Category Archives: Holidays

The enduring appeal of Lyle

The hardcover picture book is yellowed with age. Its corners are ragged and worn. It has survived endless cycles of packing, moving, unpacking — always managing to survive the sorting and purging process that accompanies such transitions.

I don’t remember when I received my copy of The House on East 88th Street. I don’t remember who gave it to me, or why that person chose this particular book. I don’t know if it was a Christmas gift or a birthday gift. It may just be that it was “the” new children’s book that year and someone wanted me to have it.

The story, written by Bernard Waber, was copyrighted in 1962. I would have been 6 years old, and newly enamored of the privilege of owning a book. I proudly printed my first name on the inside cover with a pencil — slow, careful, blocky letters reflecting my earnest desire to get it right.

I loved that book. I’m not sure why. It’s kind of a goofy story about a family that moves into a house in New York City and finds a crocodile in the bathtub of their new home.

I didn’t visit New York City until I was 25. I don’t particularly like crocodiles. Yet the story got under my skin and stayed there.

Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to revisit the story in the company of two young children I borrow from friends when I’m missing little-kid time. The renowned Childsplay professional theater company is performing a holiday version of “Lyle the Crocodile” at Tempe Center for the Arts through Dec. 24.

The characters of Lyle ( Adam Hostler) and Joshua Primm (Colin Ross) made an appearance at "Lyle's Pajama Party," which preceded the Dec 3 production of Childsplay's "Lyle the Crocodile" at Tempe Center for the Arts. The play continues through Dec. 24.

As the curtain rose on a scene of the street outside the recreated brownstone house, my 4-year-old companion cried out, “How did they get that building up there?” His sense of awe continued throughout most of the performance (except for a brief bit of time at the end of Act I when he drifted off to sleep, worn out from “Lyle’s Pajama Party,” which we attended earlier that afternoon). His 5-year-old sister sat on the edge of her seat during both acts, glancing at me periodically to share a wide-eyed smile.

The musical is enchanting, particularly a scene that recreates the ice skating rink at Rockefeller Center. The character of Lyle (played by Adam Hostler) doesn’t utter a word but communicates with great effectiveness through innocent, eager-to-please expressions and “many good tricks” he performs throughout the play. (Juggling, dancing and — most amazing to me — double-rope jump-roping while carrying a crocodile tail!)

It wasn’t until the end of the play that it suddenly occurred to me why I’ve always loved this story. My family moved a lot when I was growing up. Like Joshua Primm in the story, my brothers and I faced many anxious transitions into new cities, new schools, new friendships.

Like Lyle, I chose a strategy of frantic performance to prove my worth in each new community. I wasn’t as talented as he is but I made up for it with hard work, good grades, dutiful behavior and a conscientious attempt to read the landscape and react in ways I hoped would help me gain acceptance.

For today’s generation of children, there is a strong but subtle message in “Lyle the Crocodile” about accepting each others’ differences — and not making judgments until you really know someone. For today’s generation of parents (and grandparents!) there is nostalgia, clever dialog, inspired choreography, uplifting music and the chance to experience the magic of Christmas in New York City.

In our PJs at "Lyle's Pajama Party" earlier this month with my young companions. Photo and accessories provided by Childsplay.

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Stepping up to the “post a day” challenge

It’s Day 5 of the WordPress Post a Day Challenge. The enormity of what I’ve undertaken is starting to sink in.

On Jan. 1, when I first signed up for this, I was home. The holidays were effectively over. My sons, who live and work in Washington, D.C., had been and gone. My brother from Seattle and my mom and her husband (who live in Green Valley, Ariz.) also had returned home. The house was empty. The refrigerator was full of leftovers, meaning no need to cook or plan meals. My typically overloaded email inbox was eerily empty.

Conditions, in other words, were perfect. And remained so for the next two days.

I reveled in the down time, taking hours to reflect upon, write and rework my first four posts (“When life and work merge,” “No more excuses,” “Fighting doubt and personal demons” and “A part of me you’ve never known”).

These topics were deeply personal. Delving into them was therapeutic — initially distressing but ultimately calming. For three days I quietly rediscovered who I am without the stress, responsibility and distractions of running a small business.

And then I returned to work on Tuesday. The bubble of writing bliss burst with an audible pop.

No matter how much I lectured myself as I prepared for work yesterday morning — trying to compartmentalize and keep things in perspective — I couldn’t escape a stifling sense of gloom.

When you run a small, chronically under-resourced company, time is your enemy. The “to do” list grows exponentially with each conversation you have. The moments where you feel like you’ve “got a handle on it” are rare. Frustration and fear of failure are common companions. For small media companies like Raising Arizona Kids, creating content in the digital world is an endless task with fleeting successes. It’s like trying to appease “the beast who can’t be fed” (my husband’s phrase).

So there is already enough pressure. Why would I undertake the additional task of trying to write a blog post each day? Where, in the endless drain on my time and energy, will I find the resolve? Am I setting myself up for disappointment and failure?

I’ve thought of myself as a writer for as long as I can remember, pretty much since the first time I experienced the joy of reading. But with few deviations, my life and career choices have kept me on the fringes of a writer’s life. This year I’ve drawn a line in the sand. To be a writer you have to write. So I’m taking this challenge personally.

A chance to play Santa

Except for a brief moment of restful regrouping during the Thanksgiving weekend, my staff has been working around the clock for weeks. It’s “that time of year” for us, an annual marathon that tests our energy, our stamina, our resilience and our shared sense of humor.

Double-issue deadline time.

Our 132-page 2011 Schools, etc. book went to the printer last week. Last night, at about 8pm, I signed off on the January magazine and Art Director Michelle-Renee Adams sent the files off to the printer.

Every year we wonder why we pack this double whammy into the weeks leading up to an already hectic holiday season. We talk about scheduling the book at a different time of year but we keep coming back to the same conclusion: Parents need it in January.

January is when many of the Valley’s private schools hold open houses; for the most popular schools, registration may reach capacity soon into the new year. Even public school districts with rolling open-enrollment periods may fill to capacity well before the start of the new school year.

So we bite the bullet, resign ourselves to some late nights (for Calendar & Directories Editor Mala Blomquist a lot of late nights) and somehow we always manage to get it done.

After weeks of intense, single focus, I woke up this morning with an almost childlike sense of possibilities. No proofreading today! No frantic, last-minute fact-checking! The excited feeling actually lasted a few seconds before I realized how many other things I’ve let slide the last few weeks. Emails that need responses, articles to be assigned, planning to do.

Before I get mired in all of that, I plan to spend some time playing Santa. We have been running all sorts of promotions on our website lately. Tickets to live events and movie sneak previews, new-release CDs and DVDs. We recently closed five of those contests, whose winners must be notified today.

I like doing that myself. It’s fun to send someone a message that says, “Guess what? You won!” It does my heart good when I get an excited response (“No way — that’s awesome!” or “My kids will be so excited!”).

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Hanging on to Thanksgiving

It’s the day after Thanksgiving and I’m sorry, but I’m not going Black Friday shopping. I know this frenzy is good for the economy. I know a lot of people enjoy it. But the last place I want to be right now is in a crowded store.

I still want to bask in that tiny bubble of quiet that began yesterday. The two hours of lingering at my mother’s bountiful table with some of the people I love most in this world, people who love me back no matter how well (or poorly) I happen to be handling my life at any particular moment. The leisurely walk in the desert with my husband and my brother’s family. The choice of three types of pie.

It was disheartening, in some ways, to drive home in the dark last night and see so many Christmas lights twinkling. The turkey is barely cold and already we charge forward in a race to be prepared for the next event.

Though it’s the day after Thanksgiving and I should be frantically filling out my shopping list or licking envelopes for the custom photo cards I (haven’t yet) created, I’m going to hang close to home and keyboard. I have a project to work on today, but it is work of the most joyful kind — creative work that forces the time I crave to process and absorb the events of my life.

When I sent around my eLetter Wednesday, I asked subscribers to tell me what they’re feeling thankful for this Thanksgiving weekend. I’m grateful to the people who paused in their busy lives to share the following reflections, all of which inspire me to focus on the blessings in my own life.

From Trish Dolasinski, Ed.D., of Scottsdale:
As I stopped a moment from cooking and preparing for the Thanksgiving dinner to check my email one last time tonight, I was so happy to see your question. Somehow, it brings it all together in a special way — so thanks much for the opportunity. 

I am thankful for the opportunity to share a feast with family and friends. The traditions of previous generations are brought to the table in a way that connects my family to its roots again and again.  My adult son brings this to mind when he says, “Mom, you’re making Grandma Ennis’ stuffing, aren’t you?”  Of course, I wouldn’t even think of preparing it any other way…but I love it when he asks.

From Jennifer Fabiano of Scottsdale
I’m thankful for my two teenagers, even with all their eye rolls, mood swings and limit testing. I know it’s just how they need to push away from us and grow up. First thing in the morning, if you time it just right, you can catch them unguarded and get a hug and a quick kiss. Thank you, teenagers!

From Mary Martin of Phoenix:
I’m thankful for my doctor! This time last year, I was slowly losing all feeling and use of my hands, feet and legs and none of the specialists I went to could figure out why. My family doctor worked with me, kept sending me to new doctors, and we finally reached a diagnosis: Spinal Stenosis. I had surgery in March and that same day, was able to stand up straight and walk normally for the first time in nearly a year! Within two months, I had recovered full use of both hands as well!

It will be at least a year before I have fully healed, but I don’t mind. After the surgery, I was told, one more day and I would have been a paraplegic for the rest of my life! So yes, I’m very thankful for my doctor for being supportive and helping me research and reach a diagnosis. Happy Thanksgiving, Dr. Coulombe!

Post-Halloween wrap-up…and some inspiration for next year

I spent part of Saturday night at Tempe Marketplace with my cousin’s daughter Andrea, who is a junior at ASU. She’d been invited to a Halloween party and didn’t have a costume.

As a pre-dental student, her first idea was to be a “killer tooth fairy” with wand and wings and a bloody mouth. But fairy gear options at the much-picked-over Halloween Superstore were either sized for 8-year-olds or over-the-top sexually suggestive.

So we moved on to Target, where we put our imaginations to work. (Not that easy when they were playing Christmas carols in  the Halloween section.) By then, Andrea had changed her mind and decided to be a hobo. We found an extra large brown plaid shirt in the men’s department that already had a tear in the shoulder (an extra 10% off!). She bought hair products and makeup and we parted ways.

A little over an hour later I was at home on the couch when I got a text with this photo attached. Once she got back to her apartment, her costume idea had morphed again. With the help of her roommates and a pair of lab glasses, she’d become “a lab experiment gone horribly wrong.”

At Stage Mom blogger Lynn Trimble’s suggestion yesterday, I posted a message asking RAK Facebook friends to send us pictures of Halloween costumes.  Here are some of my favorites.

ELVIS IS IN THE HAYSTACK

Lisa Geyser sent this photo of her son Jackson as Elvis.

Scary and sweet

Danielle Arcadi sent a photo of “my little Darth Vader and my twins as Mickey & Minnie Mouse.” In real life, the kids are Bella, Braeden and Beau Arcadi.

PINKALICIOUS POODLE

Barbie Best-Jones sent this picture of her 3-year-old daughter, Isabella Hyde Jones. “We actually stumbled into this costume at Hissyfits, a local children’s resale store on 7th St. & Glendale. I laughed so hard that [she] had to wear it home.”

DIY Dalmatian

Michelle Zerth sent this photo of her 7-year-old son Eddie. “This costume cost very little money and he helped make it,” she wrote. “He wanted to be a Dalmatian for Halloween. He colored the spots on the shirt and I made his ears out of paper and stapled them to a hat. I did buy the makeup pencils at Walmart for $3. He loved it and [wore it] on Saturday the 30th; on Sunday the 31st he changed his mind after finding his old Spiderman suit in his drawer. He went as Spiderman instead. Even though the outfit was like three years old, he didn’t care a bit.”

FAVORITE FOOD

Avondale mom Shelly Hightower sent this pictures of her son Zane, who dressed up as a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese for Halloween. “It is his favorite food, and is on the menu at our house every day!” Shelly wrote.

 

 

A SOCIAL MEDIA THEME FOR A SOCIAL EVENT

News12 anchor and longtime friend Lin Sue Cooney visited the Raising Arizona Kids website for inspiration. (Or, as she put it, “Stole your YouTube idea for my costume tonight!”)

This idea originally came from our former community relations manager, Katie Charland (above). Nice variation, Lin Sue!

Have a photo you’d like to share? Please send it to me at karen@raisingarizonakids.com.