Monday, December 28, 2009

Our little decorator

Daddy walked into little Natalie's room tonight and saw a variety of pictures taped to her green walls. Upon closer inspection, two of the pictures were calendar pages -- one from December 2010, and one from May 2010. The May calendar was marked to show Theodore's birthday on the 29th, represented in the square with a single balloon icon and her brother's name (look closely above).

On another part of the wall, Natalie taped pictures of her favorite Disney princesses.

A word about her decorating technique. Natalie sticks one long piece of transparent tape to each corner of the picture, extending outward and bisecting each corner of the picture into two 45 degree (roughly) angles. A fifth piece (ostensibly a fail-safe security device) of transparent tape extends vertically from the top of the picture. The technique is clearly illustrated here with Jasmine and Cinderella.

Separately, here is a random quote from Natalie when we watched the coming attractions before "Air Buddies": "I don't like princesses. It's too yucky when they kiss."

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Digital Christmas Card

The Clarks of New Jersey (left) extend their warmest Christmas wishes to you, our friends and family, and all of our figurative brothers ad sisters throughout the world!

Christmas, said St. Bartholomew Simpson, is that wonderful time of year when people of all religions come together and worship the little baby Jesus. It's also an appropriate time to send holiday cheer and end-of-year performance evaluations of all members of the immediate family.

I am happy to report that Natalie, 4; Theodore, 7; Margie and Casey all met or exceeded expectations in fiscal 2009!

Natalie Rose: Natalie has proven to be a valuable member of the team and is growing into her role as Day Care helper. She has completed a course in ballet at the Metuchen YMCA, which improved her balance and her playfulness. As her communication skills continue to develop -- she enjoys reading "novels" -- we look forward to seeing her leadership and cooperation skills improve.

Theodore: Theo continues to display creativity and innovation. As CDP Director (castles, dragons and Pokemon), Theo splits time between the Voorhees Place office and Campbell School, where he is in second grade. Management is extremely pleased with Theo's reading ability. He has taking up "Harry Potter," and management soon hopes he will take up "Tarzan of the Apes."

Margie Clark: Margie is to be commended for managing the successful turnaround of Miss Margie's DayCare Inc., a subsidiary of Clarks of New Jersey, which began operating at full capacity in the third quarter of fiscal 2009. With dedication to child-development best practices, Margie is well loved by customers and the community, and especially loved by management.

Casey Clark: Handicap slipped to 11.1 Continues to struggle to get off the tee. Short game remains strong, but needs to rededicate himself and take lessons.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Wizard of Eyes

The kids loved watching "The Wizard of Oz" for the first time. Natalie referred to the film as "The Wizard of Eyes."

For $30 we enrolled Natalie in ballet class at the Metuchen YMCA. Natalie's first comment was: "I'm going to make new friends."

Natalie has a new adult in her life. Mrs. Young reads stories to children at the Metuchen library, and Natalie loves it. She even writes notes to Mrs. Young. Valerie drives Natalie to the library if Margie has to stay home and watch the little ones.

Natalie carries with her two books. "Anne of Green Gables," is the one she sleeps with. No pictures, just a classic paperback novel. Mom asked her if she wanted a picture book at the library and Natalie said, "No, just novels."

"You're so old, Daddy. That means you're going to die soon," she told her dad.

You'll be sad, right Nat?

"No, because I like Mommy."

But later she says: "I love you, Daddy."


"I don't know. Just because."

Theo approaches me at 6:30 a.m. "I can't remember if we're supposed to wear our costumes today or tomorrow," he said.

Tomorrow's Saturday, Theo.

"Oh yeah!" and he runs to change into his costume.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The comedic value of opposites

Natalie and her mother were talking about opposites. The opposite of up is down. The opposite of open is closed.

"The opposite of American is Filipino!" Natalie blurted. Her mother had a good laugh over that one.

But the children, aged 4 and 7 years, have had their share of good laughs recently, thanks to a game that Daddy invented. It's called "The gentleman's game."

Here's how it works: Daddy explains how a civilized gentleman behaves in various adult situations -- at the dining table, at the office, on the train. He stands tall. He looks men in the eye. He wipes his mouth gently with a napkin. Thus is the stage set for the next demonstration, which depicts how NOT to behave. This is the segment that gets the audience howling and typically includes monkey faces, slurpy Bronx cheers and wild motioning of the appendages. Scatological references have proven extremely effective.

After one particularly well-executed routine, little Natalie slowly managed to say: "I can't … stop … laughing." Her parents never heard her say that before and wonder where she got it.

Daddy believes that the children's civilized development will benefit from the serious first half of the comedy skit, while suffering little or no harm from the slapstick, anti-social antics.

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The Clarks of New Jersey haven't really gone on vacation this year. Any recommendations?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Beating the heat, again

Caption: The children learn important life lessons.

Events have moved swiftly since old man summer descended on the Clarks of New Jersey. Mimi turned 70; Poppy's family assembled in Milford; Theo spent two nights away from home; Miss Margie's is operating with 2.5 paying customers; and the publishing industry continues to tank.

But life, wrote the poet, is a series of much smaller events. For instance, splashing about in the pool on a Saturday afternoon; spraying daddy with the hose after his haircut; and joking about Theo's skinny arms. (See photo, above.)

They won't be skinny forever. Soon, muscle mass will begin to grow around those shoulder blades, and we will reminisce happily about the way he used to look when he played with his sister in the backyard pool.

A special thanks to Natalie's Godfather Tom Garda, for giving us this Cadillac of kiddie pools. It's a beauty, and it continues to entertain all of us -- even Daddy has been known to exercise herein. Uncle Tom, the Clarks of New Jersey salute you!

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Interesting observation: the very first posting in this digital diary concerned the kids enjoying themselves in a backyard kiddie pool. My how they've changed! 

Monday, June 08, 2009

Little slugger

Here is a short story that Theodore wrote after school:

"one day, millions of glowing baseball cards fell from the sky. There was a pielled up mess in the U.S.A. Every kid picked up some cards. I picked up Arod, Mellky Crabrera, Jeter and Bo Jackson."

He called it: "base ball."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Daddy Takes Over

Swingers at Roosevelt Park in Edison, N.J.

When Margie traveled to the Philippines to be with her family -- especially her beloved brother Gil -- Natalie and Theo were under the care of Daddy. And although they missed their Mommy, the children behaved very well.

Uncharacteristically, Natalie would regularly embrace Daddy's arm and say: "I love you." When asked for reasons, Natalie would say, "I just do." This was the kind of affection normally reserved exclusively for Mommy.

Natalie watched "Thumbelina" three times during her mother's voyage.

Theo matured into a little sports fan during the brief two weeks. He fell in love with the Yankees and turned the front yard into a miniature ballpark. He really likes A-Rod. (But he's not familiar with Alex Rodriquez.

One time in the front yard, Daddy was pitching whiffle balls to Theo when he told his Dad. "No, Dad. Let's play REAL baseball."

What do you mean?

"You have to nod your head no, no, no then yes before you pitch it." So Daddy pretended to take signals from an imaginary catcher, and the game continued.

One other baseball story. Theodore asked if Jeter and A-Rod might both be in his pack of baseball cards that Daddy bought him at Variety Village. Of course, that would be a miracle, and Daddy said so. But wouldn't you know it: Jeter was in the pack!

Later that day, Theo put the event in context: "This was the luckiest day in my life!"

Daddy felt very lucky, too. But the best day was when Margie returned to New Jersey.

So many people helped out: June, Lisa, Barbara, Valerie, Diana, Mimi and Poppy, Pat and Kevin, Max and Nick -- all of you showed wonderful kindness. The Clarks of New Jersey salute you!

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Reader Interaction: What was the longest time you've been away from YOUR kids? How did YOU handle it?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Clarks March on Washington

Caption: Young protesters gather outside the White House

Demanding family values, the Clarks of New Jersey marched on Washington this week. The protesters assembled at the Grand Hyatt on H street, stopped briefly in front of the Treasury Building and carried on toward the White House, where heavy police presence and a tall iron gate effectively brought the march to a close.

Police estimated the size of the protest at four.

Among the family's list of demands:

1) To swim at the Hyatt pool before going to bed;
2) To watch the television show involving magicians who give away secrets;
3) Romantic time for Mom and Dad;
4) To visit the Smithsonian and see the dinosaurs; and
5) To leave the Home Improvement Research Institute conference an hour early in order to beat traffic.

The family said it plans to bring a new list of demands directly to the White House next year, if not sooner.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Art of Lotte Reiniger

Caption: Theodore and Natalie, following in the footsteps of early 20th century animation pioneers.

Mrs. Sefranka's first grade class engaged in a research project last week. The children were instructed to write a report about a famous woman, and create a project reflective of this woman's life.

Theodore's choice: the pioneering filmmaker and silhouette artist Lotte Reiniger, whose "Adventures of Prince Achmed" captivated the Berlin vanguard in the late 1920s, and who later fled fascist Germany for the creative oasis of the United Kingdom. Obvious choice, you say? Well, Theodore has plenty of time to learn about more obscure historical figures in high school and college.

In the photo above, we see Theodore creating his own version of Prince Achmed's flying horse. With it, and other silhouette cut outs, Theodore fashioned a collection of his own animation "stills" to share with his class. (On the computer screen, you see a scene from Reininger's 1926 film, which he used as a model.)

Natalie so loves her brother that she, too, spent much of Sunday creating silhouettes from the tales of the Arabian Nights.

When asked about his presentation to his class, Theodore seemed very proud: "Mrs. Sefranka didn't even know about Lotte Reiniger," he said.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A royal couple of Clarks

caption: Natalie, 3, adores Theodore, 6, but not for his money.

It's remarkable how well the little kids get along with each other. Theodore, 6, looks after Natalie, 3, and Natalie looks up to Theodore.

On a recent snowy morning, Natalie shouted up the stairs to her brother, who she calls "Kuya" as per Filipino custom.

Natalie: Kuya, it's snowing! It's all covered with snow!"
Theodore: I know. Come up here.
Natalie: OK. (Footsteps bouncing up the steps.)
Theodore: I'm sick. I'm coughing.
Natalie: Me, too. (She pretends to cough.) Only Daddy is not sick.

And on it goes, about Star Wars, bunnies, food and all kinds of subjects.

On the day before the snowfall, the children enjoyed watching "Sleeping Beauty" in eight 10-minute Youtube installments. Daddy was impressed at the quality of the movie, and he thought the animated romance between Prince Phillip and Princess Aurora was surprisingly touching and modern. ("After all, father," said Prince Phillip, "this is the 14th century.")

Later, Daddy explained to the children that Mommy decided not to marry a prince; and instead she married Daddy because she loved him.

Dad: "Will you marry a prince, Natalie?"
Natalie: "No. I'm going to marry Kuya because I love HIM."

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Two little polliwogs

caption: Natalie and Theo at the International House of Pancakes

Saturday morning for the Clarks of New Jersey, until very recently, centered around Margie's Yoga lessons. We all woke, got dressed and dropped Margie off so she could enjoy 90 minutes of forced relaxation. Dad and the kids would then spend that time running errands or exploring Central New Jersey's diners.

But two weeks ago, we revamped our regular weekend schedule -- now Theo has swim lessons at the YMCA. He's in the polliwag class, splashing around with other children while wearing a buoyant blue belt.

He still hasn't completely submerged his head, but he's confident in his abilities. After his first lesson, his mother asked him if he learned how to swim. "I already knew how to swim," he answered.

Meanwhile, little Natalie continues to surprise us with her observations. "I loved Daddy, even when I was in your belly," she told her mother, when daddy was away on business. Then she told us all a little-known fact about the female lead of Disney's Aladdin: "Did you know that Jasmine is Filipino?" she asked. Oh, really? "Because her skin is brown."