the year reward for all the hard work of motherhood.

    Last night Sean and I were sitting side by side on the sofa reading through a stack of Christmas books. He had already had his bath and was in his robe and jammies and was extra warm and snuggly and smelled of lavender shampoo.  Y’all, that is like catnip to a mommy.

    The book we were reading, Santa’s Stuck, always sends him into fits of snorting giggles.  I started laughing at him laughing.  And then we were just laughing and had no idea why.

    When I closed the book and set it aside, he threw himself into my lap in a fit of passion.  He wrapped his arms around my neck and chicken pecked my face with kisses while making chomping noises.

    He was two again.

    Then he stopped and pulled back. He looked into my face, his eyes still sparkling.

    Then his expression changed.  The moment was over as quickly as it had begun.  My six-year-old was back.

    “Stop goofing off mom,” he said seriously as he rolled out of my lap. “Let’s read another book.”

    Maybe if I keep up the good work, I’ll get to stay on.  And maybe I’ll get another bonus next year.

    Brown Paper

    December 16, 2009

    About 20 years ago, someone gave me a big roll of brown paper.  I lugged it home thinking I could do something artsy with it, although I had no idea what.

    So I stuck it in the back of the closet until such time as an idea came to me.  And there it stayed for about 10 years until I moved and stashed it in the back of yet another closet for another ten years.  Then I had a child.  And an idea.  And the brown paper was finally put to use.

    About once a week, Sean and I will get out the big roll of brown paper and stretch out six or eight feet on the floor and make something. Because that’s what we do. We make stuff.  We’ve got crayons and markers and we are not afraid to use them.

    Last year, he was really interested in the rain forest, so we read a book on the rain forest and we learned about the various animals that inhabit each layer. Then we rolled out about 8 feet of our trusty brown paper and drew a ginormous tree and worked together to create a verticle mural of the rain forest from the river to the canopy.  It was fun and educational and a great way to kill a rainy afternoon.

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    The year he was four,  around Christmas time, we rolled out the brown paper and I had him lay down on it so that I could trace his outline.  Then he painted and drew himself as a Santa and we cut it out and displayed it on the wall.  You deck your halls with boughs of holly, we deck ours with dwarf-sized brown paper Santas.  We made another brown paper “Seanta” last year and again this year and it’s been fun to see how he has grown, physically and artistically.

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    Twenty years ago, I had no idea what I would do with that roll of brown paper.   The roll is almost gone and I still don’t know what I’ll do with it from day to day, but I know it will be something.

    On Being Brave

    December 14, 2009

    Sunday night, the church we attend held its annual Christmas get-together where the children sing Christmas songs and have their picture taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus.  So we donned our gay apparel and off we went.

    Sean had been looking forward to going because he knew that Santa would be there and he wanted to make sure Santa knows that he wants a bow and arrow for Christmas.  He doesn’t really believe in Santa, but Sean is the kind of guy who likes to cover his bases.

    At the same time, he was not looking forward to going because he knew that he, along with his Sunday school class, was expected to get up and sing in front of everybody and he would rather eat broccoli with spinach sauce than do that.

    When they called Sean’s class up to the front to perform, he did not want to go.  Like a mule, he sat back on his heels and refused to go.

    Had it been just me, I would have said fine, no biggie and let it go at that. It didn’t seem very important to me and I know I hate being forced into doing something that makes me uncomfortable.  And if there is one thing that makes me uncomfortable it’s the thought of being forced to sing in front of a roomful of people.  And just below that is the thought that I should have to wrestle my child to the ground and then drag him by his ankles up front to sing for a room full of people.   Then there would be two terrified, not to mention angry, people up front which would put a damper on the whole tidings of comfort and joy theme. So then, my vote was to not make it an issue.

    But Antique Daddy saw it differently.  He felt it was important that Sean push through the fear and get up and sing with his group.  So he coaxed and cajoled and encouraged.  Sean looked to me for a rescue, but also high on the list of things that make me squirm is the thought of having a spousal argument in front of the entire church body, so I shrugged my shoulders to indicate to Sean that I was staying out of it and that this was between him and his daddy.

    Finally AD grabbed him by the hand and drug him up front offered to go with him.  So off they went to the front hand and hand.  Sean made his way to the stage while AD stood off to one side.

    As he stood among his peers, lip-syncing Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, I thought about how parenting is this constant challenge of trying to decide when to push and when to back off.  And how often no matter which way you go it feels like you’re getting it wrong.

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    When he got back to his seat, I pulled him into my lap and told him I thought he did a great job and that I was really proud of how brave he was.

    “I wasn’t brave!” he said in a huff, “I was really really scared!”  And then he nestled into me like a bird in a nest.

    “I know,” I whispered in his ear, “Being brave means being really really scared and doing it anyway.”

    My Father’s Book

    December 13, 2009

    By Antique Daddy

    Earlier in the year, I found myself standing before a bookcase where I noticed the two-volume series The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.  These books had belonged to my father, a preacher, and then later my oldest brother, also a preacher.

    My father was thrown from a horse and killed when I was eleven.  Six years later when I was 17, my oldest brother was killed in a motorcycle accident.  He was only 27 and left behind his pregnant wife and unborn child.  The loss of these two men who never saw their children grown, profoundly changed not just my life, but the life of my son who would never benefit from having known them.

    I pulled the book from the shelf and looked through it for a moment.  I noticed my father’s rather distinctive  signature in the front cover.  I called Sean over to come take a look at the book.  I explained to him that this book had belonged to his grandfather and then I showed him the signature.

    Then something interesting happened.  Rather than barely taking notice and then running off to play as you might expect of a five-year-old, he took the book and held it reverently in his hands.  He lightly brushed his fingers over the signature.

    For a long moment he stood holding the book, gazing at the signature.  Then he looked off at the wall as he continued to gently rub the book.  His eyes noticeably began to fill with tears.  Finally he handed the book back and asked if I had any other books that had belonged to his grandfather.

    My throat tightened with emotion as I wondered what he was thinking. I wanted to ask, but decided instead to let him own that moment as his own.  My wife and I exchanged glances.  We both understood that something remarkable had happened, something that we could sense but could not see.

    Later that night, as my wife tucked him into bed, she asked him what he had been thinking.  He told her that he was looking into a clock and wondering what it would be like to know his grandfather.

    Fatherhood has brought me many unexpected poignant moments; sometimes as a witness and other times, like this one, as a participant.  And that is perhaps one of the greatest blessings of fatherhood, to share in those poignant moments with my child.

    Every day I thank God for this incredible gift that is my son, this answered prayer, this miracle he performed in our lives, the miracle that we had given up on, that we had all but conceded.  I thank Him for those special moments, for the joy and the depth of meaning that fatherhood has brought me.

    And I pray that He will bless my efforts to be a good father and that he will see fit to bless me, that I might live to see him into manhood.