new york city kid in arkansas
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Here it is, the last day of the year, hours before the first day of the year, a recipe for nostalgia and regret and hope.  Most of my memories of this past year center around new full-time jobs, my ear problems, and our home upheaval with the funny sights and loud sounds of a ten year old surrounding me.  Come to think of it, 2015 was a very loud year.  Along with celebrating 23 years of marriage & our niece’s wedding, finally making it to the beach again, many special visits from family and friends, starting middle school, taking second place in the spelling bee and enjoying the benefits of paid vacations, we also felt some pain.  It feels like we all lost too many people we loved this year, through death or Alzheimer’s or refusal to forgive. Donald Trump somehow entered the race for president and I began reading a book that takes place at the start of World War II.  We like the church sign in Canada that declared “Christmas: A Story about a Middle East Family Seeking Refuge.”  Black lives matter. Prisoners deserve compassion. Some of the Schremmers’ favorite people are Muslims.  When I get a headache these days I’m not sure if it’s allergies to the air or to this loud and sometimes hateful world we live in today. Thank goodness for ibuprofen and grace.

As we four prepare for a brand new year with my brand new ear that still has a little hole in it, we spend our spare time driving by humble houses for sale.  Troy has discovered Instagram, Huck will start piano lessons next week, and I will continue my hourly online house searches that years ago paid off with the find of the century on Rebecca Street.  Sunny will keep teaching us lessons on fear and overcoming fear as she maneuvers her way through this scary world full of strangers and children with the occasional reward of a family hike.  Personally speaking, I will keep trying to reflect before I react, seek first to understand, and also stop hitting two spaces between sentences. Lifetime habits are tricky.

As we laze around our beautiful temporary home that somehow fell into our laps with our computers and books and Chex mix, soon to venture out into our favorite town full of Christmas lights and good cheer and wonderful friends, we hope you, whoever you are (unless you’re one of my blog spammers of late) can drink a cup of kindness yet and have a very, very, very happy and quiet new year.

my first home, christmas eve

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… in Arkansas!  (And Kansas, where we’re spending the most wonderful time of the year) Merry Christmas, everyone!

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A few sunny Friday mornings ago I was walking across The New School’s campus when I noticed a fox eating out of the hand of a co-worker.  It felt like a Christmas miracle from a Hallmark movie, or maybe even a Frank Capra, so I stopped and watched for a few minutes, not quite believing my eyes. The fox finished its snack and slowly walked away, pausing to look at my friend every few seconds before finally vanishing in the nearby woods.  In the midst of shopping, rehearsing, teaching, making sack lunches, practicing spelling bee words, nagging Huck to wash his hair, hearing Troy talk about Star Wars and everything else that makes up my life these days, it was a welcome reminder of the magic that surrounds us sometimes.

Then Huck got an enormous splinter in one of his big toes. Because he takes after me when it comes to injury-courage, Huck would not let anyone look at or touch his splinter-toe, and even talking about it was discouraged, until the next evening when friends were over for dinner.  Chicagoan David, stage manager extraordinaire with very useful skills, somehow convinced Huck to give him his foot so that he could miraculously tweeze out the cause of such fret.  Huck screamed and Huck cried and we all carried on as if these were perfectly acceptable sounds, and in the end I couldn’t stop thanking this friend who literally saved the day (and Huck’s toe).  In conclusion, we keep having 70 degree weather, I won a day off of work last week, and one of my favorite fifth graders gave me homemade goodies with the hilarious introduction: “I made too much and thought, Hey!  Ms. Jonny!”

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I hope you’re getting little bits of December magic, too.

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It’s that magical time of year when one day it’s all pumpkins all the time and the next day it’s Christmas. We’re somewhere in the middle, having just enjoyed a week off together from school and work and having to be places first thing in the morning dressed in clothing. Right before the holidays officially kicked off, we had a fun weekend with Aunt Tina, Uncle Scott and twin cousins Jackson and Rylee, followed by Huck competing in an all day Quiz Bowl tournament where his team finished in second place.  These special events were like the delicious appetizers for the huge meal that is currently being served to us every waking minute. This feast has so far included beloved NYC friend Seth here to do TheatreSquared’s Christmas show, the lighting of the town square, many special meals with special people, a turkey hat, hikes, board-game competitions, a couple parades, the arcade with 10 year olds, nine days of sleeping in, sitting around fires, decorating our tree, watching Netflix, finishing books, making our annual Advent wreathe, and the creation of Troy’s 24th annual Christmas card.  Oh, I may be full but I will keep right on eating.  

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Here are my annual fall pictures, including our November Thankful Pumpkin (and former October Halloween Pumpkin) sitting on our dining room table just waiting to be filled with more words. These fall days I’m directing “Annie” with middle schoolers and working on the sixth season of Prison Stories, Troy’s performing in readings of suicidal artists and lonely prisoners when he’s not singing to preschoolers, and Huck’s practicing hard for his first Quiz Bowl meet while mastering math problems and building his Pokemon collection. Perhaps best yet, we finally got all the way through “Finding Nemo,” having failed at this back when Huck was five.  Lots of laughs, minimal tears, fears conquered.

‘Tis easy to be thankful this time of year …

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We had another wonderful Halloween, or as Troy calls it The Best Day of the Year.  Who knows how many full blown Halloween kid celebrations we have in our future, so this one carried an extra special something.  We trick or treated on the square Friday after school with our gigantic iPhone limping along, followed by pizza with friends. Saturday was devoted to preparing for the evening which meant pumpkin carving and seed roasting and cookie baking and scarecrow making and many more such October cliches.  We squeezed in a trip to a favorite coffee shop (where we were given coffee and a homemade chocolate mint cookie on the house because they were technically closed), and then took our annual drive around town to look at the houses and trees decked out in their autumn best.  Before we knew it we were back on our porch surrounded by a couple witches, a monster, a cat whose ears moved according to brain waves, Yenta and Chaim, Amadeus & Salieri, a rock star, Sunny’s best dog friend in a hat, a 2 year old alter server and Athena’s daughter. As a visiting friend said while our sidewalk was full of trick-or-treaters being given candy by Huck as the setting sun made everything extra orange, “Oh, the Fayetteville Charm.”

I’m sure every town felt like that on the best night of the year.

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Last week Huck was taken to see a new movie with a friend and his family, only to be sweetly returned to us about three-quarters of the way through by a very understanding mom who sensed his anxiety.  The next day I received an email from another friend’s dad who was volunteering at the school health fair where he witnessed a very distraught Huck, having just been told they were out of flu mist and the only other option was the flu shot.  A few days after that we were at Huck’s school’s fall festival when suddenly he became very afraid he would be “arrested” and put into the “jail” by his gang of girl friends, suddenly insisting it was time to go home while he quickly ate his Italian Ice that made his lips bright blue.  I think I was wearing a hog nose around my neck at the time.

All of these fearful responses not only ripped my mother-heart into a million pieces but also caused me to break every rule of listening and instantly try to fix him.  ”You have to stop embracing your fears!” I exclaimed.  ”You must fight these things that are holding you back!”  I practically sang.  ”There is nothing to be afraid of!” I pantomimed, out of breath.  He nodded but looked shifty-eyed, not quite convinced. Then on Sunday morning in meditation class following 30 minutes of silence the subject was anger and fear, and someone said that hopefully we all had a wise adult in our lives when we were children telling us it was OK to feel the way we felt. Hours later I looked Huck straight into his brown eyes and made sure he knew it was okay to be afraid.

How do we prepare children for this big scary world? How do you convince them that shots are quick and important? That most of the time bees don’t sting? That zombies aren’t real?  That girls are supposed to tease?  That we’re not going to die for a really long time?  That it’s time to give “Finding Nemo” another chance?  That he’s as perfect as a fall day?

I don’t know.  But I do know this: Sometimes Huck forgets to put on his deodorant in the morning, and this really troubled him until he discovered that it lasts up to 48 hours.  ”It’s my warranty,” he explains with a cheerful smile. “Well, not for perspiration, but for smelling good.”

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Not only did Huck and I get a whole week off together at the beginning of glorious beautiful perfect October, but then Dusty & Natalie came from New York and Shannon from Austin for a long weekend of Fayetteville fun.  With Russell & Cheryl living here, it was a regular family reunion.  There were hikes and coffee and vegan ice cream and belly laughter and more coffee and guitar playin’ and porch sittin’ and cairn buildin’ and rock climbin’ and the farmer’s market and the library and the chimenea and progress made with a shy dog and a charming visit to Eureka Springs that included a bunny who gives change and a brand new magic trick that generates applause.  Sometimes it’s hard to live so far away from so many favorite people, but these visits are always reminders that sometimes time stands still.  Before we knew it, it was time to hug goodbye and return to our regularly scheduled programs of early mornings and hours spent with the wonderful people that now make up our every days.

‘Till the next reunion, old friends.

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We three woke up Sunday morning to a delightfully cold house and news that Huck had changed his mind about being a working camera for Halloween, much to a certain father’s relief.  That afternoon Huck printed off some good yes/no riddles for the car ride and we set out for another Arkansas adventure that would most definitely find us lost and eventually found thanks to southern hospitality. Because I’m in full autumn celebratory mode 24 hours a day, we headed to Dickey Farms in nearby Tontittown to pick our own pumpkins and enjoy a private hayride.  And since our neighborhood this year could also be called Halloweenville, we are hosting a trick-or-treat party on October 31st, and therefore our gigantic porch needs to be decorated.  Eight pumpkins later and we’ve hardly made a dent.

Now to watch Troy create a human smart phone.  Someone get me a pumpkin spice latte.

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At the end of the school day today, Huck begins what he calls a Ten Day Weekend.  Now that he goes to a “continuous learning calendar” school, he and his classmates have “intercession weeks” throughout the year since they start in early August and end in early June.  I’m taking a vacation week to be with him, and favorite friends from New York and Austin are coming to join in on the fun, too.  I can’t help but notice that life is a series of special occasions (Our beloved NYC Chad just came to town!  Troy just did a First Thursday concert!), and Huck has inherited my habit of savoring the moments leading up to them.  This morning after my 6:00 alarm I climbed into bed with him as usual to gently wake him up.  With his morning breath filling the space around us, he excitedly began describing everything he wants to do beginning the second he arrives home today until he goes to bed tonight.  This child will appreciate every second of his time off from school, even the boring ones, and I will try to keep up with him. 

The other night you may have noticed a large moon that slowly disappeared and then became red.  Our family set up the chiminea in the front yard and mingled with neighbors as we marveled over the sight above us. I told Huck that the last time this happened Dad and I were 12 years old.  The next time this happens we will be 63 and Huck will be 28.  If I’m not careful, that night is going to sneak up on me and before I know it I’ll be doing some basic math in my head, amazed at how young the three of us are right now.  If I know me, I won’t be able to stop talking about it all day.  There will be lots of, “Can you imagine being 45 again?” and “Huck was TEN? We used to have a TEN YEAR OLD?”  So I’ve decided to savor these slow days and fast years and stop calling myself old.

As Huck waited for his carpool to pick him up this morning, he decided to mark the end of the first quarter of 5th grade by cleaning out his messy binder.  He left a pile of papers to save and kissed me goodbye with anticipation for this next special occasion of ours. After he left I found this “Starry Night” inspired poem he wrote among the papers, and I decided to start the day with it.

I stared at the beautiful
moon, and the stars that lull
me to sleep.  The oh so tall steeple
in the village, beneath the stars that seem to pull
me in.  The hurricane of stars in
the sky will win
against me every time.  The rippling sky, as
if it was a water mass
in the air.  The old, big tree
off to the side that is me.