A very wise child

The whole family piled in the car last weekend to head down to see family for Christmas. Brian spent a bit of time trying to find out from me what his Christmas present was, while Helen sat in the backseat drinking some juice and looking out the window. Then Brian asked me if I got him a new videogame. Since his usual M.O. with a new videogame is to occupy the sofa for 2 weeks while perfecting it, I responded as any loving wife would.

Jennie: Do you think I'm stupid?

Helen: (from backseat) You're not stupid, Mommy!

Brian: Helen, I think Mommy was actually calling Daddy stupid.

Helen: Oh. Okay!

Jennie: (laughs hysterically)

Brian: (clenches jaw)


Future Superstar

Helen sings A LOT. Usually on demand, too. The important part is, I've got some video proof of it, finally.

"Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"


"Itsy Bitsy Spider"

Each video is about 30 seconds long. Enjoy.


Moments of Clarity

One morning this week, Helen woke up crying. I ran upstairs to see what was wrong, and she was lying frozen on her bed. When I asked what was wrong, the tears came pouring out, and she told me that her neck hurt. My first worry was "Does her head hurt, too? Does she have a fever?" Because moms tend to panic about the worst-case scenarios first: meningitis, paralyzed, you'll shoot your eye out, etc.

Turns out Helen had a pretty bad crick in her neck. She's been sleeping in her big bed for nearly a month, after a short transisition period in a toddler bed, and what I've discovered is that after I tuck her in and close the door, she gets out of bed, turns on the light and piles up her bed with stuffed animals and books. Lots and lots of books. If she wakes up, she sits in bed and reads books.

That night, she must have had so much stuff piled on the bed that she ended up sleeping in an awkward position, and so her neck was in pretty bad shape. She cried so hard whenever I tried to move her, and she absolutely refused to take a shower or a bath to warm it up. So I ended up giving her a little ibuprofen and sitting with her until she finally moved around. That took a couple of hours. The entire time was a struggle - she was in pain, and not understanding why, she was really cranky about it. Everything was a battle that ended in tears, including getting her dressed to go to daycare. At times it was just a marvel to watch her fall apart so easily. It's truly a crisis, when the world conspires against you in EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER WANTED.

I felt bad about taking her to school in that condition, but I had to make an appearance at work. The teachers were very understanding, and I hoped that a little bit of time playing with friends would make her feel better. I called to check on her that afternoon and the report was that everything seemed fine. Or so I thought.

I got back to the daycare that afternoon, and the director walked with me on the way to her classroom. Without even asking, he said to me, "Today, you know, there were moments of clarity, when Helen really got it and she could hold it all together. And then, sometimes, it was just one giant meltdown."

My shoulders slumped. I could see the entire evening stretched out ahead of me, just like the morning had gone. And once I was home that night, I wasn't too far off the mark, either.

The next morning, she woke up and told me very brightly, "My neck not hurting, Mommy!" Ah, thank you sweet Jesus.

But I haven't forgotten the director's comment all week, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that's a very good description of motherhood, too.


Family News

My husband Brian has a large extended family. His mother has five brothers and sisters, all of whom are married with children of their own. I've loved being a part of their family, spending special holidays and events with them. Most of them made the long journey to our wedding, which touched me deeply. When I cooked Thanksgiving for the first time, stressed by having a newborn, a dozen dinner guests and a dressing recipe that just wouldn't work, they were all there to pitch in, making appreciative noises over every detail. They are good people to have in your corner, and I'm thrilled to pieces to know them all.

About 2 years ago, one of Brian's cousins, a lovely girl named Amanda, married a handsome and polite young man who also happened to be named Brian. Although I had met Amanda at another family gathering, we met then-fiance Brian at our own wedding. I will never forget that Brian is the reason we have our entire set of steak knives. I heard through the grapevine that he encouraged that purchase after seeing our registry. I knew right then & there he was a keeper!

The next year, Brian & I made the trip with a very new Helen to see them get married. What a gorgeous ceremony! We had plenty of volunteers to take care of Helen, so we got to enjoy the reception, too.

Her Brian had recently been complaining of stomach pain, and learned last month after several doctor visits and tests that he has advanced Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. In someone that young, it's obviously devastating news. I cannot imagine facing this kind of event so early in my own marriage, and I pray each day that they are given the strength to handle this journey.

Brian has been admitted for treatment to one of the foremost cancer centers in the country, and Amanda started a blog to update family and friends about his treatment. As it is with anyone's life story - sometimes days are good, sometimes days are harder. But my hard days now pale in comparison.

I invite you to vist her blog and check on their progress. Bookmark it, check on them when you can, and send good vibes their way. I know they'll appreciate it.

Click here for Brian's Update.



This evening I called Brian on my way home from work and discovered that he had already picked up Helen from daycare, and was driving home with her. To understand this story, you may want to know that she often takes a stuffed animal to daycare with her, and that day she had a brown puppy dog.

Anyway, while I was on the phone with Brian, in the background I could hear her chanting.

Helen: Puppy driving!! Puppy driving!!

Brian (to me): Puppy's up front with me.

Jennie: A-ha.

Helen: Puppy driving!! Go puppy, go puppy, go puppy, go puppy ...

(Brian & I have a short conversation about possibilities for dinner that evening. We have this same conversation via cell phone every evening. In the background I can still hear Helen chanting.)

Helen: Go puppy, go puppy, go puppy, go puppy ...

Brian: Helen, we can't go any faster, sweetie. You don't want puppy to rear-end the car in front of us and cause his premiums do go up, do you?

Helen: (complete silence)

Brian (to me): Boy, I really got her there.

Jennie: Hahahahaha! Oh, that's totally going on the blog.

Helen: (still silent)

Brian: Helen, you'll get that joke when you're older and you wreck your daddy's car.

Jennie: And how!


A Quickie

Each morning, Helen arises to the sound of my shower turning on. She makes her way downstairs to our room, and brightly greets a still-sleeping Brian with the phrase, "I wanna watch ponbob, Daddy."

We have a handful of Spongebob Squarepants episodes on Tivo. Brian can push the following buttons in his sleep: TV Power, List, Select, Select. This makes the chipper morning version of Helen stop speaking for 11 minutes, which is Brian's main goal.

Meanwhile, I'm showering away. Sometimes Helen comes in to say good morning on the way to her Daddy's bedside, but for the most part, she's into a ponbob episode when I get out of the shower.

Yesterday I was back in the bedroom getting some clothes out of the dresser, and I see Spongebob on the screen, holding up a bank. From having heard bits and pieces of the same 5 episodes over the past several months, Spongebob is trying to get arrested so he can be thrown in jail, and thus help break a friend out of jail. For those of you not familiar with Spongebob Squarepants, he's a square sponge who lives in the ocean. He's also a major doofus. That sort of helps create the plotline in 99% of the episodes. Smurfs, it ain't.

Anyhoo, as I'm pulling clothes out of the dresser, I hear the following dialogue:

Spongebob Squarepants: "All right, gimme the money!!"

Bank Teller (snarkily): "Will that be from your savings or checking account, sir?"


Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

This past weekend, I took Helen to a birthday party for one of her classmates at daycare. Her parents meant well, but honestly, a 3-year old's birthday party is one of the most excruciating forms of torture known to man. It's a good thing the Taliban hasn't seen one of these celebrations. We wouldn't make it out alive, folks.

It was a Disney Princess Theme Party, and her older sister (15 years old) dressed up as Belle from Beauty & the Beast and put makeup on all the girls. "Belle" even sang a beautiful song from her soundtrack when the cake came out. It was a bit surreal. She did a great job, but it felt really awkward. Whatever happened to "Happy Birthday"?

By the way, good thing Brian didn't come to the party. I think he might not have approved of the makeup.

Aside from the parents who invited me and the birthday girl, I didn't know a soul there. They had invited a bunch of their friends and family and neighbors, so there were a bunch of adults and plenty of their kids running around.

The only truly awesome part of the party was the giant bouncy castle, appropriately decorated with the Disney princesses. At first, Helen seemed interested and dutifully climbed inside. With 2 other girls already jumping, however, it was a little too much for her and she panicked. She really wanted out. Since I had the camera ready to go, I got a picture before helping her out.

Later that afternoon, she realized how many kids were squealing with joy rather than in fear or pain, and she screwed up her courage to get inside. And then, I couldn't get her out of it. The sun had started to go down, and the air had turned a little chilly, and still she wanted to jump.

These days, it's rough on parents at these parties. We're expected to stay and enjoy ourselves, but there's not a single thing for us to do. At this age, we have to watch our kids, because other parents aren't allowed to. There was a giant bouncy castle outside, and an NFL game on in the house. I couldn't go inside to watch the game without leaving Helen with a yard full of strangers. Yet, I couldn't bring her inside because all the fun for her was in the yard. So I kept wandering around, making sure she wasn't getting into trouble, and standing on the fringes of the party, hoping I could join a conversation nearby. But since everyone was either related or knew each other, I was the odd one out. The hosts were nice, but they were busy making sure the party was running smoothly. So, while I watched Helen have a ball, the whole time all I wanted to do was go home.

Finally, after an eternity, they brought out cake and then opened presents. Two and a half hours after it started, the nerve-wracking torture was over. Oh, the things we endure for our kids. MATERNAL SACRIFICE, YO.


It's still way more than I could manage.

Last week Brian was feeling the need to combine a little activity with our coach-potato evening of watching TV. He's just started to work out in preparation for another Bataan Death March next year, so I can understand why he wanted to squeeze in a little exercise.

So he asked me how many push-ups I thought he could do. I ended up betting him that he couldn't do 200 push-ups in 15 minutes. He got down on the floor and proceeded to do push-ups.

(Ladies, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that the words "double dog dare" got him down the aisle.)

Brian did several sets in the allotted time, and kept track on a piece of paper as he finished each set. After he finished, he showed me his notes:

Set One: 50 (not too bad)
Set Two: 30 (little tougher)
Set Three: 20 (glad it wasn't 50)
Set Four: 20 (starting to burn)
Set Five: 20 (ma, ma!)
Set Six: 30 (why God, why?)
Set Seven: 20 (let me go change my undies)
Set Eight: 20 (ooooooo!)
Set Nine: 10 (no words)
Set Ten: 10 (just so you couldn't say I was cheating)

Total: 230 pushups

PS - Happy Birthday, Brian. You're still the man.



What a Treat

Halloween night was a lot of fun this year, mainly because I'm able to explain things to Helen ahead of time and she'll remember it later. I had taken some time last weekend to mention how Halloween worked, so Helen had been expecting to go trick or treating for a few days. She woke up that morning, very sleepy as I got her dressed, and mumbled, "wanna go twicker tweat."

That night I raced home from work and we got ready to have a little bit of company - the Amazing Babysitter and her Still-Smells-Like-New-Car-Husband were coming over to check out the festivities. They brought their two giant German shepherds, who were both wearing skunk costumes. ADORABLE.

I put Helen in her outfit - previously mentioned here as the Hello Kitty Butterfly costume - and then proceeded to get into my costume for the annual photo shoot.

Some of you may have caught the brief Wonder Woman rant last month. So it shouldn't come as too much of a shock to see me in the costume. What might be a little shocking is learning that costume is homemade. Everything except the boots and the lasso were put together with the assistance of my mother, a sewing machine, needle, thread, and serious ironing skills. Even my little sister got in a few stitches on the skirt. I found a lot of tips online from people who had made their own Wonder Woman costume, and was inspired to do it myself. Fortunately I was able to set aside some time on a couple of weekends to get supplies and had a very willing mother help to put it all together.

I am so proud of how the outfit turned out. I have pictures of the process, and I'll compose a post about later this month. But in the meantime, let's think about this: how many people my age can honestly say, "My mom helped me make my Halloween costume this year"? Raise your hands. Higher, folks. I need to get a good count here. Anyone?

Helen had a ball with the tour of the neighborhood this year. But it took 4 houses for her to actually speak up and say "Trick or Treat." Usually when I prompted her with, "Helen, what do you say?" she would respond with "Thank you!" And really, when an adult hands you a giant bowl of candy and lets you pick whatever you want, sometimes as many as FOUR pieces, you can't go wrong with a "Thank you."

Now, if she could just remember to grab the chocolate instead of the Root Beer Dum-Dums, her parents would be thrilled. Girlfriend LOADED UP on the lollipops this year. I don't know what it is about her and lollipops, but it's a little disturbing. Given a choice of anything on a stick and everything else with sugar in it, she goes for the stick every time. Here we have the post-Halloween wrap-up picture, where Helen has one lollipop in her mouth, and is trying to unwrap a second one. Life is tough.

She finally passed out around 9 pm, about an hour later than usual, after bouncing off every single wall in the house from all the sugar. Hope everyone had a great holiday, and that each of you got all the Dum-Dums you wanted, too.

Halloween Preview

I picked a famous person to imitate for Halloween. I think you can tell which one is me.


Opportunity of a Lifetime

This year Helen went back to the farm we visited last year. This time, she had a date. We took a friend from daycare, and they had a ball running around together.

You might recognize some of this stuff from the last post. But one of my proudest moments as a parent came when Helen cut in line on the slide. *sigh*

As I looked around me, there must have been over 300 people milling around with their children that Sunday afternoon. Picking out pumpkins, walking through the corn maze, or watching their children run around in a wide open space that's hard to find in their own neighborhood. At $5 a head, you can see where I'm going with this.

Next year, maybe people will pay to see the pumpkin patch in my backyard. I still have some small details to figure out, like how to fit a pumpkin patch on .17 acres of land, or how to grow the corn maze, or where to park 300 cars ... but I'm telling you, a farm is a gold mine in October. And I've got to cash in on Halloween myself, if only to pay for all the candy I'm giving away tonight.

Speaking of which, it's Pixie Stix and M&Ms. What were your favorite Halloween treats to get?


So you want to learn to golf ...

Last month Brian played in a charity golf tournament for a cause near & dear to his heart: a summer camp where he worked for several summers, and made friends that will last a lifetime. (Or until his liver gives out, I forget which it is.)

Anyway, a few weeks prior to the tournament, Brian started shopping thrift stores for the perfect pants to turn into the classic golf knickers. He even got some pants for the guys in his foursome. Then he got out a needle & thread to make the necessary hem. Boy, he was proud of that hem work. I think the zippers will fall out before the hems do.

He searched for sweater vests, and he also found a website that sells the entire outfit, including the all-important argyle socks. He snagged a deal on several pairs, and apparently their group was quite a hit for the traditional foursome pictures.

Our Navy friend W. came into town for the weekend to stay with us. I happened to be at home when they stumbled in after a long, hot day on the links. The sweater vests were gone, but I think the fashion statement still comes through, loud and clear.


Wonder Woman

Helen & I overdosed on episodes of Wonder Woman, Season 1 this week. Brian was watching the umpteenth football game of the week, and I couldn't take it anymore. So I said, "Helen, you want to watch Wonder Woman?" And she said, "Yeah! I don't wanna watch Cinderella, Mommy."

By the time the opening credits finished, she was HOOKED. Speaking of which, did anyone else remember the line from the theme song: "In your satin tights, fighting for your rights"? Yeah, me neither.

We made it through two episodes. Whenever Lynda Carter wasn't in her costume, she would ask me, "Where's Wonder Woman?" And I would say, "She'll be right back!"

I was 4 years old when this show first aired. Who were your heroes at the tender age of 4? I was addicted to the idea of being Wonder Woman. Of course, I was mesmerized by the dizzying magic of spinning into a new superhero outfit. God knows I used up all of the aluminum foil in the house making my own bracelets, spinning out on the front lawn. I even rode home on the school bus with paper bracelets taped on my wrists, and tiny stars drawn on them.

If only the awful acting and fake German accents weren't so painful to watch, I would have sat through the whole season. I have to say THANK YOU to my parents for enduring that. Back when that show was on the air, you guys must have been cringing the entire hour, and dreading the next week.

Either that, or Mom cringed while Dad said, "Where's Wonder Woman?"

But it suddenly clicked with me last night - even worse than all the bad acting was the horrifying message. Sample scene - an average of 3 times per episode - Wonder Woman rushes in to rescue Major Steve Trevor, who's under fire from the enemy, and as she races in, he smiles and asks, "Can you cook, too?" And she smiles back at him!

What a patronizing load of horse crap! I can't believe an Amazonian woman let him get away with that, and kept rescuing his sorry butt over & over again, even if the 1940's war-era "let the men do all the hard work" propaganda machine was in full swing. It was 1976 in Hollywood, for cry-eye! I realize Wonder Woman is all about woman power, and I'm only on episode 3, but good grief. Weren't ERA and NOW all the rage? Of course, it didn't help to have a former beauty queen running around in a bathing suit on national television as a symbol of all-feminine power, but it's such a missed opportunity to do something better.

Maybe I need to read the comic book and see where all of this came from, and do some research on how it translated to 1970's television. I realize I went on a bit of a rant here, but what I really meant to do was thank my family for putting up with this terrible excuse for an hour-long show. Really. Even if it was 1976, and the alternative was Fantasy Island or Love Boat. You guys, my parents deserve medals.


When Did She Learn That?

Today I brought Helen home from daycare, and we went outside to play. After running around with the lawn mower, she hopped up on the swing with me and performed all of her new tricks.

She can sing the entire alphabet without any help.

She can count to ten without any help.

She can sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, skipping only one line and putting up her hands to show the diamond in the sky.

I knew I was paying that daycare a lot of money, and today, it was worth every single penny. Sometimes I feel so inadequate as a parent, not knowing how to teach her anything, except to repeat it over and over again, sometimes louder. And now she is telling me that she can do it. Message received, loud and clear.

This must be the rewarding part of parenting. I thought it was when she picks out a good nursing home for me.


In your FACE

This evening, we had company over to watch the Monday Night Football game. Since most of the real estate on the furniture was taken, Brian hauled out one of the fold-up chairs we have stored in a closet, and set it up in a prime viewing location.

Helen immediately decided she wanted to sit in that chair. And not in his lap, either - she wanted the CHAIR. Brian was unwilling to give it up and eventually she abandoned that mission.

Or, so he thought.

About 5 minutes later, Helen found a "hairbow" and insisted that her daddy put it in her hair. Not only that, but she planted herself on the other side of the room from him and insisted that Daddy come to her. Brian was watching the game and chatting with his friends, and was a bit distracted. But like any good dad, he got up and crawled across the living room to assist with the requested hairpiece.

Helen promptly walked over and climbed into his chair.

He's definitely going to have to up his game a bit.


Flapping those butterfly wings

Saturday Helen & I checked out possible Halloween costumes. I was leaning toward Cinderella, because Nana bought the movie for her and she watched it twice last week. She LOVED it. I haven't seen her sit still for that long, like EVER. But she was totally enthralled with the whole movie. And the scene where the evil stepmother sweeps grandly out of the house after her evil daughters have destroyed Cinderella's gorgeous dress, and the poor girl runs weeping into the garden - well, Helen turned to me with her first words since the movie had started, and asked, "Cinderella crying?" When the movie ended, she had a big smile on her face.

So naturally, when we got to the store, I pointed out a Cinderella costume, and she was interested in all the accessories, like the shoes that were too big and the tiara that I pictured her losing after 2 houses on Halloween night. I started adding it up, and decided to let her roam the aisle for a short time, to see if anything else caught her fancy.

And indeed, it did. We narrowed it down at long last to the Hello Kitty butterfly costume. It came with wings and a headband, for much, much cheaper than the Disney princess package. I knew I liked that girl.

We brought it home, and of course she wanted to crack it open right away. Take note of the pile of clothes on the floor next to her:

Later, she stripped off the dress and ran through the living room with just the wings. She was so thrilled to be "flying."

I don't think this outfit will hold up until Halloween. But this smile was worth every penny.

It Just Might Work

Last night I headed off to bed after a long football game went into overtime, while Brian stayed up late to play PS3 with a friend. I must have quickly crashed into the deep sleep of a single girl with no responsibilities in life, because I slept through a late-night slumber party with Brian and Helen. She woke up before he was through with the PS3 game, and they tried a few different rooms, but she didn't sleep much. When she did try to pass out, it involved a lot of flipping and flopping. At night, Helen is hard to cuddle. It's like hugging a washer in spin cycle.

This morning, I was dreaming, something about eating pancakes and taking care of birds, and the sound of pounding feet running through the hall snapped me straight awake. I got out of bed, and found Helen & Brian in our guest room, where Helen was having a conversation with Daddy.

Helen: I need to be under the covers.

Brian: You know what might work? If we put you under the covers, and wrapped you tight, tucked you in with ...

Jennie: ... duct tape.

Brian: ... compression straps.


Ol' What's-Her-Name

The other day, I was in the kitchen with Helen and Brian. Helen was sitting in her high chair, while I was making dinner and talking to Brian. I don't remember what the conversation was about (typical), and at one point, my rusty memory failed me yet again, and a particular name escaped me.

Jennie: Oh, you know ... I can't remember ... what's-his-name?

Helen: (pipes up) Helen. My name is Helen.

Okay, so fair warning: she's paying attention to our conversations. Good to know. REALLY good to know.

But it reminded me of the times my mother called me and my sister by the dog's name. We reminded our mother all the time what our actual names were, not that it really helped much.

Clearly, a mother's brain just overflows, and the minor details (like names) fall right out. It's a good thing Helen is getting started early on reminding me.


Nothing's Better Than Bubbles

I'm going to reveal a secret to you folks. The #1 way to get Helen to stop crying is to suggest a bubble bath. She gets so excited, she races up the stairs, shouting at the top of her lungs, "A BUBBLE BATH, MOMMY!" Over. And over. And over.

Not 15 seconds earlier, she was in pure meltdown mode over not getting to put the lid on her cup of milk. You would have thought I'd explained the massive failure of the sub-prime lenders and the slowing housing market, and that she'd sunk her entire 401k into aggressive construction industry funds. I mean, it was THAT BAD.

But mention bubble bath, and she's happier than the kid who convinced his parents to buy ice cream from the truck on the street - right now, right now, hurry or we'll miss it! Those kids will end up selling something for a living. Nothing like an 4-second sales pitch for ice cream at 4:30 in the afternoon sounds right. Spoiling dinner, costs too much, I don't have any cash, you'll ruin your clothes - there's plenty of ways to get turned down. I should know, because I heard them all growing up. But the kids who succeeded, and flew to the truck on wings of pure speed, and later paraded around with those AstroPops and their red & blue tongues like they were the kings of the neighborhood - THOSE were the kids to worry about.

Wait - where was I? Oh yeah - she was happy about the bubbles.


Isn't it obvious?

Tonight as I sent Helen to give her daddy a goodnight hug and kiss, Brian asked her, "Helen, is it bedtime already?"

Helen responded with the following list: "Umm, pajamas, big hug, taking bath, brush teeth."

These are all things she does right before she goes to bed. I think all we're missing is eye rolling, the big sigh, and the "I mean really, Dad. DUH."


She's on to us

This evening, Brian's empty dinner dish sat on the ottoman as he watched the end of a football game on television. Helen walked past, noticed the plate and offered to take it to the kitchen. Brian nodded, still watching the game.

Helen picked it up, and waited expectantly, looking at him.

When he looked back at her, she asked, "Careful?"


Headline News

On Monday, Helen decided she wanted to wear panties all day. Exclusively. As in, no more diapers.

I haven't been this scared since I brought her home from the hospital.

We hadn't discussed it before, and I hadn't prepared for it (except for the panties I bought optimistically about 8 months ago and left in a drawer after one disastrous day). She has a few friends in her class who wear panties now, so I figure that was the inspiration. Instead of a diaper change, she gets to hang out in the potty room every hour. I bet if all the cool kids jumped off a cliff, she'd think about it, too.

But this time, I'm okay with the peer pressure. Because it saves me $20 a week in diapers and wipes, and honestly, I didn't have the first clue how to teach her. Instead, a room full of two-year olds took on the challenge.

She's also been pooping on the potty, which is a Very. Big. Deal. I've given her some extra incentive to make sure this happens - she gets a little Hershey's kiss afterwards. She is thrilled about this bonus, and will often ask for it. The first few times it happened, I was so excited to share the news with the grandparents, we would hop on the cellphone right away. Now, whenever she's done, she asks for chocolate candy and "call Nana." And now, instead of burdening both Nanas with all of the calls, I've tried to share the wealth with Grandpa and Pop-Pop, too. But I'm sure it'll get old soon. So one day, if you get a call from me and Helen tells you that she's eating some chocolate candy because she just pooped in the potty, I don't care if you're in a cubicle at work, or saying your wedding vows. You better stop and give Helen her props. Something like, "Aren't you a big girl! I'm so proud of you!" would be perfectly appropriate.


Where the sky is not cloudy all day

Labor Day weekend was inappropriately named. You get paid *not* to Labor, plus it's a Day, but everyone calls it a Weekend. So it really should be renamed "Labor-Free Three-Day Weekend." People, let's get on this. Write a letter to someone in Congress. I don't think they're busy right now. Certainly not with anything this important. We could have this wrapped up before next year rolls around. Really.

But I digress. After a busy summer, Labor-Free Three-Day Weekend was a chance for the Wyatt family to truly enjoy No Agenda Whatsoever. Unless you count cooking a mess o' ribs for the first Football Saturday, we really didn't do much of anything.

So, when I asked Brian if he wouldn't mind being a tourist in his own town on the holiday, he was pretty easy to please. We traveled down the road a ways to visit a former President's homesite. The 9th President of the US, Andrew Jackson, once lived nearby, and we got a chance to see his place up close.

I've always enjoyed finding new things to do like this, and it turns out this little place was much more than we expected. There's quite a large home that was rebuilt a few times (once due to a fire) and grew into a large stately manor over a period of a few decades. Much of the hardwood floor and even some of the hand-painted wallpaper in the house dates back to 1830's, which was the period of the last major renovation. In addition, several original log cabins on the property have been well-maintained and kept as part of the general tour of the property. There's a tomb with the President and his wife in a beautiful garden next to the home. It was really lovely to see it all and hear stories about General Jackson and his wife Rachel.

One of the funniest stories, though, was about a slave named Alfred. Alfred was born to Betty, the cook. He grew up with his family on Jackson's farm, working his way up to a high position in the household. When the property was sold in the 1880's to the current owners (an historical society), Alfred offered to work for them as a tour guide, if they would agree to give him "a nice funeral" and bury him in the garden near the General. The society quickly agreed to the deal, and Alfred continued to live in his cabin behind the house, giving tours to the public. The story goes that if you showed up at the front door, asked for a tour, and gave Alfred a little tip, he'd show you around the parlors and the library and the upstairs bedrooms, as well as the kitchen and smokehouse. If you didn't tip him, he'd take you in the front door, straight through the front hall to the back door, and let you right back outside.

And in the early 1900's, when Alfred died, he got his "nice funeral" - they held the service in the large front hall of the manor. There's a great picture of the assembled group at the service displayed in Alfred's old cabin. He's buried in the garden near Jackson's tomb.

Now, for the pictures!

Here's Helen under what had to be the biggest magnolia tree I've ever seen. I didn't even attempt to take a picture of the tree, or else you wouldn't have noticed My Doodlebug underneath one of the branches! And most of the leaves are on the ground because of the heat wave.

Here's Helen in the garden, with the flowers (I don't think they worried about the water restrictions!):

Here's the tomb of the President and his wife:

Here's the back porch of the house, where Helen is enjoying running up & down, while Alfred is probably spinning in his grave:


Reading Comprehension, or "Get out your #2 pencils."

This summer we had a record-setting heat wave. There were ten days in
a row with a high temperature over 100 degrees. It didn't rain for three weeks
at my house now everything in my yard is brown. The leaves fell off the trees,
even though it's still summer. The flowers are dried up. The grass crunches
under my feet. The bushes are like dried twigs stuck in the ground. I hope it
rains a lot this fall my yard really needs the water!

The paragraph above:

(a) sounds like Jennie hasn't had enough sleep this week.
(b) was a sample paragraph written for a 3rd grade class editing exercise.
(c) naturally leads into a discussion of global-warming. Again.
(d) gives Jennie an excuse to complain about yardwork.


Heat Wave

This summer we had a record-setting heat wave. There were ten days in
a row with a high temperature over 100 degrees. It didn't rain for three
weeks at my house and now everything in my yard is brown. The leaves
fell off the trees. Even though it's still summer, the flowers are dried up.
The grass crunches under my feet and the bushes are like dried twigs
stuck in the ground. I hope it rains a lot this fall. My yard really needs
the water!

The paragraph above:

(a) sounds like Jennie got some sleep and finally edited her blog entry.
(b) sounds like Jennie got SUPER SMART THIRD GRADERS to edit her blog entry.
(c) makes you wonder if global warming begins at home.
(d) reads like a subtle invitation for family, friends and neighbors to help with yardwork.

PS - I'll give you a hint: "be" smart about picking your answers.



You're gonna love it in an instant

Last weekend, Helen asked me to put hairbows in her hair. Hairbows are the code name for rubber bands in her hair. The first time I tried to put one in, I had to convince her it was the cool thing and "ponytail" wasn't going to work. I knew she'd get stuck on the "pony" part. So I told her that it would involve a BOW. In her HAIR. And the name stuck.

Anyway, she wanted lots of hairbows that day. So I proceeded to comb and section her hair into 4 different areas of approximately the same amount of hair, and started loading up with the rubber bands. I added a 5th one for her bangs at the last minute, probably because she was not wiggling like a maniac who needs his meds.

Later that night, she crashed on me before I could bathe her and get the rubberbands out. So, they stayed until the next morning.

I remember she was in fine spirits the next morning, and the little scamp managed to carry a small horde of her Little People upstairs to her crib for a nap. First they were under her blanket:

Until I took it off to take a picture:

You can see that Ms. Hairbow McHairtyPants decided to get into the photo shoot by climbing on the crib. At that point, I managed to get the most gorgeous shot of her eyes I've ever seen. Coming from a girl who's taken at *least* 1,000 pictures since the end of April, I think that's saying something.

It's the covergirl smile with the hair of a hobo. *sighs heavily*


Up a creek

Some of you already know this, but I spent some time this summer at home, struggling to stay sane in the presence of a two-year old.

In those few months, I discovered a much-loved program in reruns on cable: Dawson's Creek. God, how I loved that show. After growing up with the kids on 90210 and maturing with the folks on Melrose Place, viewers and TV networks longed for the next generation of teen soap operas. Dawson's Creek came along on fledgling WB network, and saved my Tuesdays with their wordy dialogue and crazy antics. Rarely witty, with razor thin plotlines, the show relied on gorgeous high-school kids, tunes from stellar singer-songwriters and a constant question of whether the characters would ever get together. I watched several seasons religiously, and even bought the soundtracks. It was my guilty pleasure, and I didn't care who mocked me. I was hooked.

Once I found the reruns, I couldn't resist seeing them again. So, my morning would start with Helen's breakfast routine, followed by a steady attention to The Creek, while Helen put together Legos or played with her Little People, and ended with Helen melting down over getting dressed. Usually, she picked the climatic final scene to have her meltdown, which would send me into a meltdown, and by the time it was over, the two of us were panting and wiping away tears in our separate corners. (And yes, she was dressed.) I never knew how the episode ended, but thank goodness the next day had a neat little wrap-up to replay before diving right in to the next one.

And then suddenly, my leisurely summer schedule ended. I would be without the Creek at a crucial moment in the Dawson-Joey-Pacey story. (For the interested, Joey is played by Katie Holmes, the young lady who recently married Tom Cruise. She spends several seasons going back and forth on her feelings for both Dawson and Pacey.)

Never fear, dear reader - I have Tivo. (Hallelujah forever and ever, amen.) Now my Tivo faithfully records each episode daily. Whether it's after dinner, or during a bout with insomnia in the wee hours of the night, The Creek is there for me.

The other night, after I had put Helen down, I quickly got engrossed in that day's show. For fellow fans out there (and knowing my friends, there are not many), I'm at the end of the season where Pacey has figured out he has feelings for Joey, and is trying very hard to let her progress in a doomed relationship with a college boy in Boston. Pacey has from the beginning, been the character I've most liked, and always hoped that Joey would choose. He's a smart aleck, quick with a comeback, fiercely loyal, and generally the life of the party in a show chock-full of people with a tendency to talk everything to death. He's always gotten the best lines and the funniest moments. He's really the best person to both challenge and appreciate Joey, and since I had a wee bit of a crush on him, I wanted them to get together. Plus, Dawson had turned into kind of a peevish little wuss, a wholly unsympathetic character. So, at this crucial point in the season, I really paid attention.

Brian, on the other hand, would probably prefer I spend our Tivo's energy on History Channel shows. He doesn't openly mock me, except to sort of roll his eyes, and comment on how unrealistic it is that these kids talk like they do. I admit, sometimes the dialogue reminds me of the vocabulary on the SATs. Why use one or two syllable words, when five will do nicely? But I'm hooked.

Anyway, he worked on the Mustang for several evenings this month in preparation for trip #2 to the paint shop. It's been so hot, it's not any fun to be in the garage, so he brings small parts in the house to tinker with and fix up. So, he's been in the living room while I watch, and sort of caught on to the basic plot lines. I realize he would much rather watch something else, but he indulges me. I love him for that, but I never suspected he even paid much attention.

Until the other night. There was a short scene with Pacey and I don't even remember what was happening, but Brian said, "I have that shirt." I looked at him, like, "Huh? I don't think so." Brian said, "Yep, I have it in the closet. Have you seen it?" I said, "No" and went back to the show. (I figured he had something similar, but I hadn't seen him wear it, ever.) A few minutes later, he came out of the bedroom wearing the exact same shirt.

Ladies, at that moment, I have never been prouder of my husband. There have been moments I've been proud, sure - but they're things you'd expect, like on our wedding day, and the day Helen was born. Both times he didn't run away screaming. So I was proud. But when he came in the room with that shirt on, it was like, wow. The football-loving, Mustang-fixing man I married dressed up like a soap opera star for me.

What a man. And he's all mine!


Farm living is the life for me

This past weekend, we visited some of Brian's extended family, who live about 100 miles away from us. The important part of the story for Helen is that when she visits them, she gets to see a puppy, and COWS.

Prior to the trip, we taught her how to say, "I want to ride the cows." We thought it'd be fun for her to announce this to Uncle J., and see how much he laughed. Instead, he got on his tractor and drove around until he found the cows, and hauled them home. Then he promptly invited the kids to come out to pet the GIANT bull.

When I say GIANT, I don't even begin to do this guy justice. Everyone stepped carefully around him, because one big swing of his head could have sent a grown man flying. Yet he munched on his feed and stood patiently while Uncle J. waxed poetic about desirable cow and bull features. He called the bull a "baby." And there was no way he'd let his whole family get on the same side of a fence with a bull who had a little attitude. So Helen did her petting, while I took lots of pictures of the whole herd. Believe it or not, those cows were so interested in me running around with my camera pointed at them, safely behind a barbed wire fence, that they hardly noticed the crowd standing in the field with them.

I have to say that it's a little unnerving to watch something weighing as much as my car make a conscious decision to keep an eye on me. And then proceed to do it, no matter which direction I move.

Oh, but where are these pictures, you ask?

Never fear, dear reader. I escaped the farm unscathed and am ready to unleash a torrent of pictures. As usual.

Helen ran around the farmyard, and I tried to get some good pictures of it. Oh, and by the way, her dress is from a Puerto Rican souvenir shop. No really, her grandparents went to Puerto Rico, and now that she has a pretty white party dress, IT'S THE ONLY THING SHE WANTS TO WEAR. Thanks, Nana & Grandpa.

Here's the sweet border collie named Lady that lives at their farm, herding the cattle at the slightest tsk-tsk of the tongue.

Here's a gorgeous old tractor that Uncle J. still rides all the time. He took it aross his field to find the cows, who, due to the seasonably appropriate, but blistering hot weather, were standing *in* a nearby creek.

After they heard the tractor rumbling around, they mustered up the strength to head our way, just in case we had stumbled and dropped a big bag of feed in their trough.

Here's the GIANT bull, with Helen petting him:

Brian can confirm this if you're skeptical, but I took at least 20 pictures of the cows. Nearly all of them were looking right at me. Really. It's a little scary. This one in particular was the "hussy" of the herd and pushed around some of the other cows who got too close to "her man." Apparently, that jealousy extended to a zoom lens on a nice camera, too.

The men contemplate the farm.

And here, we contemplate a beautiful day with family.


So you think YOU'RE tired ...

I read an article in the news today that the Duggar family just gave birth this week to baby number 17.

This family is pretty famous, with all the shows on Discovery & TLC. They have a LOT of kids, and they still want more. I can't imagine being in her shoes for one minute, and yet they seem blissfully happy to be right there. So, I say, more power to them, and no, I will not have any of your water, thank you very much.

But, two things struck me about this news today that I thought I'd share with you. First, the article mentioned she has spent over 10 years of her life in pregnancy. Now, Helen gave me a "get out of jail free" card and I got to skip the last painful, awful month entirely - thank you, sweetie - but TEN YEARS? Mrs. Duggar must LOVE her maternity clothes. I could have cheerfully set a bonfire on the front lawn when I was done.

The second thing that I noticed is the new baby's name is Jennifer. All 17 children have names that start with "J," girls outnumber boys 10-7, and it took TEN GIRLS to finally get around to naming one of them Jennifer.

So, officially and all? I'm like, offended.


Zoo Trip + Camera = Joy

So yesterday I took Helen and MY PRECIOUSSSSSSSS to the zoo. This time, I had my fancy zoom lens, and took some great shots of the animals.

Here we have a good example of Helenicus Monkinius, or as it's more commonly known in this part of the country: "Monkey Toddler." Note the squinting eyes, the deceptive grin - clearly, this creature is contemplating her mother's every move and deciding how loudly to say "no." Oh, it's a wily one, to be sure.

I took a lot of pictures yesterday, and here are some animals that stood still for me:

My favorite pictures came from the Elephant Savannah, where they took advantage of the watering hole to bathe:

And I also got some great shots of flowering water lilies near Monkey Island:

This perky bird would not sit still for the camera, but I managed to snap one of him after a great deal of patience:

And here sits a meerkat, giving us a little look that says, "Hey, I'm working on a reality show here, move it along."

It was steaming hot yesterday, but I managed to endure over 3 hours in the extreme temperatures. Helenicus Monkinius, on the other hand, wilted like a lily at the end. And as I put that sweaty creature back into the car, she mumbled, "More animals."


Helen gets ready to date

I've got that kid. You know, the one who doesn't want to wear clothes.

As a former babysitter with decades of experience, I've witnessed it up close. One child wouldn't wear clothes before noon. The mother told me that she just went with it, and eventually the child grew out of it to become a lovely girl who took a job in an exclusive women's clothing store. Oh, the irony.

But I was not prepared for how hard it would be to keep clothes on my own kid. Literally, a temper tantrum ensues if I try to replace the diaper left behind in some corner of the living room. I try to force the issue because she's not potty-trained yet. And even if I manage to get the shirt back on her, she takes it right back off. If I persist in keeping her clothed, we both end up in a horrible mood. It's really not worth it if we're just hanging around the house.

Needless to say, it's been a tricky month for me. I can convince her to wear clothes if we're headed anywhere outside, but like the fearless mother who has treaded the path before me, I have decided to let her be naked if she really wants it that much. And pray that she grows out of it, sooner rather than later.

This morning, Helen and I were reviewing the names of various body parts. I taught her a new one ("ankle") and eventually moved on to "boobies." I've tried other euphemisms, but for now the name has stuck. Thank you, anonymous daycare teacher.

Anyway, when I asked her where they were, she covered them with her hands and said sternly, "Leave my boobies alone."

I sniffed, and wiped away a tear. Her father would be so proud.


The One Where I Don't Get It

Recent email conversation with an old co-worker of mine, who happens to be an IT Director:

D: Can't remember - were you a big HP fan?

Me: Not necessarily. They had an envelope sorter for the HP5si printer that I asked you about.

D: LOL. No, the HP I meant was a certain Mr. Potter. But I guess I got the answer to the question anyway.


My Freakk

So, I've been telling you guys about the My Twinn doll that Helen got for her birthday, and I've gone to their website to try and capture some of the images that disturbed me the most about their catalog.

Turns out there are a wealth of outfits and accessories that you can buy for your doll. Here was Helen's favorite outfit from the catalog:

Should I be worried that my daughter will grow up to be Elizabeth Taylor?

Or you can go for ethnic costumes, authentically designed by a random person in a cube farm:

Does your doll play a musical instrument? If so, perhaps you need to visit a therapist because YOUR DOLL CANNOT PLAY THE GUITAR.

Here's something every doll needs - a horse! Bridle & saddle sold separately, because hey! This horse isn't going anywhere.

In case your doll just barely missed the cut in Nagano, she'll be prepared for winter:

And furniture! Oh, the furniture. Tiny hangers sold separately, because every kid throws her clothes on the floor anyway. Why should your doll be any different?

I realize that Barbie has all of these things and more. Perhaps what is on some level really bothering me about My Twinn is the large size (startling in comparison to Helen) and the idea that the girl can match the doll. I don't remember getting a chance to look like Barbie, even if I wanted to. There are plenty of outfits for My Twinn (Helen already has one that she clearly loves), including matching Halloween costumes:

Matching sleeping bags:

Matching work clothes (yes, you can buy a wheelchair and casts for your doll - in case your mother should inflict some damage when the doll won't stop asking for a horse):

And for an extra added bonus, they even sell matching Christmas outfits, including one FOR THE MOTHER.

You're allowed to laugh. You are NOT allowed to order this dress in my size and expect me to wear it and take pictures and post them on the blog. Because that, my friend, is a sign of the impending apocalypse, when I start dressing like MY CHILD'S DOLL.