Friday, May 29, 2009

Really, You Have to Get a Life

If you scroll down to my "Seven Quick Takes" post from this morning, and then keep heading down to number 6, you'll see that I had a bit of an opinion on the National Spelling Bee that was on T.V. last night.

That had already posted before I saw this post on Yahoo! News.

Look at some of the quotes from the winner, who, at 13, also happens to be an aspiring neurosurgeon.

"But I don't think anything can replace spelling," Kavya Shivashankar said. "Spelling has been such a big part of my life."

Did you catch that? Spelling? A big part of her life? Remember my advice to the spelling bee contestants? GET A LIFE!!!

And then this from her mother:
"We haven't skipped meals, we haven't lost sleep, but we've skipped a lot of social time."

I don't know, maybe it's just me, but maybe they could have skipped one of those meals to spend some time with friends. I'm just sayin'. . . .

Well, at least those spellers have a sense of humor.

"This year there was a new humorous twist: Organizers turned the sentences read by pronouncer Jacques Bailly into jokes."

I'm so relieved to learn that even though they're all aspiring to neurosurgery and that they don't have any friends, they're still a punny group anyway.


Seven Quick Takes Friday

It's been a few weeks, huh? I love doing the Seven Quick Takes, so I'm trying it again. Thanks to Jen at Conversion Diary for hosting this fun event. (By the way, if you want to read a post that will really make you cry, read this one that Jen wrote this week.)

So, on with the show!


1

I just cringe to think about how judgemental I was of other parents when my kids were young. Honestly. Back then I couldn't even imagine how some families could not manage to eat dinner together every night.

Pass the crow, I'm suddenly feeling very hungry.

Not only do we NOT manage to eat dinner together every night, we're pretty lucky if we get to eat dinner together a couple of nights a week. What with one girl working every day and another one taking driver's ed every night and both of them busy with schoolwork and church stuff. And then that little one has her stuff too sometimes--especially at this time of year. Life is crazy, I tell you. Just plain crazy.

But tonight the stars aligned and we all managed to have our knees under the same table at the same time. Six thirty, to be precise.

And, can I just tell you, we had such a great time talking together that we didn't even get up from the table until 7:45 when the phone rang. Otherwise I think we'd still be sitting there.


2

When we get going like we did tonight, having dinner with a bunch of girls is kind of like watching Wimbledon. The conversation gets passed from one end of the table to another--really fast. And the topics switch just as quickly. It's truly an amazing sight.

So amazing, in fact, that B mostly just sits there and watches. It's tough being a man in this house, let me tell you.

Especially when one of your children truly believes that talking is her gift.


3

I never quite understood why our schools stay open past Memorial Day. Really. Nothing . . . and I do mean NOTHING . . . gets done after Memorial Day.

I don't blame the teachers for this, truly I don't. They are trying their best to keep kids engaged in learning, but when the weather gets a little nicer (not that it's been nice this week, but try to imagine it with me if you can) the kids just zone out.

So they try to plan a few activities to make the days until the "Last Day" a little more bearable. I so would not want to be a teacher at this time of year.

Especially a teacher to 5th graders who are already antsy because they are thinking about how they're leaving the school, heading to greener pastures, and are just plain outta there. Fifth graders need an extra dose of "stay-with-me" at this time of year.

Our blessed teachers have done their very best to keep the kids busy. They've helped with their kindergarten buddies a lot, taken extra gym time, basically tried to keep the wiggles out. So tomorrow is a special treat. A big day of no learning whatsoever. They are taking the kids to the pool.

Everyone is so excited (boy, I hope the weather breaks for this one), especially, according to Maggie, the girl who bragged all day that she got a bikini. I'm sure none of the 5th grade boys will notice.


4

For the longest time Abby has been wanting the Wii Fit system, so she used some of her birthday money and waited for the thing to go on sale and bought herself a Wii Fit. Which she is so nicely sharing with the rest of the family.

I've had fun watching everyone move and groove on the balance board. The games look like fun. You can even pretend you're in the Alps on a ski slope. Transport me, baby!

But have I stepped on it yet? No way. I knew that little board was just a scale in disguise, so I have stayed away from it.

Until tonight. I guess it must have been the wine we had with dinner, or the laughter, whatever. I was feeling daring, so I ventured onto the Wii Fit board.

You know what? Wii Fit is my friend. For someone who was expecting a fitness age of about 83, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I am very nearly as fit as my age. (Not sure if that last sentence made sense, but there you go.) And my BMI, I am very happy to report, is in the normal range. Would I even mention this to you if I had failed the body test--are you kidding? No, I would not. But I'm a happy girl and may even venture onto the Wii Fit again . . . in about a month.


5

If you know me, you know I keep busy. I volunteer . . . a lot . . . and I take on too much responsibility within those volunteer positions. In the past year I have had five different commitments at church alone. Three of those have come to an end. Two I'm happy to continue next year.

I have also served as our school district's PTA scholarship chairperson for the past three years. It's been great fun, but I can't serve any more because I'll have a senior next year and how would that look if I handed my own kid a scholarship? Hmmm. Come to think of it, would that be so wrong?

Anyway, today was a happy day because I handed my Scholarship Chair notebook off to the next chairperson. Like I said, I enjoyed this responsibility a lot, but it was time to be done with it, and I'm glad to have emptied the spot on the floor near the computer that was holding all of my scholarship stuff. It's just plain freeing to hand stuff over to the next person. Ahhhh.


6

Now that American Idol is over, along with Biggest Loser and 24, we've been wondering what we'd watch in the evenings. (Pathetic, I know.) So tonight, while flipping through the channels, Maggie and I found the most gripping television drama that we've seen for a long time.

The National Spelling Bee.

Zzzzzzz. Oh, sorry, I must have dozed off while some kid was spelling "avoirdupois" or "sagacious" or "olla podrida."

Really, kids, GET A LIFE!!

And, ABC, you need to get a life too. And stop treating the National Spelling Bee like some kind of intense athletic event. It's a spelling bee! Good grief!

Next thing you know the commercials will feature bikini-clad women selling beer to minors.

We did just have to laugh though, because apparently the kids can ask a few questions about the word before they actually dig in and, you know, spell it.

Questions like "What is the origin of this word?"

"Could you please use this word in a sentence?"

"Is there an alternate pronunciation?"

"What part of speech is it?"

Hey kids, why don't you just try this one: "Could you spell that for me please?"



7

So, you want to know what we talked about during this amazing dinnertime tonight? Tell you what, I'm going to give you a list of topics, then I want you to vote on which one you'd like me to tell you about, and I'll expand on it in the next post. Blog fodder. It's a good thing.

Comments are always good too (hint, hint).

So, here you go. Make sure to vote early and often (this IS Chicago, you know!).

* How I want to be BFFs with Kate and Abby's Spanish teacher. From the stories I've heard, that woman sounds like someone I would seriously like to hang out with.

* Reminiscing about the girls' 4th grade teacher and how two of the girls had to make true confessions to her during their time in her class.

* "Life papers"

* How I called one of the teenagers' friends by his only-known-to-them nickname by mistake.

* Laughing like crazy over all of our different laughs.

So there you go. Topics galore. Let me know which one you'd like to hear about, and I'll do it. Or suggest something else. I'm feeling dauntless, indomitable, tenacious, ebullient . . .

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Buddies, Bears, and Big Lessons Learned

It occurred to me today that I haven't written about our little elementary school yet. It's been almost one whole year that I've been blogging, and yet not one mention of "The Little School With the Big Heart" (that's our motto--isn't it quaint?).

And there's so much to tell! I think I may have opened up a new section of blogging creativity in my brain--the Hawthorne room. Hmmm.

Let me just start by saying that one of the best decisions we ever made was to put our girls in Hawthorne School. It's a tiny little school--just two classes per grade--tucked into the middle of our neighborhood just two blocks from our house. I still meet people from across town who, when they hear that my kids go to Hawthorne say, "Oh yeah, Hawthorne. I've heard of it, but where is it?"

We kind of like it that way. Small, quaint, and not too easily accessible. It feels safe. We definitely like it that way.

Kate started at Hawthorne in first grade and everyone else progressed through its ranks from that point on. We've had some teachers three times, and all three girls had the same fourth grade teacher.

(I just realized that I could write several posts on that teacher alone! Of course, she could probably write VOLUMES about my three girls. I think she knows them better than I do, what with their Arnold Horshack "oooh, oooh, oooh! Call on me!" ways.)

One of the sweetest aspects of Hawthorne, even though there are so many, is how they pair up a 5th grader with a kindergartener as "buddies." All year long the buddies spend time together on special days, doing crafts, tye-dying shirts, playing games, learning how to t.p. the principal's house. You get the idea.

The kindergarteners have someone to look up to all year long, and the 5th graders get to feel like the big dogs of the school because some little kindergarten kid thinks they're cool. It's a win-win situation, really.

Plus, it gives the teachers a chance to run to Starbucks in the middle of the day when the kids are supposedly crafting together. Just kidding--the Starbucks is probably a little too far (although there is a drive thru!).

Anyway, today was the culmination of all the buddy-bonding activities that the kids had been through all year. It was the day most looked forward to since the first day of school. It was the Grand Puba of school days.

It was a field trip.

To the zoo, no less.

With 5th graders accompanying their kindergarten buddies.

Come to think of it, I'm not even sure whose field trip it was--5th grade or kindergarten--because they were all so excited about it.

Now that I have a 5th grader and she's the youngest in our family, it stands to reason that this is our last year at Hawthorne (more on that next week). And it also stands to reason that since this is Maggie's last field trip, I would be called upon to chaperone. Not by the teachers, mind you. The teachers could care less if I was there or not because they had about a 1:1 student:parent ratio of chaperones today. And, truth be told, I'm not that great of a chaperone. I tend to wander. I talk to the other adults too much. I don't pay great attention to the animals.

No, the person summoning my presence on the field trip was . . . no big surprise here . . . Maggie. A couple of weeks ago, in passing, she said something like, "Well, when we go on the zoo trip . . . blah, blah, blah." I don't even know what she said after that because my ears started ringing and I sort of lost my breath for a few minutes.

After I regained my composure, I subtly said, "Oh, Maggie, did you think I was going on your field trip to the zoo?"

"Well, sure, Mom," and then a long pause . . . "You were planning on going, weren't you?"

"Oh yeah, sure, Maggie. Let me just check the calendar to make sure I'm free that day."

"No, Mom, you don't have to go if you don't want to."

Ahhhh, there it was. The old you-don't-have-to-go-if-you-don't-want-to. Yeah, right.

"No, no, Maggie," I quickly recovered. "It's not that I don't want to go. I do want to go. I really do."

"No you don't, Mom. I can tell you don't want to go." How she could tell, other than my stuttering and stammering and my trying to get over the shock, I really don't know.

So the calendar was checked--completely empty--and arrangements were made for me to come along on the most-beloved year-end activity. The zoo field trip.

I only made one concession. I had to drive my own car. The bus would surely put me over the edge and I would never again be able to set foot on either school property or zoo property again. I would be scarred for life if I rode the bus, so I put my foot down on the driving arrangements.

Today was the day, and you know what? It was fun. I got to hang with Maggie and her little kindergarten buddy and a couple of other girls from Maggie's class and their buddies. It was so sweet to see the big kids act semi-responsibly . . . for the first half hour anyway.



And I learned some things at the zoo today.

(I guess you don't get disappointed that way.)

(I think a few of those 5th grade boys hang out in trees too.)

And remember kids:


But the best part happened toward the end of the day. For some reason Maggie's kindergarten buddy got revved up as the day went on. No, we didn't feed her Dippin' Dots or Gatorade or Fruit by the Foot. She just started movin' and groovin' as she got the hang of the zoo.

"Can we go see the zebras next?" And she'd run ahead.

"Hey! What's that over there?" More running ahead.

"Come on! Let's look at the aardvarks!"

Finally, Maggie just looked at me as her buddy ran on ahead, rolled her eyes and said, "Gee, Mom, now I know how you felt when we were little. It's tiring being a mom!"

To me, the day was a complete success.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Remembering Our Heroes


Last year on Memorial Day my sister, Jenn, my niece, Kira, and I visited Arlington National Cemetery. Truth be told, it was kind of whim--we were in town, and we took the hop-on-hop-off bus around D.C. that day. One of the stops just happened to be Arlington which, we had heard the night before on the news, had some pretty big Memorial Day events going on.

So we thought we'd check it out.

I'd say "pretty big" is an understatement.

I don't think I'll ever forget roaming the grounds, astounded that someone had taken the time to put a small flag next to each and every headstone. Or seeing the loved ones who had traveled long distances to be there on that day. Or witnessing the Presidential motorcade driving right past us, taking then-president Bush to the ceremony. It truly is an amazing sight, and if you ever have the chance to experience Arlington on Memorial Day, you should.

Yesterday in church, one of our pastors, who is himself a veteran, asked all the veterans in church that day to stand. They did, and the rest of us spontaneously broke out with clapping (believe me, if you know our church, you know what a big deal that is!). Again, an amazing experience to be able to personally honor, in some small way, those who have served our country well.

Today, please take time to thank a veteran for the part they have played in providing the freedom that is so precious to us. And if you can't do that, then thank God for the country in which we live and for those who have died to protect us.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Another Saturday Night and I Ain't Got Nobody

My house is too quiet tonight. B and Abby are in Minnesota for the weekend, Maggie is hangin' with her peeps, and Kate and I are home together watching "The Holiday."

Being the multitasker that I am, I'm also perusing blogs. I found this sweet meme on Amy Beth's site and thought it would be fun. I tend to do this on quiet Saturday nights.

1. Who knows a secret or two about you?

B.

2. Four words to explain why you last threw up?

I can't remember the last time I threw up, to be honest.

3. Have you ever burned yourself?

On the oven racks, regularly.

4. Who is your hero?

Anyone in the military.

5. Would you ever want to be a supermodel?

Never, ever, ever.

6. When is your next party?

Tomorrow night. Margaritas at Amy's.

7. Do you know what you will wear tomorrow?

Underwear. Does that count?

8. Have you ever accidentally eaten an insect?

Riding my bike down the road when I was a kid, bugs flew into my mouth and nose all the time.

9. Do you talk baby talk?

Nope. I don't believe in baby talk.

10. Would you ever work in a retirement home?

Sadly, I don't think I could handle the sadness.

11. Are you ever purposely irritating?

Oh yeah, just ask B.

12. If you could fly, where would you go first?

Straight to Europe.

13. Do you prefer boats or planes?

Boats, for sure.

14. One best friend or 10 acquaintances?

Many best friends.

15. Favorite food?

Anything cheesy, gooey, and rich.

16. Do you believe that your first love never dies?

No. I believe that love--first, middle, or last--is a choice.

17. What upcoming event are you waiting and ready for?

"She Speaks"

18. Do you get your nails done?

Only if I have an event coming up. I'm not much of a girly-girl.

19. What was the last thing you ordered at McDonald’s?

An Egg McMuffin at O'Hare while I was waiting for my delayed plane.

20. Are you an emotional person?

I guess I feel things deeply. Does that make me emotional?

21. When did your last relationship end?

Huh???

22. Favorite place to be?

Right where I am.

23. How do you feel about your hair?

My sisters got the good hair.

24. Do you sleep with a fan on?

Sometimes, but only because B likes the fan when it's warm. Me? I hate having a fan on when I sleep.

25. Did you sleep in past noon today?

Did I sleep past noon EVER?

26. Are you sarcastic?

See number 7 above. Oh, and number 21, 23, and 25.

27. Did you have a good birthday this year?

Read this.

28. What is your favorite kind of weather?

The kind when evening is falling, I'm sitting on my porch, there is no wind, and I can't feel my skin.

29. Have you ever cried during a movie?

Oh my. Almost every time.

30. Who’s the last person you had a deep conversation with?

Cheryl, this morning, and Kate, at dinner tonight. I'm so thankful for both.

31. Who was the last person you cried in front of?

Kate. During the movie we're currently watching.

32. Do you like your name?

Not so much--it's such a '60s name. (Sorry Mom!)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Back off, you buggers!

"EEEW! Mom! There are ants on the syrup!"

These are the words that snapped me out of my early-morning fog this morning.

Oh come on. How bad could it be? I'm a farm girl. A couple of ants, especially the teeny-tiny ones we have around here, wouldn't hurt anything.

"They're all over! Yuck!" All over? Really? I made her count. There were only three.

"Just wipe off the syrup bottle. It'll be fine." Great mom, huh?

But suddenly something like a lightbulb went off in my head. Ants. On the syrup. Where was the syrup? In the pantry. Oh my gosh!!! . . .

I jumped to my feet and ran to the pantry to look for more of the little critters. I didn't have to look far as I scanned the shelves . . . sure enough, the ants had invaded.

Four years ago we remodeled our house and added my dream pantry. I absolutely love this little room because it holds plenty of food and several pieces of equipment that I don't use all that often. There is also room for paper goods, plastic cutlery, baskets--everything I need for entertaining.

But now my dream pantry also held ants. Yuck.

And I knew that if I didn't move quickly, there would be a veritable army of those buggers running up and down the walls of my pantry by the afternoon.

So this morning, at 7:15 a.m., I started doing battle with the ants.

Now, I figure that my sweet and supportive readers will love me no matter what my pantry looks like, and since I've already shown you the terrible state of my refrigerator, I've got nothing to lose. Right?

So, hang on, it's true confessions time: it's been a while since I've cleaned my pantry. I really, really needed to clean my pantry.

See?



I guess it took an army of ants to get me moving, and I have to say I'm glad they did.

An hour and a half later, every can, bottle, and box of cereal had been moved, and every shelf and baseboard had been scrubbed. Now I have a clean and organized pantry once again.

See?


All before 9:00 in the morning.

So, what did YOU do before 9:00 this morning??

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Don’t Even Get Me Started!

Some days . . . oh, let’s be honest here . . . most days, I watch my kids and wonder where in the heck they came from.

They out-do me.

They out-smart me.

They pretty much out-everything me.

Before I left last week, Abby asked me if she could have a plain white sheet. She needed it for a backdrop for a play that her class is doing this week. (Don’t even get me started on that play. It’s an amazing assignment, the culmination of an entire year’s work in Advanced Freshman English. The kids have to write their own Shakespearian play, create the set and the costumes, and perform it. It’s so worthwhile it’s ridiculous. But does Abby want me to come see this play? No. But don’t get me started . . . )

So before I left for California, I stopped at Target and got a king sized plain white sheet which another girl in their class sewed together with another king sized sheet. That’s one big backdrop!

Over the weekend, every time I called home, poor Abby, when she wasn’t practicing for her violin recital which I missed on Sunday (again, don’t get me started!), was down in the basement painting the backdrop for her class play. One girl came over on Saturday to help her paint, but mostly it was Abby’s job.

On Sunday night, when I got home, she was just finishing up this humongo project, so I went down to see it. I really wish I had brought my camera to the basement with me, because this is one beautiful backdrop. Abby had done such a fantastic job on it, creating a carnival-like scene complete with a ferris wheel and a game booth. It was so cute.

When we headed back upstairs I asked Abby how much time she had spent over the past few days, painting this backdrop. She figured out that she had put in over 13 hours, not including the additional couple of hours that her friend had helped her.

And do you know what? . . . (this is the part that really puts me to shame) . . . Abby never complained. She just got to work and painted. She never said to me, “Mom, this totally stinks. I wish I didn’t have to do this. I wish I had help.”

Nope. She just said, “I have to do this job. It’s a big job, but I have to finish it.”

And that’s what she did. She worked until the job was done.

I learned something from Abby this weekend (when I wasn’t even home). I learned that complaining is useless. It gets me nowhere. Complaining is for cowards who are afraid to work hard.

What will get me somewhere will be just plain digging in and getting the job done. On time. Without complaining.

On Monday morning Abby folded it up and took that huge backdrop, completed, to her class. She should have been proud of her work. But I guess not everyone in her class was impressed—the kid in charge of the play found fault with her work. (Don’t even get me started on that one, either!)

So I guess Abby learned something too. She learned that no matter how hard you work, someone will criticize. Someone will belittle. Someone will find fault. But Abby handled even that hardship with grace, as she does most things.

And watching her, I learned something else this week: Abby is the brave one.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Travel Tuesday - Carmel, CA

Welcome back to Travel Tuesday! This is one of my favorite types of posts to write because I love to travel and have a lot to share in that area, but sometimes I just don't get to it.

I think I need to plan out this blog a little better.

But enough about my many blogging shortcomings . . .

I really am a lucky girl because I have been to lots of places in the world. Every place I have visited has been my favorite--I wonder what that says about me? Funny to me, though, that I can't remember what I ate for dinner last night, but I can remember so many details about the places I've seen.

I can certainly say without hesitation that I will remember Carmel for a long, long time.

I didn't know what to expect when I left--I haven't spent much time in California at all. I guess I expected palm trees and fruity drinks by the pool. And rich and famous people around every corner.

I got none of that, but what I did get from Carmel was a surprise. A very nice surprise.

First of all, the town is as quaint as any I've ever seen. In some ways it reminded me of Door County where B and I spent our honeymoon. Small, cozy cottages line the streets of Carmel, all the way to the gorgeous beach where, on our first evening there, we saw lots of people surfing. I had never really seen real surfers before, so I thought this was way cool.

Much of the architecture in Carmel is a combination of French and Mediterranean styles, but there are others thrown into the mix. Like this Snow White cottage we saw near the beach--some lucky person actually gets to live there!


And the shops in town were all in the same quaint, cozy style. This is a little candy shop in the middle of town.


Another surprise was the landscape. It's more rugged than I expected with rocky shorlines and weathered trees. Beautiful, but in a much-less-like-Hawaii kind of way and with a more earthy feel.

One of the things Mom really wanted to do was to eat lunch at Pebble Beach. This was the view we had from our table in the restaurant overlooking the 18th green. A truly amazing sight.


After lunch we took the famous 17-mile drive around the Monterey Penninsula. This drive really shows the rugged shoreline and the amazing effect of the harsh winds on the trees there. This is a famous tree called the Lone Cypress, which is 250 years old.


Another Carmel surprise was the people. Now, my mom is without a doubt the friendliest person I've ever met. She's one of those people who's never met a stranger, so it's kind of embarrassing handy to have her along because she talks to everyone. The funny thing about Carmel, though, is that most people we encountered were just like her! We had great conversations with shopkeepers, waiters and waitresses, and gallery owners. Everyone was more than willing to take time to share their expertise about the area, even their favorite restaurant recommendations.

Which brings me to my final surprise. There is so much good food in Carmel! We wanted to treat Mom to a special meal for her birthday, so we asked around and finally settled on this place: L'escargot.


Oh my! We were not disappointed. We enjoyed a wonderful, traditional French meal of goat cheese and carmelized onion tart, steak and pommes frites, salmon with tarragon sauce and saffron rice, and, of course, creme brulee. Yep, we pretty much waddled out of there, but not before taking this picture. See those smiling faces? Don't they all look content (and full)?


The sun was setting just as we were finishing dinner, so we took a quick drive to the beach to say good bye. Carmel is definitely a spot I won't soon forget.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Hello from Sunny CA

Hello, faithful readers! Boy, they aren't kidding when they call it "sunny California." After the winter we've had in Chicago, it is such a treat to be here, soaking up all the vitamin D I can before I head back.

Anyway, I don't have long. The group I'm with (Mom and my sisters) are just so "go-go-go." Not a minute to rest! So I've got to get going, but first I wanted to show you just a little bit of what I've done so far.

Just a quick side-trip through Salinas on our way to our first destination to see John Steinbeck's home. That was a five-minute thrill for me.



Here's a different sort of home . . . Hearst Castle. Oh my!




After Hearst Castle we drove Highway 1 up the coast. On one of our stop-offs we found a beach full of hundreds of elephant seals. No kidding. Hundreds!! What an amazing sight.



No, this seal is not dead--just sunning himself.



Everywhere we look there are beautiful flowers in bloom. I thought these were cool--nothing like what we see at home, that's for sure!



Have a happy day, everyone. I know we sure will!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Just Call Me Miss California

Shhhh. Don't tell anyone, but my mom has a big birthday coming up on Sunday. She's turning 70.

Now, I don't know if Mom wants the whole world to know she's 70, but since I only have about six readers and she's one of them, that leaves about five people who have the potential to say, "Gee, I didn't know Karen was that old! She doesn't look a day over 69."

Anyway, my sweet mom only made one request for her birthday. She wanted nothing more than to have her three girls meet her in California for a few days of fun and festivities.

Gee, let's see . . . California . . . for five days . . . with my mom and sisters . . . and Dad's paying. Sure! I'm game!

Actually, I would have gone if Dad wasn't paying because this is going to be one fun and special weekend.

So, that's a very long way of explaining why I won't be around the old blog for a few days. This is official goodbye . . . until Monday.

Unless, of course, I decide to post some pictures while I'm gone.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Heart Full of Thanks

Thanks. Just thanks.

That's about all I can think of to say about today. Because today was great.

If you know me very well you would know that I'm not a big fan of Mother's Day. Or my birthday. Or any other day which would require people looking at me.

I'm not a big fan of attention.

Or Mother's Day.

In the past, especially when my girls were very young, the best present anyone could have given me was a day off. It sounds absolutely horrible to even say it, but two of my favorite Mother's Days when the girls were really young were the days when 1) I went to see a movie with my friend, Cheryl, and 2) I played nine holes of golf with my mom.

I had a bit of trouble getting used to this mothering thing. It took about 10 years before I even became comfortable being called "Mom." Just kidding. It took about five years, but still . . .

Anyway, I think you get the picture. Mother's Day has been hard for me in the past. It felt like a day when all the put-together moms were wearing corsages to church and smiling all pretty and had skirts that were actually ironed.

Me? I felt like the mom who was barely holding it all together and who was on the verge of tears most Sundays at church and who didn't have time to iron her skirt.

Suddenly, though, my girls have grown up. I actually have time to iron . . . when I feel like it. And now I actually long to spend time with my kids.

After church today we all went to a nearby restaurant that you might call just a little bit "fancy." It's the nicest place my girls will see all year, I'll guarantee you that. The girls dressed up, just for me. They ordered from the grownup menu, just for me. They behaved, just for me. (Just kidding about that last one. I'm always proud to take them out.)

And now we're getting to the reason today was so special. It wasn't about the fancy lunch. Or the beautiful flowers that were delivered for me yesterday. Or the thoughtful gift that the girls thought of all by themselves and bought for me.

In the middle of lunch, someone (I don't remember who) suggested that everyone go around and tell their most favorite "Mom memory" from the past year.

Well, definitely, bring it on!

Abby talked about how I took her to the Taste of Chicago last summer. Just the two of us. And how much she appreciated that I took the time to take just her, alone.

Kate talked about our trip to Switzerland and how much she enjoyed watching me take the lead on that trip. She said I showed a lot of strength.

Maggie said she likes it that I pick her up for lunch every Friday and we get to spend an hour together in the middle of the day. (Those lunches will be coming to an end soon, unfortunately, since middle school is coming quickly.)

And B even had something to add. He said his best memory of me from the past year actually happened yesterday (the long-term memory is going, folks!) when we fixed our wooden gate together and didn't get into a fight while doing it. Yes, wonders truly never cease!

As someone whose love language is words of affirmation, I could not have received a better gift. Everything else could have been wiped away--the lunch, the flowers, the gift (although I am looking forward to that massage). If you just left me with those precious moments around the table, my day would have been complete. Perfect in every way.

Because, you see, my family took the time to tell me that what I am doing with them, for them, is making a difference to them. They blessed me with their words today, and I promise you I won't soon forget them.

And for that I thank them.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Just Like Riding a Bike

Big milestone around here this week. I know you'll all be jealous. We got a new storm door.

I don't know who's happier about this, us or our friends. You see, for about the past 8 years we've had trouble with that storm door and, being the completely unhandy losers technically challenged people that we are, we fixed it in the only way we knew how.

Duct tape.

Yes, for years now our front door has been duct taped (is that a verb?). And for years our friends have teased us about it, with good reason. Humiliating and embarrassing--yes--and yet we didn't do a thing about it. "Frozen with fear" I think would be the correct emotion.

On Monday our new storm door was installed, bringing with it much hoopla and shouts of joy. From me. Nobody else really noticed because it pretty much looks exactly like the old storm door.

Minus the duct tape.

The new door was about 1/2 inch narrower than the old door, though, because there was a small bit of wood showing on each side of the door. Time to paint.

So yesterday afternoon I got out the Spackle (Dad would be proud) and the paint, and I made everything around our front door look as good as new.

While I was happily painting, I overheard a fun little exchange across the street. The woman who lives there was trying to teach her young son how to ride a two-wheeler. Now, any parent who has tried to teach their child how to ride a bike knows that this is no easy task.

"Mom, I can't do it!" the boy hollered.

"Yes you can, Johnny. Just keep trying. You need to pedal faster."

"I can't dooooo it!" shouted the boy again, this time a little more whiny than the first time.

"Yes you can, Johnny. I know you can," said his mom.

"I. CAN'T. DO. IT!"

"Yes. You. Can. Now pedal!" At this point the mother was just about to lose it. She started to yell at her son, no paragon of patient virtue she.

As I quietly painted my trim I started to smile. I couldn't fault her for losing her patience . . . I did not teach even one of my daughters how to ride a two-wheeler. Neither they nor I would have survived the process. Thank goodness B wanted his share of that parental responsibility.

After only a few short minutes, though, I heard shouts of another kind.

"I'm doing it! I'm doing it!"

"You sure are, Johnny. I knew you could do it." A proud moment for both mother and son, for sure.

Very quickly, Johnny got the hang of the bike-riding thing because pretty soon he was zipping up and down the sidewalk like a pro.

"Now, Johnny," said his mom, "once you get going, brake real hard. There's nothing like the feeling of braking hard when you've been riding real fast." I could just hear the encouragement in her voice. And the pride.

Her Johnny had done it!

Now, I'm not one to spiritualize everything, but I do like to look around me and see where God is putting His fingerprints. And they were all over that situation for me. See, sometimes I feel like Johnny as I look at what I think God wants me to do. My overwhelming frustration takes over, and I say to Him, "I can't do that."

I may even whine a little.

But God just looks as me patiently and says, "Yes you can. I know you can." His words of encouragement keep coming until I suddenly look up and say, "Hey, I'm doing it!"

And God just smiles and says, "I knew you could."

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Big excitement today!

I'm so excited this morning I can hardly stand it. I'm guest posting at Scribbit today!

Last week, Michelle, who writes Scribbit and who lives in Alaska, mentioned that any big city looks just any other big city to her. She just wasn't interested in visiting any of them. Always up for a challenge, I wrote her a post to convince her otherwise.

And she published it! Today! Go read it and then come back here.

* * * * *

Welcome back!

As you can tell from reading my post over there, I am a big fan of Chicago. Most people who visit are surprised by how beautiful the city is. And they usually mention that the people here are friendlier than they thought we'd be.

What did they expect? Al Capone? (Don't answer that.)

Last week, in the interest of research, I coerced my friend, Amy, to come along on a driving tour of the city. Our goal was two-fold: to show Amy some corners of the city she'd never seen before and to take pictures for the blog.

You saw a good bit over at Michelle's, but I left out a few places that I thought I'd highlight here.


The Art Institute of Chicago. These lions herald the way to the Art Institute, one of the most popular museums in Chicago. Wander through the galleries here and you'll see world famous paintings by artists such as Monet, Cezanne, and van Gogh (I'm a huge fan of the Impressionist, can you tell?). Kids, big and small, will enjoy the Thorne Miniature Rooms and the hall of armor. Very cool.

The Art Institute is located on Michigan Avenue and is FREE during the month of February and every Thursday evening from 5-8 P.M. During the summer, free hours are extended to include Friday evenings from 5-8 P.M. And this year, to celebrate the opening of the new Modern Wing, the Art Institute will be free for the entire week of May 16-22.


Millennium Park. Just a short walk north on Michigan Avenue from the Art Institute is Millennium Park, home of the famous Chicago Bean sculpture. (I know that's not its real name, but that's what everyone calls it.) Millennium Park is home to Chicago's ice rink, which provides hours of fun in the winter. In the summer, you can take in a concert from the beautiful Pritzker Pavillion.

Chicago is full of hidden gems. Architectural bounty. Beautiful gardens. And specialty shops that just call my name.

I know in my "other" post I said I wasn't much of a shopper, and I'm not. But I do enjoy hunting down treasures in out of the way places.

If you enjoy that kind of thing, too, then today is your lucky day because I'm going to let you in on one of my favorite little shops in the City: Vintage Pine.



Vintage Pine is located at 904 W. Blackhawk, just a couple blocks south of North Avenue. It's an obscure little place--you might even miss it if you drove past it, but the huge Whole Foods Market they're building across the street should point you in the right direction. If you find the door, you have to ring a bell to get inside.

Kind of like walking through Lewis's wardrobe, once you're in, you're in a magical land. Walk up two flights of stairs to a loft that contains treasures from all over Europe--pine chests, cherry dining tables, French market baskets. It's worth the drive just to browse around this treasure-trove of European furniture and accessories.


So there. You should have your fill of Chicago by now. If you haven't ever been here, do come check us out--you might find yourself surprised by what you find here.

And for my friends who live here, I'm always up for a day in the city, so let me know when you want to go!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Seven Quick Takes Friday

I haven’t linked up with Jennifer at Conversion Diary for a while, but I thought today might be a good day to play “Seven Quick Takes.”


1

I’ve been following the Compassion bloggers as they travel to Calcutta, India this week. This post really spoke to me about what’s really important, and believe me, it ain’t the house or the cars or the life we live here.

2

I had the distinct privilege of giving away a lot of money this week. No, it wasn’t my money . . . it was PTA’s money, but still, it was fun. I’ve been the chairperson of our school district’s PTA scholarship committee for the past three years, and it’s been a great way to serve the broader community. From about 125 applications we select 12 of the best and brightest that our district has to offer. Students are chosen based on their academic achievement, extracurricular involvements, and service to the community and they also have to submit an essay.

Anyway, a larger committee of about 16 people chose the winners back in March, and we honored the kids with a luncheon on Wednesday of this week. Can I just say that I am so glad my kids go to school here?! The kids who won scholarships were bright, articulate representatives of the educational experience they’ve had here. And they were mostly humble . . . except for the kid who just HAD to mention that he had been accepted by 20 colleges and would like our vote when he runs for Senator one day. Right.

3

I’ve seen two movies in the past two weeks which, I think, must be some kind of record. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie since “Marley and Me” over Christmas break.

Two weeks ago I took Maggie and a friend to see “Hannah Montana” which entertained me WAY more than I thought it would. It had a sweet message about home and being true to yourself. And, of course, there was a cute boy in it for all the tweens to swoon over. All-in-all I enjoyed it.

Last weekend I took my older two to see “17 Again.” Now, this movie I liked a lot LESS than I thought I would. Why, you ask? Well, as you can imagine, it was formulaic. Totally predictable. But sweet. Matthew Perry has NOT aged well, ladies, so don’t go thinking he’d give you a glimpse into the “90210” days. Not at all. But now, that Zac Efron . . . a cutie who can actually act. The teenagers liked this one. . . . but me? I think I was a little bored with it.

What does this say about me, I wonder? I think it confirms, for the millionth time this month, that I’m getting old because I enjoyed the beautiful scenery of Tennessee in “Hannah Montana” (a G-rated movie, by the way) more than the “scenery” of Matthew and Zac. B would be so proud.

4

You knew I’d get around to it. Swine flu. What more can be said than has already been rehashed ad nauseam on the news? Well, here’s my take on it. Thirty four thousand people die every year from the regular flu; one hundred have died from the swine flu and of those, only one in the United States who was a baby from Mexico. So. Which flu should we fear?

And also this . . . in two weeks I am scheduled to fly to California with my mom and two sisters to celebrate my mom’s 70th birthday. No pig is going to keep me from this trip.

That is all.

5

Is Joe Biden a lunatic? Just wondering.

6

On Tuesday of this week, Amy and I took a driving tour through the city (Chicago, for those of you who don’t live here. We have this thing here where we don’t call it by name. It’s just “the city.”), and we had a blast! I’ll be putting up a full travel report here one of these days, but we had so much fun just roaming all over the different neighborhoods. Amy moved here 10 years ago and says that she still doesn’t know the city very well, so I decided to show her my favorite parts.

One highlight was lunch at the Julius Meinl Café, a Viennese coffeehouse on the north side. I had a cheese spaetzle (Kassespaetzle) for lunch, and Amy had a cheesy potato dish similar to Raclette. Oh my, it was like I was back in Switzerland again.

We are the princesses, Amy and me!

7

Tonight we’ll have a different sort of international eating experience. I’ve written here before about how we help with some missionary housing here. Well, every year the missionaries who have lived in our homes (18 in all) put on a very nice dinner for the board. They usually prepare something from the country where they serve and invite all the board members to experience a true international dinner.

While this is a wonderful idea in theory and a super experience for those who enjoy different types of food from exotic places, it can be a bit difficult for me. You see, I am curry-averse. And, of course, much (and I do mean MUCH) foreign food is seasoned with curry. Even the smell of it makes me nauseous. So, even though the event itself is lovely and the missionaries are so warm and giving, I usually head into this dinner with much fear and trepidation. Thank goodness they serve a lot of rice.

Have a great weekend, everyone!