Paw Paw

A Blooming African Violet

My father-in-law likes to rescue our house plants. A longtime lover of plants he inspects them all during the course of his weekend visits, advising, praising and criticizing. He has watered our plants. Repotted our plants. Washed our plants to rid them of little pests. His most recent rescue was our African violets.

They had all but stopped blooming. I had tried more water, less water, more sunlight, less sunlight—nothing worked.

He pulled them out of the soil and started them anew—two little violets with two little root systems plopped in shot glasses filled with water on our windowsill.

The roots soaked up the water and we refilled the little shot glasses for months. The leaves got bigger and I purchased some soil specially formulated for African violets from our local gardening center. I repotted them. Guessed the amount of water. Guessed the amount of sun. And waited.

Today, I spotted a lovely purple bloom.

Thank you, Marty.

“That queen of secrecy, the violet.” —John Keats

Your Third Birthdays

Dear James and Owen,

For your third birthday, we hung up the birthday banner (of course).

Sophie insisted on helping me set the table (she was so excited, for both of you). Owen—you wanted a Thomas the train theme. James—you wanted a Jake the Pirate theme. So, we did both.

The night before your birthday I went out, after you were asleep, and bought you each a balloon.

The next morning you wore your Thomas the Train and Jake the Pirate T-shirts. You were so.very.excited. Too excited. So excited that we let Sophie give you her birthday presents after breakfast (she was too excited to wait, too). James, even though you love Jake the Pirate, you wanted Thomas trains as presents. So that’s what Sophie gave to both of you. You loved them.

Nini and Pop Pop came over for a birthday lunch!

I was planning on making two meals that day, as it is our tradition that you pick your favorite meal for your birthday. This year, though, you picked the same thing—pesto pasta and bread with butter.

Owen, you humored me by wearing your 1st birthday hat, which I purchased from Etsy. (James, you did not humor me—this year.)

Your presents!

You both wanted chocolate cake with chocolate icing. As such, Andy said it only made sense that we make one cake. I would have none of that. None.of.that. Two cakes, one for each of you. You are two separate people with two birthdays to celebrate. (We had a lot of leftover cake.) Owen, this was your cake.

And James, this was your cake. (Sophie insisted on decorating them both.)

James, this year, we sung to you first.

Owen, I love this picture of you. You are watching your daddy come into the living room with your lit birthday cake. You were so excited.

You blew out your candles quite well, too.

And then, you got to open presents! One of your joint presents from Nini and Pop were wooden marble run tracks from Haba.

You love them. Daddy often comes home from work and builds intricate mazes down our stairs. However, you’re also getting better and better about building working runs all by yourself, too.

After presents, we ate cake and ice cream.

We spent the rest of the afternoon with Nini and Pop Pop, playing with your new toys and old games, too.

This year, you were lucky because you got to celebrate your birthday twice! Grandma and Paw Paw visited the following weekend. This time, we made Thomas the Train and Jake the Pirate cupcakes.

You blew out your candles …

and opened presents.

Grandma and Paw Paw got you a jeep. At first, we didn’t tell you and you didn’t realize you could drive it. You were simply just thrilled with the idea of sitting in it.

Pop Pop and Nini came over—like Pop Pop like grandson.

Then all of us went to Nini and Pop Pop’s house, where we revealed the truth of the Jeep—that it moves.

You each took a turn riding with Sophie. And … you haven’t ridden it since. You’re afraid of it. I’m baffled by this, but am guessing (hoping) this will change with time.

We finished out the afternoon with a game of baseball on Detling Field.


You eat a ridiculous amount of food. Just today, you woke up from your nap and immediately asked for a tomato—an entire tomato. I sliced it all, you ate it all, and then you asked for more. The night before we had homemade pancakes for dinner. You ate five—five large pancakes. I always say, “I don’t know where he puts it all!” (you can still wear 18-month shorts) but that’s not entirely true. I do know what happens to all those calories. You burn them off. Constantly. You rarely walk—unless it’s outside and the temperature is not of your liking (and when it’s too hot or too cold you are sure to let us know). Inside, though, you run. Everywhere. You dive and jump and barrel and twist and turn and dance and swing and hop and roll (and all over us and Tucker, too.). I envy your energy.

You love “You Are My Sunshine.” You request it at bedtime. You ask for it whenever you hurt yourself. When you are in the midst of a full-blown tantrum, it is the one thing that will calm you (just like it always has). I pick you up and you wrap your arms and legs around me, nuzzling your head into the crook of my head and shoulder. And I sing. And scratch your back. And you calm. Your entire body relaxes into mine, your breathing slows, you stop crying. You calm. I love singing “You Are My Sunshine” to you.

You sing it, too. You sing it in this beautiful, high-pitched, perfectly sweet voice that makes me want to cry every time I hear it. Because of it, I’ve become “one of those moms.” Again and again I say, “James, can you sing ‘Your Are My Sunshine’?” to anyone and everyone who will listen. Often, you do. My favorite moments, though, are when you sing it unprompted. A couple times Owen has hurt himself and on my way upstairs to kiss yet another knee I hear you, sweetly singing to him. People talk about hearts melting. This, this turns mine into a puddle.

You’re sneaky. You hide things. I’m still missing a-now-cancelled credit card I believe, because of you. When you’re mad at someone you will take something of importance to them and throw it—behind the buffet, behind a bed, behind the couch. And then you smile. (We’re working on this.)

You love to read. More so than Sophie and Owen. Every day you pull a new book off the bookshelf, sit on my lap and ask me to read. I try my best to stop whatever I’m doing to read to you. Never, ever lose this passion.

You’re good at puzzles. Really good at puzzles. Scary good at puzzles. Every day you do Owen’s four-pack Thomas the Train puzzles. Babysitters have gotten out other puzzles and noted how good you are at doing them. I need to get you some more puzzles.

I love your curly hair. Sophie loves it, too. Often she does your hair for you. She brushes it and poofs it and puts barrettes in it and headbands in it. She puts you in her dress-up clothes and you just laugh and smile. You’re such a good sport about it.

You take things apart constantly. TV remotes. Toys. Cell phones. The contents of wallets. The contents of purses. Sophie’s treasure box. If anything has a battery in it, you take it out. If any outlet is childproofed, you get into it. Maybe you’ll be an engineer. Maybe you’ll be an inventor. Maybe you’ll be a builder. Maybe you’ll be an artist or a woodworker or an architect or a teacher. I love your curiosity, even if some days it drives me crazy.

I love you, James. I love the way you laugh—such a big laugh for such a little dude. I love how you are all wiggly arms and wiggly legs all over me, all the time. I love how your eyes shine. People talk about shining eyes but yours do. They really do. I love how much you love Tucker and I love how much he loves you. I love how much you love us. I love how much you love life. The toddler years can be trying—for us. For you. But they are so short-lived, which makes me both happy and so incredibly sad. I love that I’m spending your toddler years with you.


You have the best facial expressions. Everything is exaggerated. Your surprised look. Your “I’m sorry” look. Your “Aw, isn’t that so cute?” look. Your mad look. Your sad look. Your silly look. I love all your looks. May you always remain that expressive.

You love trains. While Daddy and I were out of town, you recently rode on one at the zoo with my cousin (and one of your favorite babysitters), Kelsey. You were almost manic describing it to us. When we cross a train track or you hear a train in the distance, you become inconsolable if you don’t see a physical train to go along with the track or the noise. You know all the words to the Thomas the the Train theme song and you love to sing the song in different silly voices. You know all the engine names and, thanks to some other non-Thomas train books, you know the different parts of a train (the engine, the tender, the caboose). Lately you will spend afternoons in your room running your trains over your tracks, making up stories about what they’re doing and where they’re going. I love listening to these stories, these worlds you create in your head.

You and Sophie are buds. All three of you love to play with each other, and I know these pair-offs will change over the years, but right now you two often can be found together—especially outside. You both stick the swing seats on your stomachs and you run and kick off and go so high—so high. You love to balance on anything—curbs, stone walls, benches. You love to ride Sophie’s pink tricycle although you refuse to use the pedals. Still, you are fast—and intent on catching up to Sophie on her scooter. You and Sophie race all the time—from the van to the front door, up the stairs, to the entrance of Tower Park—all the time. You’re really good at Memory. So good that it startles Sophie. “Mommy,” she says. “How did Owen beat me? He’s 3 and I’m 5!” You surprise her (and us) with this skill.

You are very particular about the order in which you do things. There is a certain way you have to get in the van, a certain order to the buckles on your car seat. You insist on buckling the last buckle, but only after everyone else is in their seats and buckled, too. (And then you ask Sophie, about five times while we’re driving, if she’s buckled—this drives her mad.) When it’s time to get shoes on, you often insist on sitting on a particular step. You’re particular about the clothes you wear. James would be naked, all the time, if he could. You—you must have pants and a shirt on. And when hot weather arrived, you spent several weeks dismayed with the fact that you were in shorts, not pants, and t-shirts, not long-sleeved shirts.

You know what you like.

You still love the moon. And the cardinals that live in our backyard pine tree. And Mia—although you scream “MIA” and scare her so much she never sticks around long enough for you to do anything with her. When you see something cute, you cock your head to the side, smile and say “Awww, that’s so cute!” in, well, in a seriously cute way.

When you color, it’s not the normal all-over-the-page kid scribble. Rather you draw these tiny little individual scribbles, all over the page. And they are each something. If I ask, you tell me what they are. They are fish. Dogs. Words. Letters. Numbers. Houses. Trains. Trees. I should ask you about your scribbles more often.

You scare easily. And, as such, you show your bravery so often. This year I’ve seen you tackle the “shake shake” bridge at the park. The big fish at the aquarium. The pool at the Y. Child watch at the Y. Hip hop at the Y. The backyard swing. The tricycle, fast. Scooby Doo. I’m proud of you.

Recently, you fell asleep on me—just like you did when you were an infant. Your head fit up on my shoulder perfectly, but your legs were so long against my body. You were so baby-like, so toddler-like. So small, so big. I loved it. I didn’t move, for more than an hour, craving the moment, knowing how fleeting it was, knowing it was rare, knowing, someday soon, it will never more be. Thank you, for that small and precious gift you gave to me.

I love you—everything about you.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you both don’t exhaust me—us. You both are demanding. You both throw spectacular tantrums. You both whine. Oh, do you whine. But this passion also shows on the flip side, too. You love. You love. If we’re leaving and one of you thinks we’re leaving the other behind (which we would never do), you lose it. You cry and yell and we have to console you, over and over, that all of us are coming—no one is being left behind. If one of you cries after being hurt, the other one finds one of us, desperate to get help for his brother. You fight with each other, passionately. But you also love each other, equally—if not more—passionately. We love you both the same, passionately.

Sometimes, at night, around 10pm, when you should be sleeping—when you should have been asleep two hours ago—you creep down the stairs, together, while we are watching a show. We’ll hear your tip-toes and your “shhh’s” and look up to see you both, heads stuck between the rails, smiling, like you’re holding mankind’s greatest secret. And we melt. We should be angry, but we can’t be angry. You are both too cute to be angry.

And that’s how it is, with both of you. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s challenging. But I love it, you. I’m addicted to both of you. I can’t imagine my life without either of you and I’m so proud of the men you are becoming.

And here is where I’ll admit a truth: I was a little scared when I found out I was the mother of two boys. Your dad constantly perplexes me (and I mean that in the most loving way). But I’m a girl. I felt like I knew nothing about boys, raising boys. But now I know you are both people. Beautiful, loving, happy people. People who are growing, people who I’m excited to watch become men.

Often, I change the words to our favorite song. I make it plural. You are my sunshines. My only sunshines. You make me happy, when skies are gray. You’ll never know dears, how much I love you. Please don’t let my sunshines go away.


“A three year old child is a being who gets almost as much fun out of a fifty-six dollar set of swings as it does out of finding a small green worm.” —Bill Vaughan

Things I’ve Neglected to Post (But Love)

A trip to Baltimore with …

jewelry-making with Grandma and …

ukulele-playing with Paw Paw.

parents’ night at Sophie’s beloved preschool

the delivery of a new-to-us swingset (with thanks to Craigslist)

and Easter!

“Time does not change us. It just unfolds us.” —Max Frisch

Links I Love

• Saturday Andy and I saw Hem at Taft Theatre thanks to free tickets from CityBeat (I entered a contest and won!). Hem just released a new album, Departure and Farewell, and it’s been a long time coming. My sister and I saw Hem in concert years ago (2005, maybe?) at The Southgate House. There were, maybe, 15 people there. And it was freezing! Everyone, including Hem, wore coats, hats and scarves. Despite the cold, our love for them grew that night—in fact, Katy played several of their songs at her wedding. Last night they were blessed with a much bigger audience. While waiting for the music to start, I began to tell Andy my favorite Hem story—he stopped me, and said I had already told him (several times). So because I didn’t get the satisfaction of telling him (again), I’ll share it with you: Dan Messé, Gary Maurer and Steve Curtis placed an ad for vocalists in The Village Voice. They received many, many responses—but no one fit their vision. Months later, Sally Ellyson, prodded by friends, dropped off a cassette tape of lullabies she’d recorded. Messé says he had no intention of listening to it. But then, by accident, he turned it on when he thought he was playing a different demo tape. “Lord, Blow the Moon Out Please,” came floating out of his speakers. “I remember thinking, What the hell is this?! It was like this voice I had heard in my dreams all my life,” Messé said to New York magazine. And thus the band was born. Listen to their newest lullaby, here.

“The Helpers”

• My friend Colleen started a blog, Sisters Pushing Strollers, along with her two sisters. I love it. And relate to it.

• Thanks to Pinterest, I just discovered Baileys. Oh how I wish they shipped to the U.S.

• My friend Stephen, who owns Vertigo Catering, is hosting his first tasting event June 14 to benefit The Dragonfly Foundation. I’ve had the pleasure of eating from his menu numerous times and it’s some of the best food I’ve ever had. So if you’re looking for a fun date night (and a great organization to support) check it out!

Life on Mars … in 2023?

• Speaking of planets, stars and space, I think because James’s middle name is Orion I should own this ring, right? (It’s lovely, but just a tad out of my price range.)

• I’m so intrigued by Elizabeth Winder’s new book Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953. Check out some pictures of Sylvia here.

• I don’t understand people who don’t have regrets. Yes, everything in life is a lesson. And no, one shouldn’t dwell on could haves or should haves. But we’re all human. We all make mistakes. And we all have said things we shouldn’t have said and we all haven’t said things we should have said. I regret those moments! How can one not? Anyhow, this spoke to me. This past Christmas I put a regret down on paper—and sent it to someone I knew in high school. He never responded, and I still regret my actions, but I did find the act helpful in letting go.

• Andy’s parents bought Sophie Goldie Blox for her birthday, and we’ve gifted it to others as well. Sophie and I finally played with it today, and she loved it. Watch this. You want to buy one, no?

“The bed is too small for my tired head
Bring me a hill soft with trees
Tuck a cloud up under my chin
Lord, blow the moon out please.” —traditional lullaby


Finding the perfect tree at Burlington Tree Farm.

Decorating the tree.

Sophie’s handmade Christmas present to us, from preschool (she couldn’t wait until Christmas to give it to us).

A late night writing Christmas postcards.

Christmas at Great Grandma Gebhart’s house + handmade train whistles from my uncle Skip.


Pop Pop’s lap overflowing with grandkids.

James and Owen with their new cars from Great Grandma.

Autumn and Amanda

Opening presents.

James’s new Jake the Pirate set from my aunt Ellen and uncle Skip (he loved it).

my grandma


Aunt Katy and sleepy Colleen

Uncle Kyle and (Great) Uncle Skip

Autumn and her mom, Lisa

Sophie getting some puzzle help from Autumn.

Andy and my uncle Roger in the kitchen.

Aunt Ellen

Christmas at my grandma’s farm, a tradition I’ve long loved.

Nini making pomegranate cosmopolitans.

Nini, Katy and me!

(They were delicious.)

Nini reading Eve Bunting’s Night Tree to the grandkids.

A Christmas gift for the birds—bagels covered in peanut butter and bird seed.

Hanging our gifts on the pine tree.

Mom and Dad (Nini and Pop Pop)

Writing letters to Santa.

Christmas around the house.

Sophie’s preschool Christmas gift to us.

The decorated mantel—Sophie wasn’t pleased with it so she added the ribbon and, if you look close, handmade snowmen hanging from it (of course, I left it).

A Christmas Eve viewing of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

Andy reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

James and Owen, clearly ready for bed.

More Christmas around the house.

Letters, cookies, milk for Santa, and lots of carrots for the reindeer.

Christmas Eve, right before bed = joy.

He came!

The walk down the stairs.

Christmas morning.

Christmas day at my parents’ house.

Colleen and Sophie

Uncle Kyle

Opening gifts.


Colleen’s handmade hand-print wreath (with the help of Nini) to Uncle Tom and Aunt Katy.

Uncle Kyle and Sophie


My mom made beautiful teddy bears for each of the grandkids. They loved them.

Kids’ table.

Grown-up table.

The BonBonerie Christmas cookies.

Sophie trying out her new skates …

in my parents completely reorganized, repainted basement.

Christmas around my parents’ house.

Christmas dinner and paper crowns.

James, Owen, Sophie and Colleen

The teddy bears my mom made …

(they’re comfy).


Day-after-Christmas snow.

Gear. So. much. gear. (But of course, no boots. We hadn’t bought them yet.)

The kids’ first snowfall of the season—and their first snowman!

Making the traditional Uhl Family Christmas Cookies with Grandma and Paw Paw.

Owen taking a TV break from making cookies.

So good.

Christmas Eve w/ Grandma and Paw Paw.

Christmas morning—again!

Sophie opening her very special craft box, which Grandma put together.

Paw Paw and Grandma

Early morning sun.

Grandma made a craft box for all three kids—it’s huge and organized and labeled and filled with so many wonderful things—all three children play with it daily (thank you).

Thomas the Train tracks = love.

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: The presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” —Burton Hillis

Thanksgiving in Baltimore

This year we traveled to Baltimore for a long Thanksgiving weekend with Grandma and Paw Paw, Aunt Lizzie and Great Aunt Fran. Thanks to the help of a second portable DVD player, the kids did well on the trip and it was so nice to be surrounded by family, especially family we don’t get to see very often.

The weather was unusually warm—we spent much of Thanksgiving morning outside, at several neighborhood parks.

As usual, Thanksgiving dinner was delicious. The kids especially enjoyed their own kid table this year.

Later that weekend we went to Baltimore’s Festival of Trees—Owen and James loved the train exhibit; Sophie loved the indoor carousel and tattoos.

Andy found his old Battleship game in the basement. Sophie played a good game against him, but Daddy won.

Thankful for family, and being able to travel and spend time with family. Thankful, indeed.

“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.” —Cicero

Finally, Halloween

Sophie dressed up as Rapunzel for her preschool Halloween party (she was just a little bit excited).

a preschool Halloween craft

preschool Halloween goodies

Pumpkin carving time! (Somehow we managed to not do this until Halloween. As such, we only had time to carve one. Boys, if you’re reading this as adults someday, I’m sorry. But to be fair, you wanted nothing to do with carving Sophie’s pumpkin so I’m pretty sure we would have ended up carving all of yours for you.

Sophie chose Rapunzel for her pumpkin (of course).

And she did much of the carving herself this year.


The boys’ costumes, on display, because they refused to wear them.


Grandma and Pop Pop came this year and dressed up, too!

All three understood trick-or-treating this year. They were great at saying “trick-or-treat”—still reminding them about the “thank you” part.

It was so cold. And spitting rain. James had no hat and his teeth start chattering so I made him wear mine. Warmed by the excitement of it all, I’m sure all three would have stayed outside much longer than we allowed them.

“A grandmother pretends she doesn’t know who you are on Halloween.” —Erma Bombeck

A Summer Trip to Baltimore

The kids loved playing with Paw Paw’s pool table, even though the boys kept insisting it was “baseball.” James loved the table so much that he drew on it. With red crayon. (I’m still so sorry about that, Paw Paw. James is, too.)

Sophie wasn’t too fond of Jake’s (their beautiful new lab) kisses. So she created this cage for herself—she sat up here, often.

The boys loved the train table Grandma and Paw Paw found on Craigslist.

James also loved hitting Owen on the heads with trains. Which he got put in time out for. Which, as you can see in this picture, he loved.

We took a day trip to visit my aunt Alise and uncle Tom, and their three kids—David, Jessica and John. We spent the hot, hot day playing in the sprinkler, enjoying a cookout and eating ice cream sundaes.

There was up-past-bedtime-swingset time.

And s’more-making time.

We visited Paw Paw’s office in downtown Baltimore …

and Grandma’s office, too. The kids loved Grandma’s view.

Sophie even got a present from one of Paw Paw’s colleagues—a crown-making kit, which she loved, and which she still plays with, almost daily.

James and Owen playing at Grandma and Paw Paw’s house—and proof that James isn’t the only one who gets into trouble for hitting/touching/otherwise bothering his brother.

We also celebrated Paw Paw’s birthday!


Grandma’s flowers

The night before we left, Sophie got a tour of Grandma’s jewelry studio. She loved it.

So much so, that the next morning Sophie and Grandma made a beautiful necklace together. You can read more about Sophie’s venture into jewelry-making here.

On the way home, we stopped at my alma mater, Ohio University, for dinner. It was surreal, seeing my children walking the same grounds I walked for four years, before I knew them, of them, of this life I now live.

The drive went as well as you can expect although we arrived much later than I had hoped. It was so nice, though, to see the home where Grandma and Paw Paw live, for the kids to be able to envision that space when they think of their grandparents. It was fun to see their workspaces as well. And there’s something just so comforting to wake up and eat breakfast while in pjs with family. To spend the day sharing one’s day-to-day activities with others. To stay up late talking. And to wake up and get to do it again. Especially when family lives far away.

“The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.” —Thomas Jefferson

Grandparents’ Day

Sophie is lucky. Several weeks ago was Grandparents’ Day at her preschool and she had four grandparents present, including two from Baltimore. I was lucky, too. Most of my childhood was spent with four grandparents present in my life. At the time, I didn’t realize how lucky I was. They were simply a part of my life, as normal as oatmeal with brown sugar, Saturday morning cartoons, wild onions stuffed in a Mason jar. One of my earliest memories is of a birthday. It was my fourth (or fifth? I can’t remember). I got a bike, with training wheels, light blue, I think, with a white basket with plastic flowers attached to it. The details are fuzzy but I distinctly remember riding down the sidewalk, listening to my Grandpa Mangan encourage me, cheer me, push me on. “Go, Kara, go!” “Go, Kara, go!”

Sophie is now 4. I hope she remembers her grandparents—all of them—taking time out of their busy lives to be with her, for a couple hours. To watch her paint, do work, wash her hands, eat a snack, sing a song. Of course she won’t remember the details, but hopefully, she’ll simply remember their presence, their love.

Whenever Sophie and I used to have a good day—a really good day—I would become so sad at the thought that she’ll never remember. She’ll never remember me curing her newborn tears by dancing—crazily, swinging—wildly, singing—loudly to “Build Me Up Buttercup” (which she loved) in our old house. She’ll never remember nursing (which, I suppose, at 15 she’ll be glad she doesn’t but still …). She’ll never remember sleeping on my chest, or the first time she saw a giraffe or the time she and Andy rolled down a snowy hill after a terrible attempt at sledding. But I believe, and maybe I’m wrong but I truly believe, all the actions and inactions, words and quietness, dancing and stillness of her early years somehow became embedded deep inside her brain. She will never remember the details, I know. But I have to believe, deep in her consciousness, she will know, feel, that she was loved. And that will help shape who she is, who she becomes, how she will, someday, love.

So thank you, Mom, Dad, Marty and Jill, for being there. And Sophie, I hope you remember. If not, I hope you someday read this and know. You were loved. You are loved. And not just by us. Or your brothers. But the circle reaches farther. And farther still (as it should, for every child). Love like that. Live like that. Be there. Remember.

“Everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being.”—Margaret Mead


Paw Paw’s Birthday


“My grandkids believe I’m the oldest thing in the world. And after two or three hours with them, I believe it, too.” —Gene Perret