Thursday, December 31, 2009

White Christmas: The After Party or How I Spent My Christmas Vacation

The snow arrived fashionably late: too late for Christmas, but early enough to be enjoyed by the occupants of our house, young and old. As Christmas wound down, we spent our days enjoying the pieces that remained:

Taking in a little white magic;

Trying out Christmas gifts (the little personal pizza pans were a gift from the grandparents and are made by Doughmakers);

Making tracks (Yes, she has on two hoods, two hats, two pairs of pants, two shirts, a snowsuit, a heavy coat, and two pairs of her gloves covered by a pair of mine. Excessive is a word that comes to mind);

And testing Dad's strength (Who needs hills with a Dad like that? Have I mentioned I love this man?).

So with a little pizza in our bellies, a few snow puddles on our floors, and a lot of Christmas magic in our hearts, we're ready to move forward into a new year full of adventure. Here's to the magic that was and the memories that will be. Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How We're Doing

Audrey spent the days prior to Nathan's birth safely tucked away at my parents' house, so we (thinking he'd come a few days early like his sister) would be able to head the opposite direction to the hospital at a moment's notice. Nathan is clearly not his sister. He has his own clock, and a few days early was not on his agenda. So Audrey waited (wondering why we hadn't come to pick her up yet), we waited, and Nathan waited, until we found ourselves at the doctor's office on his due date performing a stress test to make sure everything was coming along just fine.

As we sat for the stress test (during which I had 5-6 contractions, of which I felt one), we found out about the holiday birthing schedule (if delivering on the 22nd or 23rd, proceed to Hospital A to be delivered by Doctor C; if the 24th or 26th, proceed to Hospital B to be delivered by Doctor D; and if we hit lucky 25, the hospital and doctor would change depending on the time of day). Meanwhile, Audrey was busy putting a pair of pajamas on a doll. The doll properly dressed for a nap, she informed my mother, "Her belly hurts. That baby has been in there too long." Apparently, we were all on the same page. Wishing to avoid a holiday game of musical doctors/hospitals, and taking into account that mild contractions had already started, we decided to book a room at the hospital and have a baby.

The plan was to break my water at the hospital and induce using pitocin. I'll let you in on a little secret. I'm a bit of a chicken. I could put a brave face on it and tell you that the thought of chemically inducing a baby gives me pause. What it actually does is make me tear up in the car and wish I were the type of person who thinks to carry Kleenex. Epidurals scare me even more. Aside from my trust issues involving complete strangers, enormous needles, and their proximity to my spine, I have a sensitivity to anesthesia. And while an epidural and anesthesia are not the same thing, I have a funny feeling that the two of us might not mix.

My feelings must have leaked out through my face. My doctor broke my water at seven, but said she'd wait a couple hours to see how I progressed before starting pitocin. Nathan did the rest. Apparently, once he decides to make an appearance, the boy makes an appearance. So in just over three hours, before pitocin or an epidural could be administered, before my doctor could get back to the hospital to deliver him, and almost before the nurse could say, "You have to get your wife back to the bed," he was here. I love this boy.

And now we're home, recovering nicely (which seems to happen pretty quickly with such a short labor). As for Audrey, aside from some initial disagreements concerning his name - apparently, she informed the guests at a Christmas party that we were naming him Wilbur and later carried on a fairly heated argument (on her side) about it with her aunt - she's handling the big sister role with gusto. Every once in a while we have to stop her from trying to do too much - from squeezing too tight. But the excess of love she has for him, well, it's what you hope for any sibling. The top picture may say it best. I turned from hanging up my coat to find him branded a "special person." Yes, I think we're going to do just fine.

~As for Wilbur, we finally convinced Audrey to call her brother Nathan (or "Naphin," as she pronounces it) after telling her she could name a doll she received for Christmas Wilbur. As for what she called the second doll she received? Charlotte, of course.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

He's Here!

Nathan Tyler
6 lbs. 7oz; 21 inches long
Born at 10:12 pm (or 22:12 military time)
on December 22, 2009

We've had quite the blessed Christmas week, and there is much to tell. But I've been a bit distracted between Christmas gatherings, the generosity of family and friends, hugging Audrey who looks and acts as if she skipped an age in the week I've been without her, and learning everything I can about this new little man and sudden constant at my side. And, while I've been attempting to write this post since we arrived home from the hospital on Christmas Eve, the moments keep shifting focus to something else. It's the season. It's the three-year-old who makes Christmas mean something entirely new as an adult. It's the adoption of yet another role. Mostly, it's the new set of ten perfect fingers and toes that I can't stop admiring.

So I will quickly write this:

I hope that each of you has felt as blessed this Christmas as we have. I hope that each of you has felt the swell of love that a family generous with their time, their talents, and their gifts bring. I hope you spent time with those old and dear to your life and also time with someone new to remind you that the heart always makes room for more. I hope Christmas brought you everything it is meant to.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have ten perfect toes and ten perfect fingers to go admire. Times two. I'll be back in a couple days.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Little Curb Appeal

For those of you on baby-watch, no I did not take my hot glue gun to the hospital. I have my multi-tasking limits and a rather practical husband who would, at the very least, raise an eyebrow to such behaviors (I did, however, take this picture while talking on the phone, which might explain a little about its, ahem, quality). Realizing that we would not be spending our day at the hospital, I decided it was time to get a holiday wreath on our door.

Sometime last year I picked up a grapevine wreath for around $3. I kept thinking I would get around to making something to dress up our doorway. I didn't. Instead, I found odd-shaped (made just for hanging on doors, etc) galvanized buckets with handles, filled them with objects (evergreen sprigs, fake berries) and hung them from our rather weathered wreath hook.

In November, Audrey went on a little pine cone (or snow cone, as she called them) hunt at my parent's house. Remember this? This was the first year my parents' evergreens produced pine cones and Audrey amassed quite the collection. Some of them found their way home with us, and my mind drifted back to the bare grapevine wreath.

Fast forward and month and a half. Armed with a glue gun and a pocket of time, today I dug out the grapevine wreath and Audrey's pile of pine cones. I had thought gluing pine cones to a wreath would be a simple, fast project. I was wrong. Pine cones don't like to stick easily to the inconsistent surface of twisted grapevines. I improvised. I grabbed some dark brown felt. I glued the felt to the back of the pine cones. Then, I glued the other side of the felt to the wreath. It was still tricky getting multiple points on each pine cone to stick to the wreath, but this method worked much better. (Tip: cut out all of your felt pieces before touching your pine cones to prevent sap-covered sewing scissors).

Of course, I ran out of glue three pine cones short of finishing and had to run to the store. Glue retrieved, I tied a piece of ribbon (I believe this ribbon was one I had saved from the top of gift I received at my baby shower for Audrey. Like the wreath, it was sitting around waiting for the perfect project) in the bare space on the wreath before filling in the last three pine cones. Pine cones secure (or what we're going to call secure and hope for the best) I dug out some of the fake berries from my "throw some berries and greenery into a bucket and call it a door hanging" adventures and separated them into small sprigs. I tucked the springs between any holes where pine cones refused to snuggle up as close to their neighbors as I wished they had. I didn't glue these into place just in case I decide to attempt to use this as a multiple occasion wreath. I might take the sprigs out and swap in some dried red leaves for fall, etc. In the meantime, for the price of a handful of glue sticks (about a dollar) and a $3 wreath that has been sitting around bidding its time, we've added a little holiday cheer to our door. Not too shabby.

Friday, December 18, 2009

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 50

This has been a teeter-totter week: high energy one moment/low energy the next (me, not Audrey - her high energy only runs out if she's sick); thinking the baby could come any moment/thinking the baby may never come; feeling as if everything is ready/remembering things I've yet to do; excitement at the events to come/worry for everything to go smoothly. Being in the midst of a teeter-totter week brings an appreciation for those 3-year-old moments of kindness and humor like no other time. So without further ado, here are the moments that have kept me laughing and loving this week as I wait for this ride to come to a steady stop.

Sunday, Jason sent me upstairs for a much-needed nap. I'm not sure what transpired while I was resting, or the conversations that took place. But when I came downstairs they were both seated, quiet, at the kitchen table. "I've been moved to the bad list," Audrey said, as a slightly stunned Daddy shrugged his shoulders.

Later that night, as Jason put her to bed, she told him, "My nose won't be quiet." He had her blow her nose to help quiet it down. Then, as he prepared to leave her room, she said, "Blow your nose in your room, okay?"

I apologize in advance for any visuals this next story may give you, because frankly, neither of us want that. But as a mama who has spent several afternoons chasing a diaperless (slow to potty-train) toddler through the house while warning, "don't pee in the house! You cannot pee on the floor if you're not going to wear a diaper!" This made me laugh too much not to record.

Monday, Audrey tagged along with me to my doctor's appointment. It was just a routine check-up for someone this far along in pregnancy. The nurse checked my vitals, handed me a paper sheet and told me to undress from the waist down. I followed her directions, and sat down on the exam table, covered by the sheet. Audrey watched from a seat in the corner. "Don't pee!" she said.

Jason put Audrey to bed that night. "I'll see you in the morning," she told him (something I always say to her when I put her to bed).
"Well, I might be at work when you get up," he said.
"Don't go bye-bye, okay?" she said. Poor Daddy who has to go to work.

On Tuesday, while running an errand, Audrey began examining my wedding ring from the cart. She asked what it was. I told her it was the ring her father gave me when we got married.
"I want one," she said.
"You can have one when you get married," I told her.
She tugged at my ring, trying to pull it up my finger.
"I don't want to get married today. I just want one of these."

Some comments and ideas are reoccurring this week. Twas the Night Before Christmas has been a favorite bedtime story as of late. Each time I read the phrase about Santa's beard, Audrey corrects me, "That's not a beard. It's a gotee."

And, as always, she is constantly telling us just who she is. "This princess loves you," she informed me one day. "This is Daddy's little pancake!" she said, announcing herself as she jumped into the closet where I was picking out clothes.

I can only imagine how her perceptions of herself will change in the coming weeks after her brother makes his appearance and we adjust to life with another "plus one". But for now, as her father and I balance between worry and excitement over the events and changes to come, she is the steady, running through the hallway playing hide-n-seek with her dad, the sound of knees hitting hardwood as she takes the corner too fast - a total wipe out.

"Are you okay?" I yell.
"Yes. I like doing that, Mom."

She reappears a few minutes later and tackles Jason on the family room floor before bending her arm to flex her muscle. Jason laughs. "Did you teach her that?" he asks.
"No," I say, and then to Audrey, "Where did you learn that?"
"At school."

Yes, these next few weeks, there's no telling what they hold.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Salt Dough Ornaments

We haven't totally forgotten about Christmas around here. Even with an organization-crazed mama anxious to see what lies ahead in the coming weekend and week for our little family, the Christmas spirit is still very much alive. And growing. The last few days, Audrey and I have been working on a little project: Salt Dough Ornaments.

We followed this basic recipe, with minor changes. We didn't use food coloring, opting for painting ours after they dried and then covering them with glitter (as Audrey wished) while the paint was still wet.

This was a three day project for us. We made the dough the first evening. The recipe instructs that you roll out the dough, cut with cookie cutters, and move the shapes to a cookie sheet for baking. This dough is sticky and a bit hard to move. I placed parchment paper onto a cookie sheet and separated the dough into smaller sections. With the help of some flour, I rolled these smaller sections onto the parchment paper, Audrey cut out the shapes and we scraped the excess dough away, leaving the ornaments on the sheet where they lay. Using a straw, Audrey poked holes into the ornaments to create a space to add ribbon later. Then, they went into the oven on 250 degrees for a few hours, followed by a night of the ornaments being left out on the counter to dry.

The following day, Audrey painted the ornaments and added glitter. She was in a white Christmas mood, favoring white paint with a dusting (or downpouring, which ever you prefer) of red or white glitter - every once in a while throwing in a green ornament for good measure. The last five ornaments she decided to leave white, without "sprinkles" saying as she set each one down to dry for the evening, "that is so special."

This morning we shook the excess glitter free, I added ribbons, and Audrey placed the ornaments on the tree (before taking them off to rehang on her newly built Lego castle). I may just have to run out and buy a festive paint pen to write names across some of them to use in lieu of gift tags. Because, she's right, they are so special.

*I think this is an activity we could easily revisit each year, and one easily adapted to fit kids of all ages. Even the smallest kids love to get their hands into dough and pound with cookie cutters, whether their work amounts to an ornament or not. As a child's artistic talents grow, these can be made more complicated, using their favorite art supplies of the moment to decorate them. This recipe also makes quite a bit of dough. We ended up with a baker's dozen of ornaments, and still have a small tub of dough leftover in the fridge for those times this week we feel like getting our hands a bit dirty.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mission Organization: The Ribbon Board

I am not what you would call inherently organized. This never bothered me until I got married. Jason was the neater of our duo, which sadly (as all neater spouses do), he noticed. I am a pile-maker. He is a declutterer. I felt as if my piles were off to the side. He felt as if he was always tripping over them. He handled this with little complaining and a lot of laughing at our differences of opinion concerning geography. I began to notice my own piles. Jason began to let it go. Somehow, we met in the middle and, for the most part, kept a pretty tidy house (with my piles neatly hidden). Then, we entered toddler parenthood.

Two things happened. 1) We realized that we had been married for 8 years. Our belongings, which were once easily transported in a tiny Uhaul pulled by a 2-door Saturn had reproduced at the rate of fruit flies, now requiring moving vans (plural). 2) Audrey entered toddlerhood, a stage where a child's items seem to multiply at the rate of aphrodisiac-induced fruit flies AND she stopped napping, which put an end to my mid-day decluttering rituals. 3) Okay, I suppose there is a third force at work here. I tend to choose craft projects, trips to the zoo, gardening, going to the gym (insert any other activity you wish) over cleaning or organizing. Any day. Hence, the current state of our kitchen (or any other room in our house you care to substitute here).

The picture above was taken this afternoon, but could be any day with other objects of clutter standing in. Audrey's discarded school items; a grocery bag filled with baby hand-me-downs from a generous neighbor; a hat that never made it to the closet; a folder of mail and magazines I'm pretending I'll get to later; a bag from yesterday's gym excursion; a bag of knitting; I'm sure there are some bills tucked under that pile somewhere. The counter you see belongs to the kitchen desk, something the builder threw into the blueprints to add, ahem, functionality to the homeowners' lives. I've yet to make it function. But I will not be deterred.

One thing that the impending birth of a child brings about in me is the need to create systems (I have no medical proof, but would argue that there is an organizational hormone that kicks in during the last trimester, particularly month 9). I can only stare at the kitchen counters for so long before I must get out and do something about them. Yesterday, armed with coupons, I ran to the fabric store in search of cork board, ribbon, linen, and upholstery tacks to make a ribbon board like the ones in Martha Stewart's Good Things for Organizing.

I think I check Stewart's book out from the library every other month. I keep flipping through the pages, stashing away ideas for all rooms of the house, and daydreaming about a day when I can tell you exactly where to find our staple gun (all the while taking comfort in the fact that Stewart, herself, gives a nod to her housekeepers and assistants in her introduction saying that if she can't find an item, she "can be certain they can" - followed by the thought, well, if Martha Stewart can't keep track of her stuff with all of these organizational systems and help, then what iota of a shot does a pregnancy-mush-brained chaser of a toddler have? But I didn't dwell on these thoughts for long, having a project at hand). An assistant or housekeeper not in my budget, I opted for starting with the ribbon board.

Stewart uses Homasote board for her ribbon boards, which sounds like a fantastic product (and is apparently available at Menards), but I needed fabric for this project as well as some others I'm hoping to get to, and well, Menards doesn't have that. So I substituted a magnetic cork board that I found on sale at Joanns. Stewart suggests covering the board with linen, a fabric that I substituted with a linen/cotton mix when I found almost a yard-length remnant in a 50%-off bin. A couple $1 spools of different sizes of black ribbon and a pack of small black upholstery tacks and I was set.

The steps were pretty simple. Wrap the fabric around the board and use a staple gun (once I scoured the house to find it) to secure it to the back side (see the third photo). I serged the edges of my fabric beforehand, just to keep it from fraying. (You may notice some extra seams on the back of board, that's because I misjudged how much fabric I needed, and rather than waste the piece I had already cut, I just added a bit more fabric to each side). Next, add the ribbon in any decorative pattern that you wish, using the upholstery tacks to secure it. My lines are not perfect, since I freehanded the design rather than using a measuring tape. I'm sure that's not the Martha Stewart way (I'm also sure she's never had to add fabric to the edges of her project because she cut the fabric too short). But, I figure, if someone is spending their time in my kitchen contemplating the straightness of my ribbon board lines, well, the conversation or the food has gone horribly wrong. Last, hardware is supposed to be added to hang the board to the wall. My board came with hardware built in, so rather than follow the book, I sewed a couple of buttonholes into the fabric that line up with the existing hardware holes (see the picture above). When it comes time to hang it, I will cut the buttonholes open and fit the screws through them (I have no idea if this will work or not).

And, voila, a new ribbon board to help me make our kitchen desk a bit more functional. I haven't hung my board yet. I have enough space to make another (and enough ribbon, tacks, and fabric left as well) and hang them side-by-side. So another board or dry erase board, calendar, or other such item may be in our near future. Until then, things are looking a little clearer. Now if only I could make that mail/magazine folder disappear.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Colors of the Season?

This is not our typical December. By now, my world is usually a blur of white, the clang of Salvation Army bells ringing in my ears as I rush from aisles to lines to cars to a house of wrapping paper, desperately trying to remember what I've forgotten (because surely, I've forgotten something). As much as I love the details of December: the reason for celebration; family coming together; the stillness of a first snow, the child-like flurry of activity it elicits, and appreciation of a warm house that follows; neighbors making the ordinary extraordinary with a sprinkling of well-placed lights and garland; and the perfect excuse to guzzle gallons of hot chocolate, something about the season always feels a bit too rushed. I will tell you a secret. Christmas is not my favorite holiday. I get a little too distracted by it all. In the past few years, I've tried to simplify things a bit: make more gifts and avoid more lines, limit the travel.

But this year, simplifying Christmas has taken on a whole new bent. Travel has become very limited (due to a concerned doctor and family members who don't want me too stray too far from the hospital); some handmade gifts were made in advance and the other gifts were handled with a "striving for the best we could manage" rather than a "stressing to find the best possible" attitude. The Christmas cards may or may not get finished in time. The frequent strong kicks to my abdomen remind me that this little one is so near, and he's brought our focus home in a way it hasn't been in Decembers past. And so, Christmas is coming along like it does every year: the tree is decorated, the lights are out, the gifts are wrapped, but, this year, it is coming on a softer current as we prioritize a bit differently.

Yesterday, those priorities led us to the zoo. Audrey had mentioned wanting to go that morning. After a couple errands and a check-up with my doctor, I steered the car away from the other items on my to-do list and downtown toward the zoo. Although overcast, the day had pulled off a balmy 46 degrees. The zoo belonged to us, and maybe a dozen others. As we walked, the absence of winter white was clear. Christmas decorations poked out of dry leaves, the pavement covered by the yet to be evaporated rain. And at every turn, we were greeted with pops of yellow. Which somehow, in this unusual December on what could be one of my last single dates with my favorite gal, seemed just about right.

*Oh, and for those of you wondering - that favorite holiday of mine? It's the Fourth of July. Strawberries, blueberries, an evening that ends in fireworks, and the good fortune to spend most of mine near the water - what's not to like?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Blessed and Gussy-fied

I have a confession. I lead a blessed life. Always have. Even though I came as a bit of a surprise, my parents accepted the, ahem, challenge (think of a brown-eyed Audrey with darker hair, access to woods and much more mud, and fewer great one-liners) with gusto, encouraging my creativity and giving me as many opportunities to be a kid as possible. Born premature, and always a bit too small (until college when I realized I could gain the "freshman fifteen" - or make mine twenty - with the best of them) I turned out just fine, and no one sat me down and had a serious talk about the absurdity of a sub-five-foot, fifty-five pounder going out for the middle school basketball team (even though they should have, I mean, it was a bit ridiculous). I was blessed to meet my husband young (I'm talking fifth-grade, young). Even more blessed am I that in spite of witnessing the knobby knees/twigs-for-arms stage, the frizzy hair accompanied by braces stage, or the wait!-where-did-those-thighs-come-from stage (and every stage in between), he has repeatedly decided to choose me, and acts as if he's the one getting the deal. My friends from childhood are still as fantastic, they just have their own places now, better cars, and more bills. No one should feel sorry for me. Ever. It would just be silly.

But last week, last week I was blessed AND lucky! And I just have to share. I have a very talented designer friend, Meredith. She is the brains behind, as well as the heart and soul, of the Bloomington, Indiana-based Spire Design Group. The pictures you see above are her work - no, they are not my kitchen or laundry room, that would be a blessing overload! (Although, looking at them, I can't help but dream a little dream). Meredith is also the writer of wonderful blog, which I follow, where she offers design tips, inspiration, and recently held her first give away.

The blogging world is still new to me, my experience with reading blogs being just over a year. But in that time, I've discovered an entire community of amazing artists and designers, blogging and selling their work online. One of these artists is Maggie Whitley, better known as Gussy. She designs and creates one-of-a-kind wallets, pouches, even laptop bags. I had run across her work months ago. Then, I noticed that Meredith was hosting her first give away - a very generous $30 credit from Gussy herself! Of course, I threw my name into the mix of want-to-be-Gussy-owner hopefuls, just as I do for other give aways every week.

But this time, I WON! I won! What transpired next was a texting-fest between myself and my little sister (who I could easily assume was still up due to the 3-hour time difference and who only asked me once what I was doing up so late shopping online once she found out about my good fortune) as I tried to decide just how to spend my $30 credit. The wallet and pouch you see above are the ones that I reluctantly didn't choose (but kept daydreaming about adding to my cart), opting for a larger pouch that will be the perfect pop of color to add to a soon-to-be all-things-blue diaper bag to hold those things that are just for mama. You want your own Gussy goodness? Just check out her etsy shop. While you're at it, take a moment to check out her blog and read her story - you've got to love what a girl can do with a sewing machine, library card, and a dream.

Still swooning over the interior design photos above? Visit Meredith's website to see more incredible shots from her portfolio - the before and afters are a must. Not a resident of Bloomington? No problem. Meredith has recently added a number of online services, available to anyone in the country. Go to her blog to find out more. Oh, and if she gets 100 followers to join her blog by 2010, she's going to offer more give aways like the great Gussy one I get to add to my list of blessings. Just some food for thought...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 49

On Tuesday, Audrey looked at my stomach, watermelon-round, and for the first time asked, "Mommy, why is your belly so big?" As I explained, once again, that her brother was inside, I wondered, just what does this kid think I've been feasting on the last five months, and why didn't she mention something sooner? Note to self: my preschooler may not be the person to ask if an article of clothing makes a certain body part look too big.

This incident made me think of other nods Audrey has made to her brother, little incidents I've stashed away until now. As we prepare for his arrival and field calls asking if I'm in labor yet (even though our due date is a bit of breathing room away) this seems like the appropriate time to write them down.

A few comments regarding her brother/or her baby:

"I'll get bigger and my brother will see me climbing on Mommy and Daddy's house."

"I'll teach my brother to fly."

Following an explanation that I needed to eat because the baby in my belly was hungry:
"The baby in my belly is hungry, too. The baby in my belly eats frogs. Babies like to eat caterpillars."

And, my personal favorite:

Audrey asked me one day how the baby got fed. I explained that I was connected to the baby by a tube, and as I ate, the food went from the tube to the baby. Audrey took this in for a minute before saying, "Good job doing it, Mommy!!"

Of course, I can't sign off without writing down just a couple of my favorite stories from this week:

Last night, my parents were close by to attend an event. After they finished, they took Audrey out to eat so Jason and I could have a pre-baby date night. I can only imagine their surprise at dinner when Audrey informed them that Mommy and Daddy were high. She added that they were also high, as well as her aunt and uncle. My parents asked about her younger cousin. "No, he's little," she said. Then they asked if she was high. "No, I'm little kind of," she explained.

Today has been one of those lazy-as-sap-dripping-from-a-tree Saturdays. A perfect day for this stage of baby-preparation as I take stock of those things that must get accomplished before the baby comes and those things that really aren't necessary. And, a morning spent pj-covered family-style snuggling in the master bed, well, that was deemed absolutely necessary. After all, who knows how many more days of crawling all over mom and dad Audrey has left to herself. So we took our time, inching our way through the morning, until Audrey crawled from the mattress onto my shoulders.

"I want you to carry me downstairs," she said as I swayed her back and forth.
"No," Jason said, "I don't want Mama to carry you downstairs. She might fall and get hurt. I can carry you downstairs."
"I want Mama to do it."
"Audrey, Daddy said no," I said.
Jason, as if having a rare moment of victory, laughed and said, "I'm the man!"
"I don't want you to be a man," Audrey said.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to the necessary. There is a three-year-old to snuggle.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Preparation: Food

Sorry if my absence yesterday had some of you wondering if we had made an early trip to the hospital to welcome a new little guy. Nope. Not yet. This mama just took a little break, well, from blogging, at least. Jason spent the day home from work, under the weather and slightly concerned about the onset of some major backaches I've been having this week. I busied myself with a run to the pharmacy, which inspired some grocery shopping (the grocery store being connected to the pharmacy), which inspired a day of future food preparation.

Last month, I picked up The Best Make-Ahead Recipe cookbook by the editors of Cook's Illustrated. I had read about it online, and ran into the bookstore one day in a rush to nab the book to devour its pages later, with intentions of making the included recipes to devour later as well. I took advantage of Jason's time off for Thanksgiving to start preparing and creating a little freezer meal stash. Yesterday, with Jason home on the couch and Audrey wanting to snuggle against his legs and watch a movie, I decided to add to the stash.

Winds gusting at 30-50 miles per hour outside, and my All-American boy huddled on the couch inside, the All-American Beef Chili seemed in order. I halved the recipe and we still had enough for dinner and a quart-sized ziplock to throw in the freezer for later. I have never seen chili quite so thick, so I whipped up some rice, put it in our bowls first and served the chili on top. A side of our favorite corn muffins (recipe here) and I was on to another make-ahead recipe.

More muffins. The cookbook has a recipe for Anytime Muffins, including Apricot-Almond, Cranberry-Orange, Lemon-Poppy Seed, Banana-Pecan, and Blueberry variations. We had everything on-hand for the blueberry ones. You whip up the batter, pour it into muffin tins (or they suggest paper-lined muffin tins for easy freezing), wrap in vegetable-oiled plastic wrap and pop the tin in the freezer for 6 hours. After frozen, the muffins can be popped out of the tin and stored in plastic freezer bags. To bake, just pop them back in the tin and put them frozen into the oven. Easy peezy. Who knew? Want to try them? Jean at The Artful Parent has an abbreviated recipe here.

The muffins and chili got added to our freezer stash of other make-ahead recipes from the book: Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole with Peas, Carrots, and Cheddar and Chicken Enchiladas, along with some of my lasagna and a couple quarts of our favorite vegetable soup (recipe here - we love it with the corn muffins mentioned above). I was hoping to build more of a stash, but we'll have to see what time allows (my daydreams are always more ambitious that reality seems to allow).

A couple notes on the cookbook, for those of you thinking of running out to get a copy. Once home studying the recipes, I noticed that this project was going to be a bit of a time absorber (the kind of project you wish you had a six-burner stove for - we have a two-burner stove). Many of the recipes call for long cook times (the chili was an hour and 45 minutes, which is enough to give my former commitment-phobe self a bit of pause). But most of the recipes serve 6-8 people. When I made the casseroles, I was able to make one for dinner that night and one to freeze. So it may not save you as much time on the front-end of the food prep as it will on the back-end. Also, several of the casserole recipes call for heavy cream. We tend to cook a little on the lighter side here. In the future I may play around with some of the heavier ingredients and see how the recipes turn out, but for now, I just stuck to the cookbook. So our meals post-baby, while a little less stress-filled, might be a bit more fat-filled. We might put on twenty pounds.

Today, Jason is back at work, and while we tried to clean up from my cooking excursion, a sink load of dishes awaits. I would love to say that everything is going to be spic-and-span in a matter of minutes, but I have 4 dozen cookies and some banana bread to bake for tomorrow (luckily the cookie dough is already frozen in the fridge). And as much as my instinct tells me to order pizza tonight, the fresh layer of snow on the ground, sinus-pressure-filled husband, and little aches that send me searching for comfort nag at me that this is a chicken noodle soup sort of day. Hopefully, my little helper feels like donning an apron today. But right now all she wants is to have me read a book about giving a cat a cupcake. Duty calls.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Handy Hand-Me-Downs

Several months ago a friend gave me a hand-me-down food dehydrator. Finding a cranberry sale, I decided it was time to take it out for a spin. We go through dried cranberries in bulk at our house. Jason and Audrey pop them individually as snacks, while I eat them everyday on my oatmeal with a shake of cinnamon and brown sugar.

With Audrey's help, I rinsed the cranberries and prepared them for dehydration. Audrey enjoyed taking them out of the colander and laying them out on the cutting board for me, sometimes counting them and other times arranging them in patterns. I liked the festive crimson outer flesh (so Christmas) and the shocking white contrast of their firm insides.

Using the dehydrator was simple enough: we rinsed the berries, sliced them, and let them boil in water for 2 minutes before laying them out flat in the dehydrator trays, setting the temperature and leaving the dehydrator to do its work. But the berries, well, they look just about right. I just had one slight oversight. Why I didn't think to include sugar (the only other ingredient listed on our dried cranberry packages in CAPITOL letters) in the berry preparation somehow, I don't know. I suppose I have too many other sweet little things on my mind these days. Hmm...this could take some fine-tuning.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Preparation Week 2: The Soaker Stash

You could say we've shifted into baby mode. Not that the whole weekend was baby-related, there was plenty of Christmas, family fun, and football to go around, but the subtle (and sometimes, not so subtle) aches in my back and the daily movement of the candy cane marker on Audrey's 24 Days til Christmas Calendar are constant reminders that this baby's arrival is just around the corner. So, I spent a couple pockets of time this weekend creating a soaker stash.

We used disposable diapers with Audrey. She ended up being in diapers for longer than I expected she would be. And, well, I'm tired of buying diapers. I'm tired of the late day drives to the store solely for diapers after realizing we've just run out. I've over the diaper trash. I'm ready to get tired of something new. After we had Audrey, a couple friends began using cloth diapers. They became big advocates. They've given a little advice. I've decided to take the plunge. Jason is a bit nervous. I can't blame him. He thinks it's only a matter of time before I grow tired of washing diapers. He's got a point.

But, there is something so sweet about the little soaker stash above that gives me hope that this whole cloth diaper thing will feel just as cozy. I've ordered a small pile of Chinese prefold diapers from Toasty Baby that should arrive on my doorstep today. They are your basic run-of-the-mill, no bells or whistles, need to be secured with safety pins or snappis (also arriving on my doorstep today) cloth diapers. (I also have a couple all-in-one diapers - read: more bells and whistles, look like disposable diapers -arriving, with hopes that those helping out with our little guy who are a bit cloth-shy will feel a little more comfortable taking a turn with those). The Chinese prefolds require a cover to go over them as an extra layer of protection. Hence, the wool soakers. I found a free soaker pattern here. The pattern uses an old wool sweater (I grabbed one from Goodwill and gave it a thorough cleaning) to make the soaker. My sweater (a medium women's) was big enough to make 3, with a sleeve and part of the sweater's body leftover, which means I paid around $1.33 per diaper cover. Add $1.50 for the prefold, and $2.83 doesn't sound bad for a diaper you use again and again. Let's just hope the laundry part isn't too bad, either. In the meantime, I can't help but smile each time I imagine our little boy with a sweater on his bum. Really, what says snuggly winter baby more than that?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 48

Our weekends, while usually family-focused, have seemed even more so in the past weeks. Even our quiet, solitary moments tend to be spent on projects for our current and changing family: Jason assembling baby furniture or installing the infant car seat and me finishing up projects, Christmas and otherwise. While we eagerly look forward to our holidays and family to come, there is something extra special about the things that Audrey does or says that keep us anchored in the right here, right now. Here are some of our favorite moments from the past week:

While getting dressed on Monday, Audrey said, "I want my baby."

"What baby?" I asked.

"I want my baby. I want my brother."

Audrey woke up early on Wednesday morning while it was still too dark to see your hands in front of your face. She stood hovering in her doorway, not making a sound. Jason opened our bedroom door to hear, "Dad, this is your pancake!"

That night we had planned on letting Audrey watch a Christmas movie if she was ready for bed early. Following dinner, I said, "Why don't you start picking up the puzzles so you have a better shot at watching a movie once you take a bath."

"I don't want a shot!" she yelled, jumping from her seat and ducking to hide under the table.

"Sorry, let me rephrase that..."

During bath time, I was sitting just outside the door (but still in clear view of the tub) so I could quickly (and discretely) order a Christmas gift online. Audrey, lying on her belly, was using her toes and hands to push off the sides of the tub and propel herself from one end to the other. The water splashed higher as she gained momentum.

"Are you splashing outside the tub?" I asked.

"No, I'm just swimming fast like a shark."

"Okay, just make sure you don't splash too hard."

"Okay, thanks for understanding," she said.

Thursday night as Jason got Audrey dressed for bed, she asked, "Why do you have arms?"

"I don't know. Why do you have arms?" he asked.

"To put shirts on," she said.

"Why do you have legs?" he asked.

"To put pants on," she said.

"Why do you have feet?" he asked.

"To put shoes on."

"Why do you have a head?" he asked.

"To put hats on," she said.

"Why do you have eyes?" he asked.

"To twinkle," she said.

Gotta love preschooler logic.

Saturday morning Audrey ran downstairs and made a beeline to her toy basket.

"I'm going to get out a bunch of stuff. Woo-hoo!" she yelled.

After "getting out a bunch of stuff," she and Jason played. He bounced her on his legs, spun her in the air, and spotted her as she did "flips" until he had gotten more of an arm and leg workout than he's had in weeks. Tired, he sprawled out on the floor. Audrey asked to flip some more. Jason told her he needed a break. She lay down beside him and wrapped her arms around his head. "I'm just going to hold you, okay?"

The weeks always seem to speed up the nearer we get to holidays or life-changing events. But somehow, we've been blessed with these pockets of time where things seem to slow down. We take the time to listen to one another, to laugh or marvel at the things we hear. We take time to play, to spin, to splash lightly. And, always, as often as we can, we just hold on, squeezing our little one and the moments she gives us for as long as we can.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Stockings Were Hung...

On our Christmas cards with care.
With hopes they'll get sent out before St. Nick gets here.
As Audrey sat nestled all snug in her chair;
Play-doh flying from her hands into her hair;
I cut and adhered and then cut out some more.
But who knows how many we still have in store?
I think it was eighty we sent out last year.
But that's too much stamping and taping, I fear.
A baby is coming, there's much to prepare.
And free time is growing exceedingly rare.
But I love to send out our holiday cheer.
To our friends, young and old, the far and the near.
So I cut, and I paste, and I stamp in a rush.
And Audrey sits watching, no longer a hush.
"It looks like a lot of work," says my daughter.
I laugh. You know, you sound just like your father.

*For those of you wondering, yes, she actually said that. And yes, her father agrees. :)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lights, Camera, Christmas

So, we're not just focused on preparing for our garden or spring as my last post might imply. We're actually very firmly planted in December and the happenings going on right here, right now. The house is blooming in a way that it does only come December. It starts out slow, boxes pulled from storage, their contents rummaged through, plans hashed out. And then it begins. The planting of bulbs: on the fence and shrubs outside, in the branches of the tree now residing in our family room, trellised up the stair banister, even bordering the windows and walls of Audrey's playroom (we have an overachieving Daddy who is good at seeing the potential of the world, or playroom, through a child's eyes). And then the bulbs bloom with the help of energy, turning each room into something a little more special, a little less everyday - causing us to bring out other things that aren't of the everyday: ornaments, ribbons, and holiday garland.

Of course, Audrey finds her own approach, taking the everyday and adding it to the not-so-ordinary. Teething rings (dug out from storage to prepare for the baby) and Legos get thrown into the mix of holiday decor. She might just be onto something. Everything is special when seen in the right light. Yes, Christmas preparations are underway.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My New Garbage Bowl

If we could shorthand the last two weeks to the catchphrase "gratitude," then the next couple weeks could just as easily be termed "preparation". It's become our focus: preparation for the holidays, preparation for the change in weather, preparation for the newest member of our family. But with all of this preparing and the list-writing that typically ensues from such an idea, I'm trying to keep things simple, in the spirit of not rushing (or at least tricking oneself into feeling not rushed). To achieve this, I try to pick things from the list to work on that I feel inspired to work on that day (with the exception of doing those few tasks that have to be completed for that day or the next). I leave the rest for another day, when hopefully, those jobs will seem like the ones that will energize me rather than wear me down.

In true recovering (or not-so-recovering) procrastinator fashion, this leads to some interesting tasks being pulled from the list first, which is how I came to acquire my new garbage bowl.

You may be familiar with the "garbage bowl", made infamous by Racheal Ray. She sets a bowl on the counter as she cooks, whose sole reason for being is to dump her food scraps and trash so she doesn't have to make trips to the garbage can during meal preparation. I have been known to drag out the entire garbage can and place it at the end of the counter to shove food scraps into as I work, therefore omitting the step of carrying or cleaning a garbage bowl. But, for the last two years, following the onset of our adventures in gardening, I've been pining for a compost bin. It just seems silly to keep buying dirt I could make myself. Finding myself with some nice weather last week, and finding this tutorial on a DIY compost bin, I decided it was time to stop pining and start composting.

Now, buying a Rubbermaid container to house our compost might not seem like the most eco-friendly option we could find, but the $7 for a first composting effort beat the heftier prices of already-made compost bins that I've been eyeing for years. I drilled some holes for aeration, and Audrey and I began to layer our compost: shredded newspapers; dried leaves; dirt mixed in with yard waste; food scraps; and more newspaper.

We stirred our waste lasagna, drilled some holes in the Rubbermaid container lid, and popped it in place. Then I found an airtight container (pictured in the first photo). It spends its days under our kitchen sink until I begin preparing meals. Then, like any garbage bowl worth its salt, it takes its place on the counter to catch all the food scraps that can be composted. Every few days I take it out to dump it into the compost bin with more shredded newspapers, dried leaves, or torn-up cardboard toilet paper rolls. Only time will tell how well our compost bin will provide, but as our weather drops down to the forties and I find myself shivering, it's nice to think we're preparing in some small way for the spring to come.

*I also found this pint-sized book, Composting: An Easy Household Guide, by Nicky Scott to be a helpful reference as we built and layered our bin.

(And now back to my list, to see what needs to be done in, ahem, December).

Monday, November 30, 2009

On the Cusp

Gratitude. I think I could blog about it everyday, and find myself looking at the world, eyes renewed and spirit strengthened. (With a better immune system, to boot. I read in a local paper that according to research by Psychology professor, Robert Emmons, gratitude tends to improve your immune system because optimism boosts your immune system and gratitude breeds optimism. Just one more thing to be grateful for, not too shabby). I have a feeling that I will be revisiting the subject of gratitude frequently in the next month. I also feel that we are on the cusp of so many things as we move into this next month, this little family of mine.

Today was a one of those days spent rushing: multiple doctors appointments, a few errands, more time in the car than we would like - all reminders that we are moving forward (always more quickly than I seem able to take in) and that this new December season is about to unfold. Several times gratitude found me in the small or touchable - sending off finished projects in fabrics that made me smile; a nurse's laugh that reminded me of a dear friend; and pride at the complicated directions Audrey is now able to carry out by herself coupled with the thankfulness that her hands still feel so small in mine.

We weren't the only ones rushing today. Jason joined me at the doctor's office to find it a mess of double-bookings, late-running appointments, and missing staff members (off delivering babies). We were there for an ultrasound to find out if our little guy was breach, as he seemed to be last week (after 95% of all babies have already turned, according to my doctor). Our ultrasound tech was rushing more than any of the others - fast hands, fast pictures, fast words. In the midst of all of this rushing was our little guy, who it seems is content to run on his own clock against all "normal" schedules and waited to turn head down until this week when he was good and ready. And again, I found gratitude, for his reminder that sometimes (even as everyone tries to rush you) it is best to take your time.

What better time for this reminder than now, as we sit on The Cusp. New Month. New Baby. New Holiday. So as I find myself shuffling multiple to-do lists, lists that I have no hope of completing unless I grow another head and multiple sets of arms, I'm remembering to move at my own pace. And as I fail to cross the items off, to be grateful that I'm choosing to move at my own pace and copy the example of my son.

For those of you who (like me) get a little overwhelmed during the Christmas season at the thought of the lines, the gift-choosing and hunting, and the rushing, here are a couple ideas that I love, and that seem perfectly in sinc with the philosophy of taking your time (and possibly saving you some money):

A lady didn't have the money to send gifts to all of her family members for their individual birthdays one year, which began this tradition: once a year (at a random time each year to surprise them) she sends a party box to her sister's family with everything they need to have a family celebration. The picture above is a similar take on this idea. I can never seem to get my act together to get gifts sent to the children of some dear friends for their birthdays. So last year, I decided that it was better late than never and mailed off a box for Thanksgiving with a note of how thankful we were for each of them and their family. The gift contained felt crowns like the one I made Audrey for her birthday for the kids to wear to play or to celebrate their special days. This year's box is filled with aprons and a cookbook so they can get in the kitchen with their parents to help create all the goodies that make holidays throughout the year that much more delicious.

I ran across this idea this week in the paper. A lady felt that all the "stuff" her niece and nephew have only added to their stress (due to lack of space to store it all) instead of bringing them joy. Rather than add to the stress by giving them more stuff, she has decided to give them her time. For their birthdays, each child is given the number of activities that corresponds with their age to do with her. Most of these activities are simple: baking cookies, having a slumber party at her house, etc. But what a wonderful thing to teach her niece and nephew, that they are so valuable, they are worthy of her giving her most important asset: her time.

I know I'm not alone in the to-do list shuffle, the carpool hustle, or the Christmas bustle. And while I know that all some of you want for Christmas is a second head and multiple sets of arms, I'm going to wish you something else - a mindset that allows you to slow down, scrap the list, and take your time. So here's to hanging out on the cusp for just a little while, before we take December's plunge.

Friday, November 27, 2009

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 47

I didn't mean to skip my Thanksgiving post. But, sometimes, a girl gets busy eating. She becomes consumed with turkey, ham, stuffing, green bean casserole, noodles, mashed potatoes, corn, rolls, fruit salad, chocolate mousse pie, and pumpkin pie - not to mention the mac 'n cheese added to the mix in honor of the littlest member of the table (and yes, this feast was at one table). Can you blame me for getting distracted? I should probably give thanks that this holiday comes just once a year allowing me to get on with other things. Those pilgrims have no idea what my mother is capable of when given a family holiday and a full refrigerator (with her post-surgery foot in a big "boot", no less). So I left my camera in my bag and picked up a fork, instead.

Thanksgiving could just as easily explain what happened to the rest of our week. Jason took the week off, Thanksgiving being his favorite holiday, and if there is one thing that can distract me more than a full dinner table, it's a dashing and work-free husband (mine, to be precise). I had anticipated this. I had imagined that we would spend several happily distracted days being lazy or overly energetic with Audrey, whatever struck our fancy. However, life, in full-table style, had other plans. We spent the week experiencing life in a microcosm: worry over a sick little girl and relief at her quick recovery; the flurry of home repairs/improvements and the gratitude of having such beautiful shelter; tears over the loss of a loved one and the blessing of love that warrants such tears; an abundance of family home safe to share the holidays with, with the exception of a much missed sister and her husband; an under-the-weather dog whose returning spunk is making us smile; and the excitement and preparation as we plan for the arrival of a new blessing who may just bring a new adventure our way if he is breach as we all suspect. Most weeks, I write down the funny and sweet things Audrey says each day to help me remember on Fridays when I take a longer moment to collect them all here. This week, distracted by the week's fullness, I left my pen in my bag and just held on tight. Unfortunately, my memory doesn't keep hold as tightly as I'd like. So here are the few stories I have from the week, as I remember them:

Every few hours Saturday night, I crept into Audrey's room to check on her - feel her forehead and check her breathing. Most times, I could hear her before I crossed the doorway, her nose creating a congested rattle. Not able to make out a shape in the darkness, I didn't realize Audrey had woken up during one of my checks until I heard her warn, "It's just my nose."

We celebrated Thanksgiving with Jason's mom on Sunday. Grammy had given Audrey a coloring book and crayons, with which Audrey quickly became preoccupied. Grammy posed a question shortly after. Audrey kept her head focused on the table refusing to break from her work and replied, "I'll talk to you in a minute." I suppose some masterpieces can't be interrupted.

Some of you may remember Audrey's disappointment when she realized her Daddy had shaved his gotee (she told me she liked the gotee and asked if he would grow it back when he got bored). She hasn't been around long enough to realize that when Jason vacations from work, he tends to vacation from shaving. On Tuesday, she was touching his face and Jason asked, "What's that?"

"Ahh! It's your gotee. You have a gotee all over your face. It's on your chin! It's on your cheeks!"

This week I have been pulling out the stored-away baby supplies: the bouncer and swing, the too-tiny-to-believe clothes, the infant toys. One of the items I found was an inflatable duck tub, a gift from a friend and something we used everyday when Audrey got big enough to sit up for baths. I had piled the tub, along with some other items in the soon-to-be nursery. Wednesday, Audrey found it. She carried it downstairs. She set it up (still deflated) on the family room floor. She filled it will stuffed animals and a box of animal puzzle pieces. Then she climbed on top. As I made dinner in the kitchen a few steps away, I heard her say, "A big storm came. It rained for forty days and forty nights. The earth was flooded." And then, there were a few moments of silence before she told her passengers, "Jesus will protect us."

Those are the few small moments I managed to pull, without a pen, from the week, to set aside and protect for later. The bigger moments will be there, too - the ones that as humans we can't forget - those that bring worry or tears or an overflow of joy. But these small ones, these side dishes, they keep Thanksgiving coming, long after the table has been cleared. And, for that, I am thankful and for you, for sharing them with me. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Focus on Gratitude Day 5

So thankful for this little one's perspective:

:: No matter how special, a stocking is still just a "boot" (and all good things - the nice stockings, the china - should be used on ordinary days, just because).

:: That any ordinary thing (even a rubber band) can be made special if given a special place.

:: And most things (discarded turtlenecks, anyone?) can be repurposed.

We have squeezed in a couple special days for Christmas decorating this week. We have learned to search the Christmas tree for any missing item, as all things seem ornament-worthy (toilet paper rolls, television remotes) to our little one. As with all new tasks undertaken as a family, we have walked away from decorating with a few three-year-old taught lessons and one big reminder that, perhaps, we shouldn't take ourselves or our tree too seriously - that forgetting our fussy grown-up selves is what the holidays (and maybe everyday) should be about.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Focus on Gratitude Day 4

The woman you see in the photograph is my grandmother. The man beside her is Clif. I could have easily lived out my life without ever meeting him, but as happenstance (or World War II, which ever you prefer to call it) would have it, we did meet. Clif enlisted in the Army at the same time as my grandfather. They became good friends. Clif was a cook and often snuck my grandfather more (or better) food at the end of the day. Both men survived the war, got married, and started families. They would occasionally meet up with their wives after the war.

Years later, Clif nursed his wife through rheumatoid arthritis before losing her much sooner than he would have liked. Meanwhile, my grandmother was busy caring for my grandfather, ravaged by and quickly lost to lung cancer. Occasionally, my grandmother and Clif would see each other at the Army reunions. Living about 35 miles apart, sometimes they would carpool.

Both were lonely. Both knew the heartache of caring for a sick spouse. By this time, they each knew that the other was not in prime health and neither wanted to put the other through the hardship of being that sort of caretaker again. But after some debate, and courtship, they married.

Clif was my grandmother's husband the last seven years of her life. Together they traveled the three hours (one-way) to attend my big sporting events and high school graduation. Clif became the constant at her side, through vacations, holidays, and her battle with melanoma. And while I can't imagine the switch of celebrating life's moments cozily with a sole daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter to the additional, ahem, circus of three lively step-daughters and their spouses, a step-son, and seven more grandkids, Clif handled it all in stride (also, perhaps, with the assistance of turning off his hearing aids from time to time).

As a high-schooler, you warrant your grandmother certain privacies. You don't ask about her love life. You don't make her talk about loneliness. But even a self-absorbed teenager picks up on the life lived between the lines. She notices when the spark returns to her grandma's voice; the frequent relaxed laughter; how someone sitting by your side, never leaving the room, is a stronger painkiller than any medicine.

By the time Jason and I married, Clif was revisiting his role as a full-fledged caretaker. My wedding was the one big event my grandmother wrote on her calendar that year, and with Clif escorting her the three hours each way, and every step down the aisle, she made it. And for one year more. As happenstance (or an irrefusable job offer from a Fortune 500 company, which ever you prefer to call it) would have it, we moved two hours from them. Many Saturdays were spent in their family room, me hand-in-hand with grandma on the couch while Clif waited on her. And just as he fed my grandfather decades before, Clif fed her, cooking whatever he could get her to eat, keeping her warm - nourishing her. Jason and I would often marvel at the two of them on our drive home. Occasionally, one of us would have to repeat ourselves so that Clif could hear us. But somehow, he always heard my grandmother, whose voice by then was only a whisper. He always heard her voice. He always knew what she needed. He never left the room.

My grandmother died that summer, but I continued to send cards to Clif, who wrote back. When Jason and I would visit (visits becoming a little harder as we moved farther away) Clif would tell us stories about serving with my grandfather or trips he had taken with my grandmother. After a particularly good story, he would slap his knee and scrunch his face into one of the best heartfelt laughs I've had the pleasure to witness. He let Audrey rearrange the framed pictures on his coffee tables and crawl all over him. He greeted us at the door with homemade ice cream or cake. He could talk to you about sports, or factory life, or historical events (past and present). He could tell you how to grow tomatoes or bake a ham, which was great because my grandfather once blew up a ham, not realizing that in order to bake a canned ham, one must first take the ham out of the can before placing it in the hot oven. (I feel privileged to have had them both: the seasoned chef and the ham grenadier).

On Saturday, Clif passed away. He was 86. His life was full. His heart was virtuous. He spoke the truth as only a man in his eighties can. And as I think back on the parts of his life I knew, the phrase "well done" surfaces repeatedly in my head. Much of the last eight months have centered on me preparing once again for motherhood - this time to mother a boy. A handful of men come to mind when I think of examples of the man I would like to teach my son to become. Clif is one of those men. And I am so grateful for the man he was: a man I could have easily never met, yet can't imagine having lived without.

*Tomorrow, I will spend most of my day in the car to go say goodbye to my friend. I doubt I find the time to log on here. But I will see you soon. Until then, be well.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 46

I'm not sure what the best description would be for today: productive yet challenging? a little bit merry, a whole lot of meltdowns? We began the day with quite the agenda: errands, Christmas tree decorating, outdoor light hanging, compost bin creation, and a new recipe for dinner. The morning went surprisingly well, Jason and I hitting 7 stores between the two of us with Audrey happily playing a version of parental musical chairs. She couldn't wait to decorate the tree - and wouldn't, no matter how many times we asked her to be patient and wait for us to take the ornaments out of the box. That's where the day took a twist.

She decorated with gusto, then cried with gusto each time we responded to a request with a "no." She thought that riding her tricycle outside while Jason hung lights and I began assembling compost bin materials sounded like a great idea, until a barely skinned-knee turned her into a 3-foot Niagara Falls. No matter how hard we tried, other than two short breaks spent watching an "Angelina Ballerina" episode with her Dad while I made dinner and reading stories with me while dinner baked, those tears could not be dammed up. She refused dinner, opting, instead, to lie her head on the table and cry before asking to be put to bed at 7:15, which is when it finally dawned on me to pull out the thermometer. We put her to bed with a low-grade fever, and after an oddly productive day, flooded with tears, she thanked me for the kisses that I placed on her forehead and cheeks. You never know what to expect with three-year-olds. It's going to be one of those nights where I find myself creeping to her bedside every few hours, just in case.

Now for some other unexpected (and much cheerier - at least most of them) moments from our week:

On Sunday, Jason threw away some cookies. They had been sitting on the counter for a few days, and Audrey was trying all methods climbing-related to reach them. When she saw him carrying the plate to the trash, she began screaming, "You can't throw those away! Jesus made those! God made those! You can't throw them away!"

Don't mess with sacred cookies.

On Monday, while riding in the car, Audrey informed me, "I know how to drive because I'm a big sister, of course."

Jason put Audrey to bed on Tuesday night. He began to lead her in a prayer when she interrupted him. "No. I want to do my own," she said. She began thanking God for her favorite toys and the like before saying, "thank you for kisses."

Jason, thinking this was such a sweet comment, repeated, "thank you for kisses."
"No," Audrey corrected him, "Christmas."

On Thursday it was my turn to make word assumptions. We had moved some chairs the night before while Audrey was asleep. In the morning, Audrey was upset to find them missing. I explained that we moved them to make room for the Christmas tree. We began to talk about the Christmas tree and how it would be fun to decorate it.

"And then we'll have so?" Audrey asked.
"Soap?" I asked. "No, you can't have soap."
"So," she repeated.
"Sew?" I asked.
"No. In winter, we play with so."
"Oh. Snow!" I said, before apologizing profusely, because seriously, how close together does a three-year-old have to put the dots before her mama finally connects them?

On Friday, Audrey saddled up to me in a chair. She had a sticker stuck to the front of her shirt. She was talking about stickers. She put her finger in my ear and dropped something inside. I assumed it was a sticker. Nope. It was a ladybug.

Welcome to three. Assume nothing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Focus on Gratitude Day 3

:: As the weather gets wetter and colder, the yarn gets warmer and softer.

:: As the days get more hectic, the stolen moments for creating - fewer and shorter - feel that much more special.

:: As I wonder if this project will go as planned, or end up too small with one sleeve longer than the other, there is also the wonderful daydream that everything will turn out just perfect. (As well as the comforting knowledge that 3-year-olds don't care one way or the other).

:: As we inch toward the holidays (yes, I'm aware we're no longer inching - please humor me), there is much to look forward to: hugs from family and friends to keep us warm; planned moments with those we love to create special memories; the daydream of a perfect holiday; and the reality that an imperfect holiday suits everyone just fine - and often lends itself to better memories.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Focus on Gratitude Day 2

The first childhood house I remember living in was across the street from two sisters: retired teachers and good cooks who taught my sisters and I how to make egg noodles and angel food cakes, who stood even the littlest among us over their kitchen counter with cookie cutters to shape doughnuts to be fried and dusted with cinnamon and sugar, and who brought out the ice cream scoops for root beer floats in the summer. They nourished my sisters and I, with their time, their attention, and the passing on of their talents.

They became adopted grandmothers of sorts, since real grandparents lived much farther away than across the street. As with real grandmothers, holidays and traditions became something we shared. Each Easter we would cross the street (and later, when we moved, drive down the road) to their house for an egg hunt and Easter baskets. Most years, I would find a jar of Maraschino cherries tucked inside my Easter basket (because, in the true nature of grandmothers, they had studied each of us and catalogued away the things that we loved). I ate the cherries straight from the jar, using one of my parents' long-stemmed teaspoons to fish them out as the jar emptied.

I've related this story to Jason once or twice (I tend to repeat myself on accident) over a shared banana split or milkshake. He is also a fan of the Maraschino, and we often find one of us generously handing over the lone cherry dessert-topper (or, on our smarter days, asking the server for a second). On Monday he called to tell me he was stopping by the store on his way home from work. When he came though the door with his shopping bag, he informed me he had brought me a surprise. He handed me the jar of Maraschino cherries above, saying that he remembered that I used to get them in my Easter basket from the ladies across the street. How blessed I am to have delicious childhood memories. And even more so to have the gift of a thoughtful husband who listens to even the smallest of my stories, stores away the important details, and through a simple gift brings my childhood back to me.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Focus on Gratitude

I realized this morning that I have seven posts (with a Week in Review thrown in for good measure) until Thanksgiving. While I had to count the days twice to believe that Thanksgiving is barely a week away, this month has already been filled with gratitude and reminders of the small (and large) blessings that stand as pushpins in the map of my life. It seems natural to use these posts before Thanksgiving to share the small things that make me smile, brighten my days, and remind me that gratitude can be a daily practice: the blessing are just waiting to be recognized.

A Practice in Gratitude: Day 1

My faults are dependable running hamsters persistently moving their transparent wheels. They must be exhausted (not to mention exhausting), yet those boys have stamina (yes, I'm sure making my faults male hamsters is some form of projection). So it's nice to take a moment when one of those faults miraculously pays off, and give those typically harped-at hamsters a rare pat on the back.

I have been meaning to get the Halloween decorations picked up for weeks. Other than the homemade bats, which got moved to the front door to welcome trick-or-treaters and stowed away a week later when they kept hitting the adults trying to enter the house, the Halloween decorations have not moved. So last night, thanks to my procrastination or regular tardiness (pick a fault, any fault), the Halloween candles that line the kitchen windowsill and fireplace were still there, just waiting to be lit.

Even unexpectedly, possibly more so when unexpected, candlelit rooms cast a bit of magic to an ordinary evening. Last night we found ourselves greeted with a power outage and a little bit of magic as we finally lit the Halloween candles and huddled in the glow between two rooms, just being. Right as we were discussing whether to venture out in search for food or bring out the fondue pot and wing dinner our version of camp-fire style, the lights came back on. And dinner, and life, and my over-worked hamsters went on just as before but dusted with candlelight.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I Heart Art (and Hopefully Baby Brothers)

Remember our outdoor painting on Thursday? Well, we were painting with purpose. A friend who recently became a mother of two shared an idea she had heard with me about introducing a new sibling into your toddler or preschooler's life. She was encouraged to have her son pick out a gift for his new brother. Then, when his brother was born, the older sibling would also get a gift from the baby. I thought this was a great way to make the baby's homecoming seem more personal and something to which Audrey could look forward.

Then, I ran across this post on The Artful Parent, which led to this tutorial about doing glue batik with children. Enter a little cotton newborn shirt (with a few stains on it, what better reason to paint it?) amongst a pile of garage sale clothes given to my mother. A plan was born. If picking out a gift for her brother would help Audrey to feel a special connection to him when he came home, how much more would that gift matter if it was something she had made herself?

So we got supplies and got our hands dirty. You need to use a specific glue for this project - Elmer's blue gel glue that is washable. Unfortunately, we weren't able to find the glue during our one-stop shopping adventure before the project. Not wanting to stop at another store, we ran across blue gel glue sticks and bought those. Shirt and glue in hand, the project is a simple one (but takes some time):

1. Draw on the shirt as you wish. Audrey drew some random marks and then I helped her draw a heart on the back of the shirt.

2. Let the glue dry.

3. Paint over the dry shirt with really watered-down acrylic paint (it will almost have the look of paint for water colors). Audrey chose orange paint for her brother's shirt and loved just splattering the paint on. Between the random glue marks and splatter paint job, the shirt looks a little tie-dyed.

4. Let the shirt dry.

5. Soak the shirt in hot water to remove the glue. A little of our paint washed out as well.

6. Wash the shirt and wait for the arrival of a cute little boy to wear it.

Audrey really enjoyed this project, and I think as she learns to write her letters and numbers, it will be something we revisit often, graduating to bottled gel glue rather than the glue sticks as she gets more adept with her fine motor skills. Until then, we wait. For more sunny days that made this project that much easier to clean up. For motor skills we know will come. For a little boy in an orange shirt.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 45

Last week was one filled to the brim. Jason had to spend the week in Orlando. In an attempt to keep missing Daddy at bay, I filled Audrey's days with other things: play dates, projects, and outdoor activities (I can't tell you how blessed I felt by the weather this past week). Of course, nothing fills the void of a missing Daddy (or helps a tired mama) more than his return. Since Friday we have been taking in our moments with him slow, like drinking really good hot chocolate. We've also picked up on some house projects that were forgotten for a week. If you ask me how we've spent the weekend, I'm not sure I could even tell you. The days have passed, the kitchen counters are a jungle of mail and dishes, and Audrey has slept in the last two days. And while I can't tell you what we've actually managed to accomplish (other than the basement may have carpet by the end of the day) whatever we have done to pass the time seemed good enough reason to put off the writing. Until now.

So without further ado:

My parents were in town on Sunday, driving separate cars (car maintenance for each being the purpose of the trip) and offered to take Audrey and I out to eat. Audrey rode to the restaurant in her Mamaw's car, which was behind her Papaw's. Taking advantage of the weather, Papaw had put the top down on his car.

"Why doesn't Papaw's car have a roof?" Audrey asked. Mamaw explained that her Papaw's car did have a roof but he was able to put it down when the weather was nice. Audrey was quiet for a minute. "He needs a roof. It's going to hurt his hair," she said.

Monday was filled with play dates and errands. Audrey, not ready to leave for my doctor's appointment, got upset when I put her in the car seat. She funneled her energy into a Goodnight Moon sort of mantra, emphatically saying, "Good bye house. Good bye big girl bike. Good bye stroller..."

Tuesday while driving she asked why our car had come to a stop. I explained that when the stoplight turns red, we have to stop the car and when it turns green, we can go. A few minutes later I pulled into the left turning lane at another light. I was waiting for the green arrow to light up as through traffic passed by, but Audrey could see that the light above us was green. "Mom, it's green," she said, " You can go. You can go, Mom."

That same night we stopped at Target. A little boy passed by our cart and said to his mother, "There's a baby."

Audrey, catching his comment, yelled, "I'm not a baby! I'm Audrey!" I could hear his mom laughing as I pushed our cart toward the front door.

On Thursday, out and about again, we came upon a stoplight. "It's green. You can go ahead," Audrey told me as the light turned yellow.

"Now it's yellow. That means we have to slow down," I said.

"It's orange," Audrey replied.

Thursday night as I put her to bed, I asked Audrey for a hug and kiss goodnight.

"Sure," she said and then proceeded with, "and one on your nose, and your forehead, and your chin, and your cheeks," kissing each part of my face as she said it.

Friday night, Audrey kept asking for things off the kitchen counters. I would tell her that she couldn't have certain things but could have something else, instead. She would take the approved item, run into another room, come back empty-handed and ask for more. I'm not sure where she was putting the items I gave her, or what other items she was snatching behind my back, but at one point she ran into the kitchen, came to an abrupt halt when she saw me, threw up her hands and said, "I don't have anything in my hands!"

And by Saturday, as we drove to the gym, she was requesting green lights, watching as we would approach, and when seeing the light was red, saying, "I want green! I want green!"

I hope that your weekend was one filled with all green lights, but that you were able to take a little time to slow down, stop, and enjoy those things that make the weekends so special. Here's to another week...