One hour a day, for one more year. Making make-believe a priority.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Meet Johnny

I think this play thing is becoming infectious.

Today my husband traded in his Ford Explorer for a Vespa the ones he used to ride in high school. I haven't seen a smile so big on his face in a long, long time. I think that in addition to the savings (gas, parking, the car note, insurance) and environmental benefits (90 MPG!!), this purchase will put him back in touch with his inner kid. It's hard being a be so serious all the time. But how can you take anything to seriously when you pull up to work on this??

And coincidentally, during our game of Apples to Apples tonight, the adjective was PROUD, and the winning pair for it was RIDING A SCOOTER.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fuzzy Was He?

This is our first spring away from the east coast in five years, and I must admit I do miss it (a bit). Spring back east is always such a breezy sigh of relief -- the gray desolation of winter giving way FINALLY to all those green promises. And, my favorite part -- the arrival of the critters. Lady bugs, birds, squirrels, and caterpillars. In Maryland you can barely take three steps in April without having to step over a caterpillar making its slow way to munch on leaves. So it was much to my delight the other day when the girls discovered Fuzzy: a big fat black fuzzy caterpillar living among the tiki totem poles in out backyard. And not only did they manage to find Fuzzy but befriend him as well, because he came back the next day (despite the games they played with him -- luring him into the gaping mouth of a rubber alligator and then shaking him out, etc...). The sense of wonder that spring always brought in MD returned this weekend...despite the fact that it's been 70 and sunny for weeks now.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Happiest Place on Earth

I love surprises...not getting them so much, but giving them. This weekend, so far, has been filled with surprises. On Thursday after gymnastics, I told the girls I had to go downtown to pick something up. When we got to the airport, I said that some guy named Charles had some paperwork for me to get...but he wasn't off his plane yet. We circled a few times until "Charles" -- AKA Ceilidh, my sister, was waiting at the curb. So, an unexpected guest was the first surprise. Then, on Friday morning was the biggie. In the morning, we told the girls we were going to take KK (Ceilidh) out to breakfast before school. They love Urban Solace, our friends' restaurant, and so we said we'd head down to North Park for some French Toast...but we'd get them to school on time. Well, another hour and a half later as we approached Anaheim, they were both miserable....and hungry. And Kicky, nervous, made me call the school to tell them we'd be late. But when Esmee finally noticed the signs, it was all worth it.

The last time my sister and I went to Disney together was twenty years ago when I was in college, and she was about 14. The last time Patrick and I took the kids was when they were too little to remember anything. So this time, I was giddy with excitement. And we did everything (everything the girls weren't terrified of anyway). The Tiki Room, the Jungle Cruise, Alice's Adventures, the Finding Nemo submarine. We spent way too much money on lunch and KK treated to some extravagant gifts in the gift shop. It really was a magical day.

On the way home, Kicky kept asking questions about what our memories were about growing up together. Now, my sister is seven years younger than I am...which is great now, but when we were kids we didn't have much in common. My memories were of various ways she tortured me (especially on road trips). Her memories involved her wanting to play with me, and me wanting to sleep. Strangely, we didn't really play together until we were grown up.

When my girls were babies it was so hard...having them two years apart has been a challenge at many stages of their little lives. But now that they are older, it really is like always having a live-in friend. We don't have to have play dates, because they have each other. My sister and I are very close now...but it took many years for us to catch up to each other. And I know that closeness in age doesn't guarantee close friendships. But it's one hope that I have...that these girls will always want to play and when they're big.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Babies to Apples

In brief: brought the girls to play with the new baby. Baby ate, spat-up, slept, grimaced, cooed and, upon opening his eyes, looked utterly confused. Conclusion: babies really aren't very good at playing. And so after dinner we all convened around the Apples to Apples board and I WON. I won, I won, I won.

Tomorrow my sister arrives from Flagstaff...the girls have no idea she's coming. On Friday morning, we are going to pretend to bring them to school and, instead, take them to Disneyland. How ya like them apples???

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Flat Stanley

I really don't know if this counts as playing...but last night the girls and I read Flat Stanley together, each taking a turn reading the pages (which took nearly an hour). I know most people read to their kids...but now that the girls are older, we really don't so much anymore. They are both very independent readers who retreat to their rooms each night with a stack of books -- which they usually sleep with. We read side by side, and we read separately, but it's been a very long time since the three of us shared a book. (And man, do I love Flat Stanley. I have loved him since I was six years old. I remember trying, like his brother, to flatten myself. I wanted to get sent as a letter, flown like a kite.)

I think maybe this is why book clubs are so popular...reading a story together, the shared experience of a book, is something entirely different than reading alone. And then this morning, as Esmee clung backwards to the chain link fence around her school and said, "Look! I'm a picture hanging in a museum!" it was a shared joke...between the three of us. And Flat Stanley.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Big Day

A lot of excitement here today...and though not a traditional play was very playful. Some very exciting news (to be announced soon) came early along with a spectacular brunch at Urban Solace with Kai and her fabulous entourage. (The sticky bun appetizers were as big as our heads!!) Afterward, we came back home only to (finally) get the call that our amazing friends need us to watch their three year old so she can have a BABY!!!

Right now, the girls are playing "Troll Under the Bridge" with him, which involves a lot of running in circles and wrestling. Hoping for a decent bed time...and when he wakes up, he'll likely be a big brother.

I'm being beckoned by the troll....

Saturday, April 17, 2010


So these projects, these blog-jects (you know, cooking your way through Julia Child's French recipes, or taking a photograph of the back of your head every day, or, I don't know, making the time to play with your kids for an hour a day for a whole year) should, at some point, be revelatory, right...or otherwise what's the point? I mean, my main purpose is, as I have said, to give my children more of my undivided attention and also to really play with them while they are still young enough to want me to. But as with any creative project, shouldn't you also want to learn something? So far in this month of play I've had a few moments of inspiration, but not much by way of revelation...until tonight.

And tonight my revelation came from the most unlikely unexpected I'm almost embarrassed to even say it. Anyway, it's Saturday and Patrick is at a gallery opening and the girls are asleep and there's nothing on TV and I am generally restless and so earlier I turned to this movie called "Yes Man." I wandered in and out of the room, letting it be my background jibber-jabber that TV so often is, until this scene where Jim Carrey's character (who has decided to say YES to everything apparently) walks into a club and sees Zooey Deschanel's band -- Munchhausen Syndrome By Proxy playing). Now, I love Zooey Deschanel, I just do. And who could resist a band named after one of the creepiest mental illnesses ever (so creepy, in fact, I even wrote an entire novel about it). And suddenly I got sucked into the Carrey/Deschanel/"Yes Man" vortex. And then came the scene where they sneak into the Hollywood Bowl and are talking about how little it matters what you do with your life as long as it gives you true pleasure. The direct quote is, "The world is a playground.You know that when you are a kid but somewhere along the way, everyone forgets it.”

And it got me thinking. I'm not sure I have seen the world as a playground for a long time. I was kind of a serious kid. I didn't goof off in class. I rarely got into trouble. I actually remember there being moments when I was a teenager that I ached to be able to just let go, to be free-spirited like some of my friends. When my guy friends went through a streaking phase, it was excruciating...the agony of not ever being able to have that same delicious sense of abandon and adventure. (I was always the look-out...never the streaker.) Growing up was, in some ways, a huge relief. And as I watched this cheesy movie (which is paused right now so I can get back to it in a minute), I was struck with a vivid recollection of a road trip that I made about fifteen years ago with my husband and his sister from Seattle, where we had been living, to Flagstaff. I remember getting up to about 6,000 feet (where desert turns to mountains) and that my sister-in-law made us stop to car so she could get out and play in the snow. It was cold, we'd been driving forever, but my husband stopped and they got out and played. I remember sitting inside the truck, overwhelmed with a melancholy feeling, wishing for something I couldn't quite articulate.

Anyway. There it is: Revelation #1. In order for this project (blog-ject) to have some real meaning (for me as well as for the girls), I need to work on seeing the world as a playground and myself as someone who is allowed to play there. That's the hard part maybe. I don't know.

P.S. Tonight I actually did ballet with Kicky in the living room. I may not be able to walk tomorrow.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Happy Accidents

When Kai came last weekend, she brought this amazing fabric which can be used to make sun photo prints. You place objects on the fabric, expose it to direct sunlight, and then fix the image by submerging the fabric in water. Given the amazing sunlight this afternoon, we decided to give it another shot. But this time, instead of using objects (shells and bottle caps and earrings), we decided to use our hands. This one is Kicky's.

What I love about this process are the happy accidents -- the results of a twitch or unsteady hand. The product of Esmee interrupting the exposure as she twirled and cast her crazy shadows. Sally Mann talks about the beauty, even the necessity, of accidents in making her art. My which I kept very still (like a grown-up) is absolutely boring. It's a still, white hand. There is something to be learned from this I think -- about embracing flaws, allowing accidents to happen and enjoying the beauty of imperfection.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bleak Takes a Bath

Okay, so Thursdays are definitely going to prove to be a challenge. There simply isn't the time for leisurely play...but there is time (as well as a great need) for a bath. The girls still take a bath together, though all of those long legs and arms are starting to make it all a bit more complicated. Usually, I get their hair washed and then leave them to their play. But not tonight! Tonight I hung out.

Esmee decided to take the dragon from her Happy Meal (I told you Thursdays are rushed) and bring it in the tub with her. I said Why not? It's not like she wanted to bring The Sunshine Family in the tub. So she did. His name is BLEAK. That's right. When she plays "puppies," her name is always Demon. And now we've got a aquatic dragon named Bleak living with us.

Meet Bleak.

Kicky, I noticed prefers to make beards and mustaches out of the bubbles. She also pretends that the tub is a swimming pool and "swims" I know where all of the water on the floor comes from.

I think one thing I am learning is that the girls are almost always playing...they don't have to set time aside. They simply seize any moment, any opportunity at all. In the car or in the tub. In the bathroom when they're supposed to be brushing their teeth or in bed when they're supposed to be falling asleep. I wish I could live like that.

What about you? When was the last time you played in the tub?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Practical Peacocks

If you have small-ish children and you don't have the game Apples to Apples Junior, go buy it. Now. It is, hands down, the most fun game to play with small-ish kids. The game goes like this: everyone gets five cards that each has an object/activity/person/etc... on it. Then each player takes turns being the judge who draws a card from a pile that has adjectives on them. Each remaining player must select one card from their hand that best matches the adjective card and then the judge picks the winner. Whoever wins four cards wins the game.

For example, in our game tonight, the green card (adjective) was Practical. The chosen cards were, of course: Lego Blocks, Rice, and Peacocks. Yes. Peacocks. Esmee logic at its finest. (This is the same girl who once paired Rice with Exciting because "I LOVE rice.")

I love this game because it's really the only one at this age that the entire family can play together without going insane. (See the Scrabble post if you don't believe me.) It forces you to really examine how each person thinks...their own personal logic. And it gets ridiculous. Really ridiculous.

(As a side note I should also mention that this whole play thing has started to infiltrate my grown-up life as well. I was invited to compete in a Literary Death Match last night...reading for my LIFE. Those of you who are familiar with my habits know that I am not usually even conscious past ten o'clock, but last night I put on a pretty dressy, put a flower behind my ear, and stayed up way past my bedtime being silly grown-up style. And I must admit that I was really disappointed that I didn't get to participate in the final round which involved a rowdy bout of musical chairs.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Brought to You by the Letter W

Esmee's kindergarten class has this great activity, where every week the children are given a letter of the alphabet and have to find an item beginning with that letter to share. They also have to provide three clues, and then their classmates guess what the object is. Sometimes parents will provide enough items for the entire class.

This week, the letter is W. And guess what Esmee brought home?

This novelty provided at least an hour of excitement -- for the whole family, until Esmee thought it might make an even louder explosion if she blew it up and stomped on it. Well, it exploded alright. Tears were shed. Emergency surgery was conducted. And the fart jokes, happily, resumed.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Playdate with Kai

This weekend was absolutely extra-ordinary in every sense of the word. Our beautiful friend, Kai, and her mom were here from New York...and Kai's mission was to play with the girls as much as possible in 48 hours. And she did. They played dress-up, make-believe, made sun photo prints, went to the beach, etc... etc.... etc... Needless to say, imposing homework on each of them tonight was excruciating.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cat's Cradle

Our friend, Kai, a film maker, is here from NYC on movie business for the next week, but she's here all weekend just to play with us. Last night she brought gifts for the girls -- cat's cradle strings, tiny kaleidoscopes, and mini glow sticks for Echo (the fairy) -- which we figure will be good in the event of a fairy rave. We were up pretty late trying to remember how to do all the cat's cradle tricks...and it is amazing the muscle memory that exists when it comes to things like this. My hands were recollecting a game I'd long forgotten. I used to play cat's cradle with my grandmother. I'd forgotten that until last night. I don't remember her playing other games with me, but with cat's cradle, she knew all the tricks. And she was so patient. She would play and play and play.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Backseat Jokesters

So here was one of those days that I've been dreading...the day where we simply did not have an hour to play -- not a single hour that wasn't already spoken for by school, homework, gymnastics or dinner. However, what we did have was some good long stretches of riding in the car. Normally what this means is me navigating the streets while simultaneously making ridiculous threats to the feuding children in the backseat.

Not today. Today we had an extra kid, and so all those jokes that have grown old and stale suddenly got a second chance at life. No time to fight when you're pulling such classic pranks as:

What's your name? Tammy.
What color's the sky? Blue.
What does this mean (a finger gesturing upward): Up.

Tammy Blew Up!!!

Raucous laughter.

By the time they told this joke using everyone in the car's names at least three times, we were all laughing. It was ridiculous.

I guess the lesson for today is that play can be an attitude as well as an activity. And I am a safer driver when my kids are playing instead of trying to choke each other.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Today Esmee went with a friend to the Wild Animal Park after school, so I decided to take Kicky to Ocean Beach for the weekly farmer's market. I try to do this at least once a month or so, more when the weather is like it was today -- beautiful. We usually taste everything and buy nothing and wind up at the pizza place we've been going to since I was pregnant with her.

Today as we sat watching the people go by from our seats, it struck me that in OB, everyone plays. It was three o'clock in the afternoon, and the only people working were the ones inside the restaurants and shops (and even they didn't seem to be working too hard). Yet the streets were full. Folks were wearing their bathing suits and wetsuits; merchant's signs actually read No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem here. One pretty twenty-something girl in a bright yellow dress was blowing bubbles into the streets from her spot on the patio.

One of the things that I loved about living in OB is that it is, itself, a bubble...floating happily above the rest of the world. It is glimmering and shimmering. How can you not be happy in a place where nobody ever grows up?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Sorry. A simple, two-syllable word.

Now that's something I could have used today as I battled endlessly with the evil, soulless, and incredibly stupid people working in Customer Service at G**C Mortgage Company. After cashing a year old check of ours -- inexplicably -- for the SECOND time, thus sucking the money out of our account like some crazy money-sucking vacuum, I think everything could possibly have been made right again with a simple apology (as well as a speedy refund). But not one. Not a single glimmer of contrition. Not a sliver of repentance or remorse. (And the refund is also suspect.)

It takes a strong person to own up to their mistakes. To take responsibility for the errors of their ways. I guess G**C Mortgage Company is basically just a big meany, a corporate sociopath (and I am sorry....but they really ruined my day) whose mama never taught it the etiquette of the apology.

Not my kids. They're going to know exactly what it means to make amends when you screw up. If I teach them anything it will be how to offer a sincere and heartfelt "sorry" when it's needed.

(Though Esmee, I must admit, quite unapologetically, beat the pants off of me and Kicky.)

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Sunshine Family

As a little girl, I never really liked Barbies. I think it was partly because the only Barbies I had were my mom's from the 50's. (As I mentioned earlier, the most fun I had with my barbie dolls was chucking them up onto the roof and watching them fall down.) But I did love my Sunshine Family dolls. Anybody remember those? They were kind of hippie Barbies...a mom, a dad, a grandpa, and a grandma. There was also a cat and a dog. There was also a tree house and a van and a craft store (though I didn't have either of these).

Well, today a care package arrived from my mom:

Somehow she managed to hold onto all of the family members as well as most of their clothes. I remember her making little granny dresses and peasant skirts for them. She even made a leather fringed jacket for the dad. Only the baby seems to have had a mishap with some super glue (hence the mohawk), but all the others have held up pretty well over the last three decades.

The girls were beside themselves. They couldn't believe that these were the very dolls I once loved and cared for. We played for a long time. The Sunshine Family went to Vermont and had a hunting party for the mom's 40th birthday. The went on nature walks and the grandpa got down in his funky pants to some music only we could hear.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Play Ball

Easter Sunday, and the last day of spring break...we spent the entire day playing. Egg hunt, jumping rope, barbecuing and general Stewart family backyard fun. But it was also the first day of baseball season and so we decided to play some music in honor of opening day:

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I'd Rather Dye

As Easter approaches, so too does the annual egg decorating event which, in the past, I have relegated to my husband (along with the annual pumpkin carving, Christmas tree lighting, and all other things either electrical or messy). But today, in the spirit, of play...I got my hands dirty too. (Though part of that was because I accidentally knocked over one of the little bowls of dye.)

Actually, one of my favorite holiday memories from growing up involves blowing out eggs. My mother (who sewed) would make the pin prick holes in either end of the egg with one of her long needles, and then she would entrust me with the task of blowing the insides out. I remember the incredible stretching of my cheeks until they ached -- and then the alarmingly satisfying moment when the viscous egg white had passed and the yolk made its way through. Here, we still hard boil. But I'm thinking that next year might be a good year to blow.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game

One thing I failed to address in the rules was the idea of competition. Is it still playing if you're playing to win? I don't know. But today's Egg Drop sure was fun, and Esmee was in it to win it --see around 1:21. And the best part (on top of the trophy and all its associated bliss) was the good sportsmanship of her older sister whose egg unfortunately smashed to smithereens.

This weekend promises to be a play-filled weekend. Tonight we're decorating eggs. And Sunday is Easter. Patrick also just brought home the base for the fairy house as well as some serious looking power tools. Who would have thought I could drag him into this madness too??

Thursday, April 1, 2010

In the Tree Tops

A much better play day today...

After three months, I finally located all of the pieces of this wonderful tree house dollhouse and managed to reassemble it in Esmee's room (no small feat considering the directions -- and some of the hardware -- are long gone). There is nothing quite so wonderful as a forgotten toy.

My personal favorite part of the tree house is the telescope...Kicky thought it would be nice for looking at the glow-in-the-dark stars on Esmee's ceiling.

One thing I noticed in playing with the girls today is a dynamic I have long suspected but had not definitively confirmed: Kicky is bossy. Super bossy. With a capital B-O-S-S. She calls it compromising (she really said this), but what that really means is pushing her agenda until Esmee relents. Hard to play and not be a referee at the same time. But I tried, I really did.