Saturday, February 28, 2009


Gwen and the girls drove up to Vermont a couple of days ahead of me last week, and on the way they stopped off at the Yankee Candle Company's factory and flagship store in Massachusetts. We'd run in there before to buy some candles, but this was more of a field trip, and the many kid-friendly attractions and crafts included the wax hands pictured above.

Sounded like a really interesting activity, the girls dipped a hand in cold water and then into some lukewarm wax, then back and forth between the water and the wax a few more times to build up the layers before the creation was gently eased off. I loved the look of them, but was really struck by the fact that - even though they were about the same size - I could immediately tell which was which, because the positioning and expression in the fingers so clearly reflected Madison and Ava's corresponding personalities.

Madison's hand is on the left, extended and probing, wondering how hot the wax was going to be before she committed herself to it. I would be willing to bet she took some time with this, especially the first dip. Careful and cautious. Curious. Delicate.

Ava's on the right, fingers clenched in a loose fist, thumb protruding slightly. Got herself ready and then just went, her introduction to the wax must have been more of a dunk than a careful dip. Bold, fearless. "I'm doing this," and that's it. Less nuance, more visceral. Plowing ahead with confidence.

These little creations now live on the base of the window above our kitchen sink, and it's amazing to be able to look at them and see our kids, both of them, in their full form and being, off of just one hand, one moment, frozen forever in pink wax.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

There... They... Go...

We've been pretty good about getting the girls up on skis at least a few times each of the last three or four winters, which is saying something since Madison will be 8 next month and Ava just turned 6. Like everything else, we started off slow. Couple of lessons a season, half a day in a kids' program that included time on the bunny slopes and inside the lodge having something they called lunch and working on a generic craft project.

First few installments we actually stood outside and watched them ski the whole time, taking pictures and video. At some point we felt comfortable enough to spend the lesson or the program in the relative comfort and warmth of the bar, drinking hot cocoa and Magic Hat and witnessing the little dose of snowbound training through the window. We pushed ourselves to make it happen, and by the end of last year Madison actually went up on the lift with an instructor and turned up at the bottom of the mountain, smiling, unscathed and wanting to go back up again.

We were in Vermont between Christmas and New Year's, and by then Madison's practice sessions were all lifts and beginning trails, she had completely left the safety of the little "learning zone" and its tow ropes behind. Ava's last run that trip followed a ride up on the lift, and even though she flew down the mountain out of control for the last 100 feet or so and ended with an epic wipeout, once the tears subsided she was game for more. It was becoming clear that one of us was going to have to get back on skis, if only for the kids, and that moment arrived on Thursday.

We were up with my parents, my sister and her son, and when the girls wrapped their 12 to 1 p.m. lessons Dad was there to greet them - on skis and ready to go. Madison was fighting off a fever and had not been feeling well, but she gamely went on and we took to the lift. Had a couple of great runs, I could not believe how well she handled the trail and stayed in control, even under the weather. We hit the base after the second run and Ava was there with Gwen and asked me to take her up on the lift. "No," was my immediate reaction, I remembered Christmas Week and did not want to get her in over her head. But she persisted in her demands, and Madison needed a hot chocolate break anyway, so up we went.

And it was unbelievable. She fell a few times on that first run, but got right back up and we made it down. I asked if she wanted to go again and got a no-hesitation yes, so we did. Zero falls that next run. Up and down three more times and it was all terrific. We shifted to a more advanced lift for the last run of the day and a slightly longer and bumpier trail and it was a mistake - nightmare descent with several falls and tears, mainly out of frustration. It was not the way to end a learning day but unfortunately our day had to end there.

Friday it snowed - heavy blanketing snow. Gwen took the girls ice skating with my sister and nephew and I went shopping for dinner food. By Saturday morning the clouds were gone and had turned into beautiful blue skies and fresh snow. Madison was still sick and in no shape to spend a day on the mountain. I asked Ava whether or not she wanted to go skiing with me and got an immediate yes. So Gwen and Maddie dropped us off before going into town for some outlet shopping, and Ava and I had what was, without a doubt, the most enjoyable day of skiing of my life. Nothing else even comes close.

Three or four runs down the starter trails just to get going, then I asked if she wanted to go to that longer lift - the scene of Thursday's last-run breakdown - and she said she did. Went down that time without falling, went back again later and just experienced a few baby tumbles. At some point she said she was cold and asked if we could go inside for a hot cocoa in the lodge. We did, although I knew that was going to be trouble later on.

Back outside for another few runs and then I experienced the nightmare moment for any father alone with a 6-year-old daughter - especially on a ski mountain - "Daddy, I have to go potty." I briefly considered trying to reach Gwen on the cell phone to see if she was within 25 miles of our location and able to come facilitate the request, but ultimately decided to man up and deal with the situation at hand.

We went into the lodge, found the Men's room and took a deep breath near the door. I picked Ava up and asked her to close her eyes, which she did. Pushed open the door and made a B-LINE for the handicapped stall, which mercifully enough was available. This is in ski boots and full winter gear, mind you. Ava started talking to me in the stall and I was answering in whispers and she asked why. I said because we were in the MEN'S ROOM, and she whispered back, "does that mean we're going to get in trouble?" "No, we're not going to get into trouble," I responded. "Let's just go potty."

Mission accomplished and after saying, "Don't touch ANYTHING" about a dozen times, I picked her up, asked her to again close her eyes and flew out of the room. Back on the slopes for another few runs before we were ready to wrap things up and called Gwen for a pick-up. Even with the potty break, it was an amazing day skiing with my 6-year-old, Ava, a great payoff after all those lessons, trips back and forth to the mountain, equipment and encouragement. And it's only the beginning.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Our house, five minutes ago.

Madison (who turns 8 next month) - "Dad, did you hear about Michael Phillips?"

Me - "What about him?"

Madison - "They found out he was smoking, and then he got suspended from swimming. He's not allowed to swim for three months."

Me - "Oh, my."

Madison - "I don't understanding why he can't swim because of smoking, I mean, it's not good to smoke, but it's not illegal. I asked Mom and she said maybe his team had a special rule against smoking."

Me - "Hmmm."

(I opted to let Gwen's explanation stand and not go down the road of what he may have been smoking, that there are different things one can smoke, and some of them are illegal. Seemed unnecessary in the moment and at this age. In any event, thanks Mike.)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Snicker To The Doodle

Gwen and Madison were away last weekend at an off-site birthday party, just me and Ava holding down the fort here. On Sunday morning, she expressed an interest in baking some cookies, which seemed like a perfect follow up to the pasta we made at home Friday night and the pizzas we were planning for dinner Sunday. I drew the line at morning bagels.

Went to the shelf and pulled out one of our Magnolia cookbooks, More From Magnolia, and settled on the recipe on page 24, Snickerdoodles. Gwen is our resident baker, but this appeared to be an easy and straightforward execution, with limited ingredients, so we took it on. Ava was able to help at numerous steps in the process, and it turned into a great activity with delicious results we are still enjoying. The Magnolia recipe makes three dozen cookies, and here it is:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

[Separate bowl - combine 6 tablespoons sugar, mixed with 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, for sprinkling on the dough prior to placing in the oven]

In a small bowl, combine the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, cream the softened butter and sugar until smooth, this takes about two minutes. We had not planned ahead on the "softening the butter" part and got some welcome help through a few 10-15 second blasts in the microwave.

Add the eggs, milk and vanilla and beat well. Combine with the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Wrap the dough tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for two hours.

As the clock is winding down on those two hours (we played Mario Kart and Iron Chef America on the Wii to kill the time), preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Use a teaspoon to drop rounded portions of the dough onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving several inches between each wad of dough for expansion. They really will flatten and spread out. Before placing in the oven, sprinkle generously with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

Key word here is "generously," we found that the best cookies we made were the ones that basically looked like brown sugar castles going into the oven, not the first few sheets, which received only a light dusting of this magical powder. If it looks like too much sugar/cinnamon, it might not be enough. If it looks obscene, you're on the right track.

Bake the cookies for 12-14 minutes, cool on the sheet for about 5 minutes and then place on a wire rack to cool completely, assuming of course that the cookies are able to make it from the sheet to this rack without falling victim to hungry bakers. Our initial efforts were unable to navigate this difficult terrain, until we'd each had about a half dozen and fell into sugar-induced comas. Latter batches were more long-lived.