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


hello holidays

The morning after Thanksgiving, the only thing on my mind is the upcoming holidays - picking out a real tree, decorating the house, opening up our boxes of ornaments and reminiscing at each one... driving through neighborhood streets to ooh at lights while sipping on hot cocoa and listening to Christmas music on the radio to accompany our accapella voices...

But recovery from Thanksgiving took a bit longer than usual with two kids. So we started on Friday with a trip up to the attic to bring down all remanants of the Christmas season. Ava and Noah got their own tree this year to dress up for the playroom...

Tree Decorating

Tree Decorating

I've always had plastic trees growing up - but since I got married, Aaron and I started a tradition of our own to buy the real thing and somehow recreate a snowy-lodge feel with a roaring fireplace and pine tree.

I'm a little sentimental in that I wish there was a nearby farm I could prance around with the kids. But the thought of driving back home with a tree on top of the car only took me as far as 2 miles away from the house. So on Saturday we headed to our nearby Home Depot and picked out our real tree for the family room.

Once we got there, we were blown away by how many trees that had sold already. We were also blown away by the weather - literally. This prompted a quick selection - but not after Ava and Noah experimented with the different textures and played a game of hide and go seek between the aisles.

Getting a Christmas tree

Hunting for a tree

Hunting for a tree

Hunting for a tree

Noah inspected its safety - and it passed thanks to the HD tree man who secured it tightly. Meanwhile, I was fantasizing about my hot cocoa....

Once we got home, the kettle started boiling and I began sorting the ornaments. Aaron dragged the tree inside and left it in the foyer to help detangle lights. The kids' interest had waned them over to the playroom, and I could hear pots and pans banging in their kitchen. When Aaron was ready with a pair of scissors to cutoff the netting, he discovered an ornament hanging from it's spire. We couldn't help but laugh - and amuse ourselves with how quickly the kids have welcomed the holidays - all on their own...

Getting a Christmas tree

thank you for family

Thanksgiving 08

Every day is a blessed day. And like millions of others this Thanksgiving, we got together to celebrate us, and our growing family....This year, a special table was brought out to the dining room to sit parallel with us. Tiny blackboards with names Ava, Noah and Humzah dangled over tiny antique chairs... and little pumpkins were filled with treats of raisins, candy, and race cars for them to zoom together... without crashing into a gravy boat...

Thanksgiving 08

Thanksgiving 08

Thanksgiving 08

This holiday is meant to honor family and the memories that each of us carry heavy in our minds. And I wanted to be sure this transcended to the kids more than any other holiday.... from eating cranberries to making turkey hand-prints... from collecting fallen leaves... to pulling on a wishbone.... from cooking a variety of "once-a-year" dishes together in one kitchen... to sitting across the table with those who fill our hearts all year long...

Thanksgiving 08

Thanksgiving 08

and of course... to look back and count the many ways the year has brought us lessons, strength, love, courage, friendship, hope, trial, patience, and wonder for all the days that make life and the moments shared with family string together...

moving on


Ava's last day at her Mother's Day Out program was spent with mixed emotions.

"School's finished Ava. Today is your last day. Give your teachers a big hug and say thank you." She did. When we left the classroom, she looked at her laminated photo in her hand and asked if she could put it back with the rest of the photos still posted on the wall.

I was sad. Confused. Worried. Happy. And excited for her.

Sad - because I know that Ava wants to feel included with other kids. Unfortunately, the program wasn't like what I had imagined and told her it'd be like. And therefore, I didn't want to give her the impression that this was "school" when there was no academic learning. To hear her already saying, "I don't want to go to school" on different occasions was like sudden static in my head. If this was the impression we gave her of what school was like - then we failed her.

I was also sad because it wasn't THE last day of the program - just Ava's.

Confused - because we were the only parents standing on the fence on whether or not this program was right for us. Other parents seemed to float in and out with signs above their heads reading, "this program saved my life."

But for us... it was difficult to see the silver lining when we found ourselves more stressed on Mondays and Wednesdays. We would have to push Ava out the door, motivate her and remind her that she has fun at "school." Drop-offs were difficult, but by the end of the day, she'd have stories to report while taping her new art project on the fridge.

There were also a few "incidents" that tipped me over and finally realize that we weren't ready to deal with her modeling behavior that wasn't from us... like saying...

"If you don't listen, you have to stand on the square."

"If you don't clean up, you won't have any skit-els."

We of course are left speechless, and nervously attempt to address her proclamations she'd repeat towards Noah - the innocent bystander in the playroom who just wants to zoom past her with his car.

Worried - for the outcome of our decision, and how it will impact her future.

Happy because we won't be late again... and I don't have to stress about her sleeping in or wanting to have fun and run around before breakfast...

Excited - because she has a little brother at home, that looks up to her. And on Ava's last day of school, he waited outside for her... so he could split his bag of yummy "skit-els" together...


first annual parent retreat

With Aaron and I being work-from-home parents, and raising our 2 kids beside us - it has been an extremely challenging and yet fulfilling two and a half years. Wow. Has it really been that long? Making the decision to take our careers indoors rather than trade them in was semi-planned. I knew for certain that I'd want to be home - but what I didn't know, was how to make it all fit.

For Ava and Noah to be able to see us "work" is heartening - I sense their appreciation for our time, as well as the opportunity to understand a bigger picture outside of their own worlds. It also gives them their own "space" to explore and "play" throughout the house without us monitoring them like hawks. My annual bonus comes to me daily - by spending all day with them and even stealing moments of them during my "office hours."


From the moment our children wake up - to the moment they lay their heads on the pillow - our hours are preciously spent nurturing, loving, teaching, and learning as a family. We feel blessed to have this way of life, which is why if we want to maintain it, keep it healthy and strong. So we invented our own "Parent Retreat" - a weekend specifically dedicated to the cause of our family by reflecting, repositioning, and redefining our commitment to parenting.

This past weekend, we drove down to the Texas Hill Country and stayed at a cozy B&B so that we could relax, rejuvenate, and realign what we work so hard for.


Our Parent Retreat kicked off with first examining our calendars and how we could better prioritize our individual roles. We created a family calendar using Google so that we could update and access it anytime and anywhere. Then we ran through the gamut of important topics such as:

Managing the flow of money is a job in itself. You can't rely on your financial adviser to plan your future for you - only we can do that - because our goals change so much and ultimately, are responsible for what we want to achieve.

Great resources: Mint.com is a free website that pulls and updates all your accounts [from banking to investing] in one central place. What I love about this site is how it gives me a clear [and sometimes scary] graphic picture of our spending habits and how easy it is to adjust, prevent, and prepare with this knowledge in my hands [sorry Starbucks, we had to let you go].

Motivational reads:
Smart Couples Finish Rich and Smart Women Finish Rich

Weekly menu planning
Our biggest expenditure no doubt is food. And that's a good thing since it's our primary source of health and energy. Not having a planned menu has caused fatal incidents - like throwing away unused fruits and vegetables... to therefore not getting a good balance of healthy choices each day.

On top of wasting food, we weren't spending enough time in the kitchen cooking. What was a chore is now something I look forward to as a family. We blocked off times each day for just meal prep - with planned ideas on how we could include the kids [such us ripping the lettuce or setting the table...]. This requires dedicating a day for shopping and drafting our menus - and includes pre-washing, chopping and preparing our ingredients ahead of time - not to mention another way to involve the kids.

Great resources:
Spreadsheets - we created ours in Excel, but any notebook will do if you want to try this. We categorized each meal time and filled it in using cookbooks and memory. This was tremendously helpful because the overview allowed us to see how balanced our diet was - as well as categorize exactly what we need to put on our grocery list. [On Monday when Aaron did the grocery shopping for the week, we cut our average grocery bill by $40!] Buying exactly what you need saves money, time and food from being wasted - and not to mention agony over, "what's for dinner?"

Children's education and daily learning

A very huge topic that is personally sacred to me. With a little pre-planning, we can take advantage of our resources and produce creative experiences for our children. From listening to music to clearing out the furniture for an evening of dance... art projects to express ourselves to dressing up and making puppets for a show...There's also nature walks, reading books, playing instruments [bought and made], board games, and even attending local festivals around town. All of this could easily be done in a week by making use of what we already have and planning ahead so that the creativity continues indefinitely.

While I see the importance of setting routines for Ava and Noah [meals and nap time], I also see the value in letting them lead me in the direction they are feeling creative. For example, I started with finger painting - it may lead to playing with cars instead... and that's ok. Because my overall goal for that activity was practicing fine motor skills...

In addition, we also dedicated time each night for the family to do something together. This helps us wind down [even when we are dancing] simply because Aaron and I have committed to this time to not think about work... or the tiles falling off in the bathroom...

Great resources:
The Complete Daily Curriculum, The Playful Toddler, Child of Wonder, The Creative Family and of course, Savvysource.com. There are also countless wonderful parenting and educational resources available for late night online browsers [like me] to check out too...

There were a few other items on the agenda - such as date nights once a week and designating home chores [We decided it's fruitless to stress over chores left undone and therefore simply split the responsibilities and designated various "clean-up" times throughout the week]. Ahh.....


We ended the weekend with a couple's massage, and got back in the car and headed home. The four hour drive gave us a lot to think about.... and look forward to. First being, the look on Ava and Noah's faces when we walk through the door.... and then all of the new fresh ideas we have in store for them.

The main idea or purpose behind a Parent Retreat - is to dedicate some time to yourself - and your partner.
We are accountable for how we spend each precious day we are given - and the idea of a parent retreat is just one way to help map out our days ahead. I would encourage it for every dynamic family - in whatever shape or form that may be. Just as birthdays or anniversaries are celebrated - so too should parenting.

This is just a sampling of what we've experienced, and I hope you find your own way that works for you and your family.

Happy retreating...
If there are additional resources or shortcuts you've learned along the way... we'd love to know!

the art of being... present


Every day after lunch, with remnants of food still dabbled on her face, Ava asks for one thing:

"Mom, can we do an art project please?"

I hesitate. Because I know the right thing would be to first have her clean up the dishes with me... then put away leftovers... and her tricycle before Aaron trips over it again... pickup her Scholastic DVD's before Noah sticks them into the VCR... or the Mrs. Potato Head pieces before they are thrown into the abyss of the air vents on the floor.... I know I should stack her library books before another late fine accrues... or get a load of laundry done so their pajama tops match their bottoms...

But the hesitation gets deflected for some reason, and I find myself squirting her tempera paints into an egg carton.

In every color.


I find myself pulling up a child's chair - and watching her... create something so sporadic with colors in every direction. Suddenly a tree appears in emerald green... then with a wash of purple paint, a bicycle seat appears instead... We make small talk until Noah finds us at the art table. I pull off his sweater and give him a paintbrush. He dips it into a puddle of yellow and them stamps his white space... as if playing the drums.


He wants a different color for his second paint brush in his other hand - and starts to pull the carton towards him. Ava shrieks, and Noah threatens her with his brush by holding it like a spear. She doesn't give in - she's in the process of mixing more colors and needs close access. They play tug of war until finally, I intervene and remind them about the "middle" of the table.


But to Noah, the "middle" appears misleading at his height... so he climbs to the top of the table and discovers a more unconventional way to paint - like using his bare feet.


I picked up Noah in full fledged giggles [he knows not to stand on tables!] and carried him to the bathroom. He laughed when I washed the bottom of his feet. So I pretended they were still dirty so I could hear him laugh even more. We changed his clothes quickly so we could check back with Ava... Too late. She painted both of her palms. Second amateur painter whisked into the bathroom - now flooding a new room with their paint...

In every color.

Their clothes eventually made it through with the loads of laundry later that night... the art table and bathroom counter tops were wiped clean, and their toys once again reunited with their boxes. Stains, clothes, missing pieces of toys... are replaceable. But what can't be is our time with our children. By doing so, we're teaching them the importance of embracing the present, and living passionately.

They do this so naturally, and I remind myself how to do so by following their lead.

Even if they have to go to bed with mis-matched pj's...

budding volunteers

When I enrolled Ava into the Mother's Day Out program, I was hoping there'd be opportunities for me to sit in the class with her and sing songs or read books.

But no such luck. Instead, my parent involvement was needed elsewhere - like crafting an item for their annual luncheon and silent auction. At first, the project lingered over my head like a dizzying cloud.

This all happened right around the time Ava got sick - and had to miss school for the first time. She couldn't sleep that night, so we let her help paint. She worked in silence and smiles... dipping the foam brush into the can...


and then lathering it on as if she was frosting a cupcake...


The next day we coated the chair with leafy green paint and then headed to school with Ava to get everyone's thumb prints in two different shades of brown.


At home, I found myself stumped on how to turn these chocolate squiggles into sunflower buds... So I made an emergency phone call to my good friend and interior designer, Marie, to sketch the petals while I filled them in with marigold yellow and glitter...


The luncheon was fun. One woman at our table turned out to be an old acquaintance I had worked with more than 7 years ago. Her son was in the one year old class, thanks to Noah, who forfeited his seat after only 4 classes. Her son apparently loves the program and if Noah could talk, he'd probably tell us that it was the worst experience of his life so far. It just comes to show - not all kids are ready to leave their nests... even if it's to go out and play all day....

Aaron and I were a bit overwhelmed with the timing of the project, but looking back, the squeeze was a perfect fit. By volunteering, I actually committed my family - Ava with her sniffles staying up past her bedtime and painting... Aaron corralling a classroom of squirmy toddlers all by himself for their finger prints... and Noah test driving the chair to make sure it still rocked... right after the last coat of polyurethane...

Everyone did so great, and I am humbled by their energy and love they poured into it. The experience had many teachable moments - here are a few things I learned:

1] volunteering our time, even when we think there isn't any to give, is actually an opportunity to gain more of it - as a family

2] how great it feels to be a part of our community and supporting a cause...

3] there are roles for each of us - no matter how big or small - as long as we are all involved, together... we are leaving our prints behind for others to follow


modeling responsibility

at the poll

Voting in the 2008 Presidential Elections will always be memorable for me. Not only because Ava drew a smiley face in the white space of my ballot... but because the experience has taught me so much...

As our children grow with wonder, so too does our parental responsibility. Their curiosity and questions challenge us, causing us to go into a spiral of reflection and ask ourselves... hmmm... well, what do I really think about that? And why haven't I done anything about it before?

Why be unhappy with a system that doesn't work when our children reach that door? Why not dive into the issues now, and work towards improving it - so that when our children grow, and are out there in the real world, they have a sense of value in what it means to work hard for the common good of all.

My parents have taught me that. In the 30 years they have been here in America, they have worked hard, facing many obstacles and sacrifices. I realize that profoundly each and every day - appreciating their commitment to family, and modeling how hard work and patience will help you achieve your goals.

I don't have the same worries nor the challenges of raising a family like they did. Our family experiences vary by several degrees and decades. But no matter how different they are, our final thought - as parents - are the same: How can I provide a better life for my children.

It is this answer to this question that has kept my parents moving. First, of leaving life as they knew it, behind in Afghanistan so that my sister and I would have a chance at getting a good education. Then, building upon each day....from saving dimes, to one day owning their own home... while retaining strong family values like eating dinner together every night as a family...

All of these moments truncate to our own parenting. It may have taken them 30 years - but I believe they are both proud of how far they have come... when they look into the eyes of their grandchildren and see... their happiness.

Modeling our parenting extends beyond our homes... well into our neighborhood, community, and country. And I can't think of a better way to demonstrate this extension, than to bubble our ballot and vote - with smiley faces...

democracy is as easy as triangles and squares

Election Day '08 is finally here and last night over some American fried steak, we decided to let the kids in on the big deal.

It went over pretty well. There weren't any questions, and during a practice poll, only one voter asked to change their vote after the election was over. It's funny how confusing politics can be and yet when you find yourself explaining it to a 2 year old, politics isn't that hard at all.

Here's how it went down in our house last night:

Do you like triangles or squares better?

Now kids, you have to have a good reason why because you have to stand by it and support your choice for 4 years. That's a loooong time. So think about all the reasons why you like triangles - and the same for squares. Think about the things you use everyday and the kind of shapes they have. Are there more triangles or square shapes? It's hard to remember... let's make a list...

Alright. Now, come to the polling station and draw or pick your favorite shape. Some people like to concentrate with privacy and use a booth...

Practice Poll Voting

And some people like to share their choice and talk about it with other people who like the same shape. They get together and think of new ideas of how their favorite shape can be used to improve things.

Practice voting

But either way, the most important thing is that you have a choice or in this process - a vote. Now, let's add it all up and see how many votes each shape received. Look there are two triangles - so triangles win the contest.

Wait a sec - who put in this circle?

voting independent



On the eve of Halloween, the kids, Aaron and I were treated to a very special visit from our longtime best friends, the Baxters. David and Corbin run their own production company, Soulbox Productions, which we've proudly watched grow from a dream into a successful award-winning videography business. Their creative pursuit is inspiring - and as a recent children's book I am now reading reaffirmed what I've known - it's important to expose our children to talented artists as often as we can. So we were thankful when they came over to spend the evening with us - and overwhelmed when they brought over a tray of fine sweets from a local bakery, and gifts for the kids....

We spent the night reading, playing games, cooking and enjoying each other's company around the dinner table together.


Bedtime came around too soon, and I promised Ava we'd save her Halloween treat. The next morning when Ava woke up, the first thing she asked was, "can I have my treat now?" So after a plate of pancakes, she feasted on her special treat that Aunt Corbin handpicked for her.


I had been procrastinating the decision of how to celebrate Halloween as a family and creating traditions. Will they get scared if a werewolf comes to the door? How do I moderate their intake if neighbors are generous during trick-or-treating? Is it worth battling crowds at the mall for a tootsie-roll?

Halloween is still an entirely new concept for the kids. Last year, Ava passed out treats while Noah in his aluminum wrapped spaceship-walker watched from the window. Now that they both run at full speed, I just wasn't sure... until I stumbled upon an email invite from the Women's Museum to attend their Kids Fall Fest.

We pulled out costumes from the children's dress-up bin, and explained that Halloween is a fun day, where they wear costumes, play games, and get treats. They didn't seem to mind... they were heading outdoors, and that was joyful enough.

They watched the puppet show, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, went on a scavenger hunt, made green slime, decorated cookies, colored pumpkins, and participated in a costume contest...





The kids ran around the exhibits freely, and enjoyed the lights and pictures on display. A marquee with flashing words streaming to the ceiling stopped Ava in her tracks to say, "that's amazing!"

Watching our kids interact with each other and having fun with what they are thrown into by their parents - is probably the most celebrated experience we could ever ask for in return.

For both Aaron and I, our favorite moments were of Ava when she found the first loot on the scavenger hunt and picked one piece of candy to throw into her hollow pumpkin. No one was watching. A basket of candy just sitting there - and she took just one! Then she handed Noah a piece and said, "Noah, you get one too!"


Our second favorite moment was of the kids participating in the costume contest. Their cowboy and cowgirl costumes rounded up their courage to stand in line and be judged by the crowds. We couldn't help but laugh, when Noah kept going back alone to be judged against the older kids...


We left shortly afterwards in an attempt to make it around our block so that Ava could experience a "trick-or-treat" at a neighbor's door. When we parked in front of our house, Ava reminded us that she needed a flashlight to trick-or-treat. Thank goodness for PBS and their safety tips - I love that station!


Our neighbor handed her chocolate, and she humbly accepted and said, "Happy Halloween." And since Noah was sleeping in Aaron's arms, she took the liberty to get his sack and fill it too..


We knocked on two more doors before we reached our neighbors across the street and scored the jackpot - a bounce house!


She didn't bounce for very long - the one frosted chocolate-chip cookie with sprinkles, orange lollipop, 2 Now & Laters, 2 bags of Skittles, and 2 Tootsie-rolls caught up with her. We headed home for baths and dinner - followed by the much anticipated opening of the Scary Movie Watching Survival Kit from
from their very creative Aunt Corbin.


The kit included a "monster-proof" blanket, It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown DVD, 2 spooky sippy cups, and a giant bucket to hold their treats. The Baxters' thoughtful gesture rounded out the evening into a memorable tradition I see us doing for years to come...


Cuddling on the couch with our blanket, watching a scary movie, and drinking milk to wash away the excess sweet we filled our bellies with. What a great family-fun day! Halloween - we had a great time. Thanks for giving us a new family tradition... and adorning us with lasting treats we'll enjoy year after year...


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