Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Angels & Demons

Yes, that's the title to a Dan Brown novel (also my favorite of his, even more than The DaVinci Code). I digress. That's also the title to my evening with the kids.

Jackson is crabby. Katie is exerting her big sister authority. How quickly things go from this: one throwing blocks at the other, and one kicking in retaliation. My, oh my. And to make the punting of her little brother worse, Katie then lied to Daddy about it. Since I saw the entire thing unfold from my post in the living room, she got in serious trouble for both offenses. Instead of the privilege of watching a show then reading two books before bedtime, the show and one book were taken away. What a swell day.

While we were treated to a full night's sleep last night, it didn't help much. Jackson hasn't been sleeping well for the last week or two. (Maybe because we started skipping the morning nap? I think I'll re-institute it tomorrow and see if that helps.) And I've had a headache all day, and feel like I can't make a dent in my To Do list. And it's been raining LOTS today. The list goes on...

To make it worse (and since I'm already complaining anyway), I haven't been feeling my best for the last six or eight weeks. I've been having joint pain and stiffness. Yes, I've been trying to ignore it because, really, I don't have time for an autoimmune disorder right now. And I keep blaming it on the new foamy bed we got in May. I keep telling myself that my body is still adjusting. (Ha! The lies we tell ourselves!) So, I just keep hoping that I'll wake up tomorrow and feel better. And that's what I'm going to hope again tonight when I go to bed.

Okay, enough of my crabbiness. Now that I've vented and gotten that off my chest, I feel better and I'm ready to go veg on the couch and finish watching the marathon 13 episodes of Mad Men that Dan has gotten me hooked on. It's starting to invade my brain the way Lost did when we watched the first two seasons on DVD, back to back within about a month's span. My friends started begging me to STOP quoting Lost characters and referring to them like old friends. I'm not that bad with Mad Men yet, but did you notice my sly use of the '60s slang "swell" above? Tee hee.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My Sister

I've written a lot lately about my brother, mother and father. Last night when I was writing the post about gratitude, I thought of my sister and decided she deserves her own post, just about her. (Heh-heh, Mary! I know you're rolling your eyes right now!)

Mary is eight years older than me, the oldest of three. Mom used to tell me how delighted Mary was when I was born. Mary insisted that my crib be installed in her room so she could take care of me at night. I'm sure my sleep-deprived, breastfeeding, postpartum-depressed mom didn't argue that one with her. Apparently Mary was like a second mother to me - except for the two (or was it three?) times she dropped me DOWN THE STAIRS. Yep. (Of course, the words that always follow that story are, "Now we know what's wrong with you!" Hardy har.)

But like all well-fed children, I grew. And like all younger siblings, I became a pest. I vividly remember Mary having friends over one day and playing Barbies in her room. I'm not sure how old I was, although I couldn't have been much older than 3 because then Mary would have been 11 and isn't that too old for Barbies? ("Now we know what's wrong with you!") Anyhoo, Mary threw a fit because I kept bugging her and her friends. She didn't like me much for a few years.

When I was in late elementary school, some firefighters came to talk to our class about safety and the importance of having a home evacuation plan. Around that same time, I had snuck out of bed and watched a made for TV movie about this Army guy who killed his wife and two kids and blamed it on hippies who broke into his house. The possibility of a fire and the thought of my dad killing me sent my imagination into overdrive. I refused to sleep in my room alone, so Mary started letting me sleep in hers. It turned into a habit. I think I must have slept in her room for a good six months - long enough for my parents to just install a cot in her room for me.

One Christmas, Mary offered to read Dickens' A Christmas Carol to me. I was floored and so excited to have her offer to do that. I think she was a teenager by then, and I knew the gesture was monumental - which made it even more special to me. She read a few chapters to me every night, and I think that finally cemented our bond. We formed a united front against our stinky brother Jackson, and have (mostly) stayed united since then.

That doesn't mean there weren't a few times when Jackson and I ganged up on her. I remember one LONG car ride to Canada, when Jackson and I tormented her (and everyone in the car) by singing one of Run DMC's songs that had the line, "Mary, Mary, why ya buggin'?" in it. We repeated it over and over, to our own delight, cracking up every time. Mary was fit to be tied. Later on, she used me as bait so she could go flirt with boys. Not much of a payback, since I didn't mind being the icebreaker.

Growing up, Mary was always the sentimental one. For every Mother's Day, Father's Day and birthday, she bought those sappy Susan Polis Schutz greeting cards. The ones that always make you cry and say, "Awww!" She adored those things. When my dad toasted me at my wedding, he even made a crack at Mary's expense about how Mary used to cry if you stepped on a cockroach.

But somewhere in the past decade or two (Good gravy! Have I been alive THAT long?!), Mary and I switched in that respect. I think I'm now the sentimental one, and she is usually more flippant with her emotions. That may have something to do with being a military wife. I think she's learned to just turn off the tears and buckle down and get through each day. That must be the only way to survive a deployment sometimes. Maybe all the drama in our family also turned her off to emotional outbursts. Okay, wait. Let me take all that back, lest you think my sister is some brick wall who is unfeeling and stable. I think she's still emotional and can go off the deep end (it's in the Steele DNA), but I think she's also better at turning it off too.

When I was scheduled to deliver my son by c-section, I asked Mary to fly in and be with me. Because of her teaching schedule, she said she couldn't make it but that she would come a few weeks later for spring break. I convinced myself that was okay, that she didn't need to be with me for the birth. But the night before, she surprised me and flew in for the delivery. I burst into tears when I saw her, and only then admitted to myself how badly I needed her there with me. She was in the operating room when Jackson was born, and I think that's one the coolest bonds I have with her.

Now, after 34 years of being sisters (and some incredibly tulmultous years), I think Mary and I have a deeper bond than even some marriages do. Sometimes we even act like an old married couple, nagging and griping at each other. She's still a bossy older sister, even when she's calling me for advice. But, man, I do love her so.

She was my matron of honor. She's the one who walked the journey with me in laying our parents to rest. She's the keeper of my memories now, since she and I are the last surviving members of our family of five. She's the voice I need when my confidence is failing, and the one who always keeps me in line when I start venting too much about how unfair life might be. She's made an amazing life for herself, and stuck through the hard and gritty parts to do what is best for her husband and her two daughters. I got some of my first parenting cues by watching her. She's the person I call when I need to hear someone say they're proud of me; she's the stand-in for Mom and Dad. She's the one I clung to when they played Taps for my brother. She drives me NUTS because she knows which buttons to push. She keeps me grounded and tethered by reminding me of my roots. And she convinced me to sneak into our old house one night so we could be alone to see its rebirth.

Sometimes I hope that I will die before Mary does, when we're old and gray. I don't think I can be the sole survivor. We're all each other has left of the "old days." The last ones who remember what it was like riding in the car and stealing Oreos from under Mom's seat. The last ones who will laugh out loud remembering how Dad tried to scare the hiccups out of me at West Point. The last ones who remember riding the Pink Pig with Mom at Rich's in Atlanta. She's the last of my family of five who saw my brother alive. And the only other person who would laugh at my stupid "Why did the tree fall?" joke.

Thanks for being my sister, Mary. I'm grateful to you and for you. I love you!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Speak of Your Gratitude

I've been going through some of the Bloggy Giveaway entries, and there are some cool giveaways with fun requirements. Unexpected Bliss has a beautiful print she's giving away. In order to win, you have to post a comment listing what you're grateful for. So, here's what I wrote:

Do I have to mention just one thing? I can't. So maybe that's what I'm most grateful for: having an abundance of blessings!
* Negative test results. * Baby belly laughs. * Health. * God giving me the blessing of holding my children each day, when others' arms are empty. * Freedom. * Babies who sleep through the night. * Buying breakfast for the car behind me at McDonald's. * The joy on my daughter's face when she steps off the bus and runs to my arms. * Knowing my husband's love is an extension of God's love for me, and that God put him in my life to show me what unconditional is all about. * Air conditioning. * Laughter. * Being able to remember certain things in my past without crying anymore. * Passion. * Faith. * Loyalty. * Amazing friends who come and go in my life and teach me more about myself. * Sacrifices my parents made that helped me become who I am today. * The ability to pay back the debt I owe my parents - but to pay it forward instead. And knowing that they're proud of me and watching over me.

Good night, y'all! Sweet dreams...

Lunch at School

The highlight of my day (so far) was having lunch with Katie at school. The kids get only 20 minutes to eat, so it went by in a flash. But it was so cool meeting her friends and getting to talk to them. And she was thrilled to see me. You would have thought I was a superhero or something! Her friends were excited to see me too. One little girl named Ryleigh talked my ear off. Seriously. She was elated to have a captive audience. Here's a photo that Ryleigh took of me and Katie.
I picked up McDonald's for Katie, and that made her delirously happy too. Oh, what a wonderful little bright spot in my day. To make it even better, the morning rain stopped and the sun is shining now. And I got a chance to putter around at home while Jackson was at Parents Day Out. And even better? He didn't scream and shriek when I dropped him off! It's the little things in life, isn't it?

P.S. I'm really enjoying this Bloggy Giveaway thing. It's fun to see comments from everyone, and "meet" new people! It's like having a little smiley face in my in box!

Bloggy Giveaway - Photo Bracelet!

Thanks to my friend Danielle, I am doing my very first Six Golden Coins Bloggy Giveaway. I'm nervous, but excited to see how it all goes!

Bloggy Giveaways Quarterly Carnival Button

I am giving away a custom photo bracelet. I'll contact the winner of my giveaway and you can email me the six photos you'd like in your bracelet. I'll shrink the photos and do any editing necessary, seal them in plastic and insert them in the bracelet before I mail it to you. Here's a photo of the finished bracelet I wear:

Here's what I would like from you! Please read through my blog (don't miss the Toys in Iraq post from June!), then comment on this post. Tell me two things: 1) what you like best about my blog, and 2) what I could do to improve it.

I'll keep the contest open until noon CST on Friday, August 1.

Please also stop by my other blog, Katie Kay Tees. I'm doing another giveaway there for a customized shirt or onesie.

Thanks for playing!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

He's a Genius!

Could it be true? Is my son truly a genius?! Yeah, I think so!

At lunch today, I swear he said his first sentence as he was pointing at the blueberries on the table: "Mommy, I want that." Of course it sounded more like, "Mama, ah-unt dat." But I am counting it as his first sentence.

He's also developing an engineer's mind, like his daddy. (And Grandfather Steeley and Uncle Jackson and all the other engineering relatives he has!) He's figured out how to carry a stool around the house and get into things. Here he is trying to reach the sink. He did this all by himself. (I don't know if I should be proud or terrified!)

Last but not least, our little monkey has figured out how to climb onto the couch. It's like Ninja Warrior - he scales between the ottoman on one side and the couch on the other, and uses the leverage to conquer Couch Mountain. He's so proud of himself when he does it. He really likes to hang over the back of the couch and point to the plugs behind it and say, "Uh-oh." (That's what he's doing in the first photo.) So now I've moved the couch smack dab up against the bay window, to avoid him falling off the back of the couch and to keep him from crawling around behind it (another new trick). It blocks one of our air conditioning vents, so the house will just have to be a little warmer this summer. Oh, well!
What a brilliant, amazing little 15-month-old! Excuse me while I go contact Mensa to find out how to get him accepted. Atta boy!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Katie Kay Tees

Guess what? I decided to follow my own advice and STOP waiting.

For a while now, I've had an item on my To Do List. Various things have kept me from crossing it off: the busy-ness of raising two kids and keeping a house, plus the thought that no one would be interested in "it" anyway. But I decided to just take the plunge and move forward.

I am going to start selling my custom-made shirts and onesies. Some of you might have already received one of them as a birthday present to your child. In the past, people have casually asked me if I would sell one to them but I opted to give them as birthday gifts. In recent weeks, three friends have asked me to start selling them, so I think that's the little nudge I've been needing.

I decided to get off my butt and start a new blog to showcase my designs. I was going to open a store on a certain handmade website, but wasn't quite sure how to list so many different designs without paying a fee to show each of them. So, for now, a blog will have to suffice.

Please go to my new blog, Katie Kay Tees, and let me know what you think. (There's also a link on the right side of this blog in the Blogroll section.) Leave me a comment telling me what your favorite design is. That will help me get an idea of what's most popular, and I can start figuring out how to proceed. My hope is that I can also show some other crafts for sale on that blog, like my photo bracelets or customized board books or baby texture blankets.

I will continue to post my random thoughts and chronicles of our family on this Six Golden Coins blog. So don't leave me! But now you know I have another "sister" blog (or should it be called a "daughter" blog?) that you can visit too. Let me know what you think! I need your feedback, please!


I did well on my "TCE Plan" (Taking Care of Elizabeth) this past week. I took at least a 30 minute walk every morning with Jackson after Katie gets on the bus. (Even in the rain!) I'm trying to eat a little better, including more fruits and vegetables. I got on the scale this morning and finally passed under a certain mark. My first thought was, "I'll never hit that mark again in my lifetime." At least that's my hope! I know never is a loaded word.

A woman in my mom's group gave me a baby bike seat, and Dan installed it on my bike last night. I was a little nervous about using it because I haven't ridden a bike since we lived in Kansas City almost nine years ago. But the saying is true: "It's like riding a bike." You just jump back on and your body remembers how to do it. (My body may remember how to, but I have a few new aches from it - especially in my butt from the seat. I forgot how uncomfortable that is!)

This afternoon we took the kids down to the Katy Trail for a bike ride. Katie rode her bike, and she always amazes me at how well she can ride. We rode for only 30 minutes because Jackson didn't like it too much. Actually, I think he disliked the helmet, not the bike ride. You can see him crying in the photo below. The one thing he did enjoy on our ride was pulling up my shirt, patting me and pulling on my underwear. Nevertheless, I enjoyed our bike ride and liked doing something new with my family - and getting exercise too!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

S-P-E-L-L-I-N-G Days are Coming to an End

It happens in everyone's life, and now it's happened for us. After Katie got off the bus (which is quickly becoming the BEST part of my day), I was talking to my neighbor Sheryl about her daughter coming over to watch a m-o-v-i-e with Katie. After a one second lull, Katie squeals, "Yay! A movie!"

The good news is she is actually starting to read and spell. That's my girl! The bad news is I don't know how to communicate to someone else without her "reading" what I'm saying. I guess I'll have to start using Pig Latin or I'll have to learn Spanish. Too bad my four years of high school Latin aren't useful anymore!

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

I have a friend who is waiting to find out if her husband is included in the company layoffs.
Another friend is waiting on test results to tell her why her right eye and right arm are weakened, droopy, and lagging behind.
A woman I know is waiting for the oncologist to tell her how long her mother has to live.
I’m waiting for test results too, this time my own (already got the results of Jackson’s).

All this got me thinking: why are we waiting?

Since my brother’s death in 1996, I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time waiting for the other shoe to drop in my life. And if you know anything about me, you know I’ve had a lot of “shoes” drop in the last 12 years.

My mom was diagnosed with Lupus in 1993. Coincidentally, my dad was diagnosed with Mixed Connective Tissue Disease later that year. (MCTD is extremely similar to Lupus.) Then Dad was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma in 1996. My brother died of Rhabdomysarcoma in 1996 when he was 26 years old, just 14 months after diagnosis.

Mom’s health declined for years and she was hospitalized in July 2004 for two strokes, a diseased gallbladder, C-Diff (an incredibly unlovely bacterial infection), and a number of other complications. She died after spending six weeks in the hospital, with my sister and I by her bedside for almost the entire time. (Katie was only one at the time, and Mary’s girls were six and ten.) Mom’s body was in such bad shape after being ravaged by Lupus. It didn’t help that for 11 years after her diagnosis, she didn’t follow doctors’ orders very well in treating the Lupus. When mom was moved to hospice, her doctor told us he was so sure that she also had either breast cancer or ovarian cancer. He asked us to add it to our family health histories and begin getting ourselves screened for the cancers. Mom died on September 7, 2004. It was Dan’s birthday.

Dad’s cancer had been weakening him slowly for years. Honestly, we thought he would die before Mom did. (Side note: my parents separated in 1993 and were divorced in 1995.) He died about six months later, on February 24, 2005.

I’m giving you all these details to explain why I feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. My family health history is poor, to say the least. I’ve lost three family members to cancer, and two of them had the added complication of major autoimmune disorders. In addition, my youngest niece has Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, another autoimmune disorder. Knowing my DNA is so flawed makes me feel like I have a shotgun aimed at me. The question is when the trigger will be pulled.

Most days, I don’t think about it too much. I guess it’s kind of a flippant response. I figure something’s going to kill me one day. Just like everyone else. And then other days, I’m stopped in my tracks by the thought that something’s going to kill me one day.

I was stopped in my tracks earlier this year, when I got blood test results saying I have all the positive markers for MCTD. My Rheumatologist said there’s nothing I can do to reverse the possibility. The good news is I may never develop symptoms, or it may be years before I do.

Then I was stopped in my tracks again yesterday. I had my yearly Ob/Gyn checkup. We discussed all kinds of diagnostic tests that will hopefully screen for cancer. I already had a baseline mammogram four years ago, and I now I will start getting them yearly. For ovarian cancer screenings, I have a CA-125 blood test done every year and a pelvic ultrasound to check the growth of my ovaries.

Discussing these issues with my Ob/Gyn made me stop and think how much it sucks to have that shotgun aimed at me. Most days I can ignore the shotgun in the woods, but yesterday I felt like a deer standing in the middle of a forest clearing – with nothing between me and the shotgun.

I expect the blood tests I had done yesterday will turn out fine. But it was another reminder there’s still a shoe hanging up there, waiting to drop. It didn’t help that as I was leaving the hospital, I saw a woman driving a minivan just like mine with a chemo turban on her head. My heart stopped beating for a moment when I thought about what I would do if that were me. Dear God.

As I’ve been thinking about this, the question that comes to me is: what are you waiting for?

Why wait? Do it now. You’ve heard it all before, haven’t you? The advice to use your china and crystal for every day meals, instead of waiting for the big events. Or the advice to wear that pretty lingerie today, instead of waiting for a special night.

Here’s one I’ll add, that I’m telling to myself: stop waiting for "some day." Stop waiting for the kids to get older or go to school or go to Grandma’s. Stop waiting for more money. Do it now. Now is all you have. The phone could ring, the car could crash, a crazy dude could shoot you as you try to help him put out his fire. Nothing is guaranteed. Haven’t you learned this by now, Elizabeth?

Go hug them, and hold on tight. Tell them the words you want them to remember. Invest the time and the energy. Live your life in such a manner that when the other shoe falls, you'll have no regrets. Stop waiting. Go out and live!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Results are Negative

Just a quick update. I talked to the pediatrician just now and Jackson's test results came back fine. Nothing is elevated, there is no inflammation, etc. Whew! She said to keep an eye on his swollen lymph node and if it grows or it seems like he's in pain, then she wants to see him again. But for now, our boy is healthy and fine.

Last night, Dan expressed his worries to me about the test results. In an attempt to reassure him and calm my own fears, I told him, "We've been through bad and we made it through together. It's not our turn again. I'm sure we'll go through bad again, but not now." We tried to keep our minds from wandering into the "what if" possibilities. I think sometimes the "what ifs" can be even worse than the actual reality.

Anyway... thank you for your thoughts and prayers!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Good Morning and Good Night

The last two mornings started off with an awesome new thing. On both days, Jackson woke crying, but I wanted to get Katie up before I went to him. I got about 2 minutes of pillow talk with her, then told her it was time to get up and get dressed. I asked her to meet me in Jackson's room when she was finished.

I went to Jackson and got him from his crib and rocked him in the dark. He snuggles in to me every morning, and we point at things around the room and name them. Yesterday and today, Katie came into the room and asked if she could rock too. So she climbed up on my lap and snuggled in. Ah, bliss: to have both my babies in my arms, in the quiet morning hour, still smelling clean after baths the previous night, and rocking and cuddling. I hope I'm lucky enough to have this become our morning tradition, at least until our combined weight breaks the rocking chair. And even if it does, I'll find an industrial-strength glider that can accomodate us all until they hit their adult years. Ha, ha! Truly - I'll keep rocking them as long as they'll let me.

I've also been blessed enough to end the day on a high note, especially with Jackson. Our bedtime routine is always: dim lights, pacifier, blanket, two books (one is usually Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton), then we listen to Goodnight, My Angel by Billy Joel in the dark. Lately while listening, Jackson snuggles in to my chest and does this kind of humming/cooing/gurgling through his pacifier. I've started mimicking him back, and making the same sounds in return. He loves it, and will change his pitch up and down to see if I will follow him. This little copycat game is wonderful, and makes me feel so connected to him.

Katie's also asked me to put her to bed the last two nights, instead of Daddy. It's almost the feeling of getting picked first in middle school P.E. - at least, I imagine it's like that. (I don't think I ever got picked first!) We read two books and say prayers and snuggle while we listen to the same Billy Joel song. This has really helped me the last two nights. I feel like it's filling my tank a bit so that I can get through missing her the next day. And, yes, I have been missing her desperately since she started school. I am actually depressed in the mornings when Jackson and I go out for whatever activity we have planned, and Katie isn't with us. Ugh. My eyes are tearing up even now. I just miss her. So much.

I'm so grateful that I have a good morning and a good night with my kids. These moments are bookends to my days, and help me feel like I'm doing at least something right. Sleep tight, babies.

Jackson's 15 Month Checkup

I took Jackson to the pediatrician yesterday for his 15 month checkup. He now weighs 24 pounds and 8 ounces, and is 31.5 inches long. That means he's grown 10 inches since birth, and gained 15 pounds and 1 ounce. Big boy!

He did pretty well for the appointment - about his usual, I guess. That means he whined a bit and threw himself on the floor a few times, and the doctor asked me about that. I told her he is usually like this: very high intensity and clingy with me. His teachers say he's an angel, and he usually settles down better for Dan. The doctor said that's very normal. Kids about this age will be the most difficult for the caregiver they are with more often. She advised me to just stay strong, don't give in to his whining, and keep doing what I'm doing.

I also asked the doctor about a swollen lymph node in the left side of Jackson's neck. It's been swollen for at least two months, and you can even see it bulge out of his neck sometimes. The doctor was a little concerned about it. She wanted to do some blood work on him, and test his CBC and CRP (C-Reactive Protein). She said that would tell us if there's any inflammation or other issues going on. She said some kids just have a matted mass of lymph nodes that stick together and it's nothing dangerous. But doing these tests and checking on it will help us rule out things like cancer and whatnot. Then she went on to say it's probably nothing, and he probably won't need anything done to it - although she did have one mom insist that her child's be surgically removed before. But since I seem to be a "pretty laid-back mom," (Her words, not mine. Ha!!) then we probably wouldn't have to go down that route. So... we wrapped up the appointment and got two vaccinations and then went to get Jackson's blood drawn. And THAT was such a joy, lemme tell ya. Ugh!

Did you catch it? That little "C" bomb that was dropped up there? Yeah, I figured you did. Last night when I told my sister about what the doctor said, her response was, "Did you remind this doctor that the word cancer isn't one that should be thrown around in our family?" We don't play around with that word after three cancer deaths.

Of course, my head is worrying about the test results. I keep thinking what if there is something major going on? What if this explains Jackson's crabbiness? What if he's got a tumor pressing on his neck all the time, and that's why he can be so fussy? Aaaaack! I could work myself into a fretting frenzy by going down this road. So I choose to stop, and just not even ride in that car right now. There's no sense in worrying over something that hasn't happened and is very unlikely to happen. Right? Right. I'm sure he's fine. I'm sure he's fine. I'm sure he's fine. (If I keep repeating it, it might come true.)

Say some prayers, and I'll keep you posted on the results - of the tests and the prayers.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Today, I realized Katie isn't saying as many of those adorable, cute things she used to say. I miss hearing them! Here's a list of the best that she's said:

Yukons: Katie used to call salad crutons "yukons." That was back in the day when she knew the name of every car on the road, and thought crutons were also GMC Yukons.
Dullbozer: Katie used to love watching construction equipment, and this is the name she used for bulldozers.
Springaloo: Also known as a lawn sprinkler. I haven't heard this one in probably two years, but I still call sprinklers "springaloos."
Hudy Hoo: Katie couldn't say hula hoop and the words "hudy hoo" came out instead.
G-R-N-G-O: This was Katie's version of the B-I-N-G-O song.
Wobble: Katie was about three when she first threw up and knew that it wasn't normal. I talked to her about it, and she called it "spit." I told her it's called vomit, and later she brought it up again and called it "wobble."
Yesternight: Sometimes we still hear "yesternight" when she talks about last night. We looked it up and it is actually a word. I think I'll start using it myself!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Time for Everything

I went to a funeral on Thursday. One of the Scriptures that was read was from Ecclesiastes 3. Maybe because it was such an emotional day for me already (Katie heading off to school), I cried when the words were read:

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace."

What an amazing piece of poetry. Seriously. Those words are absolutely beautiful. They remind me that no matter what timing I have for my life or how much I think I am in control, God's timing is perfect. He knows when the time is right for weeping and for laughing. And sometimes it's one in the same.

Funerals aren't my favorite way of spending time. I think I've been to too many, or helped plan one too many. But I kind of like them - in a morbid way. Is that weird? I like looking at a person's life through the lens of goodbye. Funerals are a way of reminding me what is truly important in life. It isn't the car you drive or the house you live in our the junk you fill that house with. It's the time. Time. That reminds me of the Garth Brooks song Pushing Up Daisies that says, "There's two dates in time that they'll carve on your stone, and everyone knows what they mean. What's more important is the time that is known in that little dash there in between."

I've already (mostly) planned my funeral. I have it saved in a document on my computer. I've already asked my friend Kelley to sing a certain song at my funeral. (To which she's agreed until we turn 50. After that, she says all bets are off because she doesn't want to commit to anything in case she's past her prime.) I've also asked certain friends to speak at my funeral. I told them I was asking them for a five-year commitment. Every five years, I'll re-commit them in case things have changed. I've also told my brother-in-law that I want him to put together a video to show. Do you think this is overly anal-retentive? (No, I wasn't asking you, Mary. I already know your answer. Bah humbug!)

New Normal

Katie's second day at school went well on Friday. I think I had a harder time, though. It was the first "official" day back into the old routine, and I missed having her around.

When I first got Katie onto the bus, I had an epiphany. I realized I had a little extra freedom to do what I wanted. I had already fed Jackson breakfast at the bus stop, and I had already showered. I decided to get some exercise in the cool morning hours (which are still pretty hot around here), and took Jackson on a walk. The alternative was to head inside and spend an hour trying to entertain Jackson. Since he seems to calm down more when we're taking walks, I opted for the walk. It gave me time to think (amazing!), plan and even pray. I was totally pumped!

I made all kinds of mental plans during the walk. One of them is I'm going to start exercising in the mornings, either with an outdoor walk when the weather is nice or with a trip on my elliptical machine in the basement when the weather is not nice. I think it's time to start TCE: Taking Care of Elizabeth.

After our walk, it was time to load Jackson up and head out to the park to meet my mom's club. And that's when the sadness hit. Katie was missing in the car. Jackson noticed it and fussed for most of the drive. His entertainment was missing. I noticed it too because I had no backup singer when I belted out some tunes, and no one to play Beetle Bop with me. (Our version of Slug Bug - you know, when you see a VW Beetle and call it before anyone else in the car.) There was no one to request Christmas music in July. And when we got to the park, I heard other kids' voices and kept mistaking them for Katie. There was no excited, "Mommy, watch this!" being called to me over and over and over. Yes, that was somewhat of a relief, but also a complete letdown. I missed my girl!

It hit me that we're going to have to adjust to a new normal. And when Katie arrived home on Friday, I realized that my parenting style is going to have to change a bit. No longer can I parent what I see (since I've been with her pretty much 24/7), but now I'm going to have to parent by proxy in some cases. I'll have to "guesstimate" by listening to what she tells me. For example, she told me about a boy pushing and kicking her on the playground. I wasn't there and don't know exactly what happened. I only know the Katie version of things. So I can't tell her that she was overreacting or maybe she was doing something to stir the pot. All I can do is ask her to tell me the truth, and talk her through handling it for the next time. This is when I will have to rely on what Dan and I have taught her the last five years, and hope that some of it stuck.

Our new normal will be a change for Jackson too. I'm hoping he will enjoy having one-on-one time with me, and he won't miss Katie for too long. He's already a bit of a Mama's Boy, so I'm also hoping that more one-on-one time with me won't make him even more clingy!

I've heard it said that you can't grow if you don't change. Our babies are growing up, and changing every moment now. I hope we can hang on and enjoy the ride!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Big Day, Part 2

Thank God! Katie arrived off the bus, with a smile on her face.

All the kids on our street were happy and excited to tell us about their day. We went to my yard and everyone ate the special "First Day" cake that Katie and I baked yesterday. We talked about their days, and about new friends they made.
The kids ate two pieces of cake each, then headed off to ride bikes. Before I knew it, one of the kids told me Katie said some not-so-nice things to him. And then she came down the street riding her bike, yelling at the kids. I asked her to go inside and take a time out. She grumped to me, "But I've had a very bad day!" and ran inside. Uh oh.

After giving her some time to cool off, I went inside and we talked about her day. Katie said a boy pushed and kicked her on the playground at recess. I asked her if she told her teacher or asked a grown up for help. She said no. I asked her if she told the boy to stop. She said no. So we talked about what to do in the future, and how to ask for help. Then she told me more about her day. She said she liked lunch time. Her favorite part of the day was, "I colored!" She had P.E. and learned how to jump up and land "criss-cross applesauce" on the ground. She made a new friend named Justin.
All in all, I think it was a good day. I'm sure we'll have a week or two of adjustment, but I think it was a good start to the school year.


Jackson had a milestone day too. Grandma brought him home, and she and I decided to give him a haircut. I've trimmed his hair before, but this was his first real haircut. I got out Dan's clippers, and went to town. In my mind, buzzing his hair is the way to go. It's free, I don't have to worry about him sitting still in a salon, and I can do it whenever I need to.

Here's a "Before" photo from Monday.

And here's how he looks today.
Daddy hasn't gotten home from work yet to see it, but I hope he likes it! I like it, but it does take a little getting used to. He doesn't look like a baby anymore!

The Big Day, Part 1

The biggest hurdle of the Big Day is over: Katie is on the bus, headed for new adventures and excitement. And the good news is I didn't cry! (More on that in a moment.)
I woke Katie and her first words to me were, "Good night's sleep." Ever since Kindergarten orientation, she's been following a calendar the school handed out to get the kids ready for school. The calendar has a new task for them each day, like "Write your name 3 times using only 1 capital letter" or "Count all the doors in your house" or "Find 5 green things." Yesterday's task was "Get a good night's sleep." So when she woke this morning, she was telling me that she did her job. Her next words were to ask me to cuddle with her. I did, and told her I'd only cuddle for two minutes, until the clock said 7:15. She said we should cuddle for only one minute, until the clock said 7:14, so she could get up and get ready for school. I was so glad to hear her excitement!

After dressing in her "new" outfit (the same one I blogged about in May), we went to brush her hair. I put it up the way she likes it ("A half ponytail, Mommy.") and put a red bow in her hair. Then I asked if she'd like the navy blue bow better, and she said no. "I want to wear the red one because it's your favorite color, Mommy."
Katie ate her breakfast, then we cuddled in the LoveSac until she saw our neighbor walking to the bus stop. "Aaack! Mommy! Let's go, let's go!" Jump up, get shoes and backpack on, and out the door we ran, to hang out at the bus stop and wait. And wait. And wait. The kids even sat down in the road in the order they would board the bus. Funny kids.
Then, "I have to go potty." Of course. Just like her mommy to have an I'm-nervous-so-I-gotta-go-potty bladder. And, of course, the bus started down the street just a minute after she went in the Sheryl's house to potty! So I ran in and got her and we ran out and quick-put-your-backpack-on and then STOP! Give me a hug! Then one quick photo, and that was it. That was it.

She waved goodbye, rode off into the distance, and I watched and waved back. No tears, no sobbing. Just, "Hmmm. I guess that's it." Dan and I held hands and walked back home. Then we had a little spat once inside the house. (Yes, I know the psychological meaning behind all that: I'm emotionally unstable watching Katie leave, so I strike out at someone else. Blah, blah, blah. That's not what this was about. I promise.)

I decided to get myself a treat for breakfast and headed out to McDonald's for a biscuit. I was sorely tempted to turn left instead of right and drive to Katie's school to watch her (just like in the Beanstalk story, huh?). But I forced myself to go to McDonald's instead. And THAT'S when the tears over Katie hit me, as I was pulling in to McDonald's. That's when I realized there won't be any more lunches at McDonald's with her, at least not on a regular basis. I've been lucky to be a stay-at-home mom, and be able to do the fun stuff with Katie day-in and day-out. But now the feeling of a perpetual summer (always being able to head out to the mall or Chuck E Cheese or the park or carousel) is over, and those fun days will be relegated to the "real" summer now - or at least Cycle Breaks, since our school is on a year-round schedule. Now it's just me and Jackson, and we get to start new adventures of our own.

Jackson is at Grandma's this morning. She offered to watch him so we could focus solely on Katie. I'm glad she did, but now I'm ready to see him again. And I can't wait to hear what Katie says about her first day! I'll post later tonight after I find out.

New Traditions

We started two new traditions for school. I plan on doing them every year now, because it was lots of fun.

First, Katie and I spent yesterday afternoon making a cake for her first day of school. I told her she can't eat it until she gets off the bus and is an Official Kindergartener. Then we could eat a piece together, and she could tell me all about her first day. I told her we could share the cake with all the kids on the street too. I iced the cake after she was in bed last night, and put a big "K" on it, to represent Kindergarten. Here's a photo of her licking the beaters:

After Dan got home from work, we took Katie out for a special dinner date at Applebee's. We had a nice dinner, talking about school and telling Katie what we remembered about school when we were little. We talked about what she was looking forward to, and she admitted she was tired of talking about it and wanted to take a break. We tried to find other topics, but it came back to school anyway. We had a nice dinner and promised her that we would do this every year before school starts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Thoughts at the Bottom of a Beanstalk

You know those big goodbyes that I wrote about before? Tomorrow morning, I'm going to be having one. Dear God: please keep her safe and secure, and healthy and happy. And please help me keep it together - at least until the bus is out of sight!

The following story was in the packet of information that was sent home from Katie's teacher for the start of school. I read it tonight in preparation for tomorrow's big day, and (of course) it tore me up!

Thoughts at the Bottom of a Beanstalk
Once upon a time there was a little boy named Jack who was about to climb his very first beanstalk. He had a fresh haircut and a brand-new book bag. Even though his friends in the neighborhood had climbed this same beanstalk almost every day last year, this was Jack's first day and he was a little nervous. So was his mother.

Early in the morning she brought him to the foot of the beanstalk. She talked encouragingly to Jack about all the fun he would have that day and how nice his giant would be. She reassured him that she would be back to pick him up at the end of the day. For a moment they stood together, silently holding hands, gazing up at the beanstalk. To Jack it seemed much bigger than it had when his mother had pointed it out on the way to the store last week. His mother thought it looked big, too. She swallowed. Maybe she should have held Jack out a year... Jack's mother straightened his shirt one last time, patted his shoulder and smiled down at him.

She promised to stay and wave while he started climbing. Jack didn't say a word. He walked forward, grabbed a low-growing stem and slowly pulled himself up to the first leaf. He balanced there for a moment and then climbed more eagerly to the second leaf, then to the third and soon he had vanished into a high tangle of leaves and stems with never a backward glance at his mother. She stood alone at the bottom of the beanstalk, gazing up at the spot where Jack had disappeared. There was no rustle, no movement, no sound to indicate that he was anywhere inside. "Sometimes," she thought, "it's harder to be the one who waves good-bye than it is to be the one who climbs the beanstalk."

She wondered how Jack would do. Would he miss her? How would he behave? Did his giant understand that little boys sometimes acted silly when they felt unsure? She fought down an urge to spring up the stalk after Jack and maybe duck behind a bean to take a peek at how he was doing. "I'd better not. What if he saw me?" She knew Jack was really old enough to handle this on his own. She reminded herself that, after all this was thought to be an excellent beanstalk and that everyone said his giant was not only kind but had outstanding qualifications.

"It's not so much that I'm worried about him," she thought, rubbing the back of her neck. "It's just that he's growing up and I'm going to miss him." Jack's mother turned to leave. "Jack's going to have lots of bigger beanstalks to climb in his life," she told herself. "Today's the day he starts practicing for them... And today's the day I start practicing something too: cheering him on and waving good-bye."

T-Shirt Shrink Down

I have been saving this shirt for a while. I got it in Virginia when I was visiting family years ago. I really like it, but it was way too big and boxy. Don't you agree? Here's the before shot:
I wanted to cut it down and make it a tighter fit and a little more figure-flattering. So I Googled ways to re-vamp shirts, and found some cool links. I practiced on other shirts first, and even tried some designs with lace-up sides and v-necks. Pretty cool. But I decided on a tutorial I saw on YouTube that's also here on the Bernina "Sewing Republic" website. And here's the final product! I love the results. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Meet the Teacher Night

Katie's school had their Open House tonight, for the official "Meet the Teacher" night. We actually met her teacher yesterday when we stopped by to get her student ID number. I didn't blog about it because I thought I'd spare you the stalker details, and I'd just wait 'til tonight to post about the Open House too.

I know, it feels like I've been stalking the school. Last week, we went by to get the bus route and it wasn't posted yet. So we went again on another day, and got the bus route and also got to see Katie's room - but no teacher. Yesterday, we hit the jackpot and got to meet the teacher and see the almost-completed room. So tonight it was more a chance to chat a little with the teacher and drop off supplies and see some of the other kids and parents.

Katie's room is so colorful and inviting. She and Daddy enjoyed the reading corner, and she liked finding her cubby and her name. I am a little wanna-be teacher myself (just ask all my past Parent Educators), so I was coveting some of the teaching tools in the classroom - all the wall pocket organizers and bins with labels and fun learning tools. Yum, yum!

Katie's teacher is young and seems very nice and energetic. This is her second year of teaching, but only her first year at Katie's school. Poor woman - she got me as one of the parents who is going to break her in. {Mwwahh ha! Evil laugh.}

I am much more excited about Katie starting school now. She really needs the structure and stimulation. I can tell she's getting a bit bored with me at home, and I don't have the energy anymore to engage her in activity every moment of the day! (Especially since she started taking official naps at the beginning of June. Now I allow her to have quiet time on the couch, outside of her room.)

Of course, I'm still going to have a crying fit after she gets on the bus Thursday morning. And I know tomorrow I'll be trying to squeeze every moment of meaning out of our "last" day together. Oh, I'll be so glad when Friday rolls around and all this emotional upheaval is out of the way!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My Brother

On Friday, I was putting the kids' savings bonds into our fireproof safe and came across some letters and mementos that I saved from my brother, Jackson. I started to glance through everything, and was overwhelmed again with how much I miss him.

Jackson died October 26, 1996. That was almost 12 years ago. To think that 12 years has passed without him in my life is shocking and makes my heart skip a beat.

I have to tell you about him. He was the middle child. Mary is eight years older than me and Jackson was four years older. I'm the baby. Mary and I always agreed that Jackson was the favorite. He got more privileges (later curfews) and was revered in our household. It didn't help that he was a good-looking, testosterone -driven all-American boy. He excelled at almost everything he tried: football, wrestling, girls. He was popular in high school, and I grew up hearing, "Oh! You're Jackson Steele's sister?" (Like he was the Holy Grail!) I had friends in middle school who came over to my house just to hang out and catch a glimpse of my brother. Sometimes that was hard to deal with (who wants to live in someone else's shadow?) and sometimes I used it to my advantage.

I saw the attention and praise my parents lavished on Jackson, and I guess I wanted some of that too. So I made it my goal to outdo him as much as I could. I took four years of Latin in high school (just like Jackson), and tried to excel in areas he couldn't (like running for student council). One of my goals in graduating high school was to have a higher GPA than he did. I failed: he had a 3.67 and mine was 3.62. (Yes, I still remember!) I did trump him in one aspect, though - I graduated college in three years. It took him FOUR. Ha! The funny thing is that he went to West Point, (like I could compete with that!) and they don't let you graduate in less than four years.

Jackson graduated West Point and was commissioned into the Army as a 2nd Lieutenant. He was stationed at Ft. Bragg, NC and accomplished a whole new set of goals: he became a Sapper, Jumpmaster and a Ranger. Pretty cool. In August 1995, Jackson was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma. It's a cancer that is more commonly found in children, and it is usually incurable. But in typical Jackson style, he refused to admit that it would kill him. He decided to take a positive mental attitude, and decided that he'd beat it. And, after all, once Jackson decided to accomplish something, it was usually a foregone conclusion that it would happen. He was just that type of guy.

Jackson went through chemo and radiation, and lost tons of weight and looked even worse than he did when he graduated Ranger school. I remember him visiting me after he first started chemo, when I met his girlfriend for the first time. He slept in my bed, and after he left there was all this hair stuck to my sheets. I felt awful for him. Here's this pretty handsome guy who was losing all of his looks. It must have been pretty discouraging for him. But, no, he made jokes about it. I have a photo of the two of us after he was first diagnosed. He's standing there looking at the camera, and smirking because he's pulled up the hem of his shorts to show his catheter bag. Ugh!

Jackson's life changed (of course) when he was diagnosed. He proposed to his girlfriend Bonnie at Thanksgiving, then they eloped just four days before my wedding. They didn't tell anyone because they said they eloped only for legal purposes, so she could make medical decisions for him and could get military benefits. They were still planning the big white wedding for November 1996. No, he didn't make it that long.

Jackson had been getting weaker and weaker throughout 1996. At the beginning of that October, he had been in the hospital and was admitted to hospice. He spent the last two weeks of his life pretty much in and out of consciousness. That's when we found out about the secret marriage, and that's when Bonnie had to finally cancel the wedding plans. Jackson died two weeks before their church wedding.

I remember getting the call from Bonnie, telling me Jackson had died. It was a Saturday morning, and I was just getting ready to shower so I could go to work (I was working weekends in TV news). The phone rang, and I answered and heard crying and the words, "He's gone." I crumpled to the ground and started sobbing. Oh, God. Tears sting my eyes now to recall it.

My entire life changed when my brother died. I think I had convinced myself that he wasn't going to die. Even the night before when Mary called and told me to get down to Georgia to see him, I wasn't totally convinced. What was I thinking? Ugh! I guess I just put too much faith in Jackson's power to overcome obstacles. His death taught me that life doesn't go as planned. One day can change it all.

So... back to the present. I came across his letters in my fireproof box, and started crying as I read them. I spent so many years of my life wanting to be noticed by Jackson. Almost as if I were one of those middle school friends who hung around hoping to be talked to by Jackson Steele. And now that time has given me 20/20 vision, I read those letters and realized something I don't think I ever realized before: he loved me. He loved me. Those letters he sent me from college and afterwards show him picking on me, only because that's what he knew how to do best. But the letters also show him letting down his guard a few times, and handing me a little bit of tenderness too. This was a guy who tried to be tough all the time, but also wrote poetry on the side.

I've always felt there was so much I left unsaid to Jackson before he died. I never told him how much I worshipped, loved and respected him. I think he knew - but there's a difference between thinking someone knows something and knowing they know because you said it. I've tried not to make that same mistake again with people I love. I got a second and a third reminder with Mom and Dad's deaths.

Those letters reminded me again how much I miss him. After 11 years, the pain has dulled and I usually only think of Jackson in nostalgic ways. But reading those letters reminded me how much I lost when he died. I lost my brother, and also all the things we had to look forward to as we matured into adult siblings (who don't beat each other up) and had babies and shared stories about the old days. Like Kenny Chesney sings, "Sometimes I wonder who you'd be today."

Now does it make sense why Dan and I named our son after my brother? Our little Jackson has big shoes to fill, although I don't expect him to be anything like my brother. I just hope to keep the memory alive.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Craft Projects

I haven't had much time to craft the last month or two, and I really miss it. I love getting in the zone and letting my creativity flow. It helps me manage stress and uplifts my spirits. It keeps my hands occupied and my brain focused on positive things, and I like the challenge of seeing a cool craft and figuring out how to do it on my own.

Sometimes it's like an obsession for me. I'll be mulling over a project for a while in my head, and then finally just have a compulsion to complete it. And until the job is done, I find that I can't focus on anything else. I think one reason I haven't crafted much in the last month or two is because some of my desire for creativity has been satiated through my blog. Writing is also a creative process for me, and I am anchored by that some days. Besides, we've had visitors in and out of the house for a while now and I haven't been able to make a crafting mess!

Yesterday, I had a big burst of energy and got some projects done. Nothing major, and not too time consuming. I did all these projects during naptime, or when my wonderful neighbors let me sit on their couch while Jackson and Katie played at their house. Here's what I did.

[Spoiler alert for Kerry. Stop reading if you still want to be surprised!] First, I made two shirts for some of Katie's friends' birthday parties. It's kind of my "signature" gift (to borrow a line from Steel Magnolias), and I make them for almost every party Katie is invited to now. The shirt has the child's age on it, and also some sort of design they might like. I put the child's name or initials on the sleeve cuff, and then sign my initials on the bottom of the shirt. Here are the two I made yesterday. The snake one is for Katie's friend who is turning six. I'm nervous that it doesn't look like a snake, nor like the number six.

I also made a new book for Katie. When we were at the City Museum last week, I saw a homemade book made out of a fabric sample book. So I went to Leftovers and got a fabric sample book too. (Sidebar: Leftovers is an awesome store in town full of what looks like junk, but it has great raw material for crafting. I can get empty yogurt containers or egg cartons or Pringles cans, or things like fabric and ribbon and carpet remnants. Every time I go, my list of crafts to make almost doubles!) I asked Katie what sort of photo scrapbook she'd like to make with the fabric sample book, and she decided to make a scrapbook about her trip to Six Flags. She picked the photos she wanted to use, and I printed them at Wal-Mart. Then all I did was staple the photos to the fabric inside the book and put a label on the front. The cool thing is the staples can be removed down the road, and I can re-use the book for another subject. I also like that the book has a handle for hanging, and it has a pocket in the back where I put a copy of the Six Flags map for Katie to refer back to.

I also made another book yesterday! This one is for Jackson. I ordered these blank board books from Oriental Trading Company, and was trying to decide what to make with them. I decided to stop pondering and just make it. I took photos of Jackson with some of his favorite things (although I forgot to add rocks as a fave thing!), and cropped them on the computer and placed the name of the item over the photo and printed them out in Word. It was very easy. Once printed, I cut them out and just glued them into the book. I'm really happy with the way it turned out. Now I'm just wondering if I should cover the pages to protect them, or if that will be too bulky and cause the book to be unable to close. Hmmm...

I had one last creative spurt recently, although it wasn't yesterday. I made Jackson's First Words book. This was the easiest of all! Again, I just took photos of the items that he's saying, and printed them. The easy part is I just slipped them into a mini photo album, and now the pages are all protected. The big key to this is remembering to write somewhere on each page the age at which Jackson said that word, so it'll become a keepsake for me one day.

Now that I've got my creativity flowing, the problem is stopping it because of time constraints! There are so many other ideas running through my brain, and I can't wait to get to them. I want to make some hooded towels, a towel cape, drink umbrellas, tablecloth pillows, blank peek-a-boo board books... a long list is forming in my head! Stay posted and maybe I'll show them when I get around to it!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What I Love About My Town

This sounds like a dorky thing to write. It almost sounds like the title of a children's book. But I was thinking today about the great area I live in. I think we lucked out when we decided to move to St. Peters.

We live in a great school district. I don't actually have lots of experience with the actual schools yet, but I have been very involved in our district's Parents As Teachers program. I know our school district also has some excellent preschools.

I love that my town has a great trash service. Yes, seriously - that's something I appreciate! We have a recycling program where they give us the free blue bags for sorting trash. And we can even go tour Recycle City, to see what happens to our trash. That may not sound too enthralling, but I love learning about stuff like that.

I love that St. Peters in specific - and St. Louis in general - has so much free stuff for us to enjoy. You've already heard me rave about the zoo, but we also have a free Science Center and lots of other free stuff. Heck, even the Anheuser-Busch brewery has a free tour with free beer! (Which I already wrote about, right?)

We have a GREAT park system, and some cool pools in our area with lots of the aquatic-center-type stuff that has slides and kiddie areas.

We also have a great library system in St. Charles County. There are so many free programs to encourage kids to read, plus events like concerts and crafts and kid movies.

We moved here from Kansas City. It was a pretty traumatic move for me, since I always planned to go back home to Georgia. I had to adjust to a new reality, and the end of a specific dream. We made the decision to move to St. Louis instead of Atlanta because this would be the best place to raise our kids - not geographically, but because Dan's family is in St. Louis and everyone is still alive and married and talking to each other. My family was a bit more broken apart by then. So it was St. Louis. And when it came time to look for a house, we chose St. Peters mainly because it was what we could afford. Like I said, it was a hard transition and took me a few years to feel comfortable here. Now, I am 99% ready to call it home. (I think Marietta, GA will always be my true home, though.) I think having so many amenities, great friends, and a great town to live in have made it much easier for me to settle in. And that's why I think we lucked out - we have a great place to raise our kids, and all of these things have made it easier for me to be a stay-at-home mom.

So, yes, I am a dork... and I admit I love my town. {Can you see my cheesy grin?!}

Summer Fun

I think the kids have had lots of fun the past few days.

On Saturday, Dan took us on a surprise trip. First, we got KFC and then he drove us to a new playground where we picnicked and then let the kids play. The playground is one of the Corporate Picnic sites in Creve Couer Park. It was AWESOME. There was even a water feature. Since it was all a surprise I didn't have swimsuits, but decided to strip the kids down (J in his diaper and K in her shorts) and let them have at it. It was a fun, spontaneous family trip. Afterwards, Katie and I dropped the boys at home and went to see Wall-E. Katie and I both really liked the movie. It was pretty cute. And it had a good message, although some people I know might disagree with the "we have too much trash and are destroying our planet" message. (But I won't name names.)

On Tuesday, we had playgroup at our house. I did our annual Messy Play with the kids. They got to squish and throw and eat yogurt, icing, pudding, whipped cream, and shaving cream (of course they didn't eat that, though). I love the photos we get each time we do Messy Play. And I'm sure the ants and bugs around our house love the nice feast we leave for them after hosing everything down.

The fun continued on Wednesday. I took Jackson to Parents' Day Out, and Beth dropped off her youngest too. We met another friend from my mom's club and took all the big kids to Six Flags for the day. It was a blast. I really had a great time, and enjoyed watching Katie have fun with her friends. I think the highlight of the day (for me) was the bumper cars. I laughed lots during that. Katie's favorite part was riding Shazam, a scrambler-type ride. It was her favorite last year, too.

This morning, it was back to the real world. I started the official prepping for school, and woke Katie at 6:45, which is probably when I'll have to wake her to get ready for school. She entertained Jackson in his crib while I showered (I'll miss that!) and we went to a library concert. After lunch and on the way home, we stopped by her school to find out her bus route. Her classroom was open (but no teacher), so we got to check it out for a few minutes. It looks so colorful and inviting, and really got me excited for her. She is going to have a great time!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

School Shopping

I took Katie school shopping tonight. What a madhouse! So many parents and kids crowded into the aisles at Wal-Mart, lists in hand and focused on all the Goodies. (I call them Goodies because I have an affinity for school and office supplies. Seriously. I *love* to shop for new pens and paper and notebooks and all those Goodies.) I would have just done it by myself at 10pm one night to avoid the rush, but I know it's a necessary tradition. Besides, I wanted her to pick out her own colors and designs, and involve her in the excitement.

Nine days until school starts for Katie - technically only eight since today is almost over. Have I mentioned how emotional I'm becoming? I am so sad about it! It's almost like I need to do some grieving for the little baby who's gone, and then I'll be ready to welcome (with joy!) the amazing little girl who's taken her place.

I think I've been in denial for a few weeks. I kept saying things to myself like, "Oh, what's the rush? I have weeks until I have to worry about school supplies and getting into the routine and waking Katie early." Then this week, I realized that I don't have weeks left - only one week. And because of that finish line (or starting line - whichever way you want to look at it) looming next week, I can tell that I'm a little more on edge and much more emotional lately. I'm short-tempered then ready to cry then exhausted then frantic at all I need to get done around the house (housework in general, and school prep in specific).

I think it's a control thing. I have big fears about not being in control of Katie's life anymore: not controlling her friends and the things other kids will be teaching her and the things she'll be learning and eating and doing. Sounds silly, I know. But it's times like these that I am reminded what a complete control freak I am.

In my calmer moments of parenting the last five years, I have always told myself that my goal is to work myself out of a job. It is my job as a parent to raise my kids to not need me one day. (But I hope they still want me!) So why would I be dreading the start of Kindergarten? Maybe I should look at this milestone with pride that Katie is ready to spread her wings. I know, without a doubt, that she will be utterly amazing and she will fly so high.

Yes, I am excited to see her fly. I know she's not leaving the nest for good, but I also know that her first day of school will one day end with her last, albeit 13 years down the road. And it's the knowing what's at the end that is making the beginning so bittersweet.

Oh, this is going to be an emotional next eight days!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Good Friends

Today I was making labels for a new clothes sorter in Katie's room. Actually, it's not a "new" sorter, but it's new to us. I was talking to my friend about wanting to buy a day-of-the-week clothes hamper/sorter for Katie so when she starts school she can have her clothes already laid out each week. My friend mentioned she had something just like that at home and she wasn't using it. She offered to give it to me. I said yes, of course! It's been in Katie's closet and I bought a few extra baskets for it today, and made labels for each day of the week.

The thought hit me that I am so lucky to have the great friends I have. They are generous people, who give of what they have to help me fulfill my needs.

My neighbor has given us her daughter's entire wardrobe for the past four years. I mean everything: Christmas and Easter dresses, swimsuits, shorts, coats, tank tops, tights, winter boots, dress shoes, etc. I literally have not had to spend more than probably $150 or $200 total on clothes for Katie since then.

Another friend has done the same thing for Jackson. She has given us all of her two sons' clothes, which spans all four seasons (since they were born in opposite times of the year). I have cute sweater vests and Oxfords and Robeez and dozens of hats and probaly 75 bibs, along with all the wardrobe staples. She also passes along the toys her boys have outgrown, and other odds and ends like baby DVDs.

After I had Jackson, other friends passed me their extra baby food and formula and even nursing bra pads that they never used. I got bottles and another breast pump and cups and bowls.

Before I quit work, one friend and coworker had a bunch of books that her kids had outgrown. She gave those to Katie, and we now have entire bookshelves stocked with books on all three levels of our house. My basement also has a Little Tikes toy kitchen and beauty shop that my former neighbors gave us before they moved. We inherited their learning games and activity kits, which Katie is just now growing in to.

I'm a lucky mom, and my kids are lucky to have so many others looking out for them. Thanks to all of you who help me cut corners, make ends meet (how could I afford all those toys and clothes and books on one income?!), and lavish my kids with love. Thanks for being my friends!

City Museum

The City Museum is in downtown St. Louis. I'd only been there once before on a mini tour when the big museum was closed. The cost always seemed so high to me ($12 a person), so I didn't think taking Katie down there would be worth it. But, oh wow!

After taking everyone there last week, I realized it is totally worth it. I would recommend it to older kids (probably four and above) and at least two adults. One adult needs to climb with the child, and the other adult can meet the child at the end of the slide/ladder/treehouse/rebar tunnel/whatever crazy climbing thing you're in. It's really not for little kids, and definitely not stroller-friendly. It's not for wary kids, either. Your kid needs to be pretty adventurous to want to climb through all the nooks and crannies, and into some dark tunnels. Here are some photos. The first is the outside view of the City Museum. Do you see the bus on the roof? This photo doesn't do justice to all the crazy outdoor rebar tunnels - there are so many intricate slides and treehousey places and tunnels and hanging obstacle courses.

Here's another photo from outside the museum. You can see Wally and Dan walking on the bridge.

Inside the museum, it is a Type A person's dream (or OCD nightmare). There are so many repeating patterns that my brain almost shut down in order to process it all. Everything seems to be made from recycled parts: walls made out of empty soda bottles or chafing dish pans, banisters made from conveyor belt rollers, handrails made from rebar and bolts and railroad spikes, columns studded with old gears and marbles, and plenty of mosaics. Everywhere you turn, there is some new path or tunnel to explore. There is a shoelace machine, an indoor train, a major aquarium, a circus school, a glass blowing studio, a kids' craft wing, a three-story slide, and even a room to sit and cut intricate snowflakes (I cut a butterfly snowflake), and make rag dolls.

There's also this room on the third floor (I think) that looks like a skateboarding park. It's got those big loops and ramps, but you don't skateboard. The kids slide on their bottoms and climb up on concrete walls and roll down into big concave "bowls" that are 30 feet wide. Here's a photo of Katie and Peyton laying in one.

There's a random mirror tunnel that's set off to the side. Cool photo of Hannah, huh? There's also an exhibit showing architecture salvaged from buildings -beautiful architecture! (Talk about the repeating patterns!)

There are so many random little displays and tunnels and places to get lost. It seems overwhelming and scatter-brained, but also so creatively flowing at the same time.

Outside, there is an outdoor ball pit with HUGE balls - like the ones you use to play kick ball. And one of the coolest (and scariest!) things is this rebar tunnel suspended in midair by a chain. Here's a photo of Katie, Peyton, Hannah, Wally & Dan crawling through it. I tried not to have a heart attack while watching!

I could go on and on about the awesome nooks and crannies inside (and outside) the City Museum. But I'll stop now, and just tell you to go visit in person. It was one of the coolest things I've done with my family in a LONG time, and I can't wait to go back. I'd even love to just go alone and take photos of all the textures and patterns and great recycling ideas.

One more note: today's issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had an article about the City Museum and its creator. Seems there are some more additions on the way. I can't wait to see it! The article also did put a little bit of fear in my mind. The creator seems to dislike getting building permits from the city. He likes to just create and build and then ask for forgiveness. Makes me worry about safety a bit.
Anyway, if you've been to the City Museum, leave me a comment to let me know your favorite part.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I know people don't like goodbyes, especially the big ones (not the daily, leaving-for-work, see-you-later ones). Why would you? You're saying goodbye to someone, entrusting their care to God, and not knowing exactly when you might see them again.

Every time I say goodbye to my extended family, I flashback to the last time I saw my brother. It was September 26, 1996. I had no idea it would be the Last Time. I said goodbye to him at the hospital, as his wife was loading him in the car to drive him to a radiation appointment. I hugged him and said I'd see him again in about six weeks for his wedding. (Sidebar: they had already eloped and not told anyone, and were planning the big white wedding still.) He got in his car, I got in mine, and we drove off down the road. I stopped for gas and they continued on past me, and I can still see his head silhouetted in the sun, with all the downy chemo hair sprouting on it. I remember it so well because I thought to myself that this could be the last time, but I was sure it wasn't. Exactly one month later, I got the phone call that he was gone. And, no, I wasn't there when he died. One of the great regrets of my life.

Now when I have one of those big goodbyes (usually not the daily kind), I always watch the person until they are out of eyesight, and I say a prayer over them. I watch them walk or drive away, and the moment is seared into my memory until the next time I see them. And ever since losing three-fourths of my family (Jackson, Mom, Dad), the person I do this most with is my sister. I have lots of goodbye moments seared into my brain from various airports in North Carolina, Germany, and Virginia. Because what if I lost my last one-fourth? Untethered is the word that keeps coming to mind.

And I never know when it's a Last Goodbye or just a regular goodbye. I know, I know... I could drive myself crazy with this. (I'm sure my sister is reading this and thinking I'm being melodramatic.)

Saying goodbye always makes me cry. That fear of loss that I keep at bay most of the time breaks loose and I start to cry. This morning when I said goodbye to my family, I cried as usual. Mary told me to stop crying, and cracked some joke so I would. My niece Hannah just stood there awkwardly, and Peyton made an "X" with her fingers and then drew imaginary tears down her face to tell me to stop crying as she was getting in the car.

My nieces don't get this, and I pray they never do.

All's Well

After about 48 hours of at least someone in the house puking, we made it through the stomach bug. Thank God. I never got it badly, but did feel a bit *ugh* sometimes. Dan and Wally avoided it too. But Mary ended up getting it, along with the girls. Jackson stayed at Grandma's for a second day, which we had already planned before the stomach bug hit.

So we hit the streets of St. Louis to do some sightseeing on Tuesday. Lunch first on The Hill, at Rigazzi's. Then we went to the City Museum. OH MY GOSH. This is officially my favorite place in St. Louis (including the outlying suburbs). I think I'm going to have to give the City Museum its very own post on my blog. Check back later for more. [Edit: here's the link to what I finally got around to writing. LOVE the City Museum!]

After the City Museum, we went to the Arch. We watched the Mississippi River overflowing its banks, then rode up to the top of the Arch. Katie had never been there, and neither had Wally. I think they both enjoyed their first trip. Katie was pretty good at waiting patiently in all the lines, and she liked looking down from inside the top of the Arch.

The evening was spent at the Cardinals game, in the nosebleed section of the new Busch Stadium. It was Katie's first game at the new stadium, plus her first taste of cotton candy (she loved both). We hadn't eaten much through the day, so dinner was ballpark food and beer. That hit my stomach like a rock, along with the lack of sleep and a tiring day. Around the 5th inning, I started feeling icky. Hannah started feeling bad again too, so we left in the 8th inning. On the way home, Hannah got sick again. I felt so awful for her! We got home and straight to bed for some much-needed rest.

We were supposed to pick Jackson up Wednesday morning, but I was a little nervous since Hannah had been sick again just 10 hours earlier. Grandma offered to keep Jackson for another day, but I missed him and felt guilty leavning him there. I agreed to pick him up the afternoon. Dan was working, so the rest of us decided to tour the Anheuser-Busch brewery. Did you know it's a FREE tour, with FREE beer at the end? Jackpot!!! Of course, Katie didn't get much out of it, besides enjoying the Clydesdales and the sleeping dalmatian. But she did enjoy using her new camera!

Wednesday was also Wally's birthday. After picking up Jackson at Grandma and Poppy's, we went out to dinner at Kitaro. It's a Japanese restaurant with sushi (Wally's fave). It was a good dinner, but I was a little distracted trying to keep Jackson and Katie occupied with food (for the former) and markers (for the latter).

After cake and presents when we got home, the girls worked on their Cousins Shirts. They did a pretty good job! I wrote COUSINS on each shirt, and they decorated them with permanent markers. They all drew the Arch, and other reminders of their visit to St. Louis. (Minus the barf, of course - who wants a souvenir of that?!)

This morning, they all hit the road and headed home to North Carolina. As we hugged goodbye, I cried - of course. I have this thing about goodbyes. Guess I'll have to blog about that later too.

Now I miss them. We really had a great visit, even with all the puking. Not that I enjoyed that by any stretch of the imagination... but we did have lots of down time with each other. And we crammed in lots of fun the rest of the time. Plus we wore Red Box out with all the movies we rented (The Bucket List, Definitely Maybe, National Treasure, Charlie Wilson's War). And... there's always the magazines. Now I have months' worth of reading material to keep me busy so I don't think about missing them. I might need some subscriptions...


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