Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A New Look for a New Year

Do you like it? I love it--and I got to switch back to blogger's new mode rather than classic, which was messing me all up. In addition, I have new little features of a quote of the week and a list of the books the girls and I (and Darren) are reading together along the side there, which I'll be continually updating.

I've enjoyed taking a little break from writing, and I plan to come back totally refreshed at the beginning of January with all sorts of tales, including our holidays, playdates, kindergarten anecdotes, what it's like having a 3-year-old in the house, more loss of teeth, roadtrips, DVD recommendations, the story of my 75-year-old mother pushing an SUV out of a ditch, constant references to Selah and "Stepping Heavenward," links to all the things I adore, my continual paean to Mark Harmon and NCIS, and everything you've come to know and (hopefully) love about Guilford Road.

As always, thank you for reading and enjoying my two wacky little girls a fraction as much as I do.

See you in the new year!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas!

"'Yes,' said Queen Lucy. 'In our world too, a Stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.'"

--from The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pre-Christmas Weekend

This Saturday, I was awakened by Elaine coming into my room, sneezing in my face, and saying in a teary voice, "Mama, Lucy has the Peter Rabbit book and is reading it. [A worse crime was never committed, seeing as it's Lucy's own book.] Dat book is berry special to meeeeee!" I figured, for once and for all, that child needed a copy of her own favorite berry special book for Christmas. Earlier this month when I was getting her picture taken at Penneys, I saw a gift set of the book and a stuffed Peter Rabbit. Foolishly, I didn't buy it then. So, I decided to brave the insanity that is the mall at Christmastime, specifically the Saturday right before Christmas. Kill me.

However, first I had to drop both girls off at my parents' for a sleepover. I packed their church clothes and playclothes and clean underwear and toothbrushes and nightgowns. This was not enough for them. They also wanted me to pack their rice bags; their curlers ("so that Manga can make our hair curly for church, Mama. She'll want to, she really will!" Sorry, Mom.); their mermaids, Bluey and Elizabeth, complete with floating lilypad sprinkler fountains; both "Meet Me in St. Louis" and "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl Mystery;" ("Manga will want to watcht these movies with us"); Lucy's elephant named Trumpet; Elaine's new Webkin named Anna; and of course Rabbie and Catty. It looked like they were going on a tour of Europe, rather than an overnight to their grandparents who live 35 minutes away.

I got that done and headed to the mall. Craziness, I tell you. I finally found a parking spot almost at the road and walked 3/4 of a mile to the door. I found the very last Peter Rabbit set, but someone had stolen the book out of it. Here's a little plug for Penneys--not only was it on sale, but they gave me a sizable discount because of the missing book--and I paid $6.39 for what was originally $22. Then I came home and ordered the book on amazon.

In the evening, Darren and I headed out to what I have been waiting, not only for this whole Christmas season, but since April when I first heard about it: the Selah Christmas concert. I was not disappointed. This is the second time we've seen them in concert but the first time at Christmas. I've heard countless renditions of "Silent Night," but their version, part in English, part in Kituba, with their glorious harmonies...the most beautiful version I've ever heard. They sang for close to two hours; I could have listened to at least two more hours.

Then we braved the horrible weather back to our city, had dinner at 10:30 at night, and had continued uninterrupted conversation. The whole evening was the Christmas present I've been most anticipating.

Sunday we picked the girls up and heard tales of cookie baking, cookie decorating, cinnamon roll making, getting candy canes at church, and the fact that Elaine told Manga she wasn't going to pick her nightgown up off the floor. In the evening, we all bundled up again and went to our choir's Christmas concert. It was so beautiful, too. I sat with the girls in the back of the sanctuary, and they waved to Daddy who is in the choir.

So that was our weekend! I'll leave you with one of my very favorite Christmas songs that I've been listening to over and over this season...here...Enjoy!

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's that time of year...

On Sunday evening, Darren came home from church and said, "There was a little girl who started throwing up right by the information desk." Oh. Of course there was. Because this is only the busiest week of the year, and it's time for Lucy's Christmas program. And good thing I'd seen Lucy and this little girl holding hands that very morning since Lucy is the most susceptible child in the world to any sort of stomach ailment. She had seven stomach viruses before she was even 18 months old.

Wouldn't you know it--Monday night she came into our room crying, "I don't want to be all by myselllffffffff" she wailed and then SPLAT. She got up one other time in the night for a repeat. In the morning, she came into the bathroom looking like something chewed over by a sheep. "I feel OK, Mommy," she whispered. "I'm just fine to go to the Polar Express party at school today." Then she rolled up into a ball on the floor. So she had a quiet day at home and soon was feeling fine. I wasn't worried about Elaine because she's never thrown up once in three years.

Last night was the Christmas program, Candy Cane Lane: A Recipe for Life. Lucy was a Christmas Candy kid. Both sets of grandparents were planning to come, but the weather forecast was predicting an ice storm so I told them both to not worry about it. However, the storm was pushed back a few hours so my parents rushed over and made it just in time as the program started.

The program was so, so cute, and Lucy did a great job singing. We've been listening to the CD at home since Thanksgiving so Elaine had all the songs memorized too. We sat up in the balcony on Mrs. Blevins' recommendation so that we could see. Elaine sat on my lap and sang along with all the kids. I hope everyone up there enjoyed that as much as we did.

Here is my little Christmas Candy kid...

...and her little sister...

This next part, in my opinion, deserves a whole post of its own, but seeing as I can barely get this one done (I've been interrupted three times while writing it) here goes. Lucy and I have officially started reading this together:

As you can see, we have the version illustrated by Michael Hague. I love Michael Hague and try to collect children's novels he has illustrated. (Of course, the original illustrator of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is Pauline Baynes...her version is classic. Truly lovely.) Here are a couple of Michael's (I hope it's OK that I call him that) brilliant illustrations:

Back to the text. I have to tell you, my voice was a little shaky as I read the dedication to Lucy, Lewis's goddaughter, to my own Lucy. Every word of this book is pretty much sacred to me. But I shook it off, and we embarked on her very first journey to Narnia. My Lucy is loving it. She begs me not to stop as we finish each chapter. She was dying to know what Turkish Delight is. When we had her christening party when she was four months old, I put little bowls of Turkish Delight all around for people to sample. Fortunately, I had a very old, yet unopened box, still up in a cupboard so we sampled it. It was a bit chewy but still tasty. Currently, we've just finished up the chapter where the children had supper at the Beavers' house (I challenge anyone to read that without running down to the kitchen for at least a snack).

This morning, the day after Lucy's program, we awoke to more of this (my camera doesn't convey how heavily it is currently snowing).

Lucy's last day of school was cancelled, so we're all hanging around indoors in our pajamas. Which is a good thing, seeing as Elaine has thrown up four times just this morning. Apparently, she is making up for the last three years. She has spent most of the morning wrapped in a blanket on my lap, watching Kipper the Dog.

At least we have Narnia, inside and out, to enjoy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Only 30-something left to go....

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Birthday

When Elaine woke up on Friday morning, we sang to her right away--she was thrilled. Her birthday was finally here...she's been waiting not-so-patiently for weeks. I had woken up extra early in order to make birthday blueberry muffins. She and I dropped Lucy off at school, and as a special treat she got to spend most of the day in her pajamas (actually I just sort of forgot to dress her). Her present from Mommy and Daddy was a toy kitchen, grocery cart with some play groceries, and...the gift she's been asking for: the Kit Kittredge movie.

She played all morning alongside me with her toy kitchen. I put together the dinner she had chosen for her party: spaghetti and meatballs (just like Frances). Then I worked on the cake (more on that later). When Lucy got home from school, she and Elaine played with (aka fought over) the toy kitchen the rest of the day.

Later in the afternoon, I dressed them in their party dresses, and our family began to arrive. Both sets of grandparents and Lucy and Elaine's Tia and Tio came. Darren had made an appetizer platter of crackers, cheese, sausage, vegetables, and dip, so the party began. Then we had the spaghetti and meatballs, salad, and bread. Elaine had one or two mouthfuls, then got up from her chair and came over to me. "I am ready for my cake!" she whispered loudly. "Well," I whispered back, "we'll have cake when we're done eating supper." "I AM done eating my supper," she replied.

Finally, it was time for her cake. As early as October, she told me that she wanted a Peter-Rabbit-Mr.-McGregor's-Garden cake when she turned three. Ooh-kay. I figured a Peter-Rabbit-Mr.-McGregor's-Garden cake had better be carrot, so I made Alysa's-soon-to-be-world-famous carrot cake. It is the best you have ever put in your mouth. Phenomenal. My mother-in-law said that her mother made the best carrot cake in the world but that this one had it beat. Thanks, Alysa!

For better or worse, here's what it looked like (design courtesy of Hello, Cupcake!):

Elaine seemed pretty happy with it...

After we had our cake, she announced to everyone, "It is time for my presents!"

Oh my. From Lucy, she got the "Let's Go Fishin'" game, which they have played and played almost non-stop. From Tia and Tio, she got a Tinkerbell movie and a stamp art set (which she is very into these days). From MiMi and PaPa, she got the Little People castle and the Little People princess and carriage (a huge hit), some winter boots, and an outfit. From some friends, she got a cash register to go with her groceries/grocery cart, Wonder Marker coloring books, and a mini-Webkinz. From Manga and Packa, she got dishes for her kitchen, a flannel nightgown (and matching one for Lucy), and some money for her bank account. All in all, a pretty good haul.

So, that was the third birthday extravaganza! Elaine is very happy to officially be a big girl.

Here are both girls right before bed...so cute I can't stand it. :-)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ready or Not

(With a nod to Maryann Cusimano)

I am your parent and you are my child
I am your quiet place; you are my wild…

The first sounds I hear every day are the pit-pat of pajama’d little feet running into our room and then a gravelly voice, saying, “Hi Mama!” I squint, and there she is, my little tootlebug with the big blue eyes and the two deep dimples, peering over the edge of my bed. “I wanna eat breffuss,” usually comes next.

As of today, a three-year-old is in the house. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The other day, I put her in her new timeout area, which is on the bed in the guestroom. I forget what heinous crime she had committed. She was up there for about ten minutes, and everything was quiet. “Poor little thing,” I thought. “She’s all worn out and has fallen asleep.” I went up and carefully opened the door. She was sitting there, nonchalantly putting pennies in between her toes with one hand. In the other hand, she held a three-year-old bottle of gripe water I’d forgotten in a drawer. She looked up and said “What IS this stuff, Mom?”

We've all been practicing the songs for Lucy's Christmas program, which is next week. The grand finale is a big birthday cake for Jesus and a song. The lyrics are, "Happy birthday, happy happy birthday, come and celebrate the birthday of the King!" Elaine throws her head back and sings at the top of her voice, "Happy birthday, happy happy birthday, come and celebrate the birthday of Meeeeeeeeeee!"

Relations between her and Lucy have been…I believe the word is volatile…of late. One minute they are playing and giggling together, the best of friends. The next minute there is screaming and wrath aplenty. The other day they were going at it in the car, Elaine pushing Lucy’s buttons and Lucy letting her buttons be pushed until she was almost in tears. Finally Elaine looked at her and roared, “YOU’RE DUST SUPPOSED TO IGNORE ME!”

As December 12 dawns again, I think back three years ago to that little baby who had been ever-so-deceptively quiet in the womb, yet burst out impatiently in a 4-minute delivery, so fast the blood vessels in her eyes burst. That should have been a pretty good indicator for us what we were in for. Her personality has burst into our rather sedate little family, and we have never been the same since. We are definitely not able to ignore her.

And so today as we approach her adventurous third year, what do I want to say to Elaine Frances? I guess just that I am her parent; she is my child. I am her quiet stroll through the neighborhood; she is my roller coaster ride.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I love you so much, sweet littlest girl.

Happy 3rd Birthday!


Monday, December 08, 2008

Some Monday Randomness

First off, a huge thank you for all the support and encouragement everyone's been giving me over the job loss thing. It's been hard, but I'm doing OK. And a special shout-out to my friend and fellow blogger, Ann-Marie, who stopped by with a bag full of assorted Girl Scout aka "You've-Just-Been-Fired" cookies.

I can't remember the last time I've not been at work on Monday, so here are some random happenings and photos from today.

First off, a riddle. What do a Polly Pocket doll, a Glad plastic container, a corkscrew, a pizza cutter, and water have in common?

Yeah, I have no idea either (and something you can't see in the photo, she is wearing her precious red rubber boots with her pajamas).

The next picture is a little horrifying. Lucy lost her first tooth on her birthday, exactly six months ago yesterday. The tooth next to it was loose too--it still hasn't fallen out, even though she can completely rotate it around in her mouth. Then her two top front teeth have been loose since at least September. One of them is so loose that I now call her Snaggletooth. When her teacher helped her into the car this morning she whispered to me, "Just pull that tooth out!" I said, "She won't let me near it." She was wiggling it on the way home, and we went over a bump so it began to bleed. That was worth at least an hour of drama. But she readily agreed for me to photograph Snaggletooth (and trust me, it looks even worse in person).

When I was a little girl, my grandma had these two very cute white china elves that climbed up her candles. I don't know whatever happened to them, but I've always wanted some. Last week I won these on ebay--this guy has a little friend who now resides on my other candlestick.

Lastly, I picked up Elaine's pictures that I had taken a week or so ago. I'm really happy with how they turned out. These are photos of pictures so they don't quite do them justice.

It's hard to believe she'll be three years old this week. Here's one last picture-- this is her right now, playing that her mermaid and assorted Polly Pockets are swimming in the kitchen sink. [Note the footwear].

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Still in Control

It's sort of odd. Earlier this week, I was going to write a (hopefully) humorous post about Bill Kurtis and how I have been obsessed with working for him for years. I mean, who wouldn't be? The man is the pinnacle of journalistic integrity, has awards a mile long, is a humanitarian and conservationist, and is pretty much the godfather of gravitas to boot.

A number of years ago, my obsession was at its peak. The company I was currently working for was restructuring, and I needed to find a new job. Part of my severance package was that I received outplacement counseling in the form of a really cool job counselor named Judy. We met in her office and hit it off immediately. "What would be your ideal job?" she asked. "Working for Bill Kurtis," I said promptly. She burst out laughing (in a nice way). "I'm serious, Judy," I replied, "I have borderline stalked the man already." Then I explained how I had, er, aggressively gone after the company that published his book "We Interrupt This Broadcast..." I had sent my resume to Kurtis Productions. I had (ok, this is where the possible stalking charge comes in) found out about a private event at the WTTW studios in Chicago where he was making a special presentation and crashed it.

I found another job soon after with Judy's help, but for at least a year after that she would send me little clippings about Bill Kurtis and his doings. And of course told everyone else about her wacky client with the Kurtis fixation.

This week in the Chicago Tribune, I saw this article and planned my little blog post about it. I thought I might write it on Tuesday during my lunch hour. Normally I work from home on Tuesday, but this week I went into my office because I had worked from home on Monday instead. When I got in, I saw that I had a publishing meeting scheduled at 9:30. That seemed a little odd, because usually only my boss invites me to meetings and this was from a vice president. But I saw my colleague Jim's name on the invite as well and didn't think much of it.

I went to the meeting room, and the other meeting participants were already there with the exception of Jim who was working from home that day. Then I saw the human resources woman with a stack of blue packets sitting there as well. The vice president came in and said, "Hi. Well, you probably know this isn't really good news. I am now going to read to you." And he pulled out a script and read to us. "Due to the dwindling economy and educational cutbacks in this state, [this company] has lost significant revenue. Therefore, your jobs are being eliminated. Your responsibilities end here today." Then he looked up and said, "Sorry" and walked out.

The HR woman handed out our packets and told us what to do next. She asked us to please not say anything to anyone because these same meetings would be going on throughout the day--we were only the first group (I found out later that by the end of the day, almost 1/3rd of the company had been let go). Somehow I walked to my next meeting, but my legs were shaking so badly I'm not sure how I made it. I got through that one without hearing a word she said, but I did notice on her whiteboard in large red letters: PROJECTS: JOB RIF. Yeah, I guess they were really trying to keep that confidential.

After that, I met with my boss. She was shocked and outraged. The decisions were made on a much higher level that hers; she assured me it was not a performance issue; that essentially Jim's and my names were pulled out of a hat. I asked her if she minded if I said goodbye to all my co-workers (or what? I'd get fired?), and she said sure. I went around to each of my team members whom I have enjoyed working with for years. They are all my friends. I hated putting them in that position because...well, because. Each of them was pretty devastated as well.

Then I pulled out the white cardboard box I had been given and began to pack up my things--coffee mug, hand lotion, pictures of the girls, drawings they had made for me to hang in my office. I erased my whiteboard that gave my schedule. I turned in my security badge and my laptop. Then I left the place where I have spent close to a decade of my career.

I went to pick up Elaine from daycare. Of course they weren't expecting me at noon and wondered why I was there. I told the director what had happened and explained that as of now, I would be withdrawing Elaine. The center where I have entrusted my girls for five and a half years with people I have greatly appreciated and they have absolutely loved...gone. We'll never see them again.

It was like, I woke up with my regular life I've always had and was coming home with a completely different one. One that I didn't choose or want.

Elaine fell asleep in the car on the way home, which was fortunate for me because I didn't feel like talking. I've been involved in reductions in force before at previous companies, but I always knew it was coming so I had time to mentally prepare, and I always had gotten a good severance. This time...nothing. No warning. No severance. The human part of me felt like the place where I had poured my professional life into for the past almost nine years had just tossed me into the garbage without a second thought. They read to me from a script.

But instead of just staying alone with my thoughts, I pulled out my iPod and clicked on King James. "God is in control...even when I'm suffering," he boomed over the car speakers. "And if you're sayin' 'Everything's just rockin' over at my house, man,' well, that's not good news. Because the Scripture says that who the Lord loves, He chastens. What I mean is, all His kids are gettin' it. All His kids are going through hard times. Sometimes the number one tool He pulls out of the chest to work on our faith is suffering. Whatever has come your way that has surprised you or shocked you, GOD is at work in that. He's working working working for your good. That's a great spot for an amen, isn't it?"

Then he said, "So, it's time to get your eyes off your spouse, get your eyes off your children, and your finances, and your career, and your health, and get them back on the Lord. Walk by faith, not by sight. Love the PROMISER, not the promise. We're so focused on, "When, God, when? When are you going to help me? And how, how, how, how? When instead we should be asking ourselves, WHO? Who promised? GOD promised."

I felt a wave of peace wash over me. God gave me that job. He had every right to take it away. And I thank Him for both of those things: the giving and the taking. He's going to work it for my good, (great spot for an amen!).

So, now I am home. I was not due for any leave over these holidays, and now I get some. I finished decorating the Christmas tree yesterday with Elaine. Lucy and I went outside and made snow angels. She and I are going to have our special Mom/Daughter weekend we've been looking forward to for the last couple of months (Darren and Elaine are gone for the weekend). We're going to eat popcorn and red velvet cake, watch Anne of Green Gables, do a little Christmas shopping, and a lot of Christmas baking.

And in all of it, I'm not just going through the motions either. I'm walking by faith, not by sight. In addition to peace, I've gotten joy as well. God is in control.

Don't think I didn't check Kurtis Productions for job openings first thing though. I'm just sayin'. He needs me, people. He just might not know it yet.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Happy 1st Day of Advent!

(well, really yesterday...)
So, remember when I got really sick in October and vowed to re-examine my life and my priorities? Surprisingly, I'm sticking with that. My schedule this Advent season is not crammed and cluttered. I have a few select things going on that I am so looking forward to: Elaine's birthday, Lucy's school Christmas program, a Selah concert on the 21st (I'm a little bit giddy about that one!). Other than that...I'm home with my family, decorating, making Christmas treats, listening to Harry Connick, Jr. I've declined Christmas parties without a particle of guilt. The word is serene, my friends, serene.

Anyone who knows me knows I absolutely love traditions. This Saturday we kicked off Advent a tad early with Darren's yearly tradition with the girls of going out to the Christmas tree farm to cut down the tree. There are horse-drawn wagons, Christmas carolers, cider donuts, and Santa Claus (they were too afraid to sit on his lap though).

Here they are, posing with the tree they picked, sporting some of the worst bedhead you've ever seen.

And here they are in the Christmas store with Daddy...

We got the tree up on Saturday night, but we'll be doing the lights and ornaments within the next couple of days. Yesterday after church, the girls were supposed to be having their "quiet rest time" (the interpretation of that varies between them and me). They put on their pajamas and robes, I put their warm rice bags on their feet, and made them each a cup of tea. They sat on my bed and were watching "Beauty and the Beast." Doesn't that sound lovely?

Until we discovered that Elaine had riffled through some dresser drawers and found an extremely old (but still spreadable) tube of Desitin (the white kind of course rather than the clear). For some completely inexplicable reason, they covered themselves from head to toe with it, and their clothes, and our bedspread, and the floor. Oh, and of course smoothed it through their hair. Haven't we been over this with Vaseline, I ask you?

I acted a lot more outraged than I really was. I bathed them and washed their hair and had to go out to the store to buy baby powder to sprinkle in their hair since I had thrown all of ours away after Elaine was potty trained. While I was gone, Elaine had to sit on a chair in the dining room and Lucy had to sit in the boring guest bedroom. As expected, Lucy was totally devastated and Elaine was completely unrepentant. I told them that in addition because of their heinous deeds, we wouldn't put the ornaments on the tree that afternoon (which we couldn't anyway because Darren doesn't have the lights on, but they didn't know that).

And so Advent dawned...to this!

And yesterday at church, a friend gave me one of the coolest gifts ever. Actually, a disclaimer: she's my secret sister. Yes. I know. The whole secret sister thing is completely dorky. But...it's still fun. And whoever it is? somehow hit on my complete love of traditions, because look what I got that she MADE.

Then, for each evening of Advent, there is a reading to do together and Christmas carols to sing (with an accompanying CD she gave me).

And the best part is this...an ornament to go with each day's reading to put on the tree!

Lucy and Elaine were so excited and looked over each one of the ornaments. They can't wait to start tonight before bed. This is exactly the type of thing I love to do with them. I predict many happy memories made, fighting over the ornaments and who gets to put them on the tree, in the years ahead.