...is the process by which we create, discover, learn and grow with those we cherish most.


nurture everyone's needs

Ava and Noah are under the covers these days - together. Both ran a small fever, runny noses, some coughing and ugly upset stomachs. When Ava cried - Noah chimed in. When Noah whined, Ava wanted up in my arms also. I spent the day juggling between nurturing each individually or together in my arms, Dad calling asking about email [??], laundry from last week, vomit, laundry from today, preparing lunch, more crying, preparing lunch again so that they would eat something, and of course meeting deadlines for work. It was the slowest morning I've experienced since I was 10 yrs old. I'd check my watch - nap time yet? No - 4 more hours to go - egh.

All of a sudden, there are these moments - too precious to walk away from after snapping a shot with the camera. So I stayed, and comforted them while they were being comforted by their beloved
Scholastic tapes, crackers and prune juice.

And moments like these, in bed together reading books and sharing their ultimate favorite Baby Mum-Mums rice rusks. At one point, Dr. Noah extended his finger out to Ava to remind her to rest.

And with all this fun - nice long naps came out of it - and a mommy who regained all consciousness to hit the office and crunch some web designs. Before I knew it, nap time was over, Noah was crying again and Ava repeated "Ava's awake" at least 5 times. So the afternoon began to take a deep plunge UNTIL super Mom showed up at my door - aka my Mom. She was in the area for a Dr's appt and decided to surprise me and Aaron with a date night instead of our usual Thursdays. Oh - how perfectly-you-read-my-mind kind of a Mom she truly is.

I showered, lined my eyes, and threw on a new top. Aaron who was occupying Ava outdoors had no idea what we were up to until I opened the door and said, "guess what - we're going out - tonight!"

And we did - we indulged on braised beef and bills, strawberry Napoleons and satire, coffee with lots of cream and conversation. And the fire behind our backs was the perfect backdrop setting to a long fulfilling day as parents and husband and wife.

*Tip #1: If I could give unsolicited advice to new parents - it would be this: make a date with your spouse - at least 1x week. Because parents are couples - and both need to be equally nourished and replenished now and then. It is SO important to us that Ava and Noah experience their mom and dad with genuine laugh and love when we are all together. And that means making time for yourself and your partner. Have those obligating topics of conversations [like finances]- as well as romantic whispers in the ear [think sexy] - for nights out on the town - alone. Get on the mailing list to upcoming performances on stage or try scoring some tickets to a game. Make it fun - and mix it up from time to time so that you will keep up with it. Oh - and take turns planning!

*Tip #2: I discovered [not me personally - I found it online] a cure for constipation with kids. It has worked every time and today was no exception - mix a cup of water with corn syrup [um... about 2 tblsp] and have them drink the entire cup - they will - it's pure sweetness. Don't go overboard with the syrup though. Just enough to get the job done.

the gift of exploring

Once in awhile, I like to be lost. With a map of course. A map to find perhaps treasure from my past or something new to bring home. Whatever the occasion - they are often surprising little detours thrown at me when I least expect it. So was the case when I came home from shopping on Sunday and found this taped to the front door:

The white little paper trail led me to our bedroom, where I found 3 giggling treasures waiting for me in the play tent. I joined the crowd with one big leap, squashing Noah who couldn't contain himself inside any longer. He didn't cry - in fact - we all laughed and exploded with "hoorays" picking up the small pieces of paper and throwing it over our heads. Aaron said Ava was a big help arranging the trail - and sort of picked up on the idea that "mommy was coming" and that "she'd be able to find us if we hide."

I can't tell you enough how great this feels - and am deeply appreciative of Aaron who puts forth this extra effort to orchestrate a fun maze for me time and time again. Whether it's before a date night - or a lazy Sunday afternoon - It's the little things that get me.

Do one for your loved ones and recruit your kids to help - this is really perfect for all ages. Let's get started:

1] Take 1 step back and pull out a piece of paper right now to jot all this down - because you really need to do this and not say you will.

2]Think of a place at home where you can stash your gift, fresh flowers or even the kids - this will be the "treasure."

3] Start at the point of entry - eg. where your spouse can't miss finding the map [like front/garage door, car windshield, etc.]

4] Draw a colorful map using arrows, dotted lines, and reference points. The more illustrative - the better. [no previous art skills necessary]

5] Write down instructions on how to get to the treasure - using either hints or a count of actual steps. If you have the extra time, add little trinkets along the way [candy, photos, love notes, etc]

6] The final destination doesn't have to be anything fancy - the process of going through a maze that was created by a loved one just for you- is the treasure itself - and the little cartographers who helped create them.

p.s. if you are into something more adventurous, and want to join your community - try geocashing. After discovering there are more than 100 "hunts" within a 25 mile radius from our home - we've decided to take this on and introduce the kids to the world of exploring beyond our backyards. Plus, Ava is anxious to use the GPS, or what she calls, "little computer." I will keep you posted on this latest trend I found.

a sweet new family tradition

Sunday mornings are cherished. Whether we have plans or not - there is always something so relaxing about waking up to Sunday. We stretch. We dance around and over each other. We're in our pajamas longer than need be. It's the only day of the week we really feel we can exhale. Things move slower - and that's ok.

It had been raining the entire night so we woke up to gray skies - which for the first time felt welcoming as it contrasted so dreamily with the emerald green grass and trees. It was beautiful! Sunday was a beautiful rainy day and we got dressed as soon as we rolled out of bed so we could go out and enjoy it. The temperature had dropped significantly - down to 50 - and so jackets were in order. I had Ava's rain boots out but she wouldn't wear it. I wasn't going to argue - if wearing pink sparkly shoes with the new flannel pants I made her made her morning sweeter - than it was perfect. Because we were on our way to indulge on sweets ourselves.

We made the not-so-close drive to a new
Dunkin Donuts that had opened up on Preston. Dunkachinos, chocolate glazed donuts, yummy milk - and a family gathered around a table enjoying every single bite [Yes, even Noah too who could tell when I'd give him a piece without the chocolate frosting] - was truly fun and sweet all around. A quick glance around the room made it obvious that we weren't the only ones who thought so... Couples, father and son, Mother and son, friends, and entire families - all had donuts and stories to share on this cold morning.

For me, Dunkin Donuts reminds me of growing up north. We'd almost always stop during road trips to visit cousins and grandparents in Massachusetts over the cold months. And when I was older and traveled with Aaron - we'd stop and indulge as well for nostalgia sake and for creating new memories together as a couple - sipping hot dunkachinos while people watching and reminiscing and even dreaming about the future. Now with our kids in tow, we are doing the same. In keeping with tradition, old and new, we hope trips to DD with their parents on cold rainy mornings will always be extra sweet.

raising confidence with play

To "play date" or not is one of those parenting questions we all ask but don't know the answer to until we try it. What if they push Ava around? Bite her, pull toys, use bad words or cry a lot? How the other child will react or how our own will behave is enough stressful wonder that I decided to x the idea entirely. But over time, I have noticed a growing fondness Ava has to be around other "kids her age." Little Noah can barely keep up with her now.

In public, she shares her toys - and she lets me know if someone on the swing set is sad. When Tessa from across the street comes over to play, Ava helps her with her shoes and puts on her jacket for her. She also gives her food off her bowl. She genuinely cares for other kids and I thought I would give this a try. So when Bobby took up our offer and came over on Friday - we were all excited.

The thought of another 2-yrd old running around, challenging Ava and well, laughing and enjoying being a toddler together is just utterly precious. I didn't know what to expect - but I was so proud of Ava. And how hospitably sweet she was from the moment he joined us. She woke up 30 minutes early and was dressed faster than any chocolate-milk bribe I've used in the past. She ran back and forth to check the window to see if they arrived during breakfast. And when he did - she couldn't stop smiling.

They played Gone Fish'in like pros even though their game strategy didn't follow the box set rules. Noah came over and joined the fun and then like fleeting toddlers - they wanted to move-on to something else - Noah didn't mind as long as he could be in on the action. I pulled out the train tracks I bought years ago for Ava - and the three of them put it together. They drew pictures on the art table, finger painted, played ball, read books, matched puzzles, played outdoors on the swing, slide and sandbox and even pushed "baby" in the stroller. We splashed in puddles, blew bubbles and rolled around in the tunnel. Aaron took them out for a wagon ride around the neighborhood while Noah napped in a deep slumber from the morning activities. By the time they washed up and changed, Aaron prepared Ava's favorite from scratch- chicken nuggets. They devoured them with the help of organic ketchup and tater tots. Preparing for naps was an experience, and at one point, I thought I'd never get the two to settle down. But they did - and I was so proud of them.

I was also very proud of how Ava overcame my fear of raising a self-confident child. There are subtle ways in which she demonstrates her confidence - but when seeing her interact with others - I am filled with such content. Ava decided she wanted to paint after snack-time. But Bobby wanted to kick the ball back and forth. So she marched to her art table and painted - alone. Not worrying about Bobby and whether or not he was having more fun than her. It was not about that at all. On top of that, I played kickball with Bobby - and I was praising him of how good he is with the ball. Ava could see and hear us - and not once did she change her mind. She painted in steady strokes... asking for more orange paint. We mixed colors and she continued to fulfill her desire to create. And just like that, she put down her paintbrush and ran towards us.

Could it be that inspiration struck her and she was obligated to paint - or could it be that no matter what, we should all do what we enjoy doing. To put ourselves first and be content even if we have to do it alone?

I'd like to think its the latter - simply for the very fact that often I struggle with this very scenario myself. And many people around me do as well. My hope is that there are millions of other moments like this - where Ava will find happiness with herself first and not depend on others to shape her. That she will define her characteristics by her passions and not by someone else's interests. I can only hope ...and wait.

capturing moments

I am having a love affair with my camera these days - except for yesterday, when only one of the biggest milestone happened for Noah. He walked! One foot in front of the other, he carried himself over to me from Aaron's arms. Oh it was joyous. The moment he fell, we all cheered and he looked up not realizing what the big deal was. Until we made him do it over 10 times. I did sneak in the video camera for one of his attempts but not my lovely camera. Forgive me SLR. I will make it up to you today. But in honor of you and Ava who loves to play with you when I'm not looking, I'm posting the picture Ava took on Thursday. See if you can make out what it is...

This is the perfect example of how life happens too fast. And rather than rush to unpack a camera to capture it, or yell over at Aaron, "GET THE CAMERA- HURRY!" we both were fully engaged in Noah's moment - creating a very different kind. And we will share with him when he's older... "Oh, I remember the first time you took your first step....Ava was jumping around making circles around you - and you waved your arms and balanced yourself as best you could, collapsing in my arms just a few feet away... oh I remember..."

we're growing...kids and plants

Yesterday, we headed out to the backyard to get... well, dirty. My hobbies have never included gardening but for some reason, Ava and Noah changed my mind. The idea of teaching them the concept of growth is literally exciting and endless. Telling them to "drink their milk so that their bones will grow" just doesn't seem quite right when you think about how incredibly amazing a life cycle is. What better way than to show them - or letting them do it themselves.

Basil and rosemary seeds took residence in the terra cotta pots I had bought years ago on clearance. I would have never imagined back then that today, I'd be giving it life with my daughter. Meanwhile, on the other side of our yard, we tossed wild flower seeds in our flower bed. It hadn't been touched since last winter - and so, with a stroke of a garden tool, a small gray garden snake withered its way towards the retaining wall. I screamed and Ava backed away. "Snake? Where'd it go Mommy?"

I don't know hunni, this is why I don't do this a lot. But that will change. I'm not going to let "makes me throw up when creatures move like that" snake stop us from learning. In fact, there was a lesson that followed her question. I told her about how we have to share our ground with some creatures. It's "house" is inside Ava - and he will make tunnels so he can travel and look for food. She seemed content with that - maybe because a creature had a home here or maybe because she was too busy watering everything in sight with the jug I gave her.

Aaron and Noah patiently waited for us to finish and then planted onions in the corner of the flower bed. Noah's natural curiosity sat him in a puddle of water to splash and mud to kick.

He was seeing and feeling new things, enjoying moments of discovery - while we were enjoying a proud moment of seeing him stand alone by himself - without him realizing it. Oh my, he's growing so fast!

And seeing as how everything comes full circle in all that we do - we met our neighbors "Jack and Joanne" across the alley for the first time while Aaron was gearing up for a bike ride with the kids. Before Jack left, he picked beautiful flowers and walked over to me and said, "It's at the end of its season, but I know women like flowers."

Ah yes, he is wise telling me, a person who believes fresh flowers should adorn our homes all year round. And so our story goes - we plant seeds of flowers fresh into the ground in the morning and by evening, enjoy the beauty of its wonder on our table. Indeed Jack, indeed...

the world is in our hands

Earth day should in context be every single day of our lives. Ya know, celebrating its beauty, conserving its resources ... and feeling what Noah is feeling in this very picture with the earth pillow over his head.

We've been making small transitions to a greener life-style since moving into our first home 6 years ago. The extra space in the kitchen allowed us to store bins for sorting recyclables. And since watching Inconvenient Truth, I have been unplugging the toaster after each use - which is now only mildly annoying in the mornings.

Our Earth Day celebration started with a long bike ride to the library where we found a handful of books on preserving our earth. During the kids' nap times, a bird had flown down our chimney and trapped itself in our skylight. It gave up and flew to lower ground - the breakfast room where I have real branches draped over the windows. How perfect. Aaron was able to free the bird and afterwards declared, "today is Earth day - the day the Patenaudes opened their home to wildlife." While I got a chuckle out of this - both Ava and I got "eeeewwwww" goose bumps.

We spent the afternoon at a nursery in search of small trees and seeds to grow our own wild flowers and herbs. The kids were amused by the forest-like greenery surrounding them and the rich texture of leaves that tickled their finger tops.

Before going to bed, Ava and I read The Earth and I by Frank Asch. Ava noticed a dead fish laying in a bank of junk and said "fish is sad" - and I agreed, explaining what happens when people throw garbage into the rivers. "The fish get sick - but see, this boy cleaned out the garbage, and planted flowers around the river - and all the fish are happy again."

I spent a lot of time thinking about the "earth" today and how everything goes around in full circle. So when Aaron wanted to buy weed killer at Home Depot today - I protested - proudly.

Green Resources:
1) Going green and becoming more eco-conscious seems to be trendy in Dallas as with all new things in this southern metropolis. In fact, I stumbled upon a unique high-end eco-boutique by the yummy name, Strada Verde [which translates to "Green Street" in Italian] in downtown McKinney. The owner Diljit Binning approached me with a personal tour of her lines. Maybe she thought I was a reporter since I was holding a notepad [I just got out of a client presentation located off the square]. Evenso, I was smitten with her British accent and products of eco-fashion. Purses made out of upholstery from vintage cars, shoes made out of recycled plastic, bamboo cotton tees and rugs made out of flour bags.. many items handmade by "local artists." Their opening night was tonight in fact - and I'm sure it was a stunning event.

2) Go Online. More and more are popping up, but sites I found full of good ideas include:
WFAA Project Green I Dallas Green Zine I TreeHugger

3) Things to do today: Don't run water more than you have to; run full dishwasher loads only; switch to energy-efficient bulbs [don't like the ugly fluorescent color like me? swap them out in rooms and fixtures you don't use often - like the guest bath; recycle - it's soo easy its ridiculous; and finally re-use - think about how you can give things you are about the throw away new life [I use cans of formula to store my craft utensils, empty plastic food containers, like yogurt, as tupperware, and plastic grocery bags as trash bags.]

"P" is for philanthropy

We did it! Bright and early Saturday morning, our family ventured out to White Rock Lake and joined the Strauss family and their team Backing Bobby - for the annual March for Babies Walk. I want to especially thank friends Deana Prokos and Heather Brillhart for their support right here on my blog. I set a goal of raising $100 in 2 days - and together they did [and more] on the first day I posted - thank you.

Why we do it? Well, judging from the hundreds of families gathered together - I think the real question is - why wouldn't we? There is no better time than now to teach our children how important it is to be involved in change. And even when our hearts are always in it, it seems like quite a challenge sometimes to even research ways we could be more involved in our community - together as a family. With the children being so young right now, we are limited to volunteer hours we can commit to. And yet still, I am determined to raise our kids with the curiosity and familiarity of supporting worthy causes, helping others, raising awareness - all for change.

This starts with Aaron and I including philanthropy in their education. Philanthropy - from the Greek word philanthrōpía, which means love for mankind, is as important of a lesson to teach as patience is. When the kids get a little bit older, we'll share with them how their parents volunteered together many years before they were born. We'll tell them about the Genesis Women's Shelter and how our roles were to play with kids so that their moms could receive counseling. We'll tell them about those memorable moments where we felt sad and helpless to see young kids burdened with their parents' struggles but how spending just one afternoon a week playing helped them forget for just a few hours. And how Aaron, who read books and played basketball with the boys, was a positive male role model they needed in their lives so that they would not grow up thinking that all men are abusive.

When Ava is older, I'm going to tell her how when I was 14-weeks pregnant with her, we walked 60 miles in 3 days together [from Arlington, to Irving to Dallas] to raise money for breast cancer research. I am going to tell her how I thought of her with each step and how we are all working towards a cure so that she won't grow up ever having to worry about cancer.

And when they look back at the photos of the first time they both were involved in a cause - March for Babies 2008- they will see the spirit of a community coming together, a family bond growing stronger, and the beginning of their life-long lesson in philanthropy.

Here's why supporting March of Dimes and other foundations dedicated to raising awareness about premature births and risks:

Every 3.5 minutes, a child is born with a birth defect in the US.

In Texas, 103 babies are born weighing less than 3 1/3 lbs on an average week and more than 14,000 babies are born each year with one or more major structural malformations.

March of Dimes helps raise awareness about risk factors for both babies and moms. Some of their initiatives include newborn screenings, access to health care coverage, smoking cessation, and immunizations. Learn more about their advocacy in Texas and nationwide.

Here are some ideas to growing your own little philanthropists:

1) Collect change for change. We started a piggy bank for each of the kids to "donate" their coins to. They love hearing the clinking and clanking of coins falling. While they don't know the value between a dime and a quarter - they do value storing these precious metals. The real lesson comes when piggy is full and they see their efforts exchanged for a greater good.

2) Visit CharityNavigator.org and research a local foundation or read about those already rated to help guide your fields of interest and selecting a charity to support. When you do - don't just donate. Take the time to attend a volunteer orientation, a tour or even an upcoming event to see whether or not it's a right fit. We're looking at the International Rescue Committee and how they help local refugees in our area. I'll keep you posted on what we learn!

3) Think small. Sometimes, going through your phone book and taking the time to get reacquainted with friends that are "older" and could use some company - is humbling.

4) Put it on the calendar. Designate a day a week or month [whatever feels right for you] for just doing good. Whether we are on the computer researching a foundation's mission we'd like to advocate on behalf, organizing our clutter for a drop-off at the Salvation Army, or walking for a fundraiser - it's all good. It's so easy getting caught up with so many other things so designating an actual time frame for goodwill helps us keep focused on what matters most.

a moment with insanity and a dozen with joy

I was having a snowball of bad mood swings this morning - and then I received this:

"So.... Are you going to meet us for pastries or chocolate milk somewhere? You have to bring the GPS.. We are lost!!! ----Sent from my BlackBerry Handheld."

And just like that, I woke up from my mommy-gone-crazy-spell. [After all, there was a pastry somewhere in my future happening]. AND a little girl smiling among budding flowers. Within moments, my little champions parked on the lawn and Aaron serenaded me from the window to join them.
I tied up my laces, got on my bike, and we all took a ride together as a family in search of lattes, chocolate milk and old-fashioned chocolate doughnuts. The new client project I was working on will just have to wait. When we returned home, I retrieved back into the office but could hear "my life" out there. Ava running up and down the halls refusing to use the potty chair and Noah repeating "a-ta, a-ta" in his high chair. The office door swung open, and Ava looked at me - "Mommy, bubbles..." I paused - very briefly - while it was so easy to explain how Mommy has to work - it was much easier and fulfilling to blow bubbles with my daughter instead. For her to know that she is more important than anything else - means everything.

After she left and I exhaled trying to remember where I left off, Aaron stepped in to interrupt with another family situation. "You've got to see this. Bring the camera..."

And so this is how the day unfolded. With countless interruptions, mood swings, moments of insanity and pure joy - it was a lot - and I learned a lot too. Later this evening, Aaron and I talked about what we could have done differently. And here's a list we came up with:

1. Don't fall asleep with the kids. Not only is it uncomfortable for our necks - but it also affects our moods in the morning.

2. Intervene. Aaron and I know each other's pressure points. Even when others are responsible. Jump in and intervene for the other by redirecting attention or making it easier for them. Aaron refused to let Ava feed herself ice-cream out of fear of her staining her shirt. I pulled off her shirt. Then it was the carpet issue so I placed mats under her bowl - done - and Aaron's blood pressure was lowered.

3. Sing. Ava & Noah both love "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands [smack, smack]" - so change the subject and start singing this song. They will think you lost it - but you will forget what it was that unraveled you in the first place.

4. Pray for patience. It really is something we need more of. It's almost as if we are trained in our upbringing to be otherwise. I can't even begin to count the many times patience has brought me the results I've wanted. It also gives us a chance to react to things more positively.

Here's to more moments of insanity - and the lessons that follow right after them.

march for babies

Each year, Aaron and I try to be active in our community. I truly believe if we seek change, we have to be willing to be a part of it.

This Saturday, Aaron, the kids and I will be marching at White Rock Lake to raise awareness about premature births and supporting programs like March for Babies. It's startling to know that every year, half a million babies in the U.S. are born prematurely, which is the leading cause of newborn deaths and many life long disabilities.

While I have been blessed to carry both children full term - others have not for reasons we don't know yet. Walk on Saturday and help raise awareness. Or donate some change towards the cause so that experts can do what they do best - provide outreach on educating moms how to reduce the risk of premature birth and birth defects.

Join me and my friends walking with Backing Bobby - The Strauss Family Team and make a difference this Saturday, April 19th at 8:30am [for registration]. Walk begins at 9 at White Rock Lake, N Buckner Blvd and E Northwest Hwy, Dallas.

wow - thank you!

I posted a new story late last night [see Tuesday's post below] and wanted to take a quick moment this morning to start the day and say, ahem... thank you. I am truly blessed to have such wonderful friends and family in my life who support, praise, and encourage me to keep doing what I do.

The art of family encompasses every moment - whether it's a personal "aha" moment for myself, a turning point in my marriage or an event with the kids. All of them make up bigger moments, lessons if you will - and having the opportunity to share my experiences [or "transitions in life"] and talk about them out loud here - to bounce ideas and learn from others - is truly incredible.

Monday night was the "official" launch of my blog and I was so touched by the overwhelming responses on Tuesday [you know who you are]. I wasn't expecting to read emails of how much you appreciated the stories and photos... and (gasp) how this has been an inspiration for you. That alone makes me feel like I've already achieved what I set out to do - and can't put into words how that makes me feel as a mother and an aspiring writer!

With all my heart - thank you!

...and if you all don't mind, I'd like to start this morning off with some of the comments I received in emails yesterday that gave me fuzzies all over. For one friend and I, it opened up a dialogue on the anticipation of raising our kids who have parents practicing 2 different faiths - wow. This is exactly what I hoped for - All of the emails are a testament as to why I put this blog together - thank you, thank you, thank you!!

"I have spent most of this morning since the kids left for school reading your blog. I almost felt like I was there with you guys, through each experience...I love the title ...The Art Of family. I would definitely be waiting to read more in days to come about your daily experiences and activities."

"What a wonderful blog!! You made me smile on this horrible day that I'm having so I am eternally grateful."

"What a gift you have. It made me warm all over to read the blog and look at the pictures. I don't know what I expected, but it was so much more."

"I LOVE IT! the pics are beautiful- can't wait to get back on and keep reading how you put words together so musically."

"I must say you are an engaging writer. I so enjoyed reading your Blog and seeing the beautiful pictures. I love your inspiration, your spirit and your view...You guys are an inspiration and your children simply beautiful! I look forward to reading more."

"Your blog is beautiful and I loved the pictures. Congrats on doing something so inspiring and leaving a wonderful legacy for your children. They are also very blessed."

"Ok first I'm glad to be the first to comment. :) ...i think you are turning into my parents with this antiquing. I think they are cool folks either way."

And if you haven't already started your own Thank You Journal - consider picking up Deborah Norville's Thank You Power book - it was a gift from my best friend Dave - who I also bought the book for. I'm still going through the book - but I keep it on my nightstand - it's literally that good. I think we all know in the back of our minds how saying "thank you" is respectful, and being grateful makes us humble and real. But if you do this consistently with all the little things around you that put a smile on your face and keep them in a journal - you can literally bring, create if you will, bigger moments to be thankful for. Doesn't that sound powerful?

finding new art

There wasn't much talking at the sandbox today - but there was a lot of sand flying out of it. Maybe it was because the kids haven't played in it for over a week and they were desperate to rebuild their forts ruined by the rain. After 10 minutes, their interest evaporated so I turned on the hose and made huge puddles for them to splash in while I cleaned out the backyard. This made Noah extremely cranky and tired - quickly. So while he napped, Ava and I both tried something new for the first time - hand embroidery.

It seems like fun - and an excellent way to let our fingers do the creative work. Plus, there's no sewing machine involved. On top of that, the book I'm reading right now shows how embroidery can be a fun way for kids to express their artwork. That was enough for me to try it with Ava.

After showing her this morning how to poke through the burlap just once, Ava took on the challenge and mastered making lines! She even asked to use different colors! I couldn't believe my eyes.

It lasted about 15 minutes before she jumped off the chair and wanted to play with the Remington typewriter instead. But that's ok - it was more than I ever expected. The important thing is that I gave her the opportunity to try something new. I don't know too many 2-year olds who have tried this craft, but it really is a good one. To use their hands to create... to build patience as they push and pull the string... and to feel proud of themselves when they see what they just created.

As for me - well, I don't have a clue what I'm doing. I don't even know how to knot the threads so that they don't pull through. But I tell you this - it is definitely a relaxing craft. I put all of our skeins and hoops into a basket and placed it next to the couch so that we can pick it up when ever Ava felt like it. I wonder how long this process will take... or if it ever will. But at least it's there, and I have today to remember forever.

To get started with your little one(s), here's what you need:

1. 2 hoops - a big and small one for each of you. I got a 10-inch hoop and a 6-inch one for Ava's hands.

2. Burlap makes the most sense to use for your little one to practice with. [A good tip I got from the book]. The holes are malleable and big enough to accommodate the large plastic dull needle they will need. For you, buy a pack of tapestry needles [they look like regular ones, but I'm sure there's a difference.]

3. Buy lots of colorful skeins. At only 29 cents a bundle - you can't go wrong mixing colors. We had Ava help pick out colors at the store. The decision [as if she was picking out ice-cream flavors] was exciting.

4. I threaded all 6 threads on her plastic needle so that her lines would be big and bold. For myself, I split it into 3 - I think that's average for linen fabric.

5. After threading the needle, I tied a knot so that the needle wouldn't slip while she pulled.

6. To get started, I poked the first hole from the bottom-side and then slipped it back through and tied off a knot so that the string would hold onto the burlap.

7. And that's it. I've never used a hoop before, but when you get one, you'll see how there are 2 circles, one big and one small. Place the fabric in between and pull the fabric so that it's stiff. Re-tighten.

8. Good luck - and let me know how this experience goes for you.

to the garden we go...

There aren't too many local spots that we can take the kids to stretch. So when beautiful warm weather rolled around on Saturday, we threw the kids and their wagon in the back of the car, picked up sandwiches and headed straight to the
Dallas Arboretum for lunch.

Noah took this opportunity to show us his surfer's stance while Ava snapped photos with the digital. She also was responsible for setting the timer on the SLR camera sitting on the tripod. She'd press the timer, wait for it to beep, then run into position laughing all the way. We shared a yummy lemon chill and people-watched before heading home.

The arboretum is definitely a place to bring the entire family - of all ages. We've been members since Aaron and I were dating. Ava's been coming here since she was 3 months old. And now Noah gets to join in on the outdoor fun.

If you plan on going at least twice with 4 people, get the family membership - which entitles you to bring up to 6 people as often as you want for one year. And you get free parking. So if you haven't been yet - go. The amazing Spring Blooms finished this weekend, and I'm so bummed I missed the tulips already - thanks to the heavy gust of winds last week. But you'll still see, enjoy and learn more about botanical gardens then you'd ever want to know... And perhaps even make simple outings like these into a family tradition of your own.

the heart of the matter

The past few days are somewhat of a blur. Noah's appointment with the cardiologist on Thursday brought us very good news. After an ECHO and EKG, the doctor said Noah's heart has a "quality sound to it." Nothing more. I can't even begin to tell you how quickly my mind wandered 2 weeks ago when his pediatrician first told us he had a heart murmur. Murmur?! Whose murmuring?? I didn't let it get to me until yesterday when I undressed him for his tests.

We came away from the appointment in sheer celebration - feeling so blessed that his heart is healthy, strong and musical. The following day we learned that Aaron's Dad, Ron, was being checked in to Medical City for heart surgery. The irony was deafening. I don't do well with news like this because I don't know what it means. It's the heart - a vital organ. And we are at its mercy. Period.

The next morning, my sister and brother-in-law with my little man Humzah in tow and awake, knocked on our door at 5am. It was a grim morning salutation - I was happy to see my family, but wished it was for a different reason. They came to help us with our kids so that we could visit with Ron before his scheduled triple-bypass. Aaron's entire family, in strong spirits, was there to wish him luck.

This time together at the hospital reminded me of how courageous and strong my mother-in-law is and how much she endures. I was also comforted by seeing brothers and sisters and a beautiful niece surround each other even at the foot of their father/grandfather's bed before major surgery and yet still laugh and talk about anything and everything. While the seriousness of the event stood deep in everyone, it was the positive energy and love brimming from a family being all together with one intention in mind that was so heartening. They amaze me. With Ron in first place.

Here we are at Chuey's celebrating and anticipating seeing Ron after his initial recovery.

treasures and characters

You'll probably read often how much of a "last-minute" planner I am. This road trip was no exception. I got my first issue of Country Living magazine last week. At 2 am I nudged Aaron in bed and told him that the biggest antique show in the nation was right here in Texas - and it was in 1 week! I'm not sure what he said - no matter. Because I had it in my head that we were going. Kids, hotel, days off from work... didn't seem relevant at the time. The added weeks of constantly being on the run somehow persuaded me to take some time out for myself and indulge on something so unlike me. Antique shopping. In a little town called Round Top, pop 71. Yep, 71. But during this annual one week event - thousands upon thousands come from all over the world to buy and sell... old stuff.

God bless Mom, who at the last-minute arranged to move-in for 2 days. We arrived in Austin late Tuesday night. Before we crashed, there was a pizza delivery and some cable watching [and maybe some chocolate cake.] The next morning, we drove an hour east to Warrenton, where I was told by an insider [who I befriended just 2 days ago] about where to shop. We thought we'd scan the rows upon rows really fast then head over to the Marburger Farm Antique Show. But we never made it. There was just too much junk to oogle over...

I don't know where I got my fascination with antiques - but there's something quirky and cool about having a piece that's got a story. I don't enjoy actually purchasing old things as much as I enjoy looking at how they are displayed. How trunks or jars are used to house unpredictable items. It's creative - and yes, inspirational!

We didn't pry ourselves away until 8pm that night and that was only because we got personal with the sweetest couple that sold us our new bench. Jeff and Sue from Lavender Bay Antiques. So hospitable and open - they shared with us their stories of how they met, what they did before "antiques" and the importance of raising kids. As you can imagine, we talked a lot about our own kids - because by this time, we were missing them dearly. We arrived home late last night/morning and unloaded our treasured finds. Ava heard us come in and woke up. We cuddled and I was in heaven - again.

This morning, we got to show Ava & Noah what a typewriter was. And as expected, they had the same fascination as we do with it - the sound of keys snapping as they karate chop the ink ribbon.

We also picked up a blue bench, circa 1840s, imported from Hungary. Two child-size farm chairs for the kids' art table, a writing desk from the early 1900's [where the wooden chair is attached to a metal box/desk], a painting, Pepsi crate and salvaged art frame.

Ultimately, it wasn't the old stuff we took possession of that made this experience memorable - but the conversations shared between random people from all walks of life. I was deeply fascinated by how illustrated they were about their lives. The preacher's wife who raised 6 kids but found self-worth after discovering the canvas; Wisconsin, riding a rusty old bicycle while selling me his Remington; the estate sale jeweler and her husband who gave me a crash course on what's real; Grandpa with his not-so-funny-story about his last encounter with a Dallasite; Mr. Miami who deals from Paris direct and needed to sell his 150 yr old "sofa bed" and of course, the Yank and Aussie who helped us fit a 7 foot bench in our car.

I feel like I stepped outside of my own storybook life and into another with details and characters I couldn't have imagined alone. It's true what they say about small Texas towns - it's quaint and weird. This much is true: You don't want to be left there after dark.

And, I also know that trips alone with your husband are mandatory and should be free of parenting guilt. Shopping at flea markets and antique road shows are rejuvenating to a crafter's spirit...and children spending time alone with Grandma without me refereeing how much chocolate they eat - priceless.

Here's what you need to know before you go:

1. Plan ahead - make a date with your spouse or girlfriends. You definitely don't want to go alone. The next outrage is Sept 30 - Oct 4, 2008.

2. Stay at a B&B if you plan on staying more than a couple of days. There aren't too many to chose from, and vendors get first pick. However, if you are a last minute planner like us - you CAN find one by contacting the chamber. They send out a mass email to all businesses and owners will call you back promptly if they have a cancellation they need to fill.

3. Start in Warrenton. You can spend an entire day and a half here alone [if you move quickly].

4. Plan a few days for the Marburger show alone. Vendors in Warrenton will tell you that it's not worth the entry fees. But I have a feeling it is and oh, so much more. Especially if you are looking for a particular hard to find piece. It costs $10 after 2pm on the first opening day. If you are really ambitious, you'll pay $25 from 9am-2pm on opening day.

5. There's a "pre-week" sale the week before. So if you want to skip Marburger and the other countless antique paid shows, then consider going the week before. You'll get the best deals at this time I am told. And Marburger vendors allegedly buy antiques here first and sell at their own booths.

6. Who cares. The way I see it, it's an experience. Talk with people and have fun. Get to know the quirky people who travel so far to trade and profit from an American past time.

7. Eat at Legal Tender Saloon if you're in Warrenton - they have huge portions and a friendly atmosphere.

8. Bring your cash, checks, credit cards - not your kids. We only saw 3 children the entire day. And they looked miserable. A babysitter is an investment.

See you in September!


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