Monday, March 31, 2008

A Night of Nostalgia

We headed over yesterday for a brief visit with my husband's parents. Even before I had returned home and read Cardiogirl's post, I intended to write about the trip down memory lane. So, imagine my surprise to read Cardiogirl's theory that obsessive neat-nicks produce pack rats and pack rats produce obsessive neat-nicks.

My parents would not argue with the fact that they were pack rats. We had a family of seven. As someone else, in Cardiogirl's comments, observed: anytime there are a large number of children, there is an accumulation of things, papers, etc. Because my parents were Salvation Army officers, we were moved to a new location every two to three years and with every move we seemed to have more boxes accumulating in the next houses' garage. It was a problem, but we were always too strapped for time to go through the painful process of sorting and pitching. I know they tried. We always had garage sales. Sadly, I think they still are trying to sort through the years of accumulation.

My sister, on the other hand, runs a very tight ship and I have never really seen clutter in her home. My brothers all married women who are more organized and try to keep them organized (I know they, too, struggle with the "piles on the kitchen table problem." But, as much as I wish I had less clutter, I really love looking at the things I have saved over the years.

This short visit was a case in point. While my sons were playing in the basement, I noticed several boxes under the pool table labeled "J & W's things." I found a wonderful set of glass bowls which we received as a wedding present in 1990. I meant to bring them home. I forgot. The other things in the boxes were really cool. One box contained my old clanging cymbals monkey. A small jewelry box contained my Salvation Army epulets from The Oakbrook Terrace Corps (I suppose the reason this is so cool is that 20 years after removing those epulets, my oldest brother and his wife are now stationed as the corps officers at that corps). It also contained several key-chains my parents bought me - one from Disney World and one of a double decker bus, from their first trip to London. I found an adorable macrame insect. I don't remember what friend made it for me, but my MS fell in love with it and promptly absconded with it, quickly breaking off the eyes - groan.

I didn't continue to dig through the boxes, but thought I really must head back this summer and reclaim my things from their house. I know they are trying to declutter. They asked my husband if they could throw out our two bikes hanging in the garage. My husband said, "Sure." I chimed in, "Oh, could we bring them here?" My ES could ride the men's bike and I'd like to keep my bike. I'm sure there were inward groans, but outwardly they were very gracious. Then, I waxed nostalgic and said, "Remember when we didn't have kids and a visit to your parents meant long, leisurely bike rides over the country roads (once we even got lost)." My ES does actually need a ten-speed. However, I already have a different bike, so I should let them dispose of my old one that I kept there.

Then, after the boys had gone to bed, I peeked in the upstairs closet. I saw my wedding dress. I was hanging on to that in case I had a girl. I guess that's something I could try to sell on e-bay. Another box held all my music trophies and awards. Inside this box, I found my HS diploma and a plastic bag full of letters which friends of mine sent during the year prior to that graduation. Those letters were especially important because they carried me through a very difficult time.

You see, my parents were moved from Chicago to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, just prior to my senior year of HS. Up until now, it was the most difficult move of my life. I left behind my instrument, a class rank of 5th out of several hundred, a host of very good friends, a youth band I was privileged to travel with, and two brothers (one remained in Chicago and the other headed off to Asbury College in Kentucky).

I pulled out and read almost every letter in the bundle. Several times, I came close to tears. Many of these correspondents are still friends (several of them still go to the Oakbrook Terrace Corps). The letters were full of encouragements to hang in there. They held gossip (who was dating who). They held scripture verses. They held love and sympathy (many were also officer's kids and used to having their lives uprooted from time to time). They let me know that I had a host of people supporting me, even though I felt very lonely (I had five study halls a day and spent all of my time reading. One of my few classes was an independent reading class and I remember that I completed the assigned semester's worth of pages within the first two or three weeks.)

I tucked the letters into my luggage and headed to bed. I was sleeping in my husband's boyhood room, which contains two twin beds and a crib. My ES was already fast asleep in the bed next to me and was facing me. I couldn't fall asleep. Not only was my mind full of all those bits and pieces of my past, but it was now full of bits and pieces of my ES's past.

I stared at him. He is so tall and lank now (especially after losing 10 lbs. in wrestling). His body fills out the entire bed, even though I remember when he was in the crib. Where did all that time go? How did he get so big? Will I cling to little momentos from his childhood, trying to hold him back from leaving my nest?

I am knee-deep in the process of getting rid of the baby things. No more need to hang on. No just-in-case. We are done. What cannot be sold at the children's resale shop will go to the Crisis Pregnancy Center. I have already made several trips (and my husband is SO GRATEFUL!). I even took a photo of a toy I hated to part with.


A friend crocheted this turtle over a margarine tub filled with beans and gave it to me at my first baby shower. I hated to toss this without taking a photo to remember it by.

I know that I keep way too many things. For example, when we lived in an apartment in DeKalb, we discovered that the gal across the hall grew up in Sioux Falls, SD. One night, I said, "Hey, you should come over and visit because I have all of the HS newspapers from the year I went to school there." She was blown away. She had a great time seeking out names and faces of people she knew. She now has four children, so I know she wouldn't have wanted to hang on to those newsletters, but I probably should have tried to pawn them off on her (I didn't even like that school or know many people, since I spent most of my time in silent study halls). Perhaps I'll look through them again this summer and then, throw them out! But, maybe I need Cardiogirl to come visit and help me in that process.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Joys and the Trials of Life with my MS















I stumbled into the joy of making specialty cakes when my ES was 2 and saw a Winnie-the-Pooh cake pan in the clearance section at Target. Since the pan, with frosting colors, tips and bags was marked down to something over $2, I figured, why not? I made the cake and frosted it in front of my Basic Life Skills class (I'm sure being able to frost a cake like this ISN'T a BASIC life skill, but they were more than willing to watch me and then to eat the end result). I considered that my trial run.

I was amazed because it turned out better than I imagined (I had tried a few cakes before and found that I am horrible at spreading icing - the press down and lift up method for most Wilton pans was time-consuming, but looked much more professional in the end). So, I made the cake again, for ES's 2nd birthday and then forgot to even snap a photo of it. Hence, three weeks later, I made the same cake merely to take a photo of it (some day I'll devote a post to some of my previous cakes).

This past September, when my MS was turning 3, I found a Scooby-Doo cake pan at a garage sale for only 50 cents. It was great fun preparing it and he did enjoy it a lot, but within a few months of his birthday he began begging me to go on e-bay and buy a Spiderman cake pan. I figured I had plenty of time and, who knows, I might luck into another garage sale find. Then, I found Amber's blog and decided to attempt to follow her tutorial on Frozen Buttercream Transfers and make a Spiderman cake. I couldn't possibly wait until next September, so I made it to celebrate his 1/2 birthday.

It turned out we were expecting company, friends from DeKalb who were headed to Indiana this past week for their Spring Break, so I added a welcome message to them, too. Unfortunately, due to sickness, we didn't get to share the cake with them. Instead, we'll take it with us this weekend when we head over to visit the grandparents for our Spring Break.

Of course, I notice all the things I will do better next time. Primarily, my error was in not making enough frosting and not tinting the proper amounts. I began with the same amount I usually make to cover a cake made from a Wilton pan. However, Wilton offers helpful instructions as to how much to tint in the various colors. I had to guess and this was my first mistake. I made far too much red and black, just enough blue and not nearly enough white. So, the night that I set about making the tranfer (late in the night, mind you), I ran out of white frosting. It was already 1 a.m. and I wasn't about to stay up any later making more white, so I froze it without finishing the background. If you look closely, you can see the backwards c-shaped area where I filled in with other white (just a tad darker for some reason) the following evening.

I also didn't smooth it out sufficiently, so I notice lines where I filled in the background frosting. Then, came time to place it over the cake with its sides frosted. My transfer was too large (bad measuring, I suppose) and I had to push the edges down. I had already made another 1/2 batch of white frosting and so decided to merely do the borders in red on the top and black along the bottom. Not the best decision, but certainly more timely than making more frosting (I think I would have chosen blue borders just to even out the coloring some more).

Still, my MS was deliriously happy (and is having a hard time waiting until this weekend to eat it) and my hubby thought I did a fine job. I am thrilled to have learned a new way to decorate cakes and plan on getting more practice at every opportunity. Maybe some day, when I don't have two small children as extra appendages to my limbs 24/7, I will actually take a cake decorating class. Thanks, Amber, for teaching me something in my own home without the need for child care. Although, after last night, I am praying even harder for child care.

Yes, I did say the "trials" of life with my MS. I couldn't have blogged about this last night - the steam was still screeching out of my ears. However, by morning, I happily took a photo for evidence and decided to share more life with my MS!


Naps are a wicked thing for this toddler. He still needs them, but on days when he has one, he often doesn't fall asleep until very late. So, last night he continued to come out with bathroom jaunts and requests for rocking. I was already beyond my patience with him, when at 11:15 I heard the howl of my YS. I dashed in to see what had happened. Yes, the photo I could have taken last night would have looked reminiscent of the scene where ET is hiding in the stuffed animals in the closet. I had to search long and hard to make out my crying baby's face because my MS had thrown all of these items (which I tossed in a fury on the floor) into his crib.

I'm wondering if MS actually progressed in naughtiness. Did he throw in the stuffed animals first and say to himself, "Hmm, no damage?" Then came the slippers. Still no response. Then the water bottle and soft books followed by 7 or 8 hard books. How about the yellow rubber door jam? The plastic green roof to Big Bird's house? Hard action figures. "Nope, I'm gonna have to pull out the big guns. Ah, success - the metal Spiderman trash can! Yep, now I've got all the attention I didn't know I didn't really want!" GOOD NIGHT!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Book Review: Telling Secrets



A short time ago, Cardiogirl did a post on meeting famous people. I have actually had the privilege of meeting several famous people, so I enjoyed commenting on her post and one of the names I dropped was that of Frederick Buechner. The first time I ever heard this author's name was when Mary Dorsett, the wife of my boss, Dr. Lyle Dorsett, came over from Wheaton College's Special Collections where she worked, to tell us excitedly that she had just secured the writings of Frederick Buechner for Wheaton's special collections. Given her enthusiasm, I should have headed to the library to check out some of his books then and there, but I was a busy college student and so I merely made note of the name.

Not too long after that, I heard that this distinguished author was coming to Wheaton to teach an 8 week course on "Religion in Literature." Even at that time, I didn't fully recognize what a grand opportunity I was about to experience. I signed on for the course and after the first class, went home to write in my journal about the many other students who were taking the course with me. It was a fabulous class. Buechner assigned approximately a book a week and we spent the class sessions in animated discussion. He did not lecture. He did not give tests. He required only class participation and a final paper to sum up what we had gained from our reading.

We read some incredible books together and it sparked a lot of deep discussion among several of us. In fact, the following summer, I was still corresponding with other students about books we had discussed with Buechner and other books that his syllabus had led us to. Would that I could duplicate now the hours of intellectual stimulation I received in college discussing various pieces of literature.

I have several Buechner books in my own collection; some I have read, some I merely own and intend to read ... some day. Apparently, the Cardiogirl home (or should I call it an empire? - seems fitting) contains every single book published by Frederick Buechner, because her husband is a big fan of his writing. He actually wrote me a letter asking me to provide details from the class (this is where keeping a journal really comes in handy) and ended up encouraging me to read Buechner's memoir, Telling Secrets, because Buechner actually mentions his experience of teaching at Wheaton College.

End of back story, on to the review: I thoroughly enjoyed this brief, entrancing book. Buechner tells some of his secrets (his father's alcoholism and suicide, his daughter's struggle with anorexia, and his own role in creating a climate for her anorexia to flourish). We all have secrets and we all are torn between the desire to bring them to light and to keep them hidden. Thus, my friend, Guilty Secret and her blog. And, I even found another blog based on some Buechner quotes. She pared down this quote, considerably; I felt I could not.

Buechner writes: "It is important to tell ... the secret of who we truly and fully are ... because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier that way to see where we have been ... and where we are going. It also makes it easier for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own.... Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell."

Although I did enjoy reading the bits about his experience teaching my class, the far bigger impact from this book was how affirmed I felt at the end of reading it. He made it clear that it is entirely human to have stuff (baggage) we don't want to share with everyone, stuff we might be ashamed to admit, stuff that gets in the way of relating easily with one another. He also made it clear that sometimes the answers we are looking for lead us back to the mystery of God. I still wrestle with God from time to time. Buechner reminds me that I'm not the only one wrestling and that, perhaps, the issues I wrestle most over are things which God has allowed in my life specifically for the benefit of wrestling and experiencing His grace.

One of the other lines I loved in this book hooked me because of the pleasure of one word. He wrote, "tatterdemalion crowd though we were..." I love the word tatterdemalion. I love the image. I am the image. I am part of that tatterdemalion crowd and I am one of those whom God still speaks to in all the STUFF of my life.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Little Help from My Friends

Just wanted to put a sound-out requesting some help for my friends and family. When we lived in DeKalb, we developed a very close friendship with a wonderful family of girls down the street. There were three girls in the family and their mom was going to school. I had an only child who craved someone to play with, so I often invited the three girls down to our house after school for a few hours. We had tons of fun. This was my girl fix. I don't remember ever braiding their hair, but I do remember wonderful times baking, making crafts, running through sprinklers and lots and lots of playing.

We still miss their company and think of them often. In fact, the other day my MS asked my husband to play one of our Halloween CD's (a cheap one that came in a box of cereal, but one my kids have always loved because the music is fun). As soon as he put it on, my husband waxed nostalgic and pined for the days when those three girls would jump on our bed with my ES, while singing with that CD!

Anyway, the girls' mother, Jennifer, recently e-mailed to ask if I would send a postcard for her youngest daughter's school project. Her middle daughter (who was my ES's best friend for several years) had done the same project in school last year and I sent this sound out via e-mail. Last year, her daughter had a windfall response. So, I'm hoping that you can help her younger sister feel just as loved!

If you are from a state other than IL (or a different country), have a moment, and can afford to send a postcard from your area (I'll send one of the INDY 500) telling a little about where you are from, please send it to:

Macie Berg
c/o Prairie Hill School
14714 Willowbrook Road
S. Beloit, IL 61080

Thanks for helping out!

And, remember, there is only one week left to go to www.colgate.com/starlight and vote for my niece's hospital (St. Vincent's Hospital in Green Bay, WI) to win a mobile fun center for their pediatric unit. Amelia was there today for her LAST spinal tap in her course of treatment. If you want to see photos of my bald brother and nephew, visit Amelia's site at www.caringbridge.org/visit/ameliagorton . Thanks for casting as many votes as possible between now and March 31st.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Good News to Share

Perhaps I am just in an overly critical funk this weekend, but once again, I'm not going to post those Easter thoughts. Instead, I'm going to ramble from my stream-0f-consciousness (at least I think I'm conscious - some days, who knows) around the Easter theme.

My boys LOVE holidays. One boy talks about one specific holiday throughout the whole year (if you know me, you'll know which boy I mean, and hey, you've got a fifty-fifty chance since one of the three can't talk yet). So, I have been trying to make a point this week of explaining the spiritual reason we celebrate Easter. Last Sunday, my MS loved holding, waving and then (in the car) tearing apart the palm branch he was given in church. We talked, ever so briefly, about Jesus dying on the cross (since we've had some emotions about dying lately).

Today, the church where my MS goes for Parent's Day Out held an Easter egg hunt. I had noticed the open invitation on the sign, so, I decided to bundle up the two little guys and give it a go (it looked like both rain and snow, so I wasn't sure how it would go). I'm sure they had fun. I survived and I was glad they had fun.

I suppose my brain works in certain ways because I was a pastor's kid. When I saw the jam-packed parking lot, my first thought was, "Man, this was a clever outreach event." It brings to mind, my friend Kyle and thoughts he once shared about visiting the Circus Museum in Wisconsin. The circus used to go out to share their incredible acts and impressive sights. They rallied people into their tents, moving to where the people were, not holed up in a museum. His point was that we, as Christians, have good news to share and we shouldn't keep this good news under wraps for quiet inspection in a museum. We, too, should go out to proclaim it.

I guess I left just a little bit sad in my soul. Yes, my children had fun. And, maybe, I'm the only one who saw it this way, but man what a wasted opportunity. We entered, they took names for door prizes. I ushered MS and YS out the door to the playground area where the 3-5s were allowed to look for eggs. After the egg hunt, we headed back to the sanctuary for games and the door prizes. Then, unexpectedly, we were all invited to stay for a hot dog lunch in the fellowship hall. I commend this church for offering nourishment and great entertainment to the public.

However, my soul ached just a little bit as well. I suppose, I expected to receive something with information about the church (even though I already know their information), some sort of small message about why they were opening their doors, some hint that there was good news to share and some greater pull towards a community of believers. During the hot dog lunch, I sat at a table with my two little boys and noticed the (sadly typical) division in the room. Regular attenders were all on one end of the room, packed around tables conversing animatedly with one another. Then there were the patches of non-attenders - isolated families, eating alone.

I will admit that I spent a great deal of time chasing the two little guys (remember, they are 1 and 3 and too heavy to hold the whole time), so perhaps I was a difficult target to approach. But, we were there for an hour and a half and I approached two or three people. One was wearing a Rockford sweatshirt, and I just had to ask if she was from Rockford (which is near where we used to live). She said "No," and quickly looked away (who knows, maybe it was a thrift store purchase and she only bought it because she liked the color). The only people who approached me were the pastor, his wife, and the PDO director.

I know I am more keenly aware of this subject because I have recently moved, but I do want to encourage others to reach out when newcomers enter their church doors. I already know the good news. I already have received the gift. But, so many others, enter with their families to search for Easter eggs, hoping that someone will give them more than an Easter egg and a hot dog lunch. I don't want to seem like I am slamming this church. I am not. I grew up in The Salvation Army. We were all about meeting the physical needs as an introduction to meeting the spiritual needs in others. I merely hope to encourage other believers to use their outreach events to effectively reach out. I found myself wishing they had instructed their regular attenders to seek out four or five newcomers to greet and strike up a conversation with. Perhaps they did, and I merely fell through the cracks (while chasing my whirling dervishes).

And, in that same spirit, I wanted to share a fabulous story of reconciliation. I love books with that theme. I crave these kinds of stories again and again. My soul needs to hear them. If you would like to read a fine story of reconciliation please read this. I hope that I may be more about sharing the good news than I have been. It is too important to forget! We all need more than an Easter egg and a hot dog for today; we need the miracle of Easter and His nourishment for today, tomorrow and eternity!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday for my ES, not my MS

Yes, this is a photo of my ES's accomplished performance on Guitar Hero. Tonight, after attending a large boy-girl birthday party, he managed to make 100% twice (notice the little spot on the newspaper headline where it says notes hit: 100%). The second time, I told him to take a picture of it and promised to post it.

Side note about the party: At first my son said that 60 were invited to this party. When I expressed concern that they could fit 60 into their house, he whittled it down to 30. When I called to RSVP, I asked if they were doing presents. The mom said "Well, yes, they are," with just a hint of "why wouldn't we?" I'm curious what other mothers think about gifting at birthday parties.

See, I always wanted people to be low-key when we invited them to a birthday party for our son (meaning small token gifts). When he was in 1st grade, we discovered the wonderful option of the pool party. Our local park district in IL offered family swims on Sundays and we were able to pay $2 per child to have a pool party, providing our own snacks out in the hall. We invited his whole class (and did this for 3 years in a row - it was such fun). Because we anticipated larger numbers (but not 30, mind you) we hosted a round robin gift exchange. Each child was asked to bring a $2-5 wrapped gift labeled either neutral or boy or girl. Our family brought two such gifts and all the gifts were placed on the middle of the blanket. The guests drew numbers, then my son chose the first and last gifts and the guests chose based on their numbers (therefore, no guest got stuck with the last gift on the pile). They swam, ate cupcakes, drank juice and every kid went home with a gift and a small goody bag. A good time was had by all.

Tonight, my son took $10 as his gift. He refused a gift card, saying "What if she doesn't like to shop at the store you get a gift card from?". He even refused to put it in a card. "Mom, trust me, nobody does that. Nobody is probably bringing a present anyway." Obviously, my son thought this girl's mother invited 60 nobodies! Hope they all had fun. I don't even know because I was dealing with MS when ES got home and once ES told me about his accomplishments on Guitar Hero, I realized he should really head to bed, too. (Hey, at least I promised to blog/brag about him)

Now, MS - ARGGHHHHHH! He has been having some toileting issues for the past four days (I'm ready to put him back in diapers). Tonight, I whisked YS out of the bath and got him into clean p.j.s. Headed back to whisk out MS. Was greeted with "I'm sorry, Mommy. I did a little poopy in the tub, but I'm cleaning it all by myself, so don't you worry." There he stood, with a sponge (oh my - he must have gotten out to get that, didn't he??) pushing the said floaties all around the bottom of the tub. Perhaps, I wouldn't have gotten quite so mad, if it didn't seem like he'd been plotting this all week, dropping little verbal hints like, "if I made a mess in the tub, I'd be sure to clean it up, so you wouldn't have to." (Earlier in the week, I had asked him to help me with a chore. I put ES's muddy inflatable sled in the tub, filled it with water, handed MS a sponge and asked him to clean the mud off. He happily got in the tub and did a fine job. He was well proud of himself. Now I see where those wheels, they began a turnin'.)

No, I didn't crucify him - but I was good and mad, and he certainly went straight to bed (after a story from my head, involving a poop monster which Spiderman graciously helped them defeat and flush down the toilet, THE ONLY PLACE WHERE POOP MONSTERS EVER BELONG!!!!).

And to think, I intended to come on tonight and give you some inspirational Easter thoughts. I will try to post those tomorrow. (You can just be grateful that I didn't include photographic evidence of MS's Bad Friday!)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Book Review: Musicophilia


I have always been fascinated by the power of music and would have to say that music has been remarkably powerful in my life. I grew up in a very musical family. Both of my parents sing and play instruments. My father insisted that each of his five children learn to play an instrument at the age of 7. He started all of us on the slide trumpet, so we could learn the trombone positions, and then moved us to the cornet. By the time we were 10 or 11, the choice was ours as to whether we would continue or not. I chose to continue and have never felt regret (except, perhaps, that music doesn't play as significant a part in my life now as it did in the past). In fact, I can remember individuals commenting on how powerfully music seems to move me.

Thus, I was eager to read Oliver Sacks newest book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. Oliver Sacks is a physician and author, whose most recognized book would probably be Awakenings, which was made into a movie starring Robin Williams. Although his subject matter is rather heady (dealing with the brain - ha!), he manages to pepper all of the neurological information he is providing with compelling stories of various patients and other individuals.

The book is tightly structured into four parts. The first part, called "Haunted by Music," discusses ways in which music can take hold of the brain. He tells of a doctor who is struck by lightening and becomes obsessed with music. He talks of musical seizures and hallucinations. He discusses brainworms (tunes which our brains latch onto and cannot seem to stop repeating).

Personally, my brainworms are usually annoying Barney tunes or ditties from commercials. However, the whole time I was reading this book, I had a new brainworm take hold. It was a song I have listened to on numerous occasions, sung by The Salvation Army's Chicago Staff Band, called "The Rhythm of Life." Just as the book described, I could actually hear the music in my mind as if it were being performed right in front of me . I even heard it right down to the nuances of the individual voices of people I know who were singing on the recording.

The words are an entirely fitting accompaniment to Sack's book:

The rhythm of life is a powerful beat,
Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet,
Rhythm on the inside, rhythm on the street,
And the rhythm of life is a powerful beat.

The second section is called, "A Range of Musicality." Here, Sacks discusses individuals who cannot appreciate music, those who appreciate it, but are not musical, those with absolute pitch, savants, blind musicians whose auditory abilities are enhanced, and synesthetes (individuals who actually see colors with each pitch). Each individual has differing strengths and weaknesses when it comes to musical abilities. Did you know that half of children who are born blind have absolute pitch?

In the third section, Sacks deals with "Memory, Movement, and Music." He tells absorbing stories of individuals who overcame various medical disabilities, like amnesia, Alzheimer's, Tourette's, Parkinson's, autism and amputation through forms of music therapy. I found myself, time and again, sharing bits and pieces with my husband. The tale of the severe amnesiac who couldn't remember time from one moment to the next, yet could play his music and conduct without difficulty. Individuals with Tourette's, whose thousands of tics virtually disappear while playing music. Parkinson's and Alzheimer's patients who come alive only to music. The tale of the one-armed pianist.

The final section discusses "Emotion, Identity, and Music." Different people have differing susceptibilities to music. Individuals with Aspergers may have intricate knowledge of many subjects, yet experience difficulty feeling an emotional response to music, while a whole group of individuals with Williams Syndrome can spend every waking moment engrossed in music and be unable to tie a shoe or add 3 + 5.

This book will certainly be one of my favorite reads for the year. It reminded me of Dr. Paul Brand's books, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made and The Gift Nobody Wants. After putting each of these books down, I felt a surge of gratitude to God for the incredible intricacy of the human body and for the marvelous gifts He has given us through it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Living with a Parrot

Living with my MS is like living with a parrot. Wikipedia defines "photographic memory" as an "extraorinarily detailed and vivid recall of visual images." I'm going to coin a phrase. My son must have an "audiographic memory".

Lately, he has taken to listening to two of Kate DiCamillo's Mercy Watson stories in the van (Mercy Watson to the Rescue and Mercy Watson Goes for a Ride). Mercy is a pig whom the Watsons adore and treat as a member of the family. She enjoys "eating toast with a great deal of butter." So, while shopping at Walmart, it didn't surprise me at all when my MS said, "I enjoy eating macaroni and cheese, with a great deal of cheese!" Of course, others nearby kind of gave him a perplexed look.

Most of the time, however, I do have to pause and figure out where his comments originated. For a while, he kept saying "Where would we be without Spiderman?" Then one day, the comment jumped out at me on the CD. Mr. Watson exclaimed, "Where would we be without Mercy?" (And what a great line that is. Perhaps that one line is what prompted Kate DiCamillo to come up with the whole character. Indeed, where would we be, in this life, without mercy?)

But, my favorite this week had to be the time he walked up to his dad and out of the blue said, "Don't just dream of beautiful skin. Make it real!" The next time I saw a Proactive commercial, I understood clearly where his concern for his father's skin came from.

Of course, I can't say that I'm always fond of his incessant talking. He has the typical obsession of three year olds for repeating my name over and over and over, ad nauseum, throughout the day. I decided to try an approach I had used with my ES when he was three. I had told my ES that I wasn't Mommy anymore, but was now called Gertrude. My ES played along with it and for a few days, I would be called Gertrude.

Not so with my MS. This time, I tweaked the game a bit. I turned to him and, in a southern drawl, explained "Your mommy, she needed a vacation, so she left you here with me, Gertrude. Now I'll take care of you while she is gone. You need anything, you just ask little ol' Gertrude." He tried to say, "You're not Gertrude. You look just like my mommy." I played along, "Yes, we might even be twins, we're so similar. But, now, you rememba ... our names is different. I'm Gertrude." I couldn't get him to call me Gertrude for anything. Plus, he quickly deteriorated into anger. He was not going to be fooled. He continued to insist that I was Mom and not Gertrude, until finally I had to abandon the game in frustration (both his and mine). Now, if only I really had a twin, Gertrude, who could come take over on days when I tire of hearing my name called and repeated for the thousandth time.

Monday, March 17, 2008

My Interview with Leah at Ciboulette

I finally got around to interviewing Leah. It was great fun, since she is, like me, an English teacher who likes to travel. I think my favorite response was to the question about her creativity in the classroom. I always love to hear creative ideas for classroom activities.

(Editorial apology: I have checked and rechecked the html - somehow it is messing up the links. Sorry! Wish I were better at this whole gig!)

1) I noticed the "editor-for-hire" bit on the side. I secretly hope that someone will read my book reviews and offer to pay me money to write book reviews. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened yet. Has your link netted you any extra jobs or income?
Not that particular link. I do have another ad on a self-publisher's website which brings me 1-2 jobs per year, which is just the right amount for me. I really enjoy the work. I've done a couple of novels, a few memoirs, a book on real estate, one on whisky and the last, the most interesting, about a woman's encounters with aliens.

2) O.K., I have to ask how you acquired the nickname "Gizzy?" I have had many nicknames over the years (perhaps because we moved quite a bit and many different people gave me alternate names). In my teen years, several older girls in our youth band started calling me "Gidget" (which I only recently learned is a contraction of the words "girl midget" - groan!). They told me it was because I reminded them of the girl in the Gidget movies. Have you had any other nicknames you'd be willing to share?
My mom used to call me "Missy" which I hated. I got it most times when I was in trouble. I think my dad started making fun of the "Missy" and somehow it got transformed into "Gizzy" and became an affectionate term from him. Often he would refer to me as "The Giz."
I don't think I've had any other nicknames!

3) You mentioned that you would like to travel. Where are the destinations you would most like to visit and why? Where have you been and what took you there?
Great question! Obviously I am ecstatic about visiting New York city - we leave on Tuesday! As for why I want to go...New York seems to be the center of the universe right now. Every TV show and movie seems to be set there, and a lot of blogs I read are written by men and women who live there. I've been up and down the west coast of this continent many times. I've taken shorter trips to more eastern Canadian cities-- Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa--where something is different. It's the pace, the cosmopolitan feel, the music... the people are different out there, in a good way. I miss it, that difference, and am sure New York will put a whole new spin on things.
As for other places in the world I'd like to see...I'd love to go to Japan, Italy, Spain, Scotland, Russia. Perhaps in another post I'll elaborate on why...
Where have I been? I'll pick one place: St. John's, Newfoundland. I went there for the accent, the screech and the kippers roasted on the beach. I need to go again.

4) You also mentioned that you hope to experience motherhood one day. Since I have only boys, and had begun to long for a girl, do you have any preferences? How many do you hope to have? Does your husband want the same number?
I'm not sure, I'm not sure! It's hard to imagine my future children and I don't know what kind I'd like! I do know one thing for sure, however, I'd like my children to have siblings. I think the relationship with a sibling is one of the most precious relationships in life. Your brother/sister is the one person that is with you through your entire childhood and, hopefully, is with you into old age. When/If I become pregnant, I might have some more answers for you.

5) You have a link to The Modern Letter Project. Are you a participant in that? Do you write many snail mail letters? Do you have (or have you had) a foreign pen pal?
I am a participant in The Modern Letter Project, however I think I'm going to drop out. Although I've been faithfully writing letters to my assigned people, I haven't received a letter nor a reply since last summer. Sad. I continued to write because it was fun in any case, but I also like to get these surprise letters. Also, since I don't get a letter, I keep forgetting to write mine and end up sending off my letters quite late, which is unfair to other participants. Perhaps I'll rejoin again at another time.
My good friend, Sherrey, and I write snail mail letters to one another. It's the only good thing about her move away from me. I wrote a real letter to another good friend of mine, Katie, in January and she wrote back after an altercation with her fountain pen. I plan on writing back...
No foreign pen pals! You?

6) You seem like a very creative teacher. What are some of the memorable things you have done to bring literature alive in the classroom (I love that you ran to get a conch shell during a recent class - I bet the students admired your spunk and spontaneity)?
Thanks, Wendy! I've been beating myself up over the past couple of weeks for the boring activities I've been thinking up. Sometimes I think the kids really like the good ol' worksheet. I always hated it, but I also hated group work. So I know there needs to be a balance. Last year when I read "The Tell-Tale Heart" with my grade 8s I did something called a "tea party." (I'm not sure why it's called that). I typed up random phrases from the story and then handed those out prior to reading. From their phrases, the students were to try and figure out what the story was about. Then they compared with another student, and elaborated. Then they enlarged their group and finally made their way around the room, comparing phrases. The stories they thought up were sometimes almost right on, but always crazy with imagination! Then when I read the story aloud, they were listening for their phrase. It was great.
Another thing I liked that I tried this year was oral story-telling. After a stint of daily silent reading, I suddenly began to tell my story of the biggish earthquake of 2001 (when my students were in grade 4). They listened, a little perplexed with why I was telling them, but responded with wide eyes and "I remember!" Then I asked them to think up a story that they would like to tell. Just short and sweet, didn't have to be momentous or revealing. I put them into pairs and gave them 2 minutes each to tell their stories. Then I shuffled the pairs and they told their stories again. And again. The class was alive with animated chatter, all telling stories. It was great. I need to do it again.

7) If you weren't teaching, what would be a second profession (besides writing) that you would like to pursue?
Tricky, you are. I think I'd like to work in radio - specifically, the CBC. I love that bloody station. I don't know what my role would be, because I don't know that much about how it works, but somehow involved in creating radio, without getting into the journalism side.
Nursing. I did work as a nurse's aide for awhile which, as I've said, was really difficult and really rewarding. I think if I hadn't gotten this teacher thing on the brain, I would have continued my schooling and completed my RN.

8) I admire the freedoms you must have as a DINK. What are some of your favorite things that you enjoy right now, which you know you will probably have to forfeit when you start a family?
- Slipping into a pub with friends to have a drink or two after work.
- Dinners out with Ryan. We go out a lot because 1) we are lazy around the dinner hour and 2) we can basically afford it right now. I know when I have kids I will need to think more about nutrition, money and routines.
- Long, lazy days with nothing to do unless I want to.
- Hours spent planning for my classes.
- Reading a book for hours at a time.
- Getting into the car and going--anywhere--at a moment's inspiration.

9) Being a book lover, I have to throw this one back at ya! What are some of your favorite books?
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Mark Haddon
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman
The Way the Crow Flies, Ann-Marie MacDonald
The Time-Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje
Cat's Eye, Margaret Atwood
The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
Harry Potter and the..., J.K. Rowling
The Bean Trees & Pigs in Heaven, Barbara Kingsolver

10) If you could interview any author, who would you choose and why?
Hmmm... Good question. I think Ann-Marie MacDonald. Her books are amazing. I've read both Fall on Your Knees and The Way the Crow Flies. Both are long and completely engrossing stories in which she creates real human beings with real human details. The stories are dark and funny and heartbreaking. And completely satisfying. How? That's what I want to know. How does she do it? How long does it take? If you haven't read any of her works, I highly, highly, highly recommend them.

11) I recently read an article by Robin Hobb, encouraging aspiring writers to resist the temptations to join the blogosphere. It had some interesting points (you can read my post from yesterday about it - I'm hoping for lots of feedback from other writers). She basically says that blogging is easy and makes you feel like you are a writer, when really you have not produced the art that will last for years to come - the novel. She mentions the blog will "siphon the creativity from your fingertips." What is your opinion on this issue? Do you think of your blog as good writing practice? Do you think that it keeps you from writing a novel? Do you think it limits your readership or enhances it? Do you enjoy it more than working on a novel (this is my take at the moment, when time for serious work is at a minimum)? I'd love to hear your ideas on this issue (wish I could have presented this question as eloquently as your NPR quote question did!).
Hmm, again! I read your post and see what Robin is saying. Yes, I get my writing fix by posting on my blog. However I do think this blog, this twice-weekly writing exercise, has helped keep my writing fluent. Yes, it is easy and messy sometimes and awkward at others. But I get it out, similar to The Artist's Way. I think it enhances my creativity, stimulates it. "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" said W. H. Auden. When I get it out, manipulate it a bit, I do discover unknown things that were hiding in my brain.
As for taking time away from "my novel"*-- well, it probably does. If I needed to write and there were no blog for me to go to, I would probably go to "the novel" inevitably. I thank you for this question, because now I will try to be conscious of my procrastination, and perhaps, sometime in the next twenty years, actually sit down to write something more permanent.
Yet! (there's more to say) I take some offence in Robin's argument here. Why is novel-writing the only valid type of writing? Must we all conform to the form? I try to teach my students that it doesn't have to be perfect: just get it out! Be heard! Say it! So many people stay away from writing because the grammar and the rules scare them to death. I say write! Write in whichever way you choose! Write as much as you can! Just do it already!
* in quotations because it doesn't actually exist.

Thanks again, Wendy. Your questions were great and I enjoyed spending my Sunday morning answering them...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Book Review: Are We Out of the Driveway Yet?



I guess I was up for some lighter fare today (I've been reading a heavier book about the brain). When my husband and I were first married, we spent our first several Christmases giving each other copies of all the Calvin and Hobbes (my husband) and Far Side (me) comic collections. We would sit in bed at night, separately chuckling over amusing anecdotes, often pausing to share a really good one with the other person. Once our collections were complete, we never really ventured into any other comic strip.

Now that I know about the Zits Sketchbooks (This was number 11, and I don't think I've ever noticed them before.), I'll probably look for another. This strip by Jerry Scott and Jim Gorman left me chuckling like old times. Life with a teenage son surely presents a lot of humor to consider. Some of my favorites were sketches where the dad is standing outside the bathroom door, informing his son that the shower has been running for over a half an hour, when the son walks by and into the bathroom, stopping the hissing noise and saying quietly, "Oops," and where the mom screams "Get those filthy shoes off my clean floor," only to see the son's solution ... they now sit on the kitchen counter!

Perhaps I'll have to ask for some Zits collections for Christmas this year. This is the kind of book, I could always come back to again and again and still get a laugh. Plus, in a little over a year, I'll actually have a teenage son in my house - yikes!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Apparently I've Been Pole-Dancing

Yes, this will give my parents a shock! Let me explain. One of the blogs I enjoy reading from time to time is called Grasping for the Wind. I believe I found this blogger because he reviewed a book by my good friend, Professor Lyle Dorsett, on C.S. Lewis. His was the blog that led me to yesterday's road trip destination of the people-reading blog. (Thanks Bia, for teaching me how to do that sophisticated link!). Today, he led me to yet another interesting article, by Robin Hobb.

Robin Hobb is concerned that writers are falling for the allure of blogging. She begins her essay by introducing yet another aspiring writer who has caved in to the temptation to join the blogosphere. Her words are stinging, but I understand it is the sting of truth. In fact, I have already noted why blogging has been so incredibly appealing to me.

She warns writers:
"Blogging is easier. The gratification is immediate.... The blogs ... will grow fat and swollen, round bellied with the creativity they have siphoned off from your fingertips.... And when night falls, you will think that you have been a writer today. But you have merely blogged. Compared to the studied seduction of the novel, blogging is literary pole dancing.... Oh, my dearest writer friend. Be strong. Resist the siren call. Don't blog. Write."

So, apparently, I've been pole dancing. Who knew? Well, I'm not ready to throw off this titillating diversion yet. Blogging is certainly not as lucrative as pole dancing. (Side note: I had a GED student once who actually left pole dancing because she wanted to earn her GED and get a respectable job. She recognized her importance as a role model for her children. Kudos to her!)

But, for me, right now, blogging profits my life in ways that money and publication can't. I've said before that I am very isolated and devote all of my days to the raising of my children. I wouldn't have the energy to work on my novels much anyway. In fact, I wasn't doing much writing. Having never published a book, I'm sure I don't have a following of readers wishing I would devote my energies to my young adult novels in progress instead of my daily blogs.

I can appreciate the sentiments that Robin Hobb voices. Blogging is easier than working hard at writing a novel. Blogging does provide that wonderful drug that writers crave, the sense of being heard. I acknowledge that I'm not enhancing my writing productivity. However, I will say that my blog is benefitting my writing career more than if I were to seek evening respite by passively watching television. And after a full day of dealing with my brood of boys, I need the siren call of my blog.

So, you readers who also consider yourselves "writers," what do you think? Are you in agreement with Robin Hobb? Do you feel you've sold your soul to the devil? Do you regret pouring your creativity into a daily pole-dance for strangers? Or, do you see your blog as a means to increase your creative output, something akin to Julia Cameron's daily pages suggestion in her book, The Artist's Way? I'd love to hear from both my writer's group friends and from those strangers who have been viewing my creative offerings recently. I can't bring this article in to my writer's group, but I can facilitate some conversation about this topic on my blog!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Road Trip Anyone?

O.K., tonight I want to send you on a road trip. First off, you need to head over to Bia's spot at http://www.ladolcevitathesweetlifewiththreesons.blogspot.com/to see the sacred spaces in her home. Her home sounds like a sanctuary and safe haven. I asked if I could come visit - that's how inviting it sounded. I want to be more like Bia - no two ways around it. I want to create an atmosphere of ... well ... sanctuary, in my home. I'm nowhere near there. Chaos reigns supreme around here (intended to tackle some of the chaos today while MS was at PDO, but, alas, YS decided to bring up his supper in the middle of the night - first night sharing a room with MS - go figure - so instead, I napped with YS instead of creating a sanctuary). You gotta check out Bia's ideas (she also has wonderful things to share about their Friday night family nights).

Then, you just have to go to http://www.arewethereyet-davisfarmmom.blogspot.com/ . A few days back, she posted some incredible you tube footage of a ventriloquist named Terry Fator. I had to watch several of them. The guy is amazing!

Plus, I recently stumbled upon another blog I have to visit frequently now. I'm just nosy, I guess. This blogger at http://www.peoplereading.blogspot.com/ devotes her whole blog to what random people around her are reading. She doesn't just snap a photo of them reading their book, she also interviews them to provide a little background information (no names, though - every participant is anonymous and a willing participant). I love seeing what other people are reading. The person who told me about this site had a great comment about how reading is a very individual thing and yet very communal in nature, at the same time. Too true!

And, be sure to check out my niece's web site in a few days because this Saturday my youngest brother and my nephew will both be shaving their heads to raise money for cancer through the St. Baldrick's organization. I'm sure they'll have photos or maybe even footage at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/ameliagorton some time after Saturday. Plus, if you go to their site, be sure to link over to the Colgate contest to vote for Amelia's hospital at http://www.colgate.com/starlight . Grab a beverage and enjoy the ride. I did!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I've Joined the Sallyblogger Blogroll

The other day, I discovered this blogroll and thought to myself, "Man, I'd like to be on that blogroll." My blog isn't really focused on the fact that I grew up in The Salvation Army, so I wasn't sure if my blog would qualify or not. Thankfully, they have graciously allowed my blog to be added to their roll. I do write about my times in The Salvation Army from time to time.

At the moment, I am wondering "Where. in. the. world. is. my. CBLI. application?" If you stick with this blog long enough, you will learn all about CBLI (Central Bible and Leadership Institute). I had a blast attending this camp back when I was a teenager. CBLI and CMI (Central Music Institute) were always the highlights of my year back then. Of course, back then, I only slightly noticed that there was a family track to the CBLI encampment.

When my ES was 3, and my husband and I were separated, my brother and sister-in-law were on the staff for the children's track at CBLI. My SIL was convinced that this would be a beneficial experience for us. This camp is so popular among Salvationists in the Central Territory that you have to send your application in as soon as you receive it (usually in January) to ensure the lodging you want to request. One year, we almost didn't make it. The camp had filled and we were next on the waiting list as of the day it was to start. Friday and Saturday, we moped. Sunday morning I headed out for a long walk and returned home to find my husband anxious to tell me that there was a no-show and we were welcome to come to the camp after all.

This year will be our tenth year in attendance, if we get to go. Many others have even longer tenure than us. My husband has requested off work, but we don't know if he will be able to join us. The camp is ten days long and usually begins the last Friday in July (last year it began on Sat. for the first time - when I was a teen, it started on Thu. and went to the following Sun.). There are many things I love about The Salvation Army and CAMP is definitely one of them!

Book Review: Regarding the Bees

Every time I see a new book from Kate and Sarah Klise in their Regarding the ... series of books, I jump for joy! I think I was the first person to check out our library's new copy of Regarding the Bees: A Lesson in Letters, on Honey, Dating, and Other Sticky Subjects. This is the fifth book in the series and I hope they just keep coming.

I love the use of letters, memos, newspaper articles and advertisements to tell the story. I love the endless puns. I love the lessons presented in such an up-beat, funny way. When I did read-alouds for a fifth grade classroom, I always wished for a way to bring Kate Klise's books into those times. Alas, until she markets overhead pages for teachers to use, kids will have to find these books and enjoy them for themselves. The illustrations and print always enhance the experience of the books.

This tale begins with the principal, Wally Russ, leaving Mr. Sam N. in charge for one semester. During this time, Florence Waters, will be teaching his class by correspondence course. They are preparing for state exams and a spelling bee. The seventh graders are knee-deep in middle school angst over dances, dating, friendship and tests. It was a delightfully fun book. Visually, it is every bit as appealling as The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, so perhaps even my ES would be willing to try this book. I can't recommend it enough!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Yesterday with YS




My YS discovered a new form of entertainment yesterday. I would like to think that he wanted the shoe rack to look uncluttered. Thanks, YS!


Alas, I KNOW this is just entertainment. Moreover, I KNOW that we will be seeing this form of entertainment quite a bit in the coming days. Somehow putting them all back on the rack isn't nearly as fun for me as taking them all off was for him! Not to mention, some of them went down these small stairs to the garage door, but some of them went down the stairs to the basement.

Yesterday with ES

Yesterday, my ES got braces (on his teeth - not suspenders, for any Brits who may be reading! - although, he could use suspenders now, since he has lost over 10 lbs. during this wrestling season). Poor boy is eating things like applesauce, fruit smoothies, canned pears and peaches. Flossing was a huge ordeal last night. Even with the help of his dad, they couldn't get the floss into the threader and between the braces and teeth. This morning he told his dad he couldn't eat a banana. Plus, I had to take him back to the orthodontist this afternoon (with the two little ones in tow -groan) because one of the wires was poking into his cheek. I asked if there is an easier way to handle the flossing (having made this $4000 investment, I want to make sure he maintains them properly) and they suggested we buy a Waterpik. So now, it is a $4060 investment (but, I'm thinking I may get an extra attachment piece and use this thing myself - since http://cardiogirl.net/ has gotten me more concerned about flossing and my teeth are too close together to floss without great difficulty and pain).


On the way home from picking my ES up from his wrestling practice last night, we saw a herd of animals out in our fields. I am such a city girl. I get all excited when I see any form of wild life around here (remember we live in an isolated area and we've lived here for a year and a half now - you would think it would be passe by now). I pulled the van over and we both got out to look closer. There were 15 0r 16 deer out there. We stood there for five minutes watching them. The closer we got, the more skittish they were and finally, they all ran for the woods behind the fields. If I had the time, I would do what the author of a book called Bean Blossoms did. She quietly entered the woods and hid out waiting to see the deer close up. As if I'll have time to hide out waiting to see deer in our woods (yeah, honey, I'm gonna go watch for deer for about four or five hours - you don't mind keeping an eye on the two little guys, do ya?!).

Monday, March 10, 2008

Book Review: The Misadventures of Benjamin Bartholomew Piff

The Misadventures of Benjamin Bartholomew Piff: You Wish, by Jason Lethcoe, was another book I chose to experience in the listening library form. The cover was reminiscent of Oliver Twist and I thought my boys might enjoy listening to this with me. I love the rhythm of the main character's name.

Benjamin is an orphan living at Ms. Pinch's Home for Wayward Boys, where, of course, his life is hard and he must clean out pots in the kitchen. He has even forgotten it is his birthday, until an old woman drops by with a small cake for him. Later that evening, he steals a piece of the cake, lights a candle and makes a dangerously clever birthday wish. Unfortunately, this wish sets in motion a deadly war between two ancient rivals, the Wishworks Factory and the Curseworks Factory.

This is definitely a book which will appeal to 9-12 year old boys. It has all the necessary ingredients: good vs. evil, an underdog hero, action, adventure, weaponry, flying chairs for transport, and monstrous creatures. I would love to see how a movie would portray the army of spider-monkeys from Curseworks and the battle action could be spectacular.

However, when I first began listening, I didn't think I would end up liking the book. At first, I thought my struggle was merely with the narrator chosen to deliver the reading. As I listened longer, I realized that primarily my struggle was with the setting chosen by the author. Given that the main character is an orphan living in horrible conditions in an orphanage, and given the narrator's British accent, I expected the story took place in Victorian England (one of my favorite periods). However, the story supposedly takes place in California in present times (yet all the characters have British or Scottish accents). I don't believe orphans end up in horrible orphanages here in the States these days. In fact, I'm pretty sure they end up in foster homes or well-run group homes, which emphasize goals and responsibility. In fact, I almost took a job at a group home of this sort in Rochelle, IL, several years ago. This choice of setting almost made me set the book aside. (I think the author could have pulled off the present time frame, if he had placed the character in a lousy foster home, instead of an orphanage).

But, once the action in the novel shifted to the magical world, I felt more at home with the book and the accents used to narrate it. In fact, the second half of the book was better than the first half. The realistic world wasn't very realistic, but the magical world was truly magical. I believe this is the first book of a pending series. I am hoping the rest of the books are set in the fantastical world of Wishworks and Curseworks.

I will probably pick this up again for my younger sons in 7 or 8 years, but I will read it aloud to them myself. My ES heard quite a bit of this one, but, alas, it "didn't entertain" him. Then again, you know how he is! In fact, I helped him type up another book report for school this weekend. In the final paragraph, he was supposed to tell whether or not he would recommend the book and why. I had to ask, "Do you ever say you WOULD recommend a book?" He said, "Well, I did one time. But, most of the books are just too boring."

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Our Appearances are a-Changing!

I had briefly considered posting a photo of my haircut and highlights (yes, I did finally manage to keep the appointment and receive two hours of quiet and pampering). However, a few hours prior to my appointment, I was hit square on the nose with a heavy block courtesy of my YS's outstanding future pitching arm. This is, indeed, how I tried to put a positive spin on the event. In the heat of the moment, I screamed, "WE DO NOT THROW! (did I need to qualify that ... in the house, hard things at Mommy???)" I burst into tears and put him in his crib. I've told you before that I'm a wimp, so it will come as no surprise that I carried on about it for a good ten minutes. Thankfully, my MS came into my room and said, "Next time, Mommy, here is what you should do if someone throws something at you" and then he made a little jump aside! Thanks for the advice, oh wise little one.

My ES will be looking quite different next time I see him as well. Tomorrow morning, my husband is taking him in for an orthodontic appointment to have braces attached to his teeth. He has spent this weekend chewing his gum supply (oh how that boy loves the gum with the flavor burst liquid in the middle - he'll have to ask if he can chew sugarfree), raw carrots and popcorn.

My MS looks the same, but was also thinking about appearances this evening. He non-chalantly walked up to my husband at the table tonight and said, "Do you care to see my butt?" This guy keeps us all in stitches. I suppose at some point I probably said to him, "Nobody cares to see your butt!"

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Book Review: Look Me in the Eye


Several years ago, I ran across a book in the bookstore which I intended to read sometime, but never went on to read. It was called Running with Scissors. Yes, the title hooked me. So, recently when I discovered another memoir called Look Me in the Eye: My Life With Asperger's and saw that it was written by the "careless" author's brother, I checked it out.

I have been fascinated with autism and asperger's syndrome for quite some time. I remember reading books about autism in college, during my special ed. curriculum, even though they weren't required reading. My mother had been trained as a special ed. instructor and did some teaching both prior to and in the middle of her work as a Salvation Army officer. I didn't intend to follow that route, but my college courses required a short practicum and I ended up working in my mother's classroom side-by-side with her for a brief stint. She dealt with severe and profoundly handicapped individuals. I have very fond memories of that time in her classroom and the chance I had to work (or perhaps I was only observing) alongside her.

Later in my life, I worked with one autistic student in the elementary level (low level autism - but a very sharp kid inside!). Plus, I had suspicions that two students in our school, whom I became very fond of, were possibly dealing with asperger's syndrome. They were very intelligent and articulate, but they did struggle with communicating with peers. I thought they were delightful and their quirks were endearing (even if, at times, frustrating).

I found John Elder Robison's book, Look Me in the Eye to be a delicious and engrossing read. He is a gifted storyteller. For most of his life, he was unaware that he had asperger's syndrome. He chronicles tales of his early life, dealing with the difficulties of cultivating friendships when he sort of "spoke a different language." He tells fascinating stories of pranks he pulled (several I just had to share with my family - hope I didn't give ES any ideas).

Despite enduring a horrible home life and dropping out of high school, he nurtured his obsessions and it led to a way out. He tells of designing the wild special effect guitars used by members of the band, KISS. He tells of working for Milton Bradley, designing talking electronic toys. But, he also shares the insights he learned which enabled him to function more normally in society.

He discusses the stigma of being different, something he always recognized but couldn't understand. At one point, he mentions that he wishes his disability were more obvious. People treat those in a wheelchair with compassion, but they don't extend the same sympathies to those who have a conversational handicap and lack the ability to read social cues others understand innately.

John Robison is a remarkably gifted individual who plowed through a lot of garbage (ha - at one point he plays a prank on some academic elites by concocting a story about being a waste management engineer!) to carve out an interesting and productive life. His story was funny, unusual and deeply human.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Book Review: A Thousand Splendid Suns


I finished listening to Khaled Hosseini's second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns on Friday night but haven't had a moment to review it until now. I am such a tremendous fan of his first book, The Kite Runner, that I was too eager to wait in line at the library for a copy of his second book. There were 9 holds on the book, but only 1 on the audio-version.

I have to say it was very difficult to listen to. For one thing, I don't get much opportunity to travel alone in my van (this is where I primarily listen to books) and it was not appropriate for my MS to listen to. I finally began listening, in snatches, while taking my ES to and from his wrestling practices, and in longer stretches, while cleaning during naps or washing up dishes after dinner. I may also struggle with my descriptions, since I didn't have the benefit of visually seeing the character's names. If I had it to do over again, I would have waited for a copy of the book.

A Thousand Splendid Suns sucked me in from the very beginning, with the introductory tale of Mariam as a child, living an isolated life with her mother and craving the weekly visits from her father. Mariam's mother had been a servant in Mariam's father's home and when she became pregnant, it was disgraceful to this well-to-do, prominent family. So the father, Jaleel, built them a small hut outside of town.

Mariam's desire to be recognized as a legitimate part of Jaleel's family turns her life upside down. At age 15, she ends up being married off to a much older man who lives in Kabul. I found it very difficult to enter into the wretched conditions of her life and the lives of many women like her in Afghanistan.

It was, in many ways, a heartwarming story of a friendship that crosses generations and a testament to the strength and courage of women who endure hardships. However, I didn't feel that these characters drew me in as strongly or experienced the level of redemption offered in The Kite Runner. When I finished The Kite Runner, I immediately wanted to turn back to the first page and begin again. Although, I would read this novel again, I don't think I could handle reading it again for quite a few years. It was engaging from start to finish, but I found myself both depressed and enraged by the atrocities and injustices.

I will say that I continue to be a fan of Khaled Hosseini. He has crafted another epic novel with a sweeping story of two characters who come alive on the page and walk you into their world. He did a fabulous job of writing from a feminine perspective. At times the prose was so beautiful, I wanted to go back and read it again. It was powerful, though disturbing. A recommended read, but not an easy read.

The Boy is Back

Back to himself, that is. Apparently, the increased levels of ibuprofen have been effective in easing his pain in the legs. At lunch-time, he proudly showed his daddy that he could even jump.

I had never heard of reactive arthritis before. Yet, today, I was thinking that perhaps I even experienced reactive arthritis many years ago. I was working for the Claims Management Office at the University of Illinois as a temporary fill-in for a worker who was out for four or five months. I remember that it was a frustrating position because legally, as a temporary employee, I was not allowed access to the confidential files. Yet, I would receive calls from people expecting me to provide them with answers.

One day, my right arm began to hurt and within a few hours, I found that I could not even lift a stapler. Working in Claims Management, (ha) they immediately sent me to a doctor to check for carpel tunnel syndrome (as if I had spent my days constantly typing important confidential information instead of wondering how I could make myself appear to be busy without really being busy). The doctors never did determine what caused the pain, despite many lab tests.

I was finally advised to wrap the arm and avoid using it, while taking 800 mg pills of ibuprofen (we're talking "horse-pills!") several times a day. At the end of two weeks, when I removed the sling, I found I was able to resume using my arm normally. This memory has certainly eased my mind. I have never had another episode like this, so perhaps my son will not have recurring episodes like this either.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Vote for St. Vincent's

This is just a reminder. You can vote once every 24 hours through March 31st at http://www.colgate.com/starlight for my niece Amelia's hospital, St. Vincent's, to receive a fun center for their pediatric care unit. At the moment, St. Vincent's is in second place. For more information, see my post titled "Take Time to Help a Kid Cope."

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Why is it that children whine and moan and seem extremely ill at home, yet when you arrive at the doctor's office, this transformation occurs and suddenly nurses are happily conversing with your seemingly healthy, animated toddler? The doctor who saw my YS in the hospital, Dr. Freeman, had suggested I wait until Wednesday to make an appointment if the leg pain didn't diminish. But, when my MS awoke crying that he couldn't get out of bed because of the pain in his legs, I began to think through what it would look like to take him on Wednesday (my husband works Wed., but not today).

I pictured myself (not a body-builder, mind you) attempting to carry a 40 lb. toddler and a 30 lb. infant into the doctor's office. I finally decided I would have to put them in the double stroller and roll them in. Still, it would mean exposing my baby, who was just released from the hospital, to more germs and illnesses. I knew I couldn't wait until Wednesday.

So, I called and explained his history: complete change in appetite starting in Dec.; concern from the Parent's Day Out workers because he complains about the noise every time they go to the common room for group play (they have been taking him to a quiet room and reading to him - I assumed he continued this because he loves one-on-one attention and being read to); after they mentioned it, I began to notice he will leave the room if I vacuum and will cover his ears and say his head hurts if there are loud noises; beginning in January, daily complaints of fatigue - too tired to eat, too tired to play; ER blood check came back negative for leukemia; then ER trip for ear infection, treated with a round of antibiotics; lingering cough; rash of unknown origin; red eye; and finally, two mornings of waking with pain in his legs to the point of demanding to be carried and unable to stand to toilet.

Despite an already full schedule, they squeezed him in with ... none other than, Dr. Freeman. Since my husband kept the baby home, I only had to take an umbrella stroller. The waiting room was full of very sick individuals and I was paranoid we'd come home with even more trouble. He was mad at me because I wouldn't let him go play in the toy area. I had the upper hand - he couldn't walk!

Dr. Freeman arrived and asked MS to stand. Can you believe, the boy just stood up on his tip-toes? Next, he was asked to put his weight on his heels and he was able to do that as well. Dr. Freeman asked if he could walk to his momma. He did. Then, he asked him to run to me. He shuffled over. I was flabbergasted. I said, "Patient - BE HEALED!"

However, the dr. did believe that he was in legitimate pain. He observed that my MS's gait is not normal. Dr. Freeman believes my MS is suffering from something called Reiter's syndrome or reactive arthritis. This is an inflammation in the joints which sometimes develops after a bacterial or viral infection somewhere else on the body. His suggestion? Give him children's ibuprofen 3x daily and if it is not 90% better by Friday, return to have lab tests.

I went home and looked up reactive arthritis. It did mention that it is often accompanied by red eye or conjunctivitis or a rash. Although, most of the sites mentioned the rash as being located on the hands and feet.

My MS did walk some later in the day. When we went to pick up the ibuprofen, he complained that sitting in the cart was bothering him and said he wanted to walk. He walked like an elderly individual out to the van! He also walked into the house to show Daddy that he could, in fact, walk. However, he didn't feel that the ibuprofen helped the pain and he again requested to be carried to bed.

At this point, it is a waiting game. We are trying not to worry too much, but do have some gnawing doubts in the back of our minds. I will say it is SO MUCH EASIER to keep up with the two little guys when one of them won't walk. I actually had every room straightened in the house prior to leaving for the dr.'s office. That doesn't happen often enough. Still, I'm hoping he wakes up tomorrow with more of the presence I saw at the dr.'s office - that cheerful, compliant, talkative demeanor that always charms the socks off those nurses!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sometimes When it Rains, it Pours!

I am grateful to report that the baby had an uneventful night. He slept well and I slept well (with no computer around, I actually made it to sleep at 11 after reading for two hours). It is amazing how one shot could turn around his serious illness. Now, if they could just come up with a shot for other serious issues in life. Makes me think of a fabulous song called "Magic Wand" by Chris Rice, about wanting a magic wand to wave and make everything all right. (In checking the title, I just discovered Chris has a blog ... there is something I'll have to peruse, but not tonight, or I might add to the illness rain).

By this morning, I was anxious for the dr. to arrive and discharge us. Perhaps it is a good thing he was delayed a bit. I called home to express my frustrations and my husband informed me that my MS also had a great night's sleep, but was complaining of leg pain. He refused to walk all day. My husband suspected he might be garnering attention because Mom has been gone two mornings in a row.

However, when the dr. came to check my YS, I mentioned my MS's recent trips to the ER, the ear infection, the antibiotics course, the "rash of unkown origin" and now the supposed leg pain. He said the pain is probably legitimate and sometimes children experience a temporary arthritic pain after a virus. To test it, he suggested I see if MS ran to me when I returned home.

He remained seated on the bean bag, watching tv all day. He finally let me put a diaper on him, since he couldn't stand up to go to the toilet. He is complaining of nasal congestion, so I would agree that this is probably viral. I am hoping the dr. is right and he will be fine in a day or two. Will he miss another Parent's Day Out? Will we succomb to the deadly flu going around? Will I ever get that haircut and highlights? Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Missing Entry Found/ Hair Appointment Lost

I popped on quickly to see if my birthday post for Andre' ever showed up. I had written the draft on the 24th, but waited until last night to "publish post," wanting it to show up on his birthdate. Unfortunately, I found it. Blogger published it under the Sun., Feb. 24th date. So, sorry Andre' - it showed up on the wrong date. Blame my neophyte status, but know I meant for it to show up on your birthday.

I am only on for a few minutes today. The cough I mentioned turned deadly in the middle of the night. At midnight, I started running a vaporizer for my YS. At 3 a.m., I tried giving the baby a nebulizer treatment, hoping that would help him breathe easier. At 5 a.m., I realized he was really bad off because his chest was sinking in with each attempted breath. I had visions of pneumonia (see earlier post about my own experience as a toddler with pneumonia). This was my third trip to the ER in a month's time. It normally takes 30 minutes to drive there. I made it this morning in 15.

As soon as we arrived, they saw his distress and admitted him. He received a different breathing treatment, a steroid shot and a chest x-ray. They told me he has a severe case of croup and that they would observe him for an hour and then probably release him. After the hour, the doctor decided he still had sounds of stridor, and given his condition upon arrival, they admitted him to the hospital.

Thankfully, the shot seems to be clearing his airway restriction. He has been patiently trying to bide his time in that little room. The nurse told me I could take him on a walk through the halls if I wanted, but I have no desire to be near any other sick patients in the hospital, since the place is crawling with severe flu victims.

I was amazed at how timing has seemed perfect today. I placed the order for breakfast and the baby fell asleep, so I had a brief nap as well until the dr. came to inspect him. He ate breakfast and played quietly with a few toys a nurse had brought. John called to say he would come relieve me after giving my MS his lunch (ES had to go to a wrestling meet this morning at 6:00 a.m.). When YS's lunch arrived, the cleaning person did, too, so she was able to mop the floor while baby was seated on my lap eating. He played for a while longer and then I put him in the crib and turned on the TV. Just as he fell asleep, my husband called to say he was in the parking lot with MS (MS was not allowed in the hospital because of his recent viral rash and we didn't want him exposed to anything).

I'm just praying MS will take a nice nap, so I can get a bit of sleep before heading back to the hospital to spend the night with the baby. The dr. said he should be released tomorrow morning. MS is so sweet. He wrapped up a little treat he wants me to give to baby when he wakes up. Awww!

For now, I am really grateful that MS doesn't seem to be having as much difficulty with the cough. When I was hospitalized with double pneumonia at age 3, my infant sister was also in the hospital with pneumonia. I can't imagine having two small children at home and two infants in the hospital. I wonder if my parents had a sitter at the time??? Did they do this tag-team stuff and meet in hospital parking lots? I'll have to ask them some time.