Traditions

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Thing Three. Whenever possible, view your daughter as a front page story. Then get the story.

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These photos of the Eleven O’Clock Girls in Bratislava, Slovakia, remind me just how much I remember about our trip through Europe last summer. Which is a lot. Which is a direct result of its having been documented. I remember the day in these pictures like it was yesterday. Because there are photos of it.  The companion story for this photo could be, “The petals fall under the spell of some interesting new acquaintances.”

The caption for the one below could read, “Miss Zinnia.  Silly girl.”

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Take photos.  And when you’ve got a minute, write down a place, a date, an impression or two. The story in the one below:  “Blue eyes. In Bratislava.”

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I want to be clear: when I say “get the story,” I don’t mean sit down and write War And Peace. Nor do I mean mortgage your home to get the appropriate scrapbooking supplies.  I love that some folks scrapbook!  I wish I did.  I kept trying.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get that gene. Once, I walked into a scrapbooking store in Arizona, looked around for a bit, and, when someone asked if they could help me, out of my mouth came the bizarre (and involuntary!) words, “Do people ever report wanting to slit their wrists when they come in here?”–at which point said woman (very helpful, bless her) gave me a brisk smile and hurried away. Fast.

The story for this photo of Miss Lavender could read, “Something’s going on behind those eyes.”

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Or this one. “Oh happy day!”

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Or, “Zinnie and Lavender doing something vaguely yogic.”

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The Official Story of your daughter on any given day, at any given moment, gets written with the click of a shutter and a few thoughtful strokes on a keyboard (or in a journal, say). But we’ve gotta get them, these stories. Before our girls walk off into their own lives.

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Wish I’d started this in earnest.  Sooner.  I’d remember so many more days like they were yesterday!

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Thing Two. Shout your love, and be specific.

Years ago, I was sitting in a class at BYU one afternoon. The guest lecturer, Stephen R. Covey, was there with his daughter, Maria. These were virtually the first (very loud) words out of his mouth that day: “I love my daughter Maria!” We all jumped. Not kidding. It was like he was shouting it to the winds. No, that’s not accurate:  it was like he was shouting it to the planet Neptune.

Volume aside, though, what I walked away with that day were two things. One, if you love a child, then why not make it known? The look on Maria’s face made me smile. I swear she was thinking, “Oh gosh, here we go again.” But no one in that lecture hall could have doubted Covey’s affection for the girl sharing the microphone with her dad.

I have never proclaimed my love that loudly before. But there is one thing I do at a softer volume, and it’s no less sincere for not being audible to anyone but the girl in question. I identify something I love (and this works as well with boys as it does with girls), and I articulate it. Example: “How beautiful your hands are. I love your hands.”

The trick with this: a) you’ve got to feel it deep down, for real, and b) you’ve got to time it right.  Moments like these require a certain . . . openness, for lack of a better word.

But back to hands.  I LOVE my daughters’ hands, both sets! (Two girls, four hands altogether.) They both have their dad’s hands–elegantly shaped, long fingers. And both girls use their hands expressively–to help me see what they’re thinking or feeling.  Hand-love, spoken aloud:  easy-breezy.

Try this. Give yourself twenty seconds, and identify just one thing you absolutely adore about a daughter (or daughters!).  Then determine how and when you’re going to express that.

Take-away number two.  Noticing what you love about a daughter and articulating it not only for yourself but more particularly for her makes it more real. I believe this. The petals’ hands would always be their hands whether or not I ever happened to notice their beauty. But the second I tell one of them out loud how lovely their hands are, the realness of what I’ve just put into words registers somewhere inside me, in a place where love seems to deepen and brighten for having become said and not just felt.  Likewise, inside the heart of the child who receives that little gift packaged in words, the belief that they are indeed worthy of notice and affection is strengthened, maybe just enough to combat a negative message–from somewhere else–preparing to hit its mark.

Covey shouting his love for his daughter. I’m smiling right now, not just because I can remember exactly what his voice sounded like but also because, on Maria’s face, you could so clearly see that, while she’d heard this enough times to make her want to roll her eyes, she believed it.

(For the record:  the two sets of hands in the photo belong to Miss Lavender and Miss Primrose, whose hands I also adore.)

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Thing one. Take the Teenage Girl In Your Life with you when you do something kind for someone else.

So I grab Miss Zinnia the other day, and I tell her we’re going to visit Miss Rosa (not her real name), who lives up the street a few blocks. “I’m going to take her some soup,” I say, “and I want you to come with me.”

She’s reluctant at first. She doesn’t know Miss Rosa (naturally I’ve given her a flower name), who is a woman of mature years and who lives in a flat the size of a shoebox. But to her credit, Miss Zinnia puts on a jacket, a scarf, and the red felt hat (very Edwardian) she recently acquired, and off we go, with me toting both the bowl of soup and Miss Zinnia.

As a matter of courtesy, I asked Miss Rosa beforehand if I could translate for the two of them, and when we arrive and exchange the requisite two-cheek kisses, I suggest we commence chatting–that she and my Zinnia jump into the business of getting to know each other.

At first it’s a bit awkward for Miss Zinnia, but with me mediating the langauge gap and asking for additional help with Miss Rosa’s fond Catalan phrases and metaphors (Catalan is a wonderfully metaphorical language, from what I’ve been able to observe), the two take the first steps toward friendship.

And what do you know? They both love herbal tea with notes of fruit and flowers, Miss Zinnia lighting up when she talks about the infusion (what they call herbal teas here) she got at Christmas, a special “brew” called Kalahari, named for the African desert. And they both love movie musicals. When Miss Rosa mentions Singin’ In The Rain, Miss Zinnia’s all-time favorite, Miss Zinnia smiles so warmly I wonder if we’ll need to turn off the little space heater Miss Rosa has placed near us, to keep us warm.

And it goes on like this for the better part of an hour, though eventually the discussion turns (as it often does) to Miss Rosa’s thoughts on the Catalan secessionist movement and other sundry themes a tad bit too politically charged for Miss Zinnia, particularly as they find expression in Miss Rosa’s colorful language . . .

When we kiss Miss Rosa goodbye and leave her flat, Miss Zinnia links her arm with mine, and on our way home, I say, “We made her day.” And Miss Zinnia, feeling reflective, acknowledges that this might indeed be true. “This was the right thing to do this afternoon,” I tell her.  “And,” I add, “the soup’ll be perfect for her dinner!”

I think about what the visit looked like from where Miss Zinnia was sitting: the oddly delightful, slightly intimidating combination of age and youthful verve that is Miss Rosa. Her arthritis continually pesky, she uses braces to walk. But that doesn’t stop her from holding forth on the theme of Franco’s catastrophic oppression of the Catalans during what she views as his reign of terror, for example.  She is nothing if not a character.

I notice that Miss Zinnia’s attitude has shifted. Before our walk to Miss Rosa’s small flat, she was nervous. Afterwards, she understands that her efforts to make another woman–one whom age has not been kind to–feel just the slightest bit happier on a Sunday afternoon have worked. You could see it on Miss Rosa’s face.

I decide immediately that taking a girl in a red felt hat (or any kind of hat) along to visit the Miss Rosas in my life can be brilliant. Why, you wonder?–because now, Miss Zinnia has a Miss Rosa in her life, too, and that simple fact will resonate with her into adulthood and beyond.

 

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I have a little Valentine’s Day tradition. I call it “Six Reasons Why,” and it involves two girls, Miss Lavender and Miss Zinnia, and a dozen roses.

It’s easy, really. I write a note to each girl, telling her why she is more beautiful than the six roses I am presenting her with. A dozen roses, six for each girl. On Valentine’s morning, when they wake up (the girls, not the roses), there are the reasons. And the flowers.

I’m already thinking of my reasons, one of my favorite tasks of the year.

Do you have any petals in your home?–any girls who are more beautiful, even, than perfect flowers? If so, why not write a note? And tell her why!

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The Eleven O’Clock Dad showed me this the other day, and we actually showed it to our kids a couple of nights later as part of an ongoing effort to think not only about what our family is, but why it is.

Maybe a year ago, we drafted a family mission statement, each member coming up with a single word they felt described our family, and we arranged the words in a series of short phrases. While we still like what we came up with last year, it’s nevertheless fascinating to ask your kids this question: What is our family’s ‘why’?  Articulating a ‘why’ statement can be as simple as saying, “We believe in . . .”

Try this. Ask your kids: What’s our family’s ‘why’?  For that matter, extend the discussion by asking your kids to think about their own ‘why.’  It’ll be an illuminating moment. And a very cool one.

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My teen girls and I:  sometimes, we need a good swoon.  For that, we turn to movies like the incomprehensibly lush Jane Eyre, with music by Dario Marianelli.  As we cluster on my bed, the three of us, we often dial up the film score on Grooveshark or Spotify and laugh at ourselves.  “Look at us,” I’ll say as we recap our favorite scenes and let ourselves be swept away by Marianelli’s musical imaginings.

Jane Eyre was probably the first “big girl” book I ever read, and it touched some rarefied chord in me that no other kind of reading experience had yet triggered.  You have to understand:  I . . . was . . . Jane.  When I finished the book, the world looked a little different to me, almost as if I’d traveled to someplace others hadn’t yet been to, making them less fit to appreciate the story of my adventures.  Or so I felt.

I really do believe that some books, some pieces of music, some works of art change us, almost right down to our DNA.  For that reason, I’ve been foisting books on my kids practically from the womb.  So it’s with such great pleasure that I gather my girls–my tribe, I call them–onto my bed sometimes, where we’ll listen to music, review books together, and talk about cultural events both life-changing and totally inconsequential.

The acquisition of culture is about so much more than just knowing that some dude with a fondness for starry night skies liked swirly brush strokes.  To the extent that we embrace it, culture allows us to relate to each other in ways we wouldn’t otherwise.  If it’s a swoon, for example, that brings my daughters and me together, connecting us for an hour or so on a Sunday night, let’s say, then Jane Eyre is more than the sum of its literay parts.  It’s mortar, for my relationships.  And moms and their teens:  they need that.

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Day Of The Kings. Day Of The Sales

by Becky on January 8, 2013

in Fashion, Fun, Traditions, Travel

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Sunday, January 6th, was Dia de los Reyes–Day of the Magi. Much like our Christmas holiday in the states, Dia de los Reyes is big. Really big. A huge event. That’s when the children receive their big gifts. That’s when families have their big reunions. (Are we hearing the word “big” in all its grand significance here??)

For us, in contrast, it was a quiet day.

Then. Monday, January 7th–yesterday–was day of the sales. As in, big sales. A huge event. Like after-Christmas sales back home, but on steroids. So the girls and I headed out, and I can tell you that it was not a quiet day. All of Barcelona went shopping. By 3 pm I was done trying to muscle my way through stores and along the boulevards, and we took off for home.

You have not ever properly shopped during a sale until you have competed for space in a small boutique with many well-heeled, smartly dressed Catalan women who would just as soon see you deported as give up their spot by a sale rack. I mean no disrespect. I was rather in awe of them, I have to confess. I thought I was good. Back home, I can work the sales like a pro. Here, it’s a blood sport: if you don’t know what you’re after and how badly you want it, forget it. I plan to begin practicing the art of “the move aside,” where a stunning Catalana, for example, will put her (well manicured) hand on the small of your back and literally move you out of her way while offering a coolly polite “Perdon,” which, though it literally means “Excuse me” or “Pardon me,” in this case means “If you know what’s good for you, you will move aside, NOW.”

We did score a few great things: lots of highly unusual, patterned tights and knee-highs, definitely the rage here, and half off. They’ll work brilliantly for Miss Lavender, who will be attending college in a mighty cold place next year. And a brick red, Edwardian style felt hat for Miss Zinnia, who adores hats almost as much as she adores delighting us with her cathedral songs. A few other sundries as well, great deals, all. What we did not get on sale was our (I say “our” because we’re sharing them) new pair of Kokua ballet flats, handmade here in Barcelona. Dark grey with a chartreuse toe, they are about the happiest, coolest things you’ve ever seen, and I will no doubt slide them on next year when I am back in HB and cannot find a medieval city in which to roam or a Mediterranean beach on which to hunt for beach glass, just so I can remind myself that yes, I lived here.

The trick with January 7th sales: since everyone’s out “disfrutando las rebajas” (enjoying the sales), you’ve gotta act fast . . . or it’s gone!

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Eleven o’clock pm, New Year’s Eve, in the Plaza Real.

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And on The Rambla, where the crowds migrate toward Plaza Catalunya.

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High up in the clock tower, the bells sound.  On the stroke of twelve, a cheer goes up.

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Hello 2013!

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And hello New Year’s Moon!

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Every year around this time, I go into this strange, pre-Christmas “state,” feeling like if I don’t light everything up–I mean really light it up in a spectacular way–then I’m not doing my job.  And of course it takes its toll.  I ricochet wildly from errand to errand, wondering if I got my teeth brushed before I drove off, my skirt/coat/seatbelt flapping against the outside of the car as I motor along because when I shut the car door, I didn’t get myself properly tucked in.  The kitchen looks apocalyptic.  (Mountains of) gifts need wrapping.  I head off to a child’s classroom party and realize I forgot a gift for the teacher.

This year, in contrast, I am far from everything and thus have managed to avoid The Crazy. Feeling mighty “chill,” is what I am, and it is a sensation so odd and so out of character for a woman whose middle name is Stress Hound, I may need therapy to get a better angle on it.

So. Listen. If you are now fast approaching burnout, quick!–do these three things.

One.  Click on this playlist.  Both classic and jazzy, it’ll put some swing back in your step.  At the very least, it’ll pull the corner of your smile up a bit.

Two.  Repeat this mantra to yourself:  I need not be the Hostess With The Mostest.  (You may have to breathe into a paper bag for a while before you can get the words out.)

Three.  Tonight, before you go to bed, make yourself some hot honey lemonade.  Here’s how.  Add the juice of one lemon to one cup hot water (I heat mine in a saucepan).  Stir in one teaspoon honey, adding more if your mood/night/life need extra sweetening.  I use rosemary honey–divine.  This treat is so perfectly restorative, it brings me back to myself every time.

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With so many bloggers staging and photographing amazing DIY’s, it’s easy for a woman who’s better with words than projects to feel like maybe her blogging resume, if you will, is lacking a little something, you know? I could practically hear my detractors saying, “Yeah, nice content, but where are the DIY’s!?”–like I’m a pageant contestant who’s strong on personality but weak in the swimsuit area, if you know what I mean.

Then a rather novel idea struck me. No one’s covering the low end of the DIY market, where the projects are so easy they might otherwise be considered forgettable. And I thought, I can do that! I’ll leave the super sophisticated stuff to Design Sponge and carve out a whole new niche for myself: the REDIY, or Ridiculously Easy DIY.

Knowing I needed some Christmas tree decorations, I decided to get cracking. Ater a trip to Els Encants, our favorite local street market, I came back with 4 meters of red ribbon that looks like silk but isn’t. Check. I then made sure I had sufficient quantities of basic white printer paper and some scissors. Check, and check.

We set to work making paper snowflakes–some large, which we folded for a cool 3D effect. (Fold the four sides up. Attach with tape. Done.) Those we threaded with ribbon and tied onto the tree. And for the smaller snowflakes, the “2D-ers”: we simply slid those right onto the branches.

Snowflake design took my younger kids the better part of two whole evenings. It was brilliant. I’m rather chagrined to confess that they’ve never before been so involved in dressing our tree. (I think you can guess the reason for that.)

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Oh. And the tree! It came from the Christmas market down by the cathedral. It’s a small Douglas Fir, in its own pot, with its own very nice dirt.

All done. Just like that.

You know those red buttons from Staples?–the ones that say “easy” in big, white, lower case letters, and you can thump it with the heel of your hand and feel like you just accomplished Something Big? That’s the RE-DIY. Hit the button! Tree done! Kids happy! Mom happy! Voila!

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