Santa's not so secret

Alice (3 years old) and Jane (21 months old) have gone to the same fantastic daycare since they were infants. The daycare's owner teaches the pre-K class. Her parents live two houses down, and since they retired years ago, they often help out in the classrooms. They have become the surrogate grandparents to all of the kids, known to everyone as Nana & Pa.

During the holidays, some teachers take vacation, so Pa helps cover in different rooms during the busy dropoffs in the morning. He also plays the role of Santa each year at the Christmas parties - beard & all.

Since I work full-time, I'm never able to go to the Christmas daycare party. This year, no exception. But this morning, I finally heard from Jane's teacher about her laugh-out-loud moment at their class party last week.

Pa was making the rounds of each room in his Santa outfit, and all the kids were suitably wowed by "Santa" and greeting him with "Hey, Santa!" When he reached Jane's room, the teachers all said, "Hi, Santa! Look kids, it's Santa!" and some of the kids responded with squeals of "Santa!" The teacher told me Jane, with a big grin on her face then piped up, "Hey, Pa."

Shoot. That didn't last long.


That's All Right, Mama

I don't remember exactly when it first started, but one day in my early teens, I accidentally caught a replay of Elvis's 1968 comeback special on TV - the one with the tight black leather - and I remember being absolutely fascinated by the acoustic circle at the start of the show.  I watched the next hour in awe of the man.  His voice.  His grin.  Those hips.  My god, he could sing and dance.  

Keep in mind, when I was in high school, Top 40 consisted mainly of people scowling at MTV.  So to have this beautiful hunk of slicked-back hair unabashedly grinning at the ladies and gyrating onstage and singing his heart out - well, it was like a siren song.  And it worked.

My family occasionally packed up the car for a 13-hour drive to see our grandparents.  I used to beg my parents for a quick stop in Memphis to see Graceland.  They NEVER said yes.  Mom always claimed Elvis Presley was ultra cheesy, and she was never a fan.  Dad pretty much nodded in agreement with her.  I was only 5 years old when he died.  Ultimately it felt like I was really missing out on something big.

Fast forward to meeting Brian, and after several months of dating, we planned a vacation together.  We were going to drive 12 hours to meet his parents, and along the way, spur of the moment, I suggested we stop to see Graceland.  He said, "Sure, I'd love to."  I think that was the beginning of something beautiful for us, that moment.  Or maybe it was me.  Yeah, probably just me.

Fifteen years and $25 later, I finally confirmed that my parents deliberately deprived me of one of life's most memorable tourist experiences.

This is my picture at the gates of Graceland.  I don't have any from inside the house - photography is strictly forbidden.  So I'll try to describe it in a nutshell for those who haven't been.  Elvis died in 1977, shortly after much of the house had been updated, and it is permanently preserved as he left it.  Which means, take the avocado green refrigerator and the harvest gold oven/stove you found in every home in America in 1977, and then match the counters and wallpaper and carpet with the wildest colors you can imagine, complete with the 1970's wood paneling, AND THAT'S JUST THE KITCHEN, Y'ALL.  

Elvis's parents both lived with him at Graceland.  Driving up to the front door, you can't help but think, "Wow.  He was like the biggest music star on the planet, and he lived in this tiny little house with his parents?"  It looks just like an average home from the front yard.  But it's like going through that tiny door in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory - it's enormous on the inside.  He expanded at the back of the house, and finished the basement, and built a huge playroom in the backyard, so you can't see it all from the front.  

When you enter the house, the living room is on the right, and dining room is on the left, and the stairwell is right in front of you.  The living room has a large grand piano in it.  Keep going down the hall, and his parents' bedroom is behind the living room on the right.  I cannot imagine the racket they heard regularly at all hours, with Elvis entertaining the entourage on the piano.  Beyond their bedroom on the left is the kitchen, and it was standing in the kitchen, listening to the audio tour on a pair of headphones, when I glanced over at one of the cabinets and promptly had a heart attack.

My grandmother had passed away about two years prior to my vacation at Graceland, and cleaning out her apartment, my mom asked if I would take her dishes.  They were classic grandma dishes, a set called Franciscanware, a pattern with apples on it that everyone remembers.  Since all I owned were some cheap Pier 1 dishes, and I was already a huge sucker for the sentiment of handed-down dishes, I said "Sure!" and took it all home.  Nana had most of the serving pieces for this set.  I am pretty sure I was the only 29-year old girl on the planet who had never married, but had a full china service with a matching butter dish, coffee pot, sugar and creamer, plus the gravy boat and turkey platter.  

Anyway, two years later I was standing in Elvis's kitchen, with my hands fluttering and my heart pounding, and I managed to squeak out to Brian, who was standing behind me, "I ... have ... Elvis's ... dishes!"

Not Nana's dishes.  ELVIS PRESLEY'S DISHES.  That glass-front cabinet housed those same apple plates and cups, and I remember seeing a teapot, too.  I could have reached over and opened the cabinet and taken that teapot, and possibly even one or two steps before security would have had me pinned to the floor. 

Folks, every time I look at that picture of me standing at the gate to his house, I picture Elvis eating his famous peanut butter and banana sandwiches on the same plates that I use to serve my family's dinner.  I knew I liked that guy.  I knew I needed to tour his house.  I knew my purchase of his CD of #1 hits would not be a waste of money.  And someday, my girls will know all the words to "That's All Right, Mama."  Even better, one day, the three of them will be arguing over who gets to take Elvis's dishes.


Has it been 9 years? Really?

I tweeted about this idea earlier this week, but I've had an opportunity over the past few months to dig into my old scrapbooks, and I'm reminded that some of these pictures have some great stories behind them.  A few of these pictures are old, but some are recent.  I am going to spend some time blogging these stories so I don't forget them.  I hope you enjoy this series. 

Nine years ago in September, my sister called me from Guatemala.  She had spent the year tying up loose ends with her life in the US - leaving her job, selling her home, putting some of her stuff in storage - to go work in an orphanage.  She had traveled there several times with her church for missions work, and one day she announced to her family that she felt called to work with these kids.  Her job would be working in a dorm with pre-teen girls.  She spent most of the summer fundraising for living expenses for her first year away from home.  I threw her a going away party with her family and friends, and went to the airport to say goodbye.  She left right after 9/11, so we all said goodbye near the McDonalds by the security gate.  I vowed to get a passport so I could visit.

About two weeks later, one Sunday afternoon when I was just hanging around the apartment, she called me from Guatemala.  I knew these calls would be rare so I was surprised to get one so soon.  "Jennie," she said, "I'm engaged."  I remember my response was, "To WHO?"  Seriously, I had spent months working with her to get everything taken care of so she could move, and not once had she mentioned a boyfriend.  For the life of me I could not figure out what guy in her life could have possibly proposed.

But apparently, she had met a guy on some of those missions trips.  His name was Steve, and he had moved to Guatemala from Ohio, and was taking care of a dorm full of toddler boys.  They had become close friends over the summer - apparently they talked a lot as she was preparing to move - and he had proposed shortly after she moved down there.  Hmm.

The next thing she said was that the wedding was going to be in 2 months, at the beginning of November, and they would not be able to handle planning from so far away, and since I was in town, would I please take care of arranging everything?  

I'll blog more about this in future entries, but at the age of 30, this WAS my wheelhouse.  Not weddings, mind you, I'd never done that before - but throwing together a shindig for a couple hundred people - including my sister and a future brother-in-law that I don't know - I'm all over it.  Sure.  No pressure, I've got this.

I'm pretty sure I was making lists about 5 minutes after the call, but wow.  It was a whirlwind of spending my parents' money and a billion phone calls.  Thank god I had an understanding co-worker and boss who let me work on this.  

This picture was taken at the rehearsal dinner.  I called the future-brother-in-law's mom, who lived in Ohio and also needed on-the-ground assistance with party planning (of course), and we ended up at the local Copeland's in a banquet room.  Taking the whole French Quarter-New Orleans-Mardi Gras theme to the logical conclusion, I put masks and beads on the tables, and I had gold, green and purple balloons everywhere.  Guests were encouraged to have a great time.  There was a toast, and I think I remember a few of the hurricanes.  It was an amazing weekend, one that I felt proud to pull off in such a short time.   To commemorate my time spent planning their special day, my sister gave me a clock, which I still have on my mantel today.

Happy anniversary to both of you this weekend.  As you celebrate in New Orleans this weekend, here's to many, many more years together.  


Actually, We Knew You Pretty Darn Well, by the end.

Max Brown-Wyatt, 1995-2011.

First, a few fun stories about Max that I never will forget:

1 - Several years ago when I was still single, my friend Christine came over to my place for dinner with her boyfriend John.  As was his normal custom, he sat down in my living room to watch some college football while Christine & I chatted in the kitchen.  Coming out to check on him, I saw that my cat Max had jumped into his lap.  This was also normal - any time someone sat down, Max would magically appear to take over the lap.  But it seemed to happen to John all the time - I had seen this happen with Christine's kitties, another friend's cat, my sister's cat, and now Max.  Without really thinking about, I called out to John, "What, have you got like a giant cat magnet in your pants?"  

John looked up at me slowly, and grinned.  

People like to mock me.  I get it.  I think I make it easy for them.

2 - When Max was about a year old, I left a package of chicken to thaw in the sink while I was at work.  I came home from work that evening, and for once, Max was not there to greet me at the door.  I put my stuff away and went to search for him.  I finally located him under the bed with that package of chicken upside down in front of him.  He had chewed through one corner of the styrofoam and had chewed on some of the raw chicken.  

I panicked and called the emergency vet clinic to find out if he would be okay.  General advice was "if he acts funny, bring him in."  Okay.  So I headed back to the bedroom, where Max was still camped under the bed.  As I reached in and dragged him out, I noticed he had a bag of hamburger buns behind him (they were on the counter as well).  He had chewed through the plastic bag and gnawed on the bread.

Essentially, the boy made himself a chicken sandwich while I was at work.  I was pretty impressed by the sheer strength he had to drag all of that out of the sink, down the hall and under the bed.  He felt guilty enough to stay in hiding, too.  What a cat.  I laughed all night about that one.

3 - I lived at home with my parents for almost a year in my mid-20's.  This was the absolutely dream home for my cat.  Lots of windows, 3 times the lap potential, and "grandparents" who brought him toys from the grocery store, EVERY SINGLE TRIP.  There was also a screened-in porch where he would camp out all day and check out the birds and trees and bugs and even tiny lizards that would crawl up the brick and slide between the wood posts on the deck.  But I was in strong denial that he was eating them - I really thought he was carrying them like toys and playing with them.  One day he came racing inside from the porch with a lizard tail dangling from his mouth.  I ran after him upstairs to discover half of a lizard on the bathroom floor.  He was pretty ticked at me for taking it away, and I quickly realized why I could only find HALF a lizard.  I interrupted a tasty afternoon snack for my carnivore pet.  Shortly after that, Taco Bell came out with their Godzilla movie tie-in commercials, where the chihuaha would say, "Here, lee-zard, lee-zard."  My dad used to say that to Max, just to get me riled up.  Max was a pretty good hunter, though.  He dashed the hopes of more than a few lizards that year.

Back to the present - 

After 6 months of sliding downhill, I finally came to terms with the fact that Max was not getting any better.  He took a big turn for the worse over the past 2 weeks by basically not eating.  His weight dropped considerably, and he spent his days and nights camped out on my kitchen counter.  Clearly, he was trying to get my attention by staying at eye level.  I came to the realization last night that I needed to do something sooner rather than later.  I made an appointment this afternoon to take him to the vet.

Today I got to explain the Circle of Life to a 6-year old, just in time for the appointment.  I'm sure all of us can remember the first loss of a pet in our childhood, and you may also remember that it took you about 10 minutes to ask when the family would be getting a new one.  Helen stayed on script.  After crying a good bit of the morning, she calmed down in time for the short trip, but then melted down again in the parking lot.  And in the vet's office.  As hard as it was for her, I was so glad she was with me because I could spend my time focusing on making sure she understood what was happening, and why, and helping to comfort her.  Later, she told me that she thought I was brave.  I know sometimes the best thing you can give a pet is the gift of freedom from pain and suffering.  But it still is a tough choice to make, when you'd rather have them around.

We've picked out a couple of nice spots in the backyard and plan to decorate a rock to mark it.  I think the tears might take some time to taper off.  Helen, on the other hand, seems to be almost cheerful about the art project.  Kids heal so much faster, don't they?

But I really feel sorry for all the lizards Max is chasing right now.  I'm pretty sure they all packed up and headed south for the winter this afternoon, when he arrived on the scene.

Goodbye, Maxer-buddy.  You were a champion among pets, and it will be very hard to fill your paws.



Okay, so a few weeks ago Jane's normally sparse hair started growing in an alarming pattern.  She sprouted two tufts of hair on either side of the back of her head.  From the back, it just looks - odd.  And from the front, it looks like a mullet.  Sometimes when I show up at daycare, I find out that her teachers have braided them or put them into the world's tiniest pigtails.  I don't know if they're laughing or trying to cover for her, bless her heart.

I'm tempted to cut them off and let the middle try to catch up, but I don't know what's coming next.  Mohawk?  Logan from X-Men?  And then suddenly I'm reminded of that line:  "Is this where you wanna be when Jesus comes?  Makin' fun of Joe Dirt?"

So you tell me - cut it?  Or leave it alone?  


Don't Judge Me

Several years back, a two-year old Helen came home from daycare and told me in a hushed and serious tone, "Mom. Boys have privates, and girls have cha-chas." Fighting back the giggles, I replied just as seriously, "Yes ma'am, that's right."  She told me one her teachers used that word, and I thought, she's two. I am so not ready for this yet. So ever since that day, for our girls, lady parts have been referred to as "cha-chas." Kind of fun, yeah?

But it sure makes a season of "Dancing With the Stars" a very confusing time in our house.


Alice speaks

Boy howdy.  Not only does she speak, the girl is SASSY.

Parents of 3-year olds, I know you will relate to this story.  Getting her dressed one morning, it was a bit colder last week than it has been in a while.  So I pulled out a pair of Helen's hand-me-down jeans and one knee had a hole in it.  Alice was not impressed, but the rest of her playclothes were in the laundry and I was scraping the bottom of the drawer to put together this outfit.  So I went into it brightly, and optimistically.  

Jennie:  Alice, look!  Here's a pair of jeans that Helen used to wear!  They've got this cool thing in the knee and they're like rock star jeans!

Alice:  (sadly) I don't want to wear those!

Jennie:  Come on, Alice, let's get dressed.  Mommy's in a hurry.  The jeans are fine, you will love them.

Alice:  (more insistently, starting to cry)  I don't want to wear those pants.

Jennie:  But they're rock star jeans!

Alice:  (Loudly, still crying)  They're not rock star jeans!  (shouting) They're.  Just.  Pants!

PS - Guess who has 2 thumbs and won the fight?  (POINTS AT SELF WITH BOTH THUMBS)  The one who can type AND spell it right, that's who.


The one where Helen is a photographer

Folks, it goes on like this for about 50 pictures. A third are shots of license plates, and a third of them are fuzzy motorcycles. These are the cream of the crop of what's left.

The car museum near downtown is one of those places I've been meaning to visit for years, and when I heard it was on the agenda for a camp field trip, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to let Helen take her camera. The camp director was a little surprised when I mentioned she would have it, but it turned out to be a total win. She has a VTech kids' digital camera, which takes pics about as big as the first-gen cellphone cameras (in other words, nothing fancy). It's been an amazing thing for her to have, she really loves finding the right subject and taking loads of pictures. Someone who actually has kids designed this thing, because it's covered in a hard rubber layer, with two large hand grips on each side. It can take a beating when kids drop it or knock it off the table. It has a ViewFinder style lens they can use two eyes to peer through and line up their image. They can also use the screen on the back of the camera. It holds a good number of pics - we're up around 200 right now - and that's without a memory card in it. We lose all of the pics if we have to change the batteries, but since most of the shots are aimed at a nearby wall, or taken while running, it has not been a huge loss.

I remember years ago, a kid's camera was the birthday gift that I loved to give. I'd get several rolls of that 110 speed film to go with something they could easily use, and months later I'd discover the parents had paid to develop 3 rolls worth of pictures of every stuffed animal in that kid's room. Oh, you gotta love raising kids in the digital age.


Beach Bum

In May I went to the beach with my mom and my sister. It was a great Mother's Day trip for just the three of us - no kids, no husbands. We went to Destin, Florida and spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday lounging around. For those of you who didn't grow up in the South, Destin is one of the favored vacation spots on the Gulf. For those of you without kids, three days without "MOM!" is sheer heaven. Put the two together and I was completely aghast at the idea of going back to my house at the end of the weekend.

The trip also dredged up a lot of memories for me, since my family used to vacation in Destin regularly when I was growing up.

Back then Destin didn't have much going on - only a couple of resorts, and a few small condos. Everything was right on the beach. There was nothing to do except play on the beach or go to a restaurant. Mom absolutely adored floating around in the waves. My sister and I tried to get as tan as possible. Dad would usually fry to a subtle red crisp on the first day and spend the rest of the time in the shade or covering the red spots with a towel. We had our favorite tradition of getting up early to pick out treats from The Donut Hole, or heading out late afternoon to the local fish market and making a scrumptious peel-and-eat shrimp dinner.

When I was a 15-year old sophomore in high school, my parents rented a condo in Destin for a month in the fall. My mom stayed there all month, while my dad and my sister and I went down there on weekends. On Fridays, Dad would pick us up from school, and we would drive straight to the beach. The trip took about 5 hours. We'd stop for dinner at some tiny town in LA (Lower Alabama). For those of you old enough to remember, that was back when Hardees had the California Raisins in their TV commercials, and the figurines were on sale with various combos. During that month, we ended up collecting the entire set for Mom, who was a big fan of those guys. I wouldn't be surprised to discover my mom still has those stashed away somewhere. In fact, they're probably designated for someone special in the will.

My parents let us take a best friend with us one weekend that month. I invited one of my best friends and later on, another friend and I planned a big surprise birthday party for her. We had a menu planned, her mom was going to make stuff, and we were working on the entertainment. And then suddenly it clicked - wait, I was taking her to the beach with me that weekend. Sorry, no party! That Sunday after we got back, the neighbors came over to tell us about our yard getting rolled Friday night. Very kind people who knew we were out of town and didn't want it to stay like that all weekend, so they cleaned it up for us. Monday I came to school telling people that we had gotten our yard rolled and I never even saw it. Folks, I honestly never put two and two together. Back then I was very book smart, but socially clueless. Maybe I'm still like that. A few years later, one of my friends confessed. He mentioned how the party getting cancelled meant they had some "free time," and how frustrated they were I never even saw it or had to clean any of it up. Oh, the agony, but they couldn't say anything.

My biology teacher assigned us the infamous "bug project" that fall: collect 20 bugs, mount them on a posterboard and appropriately label them with their species names. In late September and early October live bugs are very hard to find, even in the deep South. So our class really struggled with this project. NOT ME. A humid beach town always has plenty of bugs, year round! Every weekend, I found some exotic new species in Destin. I could always count on finding a couple of moths around the outside lights at night, or some crazy thing crawling in the sand. One Friday night we pulled into the parking lot and piled out of the car, and I spotted a huge grasshopper heading quickly for the main laundry room. I cornered him near a dryer and kept him in a jar all weekend until I could get back to town and put him on the posterboard. The length of my hand, he dwarfed everything else, and ended up being the Shock and Awe of my bug project. The teacher was stunned when I turned it in.

We ate regularly at a restaurant at the end of Beach Road called The Back Porch. Back then it was just a cheap little bar & grill, right on the beach. One of the popular menu items was a grilled amberjack sandwich, and boy howdy, that thing was fantastic. I know people refer to it as "trash fish" but I fell in love with that sandwich. Years later I made regular trips to Destin with friends, and discovered that Destin had exploded, and The Back Porch has become a force to be reckoned with. They expanded the restaurant and added a beach bar. If you're not in line by 5 pm, you're not eating dinner there any time soon. And the beloved sandwich is now $12. (Oh, beach towns, they quickly recognize a good thing and price it accordingly.) A few years ago, Brian went deep sea fishing off the coast of New Orleans and brought back a giant cooler full of fresh tuna and grouper, and a few pieces of amberjack. Even though it was 8:00 at night, I made him take the amberjack straight outside and grill it for me. When he finished, I put it on a bun with some mayo and a slice of tomato, took a picture of it with my phone and sent it straight to my mother. I just had to do a little bit of gloating. And then I inhaled that sandwich. Oh, the sheer joy.

One week toward the end of the month-long vacation, I was in the locker room after P.E. class, and had taken off my gym shirt to put on my school clothes. One of my classmates commented, with what I thought sounded like a bit of jealousy, "Jennie, you are so tan." In October, it was pretty unnatural to be that shade of brown so the beach lifestyle was making an impression on me. This was back in the clueless teenage years when we tanned like idiots - slathered in baby oil, on top of foil, anything to get some extra rays. Today, it's hilarious to think I could have been so tan that another teenager would be jealous of me. I'm the palest person I know, and on the rare occasions I do go to the beach, I live under an umbrella and pile on SPF 50.

A special thank you to my mother and my sister for a great time on vacation. The luxury of not having a kid wake me up, getting first choice of a box of doughnuts, or not having to pour a glass of milk for someone 18 times in a day was absolutely exhilarating. But add in the time to chat with my mom and my sister without being interrupted or having to mediate a toy battle, and that time suddenly becomes precious. I hope we've started a new tradition.


Field Trips Are Not Fashion Shows

Helen has been attending a summer camp program where they do a variety of field trips each week. One day they went bowling. On the way home, I asked her about her game - yes, she got a strike AND a spare. Yes, they put up the bumpers on the gutters. And yes, they had to wear THOSE SHOES.

Here's where I realize that I was destined to have girls. Instead of getting the play-by-play on the game or details about the ball weight or a discussion of everyone's scores, the conversation instead went like this:

Jennie: Aren't those shoes ugly?

Helen: (grimaces) Yeah. They had this stripe in the middle here (points at her foot) and one side was red and another was blue and it was just yuck (sticks out her tongue). Mama, why are they so ugly?

Jennie: So people will WANT to take them off at the end of the game and get their own shoes back. They don't want to wear them out of the bowling alley. Nobody wants shoes like that.

Helen: I wouldn't even ask God to give me those shoes.


I was hoping for medical school instead

When Helen started kindergarten last fall, she spent the first few minutes of each day in class working in her journal. Usually the teacher would give them a topic to write about, and they would write something and draw a picture to go with it. At the end of the year, Helen came home from school with a big box. In that box were folders, one for each month, where the teacher had bound all of her journal entries into monthly books. The progress she made from the first month to the last was amazing. Inventive spelling and drawing skills and storytelling - she's improved by miles. The teacher told them they should keep on journaling at home this summer, and I've given her paper and tried to encourage it, but there are too many other things Helen wants to do at home. So occasionally I'll talk her into it and she'll do a bunch of journal entries at once. She has done some entries about her summer day camp field trips, and I will post them for you over the weekend. It's not like the subtle humor or the biting sarcasm or the touching emotion of a blog entry from me - but it'll do, Pig. It'll do.

In the meantime, here's a couple fun pics of the girls goofing off this summer.


Caution: Baby - wait, no, Toddler on Board

Jane is WALKING, y'all. Running, almost! She just picked herself up and decided it was time to keep up with her sisters. After teetering here and there for about two weeks, she took off in earnest. She moved up to a new daycare room last month with a bunch of walkers, and has blossomed like you would not believe. I think she realized pretty quick that survival of the fittest was the order of the day. She refuses to be left behind.

First spontaneous word: "bubble." I got Helen and Alice some bubble wands this weekend, and they were playing with them in the front yard. Jane was following them around and grabbing at the bubbles and chattering. After a few minutes, it clicked with me that she was saying "bubble."She's been mugging for the camera at school - check this picture out! Reminds me of her sisters, for sure.
What a wild year it has been. These girls are really growing up too fast. They will drive me to the edge of insanity one day, and drop me off and drive away at top speed with the windows rolled down and the radio cranked up, but to have those darling little babies in my arms for those precious few months will surely be worth it all.

Someone remind me of that later this weekend when I'm ready to sell them to the highest bidder.


Helen Turns 6

Helen turned 6 on Saturday.

Since the last day of school was on Wednesday and her birthday was on Saturday, I thought long and hard about it, and decided not to invite a bunch of kids over for a party when it was going to be 97 degrees outside. Instead, on Saturday morning I took her to her favorite store (Michael's) to let her pick out something crafty (friendship bracelet kit). Then while she napped, I made her a yellow cake with chocolate frosting.
Sidebar: guys, if you have not checked out the recipe for Chocolate Frosting on the back of the Hershey's Cocoa canister, you are seriously missing out. Frosting from a can? Not on your life. I've permanently converted to homemade, y'all. (For further Chocolatey Awesomeness, pair it with the recipe for the Chocolate Cake on the same label.)

Anyways, I digress.

You might have noticed a quick mention in that last paragraph. Yes, my 6-year old naps. Two, sometimes three-hour naps on the weekends. Both days. DEAR BABY JESUS, PLEASE LET IT NEVER END. AMEN.

We also made a pizza from scratch for dinner. Publix has a really great lump of unbaked dough in their bakery that you need to buy, stat. Couldn't be easier, and they come out way better than the frozen ones. Helen helped me spread the sauce and the cheese and the toppings. Alice kept pinching fingerfuls of cheese off the pizza when I wasn't looking. It turned out delicious.

After dinner and blowing out the 6 hot pink candles on her delicious cake, we gave her a little pink Razor Scooter. As if her knees and elbows weren't bruised and scraped up enough from running around outside, we added the element of speed to all future injuries. Yay, good parenting!And then she went to the pool with her dad for an evening swim. So she was in a bit of kid heaven.

The next morning, she woke up and asked me when her party was. Um, gulp.

So I replied as casually as possible, without a single shred of fear and trepidation, "Hey Helen, you remember the craft thing and the pizza and the scooter and the part where you blew out candles on your cake? Yeah, that was your birthday party!"

Oh, it was a frosty morning.

I am going to fry in a remote corner of hell reserved strictly for kids' birthday parties, where they're perpetually turning two years old. Dear Reader, I swear there will be a real party with a bunch of kids invited next year. I don't care if only two kids show up because school's out and it's too hot. She is going to have a party. Your job is to remind me next May when my resolve is weak and the sun is strong. And just to make it interesting, you can come, too.

For some perspective, here's her Birth Story, and her first birthday.


7th Inning Stretch Etiquette

Brian took Helen and Alice to see a minor league baseball game in May. Highlights of the evening included Alice's first taste of cotton candy (the entire cone was inhaled in under a minute flat) and a giant fireworks show after the game. Both girls stayed awake for the entire thing on a hot summer night, and slept incredibly late the next morning.

On the way home from school last week, Helen starting singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" but couldn't make it past the first line. She sang it about 3 times in a row. So on the 4th try, I jumped in with the rest of the song. The people who have heard me sing can imagine the off-key, pitchy nightmare that it was. Fortunately my kids appreciate my singing and even encourage it. I swear. It's true!

Jennie: ... Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, I don't care if I ever go back! Oh, it's root, root, root for the home team, if they don't win it's a shame ... Cuz it's one, two, three strikes you're out at the old ball gaaaaame!

Helen: That guy is being rude, isn't he, Mommy?

Jennie: Huh? (looking around at traffic, drivers, passing joggers for any possible source of rude guys) Who's rude, Helen?

Helen: The guy in the song. He didn't say "please" buy me something.

Jennie: Good point. No Cracker Jacks for him!


A Reflective Sort of Birthday

To Jennie, on her 19th birthday:

Girl, you are almost through with your freshman year in college, and what a year it has been. You are living away from home and meeting new people and finding out what life is like outside of your hometown. Occasionally you are learning that you know zero about the world, and even less about your place in it. Keep reminding yourself daily that you are clueless. Maybe it will keep you from telling that English professor that you don’t need his required English class. That cranky old man will make you a much better writer one day. So shut your mouth and listen to him.

In fact, you will eat a lot of your words that you speak as a 19-year old. So the less said this year, the better. But keep your chin up, girl. It gets awesome. Just you wait. People are being nice to you today, and your dorm door is decorated, and maybe a cute boy will say hi to you.

To Jennie, on her 29th birthday:

You are out on the town with your posse. You have flirted your way past all cover charges. The word of the night is “shots!” and you are hanging in there like a pro. Your hair is curly, and it’s staying curly. You feel skinny in that outfit. You can’t stop grinning. Your favorite cover band is playing all of your favorite songs. They even bring you up on stage and serenade you. Everyone is hugging you and wishing you Happy Birthday, and you love the world. You feel like a superstar. Best. Birthday. Ever.

Sometimes, there isn’t much to grin about. And sometimes, your hair won’t curl at all. You won’t always be the superstar. On those days, your real friends still love you. And that’s a much better birthday gift than a couple of shots. But the memory of this evening, and how happy you were, will make you smile for the rest of your life.

To Jennie, on her 39th birthday:

If you fall asleep on the couch tonight, you can always celebrate 39 again next year.


A shiner

Alice is generally the good kid in class who knows better, but one day last week, she climbed up on a table at daycare. Of course she fell, and banged up her eye.

Next day was picture day. Awesome.



Helen LOVES to draw. She goes through all of the scrap paper in the house. She has a huge bucket of crayons and markers. She is all about the craft and the scissors and glue and making stuff. Lots and lots of stuff. She gets mad if I throw out any of her work, but if I had to save it all, it would fill the entire living room. And we have a cathedral ceiling in that room.

She makes cards and writes notes and even builds hamster cages, complete with their own drawings on the wall. Seriously.

Brian and I have talked about getting her into art classes. She is super good at drawing just about any image she tries. She loves to paint, she loves to make jewelry, she constantly begs me to make her iron-on t-shirts, and she even wants to try pottery. I think if she could spend all day making crafts, she would be a happy camper.

Last month she brought home a stack of drawings from her art class at kindergarten. I took pictures of some of it. This is by no means representative of the bulk of her work, but it was art show worthy for her kindergarten.

This is a watercolor picture of a turtle with a highly decorated shell (look closely and you will see hearts and stars). His head, complete with eyes and a smiling mouth full of teeth, are off to the right.

I would love to have been a fly on the wall for this lesson, to understand how the teacher explained the concept of Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup painting to 5-year olds. The bottom right person has braces.

Even though we have never seen a Barnum & Bailey show, Helen drew a circus ringmaster, complete with a top hat and a long line of her classmates on the tightrope above.


Snow? Oh Man ...

This winter Helen's school had a record 9 snow days in 2 months. They only budgeted for 4, so a few professional development days for the teachers got cut, plus part of Spring Break, and they added some time to the end of the school year. Poor kids.

Anyway, I thought I would post pictures of one of the snowmen Brian and the girls built in the backyard after one of the bigger snows we got in January. Mr. Snowman is wearing one of my old scarves and has Oreos for eyes and a nose, and raisins for a mouth.

While I find it hard to send such tiny bodies outside to play in 10 degree weather, I tried to be very conscious of the fact that snow days have the potential to make memories for a lifetime, and I let them play a little bit in the snow. I truly hope they had some fun. But snow days don't mean the same thing to an adult. All I could think of is every time the TV news anchors delivered the school closing info was, that's one less vacation day. Is that wrong?

One of my most memorable snow days was when I was 8 years old. We got a week off from school due to a major ice storm. We had about 4 inches of ice when it was all over, and sub-freezing temps, and of course, no power. My dad had bought 2 of those big orange plastic saucers with little rope handles on the side. We took them out the next morning after the storm had subsided to see how they did on the icy hill in our side yard. I sat down on my saucer, and my dad gave me a gentle shove to get me started.

Here's the part where we learn the moral of the story is "planning ahead." I slid down the side yard hill at record speed. Good times, right? But our side yard faced a long downhill to a cul de sac, and to this day my dad insists that watching me hit the street, he realized I had no way to stop. He stood helpless on that icy hill, watching his daughter hurtle down the street on a thick sheet of ice, and was sure I would end up with something broken, or at the very least, come to a stop somewhere in the next county. To me, it was just exhilarating and a little bit scary. I came to rest, very suddenly, against a mailbox. I was stunned by the unexpected bonus part of the ride, but fortunately unharmed. Clearly, I knew I was invincible.

Getting back up the hill was another story. My sister immediately declined to ride her saucer. And we didn't play outside much that week. Ahh, snow days.

What are your favorite snow day memories?


Happy Birthday, Jane

She turned one late last month, and here are some long overdue pics of her happily demolishing a chocolate cupcake, Wyatt style.

Here she is crying because the remainder of the cupcake is covered in frosting. She was not a big fan of the frosting. But she devoured the cake. Atta girl.


Sirens Everywhere

Two weeks ago during a stormy afternoon at work, the tornado sirens starting blaring. Everyone in my high-rise office building downtown marched down the stairs to the basement to wait out the danger. Helen was in an elementary school hallway 15 miles west of me, curled up in the "Official School Tornado Drill Position" along with all of her kindergarten classmates. When I arrived later that evening to pick her up, I learned that the power had been out at the school for several hours. The teachers all seemed a little frazzled, but it didn't seem like a big deal to Helen. She was very matter-of-fact about all of it.

A few days ago, I was cleaning out her backpack and found a picture crumpled up at the bottom. It doesn't show up as well in the scan, but she drew a little word balloon next to her head that says, "Oh no."

I talked to Helen about the time she spent in the hall on the way home that day, and she told me that she was not scared, because the teacher would occasionally pat them on the back and tell them they were doing a good job. That's a good message to hear at any age.


Tales of the Daycare Teacher

There is a little boy in Alice's class, who I will call Tyler. They spent some time in the nursery together as infants and later in the one year-old room. But he was having a hard time with the transition to the two year-old group, and cried over and over again one morning for "Mama." Eventually, they made it to lunchtime, and everyone sat down at their tables to eat. This little boy continued his crying at the table.

At that point, as the quote goes, that's where the wheels came off the wagon. Alice stood up, slammed both hands down on the table, and said, "Tyler. YOUR. MAMA. NOT. HERE." And then she sat back down and ate her lunch.

Y'all, she's TWO.

The teachers were caught offguard by her outburst, then promptly fell over laughing, and raced to tell the teachers in the next room what just happened. The story spread like wildfire around the center. By the time I arrived that evening to pick up the kids, two teachers had shared it with me before I even made it to her classroom. Over the course of the week, nearly every single teacher laughed with me about that story. At the end of the week, I cautiously asked, "Has anyone told Tyler's mom that story?" Turns out, no, they hadn't. And that evening, after I left, Tyler's dad arrived to pick him up. Tyler's dad normally drops him off later than we do in the morning, and the few times I have crossed paths with him, he always tells me that he is a huge fan of Alice, that she always has a smile for him or greets him when he comes in. So when the teacher told his dad the story, he roared with laughter. Then he looked at Tyler and said, "Son, I'm sure that won't be the last time a woman tells you that."


Here come the girls

Helen is enjoying her first year of kindergarten. She is soaking up the skills – reading, math, science – as well as learning to navigate the social aspect. Her teacher is handling her first year in a classroom with poise and grace. I think this exposure to such a great teacher during a very pivotal year may have gotten Helen interested in being a teacher herself. This news comes as no surprise to my mom or my sister, who have noticed Helen’s tendency to boss everyone around, right from the start.

Alice is my strong silent type child. Her language skills are rapidly developing, and while it’s harder for outsiders to understand her, she’s speaking in full sentences and has plenty to say. But in a crowd she’s definitely minding her own business and doing her thing, and it usually doesn’t involve telling me her plans. Typical middle child behavior, I think. We do have some time together alone on the way to daycare and back home, and she chatters away and tells me all about her day. She sounds like the class clown. Her teachers adore her. They write funny notes about what she did that day and it’s been endlessly entertaining for all of us.

Jane turned a year old at the end of March. She’s been my tiniest child of all, which was a surprise for me. I didn’t know my genes could produce “petite.” But it’s been a great way for me to hold onto the illusion of having a “baby” baby for a little longer. She crawled later, and stood on her own later, and still hasn’t officially started walking. There’s been a step or two here and there over the past month, but no real walking. But she has been babbling and cooing at me from a very early age, and I think she’s learned the word “no” this week. She and Alice spent the car ride home last night shouting at each other.

Jane: (what sounded like) NO!

Alice: I say Yes ma’am.

Jane: NO!

Alice: I say yes ma’am, baby!

Jane: NO!

Alice: Mommy, baby say No and I want her say Yes ma’am.

Me: That’s motherhood for ya, Alice.

Pictures coming soon.


This One's Sad. Read with Kleenex.

After I graduated from college, I moved away from home to take an accounting job in Charlotte, North Carolina. I had a month between graduation and my first day at work, so after securing an apartment, I went home to rest, relax, pack, and plan for the move. At some point during that month, my mother told me I would be taking the family cat with me.

Abby the Tabby was 12 years old and finicky. We got her the summer I turned 10, and she pretty much ruled the roost right from the start. We had a couple of dogs along the way - large Labrador Retrievers - but size never mattered to her. All 8 pounds of tabby cat were definitely in charge at our house. She had her moments where she loved us, usually involving a can opener, and quite a few moments where she was an outright terror. I'll never forget her nightly escapades where she chased my little sister down the hall or up the stairs to her room each night for bed. And then she would sit on the bed, right next to her face, and watch her fall asleep. My sister used to fake snoring just to get her to hop off the bed. I bet she was the one who suggested that I take the cat.

Anyway, Abby and I moved together to Charlotte that summer. The drive was excruciating - the first 3 hours she spent howling at me - and I know it was a huge change for Abby. She must have been miserable not having a whole family to boss around any more. But we grew pretty close over that first year, and I watched her turn from a bossy and demanding pet into a very loving and sweet cat. She followed me everywhere, and it was really nice to have her around. The next year, I made plans to visit the family for Thanksgiving. I was going to drive straight from work, and had left a big bowl of food & water for Abby to last all weekend, but I forgot my ATM card at home that morning. So I headed home to pick it up after work. When I came in the front door, no cat greeted me. I found my ATM card and then went hunting for her.

Abby was under the bed, panting hard and not moving toward me when I called to her. Alarmed, I dragged her out from under the bed and carried her to her food bowl. She sort of sat there, continuing to pant, but not touching her food or water. So I put her head in the water bowl, and she kind of sipped at it. I called the vet, who at that hour of the evening was already sending calls to the emergency clinic, but said to touch base in the morning if we needed her. I took Abby to the clinic, and they proceeded to do a bunch of tests. She wouldn't walk - I had to carry her. She just panted and kind of moaned once in a while.

After a lot of crying, I ended up leaving her at the clinic overnight for testing. I went home to tell my parents that I would not be driving home yet, and I cried a lot more that night. This was the one pet we'd had forever, and this was a very sudden change that I was not prepared for yet. I was so worried and upset. The next morning, the clinic couldn't tell me anything new. They'd checked everything and done a ton of tests - $250 worth, to be exact - and still no sign of what could be wrong. So I drove to the vet's office.

This was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, at 8 am. If you've ever been to a vet on that particular morning, you already know that the parking lot was full and the line was out the door. Everyone in the county was dropping off dogs to be boarded. Me, I had a box lined with a towel, and a sick cat lying inside, panting and hooked up to an IV. To top it off, I'd been crying all night. So I went to the front of the counter and asked quietly if I needed to be in line, since I actually had an appointment to see the vet. The lady behind the counter said yes. She claimed there would be other people in line ahead of me who were also waiting to see the doctor. I told the last person in line, a kind older woman who was just down the steps outside the door, to please save me my place, because I'm going to sit in the waiting room with my cat in a box. And everyone shuffled slowly past me, some giving me sympathetic looks, others trying hard not to look, and a few brave enough to ask me what was wrong. It was pretty darn clear what was wrong. To this day, I will never forgive that lady behind the counter for making me sit there, and not letting me go sit in an exam room. Needless to say, not a single person ahead of me was there to see the vet that day.

The meeting with the doctor was short. We went over the results from the clinic. I vaguely recall having an x-ray for her to see. She couldn't see anything obviously wrong to cure, either. I think she had planned to take the long way toward a discussion of what was going wrong and how to best make Abby comfortable, but after that much crying over a long night, I had really come to the decision already. Abby was suffering and it was time. So I said goodbye and then the vet gave her the shot, and that was it. The end of an era.

I drove home to my family after that, crying the whole way. It was a 7-hour trip. My contacts were a giant layer of salt from all the tears, and I had to stop about 4 times to clean them so I could see through the blur. Really, it was one of the worst days I had ever had in my whole life. When I got home, my dad said that my mom and my sister were out shopping but should be back soon. I took my things up to my room, composed myself a little, and heard my mom & my sister arrive. I headed back downstairs. My sister rounded the corner with a tiny black kitten in her arms, and my mother right behind her. My first thought, which I did not say out loud, was "Oh, how incredibly tacky. I just put Abby to sleep this morning, and they want to replace her with another cat ON THE SAME DAY."

And then he looked up at me and meowed. Oh my lord, that meow. It was like sweet music. I took him in my arms, and I didn't put him down for 4 days. The rest of the trip was a blur. I'm sure I helped cook Thanksgiving dinner, but I don't remember it. Sometime that next day, I named him Max. I drove 7 hours back to my place on Sunday, and realized my family was really thinking about me. I didn't have to show up alone that night and see all the reminders of Abby everywhere - I had a little kitten to distract me! And I promptly found a brand-new vet, one with a staff that was awesome.

It's hard to tell what kittens will turn into. My mom and my sister wanted to get something that wouldn't remind me of Abby, so they bought a male black cat. He turned out to be a long-haired one. Who knew? Plus, he was massive - 13 pounds. But he was adorable and awesome and I basically doted on him.

About 2 years later, I moved back home with my parents, and Max promptly became their first grandkid. He'd wait for them next to the treat drawer whenever they appeared with grocery bags, and 100% of the time, he was rewarded for that minimal effort. Max went out on their screened-in porch nearly every day to watch the birds and enjoy the breeze and sleep in the sun. During the summer, tiny lizards used to crawl in between the boards. My mighty hunter was waiting for every single one of them. He got nightly pampering from my dad who had dubbed himself as keeper of the king-sized lap. They missed him when I moved out on my own again, so I brought him to visit Camp Grandma frequently.

As much time as I've spent brushing his fur off of every single thing I own, that guy is mine, all mine. He's the nicest cat on the planet. He put up with me bringing other cats home, and moving across the country and back, and switching apartments every 3 years. He put up with my late nights during my single years, and even later nights during the infant years. He patiently tolerates my children who yank on his fur. Last fall, he turned 15. I sent a couple of texts to my family and gave him a lot of hugs and thought about how fast 15 years has flown by, and kept on going.

There's a lot of kitty throw up that you tolerate as a long-haired cat owner, but daily for a couple of months is a bit much. He's gotten pretty skinny in the past few months. So this past Saturday, I took him to the vet. The vet did about $250 worth of tests (hmmm, I'm sensing a pattern here) - but the short answer is kidney disease. He's not getting good nutrition, and he's pretty dehydrated. There's a plan, not a great one (it involves pilling a cat - woo hoo), but it's a plan.

I'm not sure what to expect in terms of how long. Right now he seems fine. He loves everyone, and he plays, and he cuddles, and you would never in a million years guess that he is 15. But the vomiting is a problem, since he's not getting food or water to stay down long enough to keep him in good health. I can see where this is headed, much slower this time. I can stop and appreciate him and hug him and care for him, and it will still hurt like hell when he's gone. It dredges up awful memories and tears to think of that morning with Abby, and it was really just me handling it on my own. Thank god I'm wearing glasses while I'm writing this. I'm not sure another pair of contacts could take it.



So, finally, I'm clueless

Last night, driving home from work, Helen asked me what was for dinner. I told her that dad was picking up pizza from the nearby Jet's Pizza.

Helen sighed. She has a favorite spot elsewhere, and Jet's is not it, and the entire family knows it. She prefers a local pizza parlor called Pizza Perfect, complete with a game room (where half of the arcade games and air hockey tables actually work). They do make a yummy New York style thin crust pizza. But you get more for your take-out money from Jet's, so we often go there instead.

Helen: Mom. It's called Pizza Perfect. Because the pizza? is PERFECT. Pizza. Perfect. Okay?

Jennie: (stifling urge to giggle) Okay.

(By the way, if you're a girl, you probably could guess that her line was delivered with THAT TONE.)


Add it to the list

Kids need attention. Lots and lots of attention. There are hugs and kisses to give, squabbles to mediate, toys to redistribute, and lots of instructions to give. Lots of instructions. Twice, three times, louder & louder - whatever it takes. The housework doesn't end, either. Laundry is endless. There are bills to pay. Homework to supervise. Meals to prepare, grocery shopping to do, and dishes to wash. At some point, I think I need to mop, vacuum, and/or dust. Possibly clean a bathroom. And I've also got this sadly neglected blog. Wait, I'm married? Okay, add "talk to husband." Oh, and somewhere in there I work a full-time job. But instead, with all the free time on my hands, I've started a new hobby that is truly time-consuming.
Hi, my name is Jennie, and I'm a knitter.
Totally addicted, y'all. At home, I want to knit when I should be doing everything else. Brian rewinds the DVR at some key plot points, so I can actually see what just happened, instead of hearing it while I'm looking down at my knitting. I knit with people at work during lunch. I knit in the pediatrician's waiting room, the oil change place, and on the bus. I surf websites at home, joined 3 different knitting email lists, and I cruise the yarn section at Michaels looking for clearance sales. I search on Craigslist for people selling yarn, and look for garage sales with craft items. I went to Goodwill to find sweaters to unravel. Anything to keep me in the loop and adding to my stash.
Recently I made my first project to give away to someone outside the home. It was a heady level of nervousness and excitement to give someone a gift that I had spent weeks making with my bare hands. I had really thought way too long and hard about it and poured over all of the details and bored everyone to tears by talking about it. It was a dishcloth, for god's sakes. You would have thought it was the Sistene Chapel the way I showed it off.
Next project for giving away was a baby jacket and pair of booties for a baby shower for the Amazing Babysitter, who's due in May with a girl (yay!! - wait, I'm losing my babysitter! BOOO!!!). So multiply the planning and fretting and discussion by 100.
If you are considering knitting, the first step is to bookmark www.knittinghelp.com. A plethora of free videos show you exactly how to knit, all the basic stitches and all the weird ones, too. Those videos got me through some very dark places on my first 3 projects. They also have an app for the iPhone/iPad so you don't have to go online for any videos.
The second step is to join www.ravelry.com. That's like the Facebook of knitting, where people can find patterns and pictures of projects and all kinds of yarn. Plus forums full of people having the same problems you are with the same patterns. Or who like to talk about knitting or local yarn shops or whatever. It's the ultimate knitting groupie website. Sometimes it's hard to figure out how to stop browsing Ravelry so I can get back to knitting.
But anyway, this blog entry is cutting into my knitting time. Right now I'm working on a project that I hope I can finish quickly, that is if the laundry doesn't rise up and swallow me whole. I promise I will try to keep you all updated. These kids are getting pretty big, and awfully cute. I'd hate for one of them to graduate kindergarten before I post another entry.