Christmas Tradition

When our daughter was one, we decided to start our own family tradition, namely to travel to someplace interesting and memorable at Christmas. It fits well with our schedules, allows us to continue our own travel desires, and, most importantly, provides our daughter with an opportunity to see the world, at least pieces of it, one trip at a time.

Her first Christmas trip, when she was almost one and a half, was to Amalfi, Italy. Trips to Port Grimau (France), Kotor (Montenegro) & Dubrovnik (Croatia), in one trip, London (England), and Lucca/ Tuscany (Italy) followed, along with four other trips during summers.

For her tenth European adventure and sixth Christmas trip, she finds herself in Cinque Terra in Italy this Christmas. Five small villages – Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore – comprise the five lands. We are staying in an apartment overlooking the Mediterranean Sea (technically the Ligurian Sea) in Manarola.


In addition to Manarola, we have visited two other Cinque Terra villages, Riomaggiore and Corniglia. The other two, Monterosso and Vernazza, were seriously damaged by floods and mudslides in October. Try to imagine twenty inches of rain in three hours. They are closed to the public still. We’ve also ventured beyond Cinque Terra in several directions.

We know she’s enjoying herself immensely. Her skipping while singing is a dead giveaway. As her adventures continue here, I’ll share some more of them.

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Martha, Elf on the Shelf

Martha has returned to our home in time for the holidays.  Martha, known last year as Marfa (as our daughter couldn’t quite pronounce the th in Martha), is an elf on the shelf.  See for more about these clever elves.

These magic elves appear in the lead up to Christmas, working as agents of Santa Claus.  Martha returned around December 1.  Each day, our daughter finds her perched somewhere in our home, in position to observe those who have been naughty and nice.    At night, she returns to the North Pole to provide Santa with a behavioral progress report.  At first light, our daughter wanders the house in search of today’s vantage point.

This morning, Martha was spotted sitting on our front door bell chime, able to see the living room, dining room and, to some degree, the kitchen.  Who knows where she’ll appear next.  Last year, she even managed to sneak aboard our plane en route to Frankfurt, while our daughter slept, dreaming of sugar plums and what not.  I was most fortunate to wake up myself and snap a quick picture as proof.

It should be noted that these elves will immediately lose all their magic powers if touched by children.  Imagine Santa’s consternation if daily behavior reports suddenly cease.  There is clearly an ancillary magic effect on our daughter’s behavior as well.

But the most magic effect of all is felt by Mom and Dad, watching the joy and innocence of our daughter, watched over by her elf, Martha.  Happy Holidays.


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Change of Seasons

The changes in seasons provide both a measure of and metaphor for life changes.  I’ve said it before:  It is remarkable how quickly our daughter changes and grows up before our eyes.  It wasn’t that long ago that she was born and would fit comfortably in the comfort of my arm like a wiggling football, was it?

This morning we walked in our woods in our backyard, searching out the very best examples of fallen leaves.  As you can see, nature provides her a wonderful setting to explore.  She eagerly led the way down the hill into another adventure.

The changes, at the same time expected, yet still surprising, keep coming in rapid fire fashion:  No longer in Kindergarten, she’s a big first grader.  (At a recent school function, I remarked to her teacher last year, how small this year’s Kindergarteners look.)  While she still loves Mommy and Daddy to read to her, she can now read herself.  (The improvement is clearly noticeable from week to week.)  While still shy at times, her self-confidence continues to develop.  (A few days ago, she read the menu, made her choices and placed her order with the waitress.)

One of her most visible changes is her ever growing color pallet in her clothes.  She has insisted on dressing herself since she was two or three.  She’s always been bold in her choices.  But this morning, perhaps to show her solidarity with the bold earth colors of fall, she boldly states that more (and more) is better and better.

I wonder how her proud and confident expression of herself today will once again morph into more changes ahead as a tween and later as a teen.  The changes, they are a coming.  We can’t wait.

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Sharing with an iPad

Last night, I saw Ira Glass (NPR: This American Life) live at the theater. It was a thoroughly enjoyable exploration into the background and development of stories.

What does this have to do with being a father, you ask? Well, the connection is there, albeit tangentially. I’ll get there – eventually.

Beyond his storytelling, I found his use of an iPad on stage to be fascinating. Each time he needed the actual audio from a previous piece, he tapped it up as he was talking and walking about the stage. He also used music for effect and transition. A one man show almost! (Yeah, I know there are many more behind the scenes, but it appeared to be just him.)

It wasn’t just the set pieces he was able to call up, as scripted. During the question and answer segment at the end, his answers were often effectively augmented by audio segments he tapped up on the fly.

It’s more than Ira Glass too. I’ve watched a couple of new television shows this fall to see there is anything new worth watching. (There isn’t.) But it is amazing how many crimes are solved or stories told via iPads.

My wife got one this summer. One of her first downloaded apps was a drawing app for our daughter. She took to it instantaneously, drawing with her finger tips intuitively. Another move instinctively learned was the left elbow push off, as if to say “Daddy, leave it alone; I’ve got this all by myself.” Indeed she does.

I got mine last month. Of course, I have the same drawing app. Our daughter is moving past just the drawing app. She likes to snuggle up next to me as we angle for control of the iPad. She especially likes the television remote control app.

Of course, as with any new hot gadget, you can go overboard in using it. But the scope of new communication and connectivity metaphors is amazing. I wonder if we’ll be a three iPad family by Christmas.

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Seeing Our Future

As our daughter grows up, we see flashes of the future in the present. With a bit of nervous laughter, we joke about being parents of a teenager. Yikes! We are half way there!

There’s that roll of her eyes in response to some more than appropriate parental guidance. Or, the look that screams “Whatever!”. Sometimes it’s her attitude-rich response to something we’ve said.

Don’t get me wrong: Our daughter has a wonderful temperament. Those that get to know her say she so sweet, courteous, and even keeled. We agree wholeheartedly.

She’s been a wonderful addition to our lives, enriching us beyond – way beyond – all expectations. The six plus year ride she’s taken us on has been a joy and a breeze.

But, we wonder what lies ahead. We wouldn’t change – as if we could – a thing thus far. Will we feel the same in six more years? Will parenting remain seemingly so easy? Will she still be as sweet? What unexpected challenges are coming?

Whatever the future holds, our hopes and expectations remain positive. We can’t wait.

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Back to School

Our daughter recently started her second year at her elementary school.  Last year, it was starting school; this year, it’s back to school.

Last year at this time, in a post entitled “Fast Forward to Present:  Kindergarten”, dated September 30, 2010, I talked about (see excerpt below) how grown up she seemed to be able to head off to school for the first time.  She was ready and grown up enough then, of course.

Last month, my daughter started Kindergarten.  She started Kindergarten?  How is that possible?  My wife and I wife have watched her grow from Baby Girl to Little Girl to Big Girl.  She is growing up so fast and so well.  We are so proud of the responsible, increasingly self sufficient person she is becoming.  She is ready, excited and having fun at school.

What a difference a year makes.  While being ready, confident and excited a year ago, her readiness, confidence, and excitement are a magnitude higher today.  Gone is most of her nervousness and uncertainty.  She’s been there, done that, and is ready for a whole new set of challenges.

She’s taken a boy from the neighborhood, who did not ride the bus last year, under her wing on the bus.  She’s pleased to see old friends again.  She’s happy about making new friends.  She was thrilled to meet her new teacher, but still stops by to see her teacher last year for a hug almost every day.


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Back to School… Back to Blogging

While a lot has been going on, I have not been very diligent in posting.  For that, I apologize.  I will work on getting you up-to-date quickly.  With school starting, it’s a good time to get back into the swing of things.

If my daughter can get back to work, so can I!

The bird house says "Back to school".

We pass by this bird house every few days.  Its owner/ caretaker decks it out in seasonal themes every week or two.  Yesterday, the apple and books appeared to mark the passing of summer vacation and the return to school.

I’ll have more on my daughter’s summer vacation in the coming days.  Thank  you for your patience.

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Where should one call home?  I’ve always called Texas home, even though I wasn’t born there, only lived there 10 years, and haven’t lived there in 40 years.  The answer, I think, is because that’s where my parents live.  Well, at least they used to live there.

In many parts of the world, long running wars are fought over territory neither attractive nor resource-plentiful, for the simple reason that it is the land of their fathers and fathers’ fathers.  In other words, it’s home because it was where their family was.  That contrasts interestingly with my contention that it’s home because it is where my family is.

This has been on my mind lately because my mother has just moved from Texas, having lived there for over half a century, to North Carolina.  My father passed away about 2 1/2 years ago.  Now I have no family remaining in Texas.

Two weeks ago, I flew to Texas for almost a week to assist Mom in her move.  Since then, much time has been spent helping her settle in.  Now, she’s just about ready for the rest of her family to join her in North Carolina this coming weekend to celebrate her new home.  These two weeks have found me thinking a lot about home.

North Carolina to Texas is a 1,000 mile plane flight, non-stop, thank goodness.  Assuming an on time arrival, it takes about 6 hours, maybe 6 1/2, door to door, including all those delightful indignities of the 21st century, especially security screenings and sardine seating.  My home to Mom’s new home is 2 1/2 miles and takes about 6 to 8 minutes.  Obviously, the difference is quite a contrast.

So, where is home?  At this point, there is nothing in Texas to draw me back there.  While I have fond memories of growing up there, high school graduation just became a four decade old memory.  I’ve lived in North Carolina for 35 years.  My daughter was born here.

So, at least for now, I’m thinking North Carolina is now both home and place of residence, while Texas has just become my former home, both important, but also different.  My mother is here.  My wife is here.  My daughter is here.  They pretty much settle the debate.

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Traveling Changes the Routine

Our daughter loves to travel and handles the associated ups and down extremely well.  Right now, her routine has been altered by, first, her Mommy traveling and, now, by her Daddy.

Her mother had a conference to attend in Oregon.  Numerous visits to the coast, gardens, wineries and bistros stretched the trip into 8 days.  Now her daddy is gone for 5 days, help Grandma move to North Carolina.  We overlapped  my wife’s return and my departure by several hours to allow for the possibility of flight delay.

I am pleased to report she has adapted quite well to the prolonged absence of one of her parents, in part, by treating it all like a big adventure.  We’ve come to expect her easily adaptability to all things new.  It helps that we talk in advance of anything new on the horizon and support her through it as well.  But, she deserves a lot of credit herself.

Regular phone calls and Skype video sessions have helped.  When I had solo duty, our bedtime reading time was often extended to allow for Daddy-Daughter chats about the mysteries and uncertainties of her life.  We also went roller skating, played catch with a ball and gloves for the first time, and had a water fight in the backyard, during which she got soaked.

In Skype sessions between North Carolina and Oregon, our daughter read (Check out previous post on reading.), proudly and eagerly, to her mother and two of her aunties, along to make the long journey more enjoyable.  After all, gardens, wineries and such should be shared.

In my wife’s absence, I had to prepare meals for my daughter and I, a task made all the more daunting since my wife is a foodie.  Out of over 20 meals, we ate out only twice.  While what I put on the table pales in comparison to the delicious and healthy offerings from my wife, my daughter and I both survived the experience.

While I’ve only been gone for one night thus far, my wife and daughter apparently thoroughly enjoyed Girls’ Night last evening.  My daughter, voice full of excitement and enjoyment, regaled me with the tale of making home made chocolate chip ice cream and eating it as we chatted.

Life is full of surprises.  Treating them as adventures makes the journey all the more fun.  Watching our daughter live life fully is certainly one of the many joys of fatherhood.

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Really Reading!

My wife and I have read to our daughter, usually both of us, virtually every day since she showed she was capable of following the stories we read.  Stand alone stories and series have both appealed to her.

From Giraffes Can’t Dance to Blueberries for Sal to the Velveteen Rabbit (along with countless others), we have read them all, in most cases, many times.  From the Little Miss series to the Magic Treehouse series to Dr. Seuss (not so much a series, but a collection), she’s followed right along with us as we’ve read.

Her comprehension appears to be quite good.  With a story that has been read a time or two (or three) before, heaven forbid we mis-read or mis-speak something.  She will call us on it every time.

While she has been able to read words – a word or two at a time – for a while, it’s only more recently that she effectively reads entire sentences, paragraphs, and books.  At bedtime, she is eager to get into bed so that she can read to one of us.  She gets so excited and pleased with herself when she figures out how to read a particularly challenging sentence.

As a parent, it is such a joy to watch her read and watch, see, and feel her excitement at her new found skills.

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