Wednesday, February 18, 2009


On Saturday we were invited to a lovely tea party to celebrate Valentine’s Day at our friends the Turners. Jennica and her daughter Rya played hostesses to several little girls all glammed up and ready to partake in girly activity. Here they are looking like they are waiting for the Mad Hatter, who must have been off with the White Rabbit somewhere, probably attending the Queen. They all waited patiently and with the best of manners for tea to be served.
Decorated cakes and cookies were ravenously eaten, sweet teas sipped and fresh strawberries delicately nibbled. Once all the little princesses appetites were sated, they waved their magic wands and the remnants of the party were miraculously swept away to make way for a heart-shaped frame craft. (the “magic” coming in the form of Mamas madly cleaning up after their princesses…oh, so that’s where the madness comes in). We then retired to the backyard and play area to blow some bubbles where I discovered my two year old can quite expertly climb a ladder all by herself…yikes, good to know.
A wonderful time was had by all and we are grateful to Jennica and Rya for their hospitality and thoughtfulness.
After arriving home I opened the back door to the mini van and this was the picture I was presented with; a little girl looking the perfect picture of ‘princess-ness’…wrapped in a pick furry coat, dress ruffles peaking out and her head topped with a silver tiara. A bag of goodies in her lap, a wand in one hand, a sucker in the other and a big smile on her face. She just seemed to be saying. ‘Ain’t America grand Mama?’
And there were still presents from the Mama as well! You just can’t beat a holiday celebrating love, even though poor St. Valentine didn’t quite have the best of times on his day, him being a martyr and all. Actually, did you know that there isn’t just one Saint Valentine and that there are more than one Valentine’s Days? There were several early Christian martyrs named thus. Finally, in 1969, the Catholic Church formally recognized eleven Valentine’s Days! The Valentine, or rather, Valentines, honored on February 14th are Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. The one from Rome was a priest who suffered his martyrdom in about AD 269. His pieces reside in a church in Rome, AND one in Dublin, Ireland….oh dear.
Valentine of Terni was a bishop in about AD 197 and was said to have been killed during the persecution of Emperor Aurelian. Parts of him are in Rome and Terni.
It is unclear as to when romance began being associated with these guys and their feast day. There is mention of Valentine’s Day in Hamlet by William Shakespeare, but no clear history of the holiday’s evolvement into the giving of love letters could be found. In the mid-nineteenth century the holiday was reinvented through the exchange of letters and cards expressing friendship and love. No one really knows why the holiday suddenly took off in this way, but various stories abound, again, non of which could be verified. Possibly, it was some wily marketing executive wanting to unload an overstock of stationary. Or perhaps a group of young ladies with too much time on their hands, set to making fancy cards expressing their shy feelings towards a secret crush. Though no one seems to know for sure, what does seem to be true is that much speculation and down right falsehoods have sprung up around Valentine’s Day. Typical of love, isn’t it?
What I remember from my own childhood was the fun I had making the container that would hold my Valentine’s from an old shoe box. Personally, I found this to be the best part of the day. At right is what I remember the cards I used to receive looking like. Now of course most of the boxed cards children have to choose from have the images of pop and tv stars on them. This year we made ours, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy yet another High School Musical anything.
Here I leave you with the ruefully mentioned Valentine's Day spoken by Ophelia in Hamlet (1600-1601):
To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
And dupp'd the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid Never departed more.
(William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5)

©KKW 2009

Friday, February 06, 2009


I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions; I just am not interested in resolving to do something I should already probably be doing anyway. But my falling down on January 2nd (See Nice Start To The New Year) has made me think that perhaps this year should be different. You see I am an assiduous multi-tasker and hopelessly and perpetually in a hurry. I am one of those annoying people who believes that everything happens for a reason and that there is a lesson in every error and I think that in falling down and injuring my ankle and knee that the universe is trying to tell me something, something like: ‘slow it down stupid!’

I rush, it’s what I do, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time for everything that needs doing. Being a single mom with two young children is a full-time job just by itself, add to that a full-time day job and off-hours freelancing, doctors appointments, laundry, dinners, packed lunches, homework, house cleaning, the care of a large number of pets, yard work, car upkeep, shopping, karate lessons, speech therapy, drop-offs and pick-ups to and from school and daycare…whew, I am making myself feel exhausted and overwhelmed just listing what I have to do weekly. My point is, I don’t see an alternative to rushing madly about. I already rise at 4:45 AM in order to just get myself and the kids ready to leave for the day, and I really do try to get the required amount of sleep, which means I would have to be in bed asleep before 9 PM….the only time that happens is when all of the rushing has finally caught up with me and I am so weary that I can barely make it up the stairs to collapse on my bed, but most nights I am able to at least make it to bed by 11 PM and slip in some much desired reading time. This is my favorite time of day, when the house is quiet except for the gentle, steady breathing of my children and assorted pets. When I snuggle down into my flannel covered feather bed, cover myself in my silk cocoon comforter and pull out whatever book I am currently reading, I comfort myself with the thought that I have several hours to loose myself in blessed, hopefully uninterrupted, sleep.

In causing myself an injury that requires me to walk slowly and carefully I have begun to see some things in a new light. At first glance it would seem to be somewhat depressing to find that your two year old walks faster than you do. But it has forced me to slow down and smell the roses so to speak, even at work….”Oh, that’s a nice potted plant, never noticed that before,” as I am shambling my way to the restroom. And, if one walks slowly, one catches interesting bits of conversation floating from cubicles and offices, most of which is dull, but on occasion there is some sparkling jewel of useful information that could possibly come in handy in future, one never knows.

While out in society, walking slowly can result in found money that has fallen to the ground, or small creatures in need of help out of a dangerous parking lot. Since progress is being made sluggishly, one has time to notice the mother duck at the edge of the pond gathering her brood around her with clucks and soft quacks, or the beautiful, puffy cloud filled sky, although caution should also be exerted when noticing nature since not paying attention to where I was going caused my forced leisurely gait in the first place. I am sure that there are less painful ways to make oneself take time to notice life’s small joys.

Not all multi-tasking need be a rush job, while commuting to work I have nearly an hour all to myself in the car and practice deep breathing and deep thinking. This results in a wondrous calming of my mind and spirit and helps to start the day right. However, by the time the lunch hour arrives I feel the need to pounce from my chair and bound out the door in order to run needed errands and usually come back without having eaten and all a fluster. I have one hour at lunch from the time I leave my desk until the time I am expected back at it to get my daily errands done. I am able to go into three stores, shop and arrive back on time. Lists are absolutely essential and must be ordered by store layout. Today I went to the party store for a friend for tiaras and wands for her tea party next week, then to the book store for myself, leaving shortly after laden with several volumes and still arrived back at the office with 12 minutes left to pop my Lean Cuisine into the microwave and land back at my post. For better or worse I work in front of a computer all day, so in some ways this allows me to slow down, albeit, at times a little too much, there are days when I find my head lolling and my eyelids uncomfortably heavy to say nothing of my sedentary body that cries out for some exercise. There is nothing worse than being sleepy and unable to just take a nap. I find myself wondering if anyone would miss me if I just slid under my desk for a little siesta. Corporate America really needs to rethink the work day, there is no doubt in my mind that if we all started with a little Tai Chi in the morning; exercise for both body and mind, and then had a little nap in the afternoon that we would all be more productive and happy.

In my younger adult days I was puzzled when I would hear someone say that ‘there weren’t enough hours in the day’. I thought to myself that there were plenty of hours in the day, at that time in my life I got done tons and had lots of time to play and do the things I wanted to do. I went to work and enjoyed it, I swam and worked out at the gym, I painted and created, I went out with friends or on dates, I saw movies and plays and concerts, and I read several books a week. But now I find myself wishing for a few more hours at the end of each day just to put my life in order. How on earth did this happen? When did my days get so short?

You may think that perhaps I am just not organized, but though it may appear so to the external eye due to the chaotic state in which my home usually exists, I assure you that I’ve got a system that works pretty well. On Sunday afternoon I do all the cooking for the week so that dinner is easily heated up and ready quickly when we arrive home. I pack all the kid’s lunches for the week as well and have them lined up in the frig. I lay out five outfits for each child after the laundry is done on Saturday. In the mornings I get myself dressed and ready before waking the kids. Once they are awakened and dressed #1 helps #2 eat her breakfast and go to the potty while I take out the critters and get them feed and watered. On my way out to do this I drop off my work day bag and the kid’s lunches and start the car to get it warmed up if it is very cold. When I come back in I fix my coffee, get the kid’s coats on and we are out the door. And as long as I don’t hit the snooze button on my alarm clock too many times we are on time. In fact this morning we were running 20 minutes ahead of schedule and had to sit and wait for the daycare to open. But it was nice; we all got to chat and laugh and sing to the music on the radio. Being early this morning was an especially nice way to start the day, I even had time to give both my babies extra kisses and hugs, reminding myself to savor each embrace from little arms and to commit to memory the feel of my lips on their dearly loved foreheads and chubby little cheeks. Because it is not the frustrations of my days that I will want to remember when reminiscing, but the smell of my children’s hair and their infectious laughter, causing me blissful pause and peace. Besides, the raising of little humans should never be a rush job.

©KKW 2009

Thursday, February 05, 2009


I love hot showers. I mean I LOVE hot showers. I believe they are one of the top ten inventions of humankind, (as are warm, fuzzy socks). There is nothing that can wash away -- literally and figuratively -- the grime from a days work than an invigorating, revitalizing, clean, refreshing, hot shower. It’s the first thing we do when we arrive home, mostly because I’m a total germaphoib and the thought of all the billions of wee germies clinging to my two children totally creeps me out, but also because it instantly calms and revives me. The kids are the first to take baths and are then dressed in clean clothes and sat down with a snack to allow me to rejuvenate in my very modest, yet beloved shower. I’ve recently begun locking the door to the bathroom, otherwise both kids feel the need to ‘keep Mama company’ and no matter how many times I insist that I don’t need company while I shower it doesn’t seem to be getting through, so I lock the door and give instructions to #1 that unless someone is bleeding…profusely, or something is on fire, or there is some other immediate and dire emergency that I am to be left alone for just 5 minutes. And maybe 8 out of 10 times I remain undisturbed because #1 can see the difference between the frazzled woman that enters the bathroom and the more relaxed one exiting it a few minutes later ready to meet their needs once more. It is amazing how a few gallons of water poured over oneself can change ones whole outlook towards the world.

So, as I am standing there last evening, head leaning against the shower wall just letting the wonders of clean hot water flow over me, I think to myself that if I were a very wealthy woman I would have one of those showers that you see on luxury home shows, you know, the ones with water spraying at you from all angles. I imagine that Oprah has a shower like that. Yes, when Oprah gets home after a long, hard day of helping others, or partying with her famous friends, or just hanging out, I bet she steps into a room-sized shower and presses a button….no, wait, she wouldn’t even need to press a button, she would simply murmur ‘Shower on. Hot.’ and sparkling, wondrous, scalding, clear water would massage her every sore muscle. A delicious smelling soap product would rain down upon her weary shoulders and cleanse and moisturize her fatigued skin and then rinse her squeaky clean once more. And the hot water would never run out like it does at my house, where I don’t quite make it to the end of washing up before the water temperature suddenly drops, it would just keep pouring its rejuvenating, liquid self from all available, invigorating spouts. Yes, and the water would be from some green source and be renewable and the unit that heated it be energy efficient from sun and wind. It would be a blessedly mother earth friendly, guilt-free power shower. Oh my yes, Oprah would have a shower like that and I want one too! Can I be Oprah in my next life please?

What I admire so about Oprah (besides her possibly having an awesome shower), is her balance. No, not the fact that, unlike me, she can probably do a summersault and not then fall over, but her life’s balance. She has worked hard and amassed great wealth, and with that wealth she helps thousands in all parts of the world better their lives. Yet she is still able to both appreciate and be grateful for the luxuries she allows herself. Those ‘Favorite Things’? those are expensive sister! At least for most of us, but does she apologize for her love of luxury? No, and nor should she. She has chosen to be good to the world AND herself. Wow, what a life! To be able to help so many and still live well one’s self, what fun! Her social conscience, her willingness to help, to make aware, to take action, she appears to be made of this, and it is this that makes her a rich woman, she seems to have accumulated wealth of wisdom and generosity as well as property, can I pleeeeease be her in my next life? I want to live in luxury, I want to dispense wisdom, I want to help thousands achieve their dreams, and I want to weigh in on the side of a better society and world.

But hold the phone! Should I really have to be Oprah to do these things? To have a positive impact on the world around me? Sure, she has millions of dollars to offer to the needy (or is it billions?), but I work, I have funds, okay, so my pile is nowhere as big, but my dollars count too. Don’t my children and I save and contribute to various charities on a regular basis? There are so many great places to help, some of our favorites are Ox Fam and Heifer International, Swallow’s Nest, International Assistance and Adoption Project, and Half The Sky, Habitat for Humanity, Women for Women International, Smile Train, Operation Smile, The American Heart Association and let’s not forget the critters, The American Humane Society to name a few. Everyone I know does this: helps where and when they can, it’s inspiring both when we witness others kindnesses and are kind ourselves. Did you know that by being kind to another, or receiving a kindness from another or even just by witnessing a kindness, our serotonin levels increase (serotonin is that body chemical that gives us a feeling of happiness and well-being). Want a little jolt of the warm fuzzies during a long work day? Just close your eyes and think of a kindness done for you or by you and you will be injected instantly with giddy inducing serotonin. Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh. Better yet, actually DO a kindness, go and tell a co-worker what a great job he did. Or help that poor co-worker clear the paper jam in the copy machine. Bring in cookies, baked goods are always a hit and instantly make the atmosphere a happy one. A home-made cookie is like a warm hug wrapped in sugar.

Compassion shown to strangers is great and helps us to live in a society of peace and fulfillment, but kindnesses done for those we love are, of course, just as important. Though I hope that I am teaching my children to think of others as well as themselves, it is not our contributions to charity that my eldest finds impressive. She tells me I am a hero when I jump out of the car during a rain storm to help the turtle attempting to cross the street make it to the other side. Or knock on a woman’s car window when we see her apparently unconscious in the drivers seat and pulled haphazardly off the road (she was fine, just sleepy), or when I read to her in the evening, or help with homework, or fix her favorite food for dinner. These are the things that she thinks are extraordinary.

And sure, if I had money aplenty and I still qualified, I would adopted more children. I would adopt more critters too for that matter. I would build a great big barn just like daughter #1 wants and fill ‘er up with creatures great and small. I know that I can not single handedly save the world, but I sure can make my little corner of it a happier place and keep those around me safe and warm and fulfilled. The two children I have and the many pets and all of my good friends are more than enough to spread joy on my peanut butter and jelly life.

And I have my luxuries too, I have fuzzy socks! Many pair of them! I have a fluffy, warm feather bed for which I am nightly grateful to crawl into. I have a home, food, family, friends, work, health; sufficient abundance for anyone I would think. I am so grateful, really, really I am. So I guess my ‘Oprah Life’ will just have to wait, because I am too glad of the one I have at the moment. Although a great big, automated, room-size luxury shower would be mighty nice.

©KKW 2009

Monday, February 02, 2009



Gong Hei Fat Choi! (Congratulations and Be Prosperous!) The Lunar New Year began on January 26th this year, with the new moon and will conclude on February 9th with the full moon and we have been celebrating at our house for the past week. We’ve got a great big ol’ cardboard Kitchen God on our front door and twinkling red lights in the form of fire crackers. We’ve stomped on bubble wrap to scare away evil spirits (instead of setting off real firecrackers), and the kids have been generally making a lot of noise, although there is nothing new about that. On New Year’s Eve we devoured our celebratory feast of fish, stir fried bok choy, noodles and congee (rice stew), then ended the meal on a sweet note with lotus seed filled sesame balls (rice balls) and fortune cookies. The Mama got a fortune that says “Happier days are definitely ahead for you. Struggle has ended.” Wow, now THAT is a good fortune! Although last year was a pretty happy year for me already, more happiness in the new year? Bring it on!

The girls were given gifts of new shoes and Hong Bao (red envelopes with money inside traditionally give to children and unmarried persons at the new year). And we watched the four hour extravaganza that is The Spring Festival Gala on CCTV (the Chinese television station we get on the satellite). Lots of skits, singing, dancing, acrobatics and colorful entertainment.

Lily’s third grade teacher was the first teacher she has had that knew what the Lunar New Year was and the class celebrated with games and food and treats on the first day of Spring Festival. (Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year, Spring Festival, these are all names for the same thing). Lily declared it the “funnest” day she has ever had at school. Thanks Mrs. Brown!! I’m sure that it helped that she was the only Chinese in her class and therefore felt herself the guest of honor.

This past Saturday our friends had several families with children adopted from China over to their house to allow us to all celebrate together. It was loads of fun for all and Lily declared that now IT was the “funnest” day ever. We ate Chinese take out and May, another guest, prepared sticky rice, a traditional sweet made for children that has raisins and peanuts mixed in with the sweetened rice and is sprinkled with red and green jimmies.

The kids played and colored and received more Hong Bao. And we tried to get all of our beautiful girls to sit together for a photo on the sofa, but it was nearly as hard as getting all the babies to sit on the traditional red couch in China to have their photos take together. Someone is always crying or running out of the photo. Still, just look at all those gorgeous faces! And they all live in our little town! In fact, Maggie and Meika are from the same orphanage and now live only a mile from each other!

The Spring Festival is the biggest holiday in China, rather like our December holidays here in the USA. It is a time when people travel to their home towns to visit with relatives, eat and make merry. A time of putting away the troubles if the year passing and starting fresh. People in China traditionally will pay all their debts, scrub their homes clean, buy new clothes and shoes and try to follow the long list of do’s and don't s that have customarily surrounded the holiday. Though the house is thoroughly cleaned, all brooms must be put away before the first day of the new year so that any good luck arriving will not get swept away. Food, especially sweets, are left on the stove as an offering to the Kitchen God who lives behind the stove. He is the recorder of family deeds and it is traditional to try and bribe him so that he will give a good report of family members to the Jade Emperor.

Red clothing is usually worn because it is thought to scare away evil spirits and bad luck. And new clothes are worn to symbolize a new beginning. The biggest part of the new year celebrations is the dinner every family will eat. A dish consisting of fish is mandatory since the word for fish – yu - in Chineses sounds like the word for “surpluses”. Dumplings, cakes, greens and sweet rice cakes also grace tables. Noodles, the longer the better, represent longevity and long life. Oranges are popular as their name is a homophone of “golden luck”. Seeds, such as lotus, sunflower and pumpkin symbolize birth and renewal.

The first day of the new year is for visiting the most senior members of one’s family; parents and grandparents.

The second day is for married daughters to visit their parents and honoring one’s ancestors. Graves are tended and incense burned. People are also extra kind to dogs on this day as it is believed that the second day is the birthday of all dogs.

The third and fourth days of the New Year are for visiting with other relatives and friends.

The Fifth day is for eating dumplings in honor of the Chinese god of wealth, since dumplings look like little purses filled with money.

The seventh day is everyone’s birthday! Generally, birthdays are not celebrated separately in China, everyone grows a year older at the new year together.

The ninth day is the birthday of the Jade Emperor of Heaven and prayers are sent his way.

The fifteenth day of the New Year is the last and is celebrated as the Lantern Festival. Rice dumplings stewed in a soup is eaten on this day. Candles are lit outside homes to guide lost spirits home. Families walk through the streets carrying lighted lanterns bringing the festivities to a close. So next full moon be looking for our red lanterns as we parade around the back yard and finish up the Moon Cakes!