Uncovering Imagination (in the post-dora age)

When Ruthie was just two months old, Bryan and I coordinated a babysitting co-op with friends. Every other week we would go on a date and have free babysitting, and on the opposite weeks it would be our turn to babysit. Various families have been a part of this co-op in the past, but for the last two years (at least) we’ve been trading with the same family, so our kids have grown very attached to each other. No more fussing at goodbyes, no more anxiety at bedtime – every Saturday is like a slumber party now, and we are literally pushed out the door by our kids.

One of the things I have loved about their time playing together, is the way their children influence ours. My children influence other children in the ways mothers whisper about when they hear you are invited to the same party. But these kids? They encourage my children to explore their imagination.

I walked into the room one night to find Ruthie and Olivia buried under a pile of blankets, then watched them dramatically stretch out from under the pile as they ‘hatched’ like chicks coming out of an egg. This moment was the first seed planted in our eventual decision to cut ourselves off from 642 HD channels, as Olivia and her siblings don’t watch conventional t.v., but enjoy a variety of videos from the library that teach them new and interesting things. My daughter previously had no idea where baby birds came from, and suddenly she was hatching like one – learning in community.

On another occasion this summer, during a daytime play date over lunch, I walked into Olivia’s room to find them performing ‘puppet’ shows for each other. It was beautiful and silly and creative, and it made me jealous that I am not a child anymore. I am so glad we don’t have cable anymore (shut up, Bryan), because I am looking forward to more moments like these:

I Spy With My Little Eye: Photo Essay by Ruthie Zug

I was gaining a pretty good momentum in the video department until about six months ago when Bryan switched me over from a PC to a Mac. I love my Mac – especially the part about it not randomly shutting down or taking 20 minutes to power up – but you know how it is learning new stuff. Who has the time?

I have been particularly frustrated with the movie making feature on the Mac, which I suspect is way better in theory than Windows Movie Maker… if I could just figure the damn thing out. In WMM, there was a sidebar within each video project that listed the entire process in steps for making a video, including a step that said CLICK HERE TO PUBLISH YOUR VIDEO ON THE WEB.

That’s a paraphrase, but it was something just as obvious.

iMovie has all the cool features I’m familiar with, but when it came to saving it to publish on my blog, it left too much for me to figure out. I don’t want to have to figure something out – I just want it to be obvious. I have peanut butter sandwiches that need to be made RIGHT NOW, and I don’t have time to read the ‘help’ documentation.

So this is largely why it’s been since January that I made my last video. Not that I haven’t wanted to, or that I haven’t compiled hours of footage in a To Be Published folder – but it seems whenever I sit down to troubleshoot iMovie I usually end up throwing something or screaming at my husband all the way down the stairs, which is precisely the kind of behavior I’m trying to avoid.

So here is a short video to get me started and to satisfy my need to create one without drama. I was mildly successful. The beginning and end titling is too small and moves too quickly to be able to read it, but I couldn’t figure out how to edit those clips – whenever I made changes, an entire new clip was added instead of just changing the one I thought I was editing. And there didn’t seem to be a way to stretch out the length of the titling so you actually have time to read it.

I finally gave up fiddling with it, and just decided to publish it in its imperfect, Shitty First Draft state.

For the record, the opening title reads ‘Take Another Picture, Photos by Ruthie,’ and the end title references the music: ‘Music by Bishop Allen, www.bishopallen.com.’ You should really buy this album. It’s brand new, and I love it. The song I used is called Click, Click, Click, Click off The Broken String album.

This particular video is a project I’ve been wanting to do for awhile, because I love looking at the things I see every day through Ruthie’s eyes. She loves the camera, and I love encouraging her use of it. She has a respect for it, and treats it gently and always tightens the strap around her wrist. Many grown-ups worry and fret when they see her handling such a sophisticated piece of equipment, but it’s actually one of the few things I can fully trust her with.

And I need a little more of that between us.

Finding Beauty in the Breakdown.

Our trip to the San Jose area couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve spent the last couple months reorganizing and reprioritizing my focus as a mother and household manager, trying to correct the part of my brain that sometimes finds it easier to focus on the latter and see the former as a distraction. I want to be present with my children. I want to enjoy them. My goal in spending ten days apart from the household duties of cleaning, laundry, and other such necessities was to develop good habits in spending time with my children.

I believe I did well in accomplishing what I set out to do. We played hide and seek. The tickle monster attacked. We went to parks and visited attractions. We left the hotel every day. We talked. And we didn’t watch t.v. Even in the midst of being away from the comforts of home, I only used the morning PBS programs to occupy Ruthie while I showered. We kept busy, and I remained focused on them until they were sleeping.

For me the pinnacle came on Monday when we visited Santa Cruz, about an hour from our hotel. We were nearly alone on a wide open beach, running around and digging in the sand with nothing but our fingers and some empty coffee cups. I stretched myself, and offered Ruthie some freedom from my control, and I watched her revel in a world with few boundaries. The beach was so empty, so expansive, and the ocean before us was so never-ending, that my need to control every situation, every moment, every move seemed insignificant. I realized how rigid I had become, how inflexible. But that morning I was able to let my children run, and I practiced trusting them, and I patiently corrected them when they wandered too far, and I became their biggest fan once again.

It was the silence, and the time, and the space provided by this trip that allowed me to grow as a parent in this way – to remember that my job is much more than just keeping them fed and clothed, but to also disciple and teach and model, and to sometimes play with them. I developed a taste for getting out, for exploring, for inspiring my children and giving them opportunities to run and jump and play – not that it couldn’t have happened in the absence of a vacation, amidst the everyday life I live, but it seems a trip to San Jose is how God chose to get through to me.

As we left the beach in Santa Cruz my kids immediately crashed into a coma, and I listened to the Garden State soundtrack. I love it for its mix. Many soundtracks have a schizophrenic feel to it, accommodating for love scenes and fight scenes and war scenes all within the same album. But the Garden State soundtrack has a vibe, and it’s a good vibe for a quiet ride home from the beach. When the song, Let Go, by Frou Frou began playing I immediately knew it was the soundtrack for the day at least, and maybe even for my overall struggle through anger and control.

You’ll know why when you hear it.

So, the video you are about to see is more than just a video scrapbook of a fun day. I had a vision for this project the moment I heard the song. It is a stone for me to carry, like the ones Much Afraid carried. It is a rock cairn to remember the path I have taken to get where I am now. It is an alter built to God, in praise of who he is, like the ones built by my spiritual forefathers in the desert.

I’m proud of this one. I hope you like it.

Our Snowy Night

We’re going on our third day of WINTER STORM BLAST 2006, and once again the city is crippled by its lack of snow plows and sanding trucks. I’m a Minnesota transplant, and even though I’ve been here for 16 years I still marvel at how much damage a few inches of snow can cause these people.

When the snow began falling on Sunday night we had been planning to go Christmas shopping, and soon realized we had better stick closer to home. So we opted for a stroll around our neighborhood instead that ended in dinner at a wood-fired pizza place.

The memory that I hope will stick with me forever, is how magical the evening was as I watched my children become enchanted by everything they saw. A tree branch, a park bench, a fence post – it all seemed so new and fascinating under a blanket of snow.

That evening I felt blessed, like I was living in a fairy tale. My family was with me, large fluffy snow flakes were falling, and it seemed every reason that I love living in this neighborhood presented itself, including the passing dinner train.

I’m not always one to be living In The Moment, but that evening I was very present, and enjoying every moment. Here is a video of our magical evening:

Zoe’s Family Says Thank You

Zoe is leaving the ICU today, and she continues to make great progress in her recovery. Since Zoe was born, her family has not been able to attend church or even spend much time with friends due to her susceptibility to infections and illness, so they shot some footage that I was able to edit into the following video. This was shown at church this morning.

As a side note for any media geeks who care about this sort of thing, this project was my first attempt at leaving behind Windows Movie Maker, and using the more robust Adobe Premier video editing software.

The Digression of My Culinary Prowess

I have always loved to cook. Even as a single woman, among contemporaries who ate take-out or ramen noodles, I enjoyed experimenting with different recipes and ingredients.

From the time I was in college until I got married I lived with other people. Sometimes it was just me and my best friend, and other times, like the summer I rented a house with four others, or the two years I lived with up to ten other women (Yes, you heard me. That’s another story), it was many. In all those scenarios, preparing a meal was a community effort.

For years my friend and I shopped together and split the grocery bill. We took turns cooking for each other, and we entertained a lot. The summer I lived with a few other gals we often shared meals together pot luck style, and the crazy two years I lived in complete insanity with far too many women, we pooled together our money hippy style and all took turns cooking dinner.

Now that I’m married, I love it when Bryan cooks with me. He’s pretty handy in the kitchen, and on many occasions is the family chef, but my most favorite times are when we cook together. There’s always loud music involved, and wine, and a little flirting. It is a time of family celebration, even if we are just celebrating Tuesday.

When Bryan travels I am lonely, but I think it mostly hits me around the dinner hour. I’m so accustomed to the plurality of the process that I seem to lose motivation when it’s just me and the kids. After three years of cooking fresh and (mostly) healthy meals for my kids, this week I finally broke down and bought a bag of frozen fish sticks and a bag of frozen tater tots.

I know it’s not the unforgivable sin to serve convenience foods to my children, and it’s not like I haven’t fed them pizza or Chinese take-out a dozen times in the last six months, but there’s just something about fish sticks that resonates in my mind as the ultimate sell-out for me. There is no community in fish sticks. There is no process in fish sticks. There is no beauty in fish sticks. I bake them, and I feel sad and lonely.

And to top it off, my kids LOVE fish sticks and tater tots, and completely cleaned their plates in five minutes. No arguing was necessary – no stalling, no counting bites or offering rewards for finishing their meal. Gulp, gulp, gulp.


Well, lest I become sad and depressed over processed seafood, I captured two very adorable children enjoying the bounty of fish sticks tonight in this short video. There may not be beauty in the preparation, but the consumers make it all sparkle like Christmas.

Ruthie Sings the A, B, C’s (with Thomas accompanying)

Here are the top five reasons why I love this video:

1. Ruthie’s fingernails are painted with blue markers because I won’t put nail polish on her fingernails while she still sucks her thumb.

2. She sings this song at top volume all. day. long. and somebody else needs to know this.

3. You get to hear how cute she sounds when she sings, “Next time won’t-chya sing with me…”

4. She is wearing only her underpants, which needs to be documented. Ruthie hardly ever wears clothes around the house, mostly because she has to be able to see her cute underpants at all times. But also because clothes are just so restricting, ya know?

5. Someday when she and Thomas go on the road, I’ll have it on video how their famous band got its start!