Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Oct. 15th: Remembering Our Babies


In loving memory of my beautiful goddaughter Natalee...
and of my cousin Cole...
and the others who have touched my heart and my life in some way but were taken too soon (it's a sobering, long list...)
and those who lost babies they never got to know...

and especially in honor of their courageous and forever heartbroken parents.

Please light a candle on Wednesday, Oct. 15th in Remembrance and in recognition of this national day of reflection.

My best friend and hero Tammy sent this to me earlier and I wanted to pass it along:

Bereaved Parents Wish List:

1. I wish my child hadn't died. I wish I had him back.

2. I wish you wouldn't be afraid to speak my child's name. My child lived and was very important to me. I need to hear that he was important to you also.

3. If I cry and get emotional when you talk about my child I wish you knew that it isn't because you have hurt me. My child's death is the cause of my tears. You have talked about my child, and you have allowed me to share my grief. I thank you for both.

4. I wish you wouldn't "kill" my child again by removing his pictures, artwork, or other remembrances from your home.

5. Being a bereaved parent is not contagious, so I wish you wouldn't shy away from me. I need you now more than ever.

6. I need diversions, so I do want to hear about you, but I also want you to hear about me. I might be sad and I might cry, but I wish you would let me talk about my child, my favorite topic of the day.

7. I know that you think of and pray for me often. I also know that my child's death pains you too. I wish you would let me know those things through a phone call, a card or note, or a real big hug.

8. I wish you wouldn't expect my grief to be over in six months. These first months are traumatic for me, but I wish you could understand that my grief will never be over. I will suffer the death of my child until the day I die.

9. I am working very hard in my recovery, but I wish you could understand that I will never fully recover. I will always miss my child, and I will always grieve that he is dead.

10. I wish you wouldn't expect me "not to think about it" or to "be happy." Neither will happen for a very long time, so don't frustrate yourself.

11. I don't want to have a "pity party," but I do wish you would let me grieve. I must hurt before I can heal.

12. I wish you understood how my life has shattered. I know it's miserable for you to be around me when I'm feeling miserable. Please be as patient with me as I am with you.

13. When I say "I'm doing okay," I wish you could understand that I don't "feel" okay and that I struggle daily.

14. I wish you knew that all of the grief reactions I'm having are very normal. Depression, anger, hopelessness and overwhelming sadness are all to be expected. So please excuse me when I'm quiet and withdrawn or irritable and cranky.

15. Your advice to "take one day at a time" is excellent advice. However, a day is too much and too fast for me right now. I wish you could understand that I'm doing good to handle an hour at a time.

16. Please excuse me if I seem rude, certainly not my intent. Sometimes the world around me goes too fast and I need to get off. When I walk away, I wish you would let me find a quiet place to spend some time alone.

17. I wish you understood that grief changes people. When my child died, a big part of me died with him. I am not the same person I was before my child died, and I will never be that person again.

18. I wish very much that you could understand: understand my loss and my grief, my silence and my tears, my void and my pain. 

BUT I pray daily that you will never understand.




Just an Update...

Just a quick note that I had to have Kelsey put to sleep two weeks ago today, on Sept. 30th. 

It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it was done out of love and when the time was right. I am grateful for every moment I had with her.

Sophie, a kitten from my aunt's farm, has joined our family. Now that she's figuring out the litterbox, I think we'll let her stay. :)

Friday, September 19, 2008

My Life with Kelsey




On the Friday before my college graduation, I moved into my first apartment. On the Monday after, I started my first job at the Daily Times and after that first day of work, I made a trip to one of our local animal shelters "just to see" if they had any kittens.

They did, and after playing with several of them, I picked a beautiful little black one and decided to adopt her. I took her straight to my dad's house, where my little sister helped me settle on the name "Kelsey." That same night she decided to try jumping off of my dad's top deck and I got my first glimpse of what motherhood would be about as I flew downstairs to get her, heart racing and not knowing what I would find. She was only about 8 weeks old but she made that leap unscathed, and we embarked on our long journey together.

When I met the man I would eventually marry, he was allergic to cats. Just coming into my apartment was enough to get his eyes and nose running like faucets. But I knew he really liked me because he kept coming over and occasionally I would even catch him petting Kelsey. When we made the decision for me to move to California to live with him, I was torn about what to do with Kelsey. He said to me, "You are moving across the country and leaving all of your friends and family behind. Please, bring your cat." Not that I had ever doubted it, but I knew for sure then that he really loved me.

We drove across the country together with Kelsey in the backseat (she even got to see the Grand Canyon!) and settled into life in Monterey. Kelsey liked to sneak out the kitchen window and made fast friends with the next-door neighbor, Mr. Q. When we moved to our second apartment she and the landlord had a hate-hate relationship because she liked to leave little footprints on his precious car. He was a hateful man, I'm glad she did it.

While in Monterey we added Taylor to our kitty family, and Kelsey suddenly became the older, calmer cat. Kelsey learned to share my attention, although I don't think she's ever liked it.

Eventually of course, we would move back to Pekin and see other cats come and go into our family. And our people family expanded as well - Kelsey curiously checked out all three of the babies we brought home to her. Once those babies got a little older and gentler in their touch, she even warmed up to them.

So many memories, so many years - and yet in the end, so little time.

A few weeks ago I noticed Kelsey had lost a significant amount of weight and suddenly seemed to withdraw from the family. I took her to the vet, who decided to keep her for some emergency treatment. Five days later we brought her home and while her personality had rebounded, her body just hasn't followed suit. She still rubs against my hand and purrs when I pet her, but she can no longer jump up on the couch to get to me and has trouble walking without wobbly legs. While she continues to eat and drink, she has lost half of her body weight since May. 

All of this happened the same week our third cat and most recent family addition disappeared from our home. He came to us as a stray kitten in May and added so much life and vitality to the house - every bit the playful, ornery kitten who was always getting into something and making a mess somewhere.

That's why all of this feels like a double loss - we lost the youth and vitality Oreo had brought into the house and have now a cat we are trying to provide love and comfort to in her last days.

I don't know how much longer Kelsey will be with me. I can't imagine my life without her. She has been a part of my entire adult life and suddenly it doesn't seem I've done enough for her.

I always knew, of course, that this day would come. And I always expected that taking her to the vet to have her put to sleep (I hate that term btw, but can't think of a better one right now anyway...) would be difficult. But it's not the "how" that is so hard, it's the "when." I don't want to miss out on any time with her, but I don't want to wait so long that she is in pain. And by now, I realize that we are not prolonging life so much as we are prolonging death.

In the midst of my own grief, I'm also trying to help my children through this. While we do have one other cat, she is not friendly to *anyone* so my kids have essentially lost both of their cats - both of their pets - this month. We're getting a good lesson in growing old and in dying, but I'm struggling a bit to explain it all and to know how to help them best. Better to let them say good-bye or not? I'm leaning toward yes of course, but it depends on the timing. Better to get a new kitten sooner or later? I've already explained euthanasia to my oldest, but what do I say to the two youngest? Mostly I'm just sticking with the honesty policy, and we've talked very openly about how our time with Kelsey is so limited and what is going to happen soon. The only thing that hurts worse than my own heartbreak is watching my daughter's. 

So, my heart is so heavy today and my burden feels so consuming. I'm watching her closely and praying for guidance so that I can do what's best for her.

It is, in every sense of the phrase, the very least I can do.

I'm really going to miss her.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thanks, Salty Sam





Recently there's been some media attention here over a story that tugs at the heartstrings of many central Illinois residents who grew up in the 1960's and 1970's.

It has to do with the Captain Jinks and Salty Sam Show. It has come to light that one of the stars, George Baseleon, is buried in Peoria in an unmarked grave. His family was unable to buy one, and now a fund-raiser is being planned to help funnel the outpouring of public support that has rallied since the story "broke."

I do remember watching the show as a child, but as I've read the memories and history over the past few weeks, I've realized that I really struggle to remember anything *about* the show. I was very young when it was on the air, so for me the memories are really mostly about feelings. But it does go a little further than that too.

For my fourth birthday, my parents took me and a group of my friends to see the Captain Jinks and Salty Sam show at the TV station. This was a very big deal to me, because I hadn't realized that something so glamorous as a TV station was actually within driving distance of our house. (As it turns out, it was only about 10 minutes down the road but I wouldn't figure that out until much later!) It felt so incredibly special to me to be in TV studio. A strange mix of power, performance, and excitement. We were on the air. I didn't know the difference between live and taped TV, and while it was most likely still live even then (would have been 1978) I wouldn't have known the difference, really. I remember sitting in a group of chairs on risers to the side of the "stage." I don't remember any other details, except for the feeling of electricity in the air around me. It was a TV station. WOW.

This was my first TV appearance and my first experience with the world of broadcasting. Years later, I would find I still had that wow feeling when I walked into a TV station. In fact, I still have it today - that sense of walking into a sacred place where special things happen. I worked in television news for just a little short of 5 years, with about half of it on the air. Sure, I was a bit disillusioned by some aspects of the job - but who isn't with any job? Despite that, I never lost that thrill when I saw the red "on air" light turn on. The rush of adrenaline and the anticipation of knowing I was looking at one camera, but communicating with hundreds of thousands of people. And that it was a privilege to be doing so.

For me, that is the legacy of the Captain Jinks and Salty Sam Show. None of us realized it that day we traveled to the station to watch it, but a seed was being planted. In the summer of 1995 I had an internship at the station in the news department. Every morning I would walk to the back of the building, down a long hall, to get to an answering machine that we used for an audience feedback segment. From 1999-2001 I was a full-time reporter there and often walked down that same hallway for other various reasons.

In that hallway was a picture of Captain Jinks and Salty Sam. Every time I saw it, I smiled - and said a little "thank you."


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Wrong Number!





We have been getting a lot of phone calls again lately for Cherise Timmerman and Shawn Rogers.

At least 2-3 a week, on average.

As a general rule, these calls are only a minor annoyance and generally go something like this:

Caller: Can I speak to Cherise Timmerman/Shawn Rogers please?
Me: (sighing inside) I'm sorry but that person is not at this number.
Caller: Do you know where they can be reached?
Me: No, let me explain. I do not know this person. I do, however, know the name because I get phone calls several times a week from people looking for them. Apparently they had this number before we did but I do not know who they are.
Caller: (This part varies from extremely rude "We won't call again" and hanging up to a much nicer, "I'm sorry for bothering you, I'll make a note on the account.")

The note part never seems to really work though, because it's the same companies calling over and over. And sure enough, a day or two later and they'll call again.

Even better than this though, are the recorded messages we get asking us to call back.

???

Who thinks this is a good idea? Does anyone who actually owes someone money really call these companies back?

One in particular is really bad. They show up on the Caller ID as RMI MCSI with a phone number of 708-455-4047. The message does identify them as trying to collect a debt, although other messages from them have alluded to a "municipal issue" they're trying to resolve.

When I call back, the person answers with a "How can I help you?"

Huh? Um, you called me... I'm just returning the call.

So I tell them this and then they ask me to wait a moment (while my number shows up somewhere I guess?) and then inevitably they say they are looking for Cherise Timmerman or Shawn Rogers.

Two days ago I told the guy this was at least the fifth time they have called recently and while I realize he was probably not the one responsible, he needed to get it figured out for me. And I pointed out that each return call I make is long distance.

I just googled this company and I am apparently not alone. I reported my calls and will look into it more later.

This isn't all though, another one of these "please return this call" messages landed me on the phone with a hotel clerk in Costa Rica a few weeks ago. Needless to say, I hung up very quickly but I should look into that more too.

We've also been getting daily phone calls for satellite service (we have it) and healthcare insurance (got that too - pretty good insurance, actually.)

All of this - and we have an unlisted phone number. That, I might add, we changed several years ago because of the weekly phone calls from creditors we were getting for someone else who had our number before us.

Ironic, huh?

Before you ask, no we haven't registered for the do not call list. We haven't really needed to before because the unlisted number seemed to afford us the protection we needed. But I guess the time has come.

And if you know Cherise Timmerman or Shawn Rogers, I'd love to have their current contact information... it's either that, or change the number again!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A New Blog to Read




I've been light on posting lately, but I do faithfully read a number of blogs and this -  Matt, Liz, and Madeline, is a beautiful one.

Warning: you need to start at the beginning (there's a handy link on the right side) and it is sad. But it's poetic and moving and inspirational too, in a sometimes-life-sucks kind of way.

Coincidentally, a good friend of mine just returned from a weekend at "The Farm" where she got to meet Ina May Gaskin - celebrated midwife and revolutionary. She told my friend that the numbers of maternal deaths in childbirth have doubled since 1980 - something way worth researching more. 

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Don't you... forget about JCPenney

Has anyone else seen the new JCPenney back to school commercial?

It's a homage to "The Breakfast Club" and it makes me smile every time I see it. (I'd look for it on YouTube and post it here but I haven't been having any luck with that lately...)

I can't help but wonder as I watch it though, where is the cutoff? I mean, obviously my son has no idea that's it's a spoof of a classic movie... so at what age do they make the connection? Have today's college students seen "The Breakfast Club?" What about today's high school students? 

Is everyone who knows this movie out of school or has it held on to a younger generation in some way?

Ultimately, I guess it's probably aimed at parents like me anyway. Just like the resurgence of all the toys we loved as kids.

Which makes me feel really, really old.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Birds

Last week we had to go back to the pediatrician's office, and I happened to have my camera. 

I'm pretty proud of this shot... these are the baby robins, safe in their nest with their mother.

My wise, experienced 7-year old




Lately my kids have been making me laugh a lot.

In many ways, this summer has flown by - but in others it's gone nice and slowly. I'd like to think it's at least due in part to my conscious decision to just say no to activities this summer. Except for swim lessons, we've taken a well-deserved break from the runaround and it's been great.

Of course, it's about to come to a crashing end... as I was reminded just a few days ago while getting some stuff at Wal-Mart. The school supplies are out and I couldn't get over how crowded that aisle was- already. We picked up a few things I know the kids will need but I didn't pull out the list. I'm just not ready to fully commit - yet.

My daughter will be going to Kindergarten this fall and she saw a lunchbox she really liked, so we got it too. It makes me smile because it's very old school, metal with the latch. It reminds me of the first lunchboxes I had, until plastic became the new material of choice. I'm not sure, but I *think* I had a metal Muppets lunchbox. Elisabeth's is "High School Musical" and every day she looks at it longingly and talks about the day she'll finally get to take it to school.

Of course, she pointed out... she won't be taking it the first few days of school. And Ethan (the experienced soon-to-be second grader) corroborated this.

"First they'll teach you how to go through the lunchroom," he said. "They'll show her how to get her card and then go down in line and then hold it up..."

I'm a little fuzzy on all the details, but this is sounding like a fairly complicated system! In any case, I won't worry because after all, as Ethan said next -

"Don't worry Elisabeth... you'll get used to it. I've been doing it for TWO YEARS already."

Maybe it was the tone of his voice, but it really made me chuckle. And somewhere inside, I also breathed a little easier knowing that this time as I send a kindergartener off to school, I've got someone on the inside looking out for her.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Natalee Ann - July 6, 2006

This is Natalee Ann, my beautiful goddaughter who was born and died two years ago today.

I'd like to write something meaningful and profound today, but words like those are not coming. At least not right now.

Today should have been a celebration of a second birthday. For my best friend, there will be cake and there will be a celebration - there is just not a two-year old to share in it. 

Please keep Natalee's mother, father, two sisters, and all of their family and friends in your thoughts today. 


Monday, June 30, 2008

A New Little Miracle

I am apparently getting older than I like to think.

Two nights ago I stayed up all night - for a total of 39 hours awake - to be a doula at a birth, along with a friend of mine.

This particular couple had researched, studied, and learned a lot and were prepared to give everything they had to a natural, unmedicated birth experience. It was 17 hours of active labor, but they did it - and they have a beautiful baby boy. In the end, it was lucky they had two doulas, because I think we were better able to keep up the energy for hip squeezes, back rubs, creative thinking, etc! 17 hours is an extraordinary amount of time to labor and I am awed by what this couple did. And I say couple because the father was absolutely unwavering in his support, and unlike many fathers he was present both physically and mentally. It was beautiful to watch.

I am still recovering from the lack of sleep (hence the feeling old) but I just feel so blessed to have had the privilege to be present at this birth. It's one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring events in a person's life and I was there. 

Even more notable - this was the first birth I have been at as a doula since Natalee died.

For reasons both emotional and practical, the opportunity just hasn't presented itself. I was with Tammy when Emmalee was born last August but I wasn't necessarily there to "doula" at that birth like I had her first two. Not in the same way, anyway. The truth is that with small children and no childcare, it's just hard to commit to someone for their entire labor. And I'm sure that emotionally and subconsciously, I just didn't want to do it.

And then this couple came along. And the request was very appealing. A mother due in the summer (when I have easy access to baby-sitting) and I was just to be the back-up for the one week my friend would be on vacation. Easy enough. Still, I went to meet the couple with my friend very begrudgingly, for reasons I'm still not really sure of. Instantly upon meeting them, those feelings disappeared. I felt a connection immediately and really enjoyed getting to know them. By the end of the evening, I was asking if I could come to their birth even if my friend was available. I just felt like I wanted to be there so badly.

As it turned out, my friend returned from her trip Saturday afternoon and this woman went into labor Saturday night. I can't explain the excitement and adrenaline I felt as I got ready to go to her house.

I just knew this was going to be a beautiful, amazing birth. I just knew this woman was going to be amazed by her own strength. I knew she and her husband would be even more bonded than before. And I just knew the labor was going to go fast.

I was right about all except the last. LOL!

In my bag, I packed a guardian angel pin and my bracelet that says "Natalee" with her birthstones. I just felt like I needed them with me to get through the experience. Several times during the labor, things happened that reminded me of Natalee. Some of them had to do with the actual labor itself, others were just little reminders. The couple had an iPod with a birthing music playlist, and at one point I noticed the Lord's Prayer was playing. The same prayer I had repeated so desperately as they worked to save Natalee. And yet, I felt no fear - ever - that this baby would be lost to us. There was one time when I stood above the mother and father as they sat together in the labor tub. I looked down and noticed the light coming in from the window next to them was projecting a small rainbow on the floor of the tub, right next to their legs. Beautiful, and I was reminded of God's love - felt so tenderly in the room.

The mother is a pastor and her faith shines through in all she does. For reasons I am still trying to process, is just seems so right to me that she was the one in my path at this time. 

A couple of months ago, our new kitten crawled into a tree and pulled a baby robin out of its nest, newly-hatched. I watched it happen and stood by, horrified, as this kitten I loved did something so brutal - snatching this helpless little being away from its safe haven and its mother. I tried everything I could to distract the kitten, to convince him not to do it - but he did it anyway, and ran off away from me with the robin. 

A few moments later, my kids told me the kitten had deposited the robin on the ground by their playset. I walked over, and saw that it was hurt, but still alive. Every few seconds its little beak moved, looking around for food. I felt it was looking for help, and I couldn't bear to watch this little baby die.

I made some frantic phone calls but the day was almost over and I couldn't reach anyone for help. I turned to the internet and based on what I read, placed the baby robin into a shoebox with a blanket and tried to feed it some mushy cat food. It continued to hold on, and I continued to think that maybe - just maybe - I could save it. I kept it in the car as we ran errands, and I finally got the phone number of a wildlife rehabilitator in our area who said she would help. I took my daughter inside to her dance lesson and when I came back out, the baby bird had died.

We buried the bird beneath the tree that had provided its shelter, and said a little prayer to God. I thanked him for letting us know this little bird, and helping us try to save it. And I thanked God for reminding us that no life -  no matter how small or how short - goes unnoticed. That all life is important. And I cried as I said the words, not for the bird - but for Natalee. At the time, I thought that was the end of my real life parable. 

But now I realize there is more.

Our kitten didn't meant to hurt the robin, and he didn't mean to hurt us when he took it from the nest. And I still love the kitten, even if I can't fully understand the instinct or reasons why he did it. I want to believe that baby robin was meant to be with its mother, but that just wasn't its destiny. And if it had been safe in the nest, I wouldn't have had the chance to know it and try to save it. And I can't explain how many times my children and I have talked about that robin and the cycle of life.

Today, I had to take my children to the pediatrician for their annual physicals. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, I looked up and noticed a nest on top of a bush, just a few feet from the car. In the nest was a robin, and then I saw a baby robin stick its scrawny little head and beak up out of the nest. It looked newly-hatched too, exactly like the robin we tried to save.

It was comforting to me to see this mother robin and her nest, undisturbed and living life exactly as they expected to. I couldn't save the robin in our backyard, but I still feel such peace and hope when I see another baby robin in this world, being taken care of by its mother. I'll never look at robins eggs and newly-hatched birds the same way.

Such a beautiful lesson in life.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Blessing of Loss

This photo is my hand with Natalee's


It is almost 3am and I am still awake because I have just finished reading a blog - from beginning to end.

I found it through Abby's mom's blog and like a good, heartbreaking book... I just couldn't "put it down" once I started reading.

The mother who writes the blog is named Angie Smith and she lost her baby girl this past April due to an undiagnosed medical situation that was discovered during her 20th week of pregnancy. Audrey was born by c-section a few months later and lived for about two hours. There are a lot of thoughts running around in my brain right now and I don't know how to get them all out, so I'm just going to try to focus in on the ones I think are most pressing right now.

God is good. And even when I don't devote myself to him the way I should, He reaches out to find me and give me a gentle reminder that He is still here, very present in my life.

In one of her entries, Angie writes about the peace she felt as Audrey was born, and how blessed she has felt by the *entire* experience - that where most would be able to see only tragedy, she sees a miracle.

I don't know if I can fully explain how much those words spoke to me. The night Natalee died, I talked to my husband as I drove back home. I had been awake for more than 24 hours to help my best friend labor and then - stunningly - grieve. I don't remember any of my conversation with my husband as I drove, but he later told me, "I could just tell from your voice that you were changed forever."

And I told him he was right, and that I wished he had experienced it as well because I wished he could understand how beautiful that change really was. How powerful. How wonderful. The doctors couldn't make Natalee live, but I witnessed a true miracle that night.

Often, I find myself wanting to talk about Natalee. Sometimes it comes up naturally in conversations, other times it's kind of forced but I bring her up anyway. And I'll go ahead and admit this here - sometimes I push the issue even when I know it will make others uncomfortable. Some people probably think it's my way of working through the grief, or trying to get attention. 

It's not.

It's my way of trying to minister. I just don't think I really realized it until now.

The night Natalee died was the closest I have ever felt to God. Amidst all the pain and grief and pure shock was a beautiful peace. As the doctors worked to revive her and the air in the room grew thick and tense, I turned to prayer. In my heart, I knew I couldn't ask God to let her live. I wanted to, but I knew I couldn't. I didn't know what words to pray, so I turned to the Lord's Prayer and repeated it silently in my head with my eyes closed and my head bowed while I stood next to my friend, who still lay in the bed where she had labored so many hours.

I didn't want to be out of the room when they stopped trying to save Natalee, but I felt a strong pull to ask others to pray too. When I felt it was ok to do so, I stepped into the hallway and broke down. A nurse led me to a private room and told me I had to be strong for my friend, that she was going to really need me. I called my husband and my dad. I asked my dad to pray, but confessed to him that I was struggling because I didn't know what to pray for. He encouraged me to pray for whatever God intended - NOT the suggestion I wanted at that time. In fact, I was purposefully avoiding the Serenity Prayer for that very reason. I was pretty sure God intended to take Natalee and I was kind of ticked at Him for that right then, so I certainly didn't want to encourage him. But in my heart, I knew it was his plan. I prayed that he would help me to be strong and to know how to help my friend.

The medical staff were leaving the room as I stepped back in, and someone was handing Natalee to Tammy. There was such sorrow, and such love in the room. In the hours that followed, I found strength to do things I could never have imagined. As I try to describe those things to other people, I know it sounds horrific to them. Stepping outside of myself and those moments, I can see why. But it wasn't. It was the only time I had with Natalee, they are my memories of her. It was a blessing. It was a gift. It was a miracle.

Tammy's pastor came to the hospital and baptized Natalee. Tammy held her in the bed, and those of us present formed a circle around them to share in the ceremony and to pray. A baptism is usually about asking for God's presence and guidance in a child's life as they grow. This child was already returning to be in God's presence as we stood there, hand in hand, and prayed.

I wish noone would ever have to endure the pain of losing a child. I wish noone would ever have to struggle for the right words or actions to ease the burden for a loved one who is enduring it. But I do wish everyone could know the love and the power I witnessed that night. Death does not win. Love does. God does.

We are approaching the two-year anniversary of Natalee's death, and she is on my mind and heart a lot these days. As Tammy says, it feels like entering "dead baby land" again. The draw to read blogs like Angie's is very strong. Those "moments" are happening more often. It's been a long time since I broke down crying, but I am tonight.

The need to feel the pain is intense. 

Because I know what's on the other side of that pain. 

It's love. Pure, joyful, inexplainable love.

And it's beautiful.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My rant about customer service


Two years ago now we moved into our newly-built house... excited to be here and settling in, but without any money for landscaping. (The landscaping allowance went to things like kitchen cabinets and our really cool but highly controversial kitchen sink...) By fall we had enough money to seed the yard and start growing some grass, and I designed flower beds and lined them with bricks.

But said flower beds have largely remained empty because this is one project I want to get right - really right - the first time.

Back in March as the weather started to get a little warmer and our grass started to green up, I called a local landscaping company. For the time being, I'll leave their name out of this - I want to reserve writing them a letter in the near future. Let's just say though that it is a very well-known, well-established, and well-respected company. It seemed everywhere we turned, people were recommending them because they are reliable, do really good work, and are at least 1/2 the price of many other well-known companies in our area.

The man I talked to was very friendly and explained how they generally do these kinds of jobs, and that they had a waiting list but they would call me by the end of April to set up a time to come out and see firsthand what we needed, work up a design, get an estimate, etc...

The end of April came and went. Then, the end of May. Still no call. Today, nearly half-way through June, I called back.

The woman who answered the phone was nice enough and said that yes, she did indeed see my name on the list, but something about not having enough people and the bottom line... she didn't forsee that they would be able to help me.

Huh?

Apparently I need to get in the landscaping business, because I'd like to work in a field that is turning away business right now, considering the state of our economy. It seems like every day another business closes its doors in our town because their parent company is downsizing or filing for bankruptcy... and here is a business that apparently doesn't really need business.

All of this wouldn't be so bad if they had just taken the time to call me and tell me "sorry." Now, it's the middle of June and by all rights, we should be majorly SOL. I'm sure there isn't a landscaping company around that isn't booked until winter. She did give me a few names and phone numbers for other businesses, but even admitted she wasn't sure if any of them actually did landscape design, or just cut grass. And then she said that maybe if those places couldn't help me, they would know of someone who could.

Another huh? Excuse the phrase, but who do I have to sleep with to get some plants in my flower beds? I mean, is this really that hard? I'm ready to drop a couple thousand dollars on plants but first I have to go on a scavenger hunt to find someone willing and able to do the work? 

Luckily, we happen to "know someone" who does landscaping on the side. I think there is a silver lining here - she's doing it because she loves it and I think she'll take more time with me to do something that won't just look like every other house on our block. Plus, it's the freakin' middle of June - which means PLANT SALE at the local nursery!

See, I'm trying to look at this optimistically. The seed is half-sprouted, shall we say.

But as Edgar and I talked about this today, we're wondering if we aren't just a bit cursed in the customer service department? Three weeks ago we called an exterminator about the wasp nest on our roof. He hasn't called back yet. Two years ago I did call a different landscaper, one our neighbors used. He never returned the message.

Every two weeks when the Schwan's man comes, he doesn't knock or ring my door bell. He just walks up and automatically puts his "sorry I missed you" sticker on my door. If I don't happen to see him and open the door, *we* miss *him.* I talked to my neighbor - he knocks on her door every time - and she says she typically orders less than I do.

And don't get me started on DirecTV. Three different technicians, three different answers to what our problem is - six months later and still no actual solution. I don't even want to call for another service call, but paying for satellite in 2 rooms and getting it in one is getting pretty silly. (Ah, but no sillier than the set-up the last guy gave us, which requires us to go *outside* and unplug/plug in wires to switch to cable. Problem is, if the satellite is out and we *need* the cable, it's likely because there's a tornado brewing outside. Thanks genius.)

I just don't understand. Edgar and I have both worked in service-related jobs and fields.We both waited tables, worked in fast food, heck even working in TV is like the ultimate of the service industry some days. We get it, we really do. And I think we are bend-over-backwards nice to people. What are we doing wrong? Where's the karma?

Of course, I suck at confrontation... so I'll never actually ask the Schwan's man what's up and we'll probably just try to call another exterminator. Heck, the fact that I called that landscaping company today at all is a minor miracle. But my methods are much more passive-aggressive. I like to talk, and of course, to blog. 

And I hope that karma will catch up.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Remembering Abby

The Internet can make this a small, small world indeed.

Not long after my friend Tammy lost her baby girl at birth, a friend of mine from an online message board sent me an e-mail.

This particular friend also happens to run a website known as "Shape of a Mother" (I have it linked in my sidebar) and had received a story she knew would touch my heart.

It was from a mother in Canada who had lost her own baby girl just about a month before Natalee died. In addition to posting on SOAM, she also had her own blog where she was actively journaling her journey through the grief.

Tammy and I both became avid readers and she and Tammy have exchanged many messages of support and even gifts. Last year, just about two months apart, they both gave birth again to two more beautiful baby girls.

So I don't actually know this woman, but I do know her story and - as intimately as I can without having lost a baby myself at birth - I know her pain.

Today is the anniversary of her beloved Abby's birth. Tomorrow she will remember the day of her death. Two days, countless memories and tears shed and "if only" wishes felt in the heart. 

So today, I am thinking of Abby and of her mother and of the heartache from burying a baby and carrying that pain still two years later. I'm lighting a candle and praying God will bring them peace and comfort, and thanking Him that I too know the story of Abby's brief but beautiful life.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Laptop Lust

About a year ago, Edgar and I walked into an Apple store so we could see firsthand the new "iPhone" that was all over TV and radio.

We were "PC" people but I had worked with a mac in my newspaper job and I had a college roommate who'd had one - we considered it a foreign object at the time.

It just so happened though that on that day we walked into the Apple store, we had also just learned that our HP desktop computer - only 2 years old - needed some expensive repairs and was crashing a slow death. So while we didn't go in looking for a computer, the need for a new one was definitely on our minds that night.

After checking out the iPhone, we wandered over to look at the computers. And an employee approached us and started talking with us and by the time we left an hour later, we were hooked. (Incidentally, Apple store employees do not work on commission but if this guy could have he'd be doing great!) It just made sense, the computer actually worked intuitively. We went back to his parents' house and did a little research, then went back the next morning and bought it. A bit impulsive, yes. We've never looked back though, even when my dad teases me about how he failed me as a father. :)

It was only a few weeks later that my laptop (also an HP, just sayin') died. To this day, nothing will coax it to turn on. We were pretty tapped out but managed to find a good deal on an old iBook on Ebay. It doesn't have internet capabilities and lately the battery won't hold a charge, but it gets me through most note-taking I need to do for stories. At least it does still turn on! It was a year or two older than my old laptop, but miles ahead in terms of usability and general coolness.

So this past weekend we went into the Apple store again. This time we were showing my father-in-law why the Mac is so superior (!) and I got to check out the new laptop, the Mac Air.

Wow.

It is so far beyond cool. And so amazing that it can do all of the things my desktop can do, and more. It will be a while before I can justify spending the money and by then it will probably be replaced with something even cooler, I just can't wait to see what! I am a full convert. Even my iPod just makes more sense with the Mac. I can make cool movies, my e-mail is great, the only restarts we've ever had to do have been isp-related (ahem... Comcast...) and not computer-related. In short, I love my Mac. And Steve Jobs rocks.

I've been trying to post some of my favorite Apple ads from YouTube, but it hasn't been working. Still, if like 10 of them suddenly show up on my blog, you'll know why.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The frustration of Toaster Strudel





Recently, my 7-year old son discovered Toaster Strudels. You know, those freezer-to-toaster pastries that are probably chock-full of horrible preservatives, sugar, etc... Well, he loves them and since I know he's generally a very healthy eater, I've been buying them for him and making one (or sometimes two) for his breakfast every morning.

Today, as I was mentally preparing for the inevitable fight with the icing packet and feeling of frustration that was sure to result, I took a step back and made a realization: I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself every morning to get the icing  just right. Not that anyone but me even notices - my son scarfs it down too fast for that - but I notice. The toaster strudels on the box and in the commercials always look so perfect, but every time I try to put the icing on it ends up being a big blobby mess.

It's become a bit like a game for me every morning - how good can I get the icing to look today?

And then, this morning I realized how ridiculous this all is.

I don't think it's that unusual though - as mothers and I feel often especially as stay at home mothers, we tend to place some unrealistic or unfair expectations on ourselves. The house should always be clean, laundry fresh-smelling and in its rightful place, a hot meal on the table and kids with flushed faces happy from all the well, happiness around them.

Lately, my home has been falling WAY short of this utopia. There is clean laundry in my room that has been crumpled in baskets for so long I'm probably better off just washing it again and trying to start over. I finally unloaded/reloaded the dishwasher last night, with dishes that dated back to last Thursday. That wasn't as bad as it sounds though, considering we've eaten out almost every meal since then (the meals that didn't include toaster strudels, that is) so while they'd been there for a while, the actual quantity of dirty dishes was still low.

I'm not sure what to attribute this recent funk too. Burn-out, I think - I'm ready for a break in our routine and anxious for summer. I can't wait for my kids to be home all the time and to stop the endless merry-go-round of schools, lessons, classes, etc... 

The pool opens in FOUR days, and the coundown is ON at this house...

But I think I've also lowered my expectations of myself a bit in the last few weeks. I feel like I've done a better job of focusing on the things that really do matter. I didn't get laundry put away last night, but I did spend an hour in the pool teaching my son to swim and cheering him on as he completed an entire length of the pool. I'm about to go cuddle with my 3-year old on the couch. Dishes didn't get done over the weekend, but I spent lots of time helping my daughter get ready for her dance recital.

I know I'm not alone in this - every mother I know struggles with this balance every day, trying to maintain the symbiotic relationship between happy children, happy parents, and efficient household.

It does help every now and then to remind myself I'm not alone. When I was searching for an image for this post, I found more things about toaster strudel on the Internet than I ever could have imagined - including a letter posted on Planet Feedback asking the company to please do something about the messy, horribly-designed icing packets. The letter writer complained that they don't work as intended and usually rip open in places other than the intended opening, making it hard to use.

Oh, I can relate.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Natalee



It's hard to believe, but nearly two years have now passed since the unexpected death of my goddaughter Natalee Ann.

For those who do not know, Natalee was born full-term after a normal pregnancy and delivery, but failed to take a breath at birth. I was there with my best friend Tammy and watched as the medical team spent 45 unsuccessful minutes trying to revive her.

She would have been two years old this July 6.

At the time, we had no answers but we were hopeful and even somewhat confident that we would soon. Babies don't just die like that, there had to be some kind of answer, right? We were sure that within a month or six weeks, we would know.

Here we are, two years later, and still searching for answers. The autopsy findings were inconsistent with medical records and with what I know to be true from having been in the room observing. We do know more than we did, but still have no conclusive cause of death. With what we know, Natalee should have been a sick baby. She should not be a dead one.

I realize it's not a story that is easy to hear. Some days it's not so easy to tell. Most days now it feels like it happened to someone else, not my best friend.

But it did, and as time goes on I'm realizing the ways Natalee's birth and death have forever changed me.

Some of those changes are obvious, but others are not. I realized this over the weekend when myself and a group of friends went to visit another friend whose son is in the NICU. While he's had some complications, he is healthy and fine and will likely be going home soon. On the surface, there was nothing about this visit that should have triggered thoughts of Natalee.

But while I waited in the hallway, I started looking at these pictures on the walls. Just outside the NICU, the walls are covered with framed, scrapbooked pages of babies whose lives depended on the NICU. Their parents have documented their stories - when they were born, complications they had, how long they spent in the NICU - and of course, included photos of them at one or two years old, having literally survived their ordeals and gone on to live healthy, normal lives. Many have included words of encouragement and inspiration - "Don't give up, miracles do happen," etc... 

I kept thinking to myself, "how is it that these babies who were born weighing barely more than a pound are still alive and beautiful, sweet Natalee - who was 7 pounds and healthy - is not?"

And then I found myself looking for the stories that didn't have the storybook endings. I wanted to read about the parents who knew the kind of heartache my friend knows, the ones whose closest friends know how I feel. Those are the stories I can relate to, I can understand. 

I didn't find any and it really didn't occur to me until several days later that - duh - those are probably not the kind of stories you will find outside of the NICU, where anxious parents are spending countless hours in worry and fear.

Maybe, maybe somewhere else in the hospital there is a place for those stories. I rather doubt it though - who wants to hear about the babies who didn't find divine intervention from the men in white coats? Who wants to hear about the parents whose birth stories ended in the cemetery?

As I've learned again and again over the past two years, very few people want to hear those stories. I know it's hard, because knowing it happened to someone - anyone - means it could happen to you. And we want to believe that every time a woman announces she is pregnant, it means that she'll be holding a beautiful, living, breathing baby in a matter of months.

I no longer have the luxury of believing that. My friend no longer has the luxury of believing that. It's one of the many things about my life that has changed because of Natalee.


Monday, May 5, 2008

It's a Lonely (Meat-Free) World

My friend Dione - ever ready with a new book and a new diet plan - recently lent me the book Skinny Bitch.

The premise is pretty simple: Want to lose weight, feel great, and be healthy?

Simple: Cut out the crap.

The trick, of course, is learning to recognize the crap. Turns out, it comes in forms you may not realize - specifically, anything that has been processed (duh) or comes from an animal.

Woah!

It's actually a very compelling argument, and I have to admit - the part of me that has half a brain can't dispute the argument that animal products are, as a general rule, not good for us.

I've already talked about this in my post about dairy... so it really isn't a big step for me to move to meat either.

Basically, the authors argue that if we were able to chase down, kill with our bare hands, and then eat (raw) our kill - maybe then biologically it should be considered a good choice. But since we can't do those things (or want to, as a general rule..) AND we can't actually *digest* the meat we do eat (kind of an important part of the whole "fuel your body with nutritious foods" process) then we really shouldn't be eating it. Period. And by the way, you'll feel better (and poop better) and lose weight if you stop.

They back up their argument with some stories about animal treatment in slaughterhouses that kind of seals the deal. Just in case you could still stomach the thought of eating that pork chop... remembering some of the scenes they describe is enough to ruin any appetite.

BUT WAIT - you say. The GOVERNMENT says I need all that stuff! Remember a little thing called the FOOD PYRAMID? That's how you eat healthy!

Not so, according to the authors. In fact, they present some very compelling food for thought regarding just *who* is authoring those government recommendations and what special interests they may be looking out for. (Here's a hint: it's NOT you. Well, your pocketbook - yes, your health - not so much.)

The protein thing? Pretty much a myth, they say. Meaning, you can get all the protein you need with very little effort from other food sources. I think it's kind of like the calcium argument I always hear about milk. What most people don't realize is that milk DOES have a lot of calcium. It just doesn't happen to be in a form that is easily absorbed by our bodies. Funny how they leave that second part out all.the.time. Doesn't make for good marketing, I guess. In fact, studies show that countries where cow's milk is not a staple food have considerably *lower* rates of osteoperosis than we do.

So what does all this mean? Well, I haven't gone vegan if that's what you're thinking. But I do think it makes sense that if you eat more fruits and veggies (organic when possible) and try to stick to simpler, unprocessed foods, you're going to feel better. I can't make the jump fully, (can't go "cold turkey" - how many more food puns can I get in?) but I am down to eating meat once or twice a week. And my cheese intake is way down too, although that's hard to do when you're trying to adjust to a vegetarian diet from the typical, American just-shoot-it-directly-to-my-thighs cuisine we're used to.

I do feel better. I do. And I am finding all kinds of new foods to eat and better appreciating the tastes of wholesome, natural fruits and vegetables.

But the response I get when I say I'm not eating meat is always interesting. Some have asked me why - are my reasons political, ethical, or health-based? Some, like my husband, assume it's a passing thing. (Admittedly, there is good precedent for him to think that...) Others, like my mom, just kind of roll their eyes and ask if we can try the all-meat buffet for lunch today.

But I'm going to keep trudging along. It's summer, it's the perfect time to try new fruits and veggies and combinations of them. I'm not denying myself - if I truly can't find an alternative (you can only eat so many fruit 'n yogurt (still animal-derived, yikes!) parfaits while your kids hit the Playland after all) I'll just try to find something with meat that's on the healthier side and move on.

The problem is, I haven't actually lost any weight yet. And I do miss certain foods. So I'm still waiting for the "skinny" part but I think I've got the other part down.

Will it EVER end?

A few months ago, I was glued to the 24-hour news networks and the seemingly endless coverage of the Democratic Presidential Primaries.

It was interesting then. It's not anymore. Seriously.

Well, that's not totally true. What's happened as a result of this stalemate and dragged-out preliminary has led to some interesting stuff.

Rush Limbaugh's campaign to make it go even longer, for one thing. Not saying I agree, but it certainly has meant this year's election isn't just more of the "same old same old."

It does make me wonder about the potential for long-term damage to the party. And the need for more condensed primaries.

Even as a self-professed political junkie and news junkie... really, I've had enough. Here's hoping *something* actually comes out of tomorrow's election in Indiana.


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hail to the Orange





Last week I made a rare, weekday trip to Champaign-Urbana for the Greek Oscars.

I was personally invited, which the sorority women I advise took to mean I was a finalist for an award. It meant a lot to me that they had nominated me, so I went.

It turns out, I won... first place for "Outstanding Advisor."

As they say, it's nice just to be nominated... (but the winning is pretty darn cool too...)

Alpha Delta Pi won and was a finalist for several other awards as well - as usual, making me very, very proud.

The ceremony itself was held in Foellinger Auditorium, which just happens to be where I had my very first college class (Classical Civilization 115 with Professor Scanlon) and where my College of Communications Commencement Ceremony was held. So my college career began and ended in that building.

And yet... here I am, 12 years later, and it continues to have a presence in my life. The University of Illinois and of course, Alpha Delta Pi, continue to have a presence in my life.

I am so very blessed.

As I walked away from Foellinger last Monday night, I had a sudden flashback to my graduation day and the overwhelming feeling of sadness I had as I walked down the sidewalk to leave. If someone had told me then that I wasn't *really* leaving - that I would be back one day in the not so distant future and that the campus, the quad, that building would all still be something I could be a part of - I'm not sure I would have believed them.

College is way more than an education and if you're very lucky, it can extend past graduation - I'm thankful for all the lessons I've learned and continue to learn at the U of I. I'm still a part of it - and more importantly - it's a part of me.

Gettin' my on-air Buzz

Jen Christensen from WHOI-TV called me this afternoon and asked if I could come do a live interview on their 6pm show to talk about some initiatives currently being undertaken by the Central Illinois Breastfeeding Task Force.

Today.

I was about to come up with some excuse why I couldn't possibly be there in three hours for this, but then she said, "I know it's last-minute but I knew you'd understand having worked in TV."

Awww... geez. She got me.

I actually had showered this morning, but it was after working in the garden and before leaving for preschool and I decided my hair was good enough as is. So I had to get cleaned up. And find something to wear. Um, my TV wardrobe is LONG gone... as I discovered this afternoon. Well, except for those suits hanging in the back of my closet that are supposed to be inspiration for losing weight. (Yeah, ok...) I finally remembered - dark, solid colors are best. I grabbed a red sweater and the trusty black pants. Good to go.

Then there was the matter of not sounding like an idiot. My involvement with the CIBTF has been minimal... I admit I just haven't jumped in with the zeal I would like to, but I've been trying to stay afloat and re-kindle my passion for breastfeeding awareness. The particular project Jen wanted me to talk about isn't one I have been intimately involved with, so I made some hurried, flustered calls to make sure I had enough background.

In the end, it was fine. We only had time for 2 questions and they were pretty easy. I knew I was talking fast, but I wanted to get a lot out there! My dad and kids (and then husband too, actually) all came along and watched from the lobby.

My 3-year old son told me I had "talked in a different voice" on TV. But apparently he and my daughter recognized it enough to kiss the TV while I was on it. (Um, cute but kind of gross!)

My dad said it was obvious that I struggled to remember my "role" as the interviewee and to keep looking at Jen, not the camera. Funny how inate that was for me... I was sitting at an anchor desk and there was a camera with a red light... signal to brain... look at that and talk!

In all, it was really, really fun. I LOVE being on live television, always have. I was nervous as heck and pretty sweaty, but it was AWESOME and several hours later, I'm still feeling a bit of the adrenaline rush. 

I think you lose this "newness" when you actually work in broadcasting... kind of like dating when the shine wears off the relationship. So yes, I definitely miss my old career... but I know it's not really like this all the time anyway.

But it was fun for tonight!

Monday, April 28, 2008

And more on music...



A while back I started to compile a list of songs that reminded me of people or events in my life. The songs that link me to those memories like a hyperlink on the internet... you know, inevitably the song comes on and your mind automatically "clicks" back to that connection.

I didn't get very far in my list at the time, but it didn't take long to realize a lot of the songs had to do with men. Or rather, boys. This is not really surprising. I'm very sentimental, a hopeless romantic, and I get attached to people pretty easily. This is not an especially good combination for a teen-aged girl and as a consequence, I ended up with more than my share of heartbreak. The trend continued even into college, when the romantic in me spent a fair amount of time expecting "the one" to show up at any time. 

But a lot of songs in my head are also attached to specific events or other memories - vacations, funny nights out, sorority stuff. It's gotten so that if I'm listening to a station that plays "older" music, it doesn't take long before the strains of some song make me smile in remembrance.

So, for the sake of some fun, I'm going to try to compile some of those songs and memories here. Excluding some names, of course... if they're actually reading this blog, they'll know who they are.

1. "Truly, Madly, Deeply" by Savage Garden
- Came out when Edgar was moving to CA and to this day, my only regret is we didn't dance to it at our wedding. It really is "our song."

2. "Think" by Information Society - a boyfriend in high school wrote out the words to this song and gave it to me as a gift. I, of course, considered this the most romantic gesture ever. (geesh)

3. "Escape" by Rupert Holmes (The "Pina Colada Song") - throwing back shots of tequila after snorkeling while on spring break in Cancun with my sorority sisters

4. "Something to Talk About" by Bonnie Raitt - my best friend in college suggested this as a funny song for us since our friendship created a lot of speculation. Oh... did I mention he was a male? LOL! Our friendship ended badly and I'm still pretty ticked at him about it all these years later. Coincidentally, this song is played like EVERY single Friday afternoon on the local lite rock station, so I hear it while I'm cleaning. And I love me some angry vacuuming... very therapeutic!

5. "Young" by Kenny Chesney - same best friend from college, happier memories. 

6. "Need You Tonight" by INXS - a college boyfriend serenaded me with this song very early in our relationship. To this day, one of my best memories. (And I'm not just saying that because I think he reads the blog!)

7. "Nobody Knows it But Me" by the Tony Rich Project - was popular on the radio at the time of a break-up in college, couldn't get this song out of my mind for a week. Every time I hear it, it brings back that dumped, alone feeling.

8. "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge - what sorority girl DOESN'T have this in her memories? LOL! "We are family... I've got all my sisters with me..."

9. "December 1963 (What a Night") by The Four Seasons - "You know we're glad to see you back again, once you're here you'll never be the same, what a house we're A-Dee-Pi." Enough said.

10. "All I Want for Christmas is You" by Mariah Carey - every time I hear this song, I am a college girl on Christmas break waitressing at Yesterday's all over again. It's useless to resist.

11. "Cowboy Take Me Away" by the Dixie Chicks - heard this when I was out with a friend after I knew for certain my grandmother was dying. The lyrics, "fly this girl as high as you can into the wild blue... set me free oh I pray... closer to heaven above and closer to you..." hit me hard. My grandmother did die a few months later.

12. "How Forever Feels" by Kenny Chesney - driving into work with the top down in Monterey, CA... specifically, coming down the hill from the Presidio into downtown Monterey.

13. "Wide Open Spaces" by the Dixie Chicks - leaving my family and moving to California

14. "Angel" by Sarah MacLachlan - staring at the back of my best friend's head and the butterfly banner on the wall at the funeral of my goddaughter Natalee, who had died unexpectedly at birth four days earlier. Two years later, I still tear up every time this song comes on the radio.

15. "I Hope you Dance" by Lee Ann Womack - the birth of my first child. I heard this song a lot after he was born, and even framed the lyrics for the nursery.

So that's 15. And yes, there was a lot of googling involved to be sure I didn't mess up song names or artists. Because as noted in the previous post, my musical prowess is seriously lacking. Somewhere I think I should start keeping a more comprehensive list, I know this is just the tip of the iceberg...

The Power of Music




My 7-year old son is really into music lately, in all kinds of ways.

He is learning to play the violin through Suzuki, and it's been amazing to watch as his critical thinking and math skills have skyrocketed along with his playing ability. The more songs he learns to play, the more timed math tests he passes. I can't count the number of "lightbulb" moments I've witnessed during violin practices... from understanding how to read music to how to transpose it to a different set of strings.

It's truly amazing.

At the same time, he's in love with his iPod. (Yes, he has an iPod. It's just a shuffle and he got it for Easter. I spoil my kids - so what?) As his mother, I see it as my job to help him be cooler - musically speaking anyway - than I ever was. Together, we've loaded his iPod with some great music. Of course there's the soundtrack from High School Musical 2, some Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montana, etc... But I've also introduced him to U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and a host of other good music I can't think of right now. All clean songs, of course. 

Tonight he asked me to play "Gavotte" on my flute for him. It's the last song in his Suzuki book and he thinks it's pretty cool that I know how to play it. Never mind it was the song I played for solo/ensemble contest in the 7th grade and he's going to be playing it on the violin sometime in the second grade... it's nice to be admired for a bit! 

But his musical skills (and his math skills) are going to pass me up in about... oh... another week or so.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hiatus






I guess I've been on a blogging hiatus.

My husband says this is what happens when life gets in the way.

It's not that I haven't had a lot to blog about, I've just been too busy for it. We traveled to San Diego for a weekend, I've been busy planning stuff for the Marigold Festival and writing a few stories for the paper, not to mention the endless shuttling and shuffling of schedules between Edgar's soccer, Ethan's soccer, Ethan's violin, and Elisabeth's dance classes. And then there's Ethan's school, Elisabeth's school, and keeping a 3-year old happy. And of course, my very rewarding and lately very challenging work as an advisor to 170 college women.

But other than that, I'm not up to much! :)

One day, I'll try to catch up on the things I've been wanting to say but haven't had the time for!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I'm lovin' it - the sweet tea, that is


I want to send a thank-you to McDonald's.

After 30 years, I've managed to grow disgusted with pretty much everything on their menu. While my kids can hardly wait to scarf down their chicken nuggets and fries (something I've done a good job of turning into a "treat" rather than a "routine,") I personally cannot stomach most anything on the menu anymore.

I'm not sure how it happened... "Supersize Me" only kept me away for a few months. But somehow, somewhere along the line, I've finally maxed out the McDonald's I can handle. Apparently I've hit my quota.

Well, other than when it's McRib time.

And now, the sweet tea.

I've always liked sugar in my iced tea, but I've also always been equally happy to drink it without. But I got sucked in by advertising and while visiting one of our local golden arches establishments a few weeks ago, decided to give the sweet tea (which I know to be a southern staple) a try.

oh.my.sweet.sugary.goodness

So, now I'm hooked. Trying to dissuade myself, I looked up the nutritional information today. It appears the sweetener used is actual sugar. (Check: if it had been anything artificial, my sweet tea days would be over.) And there are 230 calories in one large sweet tea. (Check: Ok, that's a lot... but it's still almost 1/3 of some sodas and less than a lot of my favorite Starbucks drinks, so I'm technically still ahead of the game.) I haven't compared the actual sugar content of the sweet tea to that of soda or my favorite latte.

And then of course there's the cost - $1 for a sweet tea or $4 for a Starbucks nonfat vanilla latte. Hmmmmm....

Interestingly, I also learned that the McDonald's sweet tea has been available in other parts of the country for up to at least a year now. For some reason, I hadn't even thought about that possibility. When we lived in California, McDonald's introduced the fruit and yogurt parfait and "Eddie" commercials to go along with it. A full year later when we were back in central Illinois, they debuted it here. I remember feeling so worldly - I'd been able to buy them for so long already. Ha!

Why is that, I wonder? After all, we're supposed to be considered a magical "test market." Our area got the first crack at clear pepsi and those disposable bibs... why are we getting the shaft from Mickey-D's?

But there must be something going on... two weeks ago the husband and I had lunch at a new deli in Peoria that features sweet tea on their menu. And I noticed a local cafe here in Pekin is advertising it now too.

I find it interesting that in this health-conscious environment we live in, we're all happy to pour about a cup of sugar into our tea and drink it.

Oh well... it's here now, and I'm hooked. Figures. But I guess it could be something worse!



My Life Before Kids

Don't think the irony of this story being about a time capsule is lost on me...

But since I've finally figured out how to post videos to the blog, here it is...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Business of Being Born

Natural birth - for those who choose it - is a "cause" I hold very close to my heart.

I had a chance to watch the new documentary from Ricki Lake called, "The Business of Being Born."

Forget those 1970's lamaze videos - this should be required watching for anyone who's pregnant.
Especially if it's their first baby, but even if it's not.

Of course, it should be noted this is a documentary. And like all documentaries, it has an agenda... a slant, if you will. But we're so bombarded with "mainstream" images and ideas of the medical side of birth that this video presents a nice counter-balance and should give any viewer something to think about. It does a good job of showing how the "go along to get along" mentality that often naturally occurs in hospitals can be detrimental to the birthing wishes of a laboring woman.

And like they say in the movie, a woman's birth experience is a memory that will stay with her until the day she dies. Some women have great births and great memories. Some are indifferent. But far too many are forever scarred by the things that are taken out of their control. Our society likes to focus on the outcome - and often argues that a healthy baby is the only thing that matters in the end.

I've been present when a "perfect" (medically speaking) labor and delivery resulted in the unexpected death of a newborn. I do know exactly what it's like when things go wrong. But I still say, focusing on the "but you have a healthy baby" is degrading to women and discounts the very valid feelings of disappointment they may have in their birth experience. We don't do enough to protect that experience today, and we can and should be doing more.

In the end, I was left wanting a bit more from this movie. When it was over  I said, "I feel like Ricki Lake is just where I was seven years ago." Meaning - I feel like she is going through what I went through after the birth of my first child, she just has the means to turn it into a documentary. I didn't see or hear anything that I haven't known since I started researching natural birth after Ethan was born. So while it's not really "new" information, I know it will be to many people. And many will consider it "revolutionary." Personally, I'm just glad it's out there in a more "mainstream" format. 

If you were happy with your birth experience, I encourage you to watch this movie.

If you weren't happy with your birth experience, this movie might be therapeutic and help you work through those feelings.

If you're pregnant, get yourself a Netflix subscription and get it in your queue asap.

The WIOWA!

Since I'm sharing videos... this is a classic for any TV news junkie. I really need to buy this episode for my kids... the other songs on it are even better!

World News Polka

The World News Now Polka


Ten years ago (gulp!) Edgar and I were living and working in Monterey, California.

We worked the "nightside" shift together for some time - which meant we went to work at about 2:30pm and got home around midnight, after the 11pm newscast.

This was actually the perfect schedule for my night-owl ways, and we would usually stay up for several hours watching taped television shows and otherwise unwinding. It wasn't unusual for us to still be up around 2:30-3:00am, when a wonderful little program called "World News Now" came on ABC.

You'd think we would have had enough news by then, but this show was kind of wacky and off-beat. It was situated like most network news programs, but with a twist. They played funky music at the breaks, took a lot of time for light-hearted (and not forced) banter between the anchors, and frequently ran some kooky stories.

At the end of the show at the end of the week, they'd play the "World News Now Polka." It was awesome. (I'm going to post it for your viewing pleasure...)

It was also where I developed a crush for this unknown but very personable, charming, and just downright cool anchor named Anderson Cooper. Now I really feel old.

Anyways, when we moved back to central Illinois, WNN wasn't on the air here. I was kind of bummed, but my new work hours wouldn't have made it practical to watch anyway. (It would have been nice for those late nights I put in with three newborns though!)

So I don't know when it made it's way here (despite being a night owl I do try not to be up at 3am) but last night I found it because well, I was still awake at 3am. There were two female anchors who seemed to have a pretty good rapport, but I wasn't able to watch enough to see if the show still has it's same zaniness. If you happen to be up at that time, I highly suggest you check it out.

It was nice to see it on the air though, and for a minute - just a minute - I felt 10 years younger again!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Wacky Wednesday

In honor of Dr. Seuss's birthday, my son's school has a series of fun days and events this week.

Tomorrow is "Wacky Wednesday" - and the idea is to dress pretty wacky. Mismatched clothes, patterns, colors, etc... 

So I asked my husband to help him pick out his clothes... 

... and just pretend it was any other day.

I don't think he appreciated my humor at first, but he eventually conceded I was right - he's not exactly known for his ability to dress our children in coordinated (or even matching) outfits.

So basically, Ethan will go to school tomorrow looking just like he would if mommy wasn't home! :)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bad Sports

Earlier this week my dad and I attended the last home game of the regular season at Bradley University.

There were a lot of emotions running rampant at Carver Arena that night. Bradley was playing rival SIU in what was sure to be a tight game, while missing its star senior player Daniel Ruffin, who was sitting on the bench suspended from the team after a Domestic Battery arrest over the weekend. Ruffin was allowed to take part in the senior ceremonies and there was an almost tangible electricity in the air as Bradley fans rallied in their support for him. 

But my dad and I were there because of a different emotion. Another one of the seniors being celebrated that night, Jeremy Crouch, is from our hometown, and he's the first person from our town to play basketball at Bradley for four years of college. Not only that, he was poised to set two new school records that night for three-point shooting, and we were there to show off our hometown pride. Unfortunately, I think all of that was lost amongst the dark cloud of Ruffin's experience - and continues to be even today as blog debates over Ruffin's guilt or innocence rage on.

It didn't take long for Jeremy to get the first record early in the game and so my dad and I settled in to watch the game.

That's when Mr. Obnoxious SIU Fan showed up.

There's always one, right? I don't know why, but I am really bothered by the way these high-tier obnoxious fans act at ball games and it truly takes away from my enjoyment of the event. I become so fixated on what they're saying and doing and how completely out of line it is that I have trouble just watching the game.

This guy showed up with what I presume to be his wife or girlfriend, another woman and two small children who were probably about 4 and 2 years of age. We were sitting about as high up  in the stands as you could get and since we got our tickets pretty late, there were a fair amount of other SIU fans sprinkled in there.

But this Mr. Obnoxious SIU Fan quickly proved himself a standout.

Dancing, jeering, laughing at Bradley point misses, he started off fairly mild.

But it wasn't long before he was yelling at the refs (who no doubt could hear him from the rafters of the nosebleed section?) and screaming for fouls that weren't called on Bradley and about ones that were on SIU.

More than once he dropped the F-bomb, with not only his own children sitting next to him, but several other children in close proximity. He was not bashful about using it.

According to an already almost 10-year old article from Boston University, fan behavior at sporting events in a sociological phenomenon that brings out the worst in some.

Leonard Zaichkowsky, an SED Professor of Development Studies and Counseling, was quoted in the article saying that fan behavior at both professional and college sporting events is crazy and getting crazier.

"The trouble at men's events occurs when fans forget that sporting arenas are public places where ordinary rules for social conduct apply," Zaichkowsky said.

While the article is old, the problem is apparently still very current.

Ultimately, I was grateful my own children weren't with me. I'm not good at confronting people under the best of circumstances, and I think I'm smart enough not to confront someone in a situation like that.

But I couldn't help but start imagining what this guy must be like as a person. I started watching him for cues, and also watching his children and significant other. She was clearly embarrassed by his behavior, but never said a word to him or tried to calm him down. He continued to throw his fists in the air and act like a bully. It wasn't long before I was picturing him as an abusive, mean person.

That's probably not fair, and I'm sure it sounds like I was rushing to judgment. He did show a soft side in the way he handled his children, but I couldn't help but wonder what kinds of words and actions he must use at home, if these are ones he's willing to use in public with strangers all around. 

And above all, it clouded my impression of SIU fans. I know it's not fair, but it's human nature - and in the end this guy probably did a lot more harm to the school and team he was so passionate about than good. 

And as for the lesson he's teaching his children... how sad.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sharing the Love

Growing up, I always loved weddings.

I loved to go to them, I loved to pretend them. I loved to sneak into the guest bedroom closet and try on my mother's veil to play in. (This was a big no-no for some reason though...)

When I did get married almost 9 years ago, my best friend and maid of honor quipped that it was the day I had been practicing for my whole life.

So it should come as no surprise that my almost 5-year old daughter seems to have inherited this fascination. She hasn't been to a wedding that she would remember yet, but she has recently discovered our wedding album. And since she also has a love for princesses and fairy tales, it seems the pictures from our big day are the perfect merging of worlds for her.

So tonight I decided to really blow her away... I told her we had an actual "movie" of our wedding day and promised to get it out after dinner and baths. This turned into a HUGE event here in our house, and I'm only sorry my husband was gone tonight and missed it.

From the beginning, I could sense the effect that watching the video would have on me. Right away I saw loved ones who are no longer with us (four in all by my count as I watched, a grandmother, an uncle, a young cousin, and an old family friend) and of course the countless "little" cousins who have grown so much. I was choked up from the beginning and wasn't sure I would be able to watch - or that I even wanted to, to be honest. I loved our wedding, watching the video brings back such beautiful memories. But it's so bittersweet too. It's amazing how much life changes in such a short time. Seeing loved ones who have since died - on video- is so hard - I swear, I could actually smell my grandmother in the room with me while I watched.

I didn't have long to focus on my own feelings, however. As the music swelled to a crescendo and began the trumpeting sounds of "Here Comes the Bride," my three children took in a collective gasp and my daughter said, "This is my FAVORITE part! Mommy, you are SO BEAUTEEFUL!" The three-year old quickly agreed, while my 7-year old yelled, "There's PAPA!"

"Mommy, someday daddy will walk me down the island like that," my daughter piped in.

"How many people were there, like 30?" asked my oldest son. When I told him the number was more like 400 he just kept saying, "I... can't... believe... you know 400 people!" (I didn't bother to explain to him that having all those guests doesn't mean we knew them all!)

Even they seemed a little taken aback when I pointed out that my little sister, who was our flower girl, was actually about a year younger at our wedding than Ethan is today. Yikes.

At some point near the end, there's a fairly decent shot of my mother and it's easy to see she is crying. Ethan said, "GG is crying because you've gotten wed so fast." 

And so it went. Watching the event that marked the beginning of this beautiful family through the eyes of the children we could have only dreamed and hoped for on that warm September day.

They wanted to watch everything, but quickly realized there was a lot of adult talking going on and agreed to let me fast forward to the "part where you get married."

Ethan was a little disappointed at the camera angle for the kiss, but laughed hysterically when he saw me shake my bouquet in the air after we were announced as husband and wife. "You held that up like it was a football!" he said.

It was getting late, so I promised they could watch the reception tomorrow and we turned the TV off. I'm going to have to remember to take notes when we watch the next part - they are most looking forward to the "part where you and daddy feed each other." Stay tuned!