Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Free Theatre is Back!

Last year, miraculously, on the day before ticket reservations opened, I read about the free theater initiative at If you are a long-time reader, you will remember that I dragged my middle school son with me to downtown Indy to see a Shakespeare play. Despite, his reluctance (and his insistence that the only enjoyable part of the evening was our trip to Dairy Queen), we had a really nice time.

This year, I received an e-mail from informing me of the event. For the Indianapolis area, it looks like the ticket reservations are going to open up tomorrow at 11 a.m. on-line at This initiative is available throughout the United States, so you would have to look for tickets in your own local area. When I searched for other locations, there were different opening times for the reservations but it seemed like they all become available on October 1st.

Here in Indianapolis, the options sound interesting. The Heavens are Hung in Black, is about Abraham Lincoln. I'm thinking ES might like to attend Scary Stories on the Canal: Disquieting, Disturbing & Dreadful Tales. Then again, my husband doubts ES will be interested in ANY theater. The two which sound most interesting to me are: The Unexpected Guest by Agatha Christie and The Elephant Man.

I guess you know what I'll be doing at 11 a.m. tomorrow morning! Wish me luck!

Free Night of Theater Ovation TV Spot from Theatre Communications Group on Vimeo.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Review: The Weight of Heaven

I am always thrilled when I stumble upon a book that really stands out as a magnificent read! Several weeks ago, while browsing the new release books at my library, I noticed Thrity Umrigar's The Weight of Heaven. What a powerful, insightful, and absorbing book this turned out to be.

Frank and Ellie Benton are reeling from the sudden death of their only son, seven-year-old Benny. With this one swift event, their lives are altered beyond measure and a once happy union becomes a splintered existence, fraught with doubt, blame, and insufferable memories. When, after four months and no change in the level of difficulty in dealing with a past they cannot reclaim, Frank is offered a transfer to head up a factory in Girbaug, India, they believe this will be the best course of action to move out of the realm of grief and into a neutral space. What they don't realize is how powerful India will be in fleshing out their dichotomous reactions to their son's death.

Ellie begins to feel right at home in this new land and seeks to assist others. When her husband befriends Ramesh, the son of their hired servants, it seems he is also attempting to benefit others (a bright boy who might not have the right opportunities presented without the intervention of this American couple). The boy's mother is eager to accept the American's help, but Ramesh's father feels threatened by Frank's level of concern and affection. Sometimes, the best of intentions can spiral into something bigger than anticipated.

The author has done a stunning job in creating solid, believable characters caught in a tailspin caused by one bacterial infection (I believe it must have been meningitis, although I don't think it was stated outright). Not only that, she has placed these real characters in a vivid landscape and does a splendid job of portraying the clashes which occur between American and Indian mindsets. As I was reading, I found myself wondering how the author, who is Indian, managed to get inside American perspectives so clearly when it came to reactions to Indians and the Indian culture. Then, I discovered that she lived her first 21 years in Bombay, but has spent the rest of her life living here in the States.

The death of a child is an insurmountable blow to recover from. The author demonstrates great wisdom and understanding as she reveals how the same blow can result in two separate responses and how a host of factors (family background, previous losses, etc.) all play out. Although, I had to pause to take in the time shifts, I felt that their placements were effective (allowing the reader first, to take in the devastating tragedy, and the new life in India, then to go back and discover how the couple met and married, and finally to return to the narrative in India for the climax and resolution of the story).

Moreover, the author incorporated a deeper level of interest than merely the human relationships evolving on the heels of death. The factory Frank is leading is called Herbal Solutions. His American employers had purchased property and trees from the Indian government when they discovered that the leaves of the trees contained a special ingredient which could be used to treat diabetes. The local people had long made their living from these trees. Thus, the added tensions of local rights versus international rights adds a further dimension to the stresses Frank is facing. And yet, through it all, the author remains true to the characters. While bringing up ethical questions of cultural significance, she weaves arguments and perspectives into the story, without preaching or taking sides.

This book boasts well-drawn characters, a vivid and dynamic setting, a finely tuned plot, a breathtaking peak with the climax of the story and well ... a lot to think about. I can easily see this novel appearing on the screen someday. Unfortunately, most of the time, movies can never match the brilliance of the actual book. I will certainly look for more books by this author.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Alternate Outlets for Dreams

Amy, over at The English Geek, wrote a post recently about what drives some of her quilting urges. For a long time, she was utterly convinced that she would have a second daughter. When her fourth child arrived and was a third son, she began a process of mourning the loss of those dreams for her oft-imagined second daughter. I appreciated how she emphasized that she was in no way unhappy that her fourth was a boy - he was exactly who God intended him to be, but she still grieves the loss of that dream for another daughter.

I still have moments when I am slapped in the face with a gust of wind bearing grief over the daughter I never had. Thankfully, those dreams have had many years of alternate outlets. For example, some of my favorite baby-sitting gigs fulfilled those dreams a bit. When I worked as a counsellor at Camp Hiawatha in Wichita, Kansas, I spent a good portion of each morning french-braiding the girls' hair before we headed off to breakfast. When my husband and I were newly married and childless, we used to borrow two lovely children, Lindsay and Zach, from my friend Marla. I would pop popcorn and we would sit and watch kid movies together.

One of the jobs I have considered for when I return to the work world (when the two little boys are in school full-time) is a children's librarian. I think this job appeals to me because I spend a fair amount of time reading and investigating children's books in my pursuit of writing a successful children's book. But, certainly, part of it is the love I have for sharing good books with kids. How wonderful it would be to have the opportunity to pitch really good girly books. I remember loving the book, The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes. I just can't imagine any of my boys being willing to explore this book with me.

While I will admit that I have loved making boy themed cakes (especially the "Spurting Spider Cake" which exploded with blended green jello when it was cut!), I am feeling a need for an alternative outlet for those dreams as well. When we were looking for cake ideas for MS, I came across this Betty Crocker how-to video for making a Barbie doll cake.

How to make a princess cake

I have seen these cakes before, but somehow watching the video brought up that old familiar gust of wind and I ached for a little girl. I'm wondering how an alternate outlet will present itself for this dream. Too bad decorated cakes are impossible to ship, otherwise I could hold a give-away. Hee-hee! I guess I'll just have to find some little girl, someday, who is in desperate need of a princess cake, so I can live out the dream this video instills.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

One Hand Old

As we approach the big day when my MS will turn 5, it makes me think of my favorite little twins, Coleman and Caden back in December of last year when they celebrated being "one hand old." MS has certainly been thrilled about this event.

I was amazed that he didn't choose a snake cake this time (since snakes are still his favorite thing in the world and he is still begging to receive one). Instead, he asked to look at several cake possibilities on the computer. At first we were looking at reptiles, but then he saw a picture of a dinosaur cake and decided to go with that. He watched the video and emphasized what the demonstrator had said, "it is very easy to make." Thankfully, he was right.

I did panic when I removed the french vanilla cake from the pans. The two 9 inch round cakes turned out to be only one inch thick, which I thought would make for an anorexic dinosaur. Thus, I baked a second cake, in chocolate, and layered both parts. Knowing my MS would request either the head or the tail, I cut those portions from the vanilla cake and made the body from the chocolate cake.

I think I would have liked the placement of the head and tail better if I hadn't been trying to squeeze it onto my transportable cake pan, but since the cake was bound for Chuck E. Cheese's, I scrunched those appendages in (I think it looks too much like a dog-shape, but I'm probably just being too critical). I'm pretty sure MS's favorite part about this cake were the chocolate chip and Hershey kiss decorations. He helped line the back with the Hershey kiss spikes and place them upside down for large spots.

I was a bit anxious about the party because we don't really know anyone very well. MS invited one boy, Devin, from his preschool class last year and two kids, Evan and Andrea, from his preschool class this year. Plus, we invited his old preschool teacher and her three sons (unfortunately, they couldn't come).

I'm often sad to recognize the difference between the experiences of my ES and my two smaller sons. When ES was this age, he had parties full of kids we knew really well. Poor MS and YS, like me, have much fewer friends here in Indiana. I'm sure that will change once they begin elementary school. And, I'm equally convinced that MS was just happy to have a party at CEC.

I was happy to have table duty for the entire evening. Each guest received a goodie bag filled with 25 tokens, two tubs of Play-doh, an airplane and an Airhead. One of the parents mentioned that the place was mobbed when they had their older son's party there earlier in the week. We lucked out and the place was almost empty. I think everyone had a very good time (even though one boy, with food allergies, couldn't eat the pizza or the cake, so he munched on a cookie which his mother had sent along). And, the cake was so delicious that it is almost completely gone already.

When we arrived home, ES handed MS a wrapped present. It was so touching. ES gave MS his old game-boy and games. For the rest of the evening, we couldn't pry that out of his hands.

Tonight, he received another gift that we cannot pry out of his hands. His daddy took him to the pet store to pick out a pet. I was thinking they were going to pick a rabbit, because my husband had told me they were very easy to care for and gentle to hold. They returned home with two white mice. Apparently, the deciding factor was cost. The mice were $1.25 each and the rabbits were $20. But the rabbit cages were far more expensive than the equipment for mice.

Hubby said he requested two females, since the females are more docile. MS had already named them, while in the car on the way home. I laughed out loud when he told me they are "Jessie" and "Sammie." These are the names of two girls who have been ES's girlfriends (and thus, as MS confirms, his girlfriends, too).

Alas, when my hubby took them from the box to place in the newly outfitted aquarium, he noticed that one is a male and one is a female. Just great. Now we will be hosting mice babies, as well. Hubby assures me we can sell them back to the pet store (this is what he did when he was a boy and had pet mice).

MS says the names will stick (although he did almost change the name of the male one to be his own name - ha). At this point, the male is Sammie and the female is Jessie. All three boys are crazy about the new pets. I can see that these first few weeks are going to be challenging, because they seem to want to spend every minute holding the mice. We already lost one under the couch tonight. I made an executive decision at bedtime and decided the mice must sleep on the shelf in the closet at bedtime (I had visions of YS waking in the middle of the night and releasing the mice). At this point, all the boys in my house are tucked in bed, and at least one is dreaming of how fun it is to be all of one hand old.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

You Know Life is Hitting Hyper Speed When ...

Tonight I went to the library website and renewed 22 books on-line. Twenty-two, for goodness sakes. Granted, many of those are snake books and train books, but quite a few are ones I was sure I would get to, and yet am renewing for like the fifth or sixth time.

I'm actually thankful I had enough brain cells left to remember to do this. Just a few weeks after I paid my $75 fee for out of township library card renewal at the end of August, I proceeded to forget about renewing those books which are due. Thus, I added an almost $8 fine to the money I had already relinquished to them (all the more infuriating because it was totally unnecessary given the ease of on-line renewal). May they purchase excellent books with the funds I have contributed!

Further revealing that brain cells are at issue ... Around 10:30 p.m., my ES called me into his room. (Oh, the number of times I get comfortable in my private throne at the outlet to civilization, only to have one of the boys call out for water or some other necessary assistance.) Instead of asking me to recharge his I-Pod, turn off the television, plug in his cell phone or refill his water, he asked me if he could get his hair cut tomorrow.

Now, how could I possibly turn down a rare opportunity like that? I looked at him in amazement and exploded with an affirmative, only to retract it when I remembered that tomorrow night we are having a birthday party for MS at Chuck E. Cheese's (at this point, I shred my own hair, negating any need to book an appointment for myself, as well). In addition to putting together the party bags, I still have to frost and decorate the dinosaur cake tomorrow. I'm thinking tomorrow won't work, but I did promise to accomplish this before the weekend is out.

As if I suddenly realized what time it was, I looked back up at him (in his loft bed) and said, "Are you awake?"

We both immediately caught the sheer lunacy of this question and began to laugh.

May October bring slower days and rejuvenating brain cells (o.k., a little extra sleep might not hurt either).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Various and Sundry Good News

My German pen-pal, Katja, has had her baby. She, and her husband Martin, welcomed Kim Sofie into the world:

How I wish I could run right over to visit Katja and hold this precious baby girl. Sadly, it would be very difficult to run to Germany and very expensive to fly to Germany and near impossible to find someone to stay with my own small children. Ah well, I have purchased a cute little outfit and will send it off tomorrow. Still, I'm tickled pink at this grand news!

Then, last night I received more fantastic news from a member of my old writer's group back in DeKalb. I have mentioned and linked to Kyle White's blog here before. He has been working on a series of essays concerning Wisconsin and has just secured a publishing contract! His book, "Wisconsin River of Grace," will be released by Cornerstone Press some time this fall or winter.

I am so thrilled for him in this success. He is an outstanding writer and poet. Thankfully, I know that despite his new membership in that club I mentioned, he will continue to send encouraging words my way and will bring honor to the club! It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy!

Finally, I wanted to mention that I entered another I-Pod Touch giveaway tonight. ES already has an I-Pod Touch, but I really wanted to help this cause. My blogging friend, Renee, is raising money to bring her down-syndrome daughter, Kellsey, home from an orphanage in the Ukraine. She already has a wonderful family with her military husband, Frank, and their four biological children (including a down-syndrome daughter, Kennedy). Now, they are opening their home and their good fortune to another precious girl. If you have $10 to spare and want to possibly win an I-Pod Touch, you only have a few more days to enter this exciting giveaway.
Bringing Kellsey Home

Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Review: Aiding and Abetting

I like to use an image of the book cover to accompany my book reviews. However, in this case, I couldn't bring myself to use the only book cover image I could find. It shows the body of a proper Englishman, with only the mouth portion of his head visible. This cover would have never sparked my interest.

I came upon this book on CD when I was searching for something to listen to in the car when I run errands. The cover which drew me in revealed two near-identical men seated on a park bench reading a copy of The London Daily, with a banner spread asking "Is Lord Lucan Alive?" A much better cover, by far!

Muriel Spark has chosen to jump off in her story from a real event which took place in London back in 1974. Lord Lucan, who had marital woes and quite a gambling problem, supposedly planned to kill his wife but botched the job and accidentally murdered the children's nanny instead. His wife then escaped from the house and ran to the nearest pub crying "Murder" and naming her husband as her assailant. Lord Lucan escaped and has been sighted many times over the years. It is assumed that he is living off the generosity of other titled friends. Of course, I had to look for hard evidence in the case, and I discovered this site dedicated to the on-going interest in Lord Lucan.

The author begins the story by focusing on a psychiatrist in Paris, Dr. Hildegard Wolf, who is astonished when she encounters two different clients who are both claiming to be Lord Lucan. As she attempts to ferret out the real Lord, she becomes aware that both individuals know a secret about her own past. In the midst of this, the narrative about Lord Lucan's unfortunate life and disappearance is set out.

I will admit that the thought that this man is somewhere, right at this moment, still hidden away and reading Dame Spark's conjectures ... that thought is delicious and intriguing. During the beginning of the novel, it was really compelling to try to discern which man was the genuine article. However, the longer the novel went, the less I bought into the story and the less invested I felt.

More individuals are brought into the search for Lord Lucan. The psychiatrist, who has appeared to be calm and objective, begins to behave in skittish way. The psychiatrist's own past is revealed and plumbed. The end is tied up with a less than satisfying knot and resolution feels shallow.

I did enjoy listening to the book. There were amusing moments. It was interesting to hear the facts about the historical case. I did wonder whether Lord Lucan was going to be caught. However, in the end, the supposition is more entertaining than this fabricated story.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Alyssa Satin Capucilli Rocks!

Tonight, I told the two little boys to gather up enough books to read for 20 minutes. I was in the living room and they were in the hall by their room. Suddenly, I hear MS singing (or trying to sing) the words to Inside a House That is Haunted. It was so adorable. YS was reading a different book, but he joined in every once in a while, too.

After they were both in bed, I began to read my mail on the computer. Alyssa Capucilli wrote to say that she found a copy of the tape for me and will be happy to mail it to me. I'm certain this is above and beyond the call of duty for an author. I am overwhelmed and can't wait to share the news with my little boys.

I'm still going to write to Scholastic to urge them to re-release the accompanying sound recordings which were available back in the late 1990s. Who knows, maybe I'll even suggest they market this particular book as a possible screen-play for elementary educators. Wouldn't that make an adorable play? Then again, I see visions of parents pulling their kids out for the day because they don't want little Johnny to play the part of a mummy.

Oh well. I'll tuck the idea in the back of my brain and when the little boys are a bit older, perhaps we will have a Halloween party and perform the story as a party game (I promise I'll record it and post it here). Given MS's love for costumes, we already have some of the parts covered (a green hulk hand for the hand that knocks, plus ghost, skeleton, and monster costumes). Now we only have to secure costumes for a spider, a cat, a bat, an owl and a mummy. This is what great authors do ... they fill your mind with fun ideas!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Book Review: You Can Write Children's Books

Over the years, I have written a few children's books. I have started several young adult novels. With two of those children's books, I plucked up enough courage to send them off to a few publishers. When an editor at a writing conference critiqued the first chapter of one of my young adult novels, he actually expressed an interest in receiving a proposal.

Still, I've never published a children's or young adult book. But, my ES encourages me to keep trying. Back when he was five years old, I turned one of his typical childish fiascoes into a short picture book. I shared it with my writer's group. The manuscript underwent several revisions and was even tested out on some of the kids at Littlejohn Elementary. I sent it off to two publishers that I felt were a perfect fit for my book. Two rejections later, I set the manuscript aside. ES is convinced I should send it to at least thirty publishers before giving up.

Thus, on one of my Friday research/writing days, I checked out Tracey E Dils' book, You Can Write Children's Books. When I read the back cover, I must admit, I wanted to slide that book right back onto the shelf. It states that "Tracey E. Dils was first published in Highlights magazine when she was in fifth grade (emphasis mine)."

How's that for intimidating. It reinforced the feeling I often get, that published authors belong to some sort of elite country club, and I'm too poor and socially maladjusted to get in. Of course, I know published authors personally. I helped to encourage several members of my writer's group into that very club. My head can look at it objectively, but many times my heart wimps out with self-doubt.

I'm glad I didn't sit back and let that stop me from reading this helpful book. Although I have read many books on writing and publishing, I was impressed with the expert organization of this book. The author outlines all the nuts and bolts of the process of writing and publishing a book for children. She also offers tips from professionals and exercises to stretch the would-be-writer.

Although it was nothing new (especially since I have completed a writing course with The Institute of Children's Literature), it was a good refresher. The book was concise and highly readable. It would be an excellent resource for anyone who aspires to write a book for kids.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Inside a House That is Devastated

Long ago (a decade ago), in a land far, far away (DeKalb, IL), we made one of our all time favorite Scholastic Book Club purchases. We bought a tape and book set of Alyssa Satin Capucilli's Inside a House That is Haunted. I think, originally, I thought that it would be a good thing to bring along on road trips so my oldest son could listen to the tape and turn the pages on his own.

What I hadn't expected was the enduring appeal this book has held for my sons. Even with my oldest son, I found that we listened to the book often at home. Despite the Halloween theme, it was requested throughout the year. Of course, when Trevor came along, with his obsession for all things having to do with Halloween (and dressing up), he became an instant fan.

Sean is the cutest of all, for me. I love to listen as he parrots along with the introduction and the song, which was written and performed by Steve Blane. He begins with the title and his little voice pipes up with "A Rebus Read-Along Story. Written by Alyssa Satin Capucilli. Illustrated by Tedd Arnold." Then the song begins ... "Here is a house that is haunted. Here is the hand that knocked on the door, inside a house that is hauuuuuunnnnteddd." He loves that drawn out word.

As the story goes along, the knock on the door sets off a chain-reaction of events with each page adding another Halloween character. The spider drops to the floor, frightening the ghost who cries "Boo," surprising the cat that screeches "Mew" etc. Finally, the skeleton wakes the monster who opens the door to discover a smaller version of himself. When the mini-monster removes his mask and yells "Trick-or-Treat," all of the inhabitants run away in fear.

A few weeks ago, my husband held both of the little boys on his lap as they listened to this book for the umpteenth time. I snapped a few pictures. As I did so, I thought to myself, "This is such a great book, I should make a video of them listening to this and post it on my blog." But, I didn't want to inconvenience him and ask him to start over.

You know what's coming, don't you? Last night, Sean reveled in the new found freedom of his toddler bed. With Trevor already asleep, he got out of bed and proceeded to pull all of the tape out of the cassette for our beloved Inside a House That is Haunted.

When we discovered it this morning, Trevor dissolved into tears. He couldn't believe his brother had done something so horrible to one of his favorite story tapes. He was ready to pummel his brother good and hard, until I reminded him that he did the same thing to our Mickey Mouse sing-along-songs tape, back when he was two years old. Even still, I had to assure him that I would look for another copy on e-bay or something while he was at school today.

I actually spent three hours consumed with the search for another copy. I started with Scholastic. The operator who answered my call, offered to check with another office where they might be able to secure something which is no longer listed as available for purchase. Sadly, she came on to tell me that they couldn't help me. Her suggestion was to make a new recording of our own, with me singing the lyrics. Somehow, I'm guessing she's never really listened to Steve Blane's performance. There isn't a way in the world my voice could compete with that.

I tried E-bay, but only found copies of the book (in fact, I was surprised that one seller listed the book for $20.00 Buy-it-now). I tried Craigslist. I tried Amazon. I tried our local library, the DeKalb library and the library near Grandma. No luck anywhere.

Next, I began to search for tape restoration services. Since repair and transfer of the broken tape contents would cost $25, I began thinking I might have to make a photocopy of our own book and then list it on E-bay for $20, so that I could afford this hefty replacement fee.

Finally, I searched for Steve Blane himself and gave him a call. He explained that Scholastic purchased all rights to the song and its production, but only offered the tapes for about two years. He did offer to ask his partner, Richard DeRosa, to see if they might still have the master somewhere, but he suspected that he may have tossed in when cleaning up their offices.

I also wrote to the author. I was delighted to receive a kind and prompt reply from her this afternoon. She has also been attempting to secure further copies for other parents, teachers and educators who are interested in this book and tape set. She graciously agreed to see what she could do to help me.

My next step will be to petition the Scholastic Book company to re-issue this delightful audio version. Indeed, I think they would do well to bring back many of those old classics which had been offered on audio cassettes. It would be wonderful to have a CD chock full of Alyssa Satin Capucilli's Inside series (the other two books are: Inside a Zoo in the City and Inside a Barn in the Country), plus some of our favorite David McPhail books (we love Those Can Do Pigs, which was also composed and performed by Steve Blane).

If you are a fan of children's picture books on tape, perhaps you would consider sending a note to Scholastic, asking them to bring back this delightful opportunity for young readers. I may have to check with my former colleagues at Littlejohn Elementary and see if any of those teachers might still have a copy. Somehow, I'm doubting they'll be willing to part with it. I wouldn't have parted with mine and am, indeed, kicking myself for not putting it up out of the 2 year old's reach!

I did notice that my mother-in-law can access the book and tape for Inside a Barn in the Country through her library. I'm guessing the next time we're in town, I'll ask her to request that. We have the "Zoo in the City" book, but no tape. I wonder if they produced a tape for that one, as well.

For now, be assured that our tape player and all book and story tapes are put up on a high shelf in the closet of their room. In fact, Sean is snoozing away in the crib this evening, because I moved his toddler bed into our guest room for my visiting brother and sister-in-law and their three kids. That'll teach him!


Thankful to the author, Alyssa Satin Capucilli, for locating and sending us another copy of the tape. Here's my blog post where I acknowledge how much she rocks!

Thankful for a comment by an anonymous reader who directed me to You Tube. This is the best version on You Tube, despite the poor audio, because it shows each page as it is being read (all of the other ones simply provide the image of the cover of the book):

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I'm Not Gonna Miss It

We've been in the throes of potty-training here in our wilderness wonderland. Really, I had expected the location to be of some service in this endeavor, since I believe boys do generally train more quickly when they are given ample "nudey" time. Moreover, what boy doesn't enjoy the thrill of peeing against a tree?

With Son #1, I think "nudey" time was the real clincher. He was nude. We noticed "the stance." We provided the bucket/toilet. Something clicked in his noggin and he refused to go back to the old way of life. Easy breasy!

With Son #2, generous amounts of nudey time didn't seem to make any difference at all. He's a strong-willed one, that boy! For him, I think it finally came down to a desire for the promised toys.

Son #3 has a different personality than the other two. While they enjoyed, even begged for, nudey time, this one demands more than his birthday suit. He cannot tolerate a lack of clothing (not even just to skip the shorts or pants).

Still, we are making progress. I would consider him to be fully trained in the #1 area, if you catch my drift (actually, there is more of a drift to catch with #2, isn't there?). He even stays dry without a diaper during nap time (I haven't been brave enough to try the night-time hours yet - although he has asked to skip the night diaper).

My biggest complaint now is that every time I attempt to put him to bed (these simultaneous transitions - of potty-training and moving out of a crib - may account for the speed-bumps) he plays the old "I gotta go poop" card. Despite previous success sitting on the toilet, he still chooses to request a diaper for this act.

O.K., that is all fine and good. Until the past few days, when he has decided that he wants to produce #2 in the diaper and then insist upon standing at the toilet to produce #1 immediately (as in, before I've had a chance to help remove the diaper - urghh). I also must ask (because I'm sure someone out there must understand the workings of young toddler boy minds) WHY do they rest their hands on the rim of the toilet after doing the deed??? Ay-yai-yai!

Tonight, at bedtime, the ritual played out again. As I stood there begging him not to lean with his hands against the toilet rim, I dumped the contents of the diaper into the toilet. Then, he flushed and I found myself reciting our parting words.

These are words I find myself saying sometimes even when I'm alone and flushing, but always with a great inward chuckle. What parting words are those?

Well, when my oldest brother's first daughter, Kirsten, was a young toddler she brought some words of wisdom into her family and they have passed it on to ours. At the ripe age of 2 or 3, she took care of the business at hand and turned to flush. As she watched her grand efforts swirling away, she said, "Bye-bye poopy! You're gonna miss ME a lot more than I'm gonna miss YOU!"

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Boy, Was That Annoying!

I know I had said that my son's drumming doesn't really annoy me. Well, for the past few days I have been annoyed that every time I open my blog, I had to hear the immediate start of that loud raucous music to his sample video.

Plus, he was annoyed with me because he felt I had put one of his inferior samples on. He claimed he had ones that were much better. I tried to argue that I didn't want to post any of the videos which were five or six minutes long. He suggested one that is just a few seconds longer than the other one I had posted.

So, to make everyone happy (and hopefully, my readers weren't annoyed as well when the music blared to life) I went back and removed the other video (which apparently went through AOL music ... perhaps why the video started without requiring you to select play, as a You Tube embedding normally does). I switched in his drum cover for "In the Belly of a Shark." Now, if it had been "in the belly of a whale," it may have had some Biblical reference, but I'm pretty sure this song has nothing to do with the Bible. Thankfully, all I hear upstairs are his drums and not the music he is playing to. Still, he does wail on those drums!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Book Review: Savvy

I loved this book! It will certainly be on my list of best books read this year. If I hadn't already sent an e-mail offering to read to a classroom in our nearby elementary school (and not heard one word in reply, mind you), I would be running over there right now to beg for a chance to be a scheduled read-aloud reader in one of the fourth or fifth grade classes. In fact, I'm frustrated that I will have to wait six or seven years for my youngest sons to be old enough to get the most out of this book.

Ingrid Law has a wonderful gift for developing lively, interesting characters. Plus, her use of language is outstanding. I found myself reading sentences aloud to my family because the words were like cotton candy and a satisfying dinner all wrapped in one.

Here are a few of my favorite examples:

"Miss Rosemary was well-known to us all. She smelled of Lysol and butterscotch and had her own matching set of rights and wrongs - like suitcases she made other people carry - and she took it upon herself to make everything and everyone as shipshape and apple-pie as she felt the Lord had intended them to be."

"We all stood and looked sadly at our own lovely house as though we'd just found out that a grizzly bear had moved in and pulled all the stuffing from the furniture and torn all the pictures from the walls and eaten all the special-occasion mini-marshmallows from the high top shelf above the refrigerator while we were gone."

"There in Emerald, far from home, with Fish storming his storm and The Great and Powerful Ozzie knocked down to size inside the diner, I was starting to feel low on heart, and my brains and bravery weren't so sure either. Fish and I weren't in Kansaska-Nebransas anymore and we didn't have any yellow bricks to guide us, just a big pink bus and the yellow stripe-stripe-stripes on the highway."

"Lester might not have looked the part of a hero, but I suppose you never can tell right off who might have a piece of Prince Charming deep down inside."

You can probably surmise from these quotes, that she alludes to The Wizard of Oz during the course of the story. It is a fitting reference for this mighty, redemptive tale which takes places in the heartland of America.

The Beaumont family is special. When a Beaumont child reaches their thirteenth birthday, they can assume that, before the end of the day, they will be endued with their own special savvy - an outstanding power or ability that is just a touch beyond ordinary. As Mibs approaches her 13th birthday, she wonders whether her savvy will be as dynamic as those bestowed on the men folk in her clan (who alter geography and weather) or will be more subtle like her mother's gentle perfection.

Unfortunately, just days before her life is set to change, her life changes unexpectedly and dramatically when her father is injured in an accident. As Mibs sets about, hoping to heal her father with her new found savvy, she discovers quite a bit about herself, about growing up, about love and about friendship. When she stows away on a pink bus, she has no idea what this journey will bring.

I loved this on so many levels. I love how it teaches children to search for their own unique gifts and abilities. I love the lessons of understanding and compassion. All of the characters have strengths and weaknesses and all are expertly drawn. It would be so much fun to come up with feedback questions for students to write about after hearing this story. Plus, it would be loads of fun to discuss this book with children. Sheesh, do I wish I were back working at Littlejohn Elementary right now!!!

For now, I'll have to settle for recommending this book highly. I will also mention that I thoroughly enjoyed an author interview I found here. You kind of know it is going to be an enjoyable book, when the author releases film rights before the book is even published. I loved her story about hearing this news on her cell phone as she sat alone in a darkened theater awaiting the beginning of a movie and then couldn't stay to watch the movie because she was too excited. I'm looking forward to the promised sequel and many others from this talented author and word-wielder!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Book Review: Let's Roll

This was one book in a stack of books which I purchased in the library book sale room well over a year ago. For some reason, because it covers the events of September 11, 2001, I felt a strong need to read it near that date.

Of all the individuals who were deeply affected by the terrorist activities on that date, the fate of Lisa Beamer and her fatherless sons gripped me most. Todd and Lisa Beamer were both Wheaton College graduates. She always exhibited such a calm, faith-filled demeanor.

I have to say that the first part of the book wasn't very appealing to me. I guess I felt it seemed too whitewashed or sanitized. The first section tells of Lisa and Todd's separate childhoods. It all seemed too perfect and faith was a normal knee-jerk reaction.

Thankfully, I didn't give up on the book too soon. The story became more realistic and raw when I learned that Lisa Beamer lost her own father to a sudden heart attack when she was a young teen. At this point, more of a struggle with God begins. I'm fully convinced that this earlier trial, loss of a loving father, may have been more difficult than the latter loss of a loving husband. It is certainly clear how God was preparing her for the eventual bend in the road.

Of course, once the narration reached the point of the morning of 9/11, it became very hard to put down. I spent a good deal of time trying to get inside the mind of Lisa Beamer. I tried to imagine how difficult those initial days must have been for her.

I did appreciate the spiritual emphasis of the book. It was inspirational in reminding me that God is in all of the details. Nothing that happens in our lives takes him by surprise. He doesn't reel beneath the load of unexpected burdens. Plus, He is completely reliable to lean on ... as no one else can be.

Still, the book left me with so many questions. I wanted to know where Lisa Beamer is now and how the children have grown through the years. I wanted to know if she ever re-married. I looked on the Internet, but most mentions of Lisa Beamer refer back to those earlier years. One link did say that she had remarried but gave no specifics. Another attempted to smear her for purchasing a large expensive house.

After all the media attention, I could fully understand why she might want to slip back "under the radar" (a phrase her husband used to use). That level of international attention would have to be stressful and difficult. Even for the sake of her children, it would be wise to demand privacy. But, I still sat wondering. I ran to check my 2007 Wheaton Alumni Directory. No more information there. As far as I know, Lisa Beamer is still a single mother of three and is probably still clinging to the same God who carried her through the death of her father and the death of her beloved husband.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


It seems like our boys have grown tremendously over the past month. ES started taking drum lessons. He has never had lessons before and yet, he is quite good. Much of this, I attribute to the excellent musical training he received at Littlejohn Elementary in DeKalb, Illinois. He displayed an extreme interest in music, and in percussion specifically, even back then. For either his eighth or ninth birthday, he purchased his own soprano marimba.

Last summer, he bought a small drum set from a friend. For Christmas, his grandmother purchased some cymbals. Then, he purchased a double bass drum pedal and a few more drums. The boy is constantly playing the drums, yet it doesn't really seem to bother me. Lately, he has been busy uploading videos to You Tube as he plays along with various music.

Here is a three minute sample of his abilities:

He also was thrilled to get his braces removed from his teeth back on September 3rd. I've been super impressed with his orthodontist. They bend over backwards to make it an enjoyable experience for the patient. As a reward for reaching this milestone, they sent ES home with a giant rice crispy treat. I tried to cajole him into showing his new smile (with the retainer), but this was the best I could get (no smile in sight).

The two little boys have been enjoying school and recently went for a hair cut. I usually prefer their hair to be longish (although not as long as ES tends to grow his hair). However, I have been struggling with YS's hair. He has so many difficult cowlicks and his hair always seems to stand straight up. I asked the stylist to give him whatever haircut would be best to work around those cowlicks. She recommended a buzz down to a quarter inch.

MS had already determined that he wanted his hair cut like his friend, Devin, from his old school. I asked what Devin's hair looks like and he informed me that it is "spiky" on top. As he climbed up into the chair, he told the stylist himself what he wanted. It seemed quite funny for a four year old to have a specific style in mind. Sadly, most days, I don't bother to gel it and spike it up for him. I did get one shot when it was looking "spiky."

When YS was finally able to start school (the last Friday in August), they asked if he is potty trained and if he is a napper. I said that he will go in a bucket for us at home (to get M&Ms) and that he still naps, but that I doubted he would do either at school for them.

Lo and behold, the first time I went to pick him up, the teachers explained that he wouldn't use the toilet for them at school, but he did stay dry the entire time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Plus, he took a nap for them! I was shocked and amazed.

Last Friday, I was greeted with the news that he napped again and he went potty three times, staying dry all day. Woo-hoo! So, earlier this week, I purchased a potty toy for him. It is a set of three Thomas the Tank Engine cars (Bill and Ben and Diesel) and he is only given the cars for ten minutes each time after he goes in the toilet. When he has gone a whole week without any accidents, I promised to give him the potty toy for good.

He discovered that he is tall enough to skip the bucket (I guess both of the other boys started this process when they were too short to stand at the toilet, so they would go in the bucket). I don't want to jinx anything, but so far he is staying dry all day and wearing underpants.

Plus, just this week, YS decided that he is done with his crib. When he naps he wants to lie with me in either MS's bed or in my bed (which is fine because very often, I take a short nap as well). In the evenings, he has wanted to sleep in the toddler bed (which has been set up in their room ever since Christmas when we had guests). It feels like he has grown up so much in the past month. No more babies in the house, I guess!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I Laughed at his Parental Frustration

It has now been one week since we had a baby in the house. I intended to provide follow-up on my ES's computer baby experience. I haven't. Sorry!

I was actually kind of surprised that they offer this experience to 8th graders. Still, I was more than happy to have my son participate. At the end, he and I both had to answer questions about this activity. I gave the program a thumbs up, but did believe it should have covered a longer time frame, perhaps when they are in high school.

Last Tuesday, our van was in the shop, receiving new tires and a full detail (since I always seem to trash it when we go to CBLI). Thus, the boys and I were left with the car - a Pontiac Grand Am. It was highly amusing to watch ES consider the seating arrangements and then ask me to pop the trunk. Yes, he actually placed the baby in the trunk.

He told me later that he wished he were in high school and already driving when they had done this assignment. If so, he said he would have loved setting the baby carrier on top of the car and then getting in and starting to drive off, just so he could watch the startled reactions of people who would assume it was an actual baby. I shook my head and reminded myself that he is a boy. Then, later that night I checked my camera, just to make sure he hadn't made any prank videos to upload to You Tube. You never know with boys.

The baby was turned off during his drum lesson, but we still needed to bring it along, since he intended to go to a football game at school afterwards. However, as we left his drum lesson he called his friends to be sure they were going to the game. It turned out that one friend couldn't go and the other was going to be late by about an hour. When the last friend learned that ES would be going to the game with the baby, even he advised ES not to go.

So, we went home and waited for the baby to come to life. And come to life, it did! At six, it began breathing. Then, shortly after six it began to do things babies tend to do. First it required a diaper change. Then, within a half an hour, it required another diaper change. ES was highly embarrassed because every time the baby cried, MS, YS and I would go running to his room to watch him care for the baby. It was really quite amusing.

Between six and midnight, the baby fussed or needed to be fed often. ES was amazed that each feeding took almost a half hour. Then, he was even more perturbed when each feeding had to be followed up with a half hour of burping. He clearly didn't understand why it should take that long for a baby to bring up the air. What 13 year old can't bring up air on command, for goodness sake?

My husband showers in the bathroom in the room near the garage (where I had originally intended to have ES and the baby sleep). Thus, he was worried that he would waken a weary son and figurative grandson at 5:30 a.m., and he insisted that ES remain in his own room for the night. Of course, it really isn't a surprise that my hubby didn't wake once when the baby stirred, but ES and I were up with every cry.

Around midnight, ES began to get very frustrated. Unfortunately, I don't think I was a very compassionate sounding board. I found it hard not to laugh at his frustration. He was clearly convinced that if he had a real baby it wouldn't be as difficult. Several times, he declared that he would just allow his own baby to cry itself to sleep, since he wouldn't be graded on it. (Hmm, wonder if I could throw that argument back at him the next time he has a displayed need - I'll just delay meeting it because it isn't convenient.)

I did try to remind him of a very young baby's need to eat every two to three hours. After all, he was around when both MS and YS were newborns. Somehow, I think he was oblivious.

The more frustrated he got, the more I felt it necessary to paint the picture of his first months ... indeed, his first year. The first few nights there were three of us to wait on his every need (hubby, myself and m-i-l) and we were completely exhausted by ES's cries. I even took him back to the hospital convinced that something was wrong with him. He cried constantly and was very seldom soothed. Plus, we lived in an apartment and I was always worried about the noise.

When ES was 3 months old, we discovered that he had almost constant ear infections. At 11 months, he received tubes in his ears and became a completely different, and far easier, baby. Of course, by then, we were in a state of severe sleep deprivation. Somehow, I still get the feeling that ES was too busy hearing the cries of the moment to fully take in my descriptions of his infancy.

The baby really wasn't too bad and was only turned on for a 12 hour stint. I mean, come on - what parent wouldn't think life was just a bit too easy if their infant had a 12 hour passage of normal infant behavior and then shut off. Yet, I don't think my ES would have been ready to face those frustrations for more than that 12 hours afforded. At least, it did come in loud and clear that he is too impatient to be responsible for a baby at this age.

I'm sure he went off to school declaring that his baby had been set at the hardest level (the teacher had informed them that there were three level settings and that she didn't know which setting they would receive). I'm also positive that we both (ES and myself) woke up the following morning feeling very grateful that we don't have another small son to care for. I'm truly grateful that I could laugh at his frustration (for we all know that I wouldn't have been laughing much if his frustration had been genuine, instead of simulated).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Book Review: Good Things I Wish You

Good Things I Wish You, by A. Manette Ansay, is a blend of historical fact and fiction. It tells a story within a story. The narrator, Jeannette, has just emerged from a difficult divorce and is attempting to write a novel based on the lives and loves of Clara Schumann, her husband and composer Robert Schumann, and the young composer Johannes Brahms. She is unsure of what the actual relationship was between this triangle and she feels stuck in her attempts to move forward with her manuscript. Jeanette turns to a mysterious man named Hart, whom she has met through a dating agency, for help with the translations. As her relationship with Hart evolves, she begins to form new opinions about what must have gone on between the Schumanns and Brahms.

That gives you the plot in a nutshell. I won't say that I didn't enjoy reading this book. Indeed, I did feel compelled to keep reading and to find out what happens in the end. However, the further I got into the story, the less I seemed to like the book. Perhaps the characters were merely too dark. Perhaps, I felt some of the political banter felt forced and unnecessary. Perhaps I couldn't fully agree with the oft-stated premise that men and women cannot truly be just friends.

Whatever the reason, the book seemed depressing to me. Then, I remembered that Vinegar Hill had felt depressing, as well (I read that five or six years ago). I would have to say that the only part of the book I enjoyed were the sections which focused primarily on the lives of the Schumanns and Brahms. The historical bits, including a wealth of photographs and letter snippets, were fully absorbing. I even believe I would enjoy reading further about the lives of these three musically-inclined individuals. I guess what I really wanted was the historical story without any of the fiction!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Plans to Prosper and Not to Harm

My earthly father talks with my heavenly Father. I didn't say he talks "to," but rather "with." I believe this with my whole heart. It is not just because I have watched him late in the night or early in the morning, on his knees petitioning the Almighty. It is primarily because he delivered an accurate message to me before I fully understood its veracity.

Shortly after we moved into a house in DeKalb, Illinois, my father sent me a letter. In his letter, he explained that he had been talking with God about me and he felt very strongly that God wanted me to know that I would shortly be entering a wilderness period. I wish I could find that letter right now (if you read this blog faithfully, you know me, and you know that I still have it ... somewhere). I took to heart the primary bit of information, the word "wilderness" and then watched my own exile into the wilderness begin to take shape, starting with my marital separation.

Many things have happened in the years since. Although, our marriage survived the separation, I believe I am still in the midst of that wilderness experience. I'm not sure how long it will last. At times, I have grumbled and complained and been not entirely convinced that God would, indeed, bring me back.

I recently came upon a blog post at which tugged at my heart. The blogger, Julia Norris, tells the story of her adopted Chinese son. When Julia was 33, she traveled to China to spend a month working in an orphanage. She was single and had no intention of seeking out a child. Yet, the Lord placed a particular child, a boy named Jiacheng, on her heart. The boy had been found huddled under an overpass and when police could not find his family, he was brought to the orphanage. She returned a year later to adopt the boy. Whenever this young boy made any mention of his past or how he came to be in the orphanage, Julia wrote down all the details. Eventually, when the boy turned 14, he asked Julia to help him find his biological parents. Through her efforts and the help of a Chinese agency called "Baby Come Home," Julia located her adoptive son's birth family and discovered the elaborate tale of how he came to be in that orphanage.

It turned out that the child's past (his initial six years in China) was complicated and confusing. He was the second son of a couple (both doctors). Wishing to avoid problems with the one-child ruling, they sent the boy to be raised by the boy's uncle and grandmother. However, when he reached school age, the parents felt it best to bring him back to the city for his schooling. By this point, the child felt deeply connected to the uncle and grandmother and pined for their small village life. The father set out to take the boy back to the village. In a busy bus station, the father put the boy in a bus seat and quickly ran to the market for food. When he returned, minutes later the bus was gone and the boy ended up lost and abandoned three hours east.

As I wrote a comment in response to the blogger and their story, my mind was fixed on a verse of Scripture, Jeremiah 29:11: "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" (NIV) Seeking out the reference, caused me to review the context of the verse.

This verse is part of a letter from Jeremiah to the Jewish elders, priests and people, who were in captivity in Babylon. His letter contains a message from God, telling the people that they will be captives in Babylon for many years. He encourages them to go about the business of living and to seek peace and prosperity in that land.

As the Living Bible puts it: "The truth is this: You will be in Babylon for a lifetime. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. You will find me when you seek me, if you look for me in earnest." (Jeremiah 29:10-13)

Wow! My wilderness experience could last a lifetime. What do I have to cling to in the midst of that wilderness? I must go about living and seek peace exactly where I have been placed. My heart can hold fast to His promise, that even when I don't understand the paths which led to my exile, I can be assured that His plans are "for good and not for evil." They will give me "a future and a hope."

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Book Review: The Ragamuffin Gospel

I have been a fan of Brennan Manning ever since I heard him speak at a Recovery seminar in the Chicago suburbs about a decade ago. I remember that his talk touched on Don Quixote and Dulcinea. He used this discussion to show how God loves us and thinks us beautiful not because of who we are and how we look to Him, but merely because we are His.

Moreover, I remember that he ended with a prayer that I wish I could have fully jotted down and framed on my wall. It went something like this: "May all your dreams be thwarted, may your goals be frustrated, may your expectations be dashed ... so that you can fully rest in the all-sufficient power of His grace." It has stuck with me for years.

Brennan Manning reminds us to "Never confuse your perception of yourself with the mystery that you really are accepted." He also counsels, "there is only one thing God asks of us - that we be men and women of prayer, people who live close to God, people for whom God is everything and for whom God is enough (emphasis mine). That is the root of peace. We have that peace when the gracious God is all we seek." I find his words on the freedom we have in God's grace to be extremely encouraging.

It was also interesting to read as he made mention of Amy Welborn. I thought to myself, "I know that name. Why do I know that name???"

So, I searched and it came back to me. Amy Welborn writes a blog called Charlotte Was Both. Her husband, Michael Dubruiel, died back in January and I was touched by the prophetic words in his final essay.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Book Review: The Journey That Saved Curious George

I absolutely love it when I happen upon an outstanding book. This book, The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey, by Louise Borden, is truly an outstanding book! That was clear from the moment I glanced at the elegantly designed, hardbound cover.

Inside, the book is divided into two parts. The first tells the story of two artists, Margarete Waldstein and Hans Reyersbach, both Jews, born in Hamburg, Germany. They eventually left Germany and moved to Brazil, where they married and lived with their two pet monkeys. When the people of that country had difficulty with their name, Margarete shortened hers to Margret and Hans began to go by H.A. Rey. On a two week visit to Paris, they loved the city so much (especially Montmarte, a center of artistic endeavor which I have had the privilege to visit) that they ended up staying there.

This first portion carries their story right up to the time of World War II, when troops were advancing closer and closer to Paris. This section was especially interesting because it is illustrated with actual journal entries, photographs and sketches by the Reys. We learn of their work on a manuscript called "The Adventures of Fifi" and another clever one called "Whiteblack the Penguin."

The second part of the book focuses on their escape from war-torn Paris. People everywhere were fleeing. Train service had stopped. When Hans inquired about purchasing bicycles, the best he could do was purchase bicycle parts and put them together for himself. Next, came the perilous journey, pedalling across France, in the elements, trying to keep their manuscripts safe and sound. They finally settled in the United States, where "The Adventures of Fifi," was renamed "Curious George." This section contains rich colorful illustrations by Allan Drummond.

Although this book is directed towards children from grades 3-8, it will surely delight many adults as well. Even my littlest guy was willing to sit and look at the pictures as I read. Now, I'm eager to find a copy of Whiteblack the Penguin. This was published in 2000, when a publisher at Houghton Mifflin rediscovered the story in the Rey archives.

Friday, September 4, 2009

An Attitude Adjustment

Sometimes I'm a grumbler. Yes, it's true. I will freely admit that about myself. I can get my head pointed in one direction and if that direction is tampered with, well ... I get my panties in a bind. Most of the time, it is my own misconception of what is expected of me which helps to hoist those panties higher.

So, why exactly did I need an attitude adjustment today?? Well, last Friday was the very first Friday when both of my little boys attended preschool or Parent's Day Out for the full day. Yes, indeed! This year, they will be attending from 9-3 on Fridays. Woo-hoo!

As we approached the start of the new school year, I made a private commitment to myself. I wanted to be sure this chunk of time didn't get absorbed in housework. While housework is important and even, a necessary evil, I determined to spend a large chunk of that kid-free zone actively pursuing publication of my writing.

The first Friday had already hit a few glitches, but turned out so well that I contemplated writing a post asserting my new favorite day of the week as Friday. My husband had recognized that this was a kid-free zone as well. He has Fridays off work. Therefore, he sized up the situation and asked if we could do lunch and a run to Lowe's to look for a new kitchen sink.

There was no way in the world I was going to turn to my husband and declare that I intended to spend my entire Friday pursuing publication instead of spending quality one-on-one couple time.

We had a wonderful date after I spent most of the morning at the library researching possible publishing companies for one of my children's books.

This week, we have been battling colds. MS missed a day of preschool on Monday and YS and I both caught the bug by Wednesday. Yesterday, I felt so horrible that I took to bed in the afternoon, leaving the little boys to their own devices (surely ES couldn't leave his drums to supervise their play!). They had trashed the house and I went to bed as soon as their heads hit the pillow.

This morning, I discovered that my husband's brother was on his way over to trim the creek bank. My first thought was to rue the demise of my dedicated writing time. Indeed, I jumped to the conclusion that he would be coming into the house for lunch and possibly dinner. Therefore, my entire Friday would be spent cleaning when I had vowed that I would not cave in to that demand.

Oh, the battle which waged in my mind. This house belongs to my in-laws. If my brother-in-law were to come inside and see the state of the house (after several sick days), he would be appalled and he would pass this sentiment on to my mother-in-law. I could barely breathe from the panties around my neck. (Really, why do I care so much what others think?)

But, somehow, I began to think about my father-in-law. Indeed, I'm pretty sure that he's the one who set this plan in motion. He had already attempted to hire someone to come do the job, but it was as high on that individual's agenda as it has been on our agenda.

Personally, I'm not really sure what is called for. I have never lived out in the country before and I've never been responsible for the up-keep of a home. When I look at the creek bank, I tend to think that nature intended that overgrowth. Plus, given the fact that so many local yokels toss trash onto the side of our property, I'm not convinced that others around us are concerned about the state of the creek-bank.

However, my father-in-law is. In his healthier days, he would spend hours trimming the creek bank. Once, he even tried to take the tractor mower down there. The creek bank holds such an angle that the tractor tipped over on top of him (this was when he was already in his seventies), until he and my mother-in-law were able to right it. (Not only are my in-laws neat and tidy; they are also feisty.)

As I thought about my father-in-law, I reminded myself that there aren't many things he can do any more. He can't get down and weed-eat the creek bank himself, even if he would like to. In his hey-day, he was an eminent professor of business at the University of Illinois. How difficult it must be to spend his days riddled with pain and be unable to do the things he desires.

Slowly, my interrupted plans seemed petty. If my brother-in-law was willing to give up a day of his life to make my father-in-law happy, who was I to stand in the way? My brother-in-law is quite a hard worker. He would certainly do a fine job of it and would even welcome the labor.

I did scurry around a bit, trying to tidy things. I took my brother-in-law a tall glass of water and thanked him for the hard work. I even baked a loaf of banana chocolate-chip bread and sent half of the loaf home with him.

It turned out, he wouldn't come in the house (doesn't that always seem to follow my neurotic anxiety episodes??). He was fairly sweaty and insisted that he didn't need any lunch. He stayed long enough for my little boys (who absolutely adore him) to see him and then he headed back home.

I didn't manage to snag more than an hour for my writing research, but it was still a grand Friday. And, my attitude has changed towards the weed-eating job as well. Tonight, as I stood at the kitchen window, I saw the full-winged flight of another blue heron across the creek. It was such a beautiful thing.

Not ten minutes later, I noticed another blue heron in the creek. I called the little boys and we set about watching it (darn my dead camera battery). I noted to my husband that we wouldn't have been able to see the heron if his brother hadn't worked so hard. As we stood there watching, my eyes were trained on the heron. But, MS was watching the entire creek and he suddenly piped up, "Hey, there's a fox, too." We watched a coyote climb up the creek bank and walk along the back of our yard towards the woods.

Now, I'm headed off to bed (before I aggravate my cold) thankful that my father-in-law insisted on the weed-eating job, thankful that my brother-in-law came over and gave my father-in-law some small bit of happiness, thankful that we were able to see the heron and the coyote and thankful that my house is clean. Just another day in paradise. No need to get my panties in a bind.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month - Kevin Ballantine

The "c" word has been in my vocabulary since I was very young. My paternal grandfather died of cancer when I was three. In fact, cancer claimed many of the lives of his numerous siblings, as well. My maternal grandmother had breast cancer. My father has had cancer.

But, I must admit that my passions against this disease and my support of those battling cancer really increased significantly when it hit close to home for a child that I love. My niece, Amelia, is a leukemia survivor. She is also only five years old! Watching my brother and his family, learn and grow through the trial of leukemia has been inspiring.

Now, I also want to draw attention to other Childhood Cancer fighters.

Shortly before we moved from DeKalb, Illinois, to our isolated farm home outside of Indianapolis, we were looking for a baby sitter to watch our infant MS. We really hadn't left him very often. A friend at school recommended Kevin Ballantine.

I knew of his sister, Pooja. Pooja and Keerti (the Ballantine's two adopted children) used to wait for their ride at the back of the school when I had parking lot duty. Pooja always brought a little smile to my face. Thus, we ended up calling her big brother, Kevin, and having him babysit our little guy. As I ran back in the house to grab something, I knew he was going to do a great job. He had turned on some classical music to calm MS down.

Given the fact that we haven't lived in DeKalb for three years, it is somewhat amazing that I came to know any more about Kevin. But, a few weeks ago, when I began adding DeKalb friends to my Facebook, I noted someone's participation in a group for Kevin Ballantine's fight against leukemia.

He is fairly new to this game - only 190 days in (as his most recent blog post announces). He has AML and has already undergone a stem cell transplant. You can visit him at his blog at or at his Caring Bridge page (if you become a free member of the CaringBridge community).

Even if you don't take a moment to visit and encourage Kevin, wear some gold this month. Gold is the color chosen to represent childhood cancers. Let these fighters know that they've got some backup support behind them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Baby in the House

The little boys have been excited all afternoon. YS wouldn't take his nap. ES insisted on a ride home from school. The cause of all this excitement? ES became a Daddy today (yes, temporarily, whew!)

As we drove home from school, I noted that the baby was strangely quiet. Apparently, ES was concerned about the baby crying during his drum lesson at 5, so the teacher agreed to wait and turn the baby on at 6 p.m. I'm pretty sure he is already aware that a real infant never comes with an on/off option.

Actually, I was surprised at my boy's lack of embarrassment over the baby (aside from the demand for a ride home from school). He asked if he can go to the school football game after his drum lesson. He's lucky it wasn't twins; then, he'd learn that plans can remain fairly uninterrupted when you have just one child, but two is another story.

Since ES's room is right next to ours, I'm making him and the baby sleep in the room off of the garage.

I asked ES if he had given the baby a name. His reply, "I don't know."

With a name like that and a 13 year old father, that baby must be destined for trouble. I must add that I was hardly surprised at all when I discovered that this newest addition to our family is ... ANOTHER BOY!!!!