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...

Thursday, November 12, 2009



and Playing,

and Painting

What are we going to do next week when November begins behaving like November? (The hat in the first photo was required only for fashion sensibilities. After putting on her gardening gloves, Miss Audrey informed me that she also needed a hat. Some things just go together, like warm weather and outdoor adventures).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Secret Gardens

Continuing to take in the unseasonable warmth and sun we've been blessed with this week led to an outdoor project yesterday. We received our "Purple Royalty Garden" bulb package (a token of appreciation for a small donation) from the Arbor Day Foundation this week. So yesterday, armed with spade, garden soil, and 35 bulbs [a mix of Ruby Giant Crocus, Purple Prince Tulips, and Chionodoxa forbessili (Glory for the Snow) - and a mix of 5 red tulip bulbs I couldn't help but buy at a farmer's market on Saturday] we got down and dirty.

Audrey dropped in and covered a few bulbs before becoming distracted by berry picking, worm hunting, and random hole digging (holes that I later threw bulbs into - our front flower beds might look a little hap-hazard come spring) - all fine pursuits for a warm November day.

As a child, crocuses were my favorite flowers to see cresting the surface of the ground come spring. The rising of their purple flowers, petite but strong so early in the season, served as a sign of the warmer weather and outside adventures to come. Tulips remind me of my best friend. I couldn't help but feel a little giddy as I planted them, as if I were tucking away a little secret to sustain me during the cold months ahead - a little dormant promise of the vibrant days to come. It's almost enough to make a girl run out and buy all the bulk bulbs she can find with which to litter the backyard, not that anyone is getting any, ahem, ideas.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

ABC's: Pipes, Swings, Leaves

We got a bit creative with the alphabet yesterday. Or, more accurately, I got a little creative with the alphabet. We met up with a few friends at the park with our cameras to look for letters hidden around us in nature and architecture. Audrey only recognizes a couple of letters, so I wasn't quite sure how this activity would go. It went something like this: we got to the park; Audrey discovered her first merry-go-round; I think it's true love. So while she busied herself running as fast as she could to propel the other kids on the merry-go-round (the other mothers laughing because she was the smallest child in the group of 4 or 5 and me missing my photo opportunity due to the sheer awe of watching her), I searched the park with my camera. Here are a few of my finds:






For those of you looking for a hidden message, all I can come up with for you is U + ME = TWO. If I could find enough letters, I think there are some fun teaching tools to be made and projects to be done. We might have to take our letter hunt downtown. In the meantime, here's to the all the things to be seen, if only we take a moment to look.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Collecting the Weekend

We were given the gift of an unusually warm weekend. One that called to us to come outdoors.

So out we ventured, under the pine trees

where dry golden needles padded our steps,

treasures awaited our once-empty bucket (treasures that Audrey referred to as snow cones as often as she called them pinecones),

and all around us we felt and took in the colors of the sun.

Friday, November 6, 2009

For Posterity's Sake: Week in Review 44

On Tuesday, Audrey and I made a trip to the Indianapolis Art Museum to take a good look at "3" and begin to see what it's all about. Of course, there are signs posted next to the Robert Indiana exhibit asking that you not climb on the sculpture. I only had to tell my toddler five times. (And, as much I would have loved to ask her to climb inside the 3, turn around and smile, I settled for quickly snapping this shot while her back was turned before asking her to please get down per the museum signage).

While the sculpture was not conducive to climbing, it did provide the perfect setting for a game of hide-n-seek, eliciting several toddler squeals. The gardens, with their fountains, paths, wildlife, and sculptures made for a perfect afternoon walk, complete with a chocolate chip cookie break on a bench. It wasn't until we began our return trip to the car that I realized we were missing one of our party. The bean-stuffed dog that Audrey had begged to take with us was no longer in her hands. I began to backtrack - mentally, first and then physically as I remembered places I had seen her with the dog. We came back to the large numbers and I scoured the tall dry grasses surrounding the sculpture, not telling Audrey what I was doing.

After about twenty minutes and searching a couple other spots, I gave up the hunt. I worried as I carried her through the parking lot to the car. She's left several stuffed animals at her grandparents' house, resulting in a 45-minute car ride of toddler angst (read: meltdown), followed by daily reminders of the lost item's status until its point of return. Desperate to distract her, I handed over the only thing in the car I could think to give her to occupy the ride home: a stray Pottery Barn catalogue. She flipped through the pages and never mentioned the dog. Relieved, and a little awed, I thought I was in the clear - until I overheard her talking to her Dad that evening. "My dog is missed," she said. "It was riding with me." And he's never been mentioned again.

Normally, I write about the things Audrey says that make me laugh during the week. But this week, I'm going to share a quick story about something I (and Jason) caught myself saying. Jason was having a late night at work. Hoping to maximize on the time he would have once he got home, I decided to give Audrey her bath early, before dinner. Jason called to say he was on his way home as I was bathing her. During the call, Audrey picked up a plastic orange beach shovel. She filled it with water and flicked the water in my direction - a direct hit. Caught off guard (and still on the phone), I said, "Audrey, no! If you do that again, I don't know what I'll do, but it won't be pretty." (After all, noticing we were in the bathroom, my usual timeout options weren't available). Jason began laughing on his end of the phone. I quickly followed up my statement with a threat to take away all her bath toys. (I still haven't figured out when I became an actor in an action film. It won't be pretty?!).

On Thursday, Audrey and I got vaccinated. I had told her that she and mama were getting shots, that it would hurt for a little while, but she would be okay. After my explanation and some paperwork, we were shuffled through a line and directed to a couple of nurses. "I'll go first," Audrey said, bravely stepping forward. My tough girl sat still until the needle pierced her skin, when I felt her entire body tense against the pain. And then the tears came, followed by her description of the experience, which we she has repeated to everyone with whom she comes in contact, "They gave me a hole. I don't want a hole. It hurts!"

Today we had a couple errands to run. Jason, home a little early, came on one with us. When we arrived at our destination, Jason and I got out. Before we could get to Audrey's door, we heard her yell through the glass, "You're supposed to take me!"

On another errand, Audrey and I drove past a farm with horses. The last two times we've driven by the weather has been dreary and the horses have been in their stables. Today they were out, running around as usual. Audrey watched from her window, "The horses are back where they belong," she said.

We have had a couple busy weeks: Jason traveling and some celebration preparations that only happen once a year. Fall feels like it has its own magic around here: so many things to be thankful for, so much to celebrate, and so many beautiful things to take in. This magic is two-fold, bringing us closer and setting things a little topsy-turvy at times. And now, as things slow down for a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, it feels like the right time to notice all the simplicity we can, to look ahead to the joys to come, and try to get everything ready and us back where we belong.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Table Talk

Tonight was the first meeting of my mom's group book club. It seemed like the perfect excuse to celebrate with a pumpkin cheesecake. Of course, my cheesecake ended up with a huge crack down the middle, aka the reason behind the invention of whipped cream. Ta-da...

We discussed The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. As I read, I had to keep reminding myself that this was not a work of fiction. Regardless of how I felt I connected or did not with the family in the book, there were lessons to be gleaned and some facts of which it is always good to be reminded. Our children need so little from us to grow up to be capable, strong, loving adults.
Those things which they need the most are free. And no matter what our childhood circumstances, everyone has a choice to become whoever they like.
A pumpkin cheesecake + cups of hot chocolate + a thought-provoking book + a table of fun, intelligent women (and one kind husband hidden away upstairs entertaining the three-year-old who adores him) = an evening well-spent and one happy, lucky mama.
*Sorry for the lack of space breaks, for some reason I can't get them to work tonight.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake (and Some Appetizers)

This year Audrey has begun to group like things: pointing out the blue objects in a room, mastering Where's Waldo, and just this morning comparing my eyes to the browning trees outside. So, it should come to no surprise that after attending a few birthday parties this year she began to associate all such gatherings with the presence of cake. To hear her tell it, the most important aspect of any birthday party is the presence of cake. I was careful to not disappoint.

Last year, with a 50% off coupon, I ran across and purchased this Giant Cupcake Pan by Wilton. Then, like most of my random kitchen purchases, it sat in a cabinet for a year waiting for the perfect occasion to unveil itself. That occasion came last weekend when I decided that a huge cupcake looks an awful lot like the shape of a tent.

Armed with a box mix (I decided to take a little help this year) and this recipe from Anne Bryn, aka the Cake Mix Doctor, I got to work. I didn't use a German chocolate cake mix since I had a chocolate fudge one on hand. I opted out of using pecans as well (having other plans for decorating my cake in mind). I didn't have cinnamon chips at home (and my box mix had small chips in it) so I used 1/4 c. of 60% cacao bittersweet chips, although next time I think I would throw in the entire 1/2 c., simply because I can't think of a good reason not to. I also used a different recipe for the frosting. During high school and summers off from college, I worked at a little tea room called Almost Home. They make an incredible carrot-pineapple cake with cream cheese frosting. I used the cream cheese frosting recipe from their cookbook for Audrey's cake.

I liked the flavor of the cake, but I think I over baked it a touch because I was hoping for something just a hair more moist. (And due to my inexperience with the odd-shaped pan, I didn't know how long to keep it in the oven). Once out of the oven and iced, I used Pull-n-Peel Twizzlers to make red tent stripes (I was looking for a quick-fix to decorating). A few M & Ms on top (my husband's brilliant suggestion) to hide a mishap that occurred when I discovered our cake container was a tad bit too short for the cake and one blue flag made using, card stock, a toothpick, tape, and a "3" stamp, and the cake was finished. The fake grass is some that I reuse every year for our Easter baskets. As for the little elephant candle in front, that was the candle on my ninth birthday cake (that my mother saved and gave me when I was pregnant with Audrey). The cupcakes were made using another box mix and some store-bought icing, topped with more homemade blue flags. Easy-peesy.

Of course, as much as my toddler would love to try, one doesn't live on cake alone. So we added a few little snacks in the mix. Our veggie tray included some carrot "shavings" made using the vegetable peeler, because while Audrey rarely eats carrot sticks, carrot shavings are a different story. Then the Noah's ark cookie cutter set made a reappearance. I used them to make animal-shaped Jell-o jigglers and then again for some animal-shaped cheese slices.

It may look as if I went a little overboard with our party and theme. But most of these ideas are inexpensive, easy to do ahead of time, or just plain easy. Because while I was into a small party that celebrated big, big stress was not on the agenda. And now to go find out what this whole third year is about...

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What's a Circus Without a Tent?

Just animals on parade, perhaps?

Like most toddlers, Audrey loves to tuck herself under her sheets with as many stuffed animals as she can manage to gather around her. Cushions are simply "blocks" for weekend fort-building sessions with her Dad. If you're not up for a game of hide-n-seek, involving crawling under clothing racks, strapping Audrey in a cart to navigate department stores is a must. As for those curtains that I thought I hung to give the option of blocking a little more light, well, they're much more practical for hiding from monsters.

You know where this is going. Before you could say "Barnum and Bailey," I decided that Audrey needed a birthday tent. I looked for an internet tutorial on how to make a tent and found this one on the Sew Mama Sew blog (their teepee pictures are much better). It's actually a tutorial for a kid's teepee, but close enough. Of course, I didn't follow the pattern to the letter. It calls for painter's canvas, but I used duck cloth, which seemed to work just fine. Oh, and as for that little teepee/tent problem, I tried to solve it by making a blue flag out of felt to slide over the tops of the bamboo posts - not a perfect fix, but it worked. (I will tell you, this is not a simple project to pull off for a late fall/winter birthday. Bamboo garden posts are not easy to come by in the off-season. Luckily, Audrey's Grammy works at a nursery and with her help, we were able to procure the posts we needed. Thanks Grammy and John!).

I kept this project hidden away while I worked on it. Jason rearranged the family room furniture and we set the tent up in a corner for Audrey to find the morning of her birthday. And while I don't have any pictures to demonstrate (I don't like to spend my time at parties taking pictures, nor do I like to post pictures of others' children without permission), the tent was a hit with our roomful of toddlers, especially the birthday girl.

The nice thing about this tent, or teepee, is that it's portable and doesn't take up much space when taken apart. Use it inside or out, put it up or down as needed. Jason deconstructed ours after the party, but this morning Audrey asked of its whereabouts, so I have a feeling it will make a reappearance this week. Oh, and as for you non-sewing mamas or papas who would love a teepee for your little one? It's a no-sew project. Although, I think I would like to sew up two hems on mine, just to keep fraying at bay.

Now will you humor me with one more day of birthday celebration posts? Then I will move on to something else, I promise.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Weekend Circus

I was in the Virginia kitchen of one of Jason's aunts when another aunt began explaining what I have now come to think of as Aunt Laura's "begot principle." She used the principle to explain the cozy kitchen surrounding us - how one piece of furniture begot the purchase of the curtains, which begot the purchase of table linens, which begot... (you get the idea).

Audrey's birthday weekend was a little like that. It began with some innocent fabric. Free fabric. Child-friendly fabric. Fabric that one has no idea how she will use, just that she can surely find a way. Irresistible, bringing-it-home-with-me fabric.

So three lengths of fabric, the size of table runners, came home with me at the beginning of the summer and sat in a pile to await what they would become. The longer they sat, the more determined I became that this little fabric was destined to party - children's gift bag-style. Conveniently, I have a child. Even more convenient, she has a birthday. And luckily for the both of us, she thinks circus animals are just great.

Two of the table runners stayed as is and continued their function as table runners at Audrey's party this weekend. The third became eight small tote bags tied with white ribbon and a thank you message from Audrey to serve as party favors. They're perfect for stashing childhood treasures, and before that, perfect for stashing some homemade sugar cookies, which is just how we used them.

The lion cookie in the first picture was made using a Sassafras superstone cookie mold that one of my sisters had given me years ago. The lovely people at Sassafras included a sugar cookie recipe on the mold's label, which turned out to be yummy (and easy to make with the help of toddler hands - well, at least the dough). Of course, I couldn't just fill our bags with lions, which is where the whole begot process started. I began buying other cookie cutters (using 40% off coupons as rationalization): a Wilton set of stackable cutters to create unique bear faces, which I kept simple and unstacked for this party; and a Wilton Noah's ark set for some smaller projects I had in mind.

I wish that I could tell you that this is where the principle and I parted ways (albeit, if we had, the party would not have been quite the circus it became). But, clearly, that's not the nature of the begot principle. And so, hand-in-hand, the principle and I continued, and begot some more: more ideas; more projects; more supplies; and a little less sleep, but definitely more birthday smiles. But more on that tomorrow...