Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mammaw Burnett's Snickerdoodles

Mammaw Burnett made these cookies over the years as my mom and her three sisters grew up. She continued to make them as she had grandchildren, and they were my absolute favorite cookie. My nickname from her became Doodlebug in honor of this amazing cookie and my adoration for it. My mom taught my sister and I to make them. I can still remember standing at the table or breakfast bar, rolling them in my hand and dipping them in the cinnamon and sugar. Even now, the smell of that combo as I stand making them in my own kitchen with my son, sends me right back.

My friend Jessica Turner of www.themomcreative.com is having a virtual cookie exchange today over at her blog, so I thought I would join in on the fun.

Here you go--enjoy!

Snickerdoodles

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Blend together:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening (butter flavored works well)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs

Sift together:
2 3/4 cups flour
2 t. cream of tartar
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

Pour in slowly to the butter mixture. Blend together. Batter should be a bit stiff, but sticky. Chill. Okay to chill for an hour or so because the dough rolls together better when stiff. If batter is still too soft to roll into a ball, add a bit of flour and mix by hand until you get a dryer consistency (but not too much!).

While batter is chilling, mix cinnamon and sugar in a cereal bowl. I usually end up with an inch or so in a bowl. Making more is better than less in this case.

When dough is ready to roll, pinch off enough dough to roll into walnut size balls. Place about 2" apart on cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until lightly browned and cracked on top, but still soft. These cookies will puff up first, then flatten a bit. If the cookie will not come off the pan without breaking, they will need to cook 30 seconds or so more. After making them tonight, I think turning the oven down to 375 degrees after first batch will help the second batch to not get so dark. They are a bit tricky to not overcook, but so worth it. You want them perfectly soft, not crunchy. :-)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Renee Bondi

Today I reconnected with an old friend, an author that I adore and admire. Her name is Renee Bondi and she is a quadriplegic. The first twenty-nine years of her life were experienced with legs and arms that worked. The last twenty have been spent in a wheelchair, relying on a caregiver to attend to her needs.

Twenty years ago, Renee woke up in the middle of the night after diving off the end of her bed onto the floor. She could not move. At. All. With barely a whisper of a voice, she called for her housemate, but she didn't couldn't imagine that she would hear her. But God nudged her friend out of a deep sleep and made her hear that whisper so that Renee could get the medical help that she desperately needed. Renee's story is nothing short of miraculous. She made it through those first months, and then the next year. Through another miracle she regained her breath control and begin singing again. She now travels around the country speaking and singing. She is a published author, an accomplished musician. And she gave birth to a boy 14 years ago.

What I have always loved about Renee is her sweet spirit. She didn't sign up for the life that she has now. She never would have imagined how her life would turn out. But in spite of the obstacles that she faces every day, there is no bitterness in her. Sure she has some really, really tough days. But she believes that God has her here for a purpose, wheelchair or not, and she will persevere. She believe in her ministry of speaking and recording, and that she is exactly where God wants her to be.

Seeing her today, I was reminded again that her worse days are far worse than my worse days. I have much to be grateful for, even when my world is a mess.

I have always loved this old song sung by Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas. The lyrics seem fitting today.

Count Your Blessings
by Irving Berlin

When I'm worried and I can't sleep,
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.
When my bankroll is getting small
I remember when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

All About Me

I met Angie (angie128) a long time ago. Okay, so it was through Twitter this year. I do not know why I started following her (Although it sounds like stalking, it is not classified as stalking. It is following and it is okay). Anyway, I like her sense of humor, she cared when my dad had surgery, and she is a great writer. She also has a sister and it is fun to watch them interact. They remind me of the way my sis and I are when we talk and it makes me laugh.

At any rate, since I am on my new mission to blog every day and since I am on the third day and have run out of material...I am stealing from her blog. Why? Because it's the right thing to do.

So here is the All About Me quiz that she posted today, minus her answers. She posted her answers in two words, but I don't know if I can do that. My words tend to multiply.

Where is your cell phone? On me
Your hair? Long wavy
Your mother? Long story
Your father? Love him
Your favorite food? Too many
Your dream last night? Hard sleep
Your favorite drink? Riesling/Coke
Your dream/goal? Retire early
Your hobby? Scrapbooking/photography
Where do you want to be in 6 years? Almost 45
Where were you last night? Same place
Something that you aren't? Quiet/short
Muffins? Nope
Wish list item? New camera
Last thing you did? Goodnight Zach
What are you wearing? Underarmour sweats
Your TV? Glee/Lost
Your pets? Bubba Tyson
Your life? Crazy fun
Your mood? Lonely girl
Missing someone? My husband
Vehicle? Ford Explorer
Something you are not wearing? Socks/hat
Your favorite store? Anthropologie/Target
Your favorite color? Green/pink
When was the last time you laughed? Every minute
Last time you cried? Last week
Your best friend? Laughs/Talks
One place you go to over and over again? Target Target
One person who emails you regularly? Erin Bartels
Favorite place to eat? Mexican restaurants

Hey, I did it! Two words! I love my mad editing skills.

Geez, remember the sounds from last night? It now sounds like an animal is being murdered outside of my back windows. I do not like that sound. Ick. Ick. Ick. Squealing is bad. Screeching okay. Is there anything good on TV?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sounds

The last couple of nights, there has been a loud SCREECHING bird outside within a very close proximity to the house. Can I say how loud this bad boy is? Believe me, we hear screeching birds every night. We know what they sound like as they call to each other. One here and one there in the trees outside of our top floor windows. This one is different.

We've always assumed that the screeches we hear are a pair of great-horned owls since a great-horned owl injured himself in our back yard once. Dan had a heroic rescue of the shocked bird with an Indian blanket, a Pampered Chef oven mitt and his work gloves. He corralled him and put him in a box, where we invited the neighbors to view our prize in all his glory for three hours. We were waiting for the nature center to open! Don't freak out, people! We finally got him to a nature center where they proceeded immediately to put him to sleep. We were depressed for two days.

The point is: we know that we have owls.

On Monday as I left the house, it was still quite dark (thanks, Zach, for starting school at 7:30 am). As I drove down our little street, I saw a huge bird swoop down from my left and fly in front of my lights. He had a white underbelly and a huge wingspan. Then he flew right up on the other side of the street and Zach caught a glimpse of him on top of a tree. WOW. I think that big guy might be the noise maker!

I looked him up online today and found a site that had owl sounds as well. My scientific deduction is that we have a *barn owl* and not a great-horned owl this time!! They are amazing creatures with beautiful front feathers and sweet round faces. I hope I get a glimpse of him again soon. And he can make that racket all he wants. We have zero bunny population this summer. I think he's been busy!

On another noise related note, we have a trombone player in the house. Dan is the original trombone star in these parts, but now Zach is learning to play in band class. He has made a great start on playing since his first week. It's only been a month but he can play a few bars of When the Saints Go Marching In...over and over and over and over again. And you know how that darn song sticks in your head--don't you?!!! Well, now you can understand my pain.

I did walk outside for a minute tonight with Tyson and I could hear the trombone outside of the house. Maybe my barn owl and Zach should learn to play a duet. We could be famous (which is Zach's goal in life, you know) and go on the road. In fact, I think their trademark song could be the Michigan Fight Song and when they get to the part where you say, Let's Go Blue, the owl could screech three times. Hmmm....I'll be back...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Reasons for blogging (and they are not what you might think)

And so I begin again. Why is writing so hard to make a habit? I wander off from here, then return. Weeks and days go by. Life continues. No one reads this, I tell myself, so why bother?

Here are some reasons for 'bothering' to blog:

1) For my son. Zach thinks there are many, many people who read this. And of course, I do not want to let him down. He actually thinks I blog, but that is another story. I cannot lie to him too much. It will damage his psyche or something.

So this happens yesterday: he bought blue racquetballs because they bounce super high. In the bouncing frenzy that followed, he mentioned that it would be cool if the president of the company who made the bouncy racquetballs, read my blog. And then if I posted pictures of him, and the president saw the photos, that would be so cool.

My son has a serious thing for celebrity...his own. And it is all available to him through my blog, facebook and twitter accounts.

2) To keep records. Reading Ali Edwards blog, changes me. Also, her spirit and her funny words and her art and her stories and photos and cooking. I know stories about these women, more sometimes than I recall about my own family.

Blogging helps me record *precious moments* such as (hunting story to follow--skip below if you do not like them!) when my husband shot his first doe with a bow in our very own backyard. And how my favorite words out of his mouth were this: "Since I shot it in the shoulder instead of further back, it didn't bleed as much and that is why she kept running. I couldn't see which direction she ran. Then I saw one hoof print and one drop of blood, then I knew. I tracked her down with just that." What a man. He was so excited. And I was happy for him. Truly.

Until tonight when I forgot about the uh, blood on the LAWN, and let Tyson out without a leash. I was not happy for him when Tyson came IN MY HOUSE with bloody feet from the rainy yard--the BLOOD from the night before. I was not happy for him when Tyson also left a small trail of an UNKNOWN SUBSTANCE from the bloody yard on my rug in the hall.

And now I have written it down and will remember it for all time. Isn't that precious?

3) To waste time. Yes, indeed. With Dan gone four days out of the week to the other side of the state, I can do this at night. Excellent. I get to stay up later than I need to, hone in on my writing skills, entertain myself, and well, use this to avoid whatever else that I was going to do every evening. I did that this summer and it worked so well! Gotta get back to doing it.

Wasting time. It's not just for college students anymore.

Welcome back. Oh, that was for me, but I welcome you back as well. Dan, if you are the only one reading this, I welcome you back--see I wrote about you! You are now as famous as Zach. And by Thursday night I will have forgiven you for the bloody mess on my carpet that was indirectly your fault. Although I could have used your help wrangling that dog all by myself as I tried to wash his paws off with a washcloth and soap. Remember how much he hates his feet touched?! Let's just pray for heavy rain tonight. And that Zach, your famous son, does not forget to take Tyson out on a leash. Love you!



Wednesday, September 16, 2009

All I know to do is keep on walkin'

There are times when the world spins so fast that you feel as if you tipped one way or another, you would fall off. The that slightest move or misstep would put you flat on your face. I was writing this post in my head yesterday as I spun around yet one more time. It's been busy this past summer: juggling work stuff, going on vacation, keeping the home fires burning while Dan works out of town during the week, getting Zach ready for middle school, my dad's surgery, my mom's two surgeries...I needed give myself a break last night.

Instead I came home to a post on Facebook that a friend's husband had been killed in a car accident earlier in the day. She and her husband have two kids, one in 4th and one in 9th.

You hear news like that and your own troubles disappear. You only want to hold those you love, to take away the pain for your friend. It makes me want to yell at God. This is the second time this year that a friend has lost a spouse and both have been very near my own age. Their children should have both parents. These couples should have been able to celebrate golden wedding anniversaries. I simply couldn't stop crying last night. Heartache and pain in so many people's lives this year--cancer in both adults and children, jobs lost, death.

Because of my love for music, songs often come to me during hard times that I need to hear. Thanks, God, for the instant messaging. :-) Take a listen to Somewhere Down the Road. It is truly one of my favorite Amy Grant songs and the lyrics are wonderful. Somewhere down the road we will know the answers. It's just so hard waiting for them in the meantime.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A red mower

When I was a high schooler, my dad decided that I could help mow the lawn every week. I was the prissiest girl on the street and I simply did not mow lawns. As a small girl, I had stepped on a large bee while barefoot and never had the desire to go outside again. Playing on the grass was full of the unknown, so whenever possible I protected myself. Shoes all the time. Blanket forts under the slide so that I wouldn't get dirty nor have to touch creepy bugs. No sweating. So, yeah, you can imagine the mowing idea didn't go over too well.

We had a red pushmower that looked ancient even then. My job was only to mow the front yard, but it was huge! Of course now, going back home I see that it would have taken me 15 minutes tops, but at the time you would have thought it was a field. I remember having serious issues starting that old contraption. You had to pull the chord back fast with some oomph or it wouldn't start. I would get so angry while trying to start it. It hated me, you see. And the darn thing was heavy! A skinny 10th grade girl was powerless to push it fast, so it took me forever to get it done. I grumbled and complained at every turn. Those were long, sticky, humid Indiana summers...

While Dan was out of town, I mowed my own lawn. The grass was threatening to overtake my house, so it had to be done. I've definitely mowed it before--the riding mower is such a treat compared to the red beast of my youth. But that night, I actually enjoyed it! (Dan is now reading this and thinking that he will concoct an evil plan to get me to mow every week, I'm sure). The temps were cooling down, there was a nice breeze and everything was so green. Our yard is surrounded by pine trees and they are getting so tall that it felt cavelike in the yard. I did see my share of creatures: two garter snakes (one I accidentally chopped up) and a big frog. And yes, I did scream when I ran over the garter snake.

It's interesting how years can make the same chore seem different. How age can sneak up on us and instead of hating something, we enjoy it. Instead of our parents taking care of us, we are taking care of them. Instead of mowing the lawn ourselves, we get our kids to do it. The circle of life is really here, isn't it?

My dad recently had surgery and found out he has colon cancer. I stayed at my old home during that time and walked around the yard with my dog. So many memories flooded back: the place where my sister's hamster was buried, the thin line of a garden that hasn't been planted in 30 years, the place where my swing set used to stand, the odd cinder block patio my dad built where the red charcoal grill used to stand, the sound of my sister laughing and running in the yard, the trees that I remember planting that are now taller than the house. It's all there. Where did time go? How can we stand in those places and feel as if it was only yesterday? How can we have the courage to move ahead into the unknown? I'm not sure, but I think it might be lurking just around the corner.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Chatterbox




He was only gone a week. Scenes from conversations with an 11.5 year old boy about his week with grandma. See why it was so quiet around the house?

1. Zach: Mom, I want MEAT. Nanny didn't feed me any and I miss it. Can we have it tonight? Me: No, Zach. We are on a road trip home and I do not have any thawed out to grill. Plus, it's late. We'll get subs on the way home. Zach: I need BBQ. Or STEAK. Or sooomethinnnggg with MEAT. I just can't figure out why they didn't feed me any. It's just not like them. They always feed me ribs. I wonder why they didn't this time. (Sigh)

2. If I heard it once, I heard it 20 times before bed last night: Mom, there was this commercial I saw and it was so funny...it went like this...(proceed to fall apart in giggles). Me: Did you watch a lot of TV at Nanny's? Zach: No. I mean yes. Maybe. Kind of. But they have the hunting channel. I like that one.

3. Zach: I have this memory of the sun shining down on me and Poppa and we are laying with our heads on McKenzie. It's like a picture in my head, Mom.

4. Zach: I was thinking about when we used to go in the hot tub at Nanny and Poppa's old house. OH! And I remember Poppa sitting in the hot tub and you could see his fat belly sticking out of the water and I was swimming around. Huh. I haven't thought of that before until just this minute. Did they move that hot tub to the cabin? Where is it? Me: You have been to the cabin three times now and you just stayed there for a week, did you see it? Zach: No, I thought I just hadn't found it yet. Me: It stayed at the old house. You can't move a hot tub. Zach: Oh. They... SOLD THAT HOUSE???? Me: Oh. My.

5. Zach: One time, when I was at Nanny's, I was playing with Max (the cat) and he really likes me. He spits sometimes, but then he will sit on my lap. And he likes that new toy I made him with the string. Sometimes, when I was reading while I was at Nanny's, in the loft--you know in that bed up there? Max would come up the stairs and sit there waiting for me to go play with him. Max will miss me so much. He never even scratched me when he was spitting. He doesn't have front claws.

Glad to have you home where you belong, big guy.

Monday, July 27, 2009

On redemption

Back home after a whirlwind trip to my in-laws cabin and to my sister's house. Zach needed to be picked up from a week spent with Nanny and Mike, so off I went with Tyson (he navigates from the backseat when he is not snoring).

The in-laws recently built a lovely cabin on some adjacent family property to the house where Dan grew up. There are stories on every corner of this land: from November deer hunts with Dan's dad, forts built by the 'crick' as it is called in these parts, a bear sighting by Dan and his brother, and numerous other exploits by boys too brave for their own good. Grandma & Grandpa's house was up the hill on another piece of land and Dan tells of days spent there away from his parents' prying eyes. His grandparents had plenty of farm animals and didn't miss an opportunity to feed their growing boys. What more could a boy want?

Dan's dad passed away several years ago and when his mom remarried, the dream was to build this cabin and sell the original house. As adult children, you wonder and worry and yell when a parent wants to remarry after the death of your father. Dan certainly did. Change is never easy especially when it involves emotional ties. But after this weekend, I will say that my worries about Mike, the step-dad, are subsiding. Okay, so yes, it's been years since they married, but the trust doesn't come easy when you loved your father (or father-in-law) so deeply. No one could take his place.

You see the other thing about Mike is that he has a past. Mike had screwed up his life before he met my mother-in-law. He'd divorced after several kids. He'd had an affair. He drank too much. He was in jail for something that I will probably never know. He does not have relationships with his adult kids. He had terrible anger issues. He smoked. He seemed to be a gold digger to a widow who didn't have any money. The trust would not come easy. It would need to be proven over time.

He immediately took to Zach when he married into the family. Zach was at an age where anyone was fun who would play with him and so they bonded. And of course, Zach does not know about Mike's past. As the years have gone by, their relationship has grown and developed. I asked Zach once if he felt Mike had taken the place of Poppa. He said no--his relationship with Mike was special. Just special, that's all. Last summer when Zach spent the week, the two of them camped in a tent out in the yard. Big fun. Last week, Mike called in sick to work so that he could spend an afternoon with Zach while he was staying with them for the week. He took Zach around to an enormous cattle ranch, a friend's farm and to McDonald's. Only the two of them. When I asked Mike why he had called into work, he said this..."Zach is growing up. He might not want to spend summers with us many more years from now. I wanted to hang out with him while I had the chance."

His words cut to my heart. Here is a man who does not have adult children visit him. Here is a man who tells his wife not to buy the other grandkids gifts for Christmas since he never sees them anyway. The grandkids don't know him and his children don't want them to have anything to do with him. Here is a man who has made huge mistakes in his life and who has one last shot at redemption. A boy who doesn't know Mike's past, accepts him for who is is now. Nothing more, nothing less.

Redemption is indeed a gift.

Friday, July 24, 2009

10 Things That Make Me Happy

10 things that make me happy on a Friday:

1. Sunshine on my shoulder
2. Biggby Coffee
3. A massage at the chiropractor and the promise that we'll work to "get that back better"
4. That Dan wasn't hurt when his driver in China wrecked their car. Don't know extent of damage or circumstance but I am sure there is a story or two about the police station.
5. Going to pick up my boy Zach today. I might not recognize him. He may have grown a foot and his hair will be long and shaggy. He needed a haircut before he left, so now it must be all crazy!
6. My leather ring with the leather pink flower on it
7. Daughtry's new music which begs me to question...if I downloaded it from itunes is it still considered a CD? Or does that happen only when it is burned to a CD or you purchase it as a CD? Ah, the world of music in 2009.
8. The potential for an ice cream snack as I drive to pick up Zach. It might not happen, but it could. Wouldn't you like to know?
9. New books to read this week from the library: The Help by Kathryn Stockett and The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.
10. My four nieces. I will get to see them on Sunday and hang out with them for 24 hours and embrace all their girlness. Love, love, love that.

Have a great weekend. Go get ice cream right now. You know you want to!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Our little Bubba


Since all week it has been pretty much me and the dog around here, I thought it high time he make an appearance on the blog. Tyson is a Boxer and he is almost 12 years old. Yes, he is old. Yes, he is grey. And yes, he still acts like a toddler.
Tyson is the son of McKenzie who was our first dog. She died two years ago and I miss her every day. She was our first--baby or dog--and we spoiled her rotten. We were determined that she be a good dog and enrolled her in obedience school. And she failed twice. In the end, she was a good girl and obedient to the core. Her son, well, that apple fell far from that tree.

Okay, my husband would disagree with me because Tyson listens to him. Very well actually. He will give Dan the evil eye sometimes and heave a big sigh when told to stop or to do something, but he will do it. With me, when Dan is out of the house--even to walk to the mailbox--Tyson needs to share everything with me. LOUDLY. Dan says it is because I am a pushover, but I have tried. People, I have tried to use the firm voice or the Dog Whisperer Rules or any other pull-me-up-by-the-straps firmness that I can muster. He still barks at me.

I should rephrase. His barking is not random. He really is telling me something when he speaks. Here is the common theme,"I see the treats on top of the fridge. I know that you gave me one as you always do when you come home. But it is an hour later and I have slept on the couch and I have decided that I would like another." And so on, until he has decided that he wants my dinner or he wants to walk or he needs to go outside or he wants to lay on the deck in the sun. Did I mention he does this LOUDLY?
Don't get my wrong. This boy is my dog. And of course that is why he barks. Yes, I am indeed a pushover. Frankly, when he was a pup I was too tired to argue. He was born six months before my son and during Tyson's terrible puppy stage, I was learning the schedules of a newborn. Tyson probably had to speak loud to me in order to get my attention as I fed Zach and slept on the couch between feedings. No wonder he's like this.

He doesn't bark all the time though. The other thing he does quite well these days is sleep. Poor guy, I guess getting old bites. When he was a puppy and I was still pregnant, I was told to lay on my left side to reduce the swelling that I was beginning to show all over my big self. Guess where Tyson decided was the prime seat in the house? In the curve of my leg by my knee. It's still his comfort place to this day.

Crazy creature that he is, we wouldn't trade him for anything. In fact, knowing that this is probably our last year or so with him pains me. I can't think about it or I will cry. I never had a dog growing up and now I cannot imagine my life without that furry bundle of joy no matter how much he drives me crazy. He's been comfort when I was sad, kept me warm on many a cold Michigan night, made me belly laugh at some of his antics, and kept me company when I was lonely. Our little Bubba is my honey dog and I don't know what I would have done without him all these years.

What's that? Oh, I'm sure he wants another treat. Sorry he's so loud.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hear ye! Hear ye! Schedule your mammogram today!

Today was mammogram day for my second sixth month check-up. Yes that would be a one year check up officially, but that is what the doc called it--we're sticking to his story. I call this my "super duper" mammogram since I get the high-res scan at the shiny new hospital. (Sorry, but I am not gifted with the ability to retain technical terms. Tell me something with a long name and many consonants, and I will glaze over before you have finished speaking. Just so you know.)

Anyway, last year when my mom was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer, I immediately called my doctor for a little chat. It's funny how you go along with life, then someone in your immediate family is diagnosed with a disease and you immediately think it could show up in you the next day. No time like the present, though, and our lovely chat ended up with a mammogram scheduled. Excellent. Let the base line begin.

And wouldn't you know it, I got the call. Well, not THE call, but the one that says the regular mammogram was showing something that needed checking out with a super duper mammogram. Please refer to above paragraph for explanation of why this would happen. Remember the line about showing up the next day? You got it. Although I was highly suspicious of the machine that took the first scans since it looked like it was built before I was born. Sure, that was it.

Seriously, wouldn't it be ironic if I was diagnosed two weeks after my mom? And tragic? People would surely talk. And bring casseroles.

Not to make light of the situation, because I will say that those days waiting for the results of the super duper mammogram were intense. I am a highly imaginative little girl and I created scenarios that would chill you. My husband was worried. My girlfriends were worried. My sister was worried. We didn't tell my mom. And if you know her you are sworn to secrecy. In the end, the OTHER call came--the one with good news--and all was deemed clear. Good. Nothing to worry about. Whew.

So now I have six-month checkups that turn into yearly checkups on my super-duper-squash-me-ultra-mammogram machine. And that is what I did on my Wednesday.

Schedule yours today! I mean it. Go write it on your planner and call that doctor's office.

And I was thinking...you know those little stickers that they give you when you walk out of the voting place? "I Voted Today" they say. I think clinics and hospitals should give you stickers after a mammogram that say, "I Got Squashed Today."

You would certainly get attention.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

De-fense! De-fense!

I am a people person. Over the past three nights without my boys, this fact has been quite obvious. The silence around here is making me crazy. Oddly enough, when I was a child I was extremely shy and loved nothing more than coming home to recoup from being with people. Alone time was my favorite time of day. It's not that I didn't admire those that were outgoing and chatty because they were outrageously cool to me. Those that could perform on stage or skate at the Olympics or could be an actress were my heroes. But I never dreamed that I could be one of those people until the year that I was in seventh grade.

It was my first year at a new school and for the first time, I saw cheerleaders. Now in the early eighties at a small Christian high school, cheerleading was not the extreme sport that it has turned into today. I didn't have to do a flip or get tossed in the air by a hot guy. I only had to be brave enough to stand in front of a hundred fans on a good night and cheer for our boys at soccer and basketball. Without a doubt I wanted to be in that uniform. So I announced to my parents a few weeks before tryouts that I wanted to be a part of it.

I cannot imagine the shock my poor parents had. The girl who looked away if someone spoke to her? The girl who was oddly gangly and tall? The girl who could not speak above a whisper? Right. They encouraged me to try, but I can imagine many conversations behind closed doors about my obvious possibility of failure. In the end, I worked hard. I learned the cheers and the moves and found out that I could do the splits. I watched and listened. I made the junior high squad for Calumet Baptist High School.

And I found my voice.

I credit much to those many years of being a cheerleader (or yell leader as my mammaw always called it)...Confidence in myself and my abilities. Communicating to people during frustrating practices or leading a crowd in a cheer. Being part of a team and knowing that the bottom of the pyramid would fall without me. Supporting others with posters on lockers and excited talk before a game. Finding the humorous side of myself. Learning to tell a joke or telling a story to a crowd.

Sometimes, though, it is good to be alone. I have to remind myself of that. I cannot always have my boys around me nor do I constantly need to "be busy." I do need to stop and slow down. Often, I realize that I tend to use people as a crutch and don't allow myself that alone time. This week will be a good push for me to reflect, think and stir up my creative juices again. I can see already that is has stirred up the writer in me again. And I have some new project ideas buzzing around in my head. So, here's to possibilities for a wonderful week alone.

I promise to not talk to myself that much.

Monday, July 20, 2009

I miss the sound of your voice (with kudos to Matt Nathanson)

A voice. The subtle nuances that define the one person in the world who knows you best. You wait to hear it from halfway around the world and it finally comes. Listening to it you can breathe again. A silly grin jumps across your face as you realize there is no delay in hearing him, his time is your time. It is as if he went to pick up a pizza or called on his way home from work.

There are a few differences: his Tuesday is your Monday. His day is your night. Bicycles buzz past him on a busy street. A family of four clings to a motorscooter and they somehow arrive at their destination in one piece. You hear the odd beeps of another place that exists beyond your imagination. Shouts and banging; birds singing at a new morning. He describes women washing their clothes in the river in front of him, up early with the dawn and facing a day that you know nothing about. Tonight you will put clothes in a washer and dryer. The hum will distract you while you watch a silly television show. There will be no manual labor. He is a window to another time, ancient in some ways yet modern in others.

There are more stories and laughter, but for now the voice is all you hear. A connection across thousands and thousands of miles, an ocean apart. He is yours. You are his.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ruth Homer


Today I had a blissful afternoon digging around antique shops in Mason, Michigan. My family does not enjoy this and was more than happy to let me enjoy it alone. It pleases me to see glassware and beautiful oak furniture, funny old signs and quirky figurines. I tend to gravitate towards books and postcards and jewelry, always on the watch for ancient Revell books since I work for that publisher. A surprise pops up every now and then that makes me laugh: an old orange Crockpot like my mom used for years with glass lid intact (hers broke), a pink metal trunk like the one that held my doll clothes, a Fisher Price plastic barn with the mooing door, pristine McDonalds and Burger King glasses with Star Wars or Strawberry Shortcake on them. I never buy these items, but they stir up the nostalgic heart in me.

One of the coolest items found this afternoon was a suede photo book with black construction paper pages on the inside. The cover was wrapped with a suede strap and had the name of the girl to whom it was given, Ruth Homer, burned on the front. The suede is a bit beat up and stained, but I had to have it. I have no idea whether this is an old prize or not, but it spoke to me.

I can imagine a young girl giggling with glee as she received this as a gift. Maybe her dad knew how to burn her name on it. Or maybe it was from a boy. Perhaps she learned how to do this as a craft project at camp, but yet it seems far too detailed for an inexperienced person to have completed. But wasn't it the best to have your name on something you owned? Since my name is highly unusual, I remember the pain of NOT having my name on something. HA.

I guess that's why Ruth Homer's little scrapbook spoke to me. She viewed it as too precious to mess up. It was difficult for her to paste pictures in this album because it would "ruin" it. I remember that feeling to well, being torn in your decision to keep something special because of your love for it. Today it was a great reminder to me to use the things that I love. They won't be ruined, only loved on. My friend recently hung a chandelier of her grandma's in her favorite place in her house, the sunroom. I use my antique tea cups to drink my tea or brew a pot in the Brown Betty that was Dan's grandma's. I wear Grandma Boydston's costume jewelry to work when I miss her.

We only have one life. Don't let that special scrapbook sit unused--fill it with the photos of your life. Drink tea from that cup. Use your grandpa's fishing pole. Write in the journal you were saving because it was pretty. Bring out your wedding china for your teenage son to eat on at dinner.

Use what you love. I think it will make your day.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

On Love


Kissing you goodbye, the tears stream down my face. I won't cry. I won't worry. I won't be overcome with the emptiness of you not here. Two weeks is significantly less time than a soldier going off to war is gone. The danger is not their danger. But flying to the other side of the world might as well be the moon. Or Flint, Michigan.

We have had to say goodbye so many times this year. I don't want to get used to it. In fact, tonight I am at a loss.

Over the next few weeks I will feel as if a part of me is missing. My arm. My leg. My heart. Brad Paisley has a song out now that says, I Loved You Then, speaking of the times along the way that we thought we loved that someone in our life. We thought love was profound and real, and then we are moved by our capacity to love more. We take love for granted. And then we are surprised by it all over again.

It's been over 17 years since I first fell for you. And I am surprised again by love.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Next time, I think I will stick with a can, thanks.

After a blissful upgrade to first class from Denver to Grand Rapids, I thought my long day of travel would be full of great reading and a nap or two. Instead I became a soggy mess. Let me tell you the story...

I had settled in for a long flight. Library book (Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy, if you would like to know) was on my lap and my Bose headphones were on while my iPod played some tunes. The businessman next to me had walked away to the bathroom. The flight attendant had asked me if I would like a drink. Ginger ale, thank you.

In first class, the middle arm rest is quite wide and allows a small area for drinks. My seatmate and I each had a glass and two cans resting there. The area was crowded and since I did not want to spill my drink, I decided to pull out the table from the other armrest. As I maneuvered it out with my right hand, I held my glass in the other. And that is when everything went horribly wrong. As the table moved to a flat position, the corner of it knocked the tip of my glass. The next thing I knew my lovely library book was filled with chunks of glass, ice and ginger ale that was beginning to run into my lap. Did I mention it was full?

Oddly enough, I never heard the glass shatter since my Bose headphones block out sound. It was as if a crash scene happened on TV without the volume up. One minute all was well, then smack. It wasn't. In reaction, I lifted the book up and when I did, all the ginger ale rolled onto my lap. I looked across the aisle at the other businessmen across from me. They were surprised as well, but did not move from their seat to give me a hand nor did they jump up to get a flight attendant. I was frantically looking around for help. I couldn't really stand up until someone took the book from me! I asked the men to get the flight attendant. And they looked back down at their reading material. Don't get me started on how I wanted to throw that glass at them.

Eventually the flight attendant and my seatmate arrived at my seat. The flight attendant grabbed the book and left to dump the glass. I got some thicker paper towels from her to soak up the ginger ale. My seatmate and I began to pick up pieces of glass from the floor, my seat, my clothes, his seat, etc. What a mess. To top it all off, my thumb was bleeding all over the place. After a quick bathroom cleanup, we put blankets on my seat and I got the joy of flying another hour or more with wet pants.

I looked as if my water had broke and I was about to give birth to a 7 lb 10 oz baby boy.

Next time, I think I will stick with a can, thanks.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Life

It felt so good to blog last night. I am finding that the longer I take between making myself sit down and write, the more stuff pours out. Long post last night but I had fun remembering those bike rides. On Friday we will be visiting Dan's mom and step dad at their cabin. They don't have internet but I think that I shall take the laptop along. Sitting on that front porch looking out at the pond and fields might be quite inspiring. Although I have so many books now to read that I might end up shutting out the world with a few novels!

Zach is enjoying a summer free of the day care center. He's always gone to a summer program with field trips and adventures, but last summer he declared that he was too old. Dan and I didn't feel that it would be wise to let him be alone every day all week though, so we found a friend of his whose aunt lives next door. The aunt watches him two days, sometimes three, and he is a happy camper. He is pretty stunned that month one of the break is already complete. We have a week planned in July for him to spend at his Nanny's cabin, and he cannot wait. So cool for him to have that deep of a relationship with her and be able to swim in the pond and fish and do fun boy stuff. She will spoil him rotten and we are happy about it.

Dan is still working on contract at Eastman Outdoors. He seems to be very close with signing on full-time with them if we can get all the details worked out with the company for him to work from home. He would be in the office on the other side of the state twice per month for a few days. Even though they have not made the job official, he already has plane tickets for China at the end of the month! Who knew that my country boy would end up traveling overseas to a city of 17 million people! He will enjoy it I know as his adventuresome heart longs to try new things. Mine...does not. I like my house and these United States, thank you very much.

And so I will have some time to myself at the end of the month. Am planning lots of catching up on photoshop and photo saving. All that boring stuff that I have been putting off. A bug on my work computer scared me enough to make sure that my photos on my home computer get backed up soon. We have a separate hard drive but I need to burn them to disc. Gosh, I hate doing all that. Bores me to tears!!!

Worked hard at cleaning my desk off today before the long weekend. Feels good to have it done. Tomorrow will be cleaning out and filing a backlog of email and deleting a bunch of files on my harddrive. Again with the boring stuff, but I know that it will be good to get it over with.

Half day of work tomorrow--yippee!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I *heart* libraries

I work at a publisher and I love libraries.

There, I've said it. Seems like an oxymoron for a woman who makes a living marketing books to the masses. But it's true.

Tonight I had to drop off a few books at that library that were in danger of being overdue. As I walked out--with two new books in tow that I happened to see on the express shelf--I let out a happy sigh. Oh, how I love the library.

As a girl, there was no place I'd rather be in the summer than the library. My parents didn't have much money, so obtaining books for an obsessive reader came either by donations from friends cleaning out shelves or by borrowing them. I don't exactly remember the first time I was allowed to ride to the library on my bike, but I do know that for years after I took liberty with that freedom. First on my banana seat bike and then on a larger one with a basket, that trip was my own little piece of heaven. The library had blessed air conditioning and since my house had none, I could get away from the stifling mugginess of Indiana summers with a 15 minute ride.

I lived in a subdivision that had sprung up in the early seventies with road after road of identical ranch houses. The long roads were connected by shorter ones that made a back and forth path for me to get to my destination. I liked to ride and spy on my neighborhood, wondering what certain houses looked like on the inside. I was never afraid nor did my parents worry for my safety. I would be okay. Nothing bad happened in the seventies to kids except perhaps poison in Halloween candy, but we checked those before eating. My rides were uneventful, yet big events.

I hated all the rules of my parents and church; the library was a place for me to be myself and be on my own. I discovered many writers during those visits: Catherine Marshall, Nancy Drew, Louisa May Alcott, Anna Sewell, Grace Livingston Hill, Marguerite Henry...such a variety! It was escapism at its best. Horse books and mysteries, romance and humor--I read it all. There was one summer in which I determined to read all the books in my section of the library. Don't know that I actually did it, but I started at A and kept going until school started.

Once I had grown up and had a baby, I determined that my boy Zach would experience libraries as I had as a child. When my husband would travel, Zach and I would go over to the itty bitty library by our house and pick out books. It became our own little tradition--a date night that was our sacred routine when we were on our own.

The library where I now live is not a big place, but it has character. There is an arch over the doorway with neat little windows. That archway desperately need sweeping since the cobwebs make it look haunted, but I guess it adds character. There are a few little side nooks throughout the building where a comfy chair has been placed to read. One such place is Zach's favorite. It looks as if it was a closet at one point, but now it is a sweet spot just big enough for a chair, table and lamp. A very tall, thin window is centered on the wall that looks out into the yard where a tree shades it in summer. A few years ago while waiting for swimming lessons to start, Zach and I would often stop at the library to wait and kill time. He still claims that corner he discovered as his own special place to read. An obsessive reader himself, Zach once told me that he didn't like going to the library. He only wanted new books. Why? I asked. Because the new books haven't been read by anyone else. He's a book snob at heart. Publishers of America love him.

To me, the fact that hundreds or thousands of people have read or will read the books that I handle, remains one of life's greatest mysteries to me. Where has that book been? The beach? Someone's backyard? To Europe in a carry on bag? Did that person love this novelist as much as me? As an adult, I now choose to escape with writers such as Anita Shreve, Adriana Trigiani, Maeve Binchy, Anne Rivers Siddons, Cecilia Ahern, or Elizabeth Berg. Often times a cookbook or craft book makes its way into my bag along with a few magazines for good measure. These books are loved on and don't have crisp papers or sharp jackets anymore. All have ugly plastic covers that crinkle when you crack open the spine. But with each and every stack that makes its way to my home, I feel the same thrill.

Potential. Adventure. Escape. Dreams.

Freedom.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

To My Son

Dear Zach,

Today is a milestone in your life, graduating from elementary school to make the big leap into middle school. This morning your dad and I will be seated in too hard metal seats as we watch you shake the Principal's hand and get a certificate that means much more than the paper it is printed on. You will strain and look for us among the sea of people and then flash that smile that I would know in a crowd of a thousand. And we will beam. And of course, I will take pictures. :-)

You came to us six weeks early on February 6, 1998. We weren't ready for you yet. Your room wasn't done and I didn't even have clothes to fit your tiny little preemie body. Your Aunt Tonya and Jammy had to shop and buy the only five preemie outfits that they could find at JCPenney. One was even a clearance outfit from Christmas. I look back at those pictures of us in those early days--Dad trying hard to hold onto you looking nervous, me with bloated face from the preeclampsia with HELLP syndrome that I had--and I can recall so many moments in great detail. I guess that I hadn't lost much sleep yet! McKenzie was a good little surrogate momma for you, pushing on your cradle and sticking her nose between the rails to get a good whiff of you. Tyson was a pup and only wanted to be let out about every ten minutes, beginning his life of driving me crazy, then batting those big brown eyes at me.

You were a gift. I remember laughter and giggles from a short, sturdy guy at two. The stubborn temper that you had as a tike and still continue to this day. How you loved and thrived on a schedule--we would have to warn you that something would be happening ten minutes prior or it would rock your world. The lines of Matchbox cars up and down the hall. The Lego builds that would engross first your three year old mind and continue still--the harder, the better. Sitting in front of Animal Planet and watching Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin, learning every single detail of each animal and bug in the universe. You still know more about creatures than anyone I have ever met. Your temper that grew as you grew up--patient for awhile with someone, then WHAM-O, watch out! The caring spirit you have for animals and humans alike, worried about those that are upset or hurt. The random "I love you, mom" or "I love you, dad" yelled or stated from anywhere in the house or out on the town at any random moment of the day since you were teeny tiny. And the laughter, always the laughter that makes our world go 'round.

I remember when you walked into Lakes for the first day of K-5 and I will remember the day that you walk out of it. We are so proud of the little man that you are growing up to be. We've seen a maturing in you even over the last few months. You try not to cry when things upset you or you wait for bedtime to share your worries. And worry, you do. It's tough for you to control your imagination sometime--you are starting to sound like a few people I am related to! I know that you are trying hard to pray and think about what Jesus would want you to do. Dad and I can see those changes beginning in you.

Zach, Dad and I always have your back. We will support you and keep encouraging you the rest of your life. We want you to finesse your talents and abilities as you go through school, to discover things within you that we didn't find out about ourselves until we were older. We want you to find great friends that keep you moving in the right direction and that motivate you to be the best that you can be. More than anything we want you to mature and develop into a strong man of God and one that loves Jesus with all his heart. And when life gets too serious, we hope that you can always laugh in its face.

We love you Zachman. And we are so very proud of you.

Mom and Dad

Monday, June 1, 2009

Just Another Manic Monday

Just another manic Monday
Wish it were Sunday
That's my fun day
My I don't have to run day
Just another manic Monday

Thanks to the Bangles, that song pretty much describes my day.

Before Dan left for Flushing this morning, I discovered that Tyson had bugs in his food dish. Several. He only had a small bit of food left in the bowl that he was eating. I glanced down while walking by, and something moved. Aack. Gag. Seriously gross. I do not do well with that sort of business and was gagging. My hero washed the bowl outside and then I scrubbed Tyson's whole food area down afterwards. Unfortunately, the rubber garbage can that we keep his food in, seems to have more in it. And we recently dumped the BIG bag from Costco in it. Okay, YEAH...enough about that...my stomach is starting to churn, too.

The day was back to back meetings with one conference call lasting an hour and a half. My email was full so I couldn't send anything out. I left late because I lost track of time and there is no one to start dinner but me. Then this evening, Zach found a 3 day old bird (we found pictures online of a similar bird) and my resident zookeeper wanted to save it. This bird only has fluff on it and was at least 20-30 feet away from any tree. Man, was that thing ugly, but it was so pathetic when it strained its beak apart like a hinge. Poor guy.

We ended up making a nest for it in a small pot then read that it was best to keep stray baby birds outside (Are you kidding? I wouldn't think of letting it in the house!). I convinced Zach that perhaps the mom will come back and feed it as the websites said. I also warned him that in most cases, these little guys won't make it. I haven't figured out what to do with it once we find it dead in the morning. Hmmm...

The beginning of a crazy week. Zach's fifth grade graduation is on Wednesday and Dan and I are volunteering at the park for their class field day. Half days, Dan out of town again, sales conference deadlines coming up--ah, stress. I even cried tonight reading Lakes Elementary's school newsletter. The back of it had the class supply lists for next fall's start of school. I realized that Zach had moved through all of those classes and I wouldn't be needing this one anymore. Moving on up to sixth grade with all its new challenges and growth. This week is starting out to be an emotional biggie for me.

As I sit here typing, the power flipped out. For the billionth time in the past few months, no less. Glad it popped back on, but I am sure the cable will have to be reset. I was going to work some tonight, but I think I need to go to bed and start the day over.

Here's to Tuesdays that are bright and shiny and new.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Inspiration

This week went by in a flash. It wasn't necessarily that I was very productive nor did anything interesting. TV pretty much sucked up my time in the evening...had to watch American Idol and Dancing with the Stars finales. Zach had a project due this week--Famous People--so there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when he uh, "realized" that he was not ready for the speech part of the day. Seems there were a few things last week that he should have brought home to prepare for this week. Crazy how that stuff just slips your mind! Ha.

Now Dan is home for the weekend and the sound of him puttering around the house makes me happy. Fixing my computer that had a virus, mowing the lawn, breaking apart two frozen pork roasts with his bare hands...you know, these are the reasons you need a MAN around the house. We had a great night out on the town Friday, celebrating our 17th wedding anniversary. It's always a good night when a date is involved since those seem to come few and far between. Grilled halibut with crab and asparagus made me do the happy dance. Mmmm...

During the day on Friday, Zach and I ran around doing errands. One involved taking back books to the library. It's a goal to not bring them in overdue and I did it this time! At any rate, I cannot walk in that place without finding something that I have been dying to read. And what do you know, it didn't fail me this week. The Gentle Art of Domesticity: Stitching, Baking, Nature, Art and the Comforts of Home by Jane Brocket nearly jumped off the shelf at me. Those of you who really know me probably are laughing extremely hard that this particular book would speak to me, but stop that. It did!

I saw this book at B&N weeks ago and loved the look of it. Beautiful color photos inside and the writer is a very popular blogger in England (http://www.yarnstorm.blogs.com/). I began reading yesterday and I cannot put it down. The writing is amazing. There is much about color and creativity and beauty, and the things you might expect about quilting and baking and knitting. Oh, and tea and family. This woman is very well educated and her writing style is so lovely to read. I cannot wait to get into her blog.

Here's a quote that I loved on inspiration: "Inspiration is inspiration, whether the end result is a painted masterpiece, a soul-searching sonnet, a richly colored homemade quilt or a batch of freshly baked scones. We shouldn't diminish our creativity by despising the results of our inspiration, but instead celebrate and exploit the wonderful feeling of elevated energy and the enthusiasm we experience when we feel inspired...Inspiration is the opposite of expiration, a drawing in, as opposed to a letting out. We can walk through life without seeing, without taking in the details, the words, the colors, the pictures, and miss the whole point of inspiration. Or, we can adopt an approach that allows us to stop a while and look and listen and reflect and enjoy. We can learn to sift through the mass of stimuli we encounter every day and to focus on what inspires us as individuals and, in doing so, create a way of seeing, a way of being receptive to inspiration. For the one thing that sets creative people apart is that they have all acquired the habit of being receptive to inspiration, actively seeking it or even simply recognizing it. Some may have to travel to the ends of the earth to find inspiration, others may find it hiding in libraries, at that tops of mountains, buried under the earth. But the domestic artist is in the glorious position of being able to find inspiration in daily, domestic life."

So cool. Love this book.

Monday, May 11, 2009

What I Should Have Said

On Saturday, I nearly punched another woman.

Zach and I were so happy to have Dan home for the weekend. We'd had an eventful morning of drinking coffee, puttering around the house and even venturing out for the monthly Costco/Target run. And I had the brilliant idea of stopping off at Coldstone Creamery for a Mother's Day treat. YUM-O.

Upon arriving home, we began to unload the Explorer. I'd gone into the garage when I heard one of our neighbor's yell out at the end of the driveway. I had sticky meat packages in my hand, so I ran in quick to put them on the counter and wash off. As I walked back out to the road to say hi, she says this...Looks like you have the same belly issues I have! (pat, pat, pat) I was still not quite down the driveway so I said, what? Surely I didn't hear her correctly. And then she said it again!!! Yep, heard her right and yep, heard her laugh after she said it.

Dan continued to quickly walk back into the house (smart to stay out of that one!) and the neighbor's dog was yapping and I could see visions of this woman laying on the pavement...but I took a deep breath and ignored what she said. Then I mentioned something about the dog, and told her that I would see her later. And walked in the house FUMING.

Since when did women get the right to comment outright about another person's body shape. Have I seen this woman in 6 months? NO. Do we exercise together? NO. Do we even interact socially? About one bonfire per summer. Do I--at all--think that the two of us are anywhere near the same size? NO.

(deep breathing)

Knowing that I could not say anything back to her face without being unChristian and evil, I thought the next best thing would be to blog my feelings. It's always good to be public about your frustrations, right?

Here are 10 things that I wish I could have said:

1. At least I don't smoke.
2. At least my dog knows how to walk on a leash. That is the first time I have ever seen your dog on one. Didn't know that you had one!
3. You will always be at least ten years older than me.
4. You may be ten years older than me, but with all your wrinkles, you look twenty years older. I use face cream. It helps around the eye area.
5. Funny thing, maybe you haven't seen me but I have been exercising--running--past your house at least every other day for the past three weeks. I'm guessing that my little winter gut from these last few months will be gone long before yours.
6. Do you own a pair of tennis shoes?
7. Ever seen the movie, Mean Girls? Great one. Maybe you should watch it.
8. Note to self, when greeting a neighbor for the first time in over six months, it would be appropriate to at least say hello before picking them apart.
9. When picking someone apart, how about starting with the hair. Oh, no? Yours looks great? Hmmm...
10. Oh, are you pregnant? A little old for that, aren't you?

Why do stupid comments from people we don't even care about hurt so much? I couldn't pitch that one out of my head all night. I have gained weight over the winter. I was the exercise queen last summer and as soon as the fall hit, I stopped. I hibernated. Christmas was stressful and there were yummy goodies everywhere. Then Dan lost his job and I didn't really care what I ate or how often. So, yeah. I could lose some weight. But the point is...do we dare openly criticize someone for it? Wow. I had another friend mention to me over the winter that we were alike because we "caried our weight in our butts." Did I ASK for your opinion about my butt? Maybe I am sensitive because I have never weighed this much in my life, but good grief. Respect is respect. Let's support each other in the never ending battle of losing weight, not hurt each other.

Keep your opinion to yourself, sister. I'll ask for it if I want it.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

On marriage


Okay, so the story of the day is Kate Gosselin's interview on the Today Show. If you have not watched the clip, you can find it anywhere (today I don't feel like doing links--I know you are disappointed). I happened to catch the interview before taking Zach to school today and I couldn't stop thinking about it. The context for the interview was to promote Kate's new book, but of course Meredith could not avoid discussing the elephant in the room--Jon's alleged affair. Jon had pulled out of the interview at the last minute and issued a statement about the photos from US Weekly. Now video footage has appeared backing up the claim that he is cheating on Kate.

Why do we care? Because the show Jon & Kate plus 8 is the number one show on TLC right now. The whole world seems to care.

Anyway, she made a statement over and over again at the end of the interview. She said that the kids were the focus. They always were the focus. They would continue to be the focus. I wanted her to say...my marriage is my number one priority right now. I wanted her to say, Jon and I love each other and are committed to work through this. She did say that they were working on it privately, but a simple statement like that would have added to her support of their marriage.

A few years ago, Oprah had an author on her show who received backlash because she had stated in an essay that she loved her husband more than her children. I realize that Kate may not have been in the mindset to say that right now on national television. I am sure that she is very angry and embarrassed. But after all is said and done, those eight kids will leave the nest. Jon and Kate will look at each other and the silence will be deafening. Any of us who are married and have kids will feel this same emptiness. And I, for one, don't want to look at my husband and wonder who in the world he is and why we are together. I want our marriage to be the focus NOW so that later we can sit contentedly together and be happy to have loved each other.

Today I saw the cutest couple at the coffee shop. Probably mid-sixties, dressed in their golfing clothes, looking at their laptop together. They were sharing a drink and laughing and looking at pictures together. They were flirty and happy. And most obviously in love.

The picture above shows a couple that was on our ferry to Mackinac Island last summer. I could imagine them in their younger years but on the ferry, they were comfortable in the silence. I imagined him patting her hand, and the look of love in his eyes. They were beautiful. Just like the coffee shop couple. And just like I hope my marriage can continue to be.

I wish the same for Jon and Kate.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Smiling through the tears

Yesterday was a blistering torrent of problems, meetings to overcome problems, meetings to become aware of problems, and meetings about things beyond my control. I found out that I was a 'sporty red coupe' in one meeting, then crashed that beauty in another. And on top of it all, I missed my husband. We're beginning Week Three and I think the first day he is out of town, might become known as The Day to Get Through.

And on top of it all, I met J.

A friend had referred her to me because I scrapbooked. Of course, never denying a chance to talk photos and stories, I chatted with her about why she wanted to begin. Her answer dropped me to the ground. She wanted to scrapbook to remember her baby girl who passed away a year ago. Before that moment, I only knew her by sight and could not tell that behind that sweet smile was a woman in deep pain. Her baby had passed away at five weeks old after a freak accident involving another family member. She had not done anything with the photos since that moment but her sister had suggested she put together an album this week. Tomorrow would have been the baby's first birthday. We decided to meet today at lunch to look through her purchases and go through some of my albums and books to get her started.

Today J and I met at lunch. I showed her some simple ways to tell her baby's story suggesting that she celebrate her arrival and remember on page that her baby was incredibly loved. She has an older son and this book will be healing for him, too, and will serve as a wonderful memorial as he grows older. A fast formula concept that I suggested was to use a two-up album with simple, designed pages placed throughout where she could write the birth story, the details, how J decided on her name, who was waiting for her, and even some notes from family members sharing their love. Not knowing how many photos she had, I thought that it would give her plenty of space.

She was beaming the entire time and we got inspired through conversation. We are both mothers and could share our own versions of the births of our kids. We laughed about how neither one of us were planning on buying preemie clothes, but did out of necessity. Later as we started to pack away my stuff, I realized that there was a packet of photos sitting underneath some books.

Are these your photos? Yes, she said smiling.

As I opened the packet, I cried inside. Here was a stack of prints only about an inch high. The life of one tiny baby that fit in the palm of my hand. The pictures were too close and pixelated and blurry and there were far too few. One of baby and dad. One of baby and mom. One of baby and grandma. A bunch with big brother. I exclaimed over them as if I was holding that baby in my arms and could smell her newness. Look at her feet! I love that little tiny dress! Aren't babies funny when they make that face? I think she liked her brother alot. And look at him hug on her. Love that. I looked at her face and she was beaming again.

She didn't care that there was only a tiny stack. She had pictures to cherish her entire life. She didn't see the blurry shots or see the awkward angles. She saw her baby who has a name and a birthday. She could hear that cry and smell her newness and feel the softness of her cheek immediately after she was born.

I can't wait to see what she will create. And I know that no matter what, it will reflect her. She will have begun a different stage in her grieving and will have something tangible to hold in her hands. Documenting the stories of our lives, both bad and good, is important. Whether we have a camera that is from the dark ages or a slicked up 2009 model, it is vital that we record snippets of the day to day. We never can tell what lies around the corner.

I was listening to Christine Dente's Out of the Grey album today (yes, that is OLD!) and I heard this...

If I know you
You will turn this day
Into a perfect surprise.
If I know you
Like I know I do,
The worst of times
Will work out right

And I smiled.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mother's Day Wishes


One of the grand things about having a blog is that you can write out wish lists for others to see. I know my husband reads this blessed thing and will be rolling his eyes as he reads this. And so, the wish list might just stay as, well, wishes. Hmmm...you mean publicly saying that you want something does not guarantee that you will get it? Guess I will find out.

I thought I would start my first list for Mother's Day. I like to enable others and pass along important shopping information when I see it. Sort of like a personal shopper. These are the things that the little people or the big guys in our life might take the opportunity to purchase and give to us on that special day with shouts of love and exclamation for all the joy that we bring into their lives! *note to self: don't get carried away--remember husband reads this.

Okay, so my list would start with this: BOOKS. Sorry, I seem to have a thing for ALL CAPS today.
Anyway, here is one that I think could be a new fav, Perfectly Imperfect by Lee Woodruff. I read this excerpt online and immediately loved this book. If I could only write non-fiction like that--! I had already been captured by Lee's writing when I read, In an Instant, the story of her husband Bob's war injuries and how their family survived the ordeal. This one should be a good read, too.

Another book is Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I have already read this book, but have given and recommended it over and over. I want my own copy, dang it. I have a funny story of reading this on a delayed flight with Dave Lewis, my sales director, on my left and a stranger on my right. I was laughing out loud and sharing with them and in turn, our whole row began laughing out loud. THAT's how good that book is. I love happy books.

A cool gift for the scrapbooker is one of the monthly offerings from Jenni Bowlin or Studio Calico. Lots of fun goodies in the kit and plenty of inspiration. A great price for everything included, plus ideas galore on the site for what to make.

If you don't know how to use your Photoshop Elements very well, Jessica Sprague.com has the class for you. It's called Photo Editing and with video and assignments, sample photos to practice on, and great teaching techniques, Jessica Sprague will help you learn how to use that software quickly and efficiently. What's really, really cool is that once you have taken the class, you can go back to her site forever to refresh your memory or re-watch a video. Unlike a class that I took last year online. It was written on a blog and then she never would give us a full print out of the entire class for reference. Ever try going back to a blog to find out what you learned on day 6? Think about it...it would now be at the bottom of the blog...and what was it you wanted to find? I'm just saying. What a pain! Anyway, this class seems pretty cool. And it is 20% until Mother's Day.

Well there are a thousand things that I could post here...Target gift cards, iTunes gift cards, Starbucks gift cards. But what's the point?

My biggest Mother's Day Wish came true in 1998 when Mr. Zachary Daniel Bennett came into the world. I couldn't have this day without him. And for that I am forever grateful.



Wednesday, April 29, 2009

I hate digital cameras

Yes, I really do.

I've been wondering lately who the wacko was that invented the darn things. I must ring him up and mention my pain and agony with his product. Obviously, he (I am sure it's a he) is laughing all the way to the bank as he has fully transformed an entire industry by making film cameras obsolete and pushing his invention to take its place. Oh, yeah, he is living large in a palace by the sea eating bon bons while the rest of us suffer.

Here's why I hate digital cameras. I am a right-brained creative type. I have no patience for technical stuff. No memory for learning the processes that have anything to do with computers. For heaven's sake, it's taken me three months of blogging to figure out how to do a link on a word and it was right in front of my eyes every time I logged on! Any type of thing where I need to have a system of organization is lost on me. I am visual. If I have seen it, I remember where it is if it is on my desk. It doesn't have a special name or a special folder, it has a location that is over on the right upper side of the desk or the left under that.

Herein lies the issue at hand. Digital photography was not made for right-brained creative types. Sure, we can take some amazing photos (and I do--really). Okay, let's be honest, we take thousands of amazing photos. In the olden days when there were no iphones or ipods or itunes, I would pull the cute little cartridge of film out of my camera after I had taken 24 pictures. I would take it to my local Target or put it in the mail and send to a place like Snapfish. I would know that in an hour or a day, my lovely photos would be printed and waiting for me. I could take them home, pour over them, slap them into my photo box for future scrapping and be so happy. No, they weren't always perfect and I missed some shots that I thought would be perfect, but there was only 24.

Did I mention that we take thousands of photos?

The number 24 is never spoken in these parts now unless Dan wants to watch the show and kicks me off of the good TV.

Now I have to do all the work. I only remember to upload when I turn the camera on and it is almost full. Of course, I am always somewhere very important and more pics need to be taken so I swap out for another memory card...which is almost full. When I return home, there is the choice of watching American Idol or uploading photos.

Hmmm...did I mention how great AI is? Should I do a link?! Okay, no.

Once I force myself in front of the computer, go to my photos, I start to scream. My filing system is not the way I want it and I can't find that particular picture that I took when Zach was 9 years old on vacation because everything is in weird files. I need to upload to Costo for prints, I need to burn CDs from my hard drive (yes, I do have two), I need to photoshop some pictures, I need to rename files...did I mention that I haven't uploaded the memory cards since after Christmas? Yeah. That, too.

I am so far behind that I do not want to sit down and begin work because it overwhelms me. Heck, I could care less about scrapbooking all of them--I am not one of those women--but I just crave a bit of organization in my photo life. Detail work is not my forte and makes me insane. And no, I do not have a Mac and I am sure that is the answer to all my problems. I have the books--Photo Freedom and have read Ali's blog and Cathy's blog and I know how others do it. But I cannot get these systems to work for me.

So that is why I hate digital cameras. Sure I feel like a professional with the amazing pictures I have. But I hate the rest of the work that comes along with that. No pain, no gain? Self-discipline? Do I have to?

It all makes me very grumpy.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Scared of the Dark

After torrential rain on Saturday, Sunday's bit of rain seemed tame by comparison. As the afternoon wore on, the day turned into a lovely evening complete with blue skies and nice temps. And then the power went out. For the second week in a row, the house became silent for no apparent reason and candles became our only light source. This time though, Dan became the hero and hooked up the generator since Consumer's Power seemed to be keeping the future moment of repair a secret. Many others had the same idea and the street soon became alive with the rattle and roar of gasoline-powered machines. Lights began popping on one by one.

Zach was back and forth to his friends house checking on progress and helping Dan set up our power source. I was surprised when he breathlessly decided to come into the living room and sit with me. Grabbing the blanket on the couch he reported that he was scared. I thought one of his friends might have said something to begin this line of thinking, but it wasn't that. He didn't know what brought the feelings on but wondered if I felt the same. No buddy, not this time. We have food and water, a generator that works, lights that blow away the dark and we are all safe. He then proceeded to ask a million questions about electricity and how it all works--Zach's typical way of processing. Thankfully, Dan came in then and helped fill in the gaps (Uh, there were many!).

We never could get to the source of his fear so we let him sleep in his sleeping bag in our room (next to Dad's side of the bed) to help him feel better. Of course, 30 minutes after he went to bed, the power came on again...

This time, I wasn't afraid.

But I do remember a time though when I was very afraid. In 2001, as days went by after September 11, I felt fear in the pit of my gut. I had a toddler who did not know why he couldn't watch Blue's Clues on TV since his parents were glued to CNN for more details of the attacks. I remember shopping at the grocery store for non-perishable items to store in the pantry and stocking up on water. I think of the many meals where I barely touched my food because I was sinking into a depression. Visions of having to escape--something, but what?--out to the fields behind our house left me terrified (I am visual to a fault). I carried happiness around the house in order to be calm in front of my baby. Fear? Yeah, it was there. Fear of the unknown certainly was causing it, and I was in a desperate search to gain back control of my little world.

I felt that fear again this morning as I listened to a Dr. explain swine flu and the perceived epidemic that we could have soon. But this time, many years after 9/11, I think I am a bit stronger. I fought back against that gnawing at the pit of my stomach as I listened to the radio and I do it as I type. I don't want to give in to it. I refuse to let fear run my life as it does in others. There are people close to me that consistently let fear overtake them and then pass that along to others. They live in such dread that fun and living life and celebrating get squashed in the "what ifs."

As I told Zach last night, God is in control of each situation in our lives. He knew the minute that the power would turn back on. He knows every detail of our lives. He simply asks that we trust him. Trust that he is involved deeply in our lives and that his presence will sustain us when we doubt. And when we tremble. And when control is out of our reach.

Please, God, give me that faith every day.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Red Velvet Cake Hair

During this season's American Idol, a girl named Allison Iraheta (okay, just figured out how to do a hyperlink--very exciting) has moved all the way up to the Top Five. She's only 16 and had the funkiest pink/red hair that you have every seen. One of our local deejay's, Todd Chance, calls her "Red Velvet Cake Hair Girl." It makes me laugh.

But it also got me thinking about food, of course. And I decided that I had never eaten Red Velvet Cake before. What a travesty! But then our fabulous friend, Oprah, published a recipe for Red Hot Velvet Cupcakes with Cinnamon Buttercream in the February 2009 issue of the magazine. It's from a new cookbook called Baked and there is a Brooklyn pastry shop of the same name.

I had to try it. We are having friends over tomorrow night to play Guitar Hero World Tour (I am sure that will bring some stories!) and so in honor of Red Velvet Cake Hair Girl, I've been baking the cupcakes tonight.

It's been puzzling though as to why the recipe calls for cider vinegar! This is not an easy recipe to be sure, lots of separate bowls and special things to do. And oh my--so full of fat. Come on people, it uses buttermilk and shortening and butter...YUM. I will make the icing on Friday since I ran out of butter tonight. Yeah. Good for weight loss.

Anyway, I needed to know about the cider vinegar thing, so I googled it and this terrific article on the cake's history came up from the New York Times (I'm getting good at the hyperlinks!). I guess something about the combination of cocoa with the vinegar causes it to go red, then it is supplemented with red food coloring. My recipe called for 2T but I ran out, and so it only got half of that. Oh, well, I don't like to use red food coloring anyway. But the cakes are amazing!

A lovely little treat for a fun night.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Sound of Laughter

As I walked outside for lunch today, I smiled at the sound of laughter from the school behind my office. The teacher had called the students inside and their voices filled the air.

Ah, recess in the spring. I was immediately transported back to my younger years and how I had loved those sweet moments outside and away from the classroom.

My elementary school belonged to a church and our playground was a parking lot. There was a swing set off to the side and someone would draw out several hopscotch and four-square areas with chalk. A small field was next to the parking lot on one side and there was always plenty of butterflies and bees flying around. That field was where I saw my first patch of lily-of-the-valley and smelled their wondrous scent. I looked for them every spring once I had discovered where they grew. On another side of the lot was the pastor's residence which had a deep green yard and a huge shade tree. The pastor had a dog--a gorgeous and good-tempered miniature collie who adored kids and stayed in the yard like a good boy with only cement parking blocks as a barrier.

I was a quiet and shy girl growing up (people probably won't believe me knowing how I act now!) but I would often keep to myself at recess. There was nothing better than sitting on those cement blocks under the tree and petting the dog while gazing at the pastor's house and on down the street. It was a tree-lined road with beautiful white houses from the fifties, all nice and tidy with those terrific green lawns. I would imagine myself living in one, dreaming about the mysteries behind the doors. I was always excited to see if the pastor's curtains on the side window were open and I could see inside. There was a round glass lamp in the window and in my mind, I decorated the whole room around that one piece.

On a good day, I would venture out to play with my friends. Candy was my best friend and we would make elaborate outlines of house on the ground with sticks and rocks. We would pretend many things in those rooms from meal prep to entertaining to decorating (I see a theme here). Exciting times until others wanted to join in or a stupid boy would wreck it.

As we got older, there were more dramatic moments of not getting picked for teams (over and over again, I would be last) or the discovery that boys were kind of cute. Many conversations on that black top were about Ponch and Jon from CHiPs, wondering what they were like and pretending they were our boyfriends. And there was always the jumping, jumping, jumping of hopscotch or the bounce of that red rubber ball at four-square.

One momentous day that I see very clearly 30 years later, is the time that one friend taught me the words and tune to "Let's Get Physical" by Olivia Newton John. We sang it out loud to practice and deep in our hearts we knew it was wrong. It was a rock song after all. Not until years later did I discover the true meaning of the song and why it was possibly wrong to sing it. A stunning moment. In my naive Christian school state...I had thought it was talking about exercising. It's true.

As the days warm up this spring, take a moment to drive by a school mid-morning and remember. There may be some great times from your past that come rushing back.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Happy Little Deer




Every day while driving to work I have the potential to see creatures from the animal world. After all, we pretty much live in the country so we will happen upon deer grazing in a field or a crane flying low in the sky.

This morning, I rounded the corner...and what to my wondering eye should appear but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer! Okay, so I didn't see the sleigh but I can guarantee that I saw more than eight deer. How about 25 or so? Yep, as I drove I looked ahead and saw three deer poised near the road. I slowed down and realized that there were rows and rows of the things. All in a type of triangular pattern with one deer in the lead (roadrunner, I presume) and the rest fanning out behind--first three then six, etc. I slowed way down because heck--I am not stupid. That many deer would crush me should they be so stupid as to trot across the road. They decided not to go forward and instead all turned quietly around and threaded into the woods. No one was really hopping or leaping, just filtering through the trees and gone. Wow.

It reminded me that a few years ago on that same curve, I had a buck cross the road in front of me. Super wow. I slowed down to get a glimpse of him perhaps on the side of the road. As I stopped, I realized that he was STANDING RIGHT THERE. Gulp. We stared each other down eyeball to eyeball for a few minutes and then he jumped away. I had almost begun to sweat it out that he didn't like me and I would soon be on one of those "When Animals Attack" specials!

We often see deer in our own yard and they are truly gorgeous (the pics above are from my backyard). For awhile we had a one-legged deer that could actually bend down to eat even though she was missing her front leg. We've had twins and more than one very large group go through. I even saw a buck back there once, too. I might add that my husband has never seen one near us...it ticks him off. Ha!

Monday, April 20, 2009

I recently discovered Kal Barteski's blog and art (http://lovelife.typepad.com/my_weblog/). I am in love. She is a mom of two and an amazing artist. I love her philosophy of life and the energy that she brings to her days. If you read her blog, you will see very quickly how every day has a plan. Every day has a goal.

I was frustrated at myself today for my lack of energy and motivation. It could have been because of the weather--I got a mini sunburn on Saturday and then today it turned very cold and rainy. It might snow tomorrow and Wednesday!

Today was also Dan's first day at his new contract job. He will be living in Flushing, Michigan for five days and then be home on the weekends--for 4-6 weeks. I am so proud of him, but know that this job might not be truly where his heart is leading him. He wants money coming in and this will help. It may work into a full-time job where he can work from home most of the time and for that opportunity, we are grateful.

It definitely made me feel melancholy today.

There is a lot that Zach and I will need to re-establish as we manuever this world of "just us" for awhile. Today in true Kal Barteski style, I wrote my To Do list for this evening. And I am proud to say that I did most of it! I even exercised inside on the eliptical machine--what a concept. :-) And blogging...and changing the sheets on my bed...and a load of laundry (got 2 done!)...and fixed the garage door (stuck on manual when we lost power overnight)...and fixed the internet that was down...and exercised. Oh, yeah, I mentioned that but I am very proud of myself. YAY!

And like a good mom with a pre-teen, I took away Zach's Nintendo DS when he kept telling me "no" for something. Gotta start out the week on the right foot and reminding him of the rules will help me stand my ground, making life smoother later. Sigh.

Okay, I didn't want to go to bed late on the first night of the week, but well, I am.

Tomorrow--new day, new mood. Go!