My Craft Journal
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Tuesday
Feb042014

Caught in a Polar Vortex

 

I swear there's a preschooler under all those layers.As the polar vortex swirled around D.C. in January, I have never heard and read so many references to my home state.

In the Washington Post:

MINNEAPOLIS — This hardy city, more or less unfazed by Sunday’s sub-zero temperatures, is taking no chances with the kind of weather forecast for Monday, when the low is predicted to be minus-24 and the wind chill could drop to minus-50.

-- "U.S. Hunkers Down Amid Coldest Weather in Years"

and:

But even Anderson acknowledged that not every part of life can continue as usual. “You’re not going to go outside when it’s 30 or 40 below and go skiing,” he said. “You wait until it warms up to about zero.”

-- "Amid the Brutal Cold, 'Just Another Day' in Minnesota" 

In The New York Times:

And pipes froze all over, as Southerners, who are not born or made for temperatures in the Minnesota digits, had to consider things that they usually take for granted.

-- "Arctic Blast Proves Unwelcome Novelty, Especially Across South"

and

Outside, the temperature was downright frigid, even by Minnesota standards. The thermometer read minus 15 to minus 20 degrees for most of the day.

-- "Arctic Cold Blankets Midwest, Freezing Routines"

You'd think the rest of the country thinks it's cold in Minnesota.

Of course, I do too. That's one of the reasons I long ago went to college in Virginia and part of the reason I stayed. I love making snow angels and ice skating, but I'm not a skier and I do think there's something a little wrong about needing to plug your car into a heater every night between, oh, November 1 and May 30.

So I was rather surprised to discover this week that I haven't lost all my natural Minnesota antifreeze after all. As I pushed my 3-year-old's stroller back to the house one Tuesday after walking my second-grader to school, I was shocked to realize that I was actually warm, maybe even sweating, at a moment when the temperature in Arlington was all of 11 degrees.

Admittedly, I had bundled myself and the girls up, with three layers on bottom (wool socks, fuzzy tights, pants) and four on top (base layer, lightweight shirt, long-sleeve shirt or fleece, and finally, a winter jacket). Remembering all the threats of "exposed skin could freeze within minutes!", I also wrapped a scarf around each of our faces. Lastly, I tucked a fleece blanket around the little one since she'd be in the stroller.

I need my own monster hat.

Why didn't we just drive? As a veteran Minnesotan, I know that riding in a cold car isn't really all that much more pleasant than just walking, and given our .25 mile walk to school, it's actually faster to walk than deal with the traffic jam of minivans at the school entrance. Plus, after just finishing a story on pedestrian safety in Arlington where I interviewed county staff about crossing guards, I felt duty-bound to make sure our crossing guard's chilly work was justified.

And yes, I also had that Minnesota cred to uphold. You don't get many chances to do that in a place that calls this a snow day and cancels school.

Snow day. Seriously. (Flakes were on their way.)

But the best part of this week's polar vortex has been the memories that the deep freeze has somehow thawed out in my mind.

Snowball fights! Snowgirl! Perfect gentle sledding run!

My best friend and I shuffling in our moon boots and snow pants between her house and mine. Positioning that year's sled just right on the top of the hill for maximum speed and (we hoped) minimum wipeouts. Racing against each other and pairing up with our younger siblings in various combinations of sledders. Yelling sayings from "Little House on the Prairie" as we hurtled down the hill. Convincing our dads to take us all to the "big hill" at Brownie Lake, where we didn't have to worry about cars or sidewalk snowbanks cutting our rides short. Trading new sleds to see how they each performed. Holding on for dear life as we flew over the unofficial moguls and hoping we didn't land--hard--on our tailbones. Rewrapping our scarves as our breath condensed, froze, and melted over and over again, until we, chilled and overheated all at the same time, hauled our snowy selves back home for hot chocolate and buttered toast.

Quality sledding in Virginia. Who would have expected that?

Way too many years later, I find myself doing the same with my two little girls on snow days. We raid the refrigerator for carrots and cranberries to make the features on a snowman's face. We drag our sleds to the Little Supervisor's elementary school, which has amazingly great sledding on its back fields. We do snow day parties with nearby friends, where we bundle up the kids, nibble on homemade goodies, and allow our kids to discover the joy of playing with a friend's toys. We eat way too many marshmallows, toss a cracklelog on the fireplace, and snuggle up in comfy blankets on the couch while the mittens, hats, and scarves tumble in the dryer.

Productivity can wait until tomorrow. It's a snow day.

Monday
Dec022013

In Search of Stories Behind The Numbers

I have a confession: I never really liked math much as a kid. While numbers were nothing more than numerals on a page to me, letters and words always seemed full of personality. "Pomegranate" practically pops off the page like a pom-pom. "Festive" sparkles like the cascading fireworks in the night sky,  whereas "subdued" wears  a shade of grey far too plain to qualify as fashionable. "Prairie" looks like the landscape of the Midwest, full of slender, tall grasses and the occasional tree.

I still love words, but working as a journalist has taught me that I love wrestling with numbers as well. Want to know how long it took the typical Arlington County commuter to get to work? 26.8 minutes. Curious about how many people of Vietnamese descent lived in Arlington in 1980? 2,027. What percentage of Arlington's public school students qualify to receive free- or reduced-price lunches? 32 percent in 2013. (Thank you, American Community Survey 2007-2011; 1980 U.S. Census; and Arlington Public Schools for the data.)

What makes figures like these so compelling? To me, it's because these numbers point to the stories and the people behind them. Statistics--well, most of them, anyway--don't come out of nowhere. They reflect the decisions, public and private, that have resulted in a particular number.

That 26.8-minute commute? It's longer than the U.S. average (25.4 minutes), but it's still one of the shortest in the congested D.C. area, where nearly 2 percent of commuters are "mega-commuters," traveling 50 or more miles and 90 minutes or more each way. Arlington residents do pay for the privilege of convenient commuting to the District and Dulles Corridor; housing prices are high and continue to climb.

Why the focus on Vietnamese-Americans in Arlington in 1980? Well, before Clarendon became a hotspot for young hipsters in search of trendy cocktails, the neighborhood served as the center of the local Vietnamese community. At the retailers and restaurants of "Little Saigon," recent immigrants could find someone who spoke their language, carried the items they wanted as they rebuilt their lives in America, and knew how to make a proper bowl of pho.

Lastly, as affluent as Arlington is, people still struggle. Nearly one-third of Arlington kids come from families with enough financial challenges to make them eligible to eat free or subsdized meals at school. If that sounds higher than you might expect, consider that national numbers are even higher. Nearly half, or 48 percent, of American public school students are poor enough to qualify for the program, according to one report.

I'd love to hear all of their stories, from the cranky commuters to the naturalized citizen who remembers the real Saigon to the student who dreads school vacations because of the gnawing hunger they bring.

Still think numbers are boring? I'll just have to keep working on you--and my stories.

Thursday
Nov212013

'Just Throw Something Up There'

You'd think writers would just love blogging. But here is the truth: WE SECRETELY HATE IT. As people who obsess over every punctuation mark, every word choice, and every FLIPPING PARAGRAPH BREAK, we must admit that the advice to "just throw something up there" GIVES US THE SHAKES.  There is a reason so many of our editors must physically--or digitally--pry our stories from our over-caffeinated fingers.  The same applies to the totally unreassuring words that "it doesn't have to be perfect." WHAT? Try telling that to any editor or writer who has ever failed to see the missing 'l' in a printed headline featuring the word "public."

Oops.

You see, blogging goes against our training in so many ways. First of all, there's the whole "write for free" part, even if it does get our name out there. Perhaps because anyone still in journalism today has already spent plenty of time writing for free during the all-important internships, and we're kinda at the point in our lives where we prefer to eat more than pasta with squash, zucchini, and Mrs. Dash for dinner every night. Now that we are in our 40s, we also no longer sleep on a borrowed bed on a friend's floor. (Now we fall asleep on our kids' floor, but that's a topic for another day.)

Second, we've spent years being told by editors at all levels to leave time for revision, to polish our stories before we hand them in, to make them "sing." And of course, to not rely on spellcheck, particularly in headlines. Now you are telling me that my rough drafts are just fine for the entire Interwebz to see? I think I'd rather post an Instagram of my underwear drawer.

But adapt we must to the digital age, just like everyone else, so here I am, closing my eyes and clicking "publish."

Gulp. 

Thursday
Feb142013

Valentine's Day, First Grade-Style

Valentines for Friends

"Our family is just obsessed with valentines," the Little Supervisor told me the other night. Homework be darned--it was valentine-making season, and she'd decided to make valentines for all her classmates.

All 22 of them.

I dug through my still-packed boxes of craft supplies to discover a shocking shortage of pink cardstock, but the Little Supervisor didn't mind. Boys would like orange and blue better anyway, she told me, reserving the cranberry cardstock for the girls in her class.

Several nights later, those distinctions had evaporated. Her box of valentines contained cards of all sizes and colors, from giant hearts wearing eyeglasses to white folded squares decorated with red doilies and purple marker. The one consistent piece? The handwritten message inside, carefully printed with black marker: "I love you [classmate]. Love, Lucy."

The valentine she made for herself was no exception. After all, her name was on the class list too, and her teacher did say that if they wanted to give Valentines, they needed to bring one for every student in the class....

Valentine's Day, First Grade Style
Wednesday
Feb062013

Meet Two

Hello, have you met Scooter at age 2? 

I am so cute. You would never guess that earlier today I declared "No want Santa!" and deprived my mother of an absolutely adorable holiday photo of me and the Little Supervisor with Santa.

Scooter at 2 is frighteningly cute, with a head full of sometimes blond, sometimes strawberry-blond soft curls that become tight spirals on rainy days. Scooter at 2 still has the delicate skin of an infant, but the irresistible  tiny rolls of baby fat have started to melt away, leaving long, strong, fast legs that carry her down the hallway of her big sister's elementary school with shocking speed.

Little Supervisor and Scooter "shout it out, just like a rock star" before church.

Scooter at 2 is full  of love and affection. "C'mon, Mommy! Cuddle up!" she declares, offering me space on her monkey Pillow Pet and a piece of fleecy blanket as we prepare to read the night's stories. And how Scooter at 2 loves her stories. "I wan' mor'. I wan' storees mor' . I wan' mor' storees. I wan' mor' storees, peeeease. Mommy, I wan' mor' stories peeeeeese," she requests, improving her grammar with each declaration as I laugh hysterically at her (uncharacteristically polite ) insistence  on "storees mor'." 

Her vocabulary, which is full of words like dog, cow, moon, ghost, crocodile, and ladders, has a few words of her own making. "Eecy" is her name for her sister. "Ama" is what she calls all of the Little Supervisor's friends. "Egert" or "yaygurt" is "yogurt." And "picken" (rhymes with "chicken") is what she says when she wants to be picked up. 

  Aww.

That level of adorableness is a good thing, because it has kept me from shipping her off to either or both pairs of her adoring grandparents until she's old enough to go to college.

For Scooter at 2 has also attained full membership in the Terrible Two's Society.  (All you who are shuddering at this moment, consider yourself associate members: You know what it's like.) That means her favorite word is "no," regardless of the context. 

 

"No want pictures!At dinner: "Scooter, do you want applesauce?" "No! No want 'sauce!" Uh-oh. It's going to be one of those nights, huh?

At the pediatrician's: "Scooter, is this your mama?" "No!" For the record, kid, I was there when you were born, and yes, I am definitely your mother. 

At church: "Scooter, please be quiet." "No! No want quiet!" Lord, forgive her, for she knows not what she does.

At the playground: "Scooter, please hold onto the swing. It's not safe to let go." "No! No want safe!" Shocker.

At home: "Scooter, it's time for bed." "No! No want beddie!" Yes, but Mommy does.

After being told she needs to hold a parent's hand when crossing the street: "No! I no like it! I no like you!" Well, kid, right now I don't particularly like how YOU are acting either, so let's call it even and keep walking so we don't get clipped by a distracted driver checking Facebook.

While playing with a toy telephone, that asks: "Hi. Wanna come out to play?" "No! No want play!" I'm kinda cracking up that you're yelling at a talking toy phone. I wonder how Siri would respond to you.
Must try that the next time you tantrum. Which will probably be in, oh, an hour.

After a timeout for slugging her older sister, who is crushed emotionally by the incident and still sniffling in the next room: "Scooter, please say sorry to your sister and give her a hug." "No! No sorry! No want huggy!" What the heck? Is your motto "I did the crime, and now I can do the time"?????

After certain, ahem, events occur: "Scooter, I think you need a change." "No! No change! No want diaper change!" Sweetheart, this fact is indisputable, even by you.

Luckily, membership in the Terrible Two's Society also comes with an infinite ability to suddenly change one's mind, sometimes in mid-declaration. "No want Mommy!" turns into "I wan' Mommy. I wan' picken." "No want milk!" quickly becomes "I wan' milk! I wan' milk! Waaaahhhhh!!"  "No want bath!" transforms into "I wan' bubbles. I wan' bubbles now. I wan' bubbles now peeeeese." 

It makes my head spin and me wonder WHAT THE HECK I AM DOING AND HOW IN THE WORLD IS IT POSSIBLE THAT MY SISTER AND I DID NOT DRIVE OUR MOTHER CRAZY AND IS IT TOO EARLY FOR A GLASS OF WINE? IT MUST BE FIVE O'CLOCK SOMEWHERE, RIGHT?

As I quickly return to reality, I finish making Scooter the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that she says she wants. I hand it to her, and she takes it with delight. "Sammich!" she says. "T'ank yoo!"

Yep, that's Scooter at 2. 

 "Peekaboo!"