Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Book Review: Bright From the Start

For the past few weeks, I have been slogging through two parenting books. I did CHOOSE to read them, but I find that parenting books often don't engage me as much as fiction, so I tend to read less often. I did enjoy the books, but it proved an interesting few weeks. One book made me feel I am doing everything all wrong and one book made me feel I am doing everything well already.

Are you surprised to discover that the one I finished first, and am reviewing now, is the one that affirmed me in my parenting quest? Jill Stamm is the Cofounder of New Directions Institute for Infant Brain Development. Her book, Bright from the Start: The Simple Science-Backed Way to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind from Birth to Age 3, was in the new books section at our library and I took the bait. I love books about how the human brain and body work, so I figured this would be a helpful book.

It was a joy to read. I am doing a splendid job as a parent! In fact, I think I learned to be a splendid parent from my own parents, because most of what I have been doing is just stuff that comes naturally to me ... things my own parents did while raising me. Indeed, I think one of the author's primary goals is to let parents know that while nurturing your child's brain development is important (who doesn't want their children to be smart and successful?), it is also easy and natural.

Jill Stamm's book is well-structured, dividing the basics into three alphabetical building blocks. She encourages parents to provide Attention, Bonding and Communication. At the end of each section, she provides suggestions of activities which build in these three areas.

In the first section, on Attention, she explains the numerous things going on in the brain during infancy and toddlerhood. She encourages parents to lavish their infant with attention and quick response to needs. She instructs parents to build their child's ability to hold attention while learning new things.

She also speaks of the benefits of breastfeeding. Now, I wasn't a champion breast-feeding mom (the longest I ever endured was six months), but I do believe in the benefits it provides. What Stamm taught me was that the very physical act of breastfeeding is nurturing brain development because of the action of switching sides (think, right-brain, left-brain, mid-hemisphere line, etc. crossing over the line, stimulating both sides).

Furthermore, the first section encourages limiting television. This, is my one down-fall as a parent. I do allow my children (even my 1 year old) to watch more television than they should. Reading about the importance of teaching your child to hold attention on activities has encouraged me to allow less television time and given guidance about which shows are best suited for infants and toddlers.

The second section focuses on Bonding. Here she explores why physical touch and emotional trust is key to nurturing brain development. She discusses why a secure attachment to a few caregivers (one is optimal) is critical in developing a strong emotional start and nurturing brain development more effectively.

My main goal with my children has been to establish a strong relationship between parent and child within the first five years of life. Stamm concurs, "The quality of your child's first relationships has broader and longer-lasting effects than any other factor in your control." She explains that a sense of security allows the child to use more energy on brain development.

In the third section, she focuses on Communication. She encourages parents to talk to your child extensively, read to them a lot and introduce them to the patterns and pleasures of music. She gives book and music suggestions, but encourages parents to choose things which appeal to them and to follow the child's innate interests.

I would love to write another post, explaining my own personal reactions to Jill Stamm's observation, because there is just so much to say about how we nurture our children. But, the thing which really drew me into this book more than anything else was the story of the author, which she laces throughout the book.

Jill Stamm was a 28 year old fifth-grade teacher, when she learned that her newborn daughter, born four months prematurely, would possibly not live and would certainly be multiply handicapped. Her first daughter, Jenny, did survive with handicaps, and her life encouraged this author to learn all that she could about brain development. Her second daughter, Kristin, is now training to be a neuroscientist. As Jill Stamm talks of brain development and how parents can nurture this, she speaks from a personal realm of watching both sides of the spectrum develop. Her story is fascinating. Her insights are helpful and presented in an affirming way.

In the acknowledgements, her words touched me again. She writes: "And, my Jenny, who has taught me that every person in this world has a right to be ... that, regardless of whether they bring very little, or a lot when they arrive, each shows what it is to be human by just their very existence." I knew, going into a pregnancy in my 40's, that we would face the possibility that our child might be born with some form of disability. I was open to that possibility because I agree with Jill Stamm. We were fortunate to be blessed with three healthy, capable children, and I intend to nurture them to the best of my ability. It would be wonderful if Jill Stamm would go on to write a separate book, an autobiography, so that those who aren't seeking ways to develop the young mind could also benefit from the story of her life and the lives of her daughters.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

That Child Watches Too Much Barney!

Today, my MS came in while I was cleaning the boys' bathroom. He loves to clean the sink. Often he will come out from bed, saying he has to use the bathroom and ten minutes later I find him in there cleaning the sink, with a sponge and way too many bubbles. It is a hard call to make - does one really want to discourage a son from cleaning the boys' bathroom? (I live for the day I can pass this job on to him!)

He proceeded to watch me clean the sink and I mentioned that I was a bit worried about the drain because it is sluggish these days. I asked if he had placed anything in the sink. He said, "No." I then reminded him about the time, shortly after we moved here, when he put a rubber Halloween finger down the drain. It is still down there.

He looked at me and said, "Mom, you should just use your imagination and become a ghost. If you were a ghost, you could slip down the drain and get that Halloween finger back out and give it to me. Then, all you have to do is change back into Mom again."

Monday, April 28, 2008

What Makes Me Unique

Back when I taught high school classes, I used to begin each new class with an ice-breaker about unique traits. First, we would discuss what it means to be unique. Then, I would encourage them to think up at least three unique traits about them within this particular group of people (hoping to settle on at least one for each student).

It was a great way to get to know something unusual about my students and it helped me to remember them by name by the first or second day of classes. I still remember the names of many of those students and some of the unique traits they chose to share.

Of course, to give them a bit of help and some extra time for thought, I would always start out by introducing what I considered to be my three unique traits and we would see if any of them had to be crossed off (to think up new ones). For the first one, I had to be sure to wear sandals (or heels with nylons).

My first unique trait always had to do with my feet and the students always wanted to see evidence. I would tell them: "I think I am probably the only person in this room who can say that they have only 8 toenails." Gasps would ring out, followed by the expected demand to see my feet. Then, of course, I would have to tell the story of my feet.

When I went to the Philippines with a Salvation Army service corps, I knew it would be a life-changing experience. But, I didn't know that some of the changes would actually be physical. The area of Tondo, where my partner, Jody, and I lived for the summer had no drainage systems in place. When it rained, as it often did, the water rose and the area flooded. If we headed out on a dry morning, we could easily find ourselves trekking home in knee-deep waters. Sadly, we had no "wellies" (British rain boots for tramping about in flood waters)!

To make matters worse, you have to remember that in the Philippines, "all of God's green earth is a privy." So, this water was filled with human waste and other "basura" (Tagolog for "trash"). Apparently, whilst traipsing through this lovely basura water, I decided to play hostess to a fungus (not the only thing I ended up being hospitable to).

At first, the infection was merely bothersome. My large toenails yellowed and became difficult to cut. Then, the infection began to spread. I tried several over-the-counter remedies, but never really met with much success. Finally, I was growing really annoyed with the problem and saw an advert for a free foot exam with a podiatrist.

Of course, it wasn't surprising to discover that I had a problem. What was surprising was just how persistent the problem was. The doctor suggested that the large toe-nails were the most likely to cause significant damage and should be removed via laser surgery. One was so badly gone, they would have to remove it permanently. The second one, they would remove temporarily and see if it grew back in healthy. The smaller toenails would have to remain fungal and be treated with other medication.

I had the surgery. I dealt with the follow-up care. I waited. The second toenail grew back fungal. I had the surgery again. I dealt with follow-up care again. One of the toenails, began to grow back, but only from the middle of the toe-nail bed. The doctor said, "Hmmmm. This is an anomoly. I've never seen this happen before. Perhaps a small amount of the nail cell fell just on the middle and is now growing... Oh well. That's all we can do."

You really wouldn't want to see what the students saw. I don't think I ever took a photo. One large toe, devoid of any toenail. Another large toe, with a small bump of nail in the middle. All the other toenails in various stages of decline with the continued fungal growth. Topical Lamisil didn't help, and I think I didn't go on the oral because I was wanting to conceive.

Anyway, for years, I absolutely hated my feet. I still wore sandals, but tried to find ones that would cover my nails. At one point, my friend, Beth, informed me that her mother-in-law had noticed my bare feet while I was over at her house and had thought I had a really bad case of "chewing off the nails." EWWWWW!

Finally, I banged my smallest toe into a table leg and had to see another podiatrist. This one urged me to take care of the problem completely. I took the oral Lamisil (for months) and my other toenails became healthy again. Then, the dr. performed another surgery (with a knife - no laser, this time) and cut and stitched the toe where regrowth was occurring. Follow-up treatment was far more strenuous than I expected (and it was complicated when, the day after having the stitches removed, one of the third-graders accidentally stepped on it - YEOWWCH!).

Now, I feel free to share a photo of my feet with my blog-readers. I feel comfortable wearing sandals. Sometimes, I paint the toenails and it even looks like I have toenails on the two big toes. But, mostly, I just recognize them as the thing that makes me truly unique.

Friday, April 25, 2008

My Words are Pig's Feed

So often I come on intending to write about something and then I get sucked into the computer and find a post on another blog that strikes a chord in my heart. I find myself wanting to say to everyone, "Oh, but you've got to read this, too, because their words are so much better than what I planned to write." Tonight, I can only encourage you to read their words, their gourmet cuisine. I was going to write about my feet (no lie! with illustrations, even!). Lucky you, others have much more poignant, profound things to share.

First off, I must say that although God has led Boothe Farley through some very difficult trials, He has also given her a tremendous gift in her ability to share her words and insights with others. Her Sunday, April 20th post was so profound that I want to print it out and keep it in my Bible. Like Boothe, I crave redemption and redemption's story. Perhaps because I don't trust that everyone will link to her post, let me share the two sections which stirred me the most.

She wrote, "But what if better doesn't come? ... When's the future going to make it feel worthwhile? What's the sense in all of it? Where's the redemption?"

And further on, "But our story - God's story - is linear. It is a fine line going directly, pointedly, toward one end. And that end is His glory."

Her words were truly beautiful (I hope you will follow the link). Although I haven't walked the same road as Boothe, her words resonated within my soul. I've been in a similar wilderness where struggle after struggle seem to be heaped on top of one another and I have wondered if I would die in the wilderness before reaching the redemption, the Promised Land.

I planned to thank Boothe for her words, but when I clicked on the comments, I ran across one from a Cardiogirl reader - Just a Mom. (I hear her chatting often in CG's VIP lounge, and visit her blog sporadically). Of course, her site sent me to another inspiring story (which I have also visited sporadically) - the blog of Confessions of a CF Husband. This blog linked to his father's blog, where I read the most accurate and encouraging article I've read about us PKs (pastor's kids).

All I can say is: Thank goodness for God's incredible grace! And thank Him also for the pig's feed and the gourmet cuisine. May we all be fed well and sleep well.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I'll Be Wearin' Green Tomorrow

I have fallen in love with two of the sweetest little boys, Coleman and Caden Larson. I don't know them personally, yet every week I get updates on what is happening in their lives. The photos, the videos, the way the mom shares their words exactly as they sound when they come out - it is all too touching. And, their faith in the midst of their trial stirs my own faith inside.

I really can't explain the joy I receive in reading about their lives. Perhaps it is because I have boys of my own (including a 3-1/2 year old who is often just as fiesty and verbal as these twins) and they are blond like my guys. Perhaps it is because I have walked alongside a family member whose daughter fought the cancer fight. Perhaps God merely led me to their site and engaged my heart so that I could join in their journey and grow as they grow (which sometimes includes hurting as they hurt or laughing as they laugh or thanking the Lord for blessings I might otherwise take for granted).

Tomorrow, they will take their sweet Coleman in for an MRI/spinal tap to determine if a bone marrow transplant has been successful in treating his medulloblastoma. Coleman's favorite color is green (John Deere inspired, I think) and so tomorrow I'll be wearing green and thinking and praying for the Larson family. If you wish to learn more about these boys (I warn you: you will want to hear about them all the time, too! You will laugh at their videos. You will be inspired by their tales of others who have "paid it forward" inspired by Coleman's story) you can find Coleman's care page at You do have to create an account, but it is free and I promise you will want to hear more about these little boys every week. Once you sign in, you would search under the name "ColemanScott." Be sure to read their story about noticing the "buds" on the trees. I will be laughing the rest of the week over that one (too typical for boys), or "cracking my head off" as they would say!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Book Review: No Talking

My ES and I first came across Andrew Clements and his books when ES was approaching first grade. Our first was Jake Drake: Bully Buster, which we took with us to camp (CBLI) and read every evening together. This propelled us through the whole Jake Drake series and on to other Andrew Clements books, like Frindle. So, it was no surprise that his recent book, No Talking, lived up to the other greats.

This was a delightful story about a fifth grade boy who, after reading about Ghandi, decides to see how hard it is to go a whole day without talking. Of course, one thing leads to another, and it becomes a competition of all 5th grade boys vs. all 5th grade girls for 48 hours. This poses problems for the school staff. It is a wonderful spark to get kids thinking about the power of words and the impact of both words and silence.

Having worked in a fifth grade classroom, I was wishing this had been published sooner, so that I could have read this as a read-aloud in Mrs. Brown's classroom. I highly recommend it to other teachers. I also recommend it to reluctant readers. What kid doesn't like a story of gender competition?

It brought to mind the first time I had to go 24 hours without speaking. I was at a Salvation Army Girl Guard camp (age 13 or 14) and was going to be inducted into a special group called "Black Arrow." They came for a few of us after we had fallen asleep (I think I slugged the girl who tried to rouse me - sorry, Melody Shank), blindfolded us and led us off to a campfire where we were given our first challenge. To earn our way into the "Black Arrow," we had to be silent for 24 hours. Anyone who knows me, would realize that this was a very tough challenge. I think I could do it now, but as a kid, it was monumental (of course, now I have a motor-mouth son who never stops, so I crave silence a bit more than I used to).

Confessional: I recently dug out my Children's Living Bible to pass on to my MS (his favorite thing to do is flip to the page showing the picture of Jesus dying on the cross between two thieves - he gets mad if he can't find it). I received this Bible from my parents on Christmas Day in 1972. In the back, I had asked several of our Salvation Army cadets (those who are training to become officers) from a Cadets Spring Campaign in 1979 to write autographs. (I have such clear memories of this week with cadets - they all slept in the basement of our building and one gal became engaged to a man named Rose the night before Easter. They came up the stairwell for our sunrise service and Easter breakfast and she was singing, "Up from the grave, I'm a Rose." Ha!)

Here are some of their comments:
  • "God bless you and keep you. Don't be afraid to speak (lots) for Jesus."

  • "Wendy - Don't ever quit talking - I'll not know who you are. Love ya Loud-Mouth!"

  • "To Motor Mouth, Keep your jaws greased and your teeth straight."

  • "Take it easy - my favorite Big-Mouth."

  • "Wendy - Even though I don't understand why people call a shy, quiet kid like you motor mouth, I still love ya! Be good!"

So, there was an unforeseen reason why I never passed this on to my ES, but saved it, somehow, to give to my MS, who apparently is a lot like me! And, maybe there is an unforeseen reason why I feel I should share one more quote from the inside back cover of this Bible. I attributed this to Russell Platz (and it is below some sermon notes jotted in 1983 at Wheaton, so perhaps it was from a sermon in college chapel???). He said, "Now I begin to see in the nitty gritty of life, how God's silences regarding my petitions do not mean abandonment, but just another opportunity to trust where I cannot trace." Perhaps someone else needed to read this quote today! It is entirely fitting, while reviewing a book about silence!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Seeking Suggestions

My ES has been teasing MS mercilessly. It picked up momentum over spring break and I assumed that he merely had too much unstructured time on his hands. However, it persists. It is really offensive to me. I have tried various methods of dealing with this (he has always had a propensity for pinching the little boys' cheeks - and sometimes I handle it with humor, asking him how he would like it if I gave him pokes constantly and then poking him repeatedly throughout that day).

Tomorrow, he is grounded for the afternoon and evening because he responded with laughter when my MS got hurt. He has started this annoying habit of laughing and then saying "OWNED! NYAAA! NYAAA!" I've been very clear on why this is unacceptable to me. It is equally disturbing because he is passing on behavior to the other boys. Today, at lunch, my YS bit his tongue and I was shocked when the MS started to snicker. Of course, we had a long discussion about this.

In fact, tonight, my MS turned to my ES and asked "Do you love me? Do you love S----- (my YS)?" He was thrilled when the answer was yes, but then asked, "So, why are you mean to us sometimes?" It was sweet, sobering and sad, all at the same time.

When my husband heard about ES's grounding, he informed me that ES was casually explaining how he annoys a boy at school by doing the same thing. I don't want to raise a son who bullies or picks on weaker individuals. I don't want a son who fails to show empathy or compassion.

I believe that we teach a great deal by our example. However, I would say that our parental example has been compassionate and empathetic. I want to address this character issue this summer. I've been tossing around ideas like spending time volunteering at a nursing home or something.

I would love any feedback on this subject. How do you nurture and encourage compassion in your children? How do you help a self-centered boy reach outside of himself to look at how another person feels?

Monday, April 21, 2008

One Man's Trash

I have a confession to make. I am not above pilfering through someone else's trash. I've even made some money off of trash-pilfering. For example, when we lived in an apartment in DeKalb, IL, I was taking the trash out one night when I discovered a box full of new, plastic-sealed stationery. I don't mean a small box of stationery. I mean a 9x12x11 size box full of separately sealed packages of 20 pages of stationery with 10 matching envelopes, in varying colors and patterns.

I dropped my trash in and lifted someone else's TRASH??? out. I don't remember if this was the first time my husband learned about this personality trait of mine. I do remember him saying, "What do you plan on doing with that? Why would somebody throw that out?" I held onto it for a few years.

Then, we moved from our apartment into a small house nearby. While cleaning out our storage cubicle downstairs, we found an unlocked cubicle with several pieces of furniture in it (filing cabinets and desk chairs). I headed to the main office to make enquiries. I was informed that the people who had that storage cubicle had moved out a few months prior and left those things there. I was told we were welcome to take anything in the unlocked cubicle. So, I did!

Shortly after our move, we held a garage sale. I think I priced each of the stationery packages at $1.50 and they all sold. I kept one filing cabinet and we sold the rest of the stuff from the unlocked cubicle. When I mentioned this to a close friend at the time, she wasn't even surprised. She said, "Oh, my husband Tony gets all kinds of things out of trash bins and sells them on e-bay. It is a great way to turn a dime!"

Since then, there have been a few times when I have secured things, but I almost always tend to ask the owner if they object to my taking their trash. So, on Friday night, when I was driving my ES to a friend's house, I was astonished to pass house after house with large items on their curb. Since we live further out in the country, I had to ask the friend's mom if there was something going on that I wasn't aware of. She replied, "Oh, once or twice a year they send around a notice saying that they will be picking up large scrap items."

Frankly, I did try not to look too hard. I didn't drive all over the neighborhood to see what I could get. I didn't go out of my way at all, but I did mention to the friend's mom that I had noticed a Little Tikes climbing gym cube with slide in someone's trash. She said someone had just come and taken a similar item from their neighbor's curb. Then, she offered the use of her truck to get it back to my house.

I had to put her off for a bit, because a few months ago, her neighbor had a swing-set out at the curb and I wanted that. My husband was dead-set against it (even though he would like to provide our little ones with a swing-set at some point). He raised some valid concerns (you will notice, he is always the practical, level-headed one). He was worried that the equipment might be old and weakened by years of sun-exposure. He worried about transporting it back to our property. He worried about securing it to the ground adequately. And, he really didn't want to take someone else's trash. So, I passed on the swing-set.

I stopped off on the way home to enquire about the climbing cube. The homeowner said that her children had gotten lots of good use out of it and they had been meaning to get rid of it for several years now. I asked if there were any aspects which would render the equipment unsafe. She identified one small hole in the bottom of one of the plastic walls. She suggested duct tape might take care of that issue and said that the hole was there during her children's use and it never posed a problem. She also added that she hadn't been able to disassemble it.

I headed home to begin my plea. I gave a brief description. I mentioned the offer for transport. I mentioned the discussion with the original owner. I promised to completely wash the thing down with bleach water. And, yippee, he was swayed (although he did admit that earlier in our marriage, it would have been much more difficult to convince him to take someone else's trash).

We now have a wonderful climbing cube and Spiderman is thrilled. YS hasn't shown the slightest interest in it, yet. But, I'm sure he'll come around. I like the fact that it keeps them closer to the garage and less likely to venture off towards the road (where wild country folk zoom past at 40-50 mph). What a treasure! And you just can't beat the price! Apparently, my side of the road wasn't too full for just a little bit more trash - just the right kind of trash!

Friday, April 18, 2008

My First Lengthy Night of Sleep was Earth-Shattering

Last night, I determined to hit the sack the moment the little boys did and stay in the bed as long as possible. I finally managed to get MS down by 9:30 p.m. Does anyone else have a child who manipulates bedtime/naptime with the need to use the bathroom? I am loathe to discipline or send MS to bed when he claims to need this because he has had such issues in this area for a year and a half. But the back of my brain is saying, "yeah right he has to go, really he is just stalling bedtime."

Anyway, I took Nyquil to ensure as deep a sleep as possible. The boys still managed to wake me. Littlest guy was up once, but settled down quickly. MS is the real annoyance. My husband tried to get up with him the second time he got up, but MS proceeded to throw a screeching fit because he wanted to tell Mommy his nightmare and wanted to be rocked. This, of course, woke the YS, but he merely lay there watching the whole thing play out. I still can't get used to waking up and seeing MS's face inches from mine, standing next to my bed. It freaks me out every time!

At 5:30 a.m., I woke because it felt like the house was moving. The closet doors in our room were rattling back and forth. In my grogginess, I thought it was a tornado. As soon as the rattling stopped, everything was quiet and calm. I fell back asleep, but a few minutes later my husband walked into the room. I asked, "What just happened?" and he replied, non-chalantly, "an earthquake." O.K., I rolled over and went back to sleep. Thankfully it didn't wake the two little boys (though ES thought my husband was shaking his loft bed to wake him, until he looked and saw that nobody was even in the room). Go figure, they can't sleep through the night to save their lives (nightmares, hunger, comfort, whatever), yet they sleep through a 5.2 earthquake!

So, wow, when I actually get more sleep than usual (not saying it was a solid night yet) - the earth shakes! Now I can't get that darn song out of my head, "I feel the earth. move. under my feet. I feel the sky tumblin' down. tumblin' down ..."

I went to a government website and reported my response to the effects. It stated that I am almost 200 km. from the earthquake which hit in Southern Illinois along the New Madrid faultline. There were over 36,000 people (from over 2000 zip codes) who took time to record their response to the earthquake.

I'm wondering if my friends and family or bloggy friends felt it, too? DeKalb friends, did you feel the earth move? Cardiogirl, how 'bout all the way up there in Michigan? Did my sister in Mississippi feel it? Some people as far as Georgia and Tennesee were reporting. I'll have to call my brother in Kentucky because I doubt he even knows I have a blog! If you felt it, I claim full responsibility. I can promise you, I probably won't get another good night's sleep for a good long time, so, not to worry!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

God Bless our Bling

A short time ago, Catherine wrote a post titled, "Full Quivers as Bling." She mentioned an article she had read in the Washington Post about affluent families having more children as a status symbol. She observed that someone interviewed in the article considered having 3 or more children to be "ostentatious."

This article notes that the average expense for raising an American child from birth to 18 is thought to be $204,060. Let's see, I have three - that would mean my bling comes to $612,180. I can assure you, we don't have that kind of money. We knew going into the third pregnancy that we really couldn't afford to have a third child. Some would fault us as irresponsible for going ahead and bringing my YS into the world with the full knowledge that we couldn't afford him. But, we were willing to do what it takes to make it affordable. We moved to family property to diminish our outgoing expenses for housing. We curtailed some of our spending habits (like eating out more frequently). If it ever became necessary, both my husband and I have graduate degrees, so I'm sure we could find a way to increase our income.

My children might be considered an investment worth over $600,000, but I view them as a precious gift from God. My father, with his five children, was forever quoting the passage in Psalms 127:3-5, which reads, "Children are a gift from God; they are his reward. Children born to a young man are like sharp arrows to defend him. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them." My children are the only "bling" I will ever be able to show off.

Another blogger, Lisa, who has her quiver full and also counts her children as more blessing than bling, wrote a wonderful post about this subject as well. She profiles each of her 8 luxury children next to photos of what they could have purchased instead. Then, she profiles her two "standard issues" as well. It was a truly lovely post. She also comments on what a sad plight it must be for children who are actually conceived in an effort to show status (and the plight of children who might be well provided for financially, yet famished throughout their lives emotionally and spiritually). However, I loved her take on this problem. She wrote, "God loves His babies, no matter who their parents are, and He's pouring down the graces, if only people will pick them up and use them."

So, here are some recent photos of my bling/blessings.

Don't let that hole in the pant-leg fool you - it's all bling, even the money-saving-mom-provided-trim (aka, butch job) on YS. ES won't let me near his hair - go figure?

ES - musician and monkey. MS - wishing his Superman outfit (minus the cape - on the ground, no doubt) allowed him to scale trees of this size.

And, even though this bling isn't mine - I have to share a photo (sorry it is old - couldn't find a newer one of Amelia by herself) and a word of congratulations, since my niece Amelia is now DONE-WITH-TREATMENT, CANCER-FREE, AND PORT-FREE! Truly PRICELESS!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Book Review: Tuesdays with Morrie

I have been trying to get out of the house at least one night a week. Unfortunately, I usually end up at the library (where I can browse the shelves and the book sale unencumbered) or the thrift store (exciting, huh?). A few weeks ago, I picked up a stack of books at the sale (yes, Shopaholic Takes the Library Book Sale!). Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom, was one of them (only 50 cents). I have thoroughly enjoyed the other Albom books I've read (One More Day and The Five People You Meet in Heaven). I'm not surprised that this one, like those others, has been made into a movie. I've only seen "One More Day," but I'll keep my eye out for the others now.

I enjoyed this book, but not as much as the other two Albom books I've read. It was an easy, inspirational read. I don't know if his perspective carries more umph when it is set in story form. I still would recommend this as a good read. The whole time I was reading it, I couldn't help but think of my father-in-law. I will probably pass my copy on to my mother-in-law; however, I don't know if she'll have time to read it.

My father-in-law has been very ill for quite some time now. Every Father's Day, birthday and Christmas, my husband wonders if it will be the last. My father-in-law, like Morrie, was a college professor. I doubt that I would suggest the book to him - a bit painful to suggest a book on dying to a man who is probably in that process himself. But, my mother-in-law bears the brunt of his care for now and works tirelessly trying to make his last days more comfortable. I think that she would be touched by reading about this account of Morrie Schwartz's final months and his insights into living and dying.

The book also made me think about teachers and professors I have admired and loved. My most memorable elementary school teacher was Mr. Bouchard. He was handsome and unconventional. He taught his class by calling us up individually to make learning contracts each Monday. My competitive soul took to this like fire. I wanted to read more SRA's than any other student. I wanted to be his most successful student! At the end of that year, he married the kindergarten teacher. I wonder where he is now? If I looked him up, would he have great lessons to teach me?

My most memorable junior high teacher was Mr. Wadleigh (I looked it up - I was right). Mr. W. was my 6th or 7th grade English teacher and he encouraged me to share the stories I wrote. He taught me how to write a query letter. He even helped me send off a few of my stories (I laugh now, though, because we sent them to Cricket magazine. Couldn't he have set my sights a little lower so that I might have actually gotten an acceptance letter?).

My most memorable high school teacher was Harsh Ms. Karsh (I've written of her before). She was creative, demanding, inspiring, flamboyant and involved. She clearly cared for her students and wanted to know them more. She read my journals and made comments. She encouraged me to write. She encouraged me to teach. In fact, when she learned that I had earned a teaching degree, she invited me to come back and teach one of her classes for a day (I never took her up on that).

My memorable college teachers were Dr. Lyle Dorsett (more on him later, I'm sure), Dr. Lundin, Dr. Rapp (an interesting Victorian history professor), Dr. Hein, Dr. Ryken, Dr. McClatchey, and Dr. Lake. How sad I was to hear that Dr. McClatchey had passed away.

The two memorable professors from graduate school would have to be Dr. Arnstein and Dr. Winton Solberg. Both of these individuals helped me tremendously and were warm and encouraging. I have often thought about dropping in to see them when I return to Urbana to visit my in-laws.

How rewarding it would be if I discovered that one of my students considered me to have been a memorable teacher in his/her life. I only know of one who has commented about me. When I was teaching GED, I had a student who was interviewed by the local newspaper after her graduation. She said some wonderful things about me. I was thrilled to have been able to meet her. Perhaps some day I will share her story (it is inspiring and I recently shared it with my ES as we were talking about jobs and job security. Yes, I did really have a conversation about that with my 11 year old after he attended something called BizTown, where he held a job for a day!)

Monday, April 14, 2008

And I Thought I Was Naive!

I have a fair amount of travel experience. I studied in Oxford one summer and lived in London for six months. I spent a summer as a service corps worker in Tondo, a slum in Manila, Philippines. I have travelled to Scotland, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, and France. Our family took vacations all over the United States. I remember visiting the Grand Canyon, Disney Land and Disney World. We travelled to Salt Lake City, Utah and heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing (my parents still have 16 mm films of a musical we saw performed there). We visited the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and Wall Drug in South Dakota. We made numerous orange juice stops and had one big sand hill experience in Florida. And we loved the feel our tummies would get when my dad would cruise over the back hills roads in Kentucky (I also remember a phenomenal meal we enjoyed on a Shaker Plantation in Kentucky).

Perhaps because of this travel experience, I rarely think about danger when I am travelling. I have had some fearful moments, but usually the fear comes after I am already in a dangerous situation. But, perhaps I am just naive!

I know that I was terribly naive the summer I lived in New Jersey and worked in New York City. One Saturday morning, I decided to get in some sight-seeing. I headed off by myself to visit Grant's Tomb and a famous church across the street (Riverside Church?? - I'll have to review my journals), located in the upper west side of Manhattan. My next destination was the Edgar Allen Poe cottage, located in the Bronx on the upper east side of Manhattan. I was a poor college student and didn't want to pay the fare to take a subway from the west-side over to the east side, so I decided to walk. I walked across Harlem that Saturday morning by myself.

A few years later, I fully realized my naivete. If you have ever visited the Poe Cottage in the Bronx, you would know that my visit wasn't worth the dangerous walk (it is a tiny relic and all I remember is watching a slide-show in a cramped room in the attic!) I am grateful to God for protecting me that morning. However, I learned that I am not the only person to behave in a witless manner while travelling. When my German pen-pal, Katja, came to visit me, I decided maybe travelling makes a person naive.

I believe it was a Sunday and Katja wanted to head into Chicago, but I had developed a case of bronchitis. Instead of going in with her, I drove her to the nearest train station in Geneva. She intended to visit the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum. We went over the times of the returning trains and she intended to call me just prior to boarding the train so that I could head back to Geneva to pick her up.

Hour after hour slipped by without a phone call. I began to panic. I didn't know how to reach her (I don't remember if she had a cell phone or not). I didn't know why she wasn't calling. I didn't know where she was. I was beside myself with worry. Finally, very late in the evening, she called and asked me to pick her up in front of the Sears Tower. It had just closed. The weather was extremely chilly and I asked if any restaurants nearby were open so she could wait inside. I reminded her that it would take me an hour or so to get all the way into the city from DeKalb.

When I finally pulled up in front of the Sears Tower she was nowhere to be seen. I didn't own a cell phone at the time and I remember wondering what in the world I should do. I couldn't leave her downtown, but I had no idea where she was. I sat there in my car thinking through every possible scenario that could have kept her.

After 10 long agonizing minutes, a taxi cab pulled up behind me and Katja got out, said a few words to the driver and then hopped into the front seat of the car. She said that she was eager to share with me her many adventures, but first she had a severe need for a toilet. By then it was 9 or 10 in the evening and I didn't see a single place where I could let her out to find a bathroom. I headed to the expressway and got on.

You can't just get off the expressway and find a bathroom in Chicago. I tried the first exit where I could visibly see a gas station from the highway. We pulled into the gas station and Katja raced to the doors to find them barred and locked. The security guard would not let her in. We tried two other stations only to receive the same news. By now, Katja was in so much physical discomfort that she was speaking rapidly in German (I have no idea what she was saying, even though I know some German). She was gesticulating wildly to individuals and I was worried what might happen. We were in a very bad part of town.

I was almost to the point of suggesting that I just pull behind a building, when I saw a McDonalds. The sign on the door expressly forbid the use of the restroom facility without making a purchase. Katja ran in and came out moments later. I got back on the highway as quickly as I could.

Then, she began to tell me the story of her day. She had visited the Aquarium and Field museum but still had some time, so she boarded a bus to do some more sightseeing. She assumed the bus would wander around the downtown area and she would just get off at a place that looked interesting. Before she knew it they were in neighborhoods and were headed who knows where? Evanston, maybe? She didn't know how to communicate that she was lost. The driver told her to get off and take another bus back.

When she finally got back into the city, she hired a taxi to take her to the Sears tower. She tried several times to call me but the number wasn't going through. Finally, the Sears tower closed and she didn't know what to do. Upon exiting the building, she was approached by the same taxi driver who had driven her to the Sears Tower. He asked her if he could help her. She said that she was having trouble contacting her American friend on the phone. He walked with her to a phone and helped her dial my number again.

If she had told me on the phone that he was assisting her, that he was the same driver she had used before, I would have been even more panicked. She didn't tell me and after she hung up, this man told her that everything would be closed down and she would get very cold if she waited there for an hour. He offered to take her in his cab. He drove her all over the city of Chicago for an hour and pointed out various famous buildings and sights. When he dropped her off at the Sears Tower an hour later, he wouldn't accept a dime from her.

I tried to explain to her all the peril she had been in. I tried to tell her that his intentions could have been dishonorable. I tried to tell her how worried I had grown as the hours had passed. Instead, this man was her guardian angel that night. This man not only helped her reach me by phone, he kept her warm in his cab and gave her a first-rate tour of the city. I was so grateful for his act of kindness towards Katja. I will never doubt again that God can send guardian angels to protect those who are too naive for their own good! I didn't let her go into the city alone again, either!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My First Internet Friend

Last month, when I interviewed Leah at I had asked her if she had a foreign pen pal. In her response, she threw the question back at me and I have been meaning to write about it for some time now.

I have always loved reading stories about foreign pen pals who write faithfully for many years and eventually meet. There was a touching story like this recently in The Salvation Army's magazine, The War Cry. It was even about a woman my parents knew since she attended the Janesville, Wisconsin, Salvation Army.

But I never had a foreign pen pal until several years ago. It is funny. I am trying to remember when exactly I met my first internet friend and it seems like I have known her for so long that I cannot remember when our friendship first started. I know that my ES was probably 2 or 3 when we began writing, so our friendship is going on 10 years now (that is amazing!)

It was really chance that brought us together even. My husband was on the computer and noticed that AOL offered a pen pal hook-up. He knows how much I love writing, love travel and love meeting people from other countries, so he suggested I give it a try. I think I only responded to three or four possible listings.

Katja was the one person who responded and began to regularly correspond with me via e-mail. She lives in Germany. I had thought that I would seek out someone from England, because that is probably my first love (I am an incurable anglophile), but did look over the profiles for people from Germany as well because my mother's mother came to this country from Germany, my mother spoke some German to us while growing up and I took German courses in high school, college and graduate school.

Katja does very well writing to me in English, which is a good thing because I would have a hard time reading her letters if they were written in Deutsch! Every once in a while, I will write to her in German and it is usually quite a laugh! She is always gracious when I point out an error in her English.

After a few years of corresponding and a few phone calls, we actually got the chance to meet. In early 2004, I was on-line when Katja and I began to instant message. She was writing that she wanted to travel somewhere, but didn't know where she should go. I am so naive! I immediately wrote - "Why don't you come to the United States to visit me, then?" I ran to my calendar and told her that our spring break was coming up.

I can't remember if my husband was at work when this conversation took place, but I know that when he learned that I had invited her, he was out-of-his-mind with worry. His arguments were all valid. "We don't know anything about this person. So you've written back and forth for a few years, how do you really know she is who she says she is? Please tell me you didn't invite her to stay in our house! A complete stranger from across the globe!" Our house was very small, so I didn't really think she would want to stay in our house, but to be honest, looking back, I probably would have made that invitation if my husband hadn't objected.

After several weeks of making arrangements, she finally arrived. By the time Katja walked towards my ES and I in the airport lobby, I was beyond excited. I was nervous, apprehensive, excited, thrilled ... everything all rolled up in one. The drive home was weird. She had just landed on American soil and was getting used to speaking English exclusively (she had actually come to the States for a year as a teenage foreign exchange student). Plus, she was tired from the flight and time change. I showed her our home, introduced her to my husband and then drove her to her hotel (a lovely Country Inns and Suites in Sycamore, IL).

She stayed for 10 days. The first few days (Thu & Fri?) I had to work, so she exercised in the fitness room and wandered a bit. Thursday evening, I remember she came with me to our elementary school's Spring Sing. I was working with two special needs kindergarteners that year, so I had to accompany them while they sang on the stage, but from that point on, I sat with her in the audience. She seemed to enjoy the whole thing, even though these were my students and my son and meant nothing to her.

After meeting her in person, I would have to say that if we lived closer to one another, we probably would not have developed a friendship. She is very quiet and reserved. She is athletic and sports-minded (something I am NOT). She loved shopping while here (I can't say that I love to shop!) and is very stylish (again, I'm not). But what I have loved about her has been her openness with me. She is very real and doesn't hold back the stuff that might be hard to listen to. She has had some difficult times in life. She was married and divorced. I have felt very fortunate to have her as a friend.

There is too much about Katja to say in one blog post, so I will end by explaining why she is on my mind these days. She is enduring another difficult struggle and has shared this with me. My heart is breaking for her. I have vowed to pray for her, but that is all that I can do on my end. I have no answers to her problem. I can feel her sorrow with her and tell her that I care, but that is all. Across all these miles, we have made a connection. We have only spent nine days in each other's presence (I think we lost one day to illness), yet I love her as a sister. I am so thankful that I found her pen pal listing and that she responded when I wrote. I am so thankful that she has never thrown in the towel and just stopped writing to me.

I actually look forward to the next chance I get to sit across from Katja eating a meal together. Will it be at a Panera Bread (one of her favorites) in the States or will it be at a tiny German cafe? Will she visit me in my new spacious home in the farmlands of Indiana or will I visit her in the house she and her boyfriend, Martin, have just bought? I don't know, but I hope we get the chance to meet again some day. And I hope to tell you more about my special pen-friend!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Laid-Back and Easy-Going

I would say that I'm a pretty laid-back and easy-going individual. I'm not Type A. I'm not driven. I don't find it particularly easy to stick with a schedule. Sometimes I wish I were those other things, but I'm not.

In fact, I've never been one to stress overly much about my appearance. It isn't that I don't want to look nice. Merely, that it is not the most important thing on my agenda. Unfortunately, it is getting worse. Perhaps I'm even growing too laid-back and easy-going when it comes to my appearance.

I would say that a lot of it is a temporary response to my life at the moment. Today, I took my two little guys on a walk in a beautiful park in a nearby town. This was something that I used to do regularly - especially while pregnant, because I knew it might be difficult to lose the baby weight after giving birth in my early 40s. The park is lovely and has a challenging one mile trail (including some killer hills - which is always interesting when you are either 8 or 9 months pregnant and pushing a toddler or when you are not pregnant but pushing 70 lbs. of bulky boys in a 30 lb. double stroller). I have really missed this activity, but the winter was long and lots of illness kept us from going for the past five months.

Some of the women who walk there definitely get dressed up to walk. They don their best work-out attire and put their hair up in a cute ponytail. I tried to put my hair up in a ponytail a week or so ago, but merely because I was too busy to grab the time to wash my hair that morning. My MS had better work on his sense of tact before he gets older and begins dating. He spent the entire morning whining about how horrible my hair looked in a ponytail. He carried on so much that, later that afternoon, while he was napping, I did indeed go wash it and curl it as I normally do.

Still, I HAVE noticed that since we moved here I'm more lax about my appearance. Sometimes I don't make it out of my jammies. I barely ever wear make-up. And, I have begun to notice that lots of my shirts have stains. Of course, when you know you will be spending the day indoors with two small boys, it makes it a bit pointless to spend huge amounts of time fussing with hair and make-up and outfits. My skin and hair seem to thank me for showering every other day now, instead of daily. But, it does make you worry when even your children notice your habits declining. My ES made a comment about it, too. I asked if he wanted me to change before I took him somewhere and he said, "why bother, you always just wear an old t-shirt and jeans anymore."

Now I have to decide if I'm going to make a concerted effort to improve my appearance, or just keep letting it all hang out here in the country. I know it would be different if I were going to a job every day. Those clothes are all still in my closet. But, when it comes time to get dressed in the morning, the jeans and t-shirts sound more comfortable. Besides, chances are one of the boys will throw something at me or ruin a nicer outfit.

My husband never says anything derogatory. In fact, he claims to consider me as sexy as ever (even though I know I have put on some weight since I stopped breast-feeding my youngest and began losing sleep more regularly). But, he is the kind of guy who takes great care with his appearance. He gets rid of a shirt if it has a stain. He dresses very nicely for work and often asks my advice (I feel so inept at fielding his questions).

I even think that, at times, he is over-the-top about appearance. For example, when we were first married and living in an apartment the size of a tuna can on campus at Northern Illinois University, there was an incident that took me by surprise and taught me a bit about him.

We lived behind a Pizza Hut and a McDonalds. There was a large parking lot out our back window and across from that were more college apartments. Our roles were reversed back then and I worked 8-4 and he stayed up until the wee hours of the morning studying. One night, I was woken by a commotion in the parking lot. I looked out the window and saw a young woman being chased by a man. She seemed very distraught and I called to my husband (a few feet away beyond our bedroom door, in the kitchen). He came and watched as well. We quickly ascertained that she might be in serious trouble.

I thought she was about to be raped. The man tackled her on a grassy area at the end of the parking lot. I was very concerned and urged my husband to go outside and confront the man while I called 9-1-1. Can you believe, my husband headed to the bathroom? This was shocking. I asked where he was going? He replied that he needed to put some mustache wax on.

My jaw was on the floor. It was the middle of the night. Even under the lights, would they really be able to see that he was lacking mustache wax??? He did manage this quickly, but it was one of the first times I realized that he is quite uptight about his appearance. (I never did find out what happened with the girl. The police arrived. The guy ran off. I'm hoping that we saved her from something tragic). At least, because I'm so laid-back, I didn't have to do up my hair to call 9-1-1!

This morning, it happened again. We had planned to take the car into the shop for service. While he took the little boys along to drive my ES to school (I guess ES missed the bus or begged a ride), I managed to get a shower and curl my hair. I was ready to head out. He was appalled. He couldn't take the car in looking the way he did. (Just so you know, I didn't even realize he looked bad). In the end, it was me he was thinking of, anyway. He offered to change the appointment to Monday, so that he could watch my MS later that morning while I headed back to bed with the YS for his morning nap.

Yes, he is a saint. Yes, he is a fastidious saint. Yes, he loves me even though I'm more laid-back and easy-going. He doesn't seem to mind my stained t-shirts and jeans or the few extra pounds. I'm gonna keep him! But maybe a few more good walks should be on my agenda, too!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Why Do They Do It?

I just don't get it. We live in a very idyllic location. Back before I had two small boys, we used to come to this house every summer for a week long vacation (the house belonged to my husband's grandmother). One of my favorite things to do while here was to sit out on the back porch with a cup of tea and my Bible, a good book, or my journal. There are trees with birds flitting from branch to branch. A babbling brook runs behind the house. I couldn't ask for a more beautiful slice of nature right out my back window.

So, what don't I get? People who live in this area and litter! You can't possibly convince me that these people, who drive by our property and hurl every imaginable type of trash and filth out their car window, all live far away and are just passing through.

When I went to Wikipedia in attempts to find a free graphic to include with this post, I noticed a section discussing why people litter. Wikipedia cited that Francis McAndrew's Environmental Psychology textbook "reports that women, youth, rural dwellers, and live-alone persons litter more than men, seniors, urban dwellers and multi-person households." Wikipedia also cited 1999 research by Keep America Beautiful which "found that 75% of Americans admitted to littering in the last 5 years." I never did find a free graphic. Too bad I can't find an old photo I know I took while visiting England. It was of a sign there which read: "Five pound fine for fouling the footpath!" I just loved the alliteration.

O.K., I still don't get it, no matter where people live, why do they litter on nice country properties?? When I drive to the grocery store or to take my MS to Parent's Day Out, I always see trash on the side of the road. My husband routinely heads out of the house on a weekend with a large plastic trash bag to pick up the refuse that others have callously pitched out their window. It takes him a long time. It is a huge job.

When I was working with a service corps in the Philippines during the summer of 1987, I used to marvel at the number of people who would throw trash out of a jeepney as we rode. (Speaking of jeepneys, I read the other day about the large python found on one of those, which sent riders scrambling - now that would have been something to write home about!) We even watched very well-to-do Filipinos littering. I do remember commenting on how every Filipino male seemed to view "all of God's green earth" as a urinal.

Am I showing my ethnocentrism? I thought that Americans would surely be more cultured and refined than that. Boy, was I wrong. It would be interesting to keep a log of the types of things we find thrown onto the property here. This past weekend, the unsettling items were drug paraphernalia and gang type grafitti under the bridge. Hello. We moved from a town 40 miles from Chicago to the isolated farming community in Indiana to find this under our bridge???

This is truly a boys' paradise with woods to roam and deer to site (two ran right past my hubby and son last night when they were out shooting hoops). Now, I find myself worrying when I allow my almost-12-year-old to go out exploring. Granted, I am hoping this is an isolated find. Most of the time it is beer bottles, empty food bags, aluminum cans, fishing gear, tobacco tins and the like.

I still don't get it, though. What possesses people to abuse the beautiful land that God has chosen to bless us with by littering it with random trash? I guess I just can't understand why someone would choose to forfeit something lovely and idyllic and proliferate filth instead!

It makes me think of an old camp song we used to sing in a round. One of the lines was:
"Don't put your trash in my trash can, my trash can, my trash can,
Don't put your trash in my trash can, my trash can's full."

So now, I sing:
Don't put your trash on my side of the road, my side of the road, my side of the road,
Don't put your trash on my side of the road, my side of the road's full!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Solid Sleep - Wherefore Art Thou? Not in the ER!

We have been having sleep issues in our house for four or five months now. I keep telling myself, "This, too, shall pass!" After all, my ES was a horrible sleeper for the first five years of his life (up every night for some reason or other). The first year was the hardest. He battled continuous ear infections (and now that I have had one of those, I more fully understand his temperament back then). He still has difficulty falling to sleep many nights and seems to require less sleep than his peers, but he rarely wakes me in the night.

I suppose the really difficult thing is that both of my younger boys have been fairly good sleepers in the past. When I had my MS, it was like a dream come true. He slept four hours solid the first night home and within a few weeks was sleeping at least six hours straight most nights. I couldn't believe that he slept 12 hours a night. My disbelief was almost equivalent to the disbelief I had felt years earlier when others had given me that sage advice "sleep when your baby sleeps." To that, I would have said, "You mean babies SLEEP? Mine doesn't. Not for more than a half hour at a time."

And my YS had settled into a fairly good pattern as well. He used to go down easily, stayed asleep and when he did whimper, would merely roll over after a few moments and fall back asleep. I kept his crib out in a front room for longer than I expected, just because I didn't want to disrupt the good sleep patterns we had all established.

I don't know what shifted in December, but there was definitely a clear shift. Perhaps it was brought on by illness. I don't really remember. But I know that by Christmas we were concerned about travelling, for fear the little boys would wake frequently in the night and bother others.

Shortly after Christmas, my husband began sleeping in the room off our garage because the boys were waking him so much that he couldn't function well at work. Both my 3 year old and my 1 year old now wake two to three times a night. Sometimes, they are consoled with a quick pat and fall back to sleep. But most of the time, they want to be rocked or continue to wake repeatedly every half hour.

For the toddler, I tried stickers. Every time he sleeps through the night and doesn't wake me for any reason, he receives a sticker on a good behavior chart. I haven't found that this works consistently. I'd say he gets a sticker two nights out of every seven.

Now that I have moved the crib into my toddler's room, I probably respond more often to the baby. But lots of times, I still let him whimper for a good ten minutes before I get up to respond. The thing is, these sleep interruptions are killing me. The last time I slept through the night solidly, I had taken Nyquil for a cold and informed my hubby that he would have to be available for those two little guys because I would be dead to the world.

So, thank goodness for those TWO NAPS on Friday! I know I was up several times Friday night (the baby was up at one point for 45 minutes straight and would not go back to sleep). My toddler was fighting a cold, so I attributed his disruptions to difficulty breathing and ran the vaporizer. By Saturday morning, both YS and I were also coughing throughout the day.

After our lovely date night, and a bit of blogging, I headed to bed around 1 a.m. At 1:20, I got up because I remembered that I had promised to wash MS's Spiderman outfit and it was still soaking in the rinse water. At 1:45 a.m., YS began to cry. I tried to ignore it, but it sounded like it was accompanied by a suspiciously familiar bark.

Yes, we headed to the ER, AGAIN. Yes, I got there in 15 minutes, AGAIN. Yes, since this is my fourth visit to the ER in three months, they have begun to recognize me (This morning, my ES said rather cheekily, "So, now you can say that somebody knows you around here!" - I wouldn't call ER nurses in a hospital a half hour away "around here"!).

The exact same doctor who treated the baby last month, said "Croup. Didn't I admit him last month for the same thing? You know the routine. We'll give him a breathing treatment. This time, since he's not as bad, an oral steroid (instead of a shot) and then another chest x-ray, and we should have you out of here in about an hour." Well, it wasn't an hour, but it was better than being admitted for a day of observation (and how fortunate that, again, this happened during the weekend).

The breathing treatment was far more difficult this time around. Doctors and nurses all seemed to be the same as our visit a month ago - too bad we couldn't have gotten the same breathing technician. This guy was old and gruff and came in booming my baby's name (which I think made the baby a bit leery to begin with). Next, he tried a Donald Duck voice which sent the little guy into hysterics of crying (not exactly beneficial for someone having difficulty breathing). Finally, throughout the treatment he insisted on holding my baby's head in place to ensure that the inhalation mask stayed in front of his nostrils. He kept saying, "S-----, I wouldn't have to hold you if you would just stay still." I kept thinking, "Dude, he would just stay still, if you would back off and let me handle this." Instead, I held my little guy close and stroked his head, while holding the mask to his face and quietly reminding him, "You can do this ... You've done it before. Momma's right here."

After the steroid and x-ray and an hour of waiting, the baby fell asleep in my arms. We were there for two and half hours and not a wink for me. I tried. I did. Sadly, when I returned home my hubby was up with news that he had never been able to fall back to sleep either. I did get a fat nap with both little guys this afternoon, thank goodness.

The good afternoon naps come with a price, though. At 10:30 my MS was still not asleep, and I was supposed to head to the store to pick up milk and a few other items. Finally, I just lugged him to the store with me. Of course, when I finally got him into bed and headed to the kitchen to put away the milk, my MS proceeded to scream for me (he needed his covers on him - nope, I'm sure he couldn't have managed that himself) and woke the baby. Yeehah!

So, now I head off for my nightly slumber. If I were Chloe, I would write an eloquent letter addressed to sleep: "Dear sleep: If you knew how much I wanted to spend time with you, you would visit more often." (And, yes, I have considered that blogging might be interfering somewhat with my relationship with sleep, but I desire sanity, too.) Instead, I have ordered the book Good Night, Sleep Tight at Catherine's suggestion. I am desperately hoping to discover the secrets of sound circadean rhythms, so my husband can come back to sleeping in our room, we can all get a good night's sleep and I can still find time to blog.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Date Night

Tonight, we tried again to date at home (who are we kidding? It is more like we both sit in front of a screen together, wondering if the night will actually go off without a hitch.). My goal was to have both little guys in bed by 8 p.m. At 8:10, I was still cleaning up the kitchen, the front room was a disaster zone of toys and my hubby was on the phone with his mother. Somehow, we managed to get them through their routines and into bed by 8:30, but then hubby wanted to shower (the nerve of the guy - wanting to be clean for a date after an afternoon of picking up garbage and sticks on our property - there's two more blogs I should write). Finally, at 9:10 we were seated in front of the screen, pushing PLAY.

The movie I had selected last week (or was it two weeks ago?) from the library was one called "Proof," starring Anthony Hopkins (whom I love), Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal. It is the story of a young woman who has been caring for her brilliant, but demented, father. Her father had been a mathematical genius and she had hoped to go to school in the same field, but had to leave school to care for him. He left behind many notebooks and one of his students is hoping to find something important in them.

I guess the thing I liked most about this film was the exploration of relationships. Caring for anyone, no matter how much you love the individual, is often taxing and stressful. I enjoyed watching the relationship between father (Hopkins) and daughter (Paltrow). I enjoyed the tensions between the daughter who has cared for her father all this time and the daughter who has been out of the picture and comes in to make sweeping decisions at the end. I liked that the story was developed gradually and built with intensity. I am always interested in the way brilliance often brings with it forms of mental instability (not that I'm claiming to be brilliant, those of you who are reading this, thinking "she's a bit mentally unstable" - smile).

As for our evening? Ah well, we tried. I don't know if hubby liked the movie or not. Little guys fussed a bit in the background. ES decided that he had to be on the computer (which is purposely kept out in the family viewing area) - so he was seated directly next to the television screen. About 40 minutes into the movie, our DVD player began to freeze (a problem we struggle with from time to time). Unfortunately, it happened just as an intimate moment was unfolding (the movie is PG-13, but hey, he's not 13 and we really don't want him viewing that). My husband was trying to fix the problem (which I felt only drew more attention to the screen). In frustration, I opened the player and removed the DVD and began to get out our portable to connect to the TV. We forwarded it, by scene selection, to the point just prior to this scene and told ES he needed to brush his teeth and head to bed. Of course, just as the scene picked up again (and on this player, it will only FF to the next scene), ES came out to whine about having to head to bed so early, claiming it is, technically, still spring break. By the time the movie ended, it was close to 11 (even though it is only 99 minutes long) and hubby had been up since 5 a.m., so he muttered, "I'm heading to bed." I felt like saying "I had a good time, too; we should do this again." I held my tongue.

It would be really nice if I could send my hubby and our three boys off to Chuck-E-Cheese's with Andy and their 5 kids, so that Renee and I could sit and watch this together. Not that I'm wanting to date Renee instead of my husband, but she would have enjoyed this film with me. Of course, that would mean that they would have to drive down to IN again. And that the husbands would have to be willing to watch the kids. And that everyone would have to be in good health. And that we would actually have a working DVD player to use. What are the chances of that?

Friday, April 4, 2008

Good News!

As I typed this title, my mind was filled with an old Ray Hildebrand song (I think only my family will appreciate this, since I've never seen his album anywhere else and would love to get my hands on it, since we grew up listening to it countless times), so I have to share the snippet that is running through my mind:

"GOOD NEWS! Children of God never die!
Good News - we are going to our home on high!"

And that leads to another song:

"What's that light in the eastern sky?
Looks like a ball of fire.
It's getting closer. The closer it comes,
Now it's as big as the sun.
It's JESUS, coming for me.
It's Jesus, coming for me.
No more pain, no more ... (here my memory goes fuzzy, sorry)."

This is what I was raised on! That, and listening to stories on records. I remember we had a whole series (I wish I could remember the name - something with a locomotion sound in the intro - and stories we never seemed to tire of) along with other records like "Suki and the Invisible Peacock" and "Hans Christian Andersen and the Silver Skates" and "Little Marcy Talks with the Animals." Perhaps this is why I tend to listen to books on tape with my children in the car and before nap-time. What cherished memories those are! To my siblings, do you remember coloring in our coloring books and listening to all those records?

Now, for the good news, besides the good news that children of God never die! My niece, Amelia, has been enduring treatments for ALL - a form of leukemia, for over two years. They just received word that her final spinal tap came back clear. She has only 5 more medications to receive and then an appointment to remove her port. What wonderful news to be able to share. She is a spunky, strong, resilient little girl (in fact, her name means "resilient!") and I am so thrilled that they have received this fantastic news.

If you want to see pictures of their recent trip to Camp Sunshine (an awesome opportunity they have to get together with other families facing the trial of cancer) or to give Amelia a word of c0ngratulations, please visit her blog.

I also wanted to share the results of the Colgate challenge that several of you helped with. While Amelia's hospital (St. Vincent's) didn't win the contest for Wisconsin, they did receive one fun center for participating. It was also interesting to learn, through comments on Amelia's blog, that the winning hospital is a location where most stem-cell transplant operations occur for patients in that state. So, everyone wins. Thanks to all of you who took time to vote.

Further, good news. I have been following Boothe Farley's blog ever since I learned of it. Boothe gave birth to a second daughter, Copeland, last year, but knew that Copeland would be heading to heaven early because she was diagnosed with Trisomy-18 while in the womb. Her words are always an inspiration and encouragement to my soul.

The blog has been silent for a while, so I don't check it as regularly. But, thankfully, when I checked last night, they had a new video to share (one their church produced to tell Copeland's touching story) and some really great news to share.

The only good news I have to share personally, is that today is the last day of spring break (not too sad to see ES head back to school and MS's PDO resume). Also, after very limited sleep last night, I was able to snag, not one, but TWO NAPS today! What a blessing! Anybody else GOT GOOD NEWS???

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Book Review: The Search for Belle Prater

I would have enjoyed listening to this sequel to Ruth White's Belle Prater's Boy in audio version, but it wasn't available through my library. Still, at times I could hear the narrator's voice in my head.

I enjoyed this sequel (you know how sometimes sequels don't live up to the first book) and would recommend it. I don't think I could have not read it, because I seriously wanted to know what happened to Belle Prater. In this book, a silent phone call leads Woodrow Prater to believe that his mother is trying to contact him. He teams up with his cousin and a new girl to head off on a search. In the process, they meet a motherless black boy who is searching for his father. It was an easy read with a satisfying ending. I enjoyed the characters, the rich taste of the south, and the deeper emotional story. The yearning for a parent within a child is certainly a force to be reckoned with and recognized.